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, October 29, 2017

Truth and Freedom - October 29, 2017 - Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost/Reformation Sunday - Text: Revelation 14:6-7

October 31, 1517 marked a day in infamy. October 31, 2017 continues to mark the struggle. Around 6 to 8000 years ago Lucifer, the light-bearer, approached an innocent, naive perfect Eve and Adam and asked a question, “Did God really say?” Of course, his question was not so much a question as a challenge. His challenge was a challenge to God, to challenge God’s Word, as well as the authority of God. Did God really say whatever it was He said and did He mean it?
About six hundred years ago a man name Jan Hus questioned whether or not the Pope, or any human being for that matter had the authority to speak for, in the place of, or above God. In particular Jan Hus questioned the leader of what was the church at the time. He questioned the Pope, the seeming vicar of God on earth. He also questioned human councils that had declared certain teachings the Word of God, even though they were not the Word of God, but were rather the word of humans, fallible humans at that.
Five hundred years ago a man named Martin Luther questioned the authority of man over against the authority of the Word of God. As Luther so well pointed out, Councils and Popes have long contradicted themselves and have been know to be wrong. Now please understand, neither Jan Hus nor Luther questioned God as Satan did. No, Jan Hus and Martin Luther questioned the words of fallible human beings who attempted to speak in the place of God and as they so well pointed out, human beings who often spoke incorrectly.
Today we continue to hear similar such questions. We hear questions challenging the Word of God as truth and as authority. We hear questions such as: “Did God really mean . . . ?” “God did not know about such things as ‘committed homosexual relationships’?” “Are you sure your are interpreting the Bible correctly?” “Who gives you the right to speak for God?” “Truth is relative.” “There are no absolutes.” “My God is not like that.” And on and on it goes as the Word of God and the authority of the Word of God is questioned still today. But it is no wonder; when you have a good thing that works, keep doing it. The devil is in the details and the details continue to question God, His Word and His authority.
At one time it seemed as if it was the world against the church and one knew who their enemies were. Now the devil is attacking the church not just from without, but within as well. Churches today are tempted to question the Word of God and His authority by seeking to be relevant, by seeking to be tolerant, by seeking to be contemporary, which means for the time as in here today and gone tomorrow, by seeking to be fun, entertaining, engaging and just about any other adjective you might think to use, rather than simply seeking to be faithful. When the church agrees with and looks like the culture is it really any different than the culture? And we know the devil thrives in the culture which acquiesces to the morals and values of the least of them.
Our text for today points us were we need to be pointed, to Jesus. Our text assures us of the authority of the Word of God, especially over and above the word of fallible human beings. Our text begins at verse six. We read, “6Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (v. 6). Now, we must remember, first and foremost that the book of Revelation is a vision and it is a vision of things to come. Certainly you have heard some interesting interpretations of this book including those that would assign certain parts of the vision to various modern day countries and people. Our best and surest understanding of this book is to let Scripture interpret Scripture, to let the Lord speak for Himself, and to hear and believe the words as given, not adding to nor taking away. As our first verse tells us, in this vision John saw an angel with the eternal Gospel and this eternal Gospel is to be proclaimed to all the earth, to every nation, tribe, language and people.
What is this Gospel, this eternal Gospel? This Gospel is the truth of Holy Scripture and we would say the authority of Holy Scripture. The truth of Holy Scripture is the truth of Jesus, the truth of the exclusive claim of the Christian Church and why the Christian Church is so hated by the rest of the world, that is that Jesus is the way, only Way, the only Truth, the only Life, that it is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone that one has forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is the Gospel message, this is the heart of Holy Scripture, this is the key to eternal life, this message is the eternal Gospel.
