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, September 29, 2019

Rejoice Because . . . - Sept. 29, 2019 - St. Michael and All Angels - Text: Luke 10:17-20

Today is the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, but today is also St. Michael and All Angels Day. This is the day we set aside, not to worship angels, but to give thanks to God for these, His messengers and helpers. Although we cannot see angels, at least not under normal circumstances, we know they are there. I do not know about you, but the way some people drive today, I know I have at least two angels, one at the front of my car and one at the back. I am sure we have all heard stories of angels and of people being protected by their guardian angel and perhaps we have even heard stories of people seeing angels. So, for the next few minutes we will talk a little about angels.
Let me begin by admitting that I am no expert on angels, not that anyone might be considered and expert. There are certainly many myths and legends concerning angels and while the Bible does mention angels and give accounts of angel encounters with humans, it does not give us too many details. I would suggest that the reason the Bible does not give details is because our knowledge and understanding of angels is not important especially concerning our spiritual well being and our eternal salvation. I have done a little research and so I want to begin by sharing some information about angels. Let me also admit that these are not my words, but I am simply passing down to you what I have found.
The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels originated in the fifth century when a small church near Rome was dedicated in honor of the archangel Michael. This is the only festival regarding angels on the Lutheran calendar. St. Michael, whose name means “who is like unto God,” appears to be the leader of the archangels (Jude 9). During the Middle Ages, the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels (also known as Michaelmas) was one of the three holy days that divided the season after Pentecost. Michaelmas still marks the fall term for universities and courts of law in Great Britain.
That there are orders or classes among the angels is clear from Holy Scripture which mentions “cherubim” (fighting ones), “seraphim” (burning ones), “thrones, dominions, principalities, powers,” and “archangels.” Some like to image nine choirs of angels divided into three hierarchies: Counselors, including seraphim, cherubim, and thrones; Governors, including dominions, virtues, and powers; and Messengers, including princedoms, archangels, and angels. Yet I agree with Luther: “Hence it is that men, there being nothing certain recorded upon the subject, invented the nine choirs of the angels. . . But so it is ever: where there are no plain and sure Scripture testimonies, impertinent and presumptuous men consider themselves at liberty to imagine and invent what they please.”
According to Scripture, angels are sexless, bodiless beings, created by God. Yet Scripture does note that angels sometimes take on human form. Still, and completely contrary to Hollywood, Scripture records that when angels do take on human form, it was always the male human form. Besides providing opportunity to praise God for the wonder of His ministering spirits, a sign of God’s continuing care for us, St. Michael’s Day recalls the Church’s teaching concerning the guardian angels. Traditionally, St. Michael’s Day is also the day for specific prayer on behalf of the youngest members of the congregation and a time for these children to be especially presented to receive God’s blessing.
Now, getting to our readings for today. In our Old Testament lesson for today, Daniel relates a vision he was given by God. In his vision, Daniel sees what is to happen in days to come. Namely, Daniel sees the battle in which the archangel Michael fights for the Lord with the other angels against Satan and his evil angels. Ultimately Daniel sees the victory of Christ.
Daniel also sees the coming of the day of judgement. He sees the day when Jesus will come and those who have faith in Him, those who’s names are written in the Book of Life, will be given eternal life and those who’s names are not written in the Book of Life will be cast into shame and everlasting contempt.
In our Epistle lesson for today, John is given a vision from the Lord. John sees the war between Michael and the angels and the devil and his evil angels. John also sees how the devil who is called Satan, who is the deceiver of the whole world is thrown down to earth where he is continually tempting us and trying every way he can to get us to blaspheme God, at least he is continuing this tempting until Christ’s return.
And John also sees the victory won by the blood of the Lamb. It is Jesus suffering and death, the shedding of His blood which defeated the devil, yet the devil is still around working to do as much damage to God and His people as he can, especially since “he knows that his time is short.”
In the Gospel lesson for today, we have the account of the return of the seventy-two whom Jesus sent out with authority and power. Jesus had sent out the seventy-two and told them to “heal the sick” “and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
As the seventy-two returned, Jesus listens to their report, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.” The seventy-two were amazed at what they were able to do in Jesus’ name. And Jesus attests to what they were able to do as He says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” Not only does the archangel Michael and all the angels have power over the devil, so our Lord gives us power over Satan, in His name.
Jesus then reiterates His giving of authority. “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Jesus does not mean for us to think that in and of ourselves we have power to defeat the devil or even to stand against Him, but in His name we have the power to stand up to the devil and even to defeat him.
“Nevertheless,” Jesus says, there is something even more important than having such power and that is that we are to rejoice in the greater or the greatest joy, that is that our names are written in the book of life in heaven. And this is so, because of what Jesus has done for us.
Which brings us to our “What does this mean?” question or our “So what?” of our text. The first and foremost “so what” is that we do not worship the angels. Time and again God sent His angels to deliver messages to people on earth and as those people to whom they were sent would bow down and want to give them homage and honor to the angels, the angels would have nothing to do with that, because they did not come to be given homage or honor, nor did they come for any reason of their own, rather they came to do the will and bidding of God in heaven. No, we do not worship angels, but we do recognize the fact that there are angels and we do recognize their work.
