One Body – In Christ

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. We all know the expression, “I know that like the back of my hand.” Well, look at the back of your hand. How familiar are you with it. What don’t you like, or what do you like about your hand. Now that you are examining the back of your hand, without turning it over, do you know what the other side looks like? Now the harder question for you; do you know what your knee looks like? Most of us have our knees covered, but what do you like and what do you not like about your knees? The point is that we all are quite familiar with parts of our own bodies How have your hands or your knees been of benefit to you? The answer to that is a longer response. There are so many things that we do…each requiring hands or knees. It does not matter whether you are gardening or cleaning your house, washing your car or planning a vacation, you usually can do better with your hands or knees in the middle of it. And of course hands and knees are a vital part of our prayer lives. St. Paul is speaking to the church in Ephesus. This letter has handled some very meaty topics; spiritual blessings in Christ found in chapter 1, chapter 2 demonstrates that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace through faith alone. He has revealed to the people the mystery of the Gospel found through the Spirit. Paul then prays that the church in Ephesus be given spiritual strength. But we have heard this over the past three weeks in our readings. “Therefore,” begins today’s reading from the apostle. This is now the conclusion of everything that he has been saying. Having heard all these other ideas, plans, and godly expectations plus having received the message of the Messiah…now we will proceed to the next thing. Now we need to move toward the conclusion that God has laid out for us – the “therefore.” “Walk in a matter worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Eph. 4:1) Having been informed about all that God has and is doing for His church…now we are told to behave in the proper way. It is pretty certain that we fall short of this expectation…all the time. We are to walk “with humility and gentleness.” I’m sorry. That just seems wrong. Think about what we hear about child rearing. The message is given that we are to make sure that our children operate in a situation that builds up their self-esteem. Or we hear that one of the solutions for bullies is to punch him in the nose and the consequences ‘be damned.’   If the coach or teacher or police catch you, then that guy deserved what he got. Humility and gentleness seem more like weakness than the way to act. The truth is that we would rather sin than turn loose of our egos and act the way that Scripture demands. Turning the other cheek night as well be a foreign language. “Bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Sure we think we understand…Love your neighbor as yourself. But bearing with your neighbor is a bit different. You know those times when you just cannot stand something your neighbor is doing. Well you are to put up with those times because Christ first loved you despite your goofy and difficult ways. We should be eager to remain faithful, even when it is uncomfortable. But we don’t How often do we operate with “peace” as our goal? I would suggest that this is more often found in families and with couples, but what about public reconciliation? Too often we are skeptical as to whether the other party is sincere, or if it will work. Finding real peace is difficult in our world. Our dream vacation often includes sitting peacefully on a beach or beside a cool fishing stream and enjoying “quiet time.” But we forget the amount of work it took to get ready for this vacation. We had to work all year to afford the time off for the trip and then we had to afford the cost of the vacation. In other words, there is a lot of work involved before we can have all this peace. And then we have a lot of catching up to do when we get back to work. So again there is a lot of work to do. When you think about it, there is a real appreciation for the verse that describes it as the “peace that passes all understanding.” It is beyond our ability and yet it is a promise that our Lord makes for us who believe in Him. He will give this peace to us. That peace is found in the very Word of God. “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism one God and Father of all…” It is there, in this one body that we REALLY find our peace. There we find what it means to be connected to Christ. LCMS members struggle with the concept of unity. Yes, we want to and must reach out with the message of love found in our Lord. But that does NOT mean we are to have union with churches teaching falsely. Unity of faith is different from unionism. I know this is a confusion, but this means that we do not join up with Catholics and Methodists and Baptists who do not have the same appreciation for the Sacraments or the Word of God. We would love to be able to share with them, but they are NOT worshipping God and understanding His gifts to you, in the way that the Bible describes.   The Old Adam in us makes us want to overlook such differences and say, “Y’all come.” Well that is partially right. We welcome all comers. But that is also because we believe that the Word of God changes us. So no-one enters faithfully into worship without allowing God’s message to change them. When we refuse to listen, that is the Old Adam, sinful man, blocking the truth of God’s saving message. So yes, we desire unity of faith, because that is what God demands and expects. But we also know that far too many people will reject this as too limiting and undesirable. They think they can decide these things for themselves and thus fall deeper into a sinful condition. But we are more like the back of our hand or that gimpy knee. WE have accumulated a few age spots and had our knees worked on, but they still connect us to our body. And our Body is the church, the marriage feast of the lamb, the “grace given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gifts.” Paul continues to describe that each person is given all kinds of gifts from the Holy Spirit and they are gifts. We have done nothing to earn them and they are ours to use for the betterment of God’s kingdom. This means that He has described who is to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher. He has “equipped the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith…” We are therefore ready to stop being children who sit and wait for someone else to do the work and are ready to get up, get our hands dirty and go tell the good news about our Lord. The truth is that we are all one Body together because we are one in Christ. That is a glorious and refreshing truth to know and believe. We are one in Christ – WOW!! We are to speak the truth in love…that means tell the truth of God’s love. We often want to be judgmental. But think about it…that sense of judgment is really frustration that the people we are talking to have not understood HOW MUCH GOD REALLY LOVES THEM. If we could properly explain it, then we would not be angry with others, but would be sharing God’s love festival. That festival, that feast, that meal is what we are about to share today…Holy Communion. It is a meal prepared for us, given to us and shared with all who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. All of this comes from God, for God’s people and we are left speechless with nothing better to say than… Thanks be to God. Amen.

