Seek Good!

Greetings to you and yours in the name and by the power of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen. I am often tempted to go back and forth between the various readings that are assigned to each week. Right now we are hearing a lot of readings out of the Book of Hebrews, but I have pulled away from the temptation to wrestle with this wonderful message. Today I am compelled to speak about the Word of God as it comes to us from the prophet Amos. The prophet’s message is really blunt and really hard-hitting. He leaves little room for doubt and there are no exceptions to the judgment that he is predicting. The House of Israel is in trouble and he is ready and willing to tell them why. They are misusing their privileged position before God and He is there to tell them about it. In our world today, no-one wants to hear that they are sinners. It doesn’t matter who you are, no-one seeks out the person who will make you feel bad about yourself. I am not talking about that person who drives you crazy because they can always one-up you, no matter what the subject. That person actually has a self-worth problem and the only way they can feel good about themselves is to be better than the next person. This is accomplished by building themselves up, or worse yet, tearing others down to the level where them find themselves. We have seen both types in our lives. The challenge for us is to NOT get caught in the trap they are setting for us. Be comfortable in your own skin and don’t crawl into the one they are offering to you. That would leave you just beaten down in almost every situation. Now we see Amos’ warning to everyone but this time on a personal level. We do the same thing, on a much grander scale, in our public and political lives. It is easy to point at political figures and identify what we think is their sin – sins of commission or maybe sins of omission. Either way we can get angry with them for not doing what we think is right. Don’t forget, we elected this mayor or that representative and if they fail us it is likely that we made a bad choice at election time and it is therefore our fault if they fail us. Are you involved in the public discourse, or are you just sitting back and waiting for it to come to you? I am sorry to say that this too is part of what is now called the Entitlement Mentality. “We elected them, now we are entitled to all kinds of benefit from that support.” The House of Israel was violating God’s Law and he was telling them about it. Because he told them off through Amos. This prophet was no more popular than any number of other prophets who had lived before him, at the same time, or would come later. The people did not, and still don’t, want to hear about their sinfulness before God. Amos would be ignored and hated. “O you who turn justice into wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth!” I had to look up “wormwood” to appreciate what the prophet is saying. Wormwood is a plant that grows close to the ground and is easily trod underfoot. Sometimes it is connected with the idea of poison and therefore becomes identified with spiritual damnation. He is telling them that they have been caught, the Lord has seen them take His gifts of Justice and being made right before Himself and thrown it down and trampled on it. They have abused the privilege of being God’s children and Chosen People. They have taken their gift of His grace for Granted and He is not happy. The next few verses, say 10 thru 13 describe in horrifying detail the things that the people have been doing to their own citizens. Today with think this behavior against your own people is new, but here we see that it is an old idea. It is clear that they have been robbing the people of their self-esteem, taken the money from those who do not have enough, in the first place. They are speaking ill of people in the public courts and require taxes from the poor; all this while living high on the hog themselves. The Lord also promises that this conspicuous consumption will NOT lead to more wealth. They might build a fancy house but they will not be able to live there. They may plant vast vineyards, but they will not get the benefit of the grapes. This is about something happening to them right now. The reality of Israel’s exile in Babylon had not yet come to light, but God knew it was coming. “Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.” Did you hear that? “If you are smart,” he says, “you will keep your ‘yap’ shut at the right time. You cannot improve and help in such awful times.” The Lord, through this prophet does not hold back in His condemnation. Thankfully, he turns the message around so that we have something positive to take away. “Seek good, and not evil.” It is clear from this reading and others that we are NOT able to live a righteous or proper life before God. But we are to seek after it. God promises that this is what we need to do in order to have God with you. Thus we hope that people to run from, even hate evil. Amos gives them the assurance that the God of hosts, the God over all the world and all the heavenly creatures, will be gracious to them. He even goes to the point of saying that He will be gracious to them even when they are reduced to a remnant of their current power and authority. That too is God’s message to us. “Seek good, and not evil.” Most of us would never think that they are seeking after evil. We want to believe that we are chasing after good in everything that we do. No, do not get me wrong, this will not earn you a seat in God’s heavenly mansion. But we want to be His witnesses wherever we go and to do His will in our lives. There is no earthly reward for this, but the retirement plan is out of this world. Our Gospel reading points us in a different direction. The man who approaches Jesus calls Him “Good Teacher.” We know from this distance that this is a correct description, even title…Jesus is our good teacher. But the man could not really know this. Jesus would do ‘good’ and do good again and again. He would do the ultimate good and pay for our salvation. If you take his question at face value, he is seeking after good…but in order to EARN eternal life. This we also know is impossible. God gives salvation as a free gift to all who believe in Him. God decides these things and He is the one who shows us the meaning of “Good.” This man questioning our Lord is actually speaking to “Good” in person. He does not know this, but Jesus is the Good we are to seek after. Now hear again the word of Amos. “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.” We too are to seek good and that is Christ. We too are to hate evil and love God – that too is found in Jesus. We to then receive His gift of salvation because He paid the ultimate price so that we can inherit eternal life. This is what Amos was telling Israel and us. This is what Jesus is telling the young man and all us who hear His message. This is why any good that we do is only valuable with it points toward Jesus and the work that he has already done for you. You cannot ‘earn’ eternal life.’ You cannot work your way to heaven. Jesus is all the GOOD that you can want or need or expect. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Seek First the Kingdom of God – LWML Sunday

Grace, mercy and peace be to your, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Mat 6:26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Mat 6:27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Mat 6:28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, Mat 6:29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Mat 6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Mat 6:31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Mat 6:32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Mat 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.   As we come to worship today, on LWML Sunday, what is that you are worried about? Every pastor and well-meaning church member will tell you that you should not worry, but we do. All of us. Yes, we know we shouldn’t, but we do. It is no fun to hear someone tell us not to worry and suddenly we are hearing the song, “Don’t worry, Be happy.” It does not matter whether we are gathered here in church or in a larger gathering like a regional or national LWML meeting…we still do not want to be TOLD how to feel about something. Worry was the last thing that most people we considering when they gathered last June for the LWML Convention in Des Moines. Rather it was based on the theme, “Bountiful! Sow-Nourish-Reap.” There it was heard that God’s children are blessed to be able to sow the seeds of faith in the lives of those God has places in their path. The gathered worshippers were reminded of their Baptism through which the seed of faith was sown in their own hearts. They were nourished through Word and Sacrament as they spent time around the Word of God in worship settings, Bible Studies and personal devotions and social times. That convention put this into practice by selecting a variety of Mission Grants to support in the next biennium. They were also able to celebrate the success that God had given to their effort in the prior biennium. Everything seems to be wonderful…there was not a care in the world as they spent time together on the spiritual mountaintop. The closing worship charged all in attendance to do the urgent business of sharing God’s Word in their home communities, churches and families. They had gone to that place to sow and nourish the seeds of faith and now they sought to reap the harvest by the power of the HS working in and through everyone. Thus the message of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus must be shared everywhere. At the conclusion of the Divine Service, it was time