February 13, 2020- Come and Dine! Jesus’ Table is Open- Isaiah 55:1-9

food

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:1-9 (ESV)

Most of us in today’s society have experienced the “rat wheel” feeling- that we are constantly working, constantly busy, constantly maxed out in our time, energy and resources just to survive and keep bills paid and food on the table.

Some of us, after we work to meet our basic needs, fall prey to the ever-constant drive to over work and over spend, only to find that all that we have been working for is never enough and never satisfies.

Hard work and diligence are not inherently bad things. Our vocations are gifts given to us by God in which we are given the means to provide for ourselves and serve our neighbors.  There is much satisfaction and joy to be had in diligent work, within the proper context.

The problem with the illusion of self-reliance is that we assume to take on a burden we were never meant to bear, and it is a burden that we are not able to carry.  Our culture glorifies the “self-made” man, but the reality is that there is no such thing.  We are all God-made people, and in the correct context and perspective, we see that all our provision- including the ability to earn our living- comes from God.

This is why God calls us to His feast- the feast of the Word, the feast we celebrate of the Body and Blood of Christ when we share the meal at the Communion table.

Jesus taught: “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.” John 6:51 (ESV)

We are called to run to Jesus- not because He is a bread king, but because He is the Resurrection and the Life. As Martha was grieving the death of her brother, Lazarus: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25-26 (ESV)

In the world’s economy- in this earthly kingdom- we have to earn our way to survive.  In the heavenly kingdom it is God’s banquet, God’s gift that we neither can earn nor deserve.

Jesus says to us, “Come to Me.” The Lord is near, and has compassion for all who come to Him no matter how much we have sinned and fallen short of His laws.

Jesus’ table is open to all- no matter how heroic or tragic our backstories may be, whether we have accomplished much,  or accomplished nothing.

Seek the Lord, return to the Lord! Not just a one time return, but a daily return. We don’t seek the Lord because as some would say, “hell is hot,” but we seek Him because in Jesus there is peace, there is rest, there is salvation and life forever with him.  Our life forever with Him begins in the waters of baptism. It is sustained in our confession of and the repentance of our sins. Our forever life with Jesus is fed and nourished with the most divine food and drink, a foretaste of the feast to come, at the table of the altar.  His banquet of salvation and life is freely given, a feast lavishly laid out for any who will come and dine.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

February 7, 2020- Wisdom, Love and Reflecting Light- Psalm 36

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Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.

He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Psalm 36 (ESV)

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The moon can only reflect the light of the sun.  It is muted, a satellite, a mirror, rather than the source. All that as we as creatures can do is act as satellites or mirrors to God, our Source of light.

The summary of the Law- the Shema- taught in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” is the primary wisdom lesson taught in Scripture.  The next most important wisdom lesson of Scripture is taught in multiple places- the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom– (Proverbs 9:10) and is one that points us back again to the foundational truth of the Shema. 

We learn the converse of this corollary in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”

Contrary to popular knowledge, human beings apart from God have nothing but darkness to offer.  Just as the moon cannot reflect light unless the sun shines on it, we cannot reflect light apart from having the light of God shine on us.

Jesus Himself taught that: No one is good but God alone. (Luke 18:19)

We know that the Law is good, but we are powerless in our own strength to obey it.

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

It seems a little odd that this Psalm both affirms the reality that all we can do is to reflect God’s light, and seemingly opposite reality that we take refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Even as God was speaking to Moses, we learn God did not reveal Himself to Moses entirely, but shielded him from the fullness of His glory.  The purity and the intensity of the full on light and power of God would destroy Moses and any other sinful, mortal human.  We cannot stand alone in the presence of God and live.

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23 (ESV)

Jesus is our Light and Life, but also our Refuge.  In Jesus, we are shielded from God’s wrath- as our sins have been paid for by Him- even as we reflect His light in the world.

Lord, we thank You both for the light You reflect off of us, and for the safety of Your refuge in Jesus.  Give us the wisdom to “put on our baptism as daily wear” and to trust in you that we are forgiven and that You will give us what we need to stay faithful to you and to serve our neighbors in all we do.

 

March 14, 2019 – Faith in the One Who the Wind and the Sea Obey – Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 24:24, John 1:1-5

jesus calms the sea

On that day, when evening had come, he (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41 (ESV)

All of us face anxiety over circumstances in our lives. Everyone has been through some form of calamity, uncertainty or distress, whether it is something as trivial as running out of coffee, or as catastrophic as a natural disaster or an untimely death of a loved one.

Even though Jesus had chosen these men as His disciples, and they had Jesus right there with them, they were still terrified. They still cried out to Him- “Do something!”

