Lilies, Anxiety, Provision, and Jesus, our Treasure- Luke 12:22-34, Genesis 3:19, 1 Peter 5:6-8

maslow's hierarchy

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!  And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” –Luke 12:22-34 (ESV)

Worry is not just a plague of the modern age. It is part of the human condition that has been with us since the Fall, when God declared to Adam, By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”- Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

There is even a theory of a hierarchy of human needs, categorized from the most basic elements of physical survival to the elusive (and practically impossible) goal of “self actualization,” defined by psychologist Abraham Maslow back in the 1940s. While this hierarchy is useful for understanding human behavior, and to a degree helpful for us to use as a guideline to serve our neighbors in need, the reality is that God is our provider. All of the things we need for our physical, mental and spiritual well-being and health are given to us by the hand of God. We are dependent on Him for all things, as we are taught in the explanation of the First Article of the Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.- Martin Luther

It’s easy to tell ourselves, “don’t worry.” The apostle Peter tells us to “cast our anxieties on Jesus because He cares for us.” (1 Peter 5:6-8) We learn about God’s provision in the Creed and in the Catechism, yet we still worry. It might sound easy to cast our cares on Jesus, but in practice, it is far more of a struggle to put our worry and struggle to provide for ourselves and our loved ones aside and to trust God for His provision.  We should know better…but we don’t.  Doubt and fear have their ways of creeping into our thoughts, especially when we face adversity, or when we wonder where our next meal is coming from, or how we are going to pay our bills.

It’s easy to trust in ourselves and in our stuff- until the stuff runs out, or we are unable to provide for ourselves. The bottom line is that everything on this earth is finite.  Money, resources and physical strength are all limited.  Ultimately there will come a day for everyone when no matter what resources are available, this life will be over.  Solomon was said to be the most wealthy man who ever lived, but where is Solomon and his gold and silver and palaces now?  He didn’t get to take any of it with him.  When our lives on this earth end, where will our treasure be?

The kingdom of God is all around us. It’s not in its fullness here on earth, but we see and experience God’s kingdom in His creation, in the people around us, and in the work that we are called to do for each other.

Jesus teaches us to put our trust in Him. He will provide what we need- in the goodness of the harvest, through our vocations, and in serving each other.  The earth in its current form is not a permanent place for us, as we learn in the beloved 23rd Psalm- “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

We are in the valley of shadow during a good portion of our journey here on earth. Yet Jesus is with us, He comforts us, no matter what that valley of shadow brings. He brings us through whatever sorrow or trial we must endure-along with us.  He is not just observing our trials from afar, but He suffers with us, weeps with us, and celebrates with us.  In Him we have the strength to endure and to serve others along the way. As we live in and love His kingdom, we find that in Jesus, we have more than enough for our needs.

God clothes even the lilies with splendor. We can trust that He who created us will provide for us in this world and for forever. Jesus is indeed our eternal treasure!

 

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.

 

 

May 30, 2018 – Slaves No More, Time for Rest and Worship- Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Ephesians 2:1-10

flowers2“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.’” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (ESV)

The word “slave” has a particularly offensive connotation to modern Americans. Even though the Civil War was fought over 150 years ago, the source of the conflict and its ramifications still echo through our society and culture. It could be argued that most human beings alive today have ancestors who literally were slaves, owned slaves, or sold others into slavery at some point in history. We should find the idea of buying and selling and enslaving human beings – and judging another human’s value based solely on the color of his or her skin to be morally reprehensible, though racial and social stereotypes and discrimination still persist. The old Adam dies hard.

Yet all of humanity- regardless of our skin color or nationality- has been born into slavery. All of us are born dead in trespasses and sins, slaves to the essential depravity of man (or original sin) that humanity inherited from our first parents in the Fall. (Genesis 3:14-24,)  The apostle Paul instructs us:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

Apart from the blood of Christ we are forever bound to our imperfection and mortality. But for the Cross- we would be doomed to wallow and die in our sins.  But for our baptism, where God names us, claims us as His own, and sets us free of the slavery and the curse of sin, we would have no hope.

