Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Justified by Faith - October 27, 2019 - Reformation Sunday - Text: Romans 3:19-28

Happy Reformation Day! And so again, this year, as last year and as I will continue to do every year, I greet you with what I consider to be wonderful words of greeting. And again I confess, right from the start, that Reformation Day continues to be one of my favorite holidays. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the re-forming of the church, and specifically, the church of Luther’s day. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the work of God through the man, Dr. Martin Luther. Notice, we do not worship Martin Luther. We do celebrate that God the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, moved Dr. Martin Luther to recognize the false and misleading teachings of the church of his day. God worked through Dr. Luther to show us that a person is not saved by works of the Law, rather a person is saved by grace, through faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. That alone makes this a most precious day to remember.
In our text for this morning, the Epistle lesson, Paul gives us a lesson to help us get a fuller understanding of the proper distinction between the Law and its purpose and the Gospel and its purpose. Paul begins with the Law and its purpose, we read, “19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”(v. 19-20). According to Paul the Law serves the following purposes. One of the purposes of the Law is to silence us. The Law is to keep us from bragging or boasting about our good works, or what we think are our good works. After all, it is hard to brag when all you have to brag about is how you are responsible for the death of someone, an innocent someone, especially when that someone is your own God.
Another purpose of the Law is to show us that we are accountable. Through the Law we understand the we are responsible for ourselves. Does this fact ever smack right in the face of our society today?! How often do we read or hear about people who have won lawsuits for their own negligence, if not out right stating or at least implying that they are not responsible for themselves. The most famous case was from a few years back and I am sure you remember the lady who spilled the hot coffee on herself and sued the fast food company. Other examples include the guy who road his bicycle at night wearing dark clothes and without any lights and sued because he was hit by a car. Of late we have hard about the young man who wanted to sue the fast food industry because he was obese. We could spend a lot of time discussing how we do not like to be held accountable for our actions in this country, yet, we do not want anyone telling us we cannot do whatever we want to do. In our text, Paul tells us that God, through the Law, reminds us the we are accountable, He will hold us, each one of us,  personally responsible for breaking the Law.
Which brings us to one more stated purpose of the Law, that is that the Law is given to show us our sins. One quick check of our lives against the ten commandments will suffice. I will be quick and brief, but I just want you to get the idea. Have you ever placed your hope in yourself or the things of this world, misused God’s name, neglected not only to be in church, but to hear and do according to what God says in His Word? Have you ever disobeyed anyone in authority over you, thought hateful thoughts, called someone a name or hurt them in any way, lusted after another person, thought about stealing, borrowed without returning, committed vandalism, said anything bad about someone, even if it was true, thought you wanted something so bad you would steal for it. Have you ever been discontent with your circumstances or possessions? If you have done any one of these things, then you have broken, not one but, all the commandments. Ouch! And our punishment was to be death, eternal death, hell.
Thanks be to God that Paul did not stop with the Law. Our text continues with the Gospel and its purpose, we continue reading, “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”(v. 21-22a). Here I must say we do not count the number of purposes of the Gospel. When it comes to God’s gifts, especially His gift of the Gospel, we are reminded that God gives the whole lot of His gifts and He gives a whole lot more. I know I have said this before, at least I have mentioned it in Bible Class, but the fact of the matter is that God does not do fractions, that is God does not do math. God does not give us some of His gifts now and some later. He gives us all His gifts now and even more of them later. One of the purposes of the Gospel, then, is to bring us righteousness, which comes from God. Our righteousness, our right standing before God, does not come from within ourselves, it is not a self-righteousness, rather it comes from outside of us, it comes from God. Think about it this way, would you rather be self-righteous according to your standard of righteousness which might not cut it before God, or would you rather be righteous according to the standard of the person who is judging your righteousness?