Gathering the Flock

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. When you visit one of the hatcheries for trout at the state parks in Missouri, you can tell when it is feeding time. Any time someone walks along the side of the hatchery tank, the beautiful trout in the tank follow the person as they walk along, hoping that they will throw in food or at least begin the feeding process. Milk cattle will wonder home at the right time of day, so that they could be milked. Animals, even in zoos will gather together for “\feeding time” and that too is an exciting moment for visitors. It happens like clock-work each day. This pattern is also repeated in sad scenes of desperation at refugee camps around the world. Relief trucks are followed by large groups of people trying to get then necessary provisions for their families. Food and water are absolute necessities for all creatures in God’s kingdom. And when things become critical all creatures will do almost anything to survive, or help their families survive. Caring for a flock is also what a shepherd is supposed to do. Out OT reading from Jeremiah begins with this warning, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” This image of a shepherd is one of the favorite images used in Scripture to describe the leaders that God desires to place over His people. Sheep are fairly unique in that they must be led rather than driven. You never see an old TV movie about driving sheep like you do a cattle drive. The farmers and ranchers of the old west hated sheep ranchers and there was a significant war that went on between the different groups. The sheep would eat the grasses all the way to the ground and the cattle had nothing to eat afterwards, so it was a matter of survival for their cattle herds. It also made for a lot of plots to mediocre cowboy movies. But that is NOT the point for today. God is warning the leaders of the House of Israel and religious leaders everywhere that their own personal salvation is at risk if they mislead God’s flock. A flock of sheep is not usually fenced in but is what we now call “free range.” Sure they are often penned at night, but this happened most often during the lambing season. So if there was not enough food or drink, the sheep would wonder off and be scattered. They needed nourishment to sustain them and they would spread out because of their survival instinct. The same is true of mankind. Men and women will look for the spiritual nourishment that they crave and will look almost anywhere to find it. If the traditional churches aren’t clearly telling their message, then people will keep looking until they find something that makes them comfortable. Thus different parts of the world have all kinds of mystical religions and odd off-shoots spring up everywhere. Even within Christianity, good music, nice facilities, the right time for services or a good sermon is enough to choose a church. Do they know what that church believes, teaches and confesses…MAYBE. The Gospel begins with apostles returning to Jesus. They had just been sent out two-by-two to reach out into the lands around them, particularly in Galilee. They had been able to heal the sick and drive out demons. Now they came back to report and be de-briefed. The Lord takes them away to a quiet place, or “desolate place” as our text reports. They need to rest and recuperate. I imagine that they are very excited about what has happened and may even be running on a bit of adrenaline. They need to adjust and return to the fold under the direction of their shepherd, Jesus But the crowds have followed them back to the Lord and there is no real down-time. So the sheep, looking for their shepherd were flowing to the Lord, yes following Him. He took compassion of them and had the great crowd sit. The Lord began to nourish them…not with food or drink, but with the very Word of God. He began to teach and He taught them many things. Mark does not tell us what He was teaching, but we can imagine the Spirit flowing from His lips to the ears of the large crowd. But at the end of the day, if someone asks you what the reading was, you would say, “The Feeding of the 5000.” It is recorded in all four Gospels. Matthew and Mark both record another feeding of a slightly smaller group – 4000 men and their families. But this is one of the best known of Jesus miracles. All you have to do is mention the five loaves and two fish and almost everyone knows that you are making a reference to this event. But think about it, John the Baptist had said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Those seven words were how he greeted our Lord when He arrived at the Jordan River to be baptized. But seven is also the number of items in the lunch basket that the disciples retrieved from the crowd. The nourishment, the supplying, the teaching the hope and promise are found in these seven items. The kingdom of God was right there in their midst…in other words, at hand. The people came to this place as lost sinners. They had no direction, some came running, while others simply followed. They were seeking and looking for answers for themselves and their families. They were US. They were following the dream of the Messiah. They were hoping to find forgiveness, health, salvation and a proper relationship with God. They heard His voice and followed…they and we are His sheep and the sheep of His pastures. Isn’t it odd that we so often let our egos get in the way? Where in this passage do we hear that these people or this crowd did ANYTHING to merit or deserve food? That was part of the problem…they had made NO provision for food. The truth is and was that they were all sinners. The diseases they feared, the demons that possessed them, the hunger they experienced were all caused by a separation from God. Then the people had followed false shepherds, false teachers and false prophets. They had faced and continue to face, as we do the “Woe” that God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah. Too often we hear the voice of people calling us and leading us away from God’s direction. This happens in our jobs, at public gatherings and in many activities in our lives. This is one of the reasons that God tells us clearly to “remember the Sabbath day to make it holy.” The world pushes into our lives and we let it take a prominent place. And what happens? We ignore This Commandment and the flock is scattered into the wind and world around us. Here, on this lake-side location in Galilee our Lord is calling His flock together. This teaching of the crowd is overpowered by the miracle of feeding everyone. Take note that scholars, who must have too much time to wonder these things, believe that this feeding was a Jewish crowd and the 4000 were gentiles. Here there are twelve baskets of broken pieces afterwards. At the other feeding there are seven baskets of food.   The scholars believe that this means the 12 tribes of Israel and the 7 representing the entirety of God’s creation – the the Gentile world No matter how you view this miracle it is a glorious message for all who believe in Jesus Christ. Our Christ has come to teach and nourish His people, His flock. First He nourishes us with His Word and then with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. What could be better? He forgives our sins and then we wash down that new taste with his Body and Blood. We hear His Word and we grow and flourish in everything that comes from Him We are blessed beyond our ability to express and we are called, by name and personally into His flock. Thanks be to God. Amen.