to leave the mountaintop. It was time to get to the work that everyone had been nourished to accomplish. It even calls to mind the word of the hymn, “Tis good Lord to be here! Yet we may not remain; But since Thou bidst us leave the mount, Come with us to the plain.” (LSB 414, Stanza 5) So, how do we, the redeemed, bought back, sons and daughters of the King respond to this awesome mission challenge placed before us? Perhaps this is the source of our worries. God calls us off His mountaintop back into this sin-filled world to share…share the good News of Christmas and Easter – the Good News of the Savior, born at Christmas, crucified, died and buried on Good Friday, resurrected on Easter morning, ascended 40 days later; and now sits with the Father in heaven until He returns to judge the living and the dead. We worry whether we “shared it right” or not and whether THOSE people will receive the message – or not. Despite the blessed assurance that this message is true, we remember another song from Lent we hear “Tremble, tremble, tremble” every time we are called to share this message. So what does the Lord have for us? What is there to help us deal with our trembles and our strong case of worry? After all we say the LWML Pledge, we sing “send me send me,” we listen to the Great Commission and our concern rises and we go back to trembling. The first verse of our text compares us to the birds of the sky…but most of us do not have those kinds of issues in our lives. Be have been blessed to know where our next meal and drink will come from and what we will wear. The real fact is that we have an over-abundance, so that we worry about picking the right clothes from a closet bursting at the seams, we throw out food that has gotten old in the refrigerator or even buy a larger freezer to handle more of our excesses. What really worries me is not health issues for loved ones, or family problems or relationships with others…it is the call You have given to me. You have called me to come off the mountain, get back to the plain, come out of our worship service and go into that dark sin-sick world with the only answer and solution of all of our social ills – Jesus Christ. Well that sounds great…in theory, and I know that this is where my strength and assurance SHOULD be, but when and where the rubber meets the road, how can my focus change from fear to faithful, from worry to faith, so that I am not anxious about working in the harvest field ever again? Scripture, as it so often does; provides our answer. We should not worry any more than the lilies of the field or the sparrows in the air. “O ye of little faith” comes to mind. God provides for all our needs. OR maybe we should call to mind St. Paul who asked that his thorn of the flesh might be taken away and God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Well if weakness shows His power than I must be like a nuclear power plant for Him. Then by faith Paul concludes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” All of these are promises that you are able to use even when you are hanging over the neighbor’s fence, being a laborer in God’s field. It applies to them, or our children who are drifting away from the church or for those times when we are experiencing personal heartache in our lives. You get the point as we could spend all day in conversation with our heavenly Father, picking out and rejoicing in His promises to us…as they are recorded in His Word. You too can easily add your favorite and most comforting verse of assurance to God’s abiding presence even when we allow the worries of the world to intervene and creep like a weed encroaching on our lives. But as good as all that sounds…sitting here in church, you can’t help but wonder whether this has any real application OUT THERE in the world. And that leaves us in the same place…worried again and again. You and I have a heavenly Father who does not just talk a good game. “Don’t worry, be happy,” is not what He would say. He has followed through with His promises 100% of the time. He speaks to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah and all the other prophets, then he spoke to us through His Son, Jesus to tell us to seek first the kingdom of God. But He also acts on that advice to show everyone that seeking after His kingdom is actually a response to what He is already doing for us. All of those things that HE has promises are being given to everyone who believes in Him. That verse says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness AND ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE ADDED TO YOU.” There it is, God is again doing all the work and blessing each of us over and over. That, my friends is caring for and providing for you as HE comes through on a promise. Since we were united with Him in Holy Baptism there is nothing to worry about. As we seek first His kingdom, serving Him in response, He pours His blessings on us; and that happens whenever and wherever He desires. We then have the privilege of carrying out the great task He gives to us of bringing the lost and erring into eternal fellowship with Him. Thus we seek His kingdom and can only say afterwards…thanks be to God. Amen.

Straw is Good!

Greetings and blessings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Each spring we watch hay grow all around us. In farmers fields, they let the grass grow tall and strong. Then eventually they will start the process…you know what I mean. The hay is cut and spread out. It dries a bit and then is gathered up into bails. I remember with the only bails were rectangular cubes that could be thrown by someone into a wagon or a barn loft for storage. Now, of course, we see huge round bails that are held together by mesh netting and sometimes are left standing in the field. But some are loaded onto trailers to become feed for cattle throughout the winter. Since I have lived here in Hermann I have also learned that these bails can cause spontaneous combustion if they are stored in enclosed areas. There is a lot that a ‘city-slicker’ like me has to learn. But no matter the risk this straw is good. It offers winter feeding for live-stock and income for some farmers who sell the bails. Even while the hay is growing and it just looks like grass the cattle can graze in the field. If you are a hunter you know where to look for deer or turkey in the midst of this crop. The hay offers food and cover for them too. Luther wrote about each book in the Bible. He had concerns about the letter that James wrote and has been often quoted. He referred to James as “an Epistle of straw.” Many people have interpreted this as meaning that it has little value and is of questionable importance. I am not so sure that is what Luther is saying. Luther and Katie, his wife had a mattress that was filled with straw. Dirt floors were covered with straw to control the mud and dirt. This is what they fed their horses and used to light cooking fires. It had very simple and practical uses. It had common usage for the rich and poor alike and was available to everyone, no matter their status in life. I think that the same thing can be said for the letter written by James. It is practical, straight forward, and applies to everyone. James was one of Jesus’ brothers, also the son of a carpenter. He was not a theologian, like St. Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees. But he was also a man of great faith. He grew up thinking of Jesus as his brother. It took a while for him to know that He was also the Savior of the world. But he did lead the church from Jerusalem for many years and would ultimately die a martyr for his faith. James wrote it to a world that already knew the message of Paul, so he is now adding a practical edge to the message. He is answering the question…what does this faith look like? “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” Wow! That is as basic as hay in your mattress. James does not say how to pray or what to seek…but you are to pray. Pray for “Forgiveness of our sins?” Pray for “relief from our suffering?” Pray in thanksgiving, that despite who we are and what is happening to us,,,Jesus gives us His life, His Flesh and Blood fir the nourishment of our souls. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” I had an aunt who was a real morning person. As she aged, her hearing went bad and her voice got louder. She could greet you for breakfast with the most cheerful greeting in the world. WELL…Kathy will tell you that I AM NOT a morning person. Her loud cheerful greeting was almost too much for me, but here is the Bible telling me, AGAIN, that I am wrong. Aunt Alice and I should have song praised to God because He has given us another day to be His workers in His kingdom. Her morning voice was one that raised praise to God even if all she said was, “Good morning.” “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” So that is what you do when you go to the doctor? You call the Elders and have them pray for you when you are sick? I wish…! In this day of HIPPE (sp?) laws the pastor and the Elders are rarely the first person to hear from a member who is hospitalized or having intense medical treatment. The hospital cannot call unless they are told to by the patient and family. So often we just stumble over the information that someone is at the hospital. So it can be hard to pray with someone. But that is the advice and recommendation of St. James and it sound like the right thing to do. But James is very clear, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James uses the example of Elijah and we again wish that we could be as effective with our prayers as this great prophet. James reminds us, over and over again about our faith lives and operates in a very real and practical setting. “If