Another purpose of the Gospel is to make our righteousness known to us and that is done through the Law and the Prophets. Here the Law and the Prophets are the whole Bible and it is through the whole Bible that God makes His righteousness known to us. We might say it this way, the Bible is one of the means that God has of giving us His righteousness.
Another purpose of the Gospel is to show us that our righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Here we are reminded of the importance of our faith. But let us not misunderstand faith. We must recognize that faith is not something we do. Although the Gospel continually speaks of the necessity of faith, it does not do so in the sense of demanding faith as a good work, rather it does so in the sense of an invitation extended to all people to be given the promises of God. To say that we “are given to” by God takes all the onus off of us and puts it entirely on God as the giver and makes us the passive ones who are being given to. Remember, the whole value of faith lies not in who has faith, but in the object or basis of faith. Faith in self earns hell. Faith in Jesus and His work on the cross alone earns heaven.
Moving on in our text Paul tells us how the Law and Gospel work together, we read, “For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”(v. 22b-26). The Law shows how we have completely failed, that we have fallen short of the glory of God. The Law shows us our complete damnation. The Law does not save, it does not move us to anything but despair, or it leads to self-righteousness, which is why we never preach the Law by itself. This misunderstanding is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform in the church of his day. There was a confusion of Law and Gospel, such that one was taught that forgiveness could be earned and even must be earned, or it could be purchased for a price, namely for a certain amount of money. Anytime it is stated or even implied that there is anything we need to do or even can do to pay for some or any of our sins, we are simply saying that Jesus’ work on the cross was not sufficient for our sins. Again, this misunderstanding is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform.
The Gospel shows how God freely lifts us up and makes us one with Himself. The Gospel shows us our complete salvation. The Gospel saves and moves us to do good works to the glory of God. However, the Gospel must never be preached by itself either, for if we preach the Gospel without the Law then it becomes worthless. Think about it this way, if we do not hear the Law, if we do not know that we sin, then why would we need a Savior, thus the Gospel is worthless. If we are taught and told over and over again how we are good people and how we can be good people, then why would we need a Savior. Our preaching, which expounds the Word of God, must reflect that Word which proclaims Law and Gospel. It must also reflect God’s Word, such as the words of the Close of the Commandments, which show us that God’s Law is but for three or four generations, whereas His Gospel is for thousands of generations. Always the greater emphasis on the Gospel.
The Law and the Gospel work together to show us the importance of Jesus’ atonement, or at-one-ment sacrifice. Jesus died for all sins of all people of all time. Our text calls them those sins committed beforehand unpunished. This reference is to the sins of the people before Jesus came. Their sins were literally unpunished until Jesus came to the cross.  Their sins were punished in Jesus on the cross, as were our sins and the sins of all people of all times and all places.
All of this, the Law and the Gospel are meant to show God’s justice. When we talk about the word justice we do mean a legal act on the part of God, by which He places in us, makes us possessors of, a righteousness which was not ours, which we did not earn, which we do not deserve, which we did not merit. In other words, we do not receive what we deserve, eternal damnation in hell, rather we are given what Christ has deserved for us. In our world today we might just say, praise the Lord that we do not get what we are entitled, hell. Rather we get what Christ is entitled, life in heaven.
Finally, Paul tells us how we are to respond to God’s gift of Law and Gospel. Yes, even Paul, in good Lutheran fashion, answers the question, “What does this mean?” we read,“27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 27-28). Paul begins by reminding us that we are to respond to the Law and Gospel by humbly being given the gifts God has to give to us. We are not to boast which includes holding anything back from the Lord as if we have any part in obtaining the gifts that He has to give to us, in other words, thinking we are doing God a favor by coming to worship and Bible class, thinking we are doing God a favor by putting some of our earnings into the offering plate, thinking we are somebody because we are members of St. Matthew Lutheran church, especially if we are members in name only and do not take part in the whole life of the church, or simply thinking more highly of ourselves rather than thinking of ourselves as servants of the Lord.