One of the works of the angels is that they are God’s messengers. That is what the word angel means, messenger. The angels were created to do God’s bidding. The angels are sent by God to bring messages to His people. Throughout the Bible we hear time and again of an angel delivering a message from God. In the Old Testament we have the account of the angels visiting Abraham and going to see what was happening in Sodom and Gomorrah; the account of the angel with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. In the New Testament especially during Advent we hear of a lot of angel activity as the angel appears to Zechariah, as an angel appears to Mary, as an angel appears to Joseph, as an angel and as multitudes of angels appear to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, even Jesus Himself.
Angels also watch over us. There are many stories of people seeing unseen angels. In the Old Testament we have the account of Elijah asking the Lord to show his servant all the angels who were protecting him so that he would not be afraid. I have heard the story of a missionary who was new in the mission field. He was working with a group of canibals. One night his house was surrounded by the villagers, yet they never attacked. Years later, after the chief of the village became a Christian and after the village was converted, the missionary asked the chief about that night. He asked the chief why they did not attack and the chief’s response was because of all the people that were with the man, in other words, God opened the eyes of the chief to see all His protecting angels and that kept the missionary alive.
As I alluded to earlier, I do believe that we have angels who are always with us guarding and protecting us. I also believe that children especially have their own angels as they too are precious in God’s eyes. Time and again, as we are protected from what appears to be certain disaster, I am convince that the reason we come out unscathed is because of our guardian angels.
Angels also war against the devil for God and on our behalf. We are daily harassed by the temptations of the devil and no, we cannot defeat Satan by ourselves. God sends His angels to help us in our war against the devil and his evil angels.
The angels work and they do war against the devil and his evil angels. No, I cannot tell you exactly how this war is waged. I am sure that Hollywood could give a great visual rendition if they set out to, but I do know what the Bible says and it tells us of these great wars between the evil angels and God’s angels and of course, God’s angels win.
God’s angels win the battles because the victory of the war, the spiritual war, the battle for our souls, has already been won for us. The war has been won through Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. God is the one who created all, including angels. We are the ones who rebel against God, as did Lucifer, the devil. As the devil brings charges against us, we look to Jesus who took care of our punishment, by taking our sins upon Himself and by suffering and dying, paying the price for our sins so that we are free.
Yes, we rejoice in the fact that we have angels watching over us. We rejoice in the power we have in Jesus’ name. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We rejoice because, by faith, given to us through the means of grace, by faith in Jesus alone, our names are written in the book of heaven. Thanks the Lord and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Beware The Lord’s Righteousness - September 22, 2019 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Amos 8:4-7

Do you know when you will die? Do you know when the Lord will return? Are you ready to meet the Lord? These, I believe, are the most important questions in the world. When our last day on this earth is here, when we die or when the Lord returns, when we stand before the Lord, He is not going to be concerned about our social status, our financial status, our political status, nor any other status we might think is important. When we stand before the Lord, His concern will be what is in our heart. His concern will be our sins, our forgiveness, and our eternal well being. Thus, God’s words of warning to His people, to the children of Israel, to us who are His people, who are the new Israel by faith in Jesus, are words to beware of His righteousness.
Before we get to our text, let us take a moment to look at the other lessons. In the Gospel lesson we have that interesting account of the shrewd manager. The manager has been accused of wasting the owners possessions. His solution is to count on the mercy of the owner. He “fixes” the books with the renters making it look like the owner is being generous to the renters. When the owner finds out, he can either look bad by undoing the generosity of the manager, or he can allow the generosity to stand looking even more merciful and generous in the eyes of the renters. The manager is commended, not because of his dishonesty, but because of his understanding that his solution had to come from outside himself, from the mercy of the owner. Our Gospel lesson so well reminds us of what is important in this world, not the things of this world, not what is from inside of us, but what is given to us from outside ourselves, the mercy of our merciful Lord.
In the Epistle lesson, we have Paul’s encouragement to pray for our governing officials and we have Paul’s words concerning the order of creation and the proper roles of men and women especially in public divine service. In both instances, Paul’s encouragement reminds us of God’s mercy toward us. We see God’s mercy in governing us through those in office and we see God’s mercy in His giving us appropriate roles so that we have order and peace in our lives.
In our text for this morning, the Old Testament lesson, we have God’s concern especially for those that have been taken advantage of, especially the poor and the needy. Amos is warning the children of Israel concerning their idolatrous worship, their greed, and their callous mistreatment of their own brothers. If they persist in their evil ways and if they persist in their despising God’s grace, certainly the Lord will punish them. Amos’ warning is to us today. If we persist in our half-hearted, lukewarm worship of the Lord, allowing other “priorities” to get in the way of our being in divine service and Bible class, if we persist in focusing our attention on this world and amassing the things of this world instead of focusing our attention on the Lord and the things of the world to come, if we continue in our mistreatment of one another, especially our own Christian brothers and sisters and fellow congregational members, if we persist on doing it our way and despising God’s grace, certainly we can expect nothing more or less than the same treatment and punishment the Lord imposed on the Children of Israel.