anyone among you wonders from the truth…” here we have it…people are not found in church as regularly as they were 50, 30 or even 10 years ago. They live by what society is telling them…their truth is different from your truth which is different from my truth. If that is the case then there is no need to gather together to worship. The issues that I have do not really matter to anyone sitting in the same pew…there reality is different. That is a HORRIFYING view of the world. That view isolates each and every one of us and there is no way to lift and share each other’s burdens. Each person is left alone and may be just lonely. This leaves us all just cynical and disconnected from each other. This pattern of thought has been happening in the public sector for many years. In the 80’s President Reagan attempted to unite us and show us the greatness of our collective strength as a nation. Since then, we have been fragmented and subdivided over and over, so the point that an individual becomes a minority group/person unto himself. That too is sad and even depressing as we realize that our world does not even recognize that we have anything in common with each other. That having been said, what is meant by mutual defense treaties or alliances? IF it is not for me, as an individual, then there is nothing mutual about it. “Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Thus we see AGAIN that our faith is and always will be separate from our culture. James understand that we are often motivated by our own salvation, but this one is about getting the message out to a lost world. We need to make sure that the people we encounter know that God loves them. His love has been there since the beginning of time and there is nothing we can do to add to it or increase it. The Gospel of Mark puts it this way. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Share, scatter and spread the truth like salt on food or to preserve meat. It mixes and changes, preserves and keeps. It is very basic and yet important in our lives. It is equivalent to that simple, warming, nurturing straw that takes care of the basics in life so that we can look after the complex and difficult knowing that the basic has been solved. That is what our faith is; Jesus loves me. I have a lot more to learn, but all that I need to know is that He loves me enough to die for me. Thanks be to God. Amen.

False Wisdom??!!

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. There are times when Scripture, without someone else interpreting it, hits you right between the eyes. Even here clearly in the New Testament, James is beating on us with the truth of our bad behavior. James is one of those books that make us squirm no matter what part we are reading. James is one of two books of the NT that were written by Jesus earthly brothers. The other one is also short – Jude. James was a late convert to The Way, yet he would also become the head of the church in Jerusalem. He led the church through some tough times, including near starvation, persecution by both the Romans and the Jewish leadership and the successful effort to support them from churches around the Mediterranean Sea. Sts. Paul and Peter helped gather funds so that they could survive and be the ‘home church’ for the other Apostles as they evangelized the region. The church was in a real danger, from an earthly perspective, of not surviving. The world was really squeezing them and they were barely hanging on. But by faith, they did hang on and through the work of the Holy Spirit the Good News was shared throughout the known world and then into some parts that were not yet known. Little vby little, the Apostles spread the message of Jesus.   You can read about each of them and tradition has them traveling far and wide. India, China, Rome and beyond, yes, all parts of the world. Each of them, except for St. John, were martyred for their faith, but that did not stop them. Some were killed by sword, others by arrows and the most gruesome – skinned alive. But that is not what James is speaking about here…or is it? “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Who indeed? This man would also be killed for his faith and that does not seem like such a wise choice. James is speaking to us about out personal conduct and attitudes. In some ways he reminds me of St. Paul in that he is calling us out for our bad behavior and in other ways he expands on it and is even more direct. Bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, boasting and false truths are attacked quite directly.   If you have doubt or thing there is some wiggle room James has an answer for that too. “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exists, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”(vs 15-16) The problem that I have is that this description hits real close to home. I see that person all the time, but I find him in the mirror. He combs his hair and brushes his teeth and shaves his face at the same time as me. I see him and recognize him and wonder how could God love him? But He does and I am and will be eternally grateful. Then comes the question. If God loves someone like you and you and you and me…how do we respond? “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this; that your passions are at war with you? You desire and do not have.” And there we go…doing the things that we want, instead of the things that we know we should be doing. Our passions override the good that we would rather do and we find ourselves at war. Usually that war is within ourselves and it becomes a war that is impossible to win. Then loved ones, who know where to find our soft underbelly will attack us in the most painful way. That is how we do what James calls, spending our passion. He continues by addressing the people as an adulterous generation of people. This term grinds in our hearts very badly. Many here will jump up and say that they have never been unfaithful to their spouse…how could this man make such a claim and this Pastor suggest that it applies to us? That is a GREAT question. Sure some of us may know that someone has dealt with the sin of sexual adultery in their lives. But that is NOT what James is talking about here. Here he is accusing us of not living out our faith, but being unfaithful to our God and therefore adulterous before Him. This makes us friends with the world and enemies of God. He has given us everything and tells us to be His children, his family, His church…yes, HIS. In order to do this we are to live in such a way that people know we are Christians. This past week, we were able to put a new roof on the school building. This was done with the help of a special ministry from one of our fellow Christian churches. They have taken the gifts that God has given them and turned it into a ministry that helps others in need of their skills, their love of God and their witness. They came here and helped us with their expertise to finish in an economic way a new roof with a full set of roof vents spinning away in the wind. Recently, the PTL, our Parent Teachers League had a fund raiser to assist this church and school. It was a fun evening with good food and lots of silliness with the melodrama that night. Monday night, the Voters were presented a check for $1200 as profit for the dinner/theater. They also got other gifts in the amount of $120 that night. We also heard at the meeting on Monday that a hot-water heater at the school had been repaired. The company that did the work reduced the price for the benefit of the church and school. That bill was presented to the Voters in the amount of $1320.01 In other words, the Lord gave us an opportunity to collect the entire amount needed to pay for that repair, without having to dip into our already tight budget. Oh, by the way, it was short a penny, God has a sense of humor too. With this wonderful example, how can we ever think that we cannot do anything that God wants us to do? Yes, I know that the church has lots of different words that sound fancy and maybe seem unapproachable. But what I just talked about is called STEWARDSHIP. God gives us the gifts we will ever need. He gifts us and prospers us and provides us with everything that we need for our salvation. Our problem is that we rationalize, raise up new theories of our abilities and become what the world thinks we should be – in other words we follow false wisdom. We become exactly the people found in James’ warning. We become pour stewards of God’s gifts. The truth is that God has already done all the work. All we are to do is make good use of His gifts in RESPONSE to what He has done. Step out in faith, take a few risks based on that faith and live out the truth of His expectations for us. Our response is what we call our own Stewardship. We are to give back to God a portion of what He has given to us. He has given us time and we are to give Him 10% of our time. So how good are you at that? Do you give 2.4 hours of each day, or 1.6 waking hours back to God? We are to give our talents. That is exactly what was happening this week when the Baptist Church helped us put a new roof on our school. They knew what they were doing and shared that knowledge with all our members who were up on the roof with them. The third part of Stewardship is called financial stewardship and is what most people think we are talking about when we use the word stewardship. But that is only a portion of this big word. We are to make the best use of our earthly resources, work hard at school, be a good employee, even pay our taxes, all because God has blessed us with the ability to do all those things. As I said before, He has done all the work already, all we have to do is respond and live under His grace. And our response is – thanks be to God. Amen.