God gave us his Law because it’s good for us. All of the Commandments are for our benefit, and place good boundaries around human behavior. The Third Commandment, spelled out in the verse above from Deuteronomy- to remember the Sabbath- is first mentioned in Exodus 20:8.

Martin Luther (from the Small Catechism) has this to say about the command to observe the Sabbath:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

We remember we were all born as slaves, set free by the grace of God, so that we are free to take the observation of Sabbath rest seriously. Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for man, a gift given to us so that we would remember God- not because God needs us, but because we need God. Matthew 12:6-8.

We as the Body of Christ need to take the time to rest, but not just bodily rest. We need spiritual rest and rest for our souls. We are not bound by the Mosaic Covenant or the observance of the Jewish Saturday Sabbath, but God still commands us to hear His Word taught and preached (because it’s good for us, not because God really needs us warming up seats in church) and to take a break from our regular work.

While we live in this world of now, but not yet, we desperately need the rest and the comfort of the Word of God. We need to hear it, study it and immerse ourselves in it. We need to be reminded to stop, to take advantage of the freedom Jesus has won for us even as we are still living in bondage to our weak flesh. We are free in Christ, but we still live in various forms of servitudes- we must work, we must provide for our families, we must endure physical pain and all the trouble of living in this fallen and broken world.  Yet the brokenness and pain and struggle is not all there is in life.

We are invited to take refuge in the solace of the Psalms, and the comfort of the Gospel. We are invited to celebrate in the declaration that for those of us in Christ, our bondage has been broken and death is no more. (Revelation 21:4)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-10 (ESV)

The gift of the Sabbath for Christians is the opportunity and the privilege to celebrate the fact that Jesus has set us free from slavery. We need to be reminded to stay connected to the One we belong to, to stay wired in to the kingdom that is now, but is also to come.

March 14, 2018 Spreading the Light- Mercy vs. Judgment John 8:12-20, James 2:12-14

prayer-sinner

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (NIV)

The writer of the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being the light (light of the world, light of life, etc.) in thirteen specific references. The concept of Jesus being the light obviously was a point the Holy Spirit wanted the writer of John to get across.

The Pharisees did not want to acknowledge who Jesus was because they were not able to see Him as He is. They were looking for a mighty warrior who would restore the physical kingdom of Israel. They were thinking in terms of an earthly king.  Their vision was limited.

Sometimes we get caught up in what we think we want to see in Jesus that we lose sight of the real Jesus.  Sometimes we get so preoccupied with our own fears and our own darkness that we don’t- or can’t- look up and see the real light.  We all experience those dark nights of the soul where God seems far away.

Even though we struggle and often we have a hard time with the challenge between doubt and faith, at our Baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We belong to God even when our feelings or our behavior might indicate otherwise. We are called and made able- not by our own will, but by God’s will- to not only see the light of Christ but to reflect and radiate that light.

Do our lives testify to the light and to the reality of Jesus? Do others see His light shining in and through us?

We can get so mired down in the laws God gives us for our own good that we see them as chains that bind us, or as hammers to hit others over the head with, instead of boundaries given out of love and designed to protect us.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees at numerous points where they used the Law as a hammer, to bring down judgment on others rather than to use the Law to bring people to repentance and to show us our constant need for Jesus.

Do we look at other people and say, “At least I don’t do that sin!” It’s tempting to do when we see what we perceive to be truly scandalous behavior, but sins of the heart and sins committed in the dark outside the public eye are still grieving to God.  We are all guilty under the Law.

It is better for us to look at ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner, of whom I am chief?” (to borrow from the apostle Paul-1 Timothy 1:15 .)

The Holy Spirit is always there for us to call upon- in those dark times when we can’t see, in those times that we struggle with doubt, and in those times that we forget that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Lord, may we be vessels of your light and comfort to those around us, and may we remember that it is only by your grace that we are forgiven and made your own.