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.

June 4, 2020- From Where Does Our Help Come? Psalm 121

help from the Lord

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)

It is a theme in Scripture that our provision comes from God.  It’s human nature that we want to rely upon ourselves, or we expect others or even the government to defend or provide for us.  God is the One Who supplies us.  He gives us our talents and abilities so that we can earn an honest living, and so that we can serve our neighbors with the gifts we have been given.

It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope when we face adversity.  It’s hard to trust God when we can’t see him working for us.  Yet the same God Who created heaven and earth does have our lives in His hand, forever.  Even in the valleys of shadow- in the sickbeds, in the times of scarcity, in the times when others betray us, in the dark nights of our souls, Jesus walks with us.

We are guaranteed to have trials in this life.  Jesus said that we will have to take up our crosses and follow Him, and sometimes following Him is not easy.  Even so, He gives us our daily bread.  He gives us the grace to persevere in times of trouble and to lift our eyes to Him in every circumstance.

Lord, give us the gift of faith to trust You.  Comfort us in times of turmoil with the peace that only You can give.  Help us to rely on You alone for our provision, our help and our salvation.

May 21, 2020- Jesus Ascends to Heaven-Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11

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Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:44-53 (ESV)

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)

He ascended in to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father- as we confess in the Apostle’s Creed.  But why did Jesus have to ascend to the Father?  What does this mean for what we believe?

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension give us the confidence that He is who He says He is, that we will be given immortal bodies  and that we will be with Him at the end of days.

Jesus gives his disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit (who will descend upon them at Pentecost.)

Jesus does not give the disciples an answer regarding restoring the kingdom of Israel.  Many of Jesus’ followers still saw Him as being a military or political leader, so it seemed logical for them to ask if He was going to free Israel from the Roman occupation.

Jesus did not come to free us from oppressive temporal governments.  He did not come to display military might or political power.  He came to ransom the human race from the curse of the garden, the curse of death that hangs over all of humanity.  He came to earth to live among us, and to pay the penalty of death that we deserved.

There were witnesses who saw Jesus ascend to heaven, witnesses who saw and believed because they saw Jesus being brought back to His Father.

Jesus is the first fruits of those who sleep. He put death to death.  He is faithful, and He is coming back for us.

May 12, 2020 – The One Who Serves- Luke 22:24-30, Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Isaiah 53:4-6

one who serves

A dispute also arose among them, (Jesus’ disciples) as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he (Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,  and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,  that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30 (ESV)

Even today we are conditioned to see those in authority- the ones who make decisions and rule from the safe distance of their ivory towers as being “greater” than the people who do the physical work that makes the world function.  Jesus turns that idea on its head.

The leader is one who serves.  Sometimes a leader serves in a very public capacity, but often a leader serves in ways that aren’t glamorous or even readily visible.

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (ESV)

Jesus became what we once were- condemned to death. He took our punishment. He came down to earth to live among us, to be one of us, and ultimately to be cursed by God and hung on a tree.

Jesus, in whom all things were made, became the Suffering Servant, and lifted the curse of death for us, because we are not able to redeem ourselves.

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (ESV)

The idea of comparing ourselves to other people to determine who is “the greatest” is rather silly.  While competition is human nature, Jesus has done it all for us.  We are free to serve our neighbors through our vocations- the good work that God created for us to do.

In Christ we all have value, because He redeemed us.  The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22.)

So what does this say for the humility of humanity? It is a beautiful thing and pleasing to God when we do our daily work, when we regard others as better than ourselves, and when we aren’t afraid to come down from our ivory towers and get dirty.  We don’t earn brownie points or anything like that, it’s just that we are doing what God created us to do.

Jesus is the ultimate Servant. He is our King and our Redeemer.  We do fall into the temptation of categorizing ourselves and others based upon what we do (or what “they don’t do”) and we forget that Jesus has done it all for us.  There is nothing to earn and nothing to deserve.  There is no reason to compare and compete.

Lord, help us to follow you by serving others, and not concerning ourselves with “who is the greatest,” because we know You are.  Help us to live life in a way that brings glory to You as we live out our vocations and serve with joy.