My Unbelief

Grace, mercy and peace be to your, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. I personally enjoy reading the Gospel according to St. Mark. It is so fast-paced and quick moving so that you almost think it must have been written by a modern writer. Mark had been a first person witness of much of Jesus’ ministry and yet he was not among the 12 Disciples that we know so well. Most scholars think that he was the young man who ran away from the Garden of Gethsemane after the soldiers grabbed onto his cloak. He subsequently was listed as a traveling companion for St. Peter and learned what he had not seen – from Peter himself. So when we hear, “Help my unbelief…” it is easier to understand when you know and appreciate that the human author here; Mark, ran from danger in his own unbelief. He had the same issues that we do. It is easy for us to say to someone, “I just don’t believe you.” That fact can be painfully heard or turned into a challenge…depending on how the person says it. Some of you may remember way back in the 1960’s when President Kennedy announced that the US would land a man on the moon and return him home by the end of the decade. It seemed like a wild promise…maybe even one of those awful campaign promises that you know will never happen. Much of the population would have been seen as saying, “I don’t believe that can ever happen.” But, as we all know, Neal Armstrong did walk on the moon in 1969 and NASA became one of America’s success stories. There was great pride in that accomplishment and a whole bunch of products and ideas came into existence because of the effort to reach the moon. We remember when Tang was the orange drink associated with space travel. I suspect that the computer on which I write this message would not exist were it not for the space program. There are so many new products that have grown out of the great effort that they have essentially paid for NASA several times over. But the doubters became believers as the years went along. Then it became almost routine…to the point that no one seemed to pay any attention to the later moon-landings until the near disaster of Apollo 13. The odd thing is that there are still some people who believe that we did not land on the moon; the whole thing was just an elaborate Hollywood hoax. So what is Mark saying to us? Well, actually, he is relating the story…but the question still remains; “Why?” When you look at these events, please think of them as about you rather than just something that it occurred over 2000 years old. When we examine it that way, it has a different slant. Let us consider it further. The disciples failed to heal the sick young man; which meant that they were not able to drive out the demon that possessed him.   We do not know what they did, or should I say – did wrong. We can imagine the disciples yelling at the demon and telling it to go away or come out of him. And it did not work. The did not know how to deal with this type of demon. How often do we just tell someone what to do and expect it to happen? Or maybe we give our ‘good advice’ about something and are surprised when it is ignored or disregarded. You are disappointed and maybe angry. If the advice you gave turns out to be right, then your friends will fail if they do not follow your suggestions. This is what happens to the Disciples…they get it wrong and are not able to drive out the demon. They look weak and impotent to accomplish anything. We are just as likely to think that Mark is telling us something with a different twist. “There is nothing impossible for a man of faith.” So what is he saying? A man of faith can accomplish many things. But this too can be seen from a human perspective. We see it all the time in our lives and get contradictory messages. These days we see popular preacher telling us what this looks like from their point of view. This is played out in what is called a Prosperity Gospel. This message is essentially saying that if you have enough faith then you will succeed by earthly standards. You might become rich. You are likely to have a great job and family. You will be able to travel as much as you want and thing will be just hunky dory in your life. Then if things do not turn out as you wish there is an obvious reason…you did not have enough or a proper faith. Others might say that you were not actually saved and therefore “once saved, always saved” does not apply to you. Man sets the limits and tries to decide for himself what is right and what will be better. It does not take much more than a huge ego to satisfy the desire to be prosperous. It is always based on human perceptions, not the plans and desires of God. The Prosperity Gospel distorts and destroys the truth of God’s love in our lives and gets it all wrong. As we return to the text we see what the father says to the Lord. “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!” IF YOU CAN…o give me a break…that is the point here. This is God and He can do anything and everything that He desires. It has nothing to do with mankind. It is God being God. Jesus responds as you would expect. “If I can! All things are possible for one who believes.” You can read this so many ways. He could be getting testy with His audience and essentially saying, “How dare you ask such a thing.” Is He glaring at them? Maybe He is waving His arms and looking frustrated. Or maybe He is sad and disappointed. It is here that the father cries out, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Now we have the proper perspective. There is nothing that cannot be done by Jesus, no matter what our human understanding and ideas may say. This father should trust Jesus and His power to do what is right and to drive out demons who seek to ruin or destroy His creation. It was once said, “He declares that he believes and yet acknowledges himself to also have unbelief. These two statements appear to contradict each other, but there is none of us that does not experience both of them in himself. As our faith is never perfect, it follows that we are partly unbelievers; but God forgives us, and exercises such forbearance towards us, as to reckon us believers on account of a small portion of faith.” And that faith is in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior So we can identify with this father who is experiencing both the pain of concern for his child and the wonder of amazement as our Lord promises to carry out the man’s heart desires and restore his son. The message continues as Jesus explains to His followers what had happened so that they were unable to drive out the demon. This type of demon can only be driven out by prayer. The power of prayer is confirmed for us. Prayer is more powerful than this demon and something that any of us can and should use at any time. When seeking the help and assistance of our Lord, it begins with prayer. It does not matter whether you are attending business meetings at church, Elders meetings, Council meetings, Bible Classes, or worship. We invoke the Lord’s name and prayerfully ask that He be part of our work. When we do that we have the power of God with and among us. Sure we can say the words, but we must also turn loose of our personal plans and ask the Lord to guide what we do…THEN DO IT. We too are subject to doubts and unbelief. We too use the right words without actually committing to do them with our hearts. We must, along with this father pray, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Then we turn to Him in prayer, knowing that this is our conversation with Almighty God and He is listening and He is ready to help us to achieve the things that HE HAS PLANNED FOR US. Thus prosperity defined by God is real prosperity and real hope and real belief. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Which Neighbor??

