Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sermon on 2 Samuel 22:26-34, for the 9th Sunday after Trinity, "Merciful, Blameless, and Pure"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. It’s great to be with the saints of God on Kauai! Greetings from Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Maui, and I’m thankful to be able to bring God’s Word to you. The Old Testament reading, 2 Samuel 22, really struck my attention a few years ago—especially these verses: With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. This entire chapter is also found in Psalm 18. King David sang it on the day when God delivered him from all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He was rather young when he was delivered from Saul, but in the book of Samuel, this song shows up just before his last words at death. Maybe he wrote it as a young man, but it also seemed a fitting bookend for his life. But more importantly, it describes how God is a refuge, strength, and shield; He protects the humble, but defeats the proud.
But what do these verses mean: With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous? Three positive qualities—mercy, blamelessness, and purity; and one negative quality—being crooked. Whichever of these qualities we reflect, so God will seem toward us. The Bible is very clear that God wants us to be merciful. We are to forgive and love even our enemies. Be compassionate to those who are suffering or burdened. Help those in need. Mercy is essential to who God is. So with the merciful, you show yourself merciful, makes perfect sense.
But who is merciful first? It sounds like we see God’s mercy if we are first merciful ourselves. Jesus also said in the Beatitudes: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Both passages highlight that even as we show mercy to others, we also need mercy ourselves. Our sins, our weaknesses, our doubts all should drive us to cry out passionately to God, Lord, have mercy! Mercy begins in reality, not from us, but from Him; God richly showing mercy to us, so that we may be merciful to others. So while David says, with the merciful, you show yourself merciful—remember that the whole Psalm begins: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.” David is praising God, not himself. And who is God? He is a refuge, salvation, and defense against all enemies. Likewise, mercy is first God’s work toward us, and then from us toward others. Even as we are shaped into merciful servants of God, God is ever showing His mercy to us.
With the blameless man you show yourself blameless. The phrase “blameless man” could be translated “upright champion” or “blameless hero”. Along with the next phrase: with the pure, you show yourself pure, it praises integrity or moral purity. God of course is unstained by sins, faults, and errors, and truly any person who has integrity and blameless conduct is a hero or champion. So far, these three virtues: merciful, blameless, and pure, describe what God desires of the saints, the holy people of God. God wants His saints to be honest, trustworthy, pure in thought, word and deed, as He is merciful, blameless, and pure. God sent Jesus who lived out all of these virtues as the perfect man. He is the true “blameless hero” or “upright champion”.
But can such a person be found among the rest of men? Where are the merciful, the godly, or the blameless? Some of the Psalms make it sound like they’ve entirely vanished from the earth (Psalm 12:2; Micah 7:2). Others speak of God preserving them for Himself (Ps. 4:4; 37:28). Psalm 14 (also quoted in Romans) says there is no one righteous, not one, among all mankind. But that same Psalm expresses hope that God will send out salvation from Zion. You see, apart from God, there really are no righteous, no blameless or pure people. No one who is faithful to God or seeks after him. Apart from God we all stumble, err, and sin, and receive the just penalty for our evil works. Apart from God, none of us are merciful, blameless, or pure, to see God in these same ways. But only by God’s mercy, He preserves and keeps a people for Himself. A people who can rightly be called godly, by His mercy alone.
But now we come to that last negative phrase: with the crooked, you make yourself seem tortuous. David, to his own dismay, lived this one out. David made his way crooked by letting the power of his kingdom go to his head. Getting many wives? No problem! Lust after Bathsheba, wife of another man? Who could stop him? Cover up the illicit pregnancy? His generals will see that Uriah gets killed. The twisted web that David spun grew into a tangle of lies that would make God seem torturous to David. David would later confess about the whole thing, that while he remained in his sins, and did not confess them to God, his bones wasted away through…groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (Ps. 32:3-4). God seemed torturous, because he was trying to hide his sin from God. His sin gave him no rest. But when David confessed his sins to the Lord, he experienced the joy and release of God’s forgiveness, the blessedness of God covering his sin and not counting it against him (Ps. 32-1-5). Then, in Psalm 32:6, David calls on the merciful or godly, to encourage the sinner to call on the Lord: Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found. Where do we find the godly man? Wherever God’s forgiveness is at work, and He has answered our prayers of repentance.