God’s specific warning and desire in our text is that we do not take advantage of those in need by overcharging nor by false balances, measures or weights. God’s concern was not simply for the poor and needy, for their protection from schemers and scammers, but also for the proper use of His gift of the Sabbath. One commentator explained that the tradesmen of Amos’ day had no affection for the Lord’s gift of the Sabbath. The holy day was a reluctant duty for them, a day of begrudged obligation, not a time of holy celebration. The tradesmen so focused their life and attention on this world and the things of this world, amassing great wealth, that they actually despised the Sabbath.
Not too many years ago we had what were called “blue laws.” These “blue laws” made it illegal to sell certain items on a Sunday. Today, all but a few stores are open and selling just about anything and everything on a Sunday, as well as on most holidays. Perhaps God’s warning to Israel is His warning to us today as well. Is our society and culture much different if we too despise the Lord’s gift of the Sabbath because our focus and attention is so much on this world and amassing seeming wealth in this world, rather than rejoicing in the Lord’s gift of the Sabbath, in His spiritual blessings and in making regular and diligent use of His means of grace?
God’s warning to Israel and to us is that He does not forget our misdeeds. The day of judgement is fast approaching. Our own day of judgement will be when the Lord returns or when we pass on, when we die and go to Him. On our day of judgement, the Lord will remember our deeds and our misdeeds. Now, more than ever, it is especially important that we take stock in our own lives. Are our lives focused on this world or on the world to come? Are we ready to meet the Lord?
So, what does this mean? or how do we apply this text to our own lives? Our text and our lessons for this morning remind us that God gives all we need especially physical blessings. As Luther so eloquently said it in the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, “God has made me and all creatures; [that] He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” As I have asked the confirmands so I ask you, can you name one thing that you have that did not in one way or another first come from God? To help answer that question, think about what you were born with and what you will take with you when you die? We may say that it is our room, it is our house, it is our car, but it is all the Lord’s and He is the one who provides for all that we need.
God gives us all that we need and even more. I believe we are so wealthy here in America, that God has even provided us with many if not most of our wants as well. And certainly as the Lord provides for us, we are to care for the poor and needy and in so doing, God is taking care of their needs as well. And please notice I keep speaking of needs not wants. Our needs are clothing, shelter and food. Our wants are everything else and certainly today, too often we confuse our wants with our needs as we have talked about before.
God gives us all that we need and even more and as we are truly expected by God to share from our blessings, we have God’s warning that we are not to take advantage of the poor and needy. God does not expect for us to give out of our poverty, but out of our abundance and to do so generously, joyfully and in faith that as He has provided in the past, so He will continue to provide in the future.
God provides for all our physical needs and blessing and He also gives us all our most important needs, especially spiritual blessings. Again, Luther so well reminds us in the explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, “[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” As our lessons for this morning so well remind us, it all comes from outside of us, from God.
God gives faith, forgiveness and life especially through Holy Baptism and God’s Word. Again, Luther so well reminds us in the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” We do not look inside ourselves for the answer to life’s questions, but we look outside ourselves. When we look inside ourselves we find only sin and death. When we look outside ourselves, to the cross of Christ, we find life and salvation.
The greatest gift God gives is forgiveness of sins and we rejoice that especially on Sunday mornings, through confession and absolution, we hear the greatest words of grace and comfort that our sins are forgiven, because with forgiveness is life and salvation.
God gives life, at conception. God gives faith, through Holy Baptism and His Word. God gives forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution. God gives forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through His Word and His Holy Supper. God is gracious and merciful. God comes to us from outside of us. God comes to us through the means He has given to come to us, His means of grace. God gives and we are given to.
And we rejoice because God also stirs in us a response of faith. God stirs in us to live lives of faith, to live as priests in the priesthood of all believers. God gives us gifts, talents and abilities. God gives us a job or career. God gives us the vocations we have and through which we live offering our lives as living sacrifices for Him.
In summary, the Lord through Amos warns Israel and us today concerning taking advantage of the poor and needy, failing to take care of our own spiritual welfare, and His judgement on those who transgress. Amos reminds us that God cares for the poor and needy through those who He provides with the means to care, namely us, and He will not hold him guiltless who takes advantage. Our sin is that we fail to care for the poor and needy, we fail to give justice to the poor and needy, and especially that we fail to take God’s warnings seriously. Thanks be to God that even when we fail, He supplies for all our needs, physical and spiritual, He gives us faith, forgiveness and life and the opportunity to share with others, and He stirs in us to respond to His salvation through our lives of faith and vocation. So, we are reminded once again to look outside ourselves. We are reminded that God gives and provides for the care of all people, both physical and spiritual blessings, and He works in us our response of faith to care for one another in a just and fair way, so that our very lives declare, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Lord Seeks and Searches - September 15, 2019 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: Ezekiel 34:11-24

Some of you may be old enough to remember a bumper stick back in the sixties that read, “I found it.” The “it” was in reference to Jesus and finding Jesus and a relationship with Him. Notice the blatant attempt to steal the show, to take the credit for something we sinful human beings simply cannot do. “I” found it. What arrogance? My usual response to such statements, “I found it,” meaning “I found Jesus,” is, “I did not know He was lost.” Interestingly enough, our text for today truly steers us in the right direction as God says, “I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (v. 11b). Who is running the verbs? Who is seeking who? Who is choosing who? Who is doing what?