Greetings to you, in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen. The end of our Epistle reading for today is often a difficult verse for Lutherans. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, it is dead.” (vs 17) We want to jump out of our skins and say, “What about salvation by grace alone?” Is Scripture contradicting itself? Heaven forbid, that cannot be the case. Well, you are right, it is not the case. Scripture is accurate throughout.   If fact James makes it clear what he is saying in the next verse, “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (Emphasis added) It is up to us to demonstrate our faith by the way we live. If we do not then we will be demonstrating that WE DO NOT HAVE ANY FAITH. That is an uncomfortable even startling conclusion! Unless we are willing to work and put our faith out there, then it demonstrates that we don’t really have any faith. It is NOT a measurement of our faith, rather a demonstration that we have it. This is certainly easier for some of us than others. But it is not impossible. “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” This is how James begins this reading. We cannot show favoritism, preferences or give someone a pass when they do wrong things. This includes political figures, business acquaintances, people of all stripes including leaders or anyone holding public office. A 19th Century Lutheran theologian once wrote, “Christ nowhere enjoins on political rulers as such a share in the management of his church. On the contrary, he has appointed some person in the church for the performance of every duty enjoined on the church. Hence, when by an unhallowed union of Church and State, civil rulers as such assume the privilege of exercising certain ecclesiastical rights, they perform duties which the Head of the church (meaning Christ) assigned to others. If civil rulers possess the qualifications required by scripture for any office in the Church, they ought undoubtedly to be eligible to office as well as others, yea, their high standing and extensive influence among men, afford them the special opportunities of actively promoting the kingdom of Christ. Yet, when they act as officers of the church, they do so not by virtue of their political station, but of their ecclesiastical election. And if they bring disgrace on their brethren in Christ…they ought to be disciple by the church, regardless of their civil office.”[1]   Now this is an understandable separation of Church and State. Use your public influence for the betterment of God’s kingdom and that is ok. Use your public influence to build yourself up at the expense of the church and it is the responsibility of the church to see that you are subject to church discipline. That having been said…who is our neighbor? This question, when asked of our Lord, produced the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In that case, the neighbor was the one who showed mercy. That then begs the question, what about you? Have you without reward helped your neighbor or maybe you have invited your neighbor to church with you? I hear some of you have been working on your neighbor for quite a while and they still resist. But that is good for you and for them; for you because it reminds you to witness with your life that you are a Christian – all the time. Good for them, because they too need to hear that they are loved by God and that He wants them to be in worship. You too are then being God’s witness and a good neighbor at the same time. So here we are on Labor Day weekend and I am telling you to be a good neighbor. The church has the best message the world has ever heard…God loves you enough to die for you and you and all of you. He was and is able to carry the burden of our misdeeds all the way to a small hill outside of Jerusalem, where He let the Roman soldiers nail them to that cross. There HE bled and die for you. All you have to do is accept His invitation to be His people and you too will be saved. The world around us will tell us that this is too exclusive and not broad enough to accept everyone in this world. They will tell you that a loving God would never exclude huge portions of the population with such strict expectations. I will tell you clearly that they are only half right. Yes, this salvation is EXCLUSIVE and yes, we have a loving God. But our salvation is also so special that He limits the availability and reach of this gift to His people. Think of it this way; there are only few special hand-made items. If I ask you, many of you can probably name some of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. If I say Stradivarius, you may know that is the maker of really special, rare and valuable Violins, Violas and Cellos. Remington will bring up rifles, Rolls Royce will conjure up images of a luxury auto. The names Picasso, Rembrandt or Salvador Dali also imply great wealth and valuable art work. But knowing these things or possibly owning any of them does not make you more valuable in God’s eyes. Years ago, we had a President who tried to unite this nation because of all the good things and the positive benefits of being a resident. He has been called “the Great Communicator,” and his style was one that gave us a sense of unity and purpose that I miss. Since then we have divided and segmented our population into Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, bi-racial, Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Christians “right-wing” conservatives, Liberals and every other possible segmentation. There is no sense of unity or nationalism. But we still have the same issue…who is your neighbor? Our neighbor is anyone who needs the Word of God and the Salvation won by Jesus Christ in the Cross of Calvary; in other words everyone who does not reject Christ’s call to repentance. The person can be rich or poor, any skin color, any occupation, or without one, any age, either gender – anyone who has had their sins paid for by the blood of Christ. That is VERY broad definition because it includes everyone…yet, some still refuse to listen. I hope that we all welcome visitors into our midst. But we also need to be intentional about inviting others to be here. This place is where you can have your sins forgiven publicly before God’s altar. This is where you can come to share your burdens with other forgiven Christians. This is the place where you are certain to find God, His Word and His love for mankind. Worship is NOT about Labor Day, or any other holiday, it is about your personal, private relationship with the Lord. He has invited you here and He has forgiven your sins. He is the one who takes your burden away and says, “Now, go and sin no more.” Then and there we know that our neighbor is anyone we talk to and why hears the Good News of Jesus Christ. Go and welcome them and know too that you are welcomed by the same invitation. Thanks be to God. Amen. [1] Schmucker, Samuel, The Lutheran Manual on Scriptural Principles. (Gettysburg, Theological Seminary, 1855)

His Word

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The past two weeks I have spoken about the meaning and importance of our two Sacraments, Holy Communion and Baptism. Most Confirmation students can tell you that these two are Sacraments because they were ordained by God, necessary for salvation and combined the Word of God with a physical element. That is how we define a Sacrament. This definition is also the reason that we have only two sacraments and not three or even seven. So how good is your word? Do you ever make promises you don’t keep? Well the truth is that we sometimes make promises we CAN’T keep. Those are usually the little things that just creep up on us and slip through the cracks. The problem is that someone will remember that you broke your promise and hold it against you. “You promised that I could have ice cream if I ate all my broccoli.” “You said I could go to that party if…,” just fill in the blank. So how good is your word? We all like to think that our word is our bond…the truth as we see it. We remember when a handshake was as good as a contract and that was that. But now days, people split hairs over what they say and political candidates try to make hay out of things they say or others might have said. It has become rare to hold someone responsible for the things they say, unless it is on video somewhere or is in writing. Again, how good is your word? I know where we can find someone’s word that is ALWAYS TRUE, accurate and complete. That Word, of course is God’s Holy Word, the Bible itself. I believe and we confess that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. Every Word is true from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. That is VERY comforting for me and I hope for you. I do not have to guess or