December 6, 2019 – Advent 6, Luke 6- The Lord of the Sabbath, Names of the Apostles, The Beatitudes, Good Fruit, and the Only Foundation

Read Luke 6

Jesus had the audacity to offend the Pharisees by breaking the Sabbath rules that they had added to the Third Commandment. As if picking grain for hungry bodies to eat was “strenuous work.”

And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it? Luke 6:9 (ESV)

The Pharisees were more offended when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The fact that Jesus healed a man should have been a point of celebration rather than a time for legalistic angst.

Jesus names the 12 Apostles:

Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Luke 6:14-16 (ESV)

Jesus teaches and heals the multitudes. In the Beatitudes Jesus tells us of the kingdom of God- how His people who are hungry will be satisfied, the poor in spirit will be made rich, and that those who are persecuted for His sake will be rewarded in Heaven.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:32-36 (ESV)

Jesus further offends the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?

You hypocrite, first take

the log out of your own

eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s
eye.

Luke 6:41-42 (ESV)

Jesus was more concerned with genuine faith- faith that leads to good fruit in the life and witness of a believer.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45 (ESV)

Jesus is the Rock, the solid foundation on which everything stands. Only in Him can our lives bear good fruit. Only in Him do we have life.

November 29, 2019- The Good Shepherd, God With Us- Ezekiel 34:11-24

feed-my-sheep

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

“Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad,  I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-24 (ESV)

Ezekiel was a priest who was taken to Babylon in 597 BC as part of the Babylonian exile.  When he was in Babylon, he received a series of prophetic visions from God.  The first vision was of Ezekiel coming down in a chariot of fire to deliver God’s judgment to Israel and God commissioning Ezekiel to be His prophet.  The second was convicting the people of all the ways that Israel as a nation had violated God’s Law via idolatry and immoral living.  The third vision was that exile wasn’t the end of God’s people Israel.  At the end of Ezekiel’s prophecies we get the glorious image of dead, dry bones being spoken into life again.  (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Here through the pen of Ezekiel, God speaks of a new nation that will come to be- the remnant of the faithful, God’s sheep, the new Israel.

More importantly Ezekiel points us to the Good Shepherd- God Himself, Who we know as Jesus, God in human flesh, the Son of David, will gather His sheep.

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

God is the One doing the acting.  He is the Shepherd.  He makes us His sheep.  He seeks out His sheep.  He brings back those who have wandered away.  He brings strength to the weak, and He will bring down the strong who have taken advantage of the weak.

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

Do we gladly learn and share God’s word, and the material gifts He so lavishly gives us? Or do we keep all of that to ourselves and fail to acknowledge the needs of those around us?  None of us do that perfectly. We sin daily and sin much.

Lord, please help us to share your good news and good pasture with others, that we would be generous and truthful and gracious in our dealings with our neighbors.

All of us are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  Do we trust in Christ that He will transform our hearts and minds to His will?

As the church year comes to an end and we enter into the season of Advent, we can take comfort and confidence that the Son of David, the Good Shepherd, God With Us, Emmanuel, is gathering His sheep.

 

September 25, 2019- Logs, Dogs and Mercy- Matthew 7:1-6, Romans 14:1-4

SacredHeart

Jesus taught: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Matthew 7:1-6 (ESV)

This passage in Matthew, especially verses one through five, is well known. Jesus warns us about being judgmental of others and of ignoring our own egregious sins in favor of nit-picking on the sins and faults of others.

It is easy for us to see others’ specks and miss our own logs. We can also make it difficult for people who are new to the faith by piling all kinds of rules and regulations on them instead of meeting them where they are and patiently teaching them and sheltering them. (The apostle Paul goes into great depth in the book of Galatians regarding the subject of law-keeping ) It’s easy to forget that the Holy Spirit works faith in us. Jesus transforms us to conform to His will. He is the one doing the acting. We don’t earn our way to holiness by our own efforts. There are no brownie points to earn.

The summary of the Law is love- to love God and love our neighbors. The problem is we don’t do it. We fail to keep every single one of the Ten Commandments every single day. Considering everyone is a law breaker, it is inevitable that we will hurt others and others will hurt us even if the hurt is completely unintentional. Our failure to keep the Law of love is a consequence of our brokenness, our fallen humanity, and our bondage to sin.

This is why Jesus emphasizes mercy. Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came to save us.  He has done for us what all our attempts at law-keeping cannot. We deserve and have earned death and hell, but Jesus offers us free pardon from all of our offenses on HIS merits. Jesus has the authority to put the hammer down on us for every single time we break the Law, but He shows us mercy instead. He took the punishment we deserve (Isaiah 53:5) so that we can be forgiven, redeemed, set apart for eternal life. We forgive others because Jesus forgave us first.