What Inheritance?

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. God has offered us and given us great blessings in life through faith in Jesus Christ. And He has promised us even greater blessings in the heavenly places…even though we are left to image what this actually means and what this will look like. It is, difficult, if not impossible to know what these superior blessings will be, but we believe that they will be vastly superior to the ones in this life. You see, God has choses us in Christ from the foundations of the world. God who has already invested so much in us has also chosen to keep His promises to all of us. Paul emphasizes the holiness and blamelessness of those adopted by God. And why was this done? Because of the riches found in Christ’s work on the Cross. In case you need to be reminded…it was there, on the Cross that Christ redeemed us and forgave everything. God is rich toward us according to His grace and according to the gifts that He lavishes on us.. Those gifts include wisdom and understanding. The Messiah, the Christ, Jesus Himself is the secret that St. Paul is speaking about; a secret, if you will, that is openly declared and proclaimed to a world that can neither appreciate or apprehend all that they are hearing. What they do not ‘get’ is that all things will be reconciled in Christ Jesus and manifestly brought together under His eventual rule. In other words it is no secret, it is just ignored by too many people. When we look at our Epistle reading for today there are a couple of things that are totally lost in our English translations. Verses 3-14 are actually one LOOOOOOONG sentence in Greek. English does not allow all those phrases and conjunctions, clauses and detailed rhetoric to be left as one sentence. German might allow this, but not English. And it is from this knowledge that we also glean out additional information about the letter to the Ephesians… things that are not part of the text, but are helpful to our appreciation of the message. Paul spent three years in Ephesus, preaching and teaching. The city was the location of of an enormously important temple to the Greek goddess, Artemis. This important city in East Greece (now Turkey) thought of itself as fairly sophisticated and knowledgeable in rhetoric – things properly written in good Greek. Paul was showing them that he too could speak their language and making it clear that he had a message that was intended for them also. These verses are constructed so that they are in the form of Jewish prayer and are designed to call forth blessings from the Trinity. If you are wondering what I am talking about, I have included a different translation in our bulletin for today. It is typed out to demonstrate how this text is to be understood by the original church in Ephesus. The top section is about the Father, the middle two are about Jesus and the final one, obviously, is the Spirit. When you see it laid out like this, then you understand how this could be a prayer and again, how it reflects the Trinity. The people of this city would have heard and understood this message. They just knew that they were “sophisticated” enough to understand. You would have to be dumb not to see this obvious construction. Yah, sure, not me. But that is the context of Paul’s writing and the audience he is seeking to reach. This prayer is pointed, hopeful, direct and comforting. Despite the structure as a prayer, this text also contains both Law and Gospel. Well, the Law is more implied than actual, but it is there. Paul promises that those who believe in Jesus Christ are predestined, known ahead of time, to be saved. The unasked and therefore unanswered question is, “What happens to those who do not believe?”   Here the Law slips in under the cover of the unasked question and in the hiding place of the implied answer. We have all gotten pretty good at listening to these non- answers. It has become a carefully crafted part of our political process. You have to listen to everything, or you might miss the things that are NOT SAID. However, here the promise is clearly offered and given to all mankind. Here the message does not have to be PC, it is perfection itself. And the only thing that man must do to receive this gift is NOTHING. Stop pushing God away. He comes to all of us in everything that He does and we are to simply receive Him. Stop pushing Him away. You can do nothing that merits His pleasure or His grace. You can do nothing to add to what Jesus has already done…FOR EVERYONE. So this is our inheritance; a gift of salvation given and passed down to His family. When a senior member of the family dies, his or her assets are often divided among the family members. They have done nothing to earn this inheritance, only to be born in the family. This is also true of adopted family members. They have been hand chosen to be part of the family and this relationship is also special and worthy of noting. There we find for ourselves, the righteousness of Christ given on our behalf.  We have the abundant assurance that we are special people…special in God’s eyes because of Jesus and His work on our behalf. We are special, not in the same way as Israel was the Chosen People. But in that Christ lived and died for everyone. And everyone who believes is saved. We were, in fact, chosen by Him from the beginning. But the benefits were signed sealed and delivered through the blood of Jesus on the cross. Please understand – we look back at the cross and recognize that it is special for everyone. But also it is the fulfillment of God’s long-term plan for all mankind. Because it is in the past, we lose sight of the forever nature of this fulfilment. So what is this inheritance that Paul mentions? Unlike a human inheritance there is no cash or property involved. There are no lengthy negotiations with the IRS or arguments with brothers and sisters. We have been adopted through our Baptisms into Jesus family. There is a similarity…in that there is death involved with this inheritance. It is the death that we caused…by our sinfulness…the death of Jesus the Christ.   This too is the result of the Law. Sin causes death. But in this case it was not the sinfulness of the man who died…but the sin of the entire world. Jesus remained sinless and yet for us He became sin so that our sinful natures could be paid for, atoned by His blood. Like most inheritances, it is something that another person has acquired and give to us. This inheritance is earned and paid for by Jesus death and we are given the privilege of being named in His will, so to speak. No there is no lawyer or judge who will call you to come and accept your property from a will. But there is a judge and He has found you ‘NOT GUILTY’ because the price is already paid and you are set free by His blood. It is no wonder that this passage of scripture is structured like a prayer. There is no more appropriate way to come to God than in prayer and here we come with bowed knees and bended head to give Him thanks, acknowledge His gift and receive that inheritance. O what a glorious thing this is. It is beyond our imagination and yet promised in detail. Come you good and faithful servants and receive the inheritance laid out in advance for all who believe in Him. That is some promise…but because God said it…I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen.

