July 14, 2020- God is Faithful, David’s Son is On the Throne – Jeremiah 33:14-26

Jeremiah weeps

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Have you not observed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight. Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth,then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.” – Jeremiah 33:14-26

Jeremiah, often called the weeping prophet, was sent to Israel at a rather trying time.  As Israel was being taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, God spoke prophecy to Jeremiah that was devastating. The temple would be destroyed, the city of Jerusalem would be laid waste, the people would be carried off to Babylon and made captive.

God also spoke to Jeremiah of hope.  He spoke of the One Who is also our hope- the Son of David, the Son of God.

God made a covenant with His people through Abraham, in which He promises that Abraham’s descendants would be as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand in the oceans.  The covenant He made with Abraham was a covenant of faith- faith that is a gift of God.   We see God’s faithfulness in His provision clearly in Genesis 22.  God provided the lamb for the offering and spared Isaac.  In Christ, God provides Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world forever.

And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

The same Lord Who Jeremiah spoke of is still faithful to us.  After all, God’s promises are not like human promises that can be broken and forgotten.  Jesus warned us that in this world we will have trials.  We will suffer.  We will be betrayed.  We will know loss. Even in the middle of these trials we have confidence not in ourselves but in the One Who has conquered death for us.  We have the assurance directly from the Author of Life Himself, the Provider of the Lamb, that his promise is good.

Lord, help us to rest in the knowledge that our life now and forever, and our redemption is based on Your faithfulness, not in our merit.  We deserve death, destruction and hell, but You have promised to save us from the condemnation we have earned. Forgive us for all the times we break Your laws and fall short of Your will and fail to meet Your expectations for us.  We can only be faithful because You are faithful and You provide us the gift of faith as well as You have provided the Lamb.  Help us to stay faithful and to follow You.

 

Love Like No One is Watching- Romans 12

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.- Romans 12 (ESV)

What does the apostle Paul mean by being transformed by the renewal of our minds? Human beings are funny creatures who, if left to the designs of the natural man, like to have things just so, who don’t like to share with others, who want control of their environments and the behaviors of others.

The designs of the natural man are not God’s designs.  God has gifted each of His people with different gifts so that we can work together for God’s purposes.  It’s not always readily apparent what God wants to do with us.  Sometimes we think we are made to be one thing or desire to be something that is different from what God has planned for us or has created us to be.  Other times our roles change based on the needs of others, the stage in life where we are, and the circumstances God has put in our lives.

This is why prayer and discussion in a body of believers is so essential- so that together we can discern God’s direction and follow Him individually and collectively.

All of us in spite of our different gifts we are called to love like no one is watching. We are called to faithfulness and prayer, and to serve others because this is how we serve God.

We are called to listen for God’s call: what should we be doing, where, and how?

We are called to trust God, not to repay evil with evil, but to leave judgment to God alone.

We are encouraged to weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

We are called to be flexible enough to put our own desires aside and let God make His desires our own.

We are imperfect. We are sinners even though we are also God’s saints. Yet God’s purpose and plans will prevail- even when we are dragged along kicking and screaming.

We are not made the same, and it is difficult at times to come together, yet God has a place and a plan for each of us.  He calls us to trust Him.

 

 

God our Fortress, The Weeping Prophet, and the Lasting City -Jeremiah 18:5-10, Hebrews 13:14, Psalm 121

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This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 18:5-10 (NIV)

 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, experienced the shame and heartache of his people being taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  God didn’t have good news for him to share with Israel, either.  God generally sent prophets to warn people of judgment to come, and to remind the people who really is in charge- not their princes or governments, or themselves, but Almighty God alone.

Thankfully God has mercy on us. Every single one of us falls short of the demands of the Law and should God judge any one of us on our own merits we earn the penalty of death.  But in God’s love and mercy, He sent Jesus to wipe out our sins- Jesus took the wrath our horrible conduct and our heinous deeds deserve, so that we may receive the reward of life with Him. The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 3 that we who believe Jesus and have faith in Him are judged by His righteousness and not our own.  We have been have been baptized into Christ and made children of God to be with Him forever.

In this world we still experience bad news.  The world around us is still subject to the consequences of sin in general. The sin of the Garden has expanded out, and it has contaminated all creation.  We will experience trouble and trials in this life.  But Jesus is with us.  He is trustworthy. He will get us through our trials.

As the day approaches when Jesus comes to restore heaven and earth, as He warned us, the times are going to get more and more scary.  People will fall away from the faith and people will make fun of us and say we believe fairy tales when we profess our faith in Jesus.  Other people will openly fight and persecute the teaching and preservation of the Christian faith as we see evidence of more and more even in the United States.