The apostle Paul – a former Pharisee- also taught us to be gentle and merciful with each other as he teaches in Romans:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:1-4 (ESV)

Thankfully it is by the Master’s hand that we stand or fall. If any of us were to be judged on our own merits before a holy God we would most certainly fall and fail. We can’t earn, deserve, beg, borrow or buy God’s favor. It is given to us as a free gift, bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

It is our calling as believers to preach the word and to share the Good News- whether or not our vocation is in full-time ministry. We know that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) and that as the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, we should be prepared to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

We should certainly be aware of the logs in our own eyes, and we should take Martin Luther’s advice and put on our Baptism as daily wear. Each day is a new opportunity to repent of our sins, to turn from them, and to remember that we are clothed in Christ and we are forgiven.

We should seek to be teachable and humble in our dealings with others, but we must remember there are people who are overtly hostile to the message of the Gospel. There are people who will mock and revile us for what we believe.

When Jesus told us not to give dogs what is holy or to cast pearls before swine, He was letting us know that not everyone will be open to hear the Gospel. Some will be overtly hostile toward it. We can’t pound faith into anyone, as faith is a gift of God. We are instructed to tell the story, to teach the Scriptures, and to display the fruits of faith for the world to see, but only the Holy Spirit can open ears and eyes and hearts to the Gospel message.

As the apostle Paul tells us, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:7 (ESV)

We thank God for Jesus coming to earth not only to be God With Us, but most especially for dying on the cross to break the curse of sin and death so that we can be forgiven and live with Him forever.

We pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ and as we live out our vocations in the world. Give us the discretion and the grace to be merciful and forgiving toward others as Jesus is toward us. May the Holy Spirit give us the right responses when we are questioned about or mocked for our faith.

January 24, 2019- God Says, “Vengeance is Mine,” Romans 12:17-21

forgive your enemy

 

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 12:17-21 (ESV)

Popular wisdom dictates that revenge is a dish best tasted cold. Often when we are still angry or indignant over being wronged, we can only see our need for personal justice rather than the complete picture. Many regrettable actions have been committed in the heat of anger- actions that result from pure rage, or from a lack of information, or both. It does sting when someone else wounds us, regardless of whether or not the damage was intentionally inflicted.  Our instinct is to lash out and strike back, but we are specifically called not to do so.

God takes the dispensing of revenge to a different level. We aren’t called just to wait until the heat of anger cools before we strike back, but we are commanded to refrain from striking back at all. Revenge is a dish we don’t partake of hot or cold, but leave for Him to serve.  It is not our place to mete out our own retribution, but to forgive and love our enemies even as Christ forgives and loves us.  God will see that justice is done, whether by God’s means here on earth (i.e. civil punishment when one commits a crime) or ultimately at the final judgment on the Last Day. Our hope and our prayer for our enemies is not their destruction, but that God would bring them to repentance and faith and salvation in Christ with us.

This teaching does not mean that we are never to stand up for ourselves or for others, (nor does it negate the necessity for civil justice here on earth,) but to trust God in both His judgment and His mercy.

As God’s people we are called to seek out the good of others- to serve others, to be peaceful and productive and to glorify God in our vocations.

The ministry of Christians here on this earth should be one of restoration and reconciliation. Jesus died and shed His blood to wash away and forgive our sins so that we may not be consigned to eternal judgment, but to eternal life.

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Third Petition is notoriously difficult to pray and mean it, because in this petition we pray for the ability to set aside our anger and our thirst for retribution and to open our hearts and minds to God’s will. Thy will vs. my will is a constant battle for everyone. We also pray in the Fifth Petition, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Why do we forgive? Because Jesus forgave us. In Him we have been given the grace to forgive others.

forgive

In faith we can set aside our need for revenge and trust in the sovereignty and the goodness of God. If God is truly in control and has our ultimate good in mind, can we trust Him even when others do us harm? Do we trust Him enough to show mercy and grace to others as He has shown to us?

Thankfully in Christ we can go to Him and be forgiven for the times we fail to show mercy or for when we take justice into our own hands. We pray for the grace to forgive others the way Jesus has forgiven us, and to be merciful to others as He has been to us.

November 21, 2018 – Thank God for Everything- Psalm 30, 1 Peter 2:4-10

thank god everything

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol. You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22-23, Matthew 21:42)

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-10 (ESV)

Faith, as we learn from the apostle Paul (see Romans 3), is a gift from God.  We may never understand why some receive the gift of faith and others do not.  We know that Jesus died for the sins of ALL.  Our faith is a gift, and it comes to us through the means of grace – hearing the Word taught and preached, and through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

David’s theme in Psalm 30 is thankfulness. Left to our own designs we fail.  We can see God’s Law in action and it condemns us. God does not owe us anything.  God chooses to act on our behalf regardless of how ornery or obnoxious we are. If we look into David’s life- David, the anointed king, the man with a heart after God, David, the earthly forefather of Jesus, we find a pretty ornery character with quite a few skeletons in his closet.  We are no better than David was, yet like David, we are made right with God by faith.