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 4, 2020- Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem – Luke 19:28-44

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem by Giovanni

And when he (Jesus) had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’”  So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.  And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

And when he (Jesus) drew near and saw the city, he wept over it saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:28-44 (ESV)

There are two instances in Scripture where it is recorded that Jesus wept.   When His friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept. (John 11:35)  He weeps again here, not for Himself, but from the city of Jerusalem and the people of Israel.  Even though Jesus is the one going to His death, He weeps over the fate of the people who are right around Him, the people who He came to save, the people who reject Him.

The Pharisees wanted Jesus to keep His disciples quiet, but instead, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork, as we learn in Psalm 19:1.  Yet we don’t always see or acknowledge God’s hands in all things.  Even as God’s people we are afraid to share the love of God and the good news of the Gospel.  We don’t know what to say or when or how to say it.  We have friends and family who hear the Good News but it doesn’t register with them, just like the people of Jerusalem who had Jesus come to them in flesh and they couldn’t recognize Him for Who He was.

Jesus knew that He was on the hard, long road to Calvary as He came to the city of Jerusalem.  He also knew what was going to happen in Jerusalem in about another 35 years. In 70 AD the Romans captured and destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus wept for the people in the city who had no idea who He was. Jesus wept knowing that most of them would never know that He came to die to save them from their sins.  Jesus knew that many of His people would die without ever hearing the life-saving Gospel and coming to faith in Him.

Are we disturbed by the thought of people who Jesus bled and died to save are lost because they never heard the Good News?  The apostle Paul teaches us that saving faith in Jesus comes by hearing (Romans 10:17.)  The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Not everyone who hears will come to faith, and it is the Holy Spirit who works through preaching and teaching.  So all we can do is what we are told to do as believers in Jesus- preach the Word, tell the truth, and pray for those around us.

Do we weep – and pray- for those right here in our own community who haven’t heard about Jesus?  Do we reach out in love to those who have not yet come to saving faith, or are we going to leave it to the stones to cry out?

It’s by the grace of God that anyone comes to saving faith in Jesus.  It is a gift.  But God works through means, which means He works in and through His body, His followers, the church.  We cannot stay silent.

Lord, give us the courage to be bold in our faith and to live lives that glorify You.  Help us to share our faith and to pray for those who have not heard and who have not been brought to faith in You yet.

 

 

 

 

April 28, 2020 – Thy Kingdom Come, But Probably Not the Way We Think It Will- Luke 17:20-37

sacred heart of jesus painting with brown frame

Photo by Franck Denis on Pexels.com

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:20-37 (ESV)

Most of us have heard the narrative regarding the end of the world in which there is portrayed to be a rapture of the church that is loosely based upon these verses.

Whether one believes in a rapture of the church or not (amillennialism is the eschatological- or end times- teaching traditionally held by the Lutheran church, meaning we generally aren’t into the rapture concept) one thing is certain.  As we affirm in all of the ecumenical creeds, Christ has risen from the dead, and He will come to judge the living from the dead.

There are people who will try to set dates and speculate on when Jesus will return, and they are all going to be wrong. We know Jesus is coming back, but we have no way of knowing when.  As He says, people will be behaving like in the days of Noah- doing their things, openly mocking God, and feeling no sorrow or repentance for their sins, blissfully unaware that judgment is around the corner.  That is a frightening concept, for anyone to become the object of the wrath of God, but it is also a reminder that God is the creator and we are the created.

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, the third petition, which is the most difficult of the petitions to pray and mean it: Thy will be done. This is in direct contrast to the whispering of the serpent in the Garden, whose call to temptation always begins and ends with, You will be like God.

Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 

In our baptisms we are buried with Christ, and we are born into new life with Him.

The Kingdom of God is already here, happening and unfolding.  It’s not all the way here yet.  It’s not going to be what we expect and it won’t go according to our plans. Thy will is always going to be done, whether or not we are on board with it!

In many ways this knowledge is both a warning and a relief.  A warning to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, because yes, the Bridegroom will return for us at any time, but also a relief because we know that this tenuous arrangement of “now, but not yet” living with one foot in both the worldly and heavenly kingdoms will finally be made into a complete “now and for always.” In our baptisms we are given the promise that we are God’s own child, and we receive the gift of faith. We are marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Jesus came to earth to suffer and die to save us from our sins.  He is returning for His people, to judge the living and the dead and to establish the world to come forever. And it’s all going to be done His way.

 

 

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

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

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.