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 28, 2019

Encouraged to Pray - July 28, 2019 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - Text: Genesis 18:17-19( 20-33)

We define prayer as a heart to heart talk with God, any time and any where. We pray, not because God needs us to pray, after all, He already knows what we need even before we pray. We pray because of our need to pray. We pray in order to talk with God and we read His Word in order for our conversation with God to be complete. He speaks to us in His Word. And I would emphasis the fact that He speaks most clearly through His Word. And we speak to Him in prayer. Our readings for this morning encourage us in our own prayer life.
Our text for this morning follows our text from last week. You might remember that last week the Lord appeared to Abraham and specifically promised that within the year his wife Sarah would have a son. As we move into our text for this morning we see that the Lord had more business to attend to as His face was set toward Sodom and Gomorrah. We begin at verse seventeen,“(17The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him’)” (v. 17-19).
So, why is the Lord telling these things to Abraham? Because Abraham would be the father of those living in this land. As the father of those who would be living in the land, as the patriarch as we call him, the Lord tells Abraham what is happening and in so telling him, He is encouraging him to pray for those in the land, including his own family. Remember, his nephew Lot was living in Sodom.
In speaking with Abraham, concerning what was happening in the land, concerning the sin of those in Sodom and Gomorrah, God is setting an example of judgment and justice for the children of Abraham, for those who would be the children of Israel. God cannot and will not tolerate sin. Sin must be dealt with and it must be dealt with using the full measure of God’s justice and judgement. Here in our text and as usual, God does not tolerate sin. For God to tolerate sin would go against the very nature of God Himself, that He is perfect and holy.
Although God is not accountable to Abraham, but lest he might think that God is unreasonable, God tells Abraham His reason for judgement, picking up at verse twenty, “20Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know’” (v. 20-21). The Lord tells Abraham that He has heard the outcry of the sin in Sodom and Gomorrah. We might be reminded of another of God’s hearing of an outcry of sin was that of Abel’s blood crying out after he was killed by Cain. Here, the Lord hears the outcry of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps these are words of warning in our own lives as we sin and the Lord hears the outcry of our own sin, pleading out against us and even convicting and condemning us.
The Lord tells Abraham that He will, as our text says, see and know if their outcry is as bad as it sounds. In other words, the Lord will go down and rightly and justly judge the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we can rest assured, God’s judgement will be just and right.
After the Lord reveals to Abraham what He is about to do, Abraham prays for Sodom. Picking up at verse twenty-two, “22So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (v. 22-33).
Notice that Abraham prays because he is encouraged by God to do so. God told him what He was going to do and Abraham’s response, in concern for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and his own family, is that he is moved to pray to the Lord. Again, remember, Abraham’s nephew Lot is living in Sodom and so Abraham is praying for Lot, his family, and the rest of the people of the city as well.
In his prayer, not in any deceptive way, but in humble adoration, Abraham puts forward the Lord’s nature. Picking up at verse twenty-five, “25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? 26And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake’” (v.25- 26). Certainly in our own prayer life we might be mindful of and remind the Lord of His own Word and especially His own Words of promise, not that God needs the reminder, but in our speaking such words, they are indeed a reminder to us.
Notice that as Abraham prays, he knows his station and is humble in his petition, picking up at verse twenty-seven, “27Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (v. 27). Certainly Abraham’s example in praying is a good example for us to follow. We pray in response to our Lord’s Word to us. We pray in concern for other people as well as our own family. And we pray knowing our station so that our prayer is a prayer of humility from one who is “but dust and ashes.”
And finally, Abraham is encouraged and continues his prayer, his requests and pleading to the point that he believes Sodom will receive a reprieve, because he personally believes that certainly there has to be at least ten faithful people in the city. Of course, as we know the story, unfortunately at this point in time the city has become so corrupted that there are not even ten faithful believers in the entire city. So, although God justly destroys the city, by His grace He saved Abraham’s family.