Does it seem to us as if Jesus is sleeping at times- that He is not aware of our need, or that He doesn’t care about our suffering?

The disciples struggled with fear and a lack of faith just like we do- even though they could see, walk with and touch Jesus. The evidence was right there with them, visible, audible, tangible, and they still struggled with faith. No wonder our faith is often weak.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

Faith is a gift from God. Jesus is right here with us just as He was with His disciples in the boat during that storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The difficult part for us is that we can’t see Him or reach out and touch Him.  Faith is not rational.  Some people will claim that, “If I could see Jesus then I would believe in Him.”  Others are looking for Jesus to send us supernatural signs. Yet Jesus warned us that false prophets will display signs and wonders in an attempt to deceive His people (Matthew 24:24).  Faith does not always see the object in which it believes.  We can trust that in our baptism, by the water and the Word we are named and claimed as Jesus’ own, and we are given the gift of faith.  As we hear the Word taught, we learn about Jesus and grow in our faith.

The wind and the sea are subject to Jesus and His sovereignty just as all of nature is subject to Him. We have no control over the winds and the waves.  We have no control over the chemical and electrical processes in our bodies, let alone any process or machinery outside of us.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” This man is God of very God, the Word who was with God, through whom all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-5)

Jesus does know our suffering, intimately. Jesus does not just stand aside as a passive observer.  Nothing came into being without Him. Nothing exists without Him.  We can trust that He is in control of the storms and the tragedies as well as our triumphs and accomplishments.  We may not know what comes next but He does, and He is with us.

March 13, 2019 – Sowing Seed, Faith and Good Soil- Mark 4:1-9, 1 Peter 3:14-16

Jesus teaching by the sea

Again he (Jesus) began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:  “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.  Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:1-9 (ESV)

The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. This is the reason why churches do VBS and Sunday School or Kids’ Worship.  This is why we do adult Bible studies and have Catechism for middle schoolers and teens.  How can we have faith in Someone we have never learned about?  Ideally parents will bring their children to the baptismal font as early as possible, for baptism is a means of grace and a tangible proof that God names, claims and chooses us.  In baptism we are given the hunger and thirst to hear and receive God’s word- but we are still in need of someone to teach it, and we need to be brought to hear it.

Not everyone has the advantage of being born to Christian parents or of being brought to the font as an infant. Even so, grace and faith also comes from hearing God’s Word. The only problem for us is we have no way of knowing if the seed we sow in preaching and teaching will fall on good soil or not.  It’s discouraging for parents and teachers when we teach God’s Word and it seems as if we are being ignored or outwardly mocked for teaching what we know is true.  However, Jesus warns us that not every seed we sow will fall on good soil, and that’s to be expected.  Sometimes we will get discouraged by the indifferent or hostile responses of others to the Word of God.

The fact that the seed of good teaching doesn’t always fall on fertile soil does not mean we should be silent, or that we should cherry-pick our audience as if we could know who will hear and believe and who will hear and scoff or ignore. How do we know if the Holy Spirit would use our words and witness to bring another person to saving faith in Jesus?  How do we know if He would work faith in a person by them remembering something we said many years prior?  People are still coming to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit-inspired words of the apostles and other human writers of Scripture, thousands of years after they died.  So how can we stay silent even if we know some people aren’t going to be “good soil?” Especially when we know that faith comes by hearing?

There will be people who will openly dispute or mock us when we share God’s Word with them. The apostle Peter tells us what to do when we are confronted or mocked:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV)

Some of the seed of good teaching will be snatched away before it hits the ground. Some will fall on rocky soil. Some of it will start to grow and then wither away.  But the seed that catches in good soil is worth all the sowing and then some. God promises us that there will be seed that falls on good soil even when most of it might not, and that he will make that harvest very, very good.  In faith, we teach, we explain, we live as best we can, and in faith we trust the Holy Spirit works in and through our lives and witness.

March 6, 2019 -Ash Wednesday, Marked With the Cross of Christ, the Promise of Baptism- Mark 1:1-13, Psalm 23:4

ashwednesday

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:1-13 (ESV)

The Gospel of Mark omits the genealogy of Jesus and the Nativity narrative and goes straight to Isaiah’s prophesy of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was considered by scholars to be the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the one who prepared the way of the Lord and baptized his followers for the sake of repentance. Jesus gets baptized by John, was called beloved by God, and then He was plunked into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. There’s a whole lot of action packed into 13 verses, and it’s not even the end of the first chapter of Mark.