Paul reminds us that we are to recognize that we cannot save ourselves. All of our offerings, all of our good deeds, all of our prayers, all of our time, all of our anything will not save us. Only all of Jesus’ work on the cross will save us. How true and how humbling.
Paul, then, reminds us that our response to the Law and the Gospel is to humbly give thanks to God with our fruits of the spirit. We are given God’s gifts and show that we have been given His gifts by our actions, by our living in peace, in joy, in patience, and so on. We are given the gifts from God by boasting only in the cross of Christ, recognizing that we are justified, are made right before God and have access to heaven by faith apart from our observing the law.
Reformation Day is an important day, not because of some man named Dr. Martin Luther, but because of God’s work through this man and because of His work through the means of grace, through the Word and the Sacraments, through which He daily and richly works to strengthen us in our faith, to remind us of our forgiveness and to remind us of our salvation. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Your God Shall be My God - October 13, 2019 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Ruth 1:1-19

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Today’s text is a perfect example of Paul’s words of encouragement. And in the Gospel of John we have Jesus own words of encouragement, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In our Epistle lesson we are reminded that Jesus’ suffering brings us salvation. In the Gospel lesson we see the healing of the ten lepers and God’s continual mercy on us His people.
Our text is the account of Ruth the Moabite who is the great grand mother of King David. The account begins, “1In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband” (v. 1-5).
As this historical event begins we are told that there was a famine in the land. This famine was God’s judgement against Israel for their apostasy, for their idolatry. You might recall that when God gave Israel the land they were to wipe out the pagans living in the land as His judgement against them and not to have any relations with them. However, since the Israelites failed to carry out God’s just judgement and in stead let the people live, they soon were influenced by them and began to fall into idolatry as well. God’s judgement on Israel and the rain god baal was a famine.
The solution, at least for Elimelech, to care for his family was to move to Moab. We are told that there was food in Moab and so in order to continue to feed his family Elimelech moved his wife and two sons to Moab.
While they were living in Moab Naomi’s husband dies. Her two sons marry Moabite women, but they too soon die. So we have the summary statement of verse five that Naomi is now a widow and is childless. Certainly we can understand the difficulty of Naomi’s life and she might certainly be wondering where is the good in what has happened to her.
Continuing on in our historic account we have the return of Naomi to Israel. “6Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (v. 6-14).
As Noami decides to move back to her home country she encourages her daughters-in-law to remain with their families who might be better able to provide for them both physically and with new spouses. Although it may sound strange to us, the Mosaic law stated that son’s wives, the daughters-in-law of Naomi were to have children by the brother so the husband would have descendants to inherit. In other words, both Orpah and Ruth were to have a child by the brother of Mahlon and Chilion. However, there were no more brothers, no more sons of Naomi, and she knew that she would not be having any more children, at least not soon enough. So, she encourages the two widowed daughters-in-law to stay and seek provisions from their families in Moab.
At first both daughters-in-law resists saying they will stay with Naomi, after all they understood their duty as family. After the shedding of tears Orpah relents, kisses her mother-in-law and returns to her family. However, Ruth is not so easily convinced. Ruth, we are told, clings to Naomi.
About this clinging, the historical account continues, “15And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. 19So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem” (v. 15-19a).
Naomi attempts a second time to convince Ruth to go back to her family, pointing to Orpah’s decision, but Ruth is not convinced. Instead, Ruth makes a pledge, “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth clung to the faith of Naomi. Ruth recognized that the God of Naomi is the one true God and she would not be persuaded to give up her faith in the Lord and return to the pagan idols of her own country and family.
Okay, spoiler alert, ultimately, at the end of the book of Ruth we are told that the son of Ruth and Boaz whose name was Obed would give birth to a son whose name is Jesse and he would have a son whose name is David. This David would become the second king of Israel. Thus Ruth would become the great grand mother of David who would ultimately be an ancestor of Jesus.