Our churches and communities are becoming smaller and smaller, and the demands of our time and resources become ever more strained.  It’s easy to give up hope or drop away, or to resort to infighting or dissent.  Yet Jesus told His disciples to tend His lambs and feed His sheep.  For us it may mean we are called to spread out (as in the scattering at the destruction of the tower of Babel) or to join with other believers of like mind.

How can we best serve as the Body of Christ?  Can we join with another congregation(s) to not only pool our resources, but to serve more effectively?  As much as we want to keep our building, might it be worth investigating joining with another congregation in a similar situation to our own?  Might we want to consider a revolving house church set up such as the early Church used in the days of Acts?

Our lives and possessions on this earth are temporary. Only Jesus is a constant for us. No matter where we may find ourselves,

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

Seeking the city that is to come does not mean abandoning the “city” here, far from it,  but understanding that the church is not comprised of its building or its resources, but the church is its people, the Body of Christ.  God is our mighty fortress- not ourselves, our governments or even each other.

 

In Psalm 121, the writer lifts his eyes to the hills, on high, knowing that his help is from the Lord.  We may not know what that will look like, but we do know the Lord is our only anchor, our only foundation, the only one we can trust.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
 The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121 (ESV)

 

June 9, 2020 The Weeping Prophet, Weeds and Wheat- Jeremiah 12:1-4, Psalm 73:23-28, Matthew 13:24-30

Jeremiah

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it,the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, “He will not see our latter end.”  Jeremiah 12:1-4 (ESV)

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. Psalm 73:23-28 (ESV)

Jeremiah asks God one of the age old questions of His people. “Why does evil exist, and why do evil people always seem to get their way?”

Of course we can always go back to the beginning, to the sin of the Garden, when Adam and Eve chose their own will against the will of God.  Humans brought evil in to the world and we live with one foot still in its realm.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  He had nothing but bad news and judgment to proclaim to Israel.  He was deeply reviled and mistreated by the people of Israel because he always had bad news (sort of like the saying, “if you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.) He was even thrown into a cistern and left to die- see Jeremiah 38.  Jeremiah did not back down no matter the evil that surrounded him or the evil that was done to him.  God did not take away the evil, but he kept Jeremiah through the evil.

Jesus warned us as well that there would be terrible things happen in the world, and that we as His people would have to live in the world.

He (Jesus) put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

It is hard for us to understand God’s purposes in letting evil persist.  In today’s world it’s easy to resign ourselves to the fact that the weeds are quite overgrown, and we wonder how can God’s good seed grow here?

The Holy Spirit brings the growth. Even in the weed field, or the cistern, or the prison cell or the lions’ den. What is impossible for the world is possible for God.

God is our refuge, no matter what circumstances bring us.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

May 7, 2020- The Resurrection of the Body- 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

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But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (ESV)

As we profess in the last two “I believe” statements of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The images we see in popular culture, such as in cartoons, when a character dies and its ethereal spirit rises to heaven, are not quite accurate.   We are both body and spirit, not just one or the other. When Jesus returns for His people we will be changed from an earthly, mortal creature with a disease and decay prone body,  to a heavenly, eternal creature with an eternal incorruptible body.  The old Adam, who was born of the dust, will die and be buried, but the new Adam will bear the image of the second Man- Jesus.

The apostle Paul uses the analogy of planting.  We plant a kernel of corn knowing that individual kernel will die, but that’s not the end of it.  It will be transformed and will become a corn plant that will have many ears full of kernels of corn.  Just one kernel of corn won’t feed a family or even one person, but many corn plants can feed many people.

When we look at the death of Jesus we understand that in His death, He sacrificed His body so that many would be freed from their sins.  Without His death our deaths are simply our physical bodies returning to the $8 and some change worth of essential elements they were comprised of.  But we who are baptized into Christ, and buried with Him will rise and be transformed.

There has to be death before life.  It seems sad that it must be that way.  But when we look at it from the standpoint that Jesus has conquered death for us, and that we share in resurrection life with Him, then it is no longer something to be afraid of.

Lord, help us to rely upon you alone, and keep us from being captive to fear.  Forgive us when we doubt You or we trust in mortal men or other things that cannot give life or save us.  You have defeated death and the grave for us.  You are here with us now, through the valleys of shadow, and You are returning for all of Your people soon.  Help us to live with the confidence that we belong to You.

 

 

May 1, 2020- The Splendor and Majesty of the Lord- Psalm 111

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I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.             

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!  Psalm 111 (ESV)

It’s always a good time to remember the majesty and goodness of God. There is a comfort in knowing that He is beyond our circumstances, that He is in control of what happens, and that He so loved the world that He came down to the world in human flesh.

It’s easy to get caught in the moment and to forget that it’s just a moment.

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.

We might wonder if God is really there or really listening to us. He is there. He is listening.

The Gospel is preached so many times in the prayers of the Psalms.

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever! 