Jesus’ baptism is different from our baptism in an important way. He had no sins to be washed away, rather, for Him, in His baptism He took on the sins of humanity and the burden of the human condition. He showed solidarity and unity with those who would become part of His body, the church.

Our baptism serves as a tangible seal and constant assurance that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  As we are tempted by our own flesh, the world and the machinations of Satan, we can have confidence that Jesus not only has been tempted like we are and far worse, but we also know that He is with us no matter what temptation or trial we face.  We will face trials.  Jesus taught us in Matthew 10:24 -“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  The difference is those who trust in Christ have hope. All of humanity is subject to the consequences of sin, suffering and death.  But those things are not the end, and even through all of our suffering and trials we are not alone in them.

The liturgical season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days not counting Sundays. (Sundays are “in Lent” but are not counted as part of Lent.  Sundays in Lent are like mini-Easters spread out through Lent, so that we still get to celebrate and worship the risen Jesus, even in this penitential season.)  Many liturgical churches impose ashes on the foreheads of believers in the sign of the cross.  This symbolism reminds us that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever (the ashes just make it visible for a time) even as we are made of dust and will return to dust.  Mortality is the reality of life on earth, but there is life beyond this life in Christ.

These 40 days of Lent are an opportunity to remember our mortality, to consider that time Jesus spent in the wilderness, and to remember His Passion and His sacrifice to save us from the curse of sin. Jesus has done it all for us.  We can’t earn or deserve our salvation, as it is a gift given by faith alone. There is no circumstance too difficult for Him to resolve, no wound too great for Him to heal, no suffering too great for Him to bear.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.- Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

January 8, 2019- Jesus is Baptized – Mark 1:1-11

the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:1-11 (NIV)

Of all the Gospel writers, Mark is the one who gets right down to business. Rather than going through the genealogies and the details of Jesus’ birth, Mark starts right off with Isaiah’s prophesy that tells of Jesus’ coming. Mark goes right on to tell us how Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled with John the Baptist paving the way.

Even though Mark does not go into the details of Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth in the way that Matthew and Luke take pains to do, he makes it clear: Jesus is God who became human like us. He took away the sin of the world and put death to death. In His baptism He took upon the weight of the sins of every person ever, so that they would be put to death and buried with Him.

In the Lutheran tradition we take the sacrament of Holy Baptism for what Scripture claims that it is- a means of grace through which God the Holy Spirit works saving faith in us. The old Adam is put to death.  Our sins are washed away.  We die to sin, death and evil, and rise again with Christ.  Even so, as long as we live in this world of not-yet, we can take comfort in “putting on our baptism as daily wear” as Martin Luther taught.

When God looks upon us in our baptism He sees Jesus. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and faith is made alive in us. We become God’s beloved, and for the sake of Jesus we become children with which God is well pleased.

September 4, 2018-Freedom and Feelings 1 John 4:19, Galatians 5:1,13-15

freedom1We love because He (Jesus) first loved us.- 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery….For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.   Galatians 5:1,13-15 (ESV)

“Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.”– Martin Luther from the Commentary on Galatians, 1535.

Freedom in Christ does not mean we are set free from the law of love. It means that because of Jesus’ love for us we are set free to love each other.

The Law is a good thing.  It shows us God’s will for our behavior toward Him and toward our neighbors.  The Law was given to maintain good order.

The Law also shows us our desperate need for a Savior.  None of us can follow the Ten Commandments (let alone the whole of the Mosaic Law) perfectly for even a day.

Our freedom in Christ does set us free from the penalty of the Law (which is death) but our freedom is not a license for “anything goes.”  It is empowerment from Jesus Himself to love as He first loved us.  No, we are not going to love one another perfectly.

Feelings are not good indicators of where we stand spiritually.  One day one might feel as if, “Hey, I am doing a really good job.  I haven’t murdered anyone, I do my Bible study and devotions, I am faithful to my partner, etc.”  But the next day, one might feel as if all is lost and God is far away. Feelings are mercurial at best, and following our fickle feelings will only lead us to despair.

The fact is that no person is able to justify him or herself.  Regardless of our feelings or how bad or good we think we are at any given moment, the reality is that justification and salvation is found in Jesus alone.

We are not set free because of our feelings.  We are set free of the curse of sin and set free to live out the Law of love because Jesus became the curse for us. Because Jesus died on the Cross and put death to death our freedom is in Him no matter how we feel. When we come to the font in Baptism we are washed clean of our sins, we are buried with Jesus in His death, and we are named and claimed as His own.  When we come to the Communion table, we share in His body and blood.  We can taste and see that He is good, He is there, and He is enough.

We are free because of Jesus, no matter what we feel.  It is in Him we have our life and strength and hope.