A Prophet Among You

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen. We hear only bits and pieces of the prophet Ezekiel as we go through the year. The most famous portion is the narrative of the Valley of Dry Bones that is found in chapter 37, but there are three times in this church year that we have readings from this prophet. The Reading for today is obviously the beginning of chapter 2 of this lengthy prophetic writing. Chapter one is an extensive, even scary vision of the prophet encountering the Four Living Creatures of Heaven and the Lord God seated on His throne. It is a mystery filled reading and I would invite you to read it. But you also need to know that this vision occurred while the House of Israel was in exile in Babylon. When you read that chapter you will hear of the Chaldeans, and those are the ones we know as the Assyrians or the Persians. Here in Chapter 2, the narrative switches from something seen, to a message heard. Now the Lord God, Yahweh, begins to speak to Ezekiel. “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” This prophet, like Isaiah in his vision, fell on his face for fear of the almighty God. And God does not want to speak to the back of his heads, so he must stand up. The Spirit entered the prophet and he was able to stand up. Then, for the second time, Yahweh calls him “Son of Man.” If this makes you wonder whether this points us forward to Jesus, they you are thinking correctly. Ezekiel frequently speaks about things that are fulfilled in the through the coming of our Lord. This expression is used a lot here in Ezekiel should be noted. It is truly the telling of Jesus to come. There is an important issue that gets glossed over here in this text. Modern writers, particularly here in the USA are uncomfortable with the phrase “Son of Man.” It clearly connects to Jesus and it just as clearly indicates that he is male. Many writers attempt to take out the gender references to make it neutral. I would like to share with you the comments of Horace Hummel in his commentary on this text. Any quick check of modern commentaries and translations will show that there is no unanimity about the translation. The alternatives offered reflect slight variations in understanding the nuances of the term. For example, “mortal” (NRSV) is not entirely incorrect, but fails to bring out the major thrust of the phrase. Mortality is part of the fallen human condition ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin (Genesis 3), hence Ezek. 31:14 refers to “sons of man” after death. Every son of Adam and daughter of Eve now is mortal. But the accent of “son of man” is a term for Ezekiel is much more on the vast distance between the weakness of humanity (cf. Ps 8:4-5 [ET 8:3-4] and the power of the Almighty, who gives his prophet the capacity to speak, who uses that prophet as an instrument of his Word, and who has the power to discipline Israel (through the ministry of his prophets and through other historical events, particularly the exile), but who ultimately will use his power to redeem his people.   Besides being ‘son’ in the literal sense [it] can be the idiomatic for being a (male) member of a class, “a single individual in a group.” Hence in [this] construction it can mean “human being” or “individual man.” Translations such as “human (being)”, “man” or “person” are possibly more to the point than “mortal” but come across as…;inferior to “son of man.”…one should not forget that it is also the proper name for the progenitor of the human race, “Adam.”