So, what does this mean? As we began so we see the truth in Paul’s words and in Jesus’ words. Indeed, God does work out the best in any and all situations for those of faith and Jesus has overcome the tribulations of this world. How true it is that God works in mysterious ways and in this historic account of the Children of Israel He even works through times of famine. As we have heard said many times, there is no such thing as a coincidence. It was not a coincidence that there was a famine in the land. It was not a coincidence that Elemelech decided to move to Moab. It was not a coincidence that Naomi’s sons married Moabite women. It was not a coincidence that Naomi’s husband and two sons died. And it was not a coincidence that Ruth clung to her mother-in-law.
In Genesis, God’s promise to send a Savior was made to Adam and Eve who were neither Jew nor Gentile, or rather they had all cultures in their DNA. God’s call and promise to Abraham never excluded anyone. Even as the children of Israel entered the promised land and were given God’s just judgement to wipe out those pagans living in the land, God never negated His desire that they should be His people and a beacon to the world. So, it should not surprise us that God calls Ruth to faith as He calls all whom He wills to call. Remember, God’s desire is that all people are saved.
As we review this account of the history of Israel and the family tree of King David and ultimately the earthly family tree of Jesus we find that Jesus was not of pure Jewish descent. Here we have a Moabite in the family tree. Earlier you might remember we had Rahab from Jericho in the family tree. Rahab the prostitute that is. This fact that there are other cultures in the family tree of Jesus should convince us even more that Jesus was and is the Savior of all people.
This good news that Jesus is the Savior of all people is good news to us as well. Indeed, we are a part of God’s kingdom, a part of Jesus’ family, by grace, through faith, given through the means of grace. How important are God’s means of grace? He calls us to faith and gives us faith through the waters of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. He calls us to, gives us and strengthens us in faith through His Holy Word. He forgives our sins through His Holy Absolution. He forgives our sins and strengthens our faith through the gift of His body and blood in His Holy Supper. He has given us these means as the very instrument through which He blesses, preserves and strengthens us. Certainly as Ruth was given faith through hearing the Word of God while being married to one of Naomi’s sons, while the ten lepers in the Gospel reading most certainly had heard the Word of God and had heard of Jesus and believed and as Paul encourages Timothy in our Epistle lesson, our desire might be even more to make use of the means of grace so that God can pour out on us even more the gifts and blessings He has to give. And then, even more we may with all patience and endurance wait and see how God works out the best for us through the trials and tribulations of this world as He Himself has overcome for us.
Once again, God is the prime mover. God moves, acts and gives first. God is love and He created us to love us. He is running the show. He is giving the gifts and we are being given to. Jesus lived for us, fulfilling God’s demand of perfection. Jesus took our sin and paid the price for our sins, giving us the forgiveness He earned. Jesus died and rose defeating sin, death and the devil. Jesus gives us faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life. Our response of faith might be that of Ruth, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God,” that is Jesus is our Savior, Lord, and King.
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) We have seen this work out in our text for today. And we have seen Jesus’ own words fulfilled, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). May we be encouraged in our own faith life especially as we face times of tribulations to know that God is with us, that Jesus has overcome and the God always works out the best for us His people, those He has given faith so that ultimately we might all together rejoice and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Precious in the Sight of the Lord - October 7, 2019 - Hinojosa Funeral - Text: Job 14:1-6; Psalm 103; 116:15

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have two text for this morning, well, including the Old Testament reading from Psalm 103 we have three texts for this morning. From Job 14:1-4, we read; 1“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. 2He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. 3And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? 4Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. 5Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, 6look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day” and from Psalm 116:15, we read, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” These are our texts.
Dear Christian friends and particularly you the family and friends of Mrs. Florence (Flo) (Mimi) Hinojosa. We have gathered here today to lay to rest someone we loved very dearly. For some, death is a time of mixed emotions. On the one hand we are sad, because we will miss our loved one, and that is okay. On the other hand we give thanks because we know that Mimi is at peace and she is no longer suffering because she is with her Father in His house.