Lord, may we seek our comfort and rest in You, knowing that You have sent us redemption, and that You hear our prayers.

April 27, 2020 Trust God to Forgive, as We Forgive Others- Psalm 107:1-16, Luke 17:1-4

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Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands,from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty,their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;they fell down, with none to help.Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,and he delivered them from their distress.

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man. For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron. Psalm 107:1-16 (ESV)

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:1-4 (ESV)

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that anything we build in this world is temporary. For some people the temporary nature of this life is a comfort, because they have lived their lives in material poverty or in pain and suffering.  For others it’s a sadness to know that in a hundred years we will long since be dead and forgotten, and we can’t take our stuff with us. We wander and strive and work (and overwork) only to discover, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes writes, that we are chasing after wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty,their soul fainted within them.

Jesus is leading us to the lasting city: Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

We are reminded that Jesus forgives us. Jesus brings us out of darkness and delivers us from the shadow of death (as we also learn in Psalm 23.) He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man. For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Now that we see what Jesus has done for us and continues to do for us, we turn to our neighbors for whom Jesus also bled and died to save. Now it gets tricky for us because that old Adam who was buried in the waters of our baptism doesn’t like to stay drowned. When we remember the promises of Jesus are not just for us but also for all those other simul justus et peccators out there, our perspective on our neighbor has to change.

Because we are all saints and sinners at the same time,  as long as we draw breath on this earth, we are going to sin. We are going to do things that bring harm to our neighbors, and that will cause them to sin right along with us. Other people are going to do things that harm us as well.  Jesus gives us His remedy for our constant friction and discord with others: Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

Dearest Jesus, forgive us for those times when we have failed to love our neighbor as You love us.  You are with us no matter how many times we fail, and no matter how many valleys of shadow we must go through. Don’t let us forget that this world is not the lasting city that You are leading us toward. We are completely reliant upon You for all things, and you provide for us abundantly and graciously. Help us to pass those gifts along in Your Name.   Give us the gift of faith to trust You, and create clean hearts in us that are filled with Your love and joy.

 

April 22, 2020 – The Invitation to the Banquet- Luke 14:15-24

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When one of those who reclined at table with him (Jesus) heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he (Jesus) said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” Luke 14:15-24 (ESV)

Some of us find great enjoyment in large gatherings and in ceremony and in wearing fine clothing.  Others of us are uncomfortable with and avoid large gatherings and formality.  Some of us have a hard time slowing down long enough to enjoy the feast that is spread in front of us, because we are too busy tending to all the peripheral and not-so-important things.

Jesus’ invitation to His banquet is a great honor.  It is one that requires us not necessarily to abandon the necessities of this life, but to prioritize them. Tending to one’s business and property is something we all need to do. At one time or another in our lives most people do get married, and it is important to spend time with and to cherish one’s spouse. Those are good things and parts of our vocations, but they become idolatry when we put them in a higher priority than Jesus.

The Ten Commandments show us where we fail to obey God’s Law.  We are always putting material things and activities before the things of God. Jesus reminds us of this tendency of ours to put off the invitation to His banquet because we are so distracted by the things of this world.

The other point that Jesus brings to light is that those who are poor in material things are free to be far more attentive to the things of God.  When we are in places where we are alone, hurting, or struggling, we are drawn to Jesus’ banquet.  In our loneliness and poverty and grief, God in His mercy puts us in the place where we can slow down and taste and savor the rich sweetness of His provision.  In our times of crisis and wondering, we are reminded that all provision comes from Him, and the illusion that our gifts are given apart from the grace of the Giver falls away.

In these times where our priorities have changed overnight, we can hear the call of Jesus much more clearly.  Come to the banquet! All is ready! This is a meal none of us want to miss.

Lord, we thank you for the banquet that You graciously provide for us.  Let us come to Your banquet with joy, and create in us clean hearts that long for You.  Forgive us for those many times when we forget You or put other things in the place where only You should be.  Thank You, Jesus, for giving Your life to save us, and thank You for the faith to trust that  You will never leave or forsake us.

April 19, 2020- Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning- Luke 12:35-48

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“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,  and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.  But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,  the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:35-48 (ESV)

One of the most beautiful Spiritual songs ever written is the traditional, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”

We understand that our salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.  We don’t, and we can’t, earn our salvation in any way.  Jesus is our Suffering Servant, who paid the penalty for all the sins of the world, as John the Baptist understood when Jesus came to him to be baptized. (John 1:29)

We are, however, baptized into Jesus’ suffering and death.  Because He has set us free from the curse of the Garden, we are bound to Him, beggars at the throne of grace. We have all been given much.

Jesus has promised that He is returning to this earth and He is going to remake both heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:8-13) and we will be given incorruptible, physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-53.)  We affirm the restoration of our physical bodies when we say “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” when we recite the Apostle’s Creed as well.

