March 12, 2020- On the Death of Precious Servants in Christ, and the Hope We Share- Philippians 2:17-18, Matthew 16:24-25, Romans 10:5-17

drink offering

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18 (ESV)

Jesus never promised us “our best life now.” Jesus called us to take up our crosses and follow Him.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

Suffering and cross-carrying are part of this life. It is no small coincidence that all three of the Synoptic Gospel writers- Matthew, Mark and Luke- tell us of Simon of Cyrene, a man that was randomly plucked from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross to Calvary.  Simon was taken by surprise by the compulsion to carry the cross.

It certainly wasn’t Simon’s idea when he woke up that morning, that a Roman soldier would demand him to carry a heavy beam for a condemned man he did not know. For us who know Jesus, it should not be a surprise to us that Jesus enters into our suffering as we share in His.

One of the implications of sharing in the life of Christ is that even as we are baptized, even as through the preaching of the Word we are made new and brought into eternal life, we must also share the cup of suffering and daily drown the old Adam and his sinful ways. We still have to deal with the consequences of sin and death in this world. We still suffer. Our bodies still die.

There are people who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” in our lives, who like the apostle Paul, sacrificially pour themselves out for the sake of their faith in Jesus. We thank God for them.

Many of these dear saints of God do not see their life is one of sacrifice, but one of joy. We benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them that radiates from them just as light gives off heat.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:5-17 (ESV)

By faith we trust Jesus. We can’t trust in how well we follow the rules, because we don’t, and we can’t. The Ten Commandments are God’s Laws. If we are honest about how well we follow God’s Laws, (see Exodus 20,) we understand that we break every single one of them on a daily basis. We cannot trust in ourselves or what we do. We trust Jesus and by faith we know that He took God’s punishment for our sins in our place.

Our life here in the now, but not yet world contains a lot of suffering. But it also contains the grace of God in Christ. It also contains people with “beautiful feet” who preach and live out the Good News of Christ. People who are precious to us because they share that saving message.

It’s easy to get angry with God for taking those we love away, or to be sad because one who is precious to us is no longer there.

This life is not the end, though. God has plans for us that are so much more than we can hope for or imagine. Those of us who trust in Christ will see Him and be with Him in just a little while.

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at that awesome day- All Praise to Thee, Thy God This Night – Thomas Tallis

Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

The saints that have gone before us are glad. They are rejoicing. We will be with Jesus- and with everyone we love- soon.

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.

 

December 9, 2019- Advent 9, Luke 9- The Cost of Following Jesus

feeding five thousand

Read Luke 9

As Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, He instructs them:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Luke 9:1-6 (ESV)

The idea was that the disciples were to stay where they were welcome and cared for, not to take advantage of their patrons, but to teach and care for those who wanted to hear the Gospel.

At this time Herod, who had recently demanded the head of John the Baptist, was hearing about Jesus.  Was this Elijah? Was it John raised from the dead?  Herod would soon find out more about Jesus.

The disciples came with Jesus to a place called Bethsaida, where thousands of people came to hear Jesus speak and to seek healing.  There was nothing to be had as far as food save for five loaves and two fish.  But Jesus insisted that the disciples feed the multitudes with the loaves and fish rather than sending them home hungry.

And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he (Jesus) looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Luke 9:16-17 (ESV)

The number twelve here is said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel- that we see the Bread of Life was given for the sake of the twelve tribes.  Whether or not this is true, Jesus shows us in this miracle of provision that He takes a little and as we share it, that little bit is multiplied.

Simon Peter was one of the first people to come to faith in Jesus.  “You are the Christ, the son of God!”

There is a cost to following Jesus. All of the twelve apostles suffered and died horrible deaths – Judas hung himself out of anguish for betraying Jesus to the high priests.  Peter was crucified upside down.  Only John lived to old age, and that was as an exile on the island of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26 (ESV)

Following Jesus is the way of the cross.  As we live our lives submitted to His will, we have the constant conflict between what we want and what God wants.  Yet Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, even if living for Him causes us suffering here and now.

At His transfiguration, the disciples get to see who Jesus really is.  Not Elijah or Moses or John the Baptist reborn, but the Son of God.

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.  And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.  As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36 (ESV)

Following Jesus is something we cannot do without His intervention.  We cannot follow Jesus based on our own decision or power, but only by His grace.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)

We pray that by the grace of God in Christ we can follow Him.  We will not always follow Him perfectly.  We sin and stumble often.  Yet as the apostle Paul reminds us, it is not in our works or what we observe or don’t observe, but in Christ we stand.

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 14:4 (ESV)

 

March 2, 2019- Jesus in All His Glory- The Transfiguration- Luke 9:28-36

Transfiguration_SanSalvador

Now about eight days after these sayings he (Jesus) took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36 (ESV)

The Transfiguration gives us a sort of preview as to what our post-resurrection life will look like. We see Jesus revealed in His glory and we see Him as the one foretold by Moses and Elijah and the other prophets.