This Gospel is a message that is eternal, it has no beginning and no end, like the Savior it presents. People may come and go, nations may rise and fall, religions, cults and sects may come and go, but God’s Word is eternal, it will remain even through times of struggle. Not only is God’s Word eternal it is also true. As we just said, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth. Why do the generations of this world have such a hard time with truth? Because apart from Jesus it cannot know truth. Apart from Jesus there is no truth. Jesus is truth and all truth comes from and through Him. And we may add one more truth about the eternal Gospel that is that it does what it says, that is we say it is efficacious, it effects what it says. The power of God’s Word is that it does what it says. And because it does what it says we know it has all authority. When God’s Word says we have faith, we have faith. When God’s Word says we have forgiveness, we have forgiveness. Whatever God’s Word says we know it is true and it will happen according to what God says in His Word. God’s Word promises that the Gospel is eternal. Siegbert Becker in his commentary on Revelation says, “It is perfectly proper, then, to see one fulfillment of that promise in the Lutheran Reformation which is history’s most prominent illustration of the principle that God will not allow his word to be silenced. But we may also see an illustration of this truth in every other historical movement in which the gospel has been clearly and emphatically proclaimed. The vision simply assures us that false teachers will never silence the preaching of the gospel.”
Many Lutheran Commentators have identified this angel as Dr. Martin Luther as he stood firm in the fight for the truth and the authority of the Gospel in his day in the midst of those who threatened his life for such preaching. He testified that the faith of the Christian should rest, not in the word of the Pope, or any man for that matter, but in the Word of Scripture alone.
Moving on to verse seven of our text we read, “7And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (v. 7). These are the words of the angel given to the angel by God to proclaim. Remember, angels are messengers sent by God to do His bidding. They do not proclaim their own words but the words of Him who sent them.
The angel says to fear God. As we memorized and as we were taught, especially in the explanations for the Ten Commandments, we are to fear and love God. To fear God means two things. We are to fear God, that is we are to be afraid of God, when we are in our sin. God’s wrath is indeed harsh as we see Him take out His wrath on Jesus on the cross, punishing Him for our sin. So, when we are in our sin we are to be afraid, because left in our sin we would be eternally condemned. Yet, fear has a second meaning. We are to fear God that is we are to love and respect Him. As Christians we fear God, that is we love and respect Him and we give Him glory because of His Words of Gospel which give us faith, forgiveness and life. By faith in Jesus we fear, love and trust in God above all things.
Finally, the angel encourages us to worship, kneel before, and acknowledge the Lord as Creator God. While this may sound easy enough, the difficulties of this in our modern society are great indeed. The teaching of Darwinism, the teaching of humanism, the teaching of may other isms, the temptations of sin and unbelief, the struggle to fight against our very nature, that is that we are conceived and born in sin, that every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, make it difficult to fear God and give Him glory, to worship, kneel before and acknowledge Him as the Lord, Creator God. We see how difficult this is as we see so many people in our world resist and refuse the gifts God has to give and even in our own congregation and in Christian congregations around the world as even our own members, even each one of us on a daily and weekly basis give in to temptation and sin, refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give.
So, we ask, what does this mean? Today we celebrate 500 years of the reformation of the Church, the reaffirmation of the Word of God. Today we celebrate the endurance of the Word of God, that is that His Word is eternal that it never fails, that it never departs from us. Even when we may think the Word of God is removed as through history we have seen time and again how it seems as if God’s Word were removed from or absent from one heathen nation after another, we see that God’s Word is never completely rooted out, but His Word remains forever.
Today we celebrate the truth of the authority of the Word of God, especially that it is inerrant. Certainly this is where Satan makes his greatest attacks. Well, this was his first temptation and it worked so well in the Garden of Eden that he continues to use this temptation even today. His temptation is a subtle temptation concerning the authority of God’s Word. Today we have this authority questioned as the inerrancy of the Word of God. The question of Satan in the Garden was, “Did God really say?” Today his question is, “Is the Bible God’s Word or does the Bible merely contain God’s Word?” Which is another way of saying, “Did God really say?” To suggest that the Bible merely contains God’s Word leaves us open to interpreting His Word our way which means all kinds of aberrations such as we see in many heterodox churches today. What does inerrancy mean? It means that we believe the Bible does not merely contain God’s Word so that we have to search through the pages to find it, but the Bible is God’s Word and it is a word with God’s authority and power. So that Bible is eternal, it is true and it does and gives what it says.