Before we get to our text, I want to briefly look at the other lessons for this morning. In the Gospel reading Jesus reminds us that He is the Good Shepherd who searches and looks for us. Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Notice who looks for who. Does the lost sheep go looking for the shepherd? Does the lost coin go looking for its owner? In both parables, it is the shepherd and the woman who go looking for what is lost. What was lost, the sheep and the coin, do not go looking for the shepherd and the woman. In the same way, we who are lost do not go looking for God, but He comes looking for us.
In our epistle lesson, Paul reminds Timothy, and us, that it is Jesus who makes us righteous and strengthens us in faith. Paul reminds us how we act in ignorance and unbelief, which is our nature because we have been conceived and born in sin and because, as God says in Genesis, every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. Because we are born with a sin tainted will, we cannot act as God would have us to act, we do not go looking for God, it is God who loves us. It is God who gave His life for ours in the person of Jesus and it is God who makes us righteous, even strengthening us in our faith.
Getting to our text. The summary of our text is verse eleven, “11For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (v. 11). In the verses before our text Ezekiel has been reviewing with the Children of Israel the rules, if you will, the stipulations that will guide their restoration. In other words he has been explaining to them what they must do in order to be restored as God’s people. He then proceeds to speak promises of redemption, of spiritual redemption, to those who can only see defeat and dark pessimism. Remember, the children of Israel were in exile and their culture and way of life seemed all but lost. Yet, as He had done time and again, God continued to remember His people, not that He had ever forgotten, and promise to them that indeed the Savior of the world would be born through their descendants. It was and is always the Lord who works to seek and save His people.
In our text the children of Israel are shown that it is not they who seek the Lord, but rather it is the opposite. It is God who searches and finds them. It is the Lord who seeks the lost to save them and it has been this way since the beginning. When Adam and Eve sinned, bringing judgement to all humanity, it was the Lord who stepped in and promised to send a Savior. When God called Abram to be the father of a great nation, to be the one nation through whom the Savior would be born, it was not because of anything Abram had done, and it was not Abram who came seeking the Lord, rather it was simply that God chose him. When God remember Israel and brought them out of bondage of slavery in Egypt, it was because God is gracious. When Israel continually disobeyed the Lord and went running after other gods and idols, it was the Lord who always heard their cry and rescued them, even though they often simply returned to running after other gods and idols. It was and is always the Lord who is the active, prime mover, seeking and searching for His sinful human beings.
Which brings us to our “What does this mean?” question. Our nature is very much like that of Israel. We are conceived and born in sin. Sin is in our DNA. Every inclination, every intention  of our hearts is evil all the time. We are indeed born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and, enemies of God. It is simply in our nature that we sin and I say this fact not to give us an excuse to go on sinning, but as a reminder of just how loving and gracious our God truly is. Thus, unfortunately, it is according to our sinful human nature that we think we have anything to do with our own salvation. And it might have something to do with the fact that we live in a world where we are taught that nothing is free and that we have to do it ourselves. Anyway, we might best think about it this way, we are conceived and born in sin, thus we are sinful human beings. We might be described as the scum of the earth and yet, it is Jesus who comes down to earth, giving up the glory that was rightful His. Jesus, who is true God, takes on human flesh and blood, even taking our place as the scum of the earth. He suffers and dies and pays the price for our sins. He washes us. He cleanses us. He forgives us. He brings us into His mansion in heaven. He sits us at His royal banqueting table. He puts the fork in our hands and helps us bring the divine food to our mouths. Now, with what arrogance would we sit up and say, “Look what I chose to do for myself.”
As Ezekiel so well reminds us this morning, it is God who is running the show. It is God who is doing the doing. It is God who is giving and we are being given to. It is God who calls us to faith and His usual way of calling us to faith is through means in particular, through the means of Holy Baptism and if not through the means of Holy Baptism, then most certainly through the means of His Holy Word. It is God who searches for us and calls us to faith.
God calls us to faith and He strengthens and keeps us in faith. Again, God strengthens and keeps us in faith through means as well and in particular through the means of our remembering our baptism, through His Word, through confession and absolution and through His Holy Supper. Now, let me stop a moment and comment on this remembering our baptism. Why is remembering our baptism so important? Because we believe that baptism is a means through which our Lord calls us to and gives us faith. It is our remembering our baptism that reminds us that it is God who has given us faith and so we can be sure that what God does is good, is perfect, and is right. Those who would believe that baptism is something we do for God as a sign of obedience can only hope that they got it right, that they did what is right and continue to do what is right. Notice, who is doing what. When baptism is something we do, we can never be sure if it is right, so we may have to do it again, and again. But, when we know that baptism is what God is doing, we know He gets it right and we can rest assured that by simply remembering that we have been baptized, nothing else is necessary.
Of course, we are reminded that at this time we are living this side of heaven and so we are sinner/saints, which means that we continue to have a tendency to stray. We cannot always be the people God would have us to be. We stray, we sin and God comes searching for us. In much the same way as God continually came searching for the children of Israel, calling them back to faith, so our Lord continues to call us back to faith. He continues to forgive us.
Remember, when God promised to send a Savior, His promise was to Adam and Eve, to all people, before there was a Jew or a Gentile. God’s promise has always been to all people. God cares for all His sheep, all that are His by faith, and He does not differentiate for any reason. We call this the order of redemption, that is that in God’s eyes we are all equal, equal sinners and equal saints, because He makes us equal.