Witnessing this event gave the disciples no choice but to make the connection as to the truth of who Jesus claimed to be.  They no longer had the option to question the veracity of Jesus’ claim to divinity. Jesus clearly was neither Moses nor Elijah, but the greater one they had both prophesied of.  They could not write Jesus off as a nice guy or a moral teacher.  All three Persons of the Trinity manifest here- the voice of God the Father, the dazzling appearance of the Son in the flesh, the breath in the cloud of the Holy Spirit.

As we as Jesus’ people prepare for the somber, penitent season of Lent, it is good to remember who Jesus really is.

Jesus is greater than the prophets, and is the one of whom Moses and Elijah spoke of.

Jesus is God in human flesh, fully God and fully man.

Jesus came down from heaven to take on and become our sin and to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins in our place.

Martin Luther, in his Explanatory Notes on the Gospels makes it very clear what the Transfiguration accomplished:

Very much is contained in this history.

First, The resurrection of the dead and the future glory and brightness of our bodies are shown. For this was something very remarkable, that Christ was transfigured while yet in the mortal body, which was subject to suffering. What then shall it be, when mortality shall have been swallowed up, and nothing shall remain but immortality and glory?

Secondly, There is added the appearance of Moses and Elijah, who prove by their appearing that they had never really died, and that there is yet another life, besides the earthly life, from which they were transferred.

Thirdly, This appearance teaches us also that we should despise death, and look upon it merely as an emigration or a sleep. In short, this appearance proves that this life is nothing at all in comparison with the future life.

Fourthly, This appearance proves that sin is overcome. For it necessarily follows as an incontrovertible conclusion, that, where death is overcome, there sin is also overcome.

But he permitted those three mentioned apostles especially to see this appearance, in order to guard them against the coming offense of his cross and crucifixion. Yet he accomplished little thereby, for they all were offended with him. Yet this appearance had its advantage after the resurrection, and served to strengthen their faith in Christ, that he was the Son of the living God, and that his kingdom must be regarded in a spiritual sense.

The whole holy Trinity appears here to strengthen the believers; namely, Christ in his transfigured form, the Father in the voice, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud.

Moses and Elijah appear in order to testify that Jesus Christ is truly the promised Messiah, according to the law (i.e. Moses,) and the prophets, (i.e. Elijah.) Compare Romans 3:21-22, and on the meaning of this transfiguration 2 Corinthians 3:7.

 

Oh, death, where is thy sting? May we keep our eyes and hearts on this glorious vision of Jesus.

 

May 1, 2018- Consider the Lilies- Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, Exodus 16:4-5, Luke 12:22-34

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I (Solomon) said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 (ESV)

King Solomon, David’s son, the wisest man to have ever lived except for Jesus, had the opportunity to experience everything this world has to offer. Unlike most of us, he had riches, endless opportunities for pleasure, and anything a person’s heart could desire.  Solomon, however, did not find fulfillment in all the things and experiences that he had.

Solomon writes at the end of his life as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, that pursuit of all of the riches and bounty of this world may seem exciting at first, but it ends up as vanity- a “chasing after wind.” The pursuits of pleasure, drunkenness and indulgence will also fail to fulfill us.  In some ways Solomon is speaking to us as a really good example of “what not to do.”  If anyone would have had the resources to buy his way happy, it would have been Solomon, but Solomon himself warns us that this simply is not possible.

When we derive our security and fulfillment from the possession of material things, more is never enough. We have no security and no fulfillment when we are constantly in fear of depletion or loss. The Ten Commandments warn us against worshiping things that aren’t God (Exodus 20:3-6) and against lusting after what other people have (Exodus 20:17.)  God knows we cannot find our fulfillment in the pursuit of stuff.

This isn’t to discount that we have very real concerns about how the bills are going to get paid and how everything that needs done is going to get done. God created us. God knows every one of our needs better than we do.  This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” so that we would rely upon God day to day for what we need.  We see this example when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and God provided them daily manna:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” Exodus 16:4-5 (ESV)

God who rained bread from heaven for His people will provide for us today, each day. Jesus reassures us of God’s provision:

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)

God doesn’t need stuff. He does know what stuff we need every day, and what stuff those around us need as well.  As we pursue God and pray for His kingdom to come, maybe we need to look at stuff and our own livelihoods in a different way.

We trust that God will give us our daily bread. We don’t have to be anxious or afraid of not having enough, because everything we have comes from the hand of God. We pray not only for our daily bread, but also for the ability to share God’s abundance with those who are in need.

March 13, 2018 Falling and Standing…and Snakes- Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:13-15, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

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They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:13-15 (NIV)

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 (NIV)

Temptation and snakes are themes that run throughout the Bible. The serpent tempted Eve, and we know how that story goes.  Humankind has a sort of uneasy relationship with the reptilian world, but a sort of love-hate relationship with temptation.  We know we shouldn’t give in to certain things…but we do, whether it is something as trivial as scarfing down that hot fudge sundae we know we really don’t need, or constantly whining and complaining and being surly and unkind, or even something devastating  such as succumbing to desire for someone other than our spouse, or murdering someone. Even worse, we don’t actually have to do the deed to sin. We just have to want to do it in our minds and hearts, and that is sin. God sees our hearts and knows our motives no matter what our outward behavior might suggest.  All of us are guilty and law-breakers according to God’s Law.