[1]   Yes, the Hebrew word for ‘man’ becomes Adam in Genesis. The fact that God speaks to Ezekiel as a man, a human person, is important. He is not speaking to another heavenly being and He has called this particular priest to be His prophet. We accept God at His Word and do not attempt to read modern issues into His unchangeable Word. The Word of God is important, even in the smallest details and is consistent. For me, that is particularly comforting. God’s Word, despite being written down by over 40 people does not contain errors or does not need to be made politically correct…it is just correct. The message that the Lord gives to Ezekiel could very well have been spoken to us as Americans or Hermannites. We are a “nation of rebels,” whose “fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.” This was not always the case with the United States. Every one of the state Constitutions start, in their preambles, with a reference to God. All but one of the Founding Fathers are acknowledged to have been Christians, with the family of John Adams leading the way. Here we are today, celebrating the 239th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There those men signed away the safety and announced that this document was more important than their lives, their property and their sacred honor. Today I am not sure too many of our elected officials could even define “sacred Honor” much less defend and risk it. The process of becoming politically active and seeking elective office has forced too many people, from all parties, to hide or abandon their own personal beliefs. We have no idea what their moral anchor is. We do with confessed Christians…as they are willing to take risks in their faith and in their lives. Yet, that risk taking, that certainty of trying to act as God’s servants is what we find in the core and fiber of our best and greatest leaders. Tough decisions have to be made by men, but seeking God’s guidance is the way that public servants lead best. Otherwise we become a “nation of rebels…who transgress against [God] every day.” Thus we are all a nation that falls easily into sin. We transgress, we ignore, we succumb, we swear oaths, we make other gods, we bear false witness…in other words; we sin greatly. This Fourth of July weekend we may have seen someone dressed up like Uncle Sam; all decked out in red, white and blue with a top had to match. He would have been walking around to remind us of the wonderful things that we have here in this country. And he did not look anything like the man on the front of our bulletins. That man, on the bulletin might be viewed as homeless, or a mountain man, or maybe an older term; a hobo. We don’t see a lot of people who look like that these days. But that was common for an ordinary man traveling in Israel or anywhere in the days before motorized transportation. But Jesus sent out His disciples two by two so that they could share the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus gave them authority to teach and even authority over unclean spirits. But most importantly, they were in training to be His witnesses well into the future. And they would also be martyrs for their faith. The people needed to know and understand that these men were prophets in their midst. Not prophet in the sense of telling the future, but prophets in that they proclaimed the truth of God’s salvation. Ezekiel called the prophet son of man. Paul referred to him as the reigning of God, clearly near to them, and we have the privilege of being baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So while the town, the community, the state or the nation might be rebels against our Lord, it is our responsibility to remain faithful.   We are to adjust our methods and modify our approach, but we do not have the right or privilege to change god’s Word. So, this means loving our neighbors as ourselves, even when we do not like them. This means sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, even when others mock Him or us. This means walking the walk and boldly sharing the message that God loves them enough to die for them. And why would we do all this? Because Jesus was the one who looked like that homeless man. Jesus was the one who called a bunch of fishermen to be disciples. Jesus was the one who, along with the Holy Spirit, created faith in our hearts and called us by name when we were baptized. Jesus then took our cares, our concerns, and all our sins and nailed them to a wooden cross in Jerusalem. There they are gone forever and disappear like rusty nails. We are His people and we have the privilege to live that way and know that “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) Amen. [1] Hummel, Horace D., Ezekiel 1 – 20, (CPH: St. Louis, 2005) pg. 74