From Psalm 32 back to 2 Samuel (or Psalm 18), we find God’s forgiveness at work in both places. David boldly speaks of his righteousness, blamelessness, and cleanness—but He also says God made his way blameless (v. 33), and that his cleanness is in God’s sight. The only way we become clean in God’s sight, is by forgiveness—the washing away of our sins by Jesus’ precious blood. God, by His mercy, turned David’s crooked path back into a straight one, by the working of the Law and the Gospel. So also God in His mercy sends us servants of His Word, to “prepare the way of the Lord, and make His paths straight.”
When we hear that God shows Himself merciful, blameless, pure, or even torturous to us, don’t mistake this that we change or transform God by our behavior. God is who He is, in Himself, and our actions don’t change that. But God deals differently with us whether we are faithful, or are wicked. A good example is in the parable of the talents, where two servants love their master and want to please him and work hard and responsibly, and they are rewarded. But the third servant dreads the master, and does nothing with what he’s given. The way he sees the master influences his own actions—or lack of action. And he’s rewarded according to his laziness and irresponsibility. He loses even the little that was given to him. In the same way, if we are twisted or corrupt, like David in his times of great sin, or like the unfaithful servant, the judgment of God will weigh heavy on us, and God will seem a cruel or harsh master.
But our own sin and corruption twists our sight, so we see God in this way. Many whose hearts are set on evil, never see the True God in Jesus Christ, because their eyes are so blinded by sin. God can’t be a friend and supporter evil hearts. Rather, God must rescue us from evil things. Jesus must open the eyes of the blind. The next verse of the Psalm, says, “You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” God will bring down the proud—Jesus echoes this theme over and over through the Gospels—He will not tolerate arrogance and pride. But God saves a humble people. When the Law of God has humbled us—when we mourn our sins like David, crying out in confession and anguish to God, God forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. When the Law of God shows that there is no one godly or faithful left in the land—the Gospel shows us a blameless hero, the upright and pure man Jesus Christ, who came to show us mercy, and to save us and create a remnant for Himself. When the Law of God has straightened out our crooked paths, and set before us the perfect way of the Lord, the Gospel shows us that Jesus is the Way.
By Jesus’ mercy and blameless and pure life, He makes you a godly people, a people of mercy. People of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion to others, even as God has shown it to you. This God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. God makes you sons and daughters in Christ, in the waters of holy baptism. Just as surely as you plunge down under the waters covered with your sins and blemishes, so surely does God raise you up out of those waters merciful, blameless and pure. Washed in Him, you have no spot or blemish; Jesus has borne all your sins away. And so you can who see God as He truly is—merciful, blameless, and pure—because that is how we know Jesus—the perfect Son of God, sent to us. Day by day, whenever our twisted sinful nature rears its ugly head, and tries to push us down a crooked path to destruction, we take up the strength of the Lord and crucify that old sinful nature by repentance. We confess our sins to God as David learned to do—purging out the old sin by God’s promise to forgive, cleanse, and make us new. And so in this daily struggle, we also witness the daily rising of the new person—merciful, blameless, and pure in God’s sight, because it is God my strong refuge who has made my way blameless. (2 Sam. 22:33). And so we learn to delight in His will and walk in His ways, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read 2 Samuel 22, the whole chapter (duplicated in Psalm 18). What caused David to write this (vs 1), and when in his lifetime does it appear in the narrative of 2 Samuel? What are the main themes of the Psalm?
  2. What is the general point in verses 26-27, about the qualities we embody, and how God shows Himself to us? Who is merciful first—God or us? See also Matthew 5:7. How does the opening of the Psalm (2 Samuel 22:2-3) set the stage to understand who is the “original actor” in salvation?
  3. The phrase “blameless man” could be translated as “upright champion” or “blameless hero.” What qualities does this describe? Who is such a person, and where can such a person be found? Compare/contrast Psalm 12:2; Micah 7:2; Psalm 4:4; 37:28; all of Psalm 14.