Temptation is everywhere and no one is immune. All sins are disobedience to God. The only differences are that some sins are more tempting than others, and some sins have deeper temporal consequences depending on the damage that gets done to others and in the greater society.  What may be a temptation for one person is not a temptation at all for someone else, but we are all tempted and vulnerable to various and sundry forms of sin.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) are an excellent place for us to start to examine our hearts and see our sins revealed to us and put out in the open.

Temptation and sin are written into the human condition, snakes or no snakes. The apostle Paul makes it clear that we cannot live according to God’s will in our own power.  If we think we can live perfectly, upholding all Ten Commandments, all the time, we will fall flat on our faces.  We do fall flat on our faces, all the time.

We can only be made whole and healed of our sinful nature by looking to Jesus and confessing our sins. As the Israelites were bitten by the snakes- the bites that maimed and killed them were the consequences of their sins- God tells Moses to set up a bronze serpent.  Symbolically he is hanging up what has been made sin for them- so they may see their sins and have faith in God to look up, to confess their sins, and be healed of them. It was a free gift of mercy, a vision of Jesus.  It was God making a way for His people to be forgiven and healed of sin by faith even though they had earned the consequence of death by sinning against Him.

Jesus has been lifted up upon the Cross for us to look up to Him, to ask His forgiveness and be healed, to be forgiven, and to be made new. We look up knowing that He is our source of life.

Do we believe that Jesus has taken on our sins, no matter how bad we might think they are?

Do we believe He gives us what we need to resist temptation and live in a way that honors Him?

Do we trust that He purifies our hearts and motives and that He will make us more like Him?

Do we believe that on Calvary He became our sin, and in doing so, He put sin and death to death forever?

We can only stand and be justified (made good) before God because of Jesus. We can’t make ourselves good no matter how hard we try. Apart from Him we fall. The good news is that no matter how many times we fall, or how many times we overestimate our own abilities, because of Jesus we stand.  Because He was lifted up, because He put our sin to death, we stand in Him.

March 1, 2018 God is a Jealous God- Exodus 20:1-11

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Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:1-11 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God. Four points stand out in these passages:

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

Most of us are probably not into making golden calves, Baal worship, or sacrificing things to other assorted ancient demons. The bad news is we have modern idols to who we gladly sacrifice our attention and resources.  Do we indulge in anything to excess? Are there things that we put at a higher priority than God?

We all do this at times. Whether we put good things on a pedestal higher than they should be, or put good things in improper balance, or we indulge in things that just plain aren’t healthy for us and the greater community, we are all guilty of getting caught up in things. We make gods out of things that were never meant to be gods, things that have no intrinsic power.

God warns us about idolatry because He knows it’s not healthy for us. It’s easy to look at the Law as a buzz kill- ruining our fun so to speak- but in reality the Law serves two purposes. One is that the Law is a protective boundary.  When we chase idols we harm ourselves and others, and separate ourselves from God. The other purpose of the Law is to lead us to Jesus and show us our desperate need for Him.  None of us can completely obey the Law 100%.  Only Jesus was capable of living by the Law 100%.

The practical application of these first few Commandments is to underscore God is a jealous God. He made us for His good purpose and we belong to Him. He doesn’t want just a little bit of us on Sunday mornings- if we bother to drag ourselves out of bed and away from the TV for an hour or two to come to church to sing a few songs and (hopefully) pay attention to a 20 minute sermon.  He doesn’t just want a little bit of us when we are hurting and need comfort.  Yes, God does want us to come to church because we need each other as the Body of Christ, and we need Word and Sacrament to sustain us- but He wants us the rest of the time too.

He wants all of us, all of the time, even when we are running kicking and screaming from Him.

God has given us His name to call on Him- in praise and worship and thanks, to bless others, and in times of trouble. It is a privilege to be able to call upon Him, and a terrible insult to use His name as a curse.

Worship and prayer are regular spiritual disciplines that remind us that God is the One in charge.

Worship is not just going to church on Sunday- though Sunday worship at church with other believers and staying in community is important- so important that God commands to dedicate a day out of our week to worship. Worship is actively acknowledging that God is Who God says He is- the Creator, the I AM God of the universe.  The concept of worship actually covers a LOT of ground.  Thanking God for the gift of breath, for the beauty of creation, for the privilege of being able to come to Him anytime with anything, these are all part of worship.  Prayer is simply talking with God about anything.

Of course if we examine ourselves against the first three Commandments we discover we are not so hot at upholding our end of our relationship with God. We are all law breakers. We all fall short of God’s ideal for us.

Worship and prayer are regular spiritual disciplines that remind us that God is the One in charge.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, wrote a short but insightful book called Practicing the Presence of God.  He models a way of living our daily lives in prayer and worship- in how we work and in how we serve others.

Everything we do should be an act of worship, and we should always walk with God in prayer. The Law reminds us that we fall short of that goal, but the Good News is that in our Baptism we put on Christ.  In Christ God does not see our imperfections, but only the sacrifice of His perfect Son.