God is not partial. God does not show favoritism. God gives to us and to all people the forgiveness which was earned and paid for by Jesus. When Jesus suffered on the cross, His suffering was for all sins, those committed before He was born and those we have yet to commit. Yet, just because all our sins have already been paid for, this does not give us license to sin, simply the confidence that we need not be afraid, because we know we will sin and yet those sins have been paid for and forgiven.
So, again this week, as every week, as always, we see that God is the Prime Mover. It all beings and ends with the Lord. God called us into being, at our conception. God has given us life. God knows that even though we are conceived and born in sin, even though every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time, He loves us and because He created us to love us, He sent Jesus to take care of our sin. God has taken care of our sin. He has called us to faith and forgiveness. He calls us to our vocations and to live lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers.
Thus, we rejoice. God does and gives and we are done to and given to. Actually, if we look at nature, the natural order of the world, we can see very well how this works out. When sheep stray, do they go looking for the shepherd? No, they continue on their path of straying. If you have children or grand children, when they do something wrong, do they come running to you to tell you what they have done, or do they try to hide what they have done and even hide themselves? When adults do something that is wrong or sinful, do we run to confession? When we know in our hearts that what we are doing is wrong and we should not be doing it, do we go asking if it is right or not, or why it is wrong, or would we rather remain in our self imposed ignorance and think that this gives us an excuse? Thanks be to God that He knows us, He knows our hearts and He does everything He can, searching and seeking us out in order to give us faith, forgiveness and life.
The Lord is the Good Shepherd who searches for us, cares for us and provides for us. Our nature is to be unloving to those we believe the Lord does not love. Our nature is to fail to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Our nature is to believe we go searching for the Lord instead of His searching for us. God’s remedy is that the Lord loves us and shows His love for us in creating and redeeming us; the Lord loves us and shows His love for us in providing for us and caring for us; the Lord loves us and shows His love for us in sanctifying us and keeping us in faith. The Lord searches and finds us, giving us life, at conception; faith through Baptism; forgiveness of sins paid for by the blood of His Son; new life, life and salvation as gift, by grace through faith. And He stirs in us our response of faith to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

On Choosing Life - September 8, 2019 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

There are two important and interesting words in our text for this morning that we need to look at as we begin. These two words are important because they are words we often hear in what we might call religious discussions and settings and often are not used according to the way the Lord has given them, but are used according to man’s failed logic and understanding. The first word is the word “obey.” How often do we hear an exhortation to be “obedient” to the Lord? And rightly we should be encouraged to be obedient to the Lord. In our text for this morning the word “obey” is in the imperfect tense meaning the translation of this word suggests an incomplete action, something a person may have to do, but has not completely done, which makes sense. Now, because we know that we are conceived and born in sin, we know we cannot be completely obedient, instead we have a natural inclination to choose evil as God said in Genesis, “Every intention of the thoughts of [mans’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen.6:5). Which brings us to the second word that we want to look at in our text and that is the word “choose.” How often we are exhorted to “choose,” such as choose Jesus as our personal Savior and again, this encouragement to “choose” the Lord is not according to the way the Lord has given this word, but according to man’s failed logic and understanding of this word. The word “choose” is in the perfect tense suggesting that this “choosing” is something God has already done for us, that is He has already chosen us. Please keep these two words and their proper translations in mind as we go through our text for this morning.
Before we get to our text, though, let us take a moment to look at the other readings. In the Epistle reading Paul helps us to understand what it means to respond in faith. Paul is writing to Philemon concerning his slave, Onesimus, who has run away. At this time, both Philemon and Onesimus are Christians, truly brothers in Christ and so Paul suggests that he could tell Philemon what to do, in other words he could order him to do the right thing, but he would rather that Philemon respond according to his faith and do the right thing in forgiving Onesimus and giving him his freedom. To do so would be a wonderful response of faith.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus helps us to understand the cost of responding in faith. The cost for faith is our life, because either we are the Lord’s and we belong to Him completely and fully, or we are not. We cannot be half-hearted in our faith and faith life, which should remind us of the first commandment and the fact that we should have no other gods before the one true God.
As we move into our text, keeping our text in its context, we will make note that in the verses before this text we read Moses admonition to the children of Israel to reflect on the blessings and curses they have received and to interpret them in light of their faith. Thus, as we move into our text we will understand that the words of Moses are not words of obedience and choosing for those who are heathens and pagans, but are words to those who are God’s chosen people, Israel. In other words, this is not an evangelistic crusade in which Moses is preaching to the heathen, pagan nations and calling them to be obedient and make a decision for Jesus. Instead, this is a regular sermon in which Moses is encouraging his fellow Christians to respond to the faith, forgiveness and life that God has given by striving with God’s help to live lives of faith. Kind of like a regular Sunday Morning here at St. Matthew.
Now, getting to our text, the summary verse of this text is verse fifteen “15See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (v. 15). So, we begin with life and good. God has set before His people life and good. God has given the children of Israel life and good. He has delivered them from bondage of slavery in Egypt. He has brought them to the edge of a new land. He has taken care of all their needs, providing them with food and drink and protection from their enemies. He has done all things for them.
