January 21, 2020 The Danger of Frenemies, and the Future- Isaiah 39

Hezekiah and Babylonian king

At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.  Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.”  He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:  Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”  Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” Isaiah 39 (ESV)

Many of us have people we know as “frenemies-” the coworker who has no problem being cordial on the surface, but who will quietly run people under the bus if it benefits him or her, or the neighbor who is so engaging and polite out in the open, but who won’t hesitate to call the police on your back yard party or bonfire if it disturbs them.

These are people whose alliances aren’t trustworthy.  These are people who will be kind when it serves their purpose, but will also sell people out when it serves their purpose.

In the previous chapter of Isaiah we learned that Hezekiah was desperately ill and thought that he was about to die.  He prayed to God and God gave him an extra fifteen years.  Unfortunately after his miraculous restoration to health, Hezekiah seemed to forget that all of his good things came from God, and he got a little too friendly with his frenemies, the Babylonians.

Sometimes we wonder why governments make unholy alliances with frenemies. Sometimes alliances are made in an effort to keep the peace, such as the failed tactic played by Neville Chamberlain, where he negotiated with the Nazis with the erroneous thinking that appeasing the Nazis would lead to “peace in our time.”

Or is it, as it seems in the example of Hezekiah, that he was making a display of his own strength and hegemony- a sort of bragging, almost.  Instead of keeping his trust in the Lord and his treasures close to his chest, Hezekiah believed that an alliance with Babylon would help keep Judah safe from the Assyrians.  Sadly, Hezekiah’s trust in the leaders of Babylon would eventually lead to the nation being taken over by Babylon.

Showing the wolves the goodies and giving them the keys to the gate is no way to protect the sheep inside.

Hezekiah was glad when Isaiah told him that “there would be peace and security in my days,” but what of the generations to come, the ones who would be carried off to Babylon and made to be eunuchs and slaves of the Babylonians?

We also have to ask the same questions about frenemies in the society we live in today.  The influence of the church in our society is declining.  Do we dialogue with and trust in the ways and tactics of the world, which can be a frenemy, or do we trust God for what we need to reach out to the world?

We can’t be satisfied with “peace and security in my days.”  As good stewards of God’s creation and in service to our neighbors, people for whom Jesus died to save, it is our duty and joy to pass on the faith.  We need to trust God and faithfully teach our children and grandchildren the faith, and to care about the generations to come.

Lord, we pray that we would trust in You alone and not in our wisdom, wealth or anything that isn’t You. Keep us from making unholy alliances that would compromise our witness or our faith in You.  Give us the words and Your wisdom and passion for spreading the Gospel and reaching out to a world that is hungry for You.

 

 

 

 

January 15, 2019 – Slaves? Romans 6:15-23

slave ship 1788slave auction

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:15-23 (ESV)

21st century Americans have a difficult time with the concept of slavery. We may remember seeing drawings of slave ships or slave auctions from the 18th and 19th century from history class like the ones pictured above, but we don’t really see slavery out in the open. We think of slavery as something that ended with the Civil War in 1865. Slavery does still exist in the modern world. It may not be as visible today, but it is still just as repulsive as the buying and selling of humans on the auction block. Human trafficking, child abuse, forced labor, addiction, and domestic violence are examples of some modern forms of slavery.

An easier question for us today is, to whom or what do we sell ourselves? Are we slaves to addictions such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol- or even to an excess of good things such as food or exercise? Are we slaves to excessive work or excessive leisure? Are we slaves to the thoughts and opinions of others?

The apostle Paul teaches us: “you are slaves of the one you obey.” As long as we are living in this body, in this life, we will still be tempted and we will still sin. (Simul Justus et peccator still applies.) However, because in baptism we die to sin and live with Christ, we have become His slaves- not in the sense of being in a sorry forced servitude, but as joyful servants responding to the love He first showed us.  We may not be able to obey perfectly, but our faith in Jesus is what saves us and justifies us. Our faith- which is a gift of the Holy Spirit- is what sets us free to live as God created us to live, and to do the good works that He created for us to do.

Sanctification is another concept that we can have difficulty with. Christian sanctification does not mean becoming rigid, legalistic, “holier than thou” hypocrites. We aren’t always people who are clean and tidy and well behaved.  Sometimes we road rage. Sometimes we use nasty words.  We are rough around the edges and a lot worse than that if we are honest with ourselves. Jesus’ first followers were once the likes of fishermen and tax collectors and even women of ill repute.  Our caricature of snooty false piety- imagine Dana Carvey as “the Church Lady”- is right out.  We are real people who live in this real world.

We are all hypocrites because we are all sinners, however, we confess our sins just as the apostle Paul did when he referred to himself as the chief (or foremost) of all sinners. We let Jesus forgive us. We trust Jesus to help us do better and to change our minds and hearts to be more like His.  Sanctification is actually “holification” (if I may borrow a term from Rev. Jonathan Fisk) meaning a process in which God makes us holy, by faith, in Christ, because of His grace. God makes us more like Him. We are meant to grow and develop into the people God has intended us to become.  That becoming is not something we do, but something God does in and through us.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes it’s painful, but faith is trust that in all of it God knows what he’s doing.

Sin and death appear to be the masters of this world. When we look around us, those things are everywhere.  Yet so is the transforming power of God- the same God who put death to death.  We know the end to this story.  God wins.

All of us sell ourselves to something. Our first parents sold us all into sin and death at the moment of the Fall. Yet we have been bought for a price. Jesus sold Himself- a perfect sacrifice- to purchase us so that He could transform us and make us holy.  He bought us, and set us free so that we can love and serve God as willing and joyful slaves to Him.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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