So, what does this mean? Our Gospel lesson serves as a wonderful tie in this morning because in the Gospel lesson we hear Jesus teach His disciples and us to pray. Just as many religious teachers of Jesus’ day taught their disciples to pray, so our Lord teaches His own disciples how to pray. Yet, not only does Jesus teach His disciples how to pray, He follows with words of encouragement in prayer, namely that God does listen and that we should be persistent in our prayers.
In our text for this morning we have the encouragement of Abraham praying to encourage our faithful prayers. Abraham did not know the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, only what was God’s intention. Abraham did not think more highly of himself, but came before the Lord in humbleness of heart and mind. Abraham did not know how God would answer his prayer, only that he believed the Lord would hear and answer according to what He knew was best, according to His good and gracious will. Abraham prayed out of his concern for his family and others.
We also find encouragement in our own prayer life because we have God’s promise to hear our prayer. Just as the Lord listened to and responded to Abraham’s prayer, to each and every petition and just as Jesus spoke concerning the fact that God hears our prayers and gives us good gifts and the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him, so we are encouraged because we can be confident that the Lord hears our prayers and answers our prayers and gives us His Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God that we can rest confident that as we pray to the Lord, that as He hears and answers our prayer, we can be confident and we have God’s promise to answer our prayer, according to what He knows we need according to what He knows is best for us. Too often we pray for what we think we need, when the reality is that we do not always know what we need, nor do we always know for what to pray nor how to pray. Thanks be to God that even before we know what we need, even before we pray, He knows what we need, thus we pray, Lord help me to pray and Lord answer my prayer according to Your good and gracious will.
As for our own prayer life, we too, even today, have the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s prayer is the perfect prayer, because it is His prayer. Personally, I will admit that I cannot make up a better prayer. For those who would suggest that the only real prayers are extemporaneous prayers, that is prayers that are made up at the time and rise out of one’s heart and mind, I would remind them that the Lord’s prayer is a prayer that was given to us by God and certainly He rejoices in hearing us speak the very words He has given us to speak back to Him.
The Lord’s prayer is the perfect prayer because it was given to us by God, but even more, because it incorporates everything for which we truly need to pray. The Lord’s prayer faithfully speaks words concerning our own as well as our neighbor’s spiritual well-being. Especially including our greatest need, forgiveness of sins. The Lord’s prayer faithfully speaks words of our own as well as our neighbor’s physical well-being. Certainly our own extemporaneous prayers are important, because they speak of what is on our heart and mind, but never think the Lord’s prayer as anything but the perfect prayer.
Finally, we find encouragement in our prayer life as our prayer life flows out of our faith life. As we have been reading and hearing over the past number of weeks, God is the prime mover. It all starts, flows from and ends with the Lord. God gives first, God loves first, God stirs in us. We pray, not because God needs us to pray, but because of our need to pray. We pray as we are loved by God and He has shown His love in the giving of His life for ours in the person of Jesus on the cross. We prayer because, we hear His Word encouraging us to pray and we have confidence that He will hear our prayer and that He will answer our prayer according to what He knows is best for us according to His good and gracious will.
This morning, then, I too, encourage you in your own prayer life. As we learned in the explanation to the introduction of the Lord’s prayer in confirmation class, “Our Father who art in heaven,” “What Does This Mean?” “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” And I would also encourage you to know and believe that God is your true and dear Father and that He will hear and answer you prayer, in His time, which is when He knows is best to answer our prayer, and according to His good and gracious will, that is according to what He knows is best for us. And we rejoice in God’s promise to hear and answer our prayer. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord? - July 21, 2019 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Genesis 18:1-10a (10b-14)