Not only has God provided for all their physical needs, He has also provided for their spiritual needs. He has given them boundaries to keep them safe, such as the Ten Commandment, which guide them in their relationship with Himself and each other. He has given them good order and peace.
Now, only as a response of faith, responding to what God has done for them can they think in terms of choosing life and good. The fact of the matter is, God has given them life and good and His desire is simply that they continue in the life and good that He has already given them. Because the alternate to life and good is death and evil.
Which brings us to death and evil. Death and evil is an easy choice, it is a natural choice, again as we said earlier, as our Lord tells us in Genesis, it is our natural inclination. Because of the fall into sin, because of the curse, our will has been tainted by sin and our will always runs contrary to God’s will. So, given the choice, in and of ourselves we always choose death and evil.
As for the children of Israel, as they enter the promised land, the land is filled with people who are already living lives that are contrary to God. The land is filled with heathen and pagan nations who are worshiping false gods and idols. As they move into this land, the temptations of those already in the land will be great indeed and God knows this.
God’s warning to His people is that disobedience will bring a curse and death. God knows the influence of those in the land. He knows the natural inclination of the heart of the Israelites and He is giving them every word of warning, exhortation and encouragement to fight against temptation and sin and to remain in a right relationship with Himself.
So, what does this mean for us to day, or rather better asked, how does this apply to us today? Getting back to the word “choose” in our text, the word is in the perfect tense meaning that this is a completed action, something God has already done. As you hear me say time and again, who is running the verbs? God is running the verb and here we see that this is a perfect verb meaning that it is God who has accomplished this verb, this action. So, God chose Israel. In like manner, how does this apply to us today? Again, God is running the verbs and this is a completed action so that we rejoice in the fact that God chose us. God chose us to create us. God chose us to love us. God chose us to redeem and sanctify us.
God chose Israel. Out of all the people and nations of the world, God chose Abram and promised that the promise He made in the Garden of Eden, the promise to send a Savior, would be fulfilled through the line of Abram and through the line of Isaac, and Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. In particular, in our text for this morning, we have God’s choosing in His choosing to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt. God remembered His people. God sent Moses to deliver His people. God sent the angel of death to Passover those whose homes that were marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. In like manner, God chose us to redeem us. God chose us to deliver us from our own slavery, slavery to sin. God chose us and sent Jesus to shed His blood for us so that in the end the angel of eternal death will Passover us who have been marked with Jesus’ blood, the blood of the Lamb of God, so that we will have eternal life in heaven.
God chose Israel and He called Israel to obedience, not obedience as to earn forgiveness, but obedience as a response of faith. God did everything for Israel so that there was nothing left to be done. God’s exhortation to Israel was to respond to all that He had done for them and given to them by living as His people. In like manner, God has done everything for us. God has given everything to us. And He calls, encourages, and exhorts us to obedience as a response of faith.
Unfortunately, because of their inborn sinful human nature, following the history of the children of Israel, they could not do, they could not live as God desired them to live. Time and again they were overcome by the influences of those around them, the heathen and pagan cultures, falling into idolatry and sin. And time and again, God would rescue them, only to have them fall away again. In like manner, because we are conceived and born in sin, because every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, we cannot be the people God would have us to be. Time and again we fall prey to the evil influences of our own world today. Time and again we go chasing after other gods and idols who are not the Lord. Time and again we sin and time and again God rescues us and yet, time and again, we fall back into sin. Thanks be to God when it comes to forgiveness, He has, does and continues to do it all for us.
Ultimately God gave Jesus to do for His people what they could not do for themselves. God sent Jesus to be Israel, to live in obedience. God sent Jesus and Jesus obeyed all God’s laws and commands perfectly. Jesus fulfilled all God’s promises and prophecies perfectly and then, He took all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, upon Himself and suffered and died, paying the price for our sin. Jesus came for Israel and for us. Jesus gives His all to us. His life, His suffering, His death and His resurrection were for us and are ours, by His grace through faith which He gives to us.
God does and gives and we are done to and given to, it all begins with God. If you have ever wondered what is the most distinct difference between what we teach in the Lutheran church from all the other denominations, it is not the inerrancy of the Bible, although we do teach the Bible does not contain errors. The greatest distinction is in the doctrine of justification. Listen carefully to how your family and friends talk about and use the two important words of our text for this morning, “obey” and “choose.” Listen to who is doing what. Grace, at least Biblical grace is not what we need to do or even can do for God, but is always about what God has done, is doing and continues to do for us. Thus, we are justified, not by what we do for God, as if He needs anything from us, but rather we are justified, we are made just and right in God’s eyes by what He has already done for us. It all begins with God and what He has done, is doing and continues to do.