Today we celebrate the gifts given through the Word of God. Although we are conceived and born in sin, although every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, God is greater than our sin. God gives us His Word and His Sacraments and through these means of grace He gives us all His good gifts and blessings. As we remember our baptism we are reminded that it was He who, at our baptism, put His name on us and claimed us as His children. It was He who put faith in our hearts, gave us forgiveness of sins, which cost us nothing, but cost Jesus His life, He wrote our names in the book of Life. As we confess our sins we hear His most beautiful words, “Your sins are forgiven.” As we read and hear His Holy Precious Word, we are given the gifts that He gives through His Word. And as we come to His table to eat His body and drink His blood we are again given His gifts, forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. What great gifts, what wonderful gifts, who would think of refusing or rejecting such great gifts and blessings.
Today we celebrate that we respond in faith, in worship, in kneeling before and acknowledging our Creator God as Lord. Of course our response is not something that comes from inside ourselves, but is something that is motivated in us by God from outside of us. Just as we do not find the answers to life’s questions inside of us, just as we do not find life, forgiveness or faith inside ourselves, so we are not motivated by ourselves. We are given all these things and our response of faith from God who comes to us from outside of us, who comes to us through means the very means He gives us to come to us.
And so, today we celebrate. We celebrate the reformation of the Holy Christian Church. We celebrate the work of Dr. Martin Luther and God’s work through him. We celebrate the gift of God’s Word, His eternal Word, His eternal Word made flesh in Jesus, and His Word of Holy Scripture which does and gives what it says. We celebrate what a great and awesome God we have, a God who does all and gives all. And so, I leave you will the words of the angel of the Lord, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (v. 7b). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Lord Will Prepare a Feast - October 15, 2017 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Isaiah 25:6-9

Have you ever noticed how true it is that “time flies when you’re having fun?” The church year is winding down. Advent is fast approaching. We have not yet celebrated Reformation Day and this year it is the big one, the 500th anniversary of the reformation. We have not yet celebrated Thanksgiving Day and the stores are already being decorated for Christmas. Our text for today is one which reminds us that there is a reason for our lives and that our lives are not just “here today and gone tomorrow.” As Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ, we live our lives looking forward to tomorrow, especially the tomorrow of heaven where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forevermore. Our text for today gives us a picture of the eternal feast with the Lord, a heavenly banquet.
Our text begins with a partial description of the banquet of heaven. We begin at verse six, “6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (v. 6). The mountain on which the Lord Almighty will prepare His feast is heaven. In the Bible, heaven is often depicted as a mountain, high above the earth, where the Lord reigns and watches over us.
To help us get a better idea of what will be served at this feast, I want to read verse six from the Revised Standard Version. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.” From the Revised Standard Version we see that fat and cholesterol will apparently not be a concern on this mountain, at this feast, in heaven. This feast will consisted of the richest of foods, the fat things. The best, prime cuts of meat are those with lots of fat called marbling which makes the meat tender and good to eat. It is from the richness of the marrow that our blood cells get their start. The rich bone marrow is what builds and sustains life. And there will be the best wine. “Wine on the lees,” was that wine that was at the bottom of the barrel. When it was strained, it was the strongest, clearest, and most flavorful. What an awesome feast the Lord has prepared for us. Well, what should we expect at a banquet the Lord is giving, only the best!
This is a banquet given by the Lord. This banquet shows us that the Lord always gives the best. Usually these best parts, these fat parts were saved and sacrificed to the Lord. But, here at His banquet, He gives the best, the best parts, the fat parts, for us to eat. He gives the best wine, the strongest, the clearest, the most flavorful, for us to drink. It is interesting, we may talk about what we give to the Lord, we may think well of ourselves that we give our first fruits, our tithes and our offerings, and even what we may believe to be our best to God, but when we think about it and admit it, it is God who is always giving His best to us. And it is God who always gives first.
Our text continues with more of God’s giving. Picking up at verse seven we read, “7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations” (v. 7). The word that is translated as “covering” is literally, “the covering of the face” which comes from the word for secrecy. And the word “veil” literally comes over into the English as “mask.”
The shroud, as some translations give us this word, was used to cover the face of a person who had died. Truthfully we should admit that the shroud was used not so much to cover the face of the dead person, so much as it was used to cover the face so as to hide us from death. We do not like to see death. We do not like to talk about death. Death reminds us of our sin, perhaps that is why so many churches only talk about a theology of glory, only talk about what good Christians they can be, how God wants them to be well off and so forth. Not too many people want to talk about a theology of the cross, that is about death and especially about Jesus’ death because that reminds us that it was because of us, because of our sins that Jesus had to die, that death is in the world. So, how do you keep from seeing death? You cover the face of death.