Staying “dressed for action” is not easy.  We are distracted by the world and tempted by our own sinful desires as well as the influence of the Adversary.  Our sinful nature is nothing new.

Jesus is talking about keeping faith in Him, of knowing Who we belong to.  We were purchased with a price, our Savior’s own Body and Blood. Our motivation to serve and follow him is not one of fear of hellfire but one of gratitude and love.

In these times apocalyptic talk is very popular.  There have been multiple books, various so-called prophets and loads of random speculation on the end of the world.  Hal Lindsey once claimed the end of the world would occur in the 1980s, claiming in his book “The 1980s, Countdown to Armageddon,” that “the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” 

Jesus, however, taught us, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:36-37 (ESV)

The time that we might spend speculating on the timing of the end of days would be better spent in trusting Jesus and serving our neighbors.  The end of days may arrive tonight or a thousand years from now, who knows?  But as Jesus teaches earlier in Luke 12, in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) our lives may be required of us tonight, making the timing of the end of days rather irrelevant.  He created us and has already set the number of our days.

Again we come back to faith.  Knowing that we belong to Christ, knowing that when we confess our sins and repent of them, He forgives us, our actions should reflect our confidence of knowing that God cares for us. Because He loved us first, in Him we have the capacity to love others, to be generous, to be good stewards of God’s good gifts and not fall into the panic of hoarding or obsessing over whether or not we will be provided for.

The path of the cross is not an easy one but it is a path that we follow knowing that we do fail and we do fall short.  We sin constantly.  We doubt.  Even though we are poor tools with which to work, Jesus is still on that path with us, lifting us up in our suffering, challenging us to die to our selfishness and insecurity, and to keep on remembering our baptism.  The old Adam needs to be drowned every day, because our sinful nature flares up often.  Yet Jesus keeps forgiving us and lifting us up. He equips us for the good fight of living out the faith.

The good news is that Jesus is stronger than the temptations of the world. He has defeated our sinful nature. He has put death to death for us. We take confidence that He gives us the gift of faith so that we will keep our eyes and hearts focused on Him.

Lord, help us keep our lamps trimmed and burning.  Create clean hearts in us all, clean hearts ready to serve you and to care for those around us.

April 9, 2020 – Maundy Thursday- Given and Shed for You, Jesus Prays for Us -Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:39-46

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Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)

In these words of institution there is some argument among Christians as to what Jesus really meant.  Some Christians (such as Orthodox and Roman Catholic) believe that the water and wine transform themselves into body and blood, that once they are consecrated they are no longer bread and wine even though they look like and taste like bread and wine.  Other Christians look upon Communion as simply a memorial meal in which the language is figurative- it’s just bread and wine or crackers and grape juice, and we do it because Jesus did it.

An alternative view on the Supper is to take Jesus exactly at His word.

This IS My body. This IS My blood of the covenant.

In the Small Catechism we are taught:

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.

In these times it is difficult when we cannot meet together and share the Sacrament. Yet Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. By eating the bread that IS at the same time His body, and by drinking the wine that IS at the same time His blood, we are made stronger, we are reinforced as members of one Body.  We are reminded that because Jesus made the sacrifice of His body and His blood, the penalty for our sins is paid.  We are forgiven.

All we can do this Maundy Thursday is remember, even though for now we must forgo the benefit of physically sharing the meal, is that Jesus has still given His body and His blood so that we may have the gift of salvation.

Tonight we also remember after this Last Supper, before Jesus was arrested and taken, before His trial, before the crucifixion, Jesus’ long night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,   and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Jesus is actually praying the third and sixth petitions of the Lord’s prayer – the third and most difficult, “thy will be done” for Himself. Even as He prayed, He sweat tears of blood, knowing it was God’s will for Him to drink the most bitter cup of punishment possible, and that the cup would not be taken from Him. For His disciples He prayed that they would not fall into temptation (the sixth petition) because He knew their weakness.

Jesus taught us to pray these petitions because He knows how much we chafe at the reality that we are subject to God’s will.  We don’t like to admit that God is holy and we are not.  We want to believe that we earn our daily bread, when in fact even the ability to earn anything is a gift from God. We are tempted at every turn by our own sinful flesh, by the world and by Satan the accuser as well.

Sometimes the cup of suffering is unavoidable. Sometimes we fall into temptation. Sometimes we forget that we aren’t the ones running the universe. Like the disciples we have to be reminded to wake up and pray that we don’t fall into temptation- that we aren’t tempted to despair, to give up hope, to run from Jesus instead of running to Him.

Today we pray that God’s will be done and that we would not be afraid to cling to Jesus instead of trying to rely on ourselves.

Lord, we thank you for the precious gifts of Your body and blood, given and shed for us to forgive us and to wash us clean of our sins. Deliver us from temptation and grant us the gift of unwavering faith in You.