Personally and the reason I chose the Job text is because I got to know Mimi after her parting from her first husband and after her second husband had already passed away, in other words after she saw her days that were “full of trouble.” Just as Job lamented the struggles inflicted on him yet never blamed God, so I never heard Mimi blame God for the difficulties she faced in life. As a matter of fact, I believe she clung to her faith and one reason I say that is because she had me bless her prayer garden. Personally, I always appreciated her honest frankness and sincere teasing. And although she was, as they say, a tough old bird, and perhaps that is why she was partial to Old Crow, I was always amazed at her generosity and especially her thoughtfulness when it came to giving. My wife will tell you when it comes to such things as Christmas shopping I will grab the first thing off the shelf and say we are done, but with Mimi there was always a very personal thought involved in the gifts she gave. I believe the Mimi I know would give you the shirt off her back.
Moving on, the reason I chose the second text from Psalm 116 is the fact that Mimi was a baptized child of God. At her baptism on November 22, 1925, the Lord, using the hand and the mouth of the priest, put water on her head and spoke God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit on her, so that the Lord put His name on her, forgave her sins, wrote her name in the book of life and made her His child. Indeed, at that moment she became a saint. Yes, she continued to be a sinner, but God made her a saint.
For quite some time now Mimi has been in not so good health. Fortunately or unfortunately she has spent these last few years in a nursing home. On the bright side she has at least been able to see her daughter who is confined to the same home. Unfortunately nursing homes are not always the best place to spend ones waning years and believe me, I have visited enough people in nursing homes to understand this truth.
But I want to get to the main reason we are here this morning. Funerals truly are not for the deceased, after all they are not here. Funerals are for the living. Funerals are for the living to be given comfort in their time of loss. Which brings me back to that second text from Psalm 116. The Psalmist’s words in this psalm reflects God’s love for us. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). This verse remind us of God’s great love for us, sinful though we may be. Of course as I say that I will remind you that we will meet the Lord, we will all meet the Lord, either at His return on the day of judgement or on the day of our passing on from this world. Either way, we will meet the Lord and we are to be ready. And how are we to be ready? Because God loves us, He makes us ready. We are made ready by having faith in Jesus as our Savior. And we have faith, we are given faith, by the waters of Holy Baptism and by hearing God’s Word, but not only hearing His Word, but also by keeping it, that is believing it and being faithful to it. Yet, again behind those words, even more important than what we are doing, is what God is doing. What God is doing is, He is giving us His Word and He is doing what His Word says. Mimi heard the Word of God and the Word of God which she heard was that Jesus died for her and forgave her. It was her knowledge of Jesus forgiveness that moved her to confess her sins and be given His forgiveness. Indeed, our greatest need is forgiveness of sins and the forgiveness we need has already been won for us and paid for us, all we can do is refuse and reject it which we do by holding on to our sins and not confessing them. As we confess our sins Jesus forgives us our sins and moves us to live lives of faith.
Personally, I have been to too many funerals where the word spoken is a eulogy. That word, eulogy simply means good word. Too often a good word is spoken of the deceased. And perhaps you know how it is, you knew the person who was deceased and when you heard all the good words spoken about the person you wondered if you were at the right funeral. I believe the reason a eulogy and good words are spoken at such funerals is for the sake of those in attendance, that is so that everyone feels good about the person who has passed on, as if our good words might make a difference on how God might judge that person. And maybe we might be thinking, as we think about our own lives and the not so good people we are, maybe that will work for us too when we pass on. Quite frankly, that is a lousy way to think. Indeed, we are not good people, no one is righteous, no not one. We are sinners one and all, myself included as the greatest sinner. So, we are not here to speak a good word about Mimi. No, we have something better and more comforting to say.