When we begin with God we begin with the fact that He has chosen us. Even before He began creating the world He had us, you and me, in mind. When Adam and Eve sinned and God promised to send a Savior, He had us in mind. When Jesus was born, we were on His mind. When Jesus was suffering on the cross, He was thinking of us. When Jesus rose He had us in mind. When we were conceived it was according to His good and gracious will and when we were brought into His kingdom through the waters of Holy Baptism He and all the angels rejoiced. God has done it all. He has chosen us. And now, He stirs in us to live lives of faith, to be obedient, even if it is imperfect obedience. God knows that in and of ourselves we cannot live as we ought, that is why He continues to run the show, stirring and moving in us to be His people, again, imperfectly. Putting this back into the words of our text for this morning, God has set before us today life and good, death and evil, and even more, He has given us life, faith, forgiveness and eternal life and He stirs in us life and good, for Jesus’ sake. To God be the glory. Amen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

True Life Priorities

This year my oldest son turned 24 years old, which means that he has, for all intents and purposes, lived a fourth of his life. If you are 50, then you have, again for all intents and purposes, lived have your life. Each of these examples presumes a person will live to be 100 years old. However, none of us knows how long we will live. The other side of these statements and facts is that eternity is forever. And the reason I bring this up is because we human beings get so caught up in this world and the things of this world that we lose sight of what is most important. Remember, heaven is a place of complete perfection, holiness and happiness, which means that we may not remember much of the difficulties of this life, yet the devil has seen fit to keep our attention on this world much to the demise of our own eternal well being.

I have spoken with too many people who have struggles in life, and when I ask about their Divine Service attendance and reading of God’s Word, the answer is usually the same, “Oh, it’s lacking.” To which I ask, “Do you suppose things might be better if God were in your life and a part of it?” And again, the response is usually something like, “Probably.” And finally I ask, “Then why isn’t He?” And I usually do not get any further response.

16And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).

Brothers and sisters, God loves you so much. He created you to love you. He has so much He wants to give to you gifts and blessings beyond our imagination. Each and every day, each and every Sunday, God desires to pour out on you all the gifts and blessings He has to give. Yet, how often do we find ourselves simply refusing and rejecting the gifts of God, gifts already purchased and paid for by the blood of Jesus.

Let me continually encourage you, be given the gifts of God. Focus on what is most important, being ready for our real lives in our real eternal world of heaven. As King David said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1).

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Actions Speak Louder than Words - September 1, 2019 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Proverbs 25:2-10

All of our readings for this morning remind us to have an attitude of humility. At the same time, we are reminded that this attitude of humility is not something that comes naturally, nor is it something that we can fake. If you have ever been around or worked with children for a time, you know that they know what is the attitude of people, especially adults. Our attitude is what flows out of our heart. Certainly we as adults can see the attitude of others simply by observation. Perhaps you know someone who has had a difficult life and you can tell by their “cranky” “bitter” attitude that they blame God or others for the way they have been treated by the world. And yet, there are those who have had a difficult life who have an attitude of grace about them and this is shown in their actions as well, which ties into our title, the fact that our actions speak loudly concerning our attitude.
As Christians, as sinner-saints, there are times that our lives show mixed signals, as I am reminded at times as I am driving down the freeway, “Don’t forget, you have a clergy sticker on the back of the car.” Or as the story goes, the policeman pulled over the motorist and cautiously approached the front door of the car. He asked for his identification and registration and explained that he thought, perhaps the car was stolen. When the motorist asked why the policeman thought the car was stolen, the policeman explained, “When I saw the “Save the unborn children” sticker, the Christian fish emblem, the Local Church sticker and the cross hanging from your mirror and then saw you angrily shouting at and waving at another motorist, I thought for sure you were not the owner of the vehicle.” Actions speak louder than words and as Christians, sometimes we send mixed signals with our actions. Thanks be to God we have forgiveness.
Getting to our text, I want to begin by looking at the other two readings this morning because I believe they tie in well with our Old Testament text. The Epistle reading exhorts us to “Let brotherly love continue” (v. 1). Perhaps this is another way of encouraging us to let what is in our heart show forth in our lives. Of course, the writer is counting on the fact that what is in our hearts is love and in this instance, brotherly love. So, we are encouraged to love as God first loved us, as we have been reminded over and over again the last few week, God is the Prime Mover. It is this love, God first loving us, that stirs in us to love God and to love others. One particular example that we are given is the encouragement to remember our leaders. Today we would be encouraged to pray for our leaders, for our president, our governors, our mayors and so forth.
In the Gospel reading for this morning we have the account of Jesus in confrontation with the Pharisees and His use of a parable to illustrate His point. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are rather pointed, but we will want to remind ourselves that His words are for us today as well. Jesus reminds the Pharisees and us that an attitude of self-worth may result in humility, but an attitude of humility may result in exaltation. The “bottom line,” if you will, of Jesus’ parable is to remind us that this world is fast and fleeting, this world is nothing compared to the world to come and so, blessed are those who are given a reward, not in this world, but at the resurrection.
Now, getting to our text from Proverbs. First, we will go through the verses of our text and pull this together when we are done. And although the first verses of our text does focus on rulers my intent will not be to besmirch our leaders but rather think about our own personal lives and how we live and act. Our text begins with a bit of a distinction between God and the king, understanding that the earthly king receives his power to rule from God. Verse two, “2It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (v. 2). With these words and by inspiration of God, Solomon reminds us that although God’s glory is seen only in how and when He chooses to reveal Himself, a king will strive to keep his kingdom open and honest. How true these words are today as we see that the trusted leaders of the world are those who are open and honest and not trying to hide their dishonesty and shameful acts from the people who have consented to be governed by them. Unfortunately, we do not see this happen much in our world today, even among ourselves.