Barbarians No More

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Sometimes you just want to wring their necks. You know who I mean…them. The ones God gave you to rear and who think they know better than anyone else. You know…our children. We love them dearly, but sometimes we don’t like them very much. Even when you try to help them, your generosity is seen as a ‘given,’ it is expected and they are entitled to whatever you have given them. It does not matter whether you gave up something in order to help them, they are your children and surely they deserve what you gave them. Like I said, sometimes you just want to wring their necks. Outsiders think you are a bit odd. You help the family and …then what? Even other family members will not understand, or have a different approach to the same issue. It is not clear what you should be doing, so you just do your best. But one person’s best is not always seen as good enough. Our OT reading from Lamentations begins in the right place, the place that each of us should begin each day. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases: his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-23) When you have been awakened during the night by the dog barking or a child wanting a drink of water or needing to go to the bathroom yourself, it is not easy to remember to rejoice in the Lord always. The very breath we breathe is a gift from God and we simply take it for granted. “The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” We forget this simple phrase and go on being our sinful selves. This then separates us from God and makes us babbling idiots in His presence. Maybe our children are right…we do miss the mark some times. Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations is not known for his uplifting messages. He went around Israel preaching doom and gloom everywhere. Yet, here in this reading He is positive and assured that the Lord will not cast off forever…will have compassion…has steadfast love and will not afflict and grieve the children of men. Not bad for a man of gloom and doom. Paul, in what we call the Second Epistle to the Church in Corinth, is telling about how God’s steadfast love is being poured out by those who love Him. The church in Macedonia, probably Philippi, was very poor and yet was trying to send money to the destitute in Jerusalem. The doom and gloom that we expect in Lamentations is actually found here in Paul’s letter. Please understand what is happening. Paul is trying to goad the Corinthians. Centuries before, the people of Macedonia were not considered good enough to be Greek. The city-states of Corinth, Athens, Sparta, Thebes were the cultural and political center of everything that was properly Greek. The ancient language that is still studied by Departments of Classical Languages throughout the country was that spoken and recorded in Athens. The great plays that we read in high school were written in Attic and performed in Athens. Macedonia on the other hand, was just the mountainous hinterland. Their local language was so poorly understood that the people of Athens thought they sounded like they were saying, “Bar, Bar, “Bar.” Thus this became the source of the word BARBARIAN and it has come down to us in English. The only way that the Macedonians became accepted as part of the culture was that their armies conquered the rest of what we now call Greece. Alexander the Great and his father Philip II dominated them, as their own military might slipped away. Now Paul is tweaking their egos and using this sense of their own cultural superiority to prod them into helping with the offering being collected for the church in Jerusalem. He is saying, “You, Corinthians, who have been the center of trade and culture for over 6 centuries, are you going to let those barbarians out-do you?” The local equivalent is, how often have you heard it said away from Hermann that they French wine industry was saved by disease resistant grapes vines from Hermann or that the founder of Oak Glenn Winery started the wine industry in California after learning his craft here? The French and the Californians are not likely to admit that they were dependent on this little ‘back-water town,’ or should I say, us barbarians. St. Paul understands that the human ego is something that can be used. He honors the Macedonians and all these centuries later we do too. They gave more than they had to support others. They were doing the same thing as the widow who placed her mite into the temple treasury. They are giving to the ministry of God because they too have been blessed. It is not something that is skipped over or held back. No matter what the Corinthians do, and we do not know, we honor these barbarians with this narrative. God is extraordinarily generous with us! I don’t know how else to say it. He give us everything and shows us that others have done the same in their time also. The Macedonians give their small gift to others. We give our offerings and gift. God gives us more. God has given mankind the benefit of the doubt almost every time. There are few times when this is not the case…I can think of Pharaoh and his army as one example. But Pharaoh had hardened his heart and his entire nation paid the penalty. Otherwise, God give you every break possible.. The “barbarians’ of Macedonia let “their abundance of joy” overflow them so that they were able to dig deep into almost empty pockets to support others in need. Paul, may have been taking a cheap shot at the Corinthians but he was also speaking in awe and wonder that this little church in the hills gave so much. They showed their faith in God and their savior Jesus Christ. It did not matter their social status, Jesus had lived and died for everyone and they knew it. This message applies to us also. It does not matter whether you view us as the small back-water church in the hills, or the fortunate American church with great riches, we are called to be God’s workers in His fields. And Paul is showing us what this looks like. This small church in northern Greece is now, for all time, the example of Christian charity and love poured out. How are you going to live up to their example? And the Gospel shows us the benefit of this faith and love. Faith offers, for two different peoples, healing and new life. Jesus certainly shows this in dramatic fashion, but it is the same result. “Your faith has made you well,” He said and the woman went away healed. “I say to you arise,” Jairus’ daughter hears the Word of God in her ears and life returns to her body. The Spirit of God is in and among them. This is he promise that Jesus makes to all believers. The woman was an outcast in her culture, because the flow of blood made her unclean. She would have been considered from the wrong side of the tracks. Yet, the power of God came to her. Jairus was one of the rulers of Israel and again the power of God came into that house healed his daughter; so it does not matter what your social or financial standing is. God’s Word and love, hope and promise is overflowing to everyone who believes in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So while we may look like Barbarians in the eyes of others, we are, in fact, more like the church of Macedonia.   We are to be God’s faithful workers in His field, His harvest, His church in this and every community. And, yes, sometimes He would like to wring our necks too. Please do not get me wrong…this is work that He has laid out in advance for us to do. It is not something that earns us anything, it is for the joy that is set before us. We then are given the privilege of serving Him here and now, for the fulfilment of His plan. We are His workers because he has called us to that and says, “I say to you, arise.” This we will do today and into eternity. We are His barbarians now and forever. Amen.

Where Were You?