figure out which parts to believe and what stories belong to the narrative. I do not have to evaluate the great fish of Jonah, the six days of Creation or the birth of our Lord to a virgin woman. They are all found in Scripture and that is enough…I believe them. Does that mean that I understand everything or can explain all the details? Absolutely NOT! There are lots of things in the Bible that are accepted by faith and are beyond the ability of a mere human to explain. But the limits of my ability do not make them false…that is purely the wonder and mystery of God. He has revealed all that we need to know and understand through His word, but there is a lot more to Him than we find here. Our OT Reading for today offers us a further glimpse into God’s revealed Word. The text is from Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of Moses. Moses is reviewing for the House of Israel the Law of God. They were issued earlier and now for the second time the Prophet explains them. “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live…” There He is telling them the importance and value of such obedience… “that you may live.” God’s plan from the earliest moments always involved life; not just any life, but life with Him. Adam and Eve had lived such a wonderful life, but they let the devil ruin it for all creation. The Garden of Eden had even contained the Tree of Life so that all who ate of this tree could know they would live forever. After sin spoiled God’s creation, they had to be banished from that Tree. Life would now come through the forgiveness from God and the purification necessary to make it so that we can be in God’s presence. Living forever in a sinful condition would leave us permanently separated from God…and that was also not part of God’s plan. Now He was teaching, through the Prophet the rules and statutes of what it means to be God’s people, His children and yes, His church. “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Ok, that sounds like Moses is putting a final period on the rules and regulations that they had. He is telling them that these are what you are to live by and follow. After all this is the last book that Moses was to write. But since this is a divine book written by human hands, it is not surprising that this message is found elsewhere in the Bible. At the very end of the text, Revelation, Chapter 22, we hear, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy. God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (vs. 18-19) Now it is clear that God’s Word is connected from the beginning to the end and it is not ours change, modify or even question. He is saying, by quoting Deuteronomy and then adding to it, that this ENTIRE thing is His and He expects us to understand and appreciate it. His Word is good and He keeps it from beginning to end. The Epistle reading takes up some of this same issue…and again applies it for us to our world. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” God has offered us a way to handle this world. It does not matter whether you are worried about politics, or Planned Parenthood, Islamic extremists or distant wars, our Lord knows all about it. He knows about our human failings and the battles that the devil is causing all over the earth. He is saddened by our stubbornness and gladdened by our faith. But none of this comes as a great surprise to Him. God hates sin…no matter the form. It does not matter whether it is our sense of entitlement, our inflated egos, the self-puffery of our leaders or the desecration of sacred places…He hates those things. Sure He tells us not to steal or gossip or kill. But we know those things. There are a lot more actions on our part that are sins before God. Notice what Mark says, “For from within…the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness…and they defile a person.”   Again, there is nothing that surprises our God. But when I ask, how good is your word, you are left hanging your head knowing that you too fit into this sinful description God, on the other hand loves you anyway and seeks to make you His own. And His Word is Good. We have now explored and examined the wonder of God’s means of Grace…the Word and Sacraments. This is where we are assured that we can find God and this is where we find Him. Three He reveals Himself to us and showers us with His grace. There He is found in all His majesty and wonder and there we can taste and see what He is and has done for us all. What a wonderful thing. A bunch of sinners sitting around receiving the wonder of God’s love, grace, mercy, His banquet and His Salvation. How this is possible, is found only in His Word…His Word of truth given to us from the beginning of time. Wow! What a glorious thing! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Washing?? Why??

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The kitchen sink was piled high with STUFF. They were working on the other rooms in the house, but knew that the kitchen was the real problem. Sure they had to get the bedrooms settled so that they could sleep that night. Sure they had to organize the laundry room so that things could be set up there. Sure the bathroom needed toilet paper, for obvious reasons. The portable dishwasher would not be delivered for a couple of days. But they were putting off the stack of stuff that was piled high in the kitchen sink. Why wash it…it just keeps piling up? Eventually they would have to dig in and wash the dishes that had been used to feed the crew of people who helped them move. Yes the house was a wreck, but until all of these things were done it could not really be called a home. About half-way through all the work you remember the good advice that your mother once gave you, “Do the hard stuff first, otherwise you won’t have the energy to do it later.” Now you want to put off, AGAIN, washing all that STUFF. But you know that there will be no Dish-Washing Elf to get it done so you begin the process of washing the pots, pans, dishes, glasses, silverware, utensils, mixing bowls and everything else that was thrown into the sink. There is no telling what may be at the bottom of that pile. Rumor has it that someone even put a painbruch in there. But your mother is still talking in your ear. “Make sure you get everything clean. Wash the greasy items first and then change the water for the dishes. Use hot water, so the glasses can drip dry quickly.” It doesn’t take long to remember all those “rules” that you grew up with and to be thankful that they were, in fact, quite practical and accurate. The washing of all this stuff has almost taken on a ritualistic quality…there is good reason for all those rules and after you get over being irritated they start making a lot more sense. We have all kinds of rituals in our lives. Some of them are just personal things like, do you put your left or your right shoe on first? Do you squeeze the tube at the bottom or the top? Does the toilet paper go out front or behind? We are quite comfortable with most of these and some of those rules apply to church too. Most of us prefer one order of service over another and we all have hymns that we like. The lyricist did a great job on some hymns telling the message of God’s Word clearly and cleanly. I know many of you have a favorite translation of the Bible and there is virtually nothing that can move you from that preference. That too is part of our history and nature. These patterns of behavior give us a great deal of comfort because they are ‘normal’ to us. This is what had the Pharisees on our Gospel reading so torqued. They were all tied up in knots because the rules they had written were not being observed properly. The disciples were not washing before their meals. It sounds like they were dirty, but there was more to it than that. These cleanliness rules had become very strict and part of the religion. When you examine kosher eating and food habits they actually make a great deal of sense for hygiene, cleanliness and food safety. They did not have refrigerators and could not keep food for a long. We all remember when pork and certain foods were likely to make us sick, so those were prohibited. Washing your hands before eating and after using the bathroom only makes sense and is normal for us. God had laid out rules for His people that would keep them healthier than others. The problem was that they had turned God’s practical rules into religious rites and rituals. You may even know of Jewish people who have kosher kitchens that require total separation of meat and dairy products. Thus they have two sinks, two stoves, two refrigerators, two working spaces and two sets of plates and dishes to provide this total separation. This WORK becomes their religion, not worshipping God. God has called us to come to Him in worship. Then, rather