Last Tuesday morning during my morning Scripture reading I was reading Psalm 103, this was after we had gotten the call that Mimi had passed. As I read the Psalm it seemed that this Psalm was written for this occasion. So, I want to reread parts of the Psalm with some added commentary as we go.
“1Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” As I always tell people, we get it right when we point to Jesus. God is the prime mover, He gives and we are given to, He does and we are done to. Life is not about us, it is about God’s giving and doing and so we are truly blessed as the Lord blesses us. He redeems us, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He crowns us with His steadfast love and mercy. He renews us.
“6The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 8The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Thanks be to God that He is slow to anger and that He is not angry forever and that He does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us. Before God there are no degrees of sin. Certainly we might look upon others and cast our own judgement, yet with the same judgement we will be judged. If we should ever think ourselves so good, then we need to go back and compare ourselves with Jesus. And as John reminds us, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Thanks be to God that as we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
“11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” Indeed, we rejoice in our Lord’s steadfast love for us. We are dust and to dust shall we return. Our days are numbered and often are truly difficult.
Let me remind you that as we understand heaven as a place of complete perfection and as we know that our lives in this world are fraught with bad mistakes, pain, and suffering, we probably will not remember too much of this world when we get to heaven, which begs the question of why we spend so much time concerned about the fighting, struggles, and mess of this world, instead of spending time on what is truly important, our faith life and being ready for heaven.
It is at the time of the death of a loved one that we may have questions about death. Death came into our world as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience. Because of their sin, all people are born in sin. Because of their sin, all people are born to die. Our Lord reminds us to turn to Him and His Word, especially during our times of sorrow, because in His Word we will find the answers to our questions. In His Word we will see a God who is always there, always ready to help us with our concerns, our cares and our worries. Indeed, in His Word we are brought to the Word made flesh, Jesus Himself, true God in human flesh who came into this world as one of us in order to live for us. God’s demand of us is perfection and because we cannot be perfect Jesus came to be perfect for us, in our place. Indeed, Jesus was perfect for Mimi in her place. After living a perfect life, Jesus took our sins, all our sins, our perceived big sins and little sins and He suffered the price of hell for us in our place. He shed His blood, the price for sin, death, for us in our place. What greater comfort can we get than to know that our sins, that Mimi’s sins have been paid for by Jesus Himself. Thus, as we take our questions to the Lord, as we listen to Him in His Word, He gives us comfort and rest from them.
Today we come and say, “Thanks be to God,” because we are confident that Mimi has fought the good fight, she has finished the race, she has kept the faith. We are confident that she has suffered only physical death. She has merely fallen asleep in the Lord. When Mimi was baptized on November 22, 1925 the Lord claimed her as His child. The Lord committed Himself to Mimi. He washed her. He created faith in her heart. He put His name on her. He forgave her sins. He clothed her in His righteousness. By faith in Jesus as her Savior, Mimi has now been received into her Father’s house in heaven.
This morning we are here to remember Florence (Flo) (Mimi) Hinojosa. We are here to pay our last respects. We are here as a part of our grieving process. We are here not so much to say goodbye, but so long, see ya real soon. In a sense we are here to give thanks that she has fought the good fight, that she has finished the race, that with God’s help she has kept the faith, that she has been given the prize of the Lord’s commitment to her. We are here to give thanks that she has made her final move to her home in heaven. We are here to give thanks that the Lord has given her rest. We are sad, because we will miss her, and that is okay, but we are thankful because we know that now she is far better off.