Yet, there may be times for the sake of  security, that a ruler may need to keep things concealed. Picking up at verse three, “3As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable” (v. 3). Even today, when it comes to protecting our country, for the sake of national security, some information may need to be concealed, however, care must be taken in this concealing of information so that improprieties may not be concealed.
Continuing on in our text, Solomon reminds us that in order to run a good government, the wicked must be exposed and expelled, lest the ruler’s character is besmirched because of his associations. Picking up at verse four, “4Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; 5take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness” (v. 4-5). In our world today we know the truth of the matter that a person’s character can be seen by the company that person keeps. For a ruler to rule effectively, the company they keep, the people who would share in the responsibility of his rule must also be of good character. Thus, a rulers rule is only as good as the weakest link in his administration. And again, unfortunately, we see this problem very much so in our world and in the leaders and governments around the world. Perhaps we may also need to look at the company we keep.
Solomon continues by speaking words similar to the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading for this morning. He reminds us that the rewarding of a humble attitude is better than a humiliation of an exalted attitude, picking up at verse six, “6Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, 7for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (v. 6-7). Certainly an audience with the king is a great but rare privilege, thus to come into the kings presence only to be rebuked would be the worst outcome for anyone. We might note that even today we do not see too many people shown in the presence of our own president, which is seen as a great honor. And one invited to come into the presidents presence would certainly understand the need to come in humility, no matter what person holds that office.
Finally, Solomon gives us good advice concerning the matter of our legal system. He tells us that it is better to settle things out of court than in court, picking up at verse eight, “8do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” (v. 8). Perhaps these words might remind us of Jesus words telling us to not be quick to judge others for according to the same judgement we might be judged.
Why might we be not hasty in going to court, Solomon continues by telling us that one revealing secrets becomes known as being untrustworthy, picking up at verse nine, “9Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, 10lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end” (v. 9-10). Remembering that the courtroom is a place where “the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is to be presented, the secrets of many may be laid bare, even those of the one bringing the suit. Thus, Solomon warns that rather than trying to hurt the reputation of another, and maybe having your own reputation hurt, either by your own testimony or by those who see you in court, it is better to work to settle your dispute with your neighbor himself.
Now that we have looked at our readings and have looked at our text, in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” I know the title of this message is rather cliche, however, I believe all our readings for this morning show the truth that our actions do speak louder than our words and our actions do show what is in our hearts. Today, perhaps the cliche we are familiar with most which is similar is the one that says, “If you are going to talk the talk, then you need to walk the walk.” Certainly what is in our hearts should and does show itself in our actions.
As a Christian, we understand, we believe, teach and confess that our life, our attitude and  direction must be directed by our faith. In our church we have heard discussions concerning style and substance, which is another way of saying practice and doctrine, or in more modern language we would say what we believe and how we act out what we believe. How do these two things, style and substance, doctrine and practice, what we believe and how we act relate? Or do they relate? Again, as a Christian and according to God’s Word in our readings for this morning, we understand that how we act is directed by what we believe so that what we believe directly correlates to how we act. You cannot separate what you believe from how you act and how you act from what you believe.
Again, as a Christian, because it is our faith which is at the heart of and directs our actions, we know that our faith is important. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, our faith is the means or instrument God uses to give us all the gifts and blessings He has to give and it is also what is given to us by God either through His Word or through the waters of Holy Baptism. With God, it is a package deal. Maybe you remember my illustration of the ice cream. When your friend gives you ice cream he does not simply give you the ice cream, he gives you a spoon with which to eat the ice cream. So it is with God, when He gives us His good gifts and blessings which are ours by faith, He also gives us the instrument through which He gives us all the gifts and blessings He has to give. So, God gives us faith and our lives are guided by and directed by the faith which He gives. In other words, our actions are determined by the faith which God gives.
As Christian, then, as we live lives of faith and here again we have talked about this over the past few weeks, as we live lives as priest in the priesthood of all believers, as we live in our various vocations, as we live lives as living sacrifices for the Lord, our lives give glory to God, thus, God is glorified through His people, our faith being lived out in our actions showing forth and giving God glory.
Notice, again, and again, and again, as we have been reminded again and again and again, God is the prime mover. Have you noticed over the past few weeks, as we have been working through these Old Testament readings, and as they have, in many instances related so well with the other readings, what a great teacher God is, as He strives to teach and reteach so that we get the message. This teaching and reteaching is another reminder of the need for regular and diligent use of the means of grace so that our Lord can teach and reteach so that He can have His way with us.
God is the prime mover. God gives us life. God gives us faith. God gives us forgiveness of sins. God loves us. God stirs in us to love others. God stirs in us to reflect His love to others. God moves us to live lives of faith. He forgives us when we fail to live lives of faith and when we live mixed signal lives as sinner/saints. How can we not show forth the faith that is in our hearts even in an imperfect way?
According to our text for this morning, according to the wisdom of Solomon, we understand that the wisdom of the wise is seen in the humble nature of one who takes care in their associations, as well as in speaking, and in patience in bringing accusations. Further, we are reminded that a humble attitude, a clear conscience, and a good reputation are signs of Christian faith and love. And we are finally reminded that God’s glory is seen through what we might describe as faith driven actions, through the humble attitude of the children He has given faith, through us, so that our lives do say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.