than do something for Him, He makes us worthy of being here in His presence. He is the one who creates faith in us and then invites us to come and give Him what He already deserves – worship. But the greatest form of ritual washing is not found in our kitchen sinks or cleaning the road dirt off our cars. We are told that we are now washed clean…not by our activities, but by the Blood of the Lamb…Jesus. We, of course, know this as Holy Baptism. The word Baptism, does not appear in the OT, in any form. The word itself has grown out of the tradition of ritual washing, but it does not become baptism, until you read and hear about John the Baptizer. The baptism he performed was not for the traditions of men but for forgiveness. That is a lot different than working on a pile of dirty dishes. Sure our sinfulness keeps piling up just like more dishes. But unlike the dirty dishes, Jesus washes us in our Baptismal Waters once and done. Gone is Original Sin’s effect on our lives. Enter the HS to provide us with His gifts. Now we are members of our Lord’s church. Now we are clean enough to be welcome. Even our order of service has this reminder…right at the beginning, “The sign of the cross + may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.” The Hymn of the Day speaks to this too. It is a plea that we remember all those things that we learned and memorized in our Confirmation Class. We must understand that God is offering us a way to cope with the world around us. It is a lot more important than learning how to wash dishes…it is about doing made clean and sinless before God. It is about knowing that even “When we fall or go astray” God will forgive us and make us whole before Him. So here we are, God is giving us a chance to be washed clear. So, what…why bother? Do I need all this ritual and pomp and ceremony that takes place in the church? It seems like so much hooey. Luther asks a similar question. “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” OK, sounds nice but again…why bother? “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) Now that is important. So it is a lot more valuable than washing the things in my kitchen sink? True, but the next time you stick your hands into that dirty water take a moment to feel the water again. Feel the warm water surround your hands and imagine that this is the love of God surrounding you in your life. Feel the pieces of food coming off the dishes and know that your sins, those things you have done that hurt or anger God, are being separated from your life by water also. When you pull those clean plates out of the water you hear the answer to the fourth question in the Small Catechism. “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Not bad for a lesson learned from dirty dishes. You may be surprised that by the time you are done thinking through all that is happening you also discover that your dishes are now clean and you remember your Baptism which has certainly has made you feel better. Now everything is clean. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Truth in Flesh and Blood

Greetings to you, in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen. The gospel reading for today begins with the same verse, 51 that ended our reading last week. Thus we have a continuation of the message and truth found last week. It is a reminder that God’s Word is a continuum, or continuing message. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When I read this verses it makes me want to jump up and down. It is such an exciting message for all who receive Holy Communion and more. It also causes me to say, “See there it is…proof that Holy Communion is true Body and true Blood.” Then I settle down and remember that others will say, “Sure, but the words of institution end by saying, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.”’ This becomes their focus and now we have enough confusion or uncertainty that it is worth exploring further. This is, of course a Communion Service. There are times when I fear that we take this gift, this sacrament, this blessing as if it were just a routine thing. I know of good church members who decline to come to the altar sometimes because they do NOT want it to become routine…it is too important for that. I also take Communion Elements with me to hospital and shut-in visits. Recently after serving the Sacrament, a gentleman he was near tears. He said to me, “Pastor Communions makes me wonder how God could do such a wonderful thing for an old sinful fellow like me.” Recently, I spoke to a minister from another church here in Hermann. We were discussing the value and importance of the Sacraments and he was not convinced. He simply said that he could not abide with ‘you sacramentalists.” The name calling caught me a bit off guard, because he obviously considered that the end of the discussion and possibly even an insult. I, on the other hand, liked the label and thought it was an important distinction between his church and ours. I believe and teach that the Sacraments are VERY valuable to the life and faith of Christians. They are one of the Means of Grace, where we come to be certain to find Jesus Christ. So what is happening in this sacrament? We believe that great things happen when we receive Holy Communion. The Sixth Chief Part of Luther’s Small Catechism is called The Sacrament of the Altar. It is here that Luther spells out, using Scripture, our understanding of this seemingly simple act that we do. This is the section of the Catechism that gets the least attention in Confirmation Class, but it is very important. The lack of attention is due primarily to the fact that Pastors can and do teach about this portion throughout the rest of their ministries and the memory work has just about run out of gas by the time you get to this Chief Part. (Page 326-7 in your hymnal) “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” This is the third question Luther asks in the Catechism. It is here that we clearly recognize that this sacred activity is far more than drinking a small amount of win and eating stale tasting bread. It is actually unleavened, but few 8th graders think it is tasty. “These words, ‘Given and shed for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Holy smokes, all that is in those elements? Oh, that is just the beginning. We must remember when we think about this mystery that there is one truth that always impacts the ceremonies and sacraments, our sacred acts of worship. That truth is that sin ALWAYS separates us from God. This means that if we cannot be forgiven, when we cannot take in the Lord’s Body and Blood without risking eternal harm. That is why receiving this meal for the forgiveness of sins is so important. “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘Forgiveness of sins.’” Reality is that we should be afraid of God. A God who is powerful enough to create all of His creation simply with His Word also can expect, even demand certain behavior from His creation. It takes no effort at all to recognize that we are sinful in an ever expanding fashion. Then, if He is powerful enough to create everything, with all its beauty and majesty, then He can also ‘uncreate’ if He is angered or hurt. We then deserve that ending and possible punishment. Thus, fear is an appropriate response. Even our reading from Proverbs says, “”The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” So we should not be surprised when we feel guilty or unworthy before God. That is true and scary at the same time. We are often in awe and wonder at the things that God has done. It does not matter whether we are considering creation, one of the events of the Bible, or the wonder of our lives; we see a whole lot of what God has revealed to us and are amazed. I know that many arguments about Holy Communion revolve around the Words of Institution – the ones that begin, “On the night in which He was betrayed…” But there are other readings, such as this one from John and the first letter to the church in Corinth that flesh out our understanding and make it clear and quite satisfying that we have heard God’s Word correctly. Here we are sinners before God, being invited to come to His table. Here we are unworthy of this honor and yet are being treated like the guest of honor. In the early years of the church there was a great deal of misunderstanding about The Way…the name of the early Christian Church. Because believers insisted that they were receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood…they were accused of being cannibals. This just mean that others viewed them as perverted spin-off of the Jewish faith. The Roman world, all of the world that was known at the time, did not understand Christianity. They had accepted the Jews as fiercely protective of their faith, but because Christians claimed that they lived under the fulfilment of the OT prophecies and promises…they were just a small sect. This was an important protection for the fledgling church. The Romans did not automatically accept other religions, so the connection to Judaism allowed them to exist. But not if they were cannibals. It is easy to find this laughable now – but not then. So the full meaning of Jesus’ words was very important. It is assuring to us that because we believe in this meal, this gift, this banquet, then we too will never be hungry or thirsty – in other words, we will be saved. The words He has spoken to us are spirit and life. Wow! What an exciting thought. God has given us these words so that we can hear them, know them, inwardly digest them and be His people. We accept His invitation to taste and see and we are welcomed at His table. Please accept this invitation…for it is just a foretaste of a greater feast to come for all believers. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Journey is Long