This is also the shroud that hides God. This is the shroud of sin and unbelief. Sin separates us from God. While we are in our sin we do not want to be seen by God. Why do we speak in secret? Why do we try to cover our sins? Why do we try to hide from God? For some reason we believe we can actually hide our sins from God as if there is someplace He cannot see or hear. When we are in unbelief we cannot see God, because of our own spiritual blindness. Fortunately for us, our Lord destroys this shroud.
This verse and the next verse serve well to remind us that the fear of death, the fear of our being eternally separated from God, is removed by Christ. The “veil that is spread over all nations” brings to mind the splitting of the curtain in the temple at Jesus’ death. It was Jesus’ death that brought us back into a right relationship with God the Father in heaven. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, before the curtain in the temple was split in two, a person could not go directly to God, but had to go through a priest, a representative of God. Now, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the way has been cleared. Now we can go directly to God and pray to Him and He will hear and answer our prayers.
The greatest victory is the swallowing of death, physical death and most especially, eternal spiritual death, hell. We pick up at verse eight, “8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (v. 8). Here we see that this banquet will be an eternal banquet, because in heaven there will be no more physical death. Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated death. The greatest victory is that death is swallowed up forever.
There will be only joy in heaven. There will be no more sorrow in heaven, for the Lord will wipe away every tear. But, not only will our tears be wiped away, so will whatever causes our tears. To wipe away a tear is one thing, but there is always the chance that some bit of sadness might bring it back. With God, He does not just tend to the symptom, He goes right to the heart of the problem. He wipes out the cause of the tear. With nothing to cause tears, sorrow will be eternally wiped away.
In heaven it will be a joy and it will not be a disgrace to be a Christian. We will not have to worry about persecution, even little persecutions, for letting our lights shine, for letting our faith show forth in our lives. Instead heaven will be a place of perfect joy and happiness.
In verse nine we hear the voice of faith “9It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (v. 9).
We are bold to say, “This is our God.” Knowing that God chose us, that He put His name on us at our baptism, that He put faith in our hearts, that He forgives our sins, that He has written our name in the book of life, that He continually strengthens our faith and keeps us in faith, that He tells us that He is our God and we are His people. Knowing all this it is easy for us, in heaven to say, “This is our God.”
We say, “we waited for Him.” Knowing that God does all things according to what He knows is best, according to His perfect knowledge and timing. Knowing that at just the right time, Christ died and rose for us, we say, “we waited for Him.”
We say, “He saved us.” Knowing that God sent His one and only Son, Jesus to be born as a human being (one of us), to live perfectly for us, in our place, to take all our sins upon Himself, to suffer and die for our sins. Knowing that it was by the blood of Jesus that all our sins have been forgiven we say, “He saved us.” We cannot and we do not save ourselves. Our salvation does not come from inside, it does not come from our works or actions. Our salvation comes from outside of us, it comes from God alone. He saved us!
We say, “Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Literally it is the Lord’s salvation. He has done everything, He has given everything and we have been given everything. Think about what we have been saying. God gave us all life at the creation of the world. Adam and Eve fell into sin, destroying the very life God gave. God gives each one of us life, personally, at our conception. God gives us new life at our baptism. God gives the world new life through the gift of the blood His one and only Son, on the cross. Now we understand that God gives us life in heaven. He prepares and invites us to His banqueting table. He is there serving us the finest and best of meats and wines. And to top it all off, He allows for us to be glad and to rejoice in His salvation.
Even our Gospel reading for this morning gives us this image of the heavenly banquet as well. In our Gospel reading we are encouraged in our faith-life, that is in the fact that it is by God’s grace, through faith that we have a share in His eternal kingdom and in His eternal banquet. God’s will is that all people are given faith, yet He knows that there are those who refuse the gifts He has to give. His gifts are given out of His grace and love for His people, yet to all those who refuse and reject the gifts He has to give, they are excluded from His gifts and His kingdom. They are cast out into the outer darkness of eternal spiritual death in hell. Jesus’ words are a stern warning to us to not refuse the good gifts and blessings He has to give, rather they are words encouraging us to make regular and diligent use, that is encouraging us to be given the gifts He has to give at every opportunity we have of being given the gifts through the means of grace, the means through which He gives us His gifts.