God is the one who grants us the gift of repentance, which is simply sorrow over our sins and a desire to turn a 180 away from them. God is the one who lifts us up when it seems as if the world and our own evil desires are going to destroy us.  God has mercy on us even though we hardly deserve mercy.  The only thing that we are capable of earning from God is wrath.

Jesus is the one who calls us from darkness to light. Jesus is the one who says to us, “I have chosen you and I am transforming you into one of the precious stones I use to build My house.”  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are being made holy- bit by bit in this world, but fully and completely when we step out of the “now” and walk into finality of “not yet.”

The only response we can have to such generous grace and mercy is deep thanks- thanks for the assurance that we are named, claimed children of God. He will never let us go in spite of our inadequacy and our utter inability to repay Him.

In this season of darkness sometimes it is hard to believe that there will come a day when darkness and despair will be defeated forever. Our mourning will be turned into dancing.  We have been lifted up from the pit of Sheol (place of the dead.)  We are set free to praise and sing. We are God’s people, saved by His mercy.  We have everything to thank Him for.

 

 

 

June 20, 2018- Preserve Us From Violence- Psalm 140, Romans 12:19

protect me jesus

Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps. *Selah

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me. *Selah

 I say to the Lord, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!  O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!  *Selah

As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!  Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!

I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Psalm 140 (ESV)

This Psalm is attributed to David. Many times during David’s life he encountered people who didn’t have his best interest in mind.  His predecessor, Saul, tried to kill him more than once. (1 Samuel 19) His own son, Absalom, tried to take over David’s throne. (2 Samuel 16:5-13 ) We encounter adversaries and people who oppose us also.  We will rub some people the wrong way just because we believe in Jesus (John 15:20).  We will encounter people who take delight in scandal, and in spreading lies, or who are unwilling to forgive us for real or even perceived wrongs.

Our prayers to God are meaningful. He hears every one of them. God knows our anguish when wrong things happen to us and other people are cruel to us. The psalmists in Scripture bring every condition and emotion to God in prayer.  God knows when we are angry or unforgiving or frustrated anyway.  We should be honest with Him when we pray, because prayer is one of the ways that God changes our hearts and minds to conform to His will.  When we pray the Psalms we discover a depth of sincerity and emotion.

This being said, in the frank and sometimes violent language of the Psalms we see the humanity of the writers. We want violence done to our enemies, especially for the times we don’t deserve to be slandered or harmed by them. It is better for us to commit our enemies and those who oppose us to God in prayer. God does protect His people.  He forgives us when we do wrong things, and we can trust Him for His vindication and for His mercy when people treat us in wrong ways.

Jesus was persecuted and wronged also, yet He bore the punishment for us -for all the times that we were and are the evil wrongdoer.

It is good to pray first and let God deal with our anger when other people hurt us. The apostle Paul reminds us that God reserves vengeance for Himself.

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.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)

Only God knows the entire story behind us and our enemies, and only He can see both sides impartially.

We need to take everything to God in prayer- thanks, praise, supplication, grief, anger- He wants us to come to Him with it all. We can trust God that He will protect us.  We will be vindicated and forgiven, as well. In Christ, we have the freedom and the grace to commend our enemies to the judgment and mercy of God.

Trust the Mercy of God- Psalm 28, Hebrews 10:30-31

art board carpentry carved

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.

 Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield: in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28 (ESV)

The Psalms are a great gift to us, as is all of Scripture, but in the Psalms we experience the full spectrum of human pathos and experience. As the psalmists pour out their prayers and praise as well as their petitions, pain and laments to God, they underscore that we are not alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Every one of the great cloud of witnesses before us have also had to experience the same heartaches, disappointments, suffering and pain as we do. As we pray the Psalms we can find comfort and strength, knowing that as so many who have come before us also know, the Psalms keep directing us back to Jesus, our Source of life and hope.

Sometimes when we read passages in the Psalms in which the psalmist petitions God for justice against the wicked, it seems cruel and almost contradictory. After all, if God wants to, He can do a much more thorough job of revenge than we ever could.  Admittedly, the imagery of a vengeful God taking action against obnoxious or evil people can make us feel better for a minute.

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”(Deuteronomy 32:35-36) And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31 (ESV)

God knows the whole story. In Jesus we are vindicated.  We can trust that He will handle our situations, and He will handle those who oppose us or who have done us wrong.  Jesus teaches us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

All of us are on both sides of the psalmist’s petition. We are both the “wicked” and the “anointed.”  As we read the psalmist’s prayer that God would repay the wicked, we go back to the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that we need to forgive those who do us wrong as Jesus forgives us for all the things we do wrong.

Perhaps Jesus’ mercy toward us may also extend toward those who are doing evil things now? We are not the only ones pleading for forgiveness and mercy.

As we pray the Psalms, we should always follow their direction to point us to Jesus no matter if we are mourning, praising, or lamenting. We are free to let God handle impossible people and impossible situations. He knows our hearts and minds and circumstances better than we do. He created us, He carries us, and He redeems us. God has the universe and all things in His control.