Grace mercy and peace be to your, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The reading today from Job is one of my favorites. In most of the previous 37 chapters of this book Job has complained to His “friends” (and I use that term loosely) that he deserved an explanation from God. He had lived as God expected of his, so surely he deserved to know why all these things were happening to him. Don’t get me wrong, we have had a chance to know that all these things he has lived through were inflicted on him by the devil with permission from God. This understanding leaves us wanting to ask questions in the same way as Job. In the past couple of years President Obama has made the point that even if we thought we had built our own business, or paid our way through school, or accomplished something special, we did not really do it ourselves. His point is that we accomplished those things in the context or setting of a world established by the government of the US. This assertion, and comments caused quite a bit of negative reaction from a whole group of people who had worked their tails off to build their world. This was particularly true of immigrant families, those who had come legally to the country, who came with almost nothing and succeeded based on their own hard work. The President is saying that no-one could have succeeded without the government. And where were all these immigrants when the government was established? That is sorta what God is saying to Job, and any of us that complain too much. He is the one doing these things for those who love Him. And how dare we ask to have a word or real imput. At the District convention we were told this story. In the early 1900s a shoe manufacturer decided to send a boat load of shoes and a salesman to Africa. They had a sense that this was a new, untapped market and they wanted to increase their sales. So after a long overseas trip, he arrived with several shipping crates full of shoes. They were unloaded and put into a warehouse. The salesman then went to his hotel and made plans of how to set up shop. As he traveled to the hotel he got more and more distressed, almost to the point of being depressed. There in the Congo, there was no interest in wearing shoes and he saw no hope of succeeding. The next day, he went to the Western Union office and sent a telegram to the home office, “Send return ticket, no-one wears shoes here.” He returned as a beaten man and the company had to re-evaluate their decision to go to Africa. But they decided to push ahead and chose a new salesman. After he took another arduous journey to Africa, he repeated the arrival and unloading and then set out for the hotel. The telegram he sent was a bit different. He said, “Goods News!!! Send more shoes. Everyone needs shoes here.” That is what God is telling us and Job. “Tell the Good News, no-one has ever heard it.” That is NOT what Job was thinking and instead it comes first in the form of a rebuke. “Where were you,” God asks and Job is left with his ego figuratively between his legs…saying “Aw shucks.” He had been caught thinking more highly of himself than he should. He had been embarrassed by the truth of his frail humanity. We read it and think, after 37 chapters of chattering…It’s about time. But we also have sympathy for Job. He has been through all kinds of tragedies and misfortunes and none of it was his fault. We know this is a fact, because it is the basis of the story. But many of us think that the awful things that happen to us are not our faults either, when the reality is that the devil is stirring his pot of wickedness. Where were you when God intervened? That’s a big question. Each of us can think of moments in our lives when we felt God. It might have been during your Confirmation Classes when you realized you were developing a closer understanding and relationship with your pastor. It might have been when you prayed about your future and your career. It could have been when you met or went out with that person you decided to marry and it might have been this morning when you got up. But each time you had a sense that when everything else around you is a struggle and is causing your to run like crazy…there is a sense of calm about your and you are relaxed. It makes no sense, but you know that everything will be all right. You see, God is active in your life. God who did all the planning and doing, the creating and the blessing…this God is active in the small things too. He cares about even the least of us…for we are all His children. Sure today is also Father’s Day, but the perfect example that all parents are to follow is God Himself. He showed us perfect love and tells us all to love everyone, especially our family. The connection is simple. Notice too the connection between the OT and Epistle Readings. “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” (2 Cor. 6:2) God did listen to Job as He also listens to us. He had heard Job’s anguish and frustrations. He had heard his questions. God knows the fears and wants of everyone’s heart and knows what to do. He also knows that we tend to do the wrong thing at the right time and then the wrong thing at the wrong time. God knows about the storms of our life. This is what the reading from Mark is telling us. The stormy sea represents the sinful work around us. There we are tossed and thrown, caught up in an attempt to paddle to the safe shores just out of sight. We struggle and put all our effort into these things. Thus sometimes we miss out on what the Lord is telling us. We can look at the number of people in church and think, “This is impossible to fix.” We can hear about 60% of our school children needed subsidized meals and wonder, “What can I do, the problem is too big?” Half of the people living around us are un-churched. “How do we reach them?” God is offering us a “Breathtaking opportunity disguised as an impossible task.” God can and does solve problems. The tasks He gives the church are His tasks and He knows what He is asking. Think about the struggles we have been through the past couple of years. At the core of the issue, after you discard all the human issues, is a questioning of God. Did HE really intend this congregation to be here in Hermann? After all the town was almost 150 years old before this congregation was formed. Are we successful or are we failing because of God? I’m sorry, but that question, which I have asked myself OFTEN, is just stupid. It suggests that God does not know what He is doing and we do. The storms of the Sea of Galilee are like the storms of life. They are stilled with two words (in Greek) “Peace! Be Still!” He can do the same in your life and for the life of the church. We need to start rowing and get going. We may find that we work up blisters on our hands or get dirt under our fingernails, but there is a reason that this church is here in this field outside this town. God has plans and we are the ones to do the work. It is not for us to stand back and argue with God. He can look at us and see some of Charter Members still here, but they are not the answer to the question, “Where were you?” They are examples of people who answered His call and did His work once and now need to do it again. There is a passage in Luke that speaks about the calling of the disciples. Jesus orders them to put their nets into the deep water after a night of fruitless fishing. Their nets are filled to overflowing and they follow Jesus. But night time fishing is done along the shores in the shallow waters at the Sea of Galilee. No-one is foolish enough to fish in the deep. But at Jesus work Peter and his partners cast their nets deep and they pull in a large catch, all alive. You see that net is the Word of God, the command of Jesus. They catch many fish and are told that now they will catch men. And God’s Word will make them alive into eternal life. It will not be done in the conventional way and it will not be done easily. But the Word of God does not return empty and those nets were full to overflowing. They were there when God called and He turned their impossible task into a breathtaking opportunity and then into success. We stand in the same place here and now. We are to take up that task and be His servants. We are able to watch as “even the wind and the sea obey him.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

What a Tent!