What a great God we have. We have a God who gives and gives and gives. He has given since the beginning of creation. He has given throughout history. He continues to give to us today. He will continue to give to us even into eternity, where He prepares, invites us to attend and serves us at His eternal banqueting table. It is the fact that we live our lives, rushing from day to day, rushing through each day, anxiously awaiting something, and all that rushing makes our lives seem like they are rushing to the end, to our physical death. And yet, as we keep our eyes focused on the end, that is on heaven, on our faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, then our days become days of declaring that the Lord “is our God, we trusted in him and he saved us . . . let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

He Gave His All - October 8, 2017 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Isaiah 5:1-7

You may have noticed that Old Testament Lesson and the Gospel Lesson both use the imagery of the vineyard. The vineyard was important because it supplied the grapes used for making wine which was an important staple for the people. Jesus makes good use of the vineyard as an example to show how God works with us. We are like the vineyard, we do nothing, instead we are continually tended to. Whereas, God is the Vinedresser, He is the one who comes to tend us, giving us everything we need. God is the one who gets us ready for planting. He clears our lives of the stumbling stones that get in the way of our coming to faith. He plows us and gets us ready for the planting of His seed of faith. He waters that seed and works it until the fruit of our faith appears. Let us get to our text and see what God says.
Our text begins with the beloved speaking. We read beginning at verse one, “1Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes” (v.1-2).
These first two verses reveal to us that the prophet is singing to the Lord, concerning the Lord, and at the same time expressing the thoughts of the Lord. He says, “My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.” The Lord did not take any old vineyard, rather He searched and found the choicest of vineyards, one that was just right.
After finding the choicest vineyard He put a lot of work into His vineyard. He dug and cleared the land of any stones that might hamper the vines from growing to their full potential. And he planted His vineyard with the choicest of vines. Just any old vine would not do. His had to be the best.
Next, in order to assure the protection of His vines against anything that might happen to them, He built a watchtower to overlook His vineyard. In the next verse we will find that He also built a hedge, and a wall around His vineyard in order to protect the good grapes He was growing. His vineyard became somewhat of a fortified city.
Finally He built a winepress in His vineyard. The winepress shows with what confidence He did all His work. He did not plan to labor in vain, rather He labored with a confident expectation of harvesting good grapes in which to make good wine.
Continuing on in our text we have the Lord speaking picking up at verse three, “3And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (v. 3-6).
Evidently the vineyard did not fulfill the Lord’s expectations. So the Lord comes to ask for the people to be the judge between He and His vineyard. Did the Lord do everything He could for the vineyard or was there more that He could have done? Was it the Vinedresser’s fault, or was it the vineyards fault that it did not bear good grapes?
The Lord asks, “what more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” As a good Vinedresser He knows that He has done everything that could do for His vineyard. All that He did was laid out in verses one and two.
Because He has done all that He believes He could do for the vineyard and because He believes the vineyard is at fault, He decides what He will do to the vineyard. He will judge His vineyard. He says that he will take away the hedge and break down the wall. This action is tantamount to saying that He will destroy the vineyard. With no hedge and no wall the vineyard will be subject to any and all invasions. People, animals, anything and anyone can come in and trample the vineyard.
But there is more. He will not prune the vineyard, and He will command the rain not to water it. He will give the vineyard its own way. It can grow wherever it wants to grow, if it can grow, because He will also stop the rain from watering it. As we can see, this is a pretty harsh judgement on the vineyard.
We go to the last verse of our text for the interpretation. We read verse seven, “7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (v.7).
Isaiah tells us that the vineyard is the house of Israel. God chose the children of Israel from all the other nations of the earth, not because they were special, but simply because He chose them. He cleared their lives of stumbling stones. He wiped out the nations in the promised land for them. He did this many times during their lineage as His people. He did everything He could, everything imaginable for His people. He called them back to repentance time and time again. He saved them time and time again.
