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, January 27, 2019
A Holy Day to the Lord - January 27, 2019 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Today is the Third Sunday after the Epiphany and for those of you who like to look ahead and plan ahead, this year there are seven Sundays after the Epiphany. The eighth Sunday after the Epiphany will be Transfiguration Sunday. The Wednesday following Transfiguration Sunday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This year Lent begins on March 3. To me, this is just another reminder of how quickly time moves at us and really, how short our life really is on this earth.
One of the classes we take at the seminary is homiletics, that is a class that teach us about preaching. One of the things we are told is to look at all the lessons and to see if there is a theme which runs through the lessons. Now, and I know I explained this before and even more so in Bible Class, but let me briefly say it again this morning, our readings comprise what is known as a lectionary and the point of the readings is to follow the seasons of the Church year, which follow the life of Jesus and there is an to attempt to having readings that do relate to one another. Yes, as many of you may have noticed, from time to time there really is no relation of one reading to the other two. Anyway, the goal is for all the readings to relate and so as I look at the readings I attempt to find a theme of sorts.
This morning then, as we look at the other lessons, we read in the Gospel the account of Jesus preaching to what amounts to His hometown. Now, remember, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He traveled to Egypt. And He and His parents finally settled in Nazareth which is where He grew up. So, this was His hometown and many of the people in this town knew Him, or at least they thought they knew Him. In our Gospel reading, Jesus is leading the worship service, or at least participating in the service. He reads the lessons and then He proclaims that what He has read is now being fulfilled in their presence. In other words He is claiming to be the Messiah spoken of in the Isaiah reading. Some of the people get it and their response is that they rejected what Jesus is saying. They are rejecting the Word in flesh, Jesus.
In our Epistle lesson for this morning we hear Paul reminding us that we are one body, that is that as a Church, as a Christian congregation we are a part of God’s Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, and we are to live and work together as His people in this place. Of course, because of our sinful nature, we know how difficult this living together is to do, which is why we rejoice that grace abounds.
And in our Old Testament reading we hear the account of the Israelites in exile listening to the reading of the Law of the Lord and being encouraged to rejoice in the Lord’s forgiveness. Now, what theme runs through these three readings? I believe the theme that runs through these three readings is that all three point us to the importance of our divine service. Jesus usual custom was to be in divine service. We are all members of the body of Christ, and we are united in our divine service and in the divine service we hear the word of Law of the Lord and we hear words of our Lord’s forgiveness and encouragement in our Christian lives. The divine service is where we are encouraged, uplifted, forgiven, and strengthened to be God’s people in our vocations for the week.
With that look at all three readings, let us move to our main text from the Old Testament. This morning our text is God’s Word to the exiles and we might understand that this is His Word to us today as well. The Children of Israel were being disciplined by the Lord. They were defeated by other nations and carried off to other places, away from the promised land. Yet, as this same people returned to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple in Jerusalem, they were all willing to gather to listen for over six hours to the Word of the Lord and especially to the Law of the Lord, which pointed out their sin.
The people listened and heard the Word of the Lord and they understood the Word which was read. They knew that this Word was spoken to them. As I say that I am reminded of how many people reject the gifts of God on Sunday morning with the excuse that every time they go to church the pastor is preaching to them, which is what is supposed to happen. For the Children of Israel, they understood how they broke God’s Law, how they sinned and that the discipline that was inflicted on them, their dispersion by other nations to other countries. was due to their own sinfulness. And they repented.
Nehemiah tells us that the people wept for joy. Yes, they wept on account of their sins, but they knew and understood that their sins were forgiven and so they wept for joy for their forgiveness. And at the encouragement of Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the governor, they celebrated and declared a holy day to the Lord.