  4. With the last phrase, “with the crooked, you make yourself seem torturous,” what is this saying? How did David live this out at significant times in his life? What was the spiritual impact of not confessing his sins? Psalm 32:3-4. How did that change when he confessed? Psalm 32:1-5. What does David call upon the “godly” (same word as “merciful” in 2 Samuel 22:26) to do in Psalm 32:6?
  5. How does God’s forgiveness create a merciful, blameless, and pure people? In whose sight is this true? 2 Samuel 22:25, 33. How does God change our way from a “crooked way” to a “straight path?” 2 Samuel 22:33; Luke 3:4-6.
  6. How does one’s perception of God influence one’s actions? Cf. 2 Samuel 22:26-27 to Matthew 25:14-30. How does God oppose the proud? What does He do for the humble?
  7. How is Jesus our “blameless hero”? How is baptism related to how He makes you a merciful, blameless, and pure people? Ephesians 5:25-27; Romans 6:1-11. Because of this new reality, how do we see God? Matthew 5:7-8. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 7:15-23, for the 8th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "True Disciples know the True Christ"

·         Sermon on the Mount: One of Jesus’ most important teachings—goes on for 3 Ch’s, (5-7). 7:15-23 is almost the end. Big structure—sermon has an “entrance” and “exit”. (Dr. Jeff Gibbs). This passage is approaching the exit—people “enter” by way of the Beatitudes—Jesus’ description of the blessed life of discipleship and humility (with persecutions!). Main part of sermon on the Mount is directed to “you” the listener, and the teaching of Jesus about godliness, possessions, and people—and now these closing verses: disciple “exits” to the world aware of challenges and dangers surrounding the narrow path to life.
·         15-23, about false prophets vs. true prophets. How to recognize and guard against: wolves in sheep’s clothing. Deceptive appearance/sheep’s clothing (charming, loving, appealing, etc) fool many people. Pass themselves off as Christians or genuine prophets, but are “ravening wolves”. Insatiable appetite to devour, to deceive for personal gain (swindle). Diseased tree, thornbush, thistle. No good fruit, only rotten.
·         “You will recognize them by their fruits”. What is the “fruit” of a true or false prophet? Their teachings, first of all, but also their works. Are they teaching according to the pure Gospel of Christ, or “another gospel?” know the genuine to detect a fake. Know the Jesus confessed in the Creed: In other words, the True Son of God, born at a particular time and space, in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, of human mother but no earthly father—child of the Heavenly Father, taught in Israel, hated and put forward for death by the religious authorities, crucified under the command of Roman governor Pontius Pilate, buried, but rose up to life again after 3 days. Real man, real God, real death, real bodily resurrection. Accomplished all of salvation for us, without our cooperation, help, or effort. Know this true Christ; don’t fall for fakes. A “Jesus” by any contrary description is not  the real deal! Those who follow a false Christ will cry: “Lord, Lord”—but Jesus says, “I never knew you!”
·         Jesus warns against those who proclaim false christs (Matthew 24). Ex:  A “Jesus” who is not true God, or true man, or a historical person. A “Jesus” who is not able to save you completely from sins, but is just a “kickstarter” to get you on your way, or a “coach” who will guide you to do yourself…, but who can’t do anything to help you, unless you first “help yourself.” A “Jesus” who didn’t literally walk out of His grave with a living body, but just lives in people’s “hearts” or imagination. Anything short of Lord and Savior—is not the true Christ—If you don’t have the real Jesus, then it’s a false prophet who is teaching.
·         Could someone slip an imposter into your life? A look-a-like, a clever actor? Perhaps they could fool you if it was someone relatively unfamiliar to you—even if you see them often in passing. Maybe the regular grocery clerk, or a bank teller, or maybe even a doctor you see once a year. If the fraud was clever, they might fool you. But it would get increasingly difficult the more familiar the person was to you. A close relationship, a friend, a family member. They couldn’t pass off the fake because you know the person too well. How is it with Jesus? Do you have passing familiarity? Someone you know deeply, and are ever desiring to know more? Do you know Him, as though He were a member of your own family—your dear brother in God? Or just an occasional familiar face? If we know the real Jesus, we won’t fall for fakes. If we don’t know much about WHO He is, then we just might fall for the work of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
·         As the hymn sings: On my heart imprint your image, blessed Jesus King of grace. That life’s riches, cares and pleasures never may Your work erase; let the clear inscription be: Jesus crucified for me, is my life my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation! (LSB 422)
·         Who enters the kingdom of heaven? Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord!” but “the one who does the will of [Jesus’] Father in heaven. What is the Father’s will? John 6:38–40 Jesus defines the Father’s will. “38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
·         We enter heaven by doing the Father’s will, which is to look upon the Son and believe in Him for eternal life. True prophets and true disciples get to heaven by believing in Jesus.