The vineyard owner is the Lord. He is the perfect Vinedresser. He knew when to cultivate, when to plow, when to sow, when to reap. He knew when to guide them to Egypt, when to deliver them from slavery, when to bring them into the promised land. God, on His part did everything as He knew to do and He did His part perfectly.
The Lord built the vineyard. He did everything He could for it. And yet, the vineyard grew only sour, wild grapes. It is as if the vines had a mind of their own. The fruit did not produce as expected, rather it rebelled against the Vinedresser to become sour and wild.
Our text has an obvious connection to the children of Israel. Today we are living in New Testament times, and by faith in Jesus, we are the new children of Israel. So, we might ask ourselves, how are we doing compared to the children of Israel of the Old Testament? Does this text speak to us? Can, or should we compared ourselves to the vineyard?
We begin in the same place Isaiah did, reminding ourselves that God gives us everything. God is the initiator. God chose us, even before He began creation He chose us. He gave us physical life at conception. He recreated us at our Baptism. He put His name on us. He gave us forgiveness of sins. He made us His own. God gives us everything we need to support our body and life. Take a look at the explanations of the articles of the Apostles’ creed and you can get a list of the many blessings that God gives to us. Very much like God gave the children of Israel everything, so God gives us everything. And very much like the children of Israel, we too often refuse God’s good gifts and blessings.
And yet we say, “how do we refuse God’s good gifts and blessings?” We refuse God’s good gifts and blessings in many and various ways. We refuse what God gives by not being given His gifts, that is by staying away from where He gives His gifts. We refuse God’s gifts by failing to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, (and by regular and diligent use, God means every opportunity that He gives us to do so), by not reading our Bibles, by not regularly coming to divine service, by not confessing our sins and by staying away from His sacraments, not remembering our baptism and not partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, how can God pour out His blessings on us when we stay away from the very place He gives out His blessings.
There is more. We refuse God’s gifts by not acknowledging them, that is, by not giving thanks. Whenever we think that there is anything that we have because of something we have done, we forget to give God the glory. When we forget to thank Him and to acknowledge that He is the giver of all, in so doing we refuse what He gives as a gift.
And we refuse God’s gifts by not responding to His giving them, that is, by not giving back to God. When we hear God’s word and neglect to let that word shine forth in our lives, we have refused His Word. When we have the ability to work, a job to work and get a paycheck and refuse to acknowledge that all that comes from God, we are refusing to accept what He has given as a gift. Instead it becomes something we think we have earned or we think we deserve.
Yes, when it comes to producing good fruit in our lives, we are very much like the children of Israel. Very often, more often than not, we fail. We produce sour and wild grapes. Perhaps you know some sour or wild grapes. Perhaps you know someone who thinks they are in control of their own life, who is angry or upset with what they think they do not have in life or are angry and upset because they believe they have not gotten what they believe they deserve. Perhaps you know someone who blames all the bad that happens to them on others or who simply do not want to take any responsibility for themselves or someone who is angry and bitter because life is not going the way they believe it should go. Of course, we always have God’s warning that it is better that we do not have it our way, because our way is the way of sin. Rather, we would do well to always ask for God’s will and way to be done. Yes, our problem is that we are conceived and born in sin and every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. Yes, we are sour grapes.
But there is good news. Even though we fail; even though we do not bear good fruit, the Lord is still there, ready to forgive us and give us another chance.
The Gospel reminds us that God gives, and gives, and gives and He even gives some more. And even when we are negligent in our faith life, He continues to give us everything again. God’s giving does not depend on us. We may refuse God’s gifts time and time again, but He is there, always ready to give to us some more.
God’s greatest gift is His gift of forgiveness. Of course, although this gift may cost us nothing, which is why it is a gift, it cost His Son His very life. Jesus came to do for Israel what she could not do for herself, even as a nation. Jesus came to do for us what we cannot do, even as His people. Jesus lived perfectly, not getting angry or upset because He never got His own way. As a matter of fact, Jesus came, not to get His way, but to give His life according to His Father’s way. He was born with nothing and He never owned anything. Jesus lived perfectly. Jesus obeyed all God’s laws perfectly. Jesus obeyed all God’s commands perfectly. Jesus did all things perfectly and then He took all our sins on Himself, our sins of wanting our own way, our sins of being sour grapes. Jesus paid the price for all our sins with His very life, suffering the eternal death penalty for us in our place. Yes, God has given us everything and done everything for us.