In college, in teaching class, we are instructed that the best way to help students to understand a concept is to teach and reteach. As we hear the Word of the Lord again this morning, certainly the concept our Lord would have us to learn, as He teaches and reteaches us, as He speaks His Word and respeaks His Word is that God is the prime mover. It all begins, flows from and ends with the Lord. He gives and we are given to, He does and we are done to. As we move into our text we see that God is the prime mover. He approaches Abraham. He makes a covenant with Abraham. He reiterates His covenant with Abraham. God initiates, God promises and God fulfills His promises.
Our text begins with God’s visit with Abraham, verse one, “1And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate” (v. 1-8).
As you hear these words, what you do not hear and what you cannot see in your English version is that the word for Lord is God’s name, Yahweh. Thus, what we are hearing and reading in our text is that this is what theologians call a pre-incarnate Christ, that is that this is Jesus in the flesh before He is born as a baby in Bethlehem. This is Jesus who has come to visit Abraham and Abraham recognizes Him as being the pre-incarnate Christ, as being the Lord, Yahweh Himself in the flesh.
Abraham recognizes the Lord because the Lord has appeared to him before. The Lord appeared to Abraham when He called him and made His covenant with him, a covenant which was not a new covenant, but was a narrowing of the fulfillment of the covenant the Lord made to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. God is the one making the covenant. God is the one making the promise. God’s promise in Eden was a Savior for all people of all places of all times, because there was no Jew or Gentile in Eden. Here as earlier, God reiterates His covenant with Abraham with the narrowing of the fulfillment of the promise, that through the family line of Abraham the promised Savior would be born. Here in our text, Abraham recognizes the Lord and in true Oriental fashion offers hospitality.
In confirmation we were taught that angels do not have bodies, but are spirit beings, and as we have been talking about the Lord as being the pre-incarnate Christ, that is that this is Jesus before His immaculate conception and birth, we may wonder about their eating. Concerning their consuming this meal, these incarnate beings, these angels, who are with Jesus, and Jesus, have taken on human flesh, so, although they may not need human food for sustenance, they do eat as regular humans. In so eating, they are accepting Abraham’s offer of hospitality.
Continuing on in our text, God reiterates His promise of a son, picking up at verse nine, “9They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (v. 9-14).
God had already promised Abraham that he would have a son, that he would be the father of a great nation and that the Savior of the world would be born through his offspring. Here God reiterates His promise of a child and specifically states that this child will be born before the next year is complete.
Now, we are told that Sarah is in the tent, but that she is listening in on the conversation and when she hears this “prediction,” that “about this time next year, Sarah your wife shall have a son,” her response is that she laughs. According to her fallible human nature, understanding the “normal” way of life, she cannot believe that what she is hearing is true. Now remember, to be barren was considered to be cursed, so up until this time Sarah may well have felt cursed and it would be difficult to believe that now, after so many years, and after she has passed child-bearing years, that this would indeed happen to her, that her curse would be removed and she would have the privilege of giving birth to a child.
As always, God always knows what we are thinking and so the Lord hears Sarah laugh and reminds Abraham that with God all things are possible. God reminds Abraham that His promise will come to fulfillment. Notice again, God is the prime mover. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. God promises and He fulfills His promises.
As we heard in our Gospel reading for this morning, God’s promise was fulfilled and we see that fulfilled promise in the ultimate fulfillment of the line of promise to Abraham in the person of Jesus. And even in the birth of Jesus we see that with God all things are possible, because Jesus was conceived, not in the normal earthly way, but by the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary so that He was conceived, true God and true man. And this Jesus was born, not simply to save His own people, who for the most part rejected Him, but He was born to fulfill God’s covenant given in Eden and reiterated to Abraham, to be the Savior of all people of all places of all times, you and me included.
In our Epistle reading for this morning we hear Paul exhort us to believe in the mysteries of God. These mysteries include, but are not limited to, how God can love us, sinful human beings, so much He would die for us; how can God do such great things through water and His Word, giving, strengthening and keeping us in faith; how can God do such great things through bread and wine and His Word; how can God do such great things for us in our lives and in our world today.
So, what does this mean? Again and again, as our Lord teaches and reteaches, as He tells us and retells us, God’s promise to send a Savior that was given in Eden was given before there was a Jew and Gentile. God’s promise to send a Savior was a promise that was given for all people of all places of all times.
God’s promise to Abraham was not a new promise, not a second covenant, rather His promise to Abraham was simply a narrowing of the line from which the Savior would be born. The promise was the same promise, that God would send a Savior.
So, again, God is the prime mover. It all begins, flows from and ends with God. God created all things out of nothing. God created all things prefect and holy. Humanity brought sin and death into God’s perfect world and immediately God promised to take care of man’s sin. Throughout time and history, again and again God shows that with Him all things are possible. God created all things out of nothing and crowned His creation with the creation of humanity. God cleansed the world with a world wide flood. God scattered the peoples of the world through the confusion of the languages at the tower of Babel. God continued to reiterate His promise of a Savior.
Finally, in Jesus we have God’s fulfillment of His promise to send a Savior. And Jesus too, is an example of the fact that with God all things are possible. Jesus was not conceived in the normal human way, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit so that He is truly God and He was born of the virgin Mary so that He is truly human. And Jesus had to be both God and man. He had to be God in order to be perfect and holy so that He might be able to take our sins upon Himself. And He had to be truly human so that He could live for us and be our substitute. Jesus did obey all God’s commands perfectly and He did fulfill all God’s promises, perfectly. He who knew no sin became sin for us, taking our sins upon Himself and then He paid the price, He suffered the eternal death penalty for us, in our place and He died. But as we know the story, death and the grave had no power over Him and still have no power over Him, so that He rose from the dead and showed Himself to be alive. Before He ascended to the place from which He descended to come to earth, He promised that He would return.
As we await God’s fulfillment of His promise to return we wait in faith, knowing that with God all things are possible, knowing that as the Lord fulfilled His first promise He will fulfill this promise as well. And so we wait, not in fear, not impatiently, but in eager anticipation.
As we wait in eager anticipation, we live lives of faith. We live lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers, offering our lives as living sacrifices for the Lord. Just as Abraham lived his life in glory to the Lord, just as Mary chose what was right and sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him, and just as Paul lived out his faith, so too, we today live out our faith when God has His way with us. We live out our faith by being given to by God, by our own sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him through our reading of His Word as well as through our hearing His Word in divine service and Bible Class. We live lives of faith, as living sacrifices as we are always ready to give an answer for our faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we are ready as our Lord fills us with Himself and the good gifts and blessings He has to give and as He speaks those words with which He has filled us through us, even giving us the confidence, when asked to speak. Because, as we know, with God, all things are possible.
This morning we rejoice because we have seen once again that God is God and that with God, nothing is impossible. We rejoice because once again we have been reminded that God’s promise to send a Savior was His promise to us and Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. We rejoice because through the very means of Holy Baptism and God’s Word we have been given faith and through the means of our remembering our Baptism, through our confession and hearing His Words of Absolution, through our reading and hearing His Holy Word and through our being given His body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine in His Holy Supper we participate in His death and resurrection so that His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection, and through these means we are strengthened and kept in faith. And finally, through our being given to, we rejoice in the fact that this is giving glory to our Lord. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

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

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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

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

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