We are not here today to celebrate death, because, as we said, death is a result of sin. We are not here today to praise Mimi, because she too was a sinner like you and me. We are here today to celebrate Jesus’ work in and through her. We are here to give thanks to the Lord for His bringing her to faith, for keeping her in faith, and for watching over her because her death is precious in His sight. We are here today to be comforted and strengthened in our faith. May the Lord give you that comfort and strength for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith - October 6, 2019 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Habakkuk 11-4; 2:1-4

“How long, O Lord?” “Why do you make me see iniquity?” “Why do you sit and let evil happen?” How often do we question the Lord in our own lives much like Habakkuk in our reading for this morning? How often do we wonder if the Lord really cares about us and what is happening in this world? Let me assure you this morning that it is okay to ask God questions. Certainly He is a big guy and He can take care of Himself. And much like our parents do not stop loving us when we ask questions, nor does our Lord stop loving us when we ask Him questions. As a matter of fact, our questioning the Lord is something of a show of faith. When we question the Lord, we acknowledge that He is the One in charge. But, I would be remiss if I did not say, let us be careful that in our questioning the Lord, we do not fall into the temptation to despair, to blame and despise Him, lest we lose faith and life.
As usual we being by looking at the other lessons and how they might tie in with our text. This morning both the Epistle and the Gospel lessons tie in somewhat as they speak about the struggles we have in life and the fact that God works through these struggles to strengthen and keep us in faith. And even more in the Gospel we have Jesus’ warning that we are not to be the person who is bringing struggles and temptations to others. He also warns us not to think more highly of ourselves especially concerning what we perceive to be our own good works, because more often than not, our good works are only what is our duty. Perhaps as we look at our own lives we might ask if our lives are encouraging or discouraging others in their faith and faith life.
Getting to our text we begin with Habakkuk’s complaint, verse one, “1The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (1:1-4). Habakkuk’s complaint is that there is violence throughout the land and it seems to him that the Lord is doing nothing about it. It seems to Habakkuk that the Lord is simply sitting idly by and watching from a distance.
Habakkuk’s observation is that the wicked have perverted justice so that might makes right, in other words, the one who wins the battle is right whether they are truly right or not. Habakkuk is troubled because it seems that God is tolerant of iniquity and wrong, things such as destruction, violence, strife, and contention and that He is doing nothing about it. The king of Judah cannot enforce God’s laws, and God is not enforcing His laws, so there truly is no justice.
Habakkuk questions when will God answer and bring justice? Habakkuk recognizes that even though the world is in chaos, God is still in charge, God is still in control and his desire is that God would step in and bring vindication, justice and peace, and that God would do so soon.
Our text continues with God’s response, verse one of chapter two, “2:1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. 2And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. 4Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith’” (2:1-4). Habakkuk begins by telling us that he will take his post and watch. He will be patient. He will pray to the Lord, offering his petitions and then he will sit and wait to see how the Lord will answer his prayer, take control of the situation and do what is right.
And the Lord answered Habakkuk and instructed him to write His words for all to read. The Lord is giving Habakkuk a vision and he is to write down the vision he is seeing. He is to write it so that any who read it will understand what is written.
Probably the most difficult part of the Lord’s message to Habakkuk is the fact that the fulfillment of the vision will happen in God’s time and God does not tell Habakkuk when that fulfillment will take place. This is not the first time we have God speaking, promising and letting His people know that His time is not their time. Yet, God’s timing is perfect timing so the events will work out when He knows it is best according to His good and gracious will which is always best.
It is in the last words of our text that the children of Israel and we get our encouragement. Know this, “the righteous will live by his faith.” How is it that the righteous will live by faith? Martin Luther thought these words meant that in order for a person to stand righteous in God’s presence he had to live a righteous life, which is why he struggled so much with his own sin and his constant need to confess every little sin he confessed. Martin Luther’s struggle was like all those in our world today who strive to be righteous by being obedient, by doing good works, by trying to please God. Yet, that is not what God is saying as Luther finally figured out. That “the righteous will live by his faith,” means that one is made righteous and given righteousness by God’s grace. It is God who makes us righteous and He does so by giving us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Thus, that “the righteous will live by faith,” means that faith shows itself in its righteous living, in other words, because we have been given faith, because our sins have been paid for and are forgiven, because of all that God has done, does and will continue to do for us, because of God working in and through us we do live lives of faith, imperfect lives of faith as it may be.