We are like the vineyard, we do nothing, instead we are continually tended to we are continually done to. God is the Vinedresser, He is the one who comes to tend to us, giving us everything we need. God is the one who gets us ready for planting. He clears our lives of the stumbling stones that get in the way of our coming to faith. He plows us and gets us ready for the planting of His seed of faith. He waters that seed and works it until the fruit of our faith appears. God does, God gives and we are done to and we are given to and we say, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Repent and Live - October 1, 2017 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) - Text: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Is God just or is God merciful? That is the question that is often asked, as if God can either be just or merciful and not both. The “logic” is that if God were merciful then there would be no suffering in the world, so He must be just. Or, if God were just then bad things would not happen to good people, as we define good people. Unfortunately, those who wish to impose their own human logic on God fail to realize that their logic is tainted by sin and so really is not very logical. And really, God is not logical as we think of being logical in human terms. Remember last week we were reminded that God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than our own thoughts and ways so that we really cannot completely understand God. This human logic often feeds that human understanding that we so often hear which is that religion is a personal matter; that my faith is a “me and Jesus” thing. God’s word reminds us that although God may hold each of us accountable for our own lives, our own sins, our faith is not just a “me and Jesus” thing, but is a corporate thing, that is, we are to be Christians in community. Our faith is matter of eternal life or eternal spiritual death. Our faith is not something we keep to ourselves, but as the Lord fills us with His good gifts and blessings, through His Word and Sacraments, we cannot help but overflow and share those good gifts and blessings with others. We might truly surmise, if we are not sharing our faith, do we really have faith. Our text for this morning talks about our lives of repentance and forgiveness.
Our text begins with Ezekiel telling us that the word of the LORD came to him. We read beginning at verse one, “1The word of the Lord came to me: 2“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (v.1-4).
The word of the Lord that came to Ezekiel was a word in response to the people who were saying that they should not be held responsible for their sins. The proverb to which they are referring is in Exodus 20, what we have often referred to as the close of the commandments. God says, “I the LORD you God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” The people were complaining that God had no right to punish them for the sins of their parents. At least this was the perception of the people.
God’s response through Ezekiel begins with the reminder that every living soul belongs to the Lord. And because every living soul belongs to the Lord it is God’s will that all people come to faith. God’s will is not that He wants to punish people. His will is that He wants to give His good gifts and blessings to His people.  His will is that His people do not refuse the gifts that He has to give. Here we see, as always, that God is the initiator. God first comes to us. God gives and we are given to and indeed all we really can do is refuse and reject what God gives.
God comes to us, but that does not mean that He just lets us off the hook for our sins. Since Jesus has paid the price for our sins does that mean we are not to be held accountable? Ezekiel tells us that God will hold us accountable, responsible for our sins. He tells us that the soul that sins, and remains in his sin, will die, and the death he will die will be an eternal spiritual death, hell. However, He will not hold us accountable for another person’s sin, unless we have had something to do with that other person’s sin. He will hold us accountable for our own sin.
Our text continues with the complaint that the Lord is being unjust. We pick up at verse twenty-five, “25“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. 27Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. 28Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (v. 25-28).
Ezekiel begins by showing that God is just because He holds each person responsible for their own sins. And although God does call the corporate body to recognize and call individuals out for their sin He does not hold the corporate body responsible for one person’s sin. The words of the text are very clear, “if a person sins, he will die for his own sin.” These words of God are the Law and God will act justly, according to the Law.
On the other hand, the Gospel in our text says that “if a person turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right,” in other words, if a person repents, “he will be forgiven.” These words of God are the Gospel and so too, God will act accordingly.
Ezekiel is quite clear on God’s justice and fairness. God acts rightly according to His Law and His Gospel. God’s Law shows us our sin and reminds us of our need to repent. God’s Gospel shows us our Savior, and reminds us what Christ has done for us on the cross.