·         False prophets will try to hijack Jesus’ name and ride on His coattails, but because they bore a different fruit, proclaimed a false message, were workers of lawlessness; they will be consigned to hellfire with the demons. Whatever their works, even purported miracles (done by the power of the devil), are worthless. All their work is summarized by Jesus as “lawlessness”. Workers of lawlessness. No regard for God’s law. Teaching their own law instead, or ignoring and lessening God’s law. By this false work they mock God’s Word.
·         True prophet bears good fruit, a true teaching and godly works, directed to Jesus Christ, salvation in Him. Christians have to be discerning, and we have to know the authentic Christ, so we discern those whose identity is not in Him come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. The wise and discerning will avoid their traps, and listen only to the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. In Him, we dwell in safety and in Him we have entrance into the joys and blessedness of eternal life. Together with all the faithful listeners through all ages, who hear Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount—we exit the sermon, having been warned of the pitfalls that surround discipleship, and going forward on the path that leads to eternal life in Him. We go forth in peace and serve the Lord; Thanks be to God!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read the entire Sermon on the Mount in a single sitting, when you have the opportunity (Matthew chapters 5-7). Note how 5:3-12 serves as a “doorway”—the Gospel blessings by which we enter the sermon; and 7:13-27 serves as an “exit” where Jesus leads us back into the world “with eyes wide open to the challenges and danger” we will face (Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs). Notice also how these “doorway” and “exit” sections transition from the 3rd person (they) to 2nd person (you), and how nearly the whole middle section of the sermon teaches in the 2nd person (you).
  2. What dangers does the disciple face as he or she reenters the world, informed by Jesus’ teaching? In 7:15-23, what are the characteristics of the false prophets? How are they betrayed? What gives them their success in misleading others?
  3. What is the “fruit” of a true or false prophet? How do we avoid being “taken in” by a fraud or a fake, when false prophets teach a false Christ? What does Jesus say to those who have followed a fake? 7:21-23
  4. What are some examples of “false christs” that are proclaimed today? How do we know they are not the true Christ who alone saves?
  5. Who enters the kingdom of heaven, by doing the will of the Father? What is the Father’s will? John 6:38-40.
  6. What is the fate of false prophets and the devil and his False Prophet? Matthew 7:21-23; Revelation 20:10. Why is their work summarized as “lawlessness”? Matthew 23:28; 24:12; 1 John 3:4; Jude 4.
  7. Who is our entrance into eternal life? How do we know His Voice and Name? John 10. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 2:7-17, for the 7th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Man of Dust, Man of Heaven"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis 2 is one of the few brief glimpses of life in the goodness and perfection that God made us for, before mankind’s fall into sin. It’s also a foundational Bible passage of who we are and what we were created for as human beings. God makes Adam in the midst of the Garden of Eden—the original paradise.
So who are we? The creation of mankind comes as the highest and most tender parts of the story of existence—God had made everything else which was good—all living plants and animals. But then He pulls aside and with special care and attention, as a potter working with raw clay to make a new vessel, and God personally shapes and forms Adam out of the dust of the earth. His very chemistry was linked to the ground that God would give him to farm. And yes, after Adam sinned, God would promise “dust you are, and to dust you shall return”—Adam would die and return to the earth from which he came, as all children of Adam one day do. But marvelously, we are so much more than mere animated dust, or just biochemical machines. God stooped down to the lifeless form of Adam, which He had hand-made from the dust—and God breathes into “his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” What a “breath-giving” statement!