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen. There are a lot of old sayings about travel. Some of the most familiar are things like, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” We nod our heads and recognize the truth if this statement. It is a good thing to remember when you are trying to motivate you children to get in the car and head off to college. Or it is useful when you consider how difficult it is to start job hunting or maybe deciding how to find a good place to live. These are all big decisions that can have a life-time impact and can cause you to shrink back and “wait for a better opportunity.” Proverbs and Psalms offer similar truths. They are meant to tell us about God’s plan and to give us something to consider when we think on such things. I had a beloved aunt who would use the expression, “I need to worry it over a bit.” As a child I thought that was a really weird expression. But it has occurred to me now that she was describing it just about right. We will “worry it over” thinking about the best actions, the guilt about doing it wrong and wondering what God’s intent was for all these things. We will spend a lot of time examining and thinking about all the possibilities and all the results of any situation. It is a simple straight-forward method of sorting out your life in each situation. Our Epistle reading is a continuation of our readings from Ephesians. Paul is dealing with life in a straight-forward fashion. He is speaking about everyday experiences as they can appear in a Christian’s life. He assumes that this is the way that Christians act and (please note) he assumes that they are able to do these things. “That is not the way you learned Christ!” is how he begins this discussion. The instructions he gives are often seen as declarations of the Law, but Paul assumes that he is reinforcing what they already know and have been doing. Elsewhere, in Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch asked, “what must I do to be saved.” Philip tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your house!” Of course, Paul famously whines about his inability to do the things that he wishes to do, “Not the good that I desire do I do, but the bad that I do not desire, this is what I do.” If that has made your Lutheran sensibilities squirm, it should. Our training hs us pulling away from the concept of works being valuable. And yet, here it is, clearly given value by Paul himself. It is as if we are stuck with works and faith seemingly fighting each other. One Lutheran theologian explains is as like trying to explain basic physics like the power of gravity versus the complex theories of Albert Einstein and others. Our passage is basic, not some higher theory meant only for seminaries and colleges. It is the struggle of the Old Adam trying to put off their sinful selves and live the life that the Father intends for them. Paul does not preach the Law. He does not say something like, “do not steal because that breaks the Commandments.” He does not speak about wrath or blasphemy because it violates God’s Law. So what does Paul do? He appeals to the presence of the Holy Spirit and to God’s actions in Christ. For him it is the same journey, higher physics and basic gravity all operating together. We live our lives in the new covenant found in Christ. The purpose of the new covenant is NOT the establishment of the shape and contours of the old covenant. The OT painted a picture of God’s desires and expectations for His people, the NT shows that fulfilled. In the old covenant the people lived in expectation. The new covenant is at the opposite end of that journey – it has come to pass. The new covenant brings a new reality – one characterized by Christ and the Holy Spirit. The fact is that the Holy Spirit is a critical component in this new covenant – the one envisioned by OT prophets like Ezekiel (Ez. 36:26) and Joel (3:1-2) They envisioned, we know see. The Spirit has fruits and we know them. You can probably recite them with me; “love, joy, peace, patience or long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23) Paul is telling everyone that it is possible to live the life that God expects and this is what he has been trying to tell them. Lutherans are VERY uncomfortable with the idea that Woks have anything to do with our faith lives. We think Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone and that works are not part of the picture. Paul is certainly the author of this concept, so any other idea, especially from him, seems foreign or wrong. But let me turn this around, or maybe even into a question. How do you experience your faith? Do you feel the grace of God? Do you react with emotion? Do you sense God’s love? Do you live out being a Christian? Those are actually tough questions. We are not real comfortable because we worry that someone will say we are trying to earn our salvation. That is not the case here. Paul is saying, “because of what Christ has done and continues to do for you…you are able to do all these things.” But the only way we are able to do these things is by trusting in the Holy Spirit and relying on Him to lead us on that path. Our Gospel reading from John tells us, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus is telling and showing, acting and displaying the same thing that Paul is saying.  Jesus is the answer to all those questions. Jesus is the reason that we are able to live a proper life before God.   Jesus is the one who has taken the penalty for all the wrong headed-ness and hard-headedness that we have. All too often we hear the things that we should do and think this is just Law. You know the law that shows us our sin, that demonstrates our sinfulness and then offers us a guide to live a sanctified life. That law…the one we hated learning about in Confirmation class, condemns us and shows that we are worthy of being separated from God. That is what makes us uncomfortable. We know that we fail badly when we hear the accusations of the Law and we wonder whether we will actually be able to enter into heaven. It is a long uncomfortable journey and sometimes the next step in life is hard to take. St. Paul is saying, STOP. You are able to do these things because of Jesus and not to satisfy Him. Stop beating yourself up and feeling guilty because of the comfort and peace you find in your faith. Stop making excuses because you like to come to church and spend time with fellow believers. This close relationship that you have with others here in church is again…about Jesus. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, whoever comes to me will never cast away.” That is what Jesus is doing to keep you moving on your journey – He is our guide and our walking partner. Paul is assuring us that we are NOT walking alone and that we are able to take those difficult steps when we understand that our Lord is there with us also. It is a Work that is good because Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in us and they make our journey shorter, even when it is long. This is the assurance that Jesus gives to us. This is the promise that we have by faith. This is the hope that we have to live according to His plan and to be His people. Life and eternal life are intertwined. Grace and mercy overflow and all of this comes to us through God’s magnificent plan for mankind.   So it does not matter whether our journey on earth is short or long. It does not matter whether it is a short and frantic sprint or a long leisurely walk, we are not taking it alone. So we do not need to “worry it over” God is there helping to see that it is done for the betterment of us and His kingdom. What could be better than that? His is our hope, assurance and certainty. Thanks be to God. Amen.