Our text continues with a second complaint of the Lord being unjust. We pick up at verse twenty-nine, “29Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 30‘Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live’” (v. 29 - 32).
It would appear that the people were not convinced by Ezekiel’s words, so he comes to them again. He restates the Law which says that a person will be judge for his own sin. God says, “I will judge every one according to his ways.”
With God’s Word of Law spoken, Ezekiel goes on to give words of exhortation to repent. God is going to hold each person accountable for their sins, thus it is imperative that each person take account of their sins and repent of their sins.
And again the reminder is given that it is God’s will that people repent and live. God’s will is not that He is out to get people as in to condemn people. He is not out to get us. God’s will is not that He is out to destroy humanity. God’s will is that He loves the people. He wants all people to come to a knowledge of the truth, to hear His words of salvation, and be saved. Thus, it is God’s will that people repent and live.
Our text sounds a lot like the people of our own world today. How often are we confronted with people who do not want to be held responsible for their own actions, let alone the actions of others. We live in a world in which we do not want to be held responsible for our actions. A person sues and wins, because she spilled hot coffee on herself. A person sues and wins, because he was hurt while trying to rob your house. A person is put in jail and declares that it is societies fault that he is going to jail. We believe that we should be able to do whatever we want, as long as we are not hurting anyone else, and sometimes even if we are hurting someone else, and we do not want to be held responsible for our actions, and yet we believe that we are entitled to all the benefits that come from being a citizen of this country. We expect someone else and especially the government to be responsible for us. How we got to this point is really rather simple, but that is for another time.
Amazingly enough, we are like the children of Israel. They wanted to do whatever they wanted to do and they did not want to be held responsible for their sins. They wanted God to take care of them as if they were, for some reason, entitled for God to do everything for them. Yes, we are very much like the children of Israel. And so God comes to us to tell us that we are responsible and He holds each one of us personally accountable for our own sins, that is the Law. But there is more, and that more is the Gospel. For you see, when we do repent, God no longer holds us accountable, instead He holds Jesus accountable for our sins. Our sins, the penalty for our sins has to be paid. “The wages of sin is death.” “The soul that sins will die.” The death that these verse talk about is eternal spiritual death. That eternal spiritual death penalty was placed on Jesus who suffered our penalty on the cross, for us, in our place.
It is not God’s will that people should perish. It was never God’s intent that He should have to punish us. Rather, God would have us repent and live. As in the past few Sundays, we are reminded again of how important are the words we speak on Sunday mornings, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us from all unrighteousness.”
God’s will is that no one should perish. Rather, God wants all people to be saved. We may think that God is not fair and we are right. God is not fair. If He were fair, He would give us what we deserve, what we are entitled to, and that would mean that we would all be damned, we would all spend eternity in hell. Because we were conceived and born in sin, because every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, we are entitled only to death, eternal spiritual death and hell. But our God who we think is unfair, unfairly places all our sins on His Son, Jesus who was perfect and holy, who was perfectly obedient, who never sinned. Jesus bears the punishment, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. Now that is unfair indeed.
Paul speaks of this unfairness in our Epistle reading for today reminding us of God’s great love for us in Jesus. He encourages us to have the mind or attitude of Jesus who humbled Himself because of His love for us. He reminds us of Jesus being born as a human, being obedient even to death on the cross. He reminds us that the victory is ours by faith in Jesus as in the end every knee, believer and unbeliever will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Here again we are reminded that God is the prime mover. God acts. God stirs in us to believe, to repent and confess, to be given the gifts and blessings He has to give; forgiveness, faith, life and salvation.
Today we celebrate that we are God’s people, we are God’s children, made so in Christ. God created us, giving us life at conception. He recreated us at our baptism, putting faith in our hearts, giving us forgiveness of sins, forgiveness for our original inborn sin as well as our actual sin. He stirs in us to repent and to not refuse His forgiveness. He stirs in us a desire to make regular and diligent us of His means of grace, reading and hearing His Word, especially in divine service; remembering our baptism; confessing our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of forgiveness; coming to His Table to partake of His body and His blood in His holy meal. And He stirs in us to respond to all that He does and gives to us by offering our lives as living sacrifices for Him. What is left except to give Him thanks and praise. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.