So, what does this mean? As in Habakkuk’s day, so even today wickedness seems to have its way in our world. Just turn on the television, open a newspaper, read a magazine, listen to the radio, check out Facebook, twitter, Instagram, and all those other electronic media options and we hear story after story of the wickedness that seems to be running rampant in our world today. Nation is fighting against nation. There are earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and so forth that are destroying cities and killing people. There are terrorist attacks. Idolatry, theft, sexual immorality, stealing, coveting, gossip, lying, and killing, are the order of the day throughout the world.
Just as Habakkuk noted in his day, so even today, sin abounds and it appears as if God is watching, “from a distance.” We might well ask, how can God allow for all the sinful perversions that are taking place in the world. How can God be tolerant of what is happening, especially to the treatment of His own people, to Christians around the world who are being persecuted and martyred for their faith.
As Christians we too cry for justice. We cry, “How long, O Lord?” We question God concerning the inequities of the world and yet, our questions are not blaming nor doubting, but are questions acknowledging that we know that God is God, that He is in charge, that He is in control, that all things are in His hands and that He and He alone is the one who can help us.
At the same time, we know that God, in His Word reminds us that He will have the last word, but we need to wait. God’s timing is perfect timing. Time and again we are reminded to stop and wait on the Lord. And yet, time and again we rush in and do it our way and then wonder why things got messed up. How difficult it is for us to wait especially when we believe God is not doing anything and that we know best. Certainly we have the best intentions and we want to help God out, as if God actually needs our help. Yet, we have God’s confident word, to wait.
I believe the most important words of our text for this morning are the words Luther himself struggled with, the reminder that “the just will live by faith.” Here again, as I said a few weeks ago, this teaching on justification is what sets us Missouri Synod Lutherans apart from all the other religions and denominations in the world. Just listen (well, really, don’t listen, but if you do) to the evangelical movement, to the TV preachers and so forth. They will tell you how you must live a just life, how you must be obedient, how and what you must do in order to be just in God’s eyes. They believe themselves to be doing what God commands, that they have been obedient, so they believe they have done all they believe needs to be done. They believe the Master will serve them rather than demand they serve Him since in their eyes they have done their duty. They so burden you with the law that you may end up feeling like Luther, in despair with no hope until you too realize that for “the just to live by faith,” means that we are made just and right by God, by His grace, His undeserved love for us, through the faith He gives. It comes from outside of us, not inside.
We are members of the family of God by grace through faith, given through the means of grace. At our baptism God put faith in our hearts. God gave us forgiveness of sins. God wrote our names in the book of life. We can remember our baptism, the fact that we have been baptized and know for certain that God got it right, that we are just and righteous in God’s eyes because He makes us that way. It is not about us and what we do. We do not look inside ourselves. It is all about God and what He has done. We look outside ourselves. We look to Jesus who paid the price for our sins. We look to God who has given us faith and who keeps us and strengthens us in our faith.
Ultimately, we live by faith, living as priests in the priesthood of all believers, yet this is not a have to but a want to, a get to, a response of faith that is given to us. As we live in our vocations, as we live lives as priests, offering our very lives as living sacrifices for the Lord, as we serve others so we are serving the Lord, as a response faith.
God is a just God, punishing sinners. We may not always see the punishment of sinners in this world, but we will see it on the last day. Yet, God is also a merciful God. God’s desire is that no one will perish. God is not slow in His return as some count slowness, but rather, He is patient in not wanting anyone to perish and so He is giving enough time for as many as possible to come to faith. And so, as He is patient, as He is waiting on us, so we are patient and we wait on the Lord. Yes, it may be difficult, more so at some time than at another, but we do wait and while we wait we live. We live in the joy of knowing that God has given us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, that God has made us just and right in His own eyes and that He stirs in us to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.