Grace, mercy and peace be to your, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. In my years as a Boy Scout we enjoyed hiking and camping. Our troop made a point of doing one of each, every month. We would skip the really cold winter weather, but not always. The very first campout I went on was with a troop that had what is called Baker tents. They looked like half of a tent with a flap that fell to the ground. This troop made these tents more stable by connecting them together and using a shared upright. So we had five tents strung together with three Scouts in each. The problem came that night in the high wind, when the pegs holding the tent on the end pulled out of the ground and three of the tents came down like dominoes. It is not easy to set up tents again in the dark with high winds and rain expected. But that was a lesson well learned and also part of the fun of being in Scouting. After all I remember it over 50 years later. But that incident also made it abundantly clear that a tent is no permanent place to stay. But God a tent for a dwelling place for Himself, for centuries. Yes, the 40 years in the Wilderness, but also all the time that Israel conquered the Promised Land and until Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. The tent or Tabernacle was in Shiloh, in the atrium of someone’s home. God even refused to let King David build a permanent home for Him and instead stayed in the temporary structure. God had designed that Tabernacle with precise perfection. He told them how many knots to have in each section of the tapestry walls, how to hang them up and what type of clips to use. By the time Solomon built a new home for the Arc of the Covenant, those tapestries were many centuries old. We have no idea how well they had aged. Our Lord speaks quite a bit about the symbolic and important nature of our earthly bodies. They are variously described as tents, a temple of God, God’s home and a number of other labels. We are connected to Christ in Holy Baptism and become part of the Body of Christ. It appears that our bodies are a nearly sacred thing. No-where is it to be abused. This means that over eating, excess drinking, drug abuse…well excess anything, is sinful before God. That is putting something before God and therefore making other gods. This is the “backstory” behind the readings from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. The people presumably knew and understood this imagery when he used it. Excessive consumption was a problem in Corinth and I would say the same about us today. So Paul approaches the issue from a different perspective. The house of Israel was no longer a nomadic culture. Abraham and his family lived in tents. The family that Joseph took to Egypt also still lived in tents. The Israelites lived in tents for the 40 years they spent in the Wilderness. One must presume that during the conquest of the Promised Land they also lived in less than permanent housing. Corinth, on the other hand, was a sophisticated and cultured Greek city. It had in earlier years been richer and more important than Athens. So this image of tent life was worth explaining to a Greek audience. This is what Paul does. “We know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God…” Everything here on earth is temporary. When we look at mountains and large buildings we wonder about this assertion. After all the Great Pyramids of Egypt have been there a long time, they do not seem so temporary. Yet, God created those mountains and He created the man who designed and build the pyramids. So there certainly was a time when those things did not exist. Therefore, we are left with the realization that there will be another time when they again no longer exist. But our earthly home will someday go away. This is true of the brick and mortar place that we live and this is true of our earthly bodies. As I watch my grandchildren grow I recognize that the Good Lord has given them a LOT more energy than I have. Sure we like to say that we are older and wiser, but that is probably just us old folks making excuses. You see, our aging process is proof that sin and death are now part of our lives. Our earthly tents need a little patching. Sometimes that patching is a new knee or hip; sometimes it is a pacemaker or some dental work. But you can’t always put new parts in the old tent any more than you can put new wine in old wine-skins. And that aging process is also the result of sin. Our skin is no longer as smooth as a baby’s behind and we certainly are not as flexible as that newborn child who can suck on his toes. We are incredibly different than very young children. We have somethings else instead, we have the opportunity to live with God in our lives all the time. We are also moving by God’s grace and love as He has planns for us. Death was NOT part of God’s original plan for mankind. Sin messed it up and that came into the world courtesy of Satan. Then mankind discovered that we are good at sinning. We do it easily and we sometimes even enjoy it. We seek after other gods, even when they just look like the greener grass in our neighbor’s yard, or the nice car on their driveway. We stock pile our bank accounts for some unknown rainy day, when we see the family down the road is not even sure where they will get their next meal. And worse, sometimes we are just sure we are too important or valuable to get our hands dirty and do THAT work. Well consider this…God Himself made Adam from the dust of the earth. If God is willing to get His hands dirty for you, then who are you to deny Him? The Gospel of John gives us another look at the idea of the tabernacle. At the end of the prelude we hear, “And the word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us.” (John 1:14) God took on flesh and lived in this temporary tent of human kind. Thus we are left groaning in our earthly tents and calling that aches and pains. We are in fact, naked before God, there can be nothing hidden from Him, and because we do not yet have the heavenly tent that God has promised. Oh what a tent! So what is this tent? We hear bits and pieces of information. The truth is that God knows we cannot fully understand what it means, so He speaks to us in earthly examples and simple truths. This tent, that we will inherit, is not one made with human hands, but built by God. The Tabernacle, where God dwelt all those years was made with human hands but it was God’s design. The temple was a more permanent version of the same structure, but that too was temporary. The Assyrians and then the Romans each destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. So God’s promise is far greater than the decay and age of life. His promise is that our mortal lives will be swallowed up and we will live eternally with Him, or as the Epistle says, “God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” This promise is the ultimate Life Time Guarantee. It is life, eternal life and it is guaranteed. Paul continues, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” So while each and every breath that we take is precious for us, it also leaves us separated from God and here on earth. Each day that we share with loved ones, will pale in comparison to the ultimate joy we will experience in God’s kingdom. We live in this flesh, this tent with the promise of God’s permanent home, His many mansions, His new Jerusalem and new earth. We get all kinds of hints about what this means, but when we piece it together we know that this is some tent He has promised us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Walking with God

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Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts

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Spirit Poured Out

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