So, what about us? Do we gladly hear the word, or do we refuse and reject it? The first three commandments deal with our relationship with God, what we call our vertical relationship. The first commandment reminds us that anything we fear, love or trust in above God is truly our god or we should say our idol and yet, how often, even how often in a day do we go running after other gods and idols. And especially on Sunday morning how often do we put someone or something ahead of our Lord. The second commandment reminds us to respect God’s Holy Name. This commandment reminds us of wrong and right uses of God’s Name, yet how often in a day do we find ourselves misusing God’s Name as we wrongly curse and swear and how we misuse God’s Name by failing to call upon Him. And the third commandment reminds us of the importance of divine service, and as Dr. Luther so well points out, the importance of gladly hearing and obeying God’s Word. Yet, each and every Sunday in churches around the world and in our own congregation we have people absenting themselves from divine service with something more important to do.
The Children of Israel, having been disciplined by the Lord, having been in exile and away from the Word of the Lord, rejoiced at the hearing of His Word. Do we rejoice in our hearing of the Word? Do we rejoice when the pastor points out our sin, or do we get upset or make excuses? Would we rather have a pastor who would preach what our itching ears want to hear? King David set an example for us when he declared, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”
When the Children of Israel heard the Word of the Lord, it had an affect on them. Does the Word of the Lord take root, spring up and bear abundant fruit in our hearts and lives? Or do we simply hear the Word and go home and immediately let it slip from our hearts and lives? Does the Word of the Lord work a change in our hearts?
In my book, Catechetical Helps we are reminded that we do not obey the third commandment by simply going to church, nor by simply going and hearing, nor by simply going and hearing and believing. But, we obey God’s Word by going to church, by hearing the Word, by believing the Word and by doing it, by living according to the Word.
So, let’s put this all together. Personally, I believe that the freedoms we enjoy in this country, especially our freedom of religion, have, at least in the past number of years, only worked to help destroy the Christian Church. From history we can see that it is going through times of persecution that works to strengthen the Christian Church and the Christian Church thrives and grows during times of persecution. In our text we know that the Children of Israel, who were God’s chosen people, who had many freedoms, used their freedom to sin and fall away from the Lord. We know that God used other nations, even heathen nations to discipline the Children of Israel and it was only during these times of discipline that the Children of Israel were brought back into a right relationship with the Lord.
So, we are reminded once again that our salvation does not depend on us, but it all depends on the Lord. Once again, God does it all, He runs the verbs. He chose Israel. He called her to faith. He gave her everything, and when she fell away, He sent discipline and called her back.
And God does the same for us. He chooses us. He calls us to faith. He gives us faith. He strengthens us in faith. He gives us forgiveness of sins. He gives us life and all that He gives He gives through the means of grace.
Perhaps we might need to be reminded that although forgiveness costs us nothing, and although forgiveness is free for us, forgiveness is not free. The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden and the price for sins is death, physical death and apart from God and faith in Jesus, eternal spiritual death. It was Jesus who earned forgiveness and it is Jesus who is the prime mover in our being given faith.
And just as it was in the days and in the lives of the Children of Israel, so it is with us. God stirs in us to be given to, so we gladly rejoice and make regular, every Sunday, and diligent, whenever offered, use of the means of grace.
I want to sum up what we have been saying and as I do this, I need to let you know that one of the things I was taught in the classes I took on teaching was that the best way to teach was to teach and reteach, to say over and over what you want to say so that they audience gets it. With that in mind, let me sum this up by reminding you that God’s Word does and gives what it says which encourages us in our joyfully reading, hearing, learning and inwardly digesting His Word so that it works in us and gives to us all the good gifts and blessings God has to give. God’s Word is a Word with power to give what it says and to do what it says including stirring in us the desire more than anything else to be where His Word and gifts are delivered. We have a tendency to fail to recognize the power of the Word of the Lord, to refuse the Word of the Lord, and to misinterpret the Word of the Lord. Thus we rejoice that God’s Word is a word with power to do and give what it says, that God’s Word gives gifts; faith, forgiveness and life, and that God’s Word interprets itself and stirs in us the desire to be where His word is delivered. God gives us His Word through which He gives us all the gifts and blessings He has to give; faith, forgiveness and life, and it is His Word which motivates us to be where His Word is delivered so that we might be given the gifts He has to give. All we can do, with His help, is to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.