Mankind shares the basic biology with animals, and yet is unique and distinct from the animals. No others were created in this way, but to man alone God breathed in the breath of life—face to face. In Hawaiian culture, the or “breath of life” is considered sacred, and the ancient form of Hawaiian greeting was to breathe nose to nose in a warm and welcoming gesture. It certainly echoes something of that same reality, when God breathed or the breath of life into Adam. God made mankind His special creation, a unique and distinct kind from the animals; a spiritual creature. We are not evolved from subhuman ancestors, but were specially made, man and woman, in God’s own image.
1 Corinthians 15, the great chapter about the Resurrection of the body, goes back to this verse to explain both our bodies now, and our future bodies in the resurrection. Paul writes: 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [Jesus] is from heaven. 48 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. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.(1 Cor. 15:45-49). Some of this we’ll return to later, but first note that we bear the image of the man of dust. We are flesh and blood descendants of our Father Adam, and Eve, the mother of all the living. We bear all their sin, frailty, and mortality—but also the ruined glory of God’s special creation—intelligence, creativity, speech, love, music, and all the amazing abilities from art and architecture to marathons and mountaineering. But we possess a perishing form—the image of the man of dust. We are dying, because of sin—Adam’s, and our own.
That would be a tragedy almost impossible to bear, if not for God’s plan of redemtion. But also I want to note that both of these passages establish—that our spirituality is not something that hovers above or outside of our body or flesh, but that is intimately connected to it. Our soul is not a “ghost in the machine”, waiting for some liberation from the body, but we are living souls in a fleshly existence. Death, or what’s sometimes described as the separation of body and soul, is an unnatural thing. God didn’t make us for that. But the beauty of the 1 Corinthians passage, is that Paul is driving home the point that as we have born the image of the man of dust—Adam—we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven—Jesus. We will have a spiritual body in heaven, but it will be a body, like Jesus’. The resurrected body of Jesus that bore the tell-tale scars of His crucifixion, and that dined on fish and bread with the disciples, and that was made of flesh and bones, unlike a ghost.
So this is something of what Genesis 2 says of who we are—namely creatures uniquely made in God’s image, who are living souls. But the passage goes on to explain God’s good purpose for Adam. Now remember, this is before Adam had sinned—God places him in Eden—a lush and pleasant garden that Adam is to cultivate. Verse 15: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it. The word to “work” can also be translated to serve. It’s a simple, but obvious fact, that work was an original “good”. To cultivate and maintain the garden, would have been a delightful labor for Adam, and he would have reveled in the good fruits of his labor. It’s worth reflecting for a moment on how our own work—however God has given it to us—whether as contractors or farmers, or teachers or businessman, or parents or students—our work is meant to be a God-pleasing and faithful duty. Out of that duty we are to find satisfaction, fulfillment, the reward of labor.
But here we must also contrast the before and after of the Fall into sin. This blessed condition of work did not last, because after Adam and Eve sinned, a major part of the curse that fell upon Adam was on his work: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19). Adam’s work turned to toil, or a difficult, painful, tiresome and sweaty job. Much of the joy and delight of work was lost. We can all relate to the curse as it affects our work—but we should remember that work is in itself a good and necessary thing, and that God can still redeem and use our work for His good purposes. In fact one of the joys of the Gospel, that was celebrated and renewed in the Reformation, is that no matter what our vocation or calling in life—provided it’s not sinful or criminal—is a way of serving and honoring God.
Adam served the garden God had made—and we likewise are servants, under God our Master, who have been given a duty of stewardship, or care towards this creation. Though it’s scarred and broken in many ways through sin, God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth, is still in effect, and as God made Adam and Eve masters over the creation, so also are we to wisely steward His gifts, to show good faith to our Master for what He has entrusted to our temporary care. Stewardship of creation was an original good, and still is our duty today.
But the most important part of this passage is how God commanded Adam (note Eve had not yet been formed): “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The tree of life was there for their taking and use—but this tree of the knowledge of good and evil was forbidden. Here was a single boundary they must not cross, and must revere and honor God by obeying this command. God has perfect knowledge of all things—we call it omniscience—He knows all things, but is not harmed, tempted, deceived, or drawn in any way to evil. God hates wickedness and violence. God warned them against this evil and that choosing this tree would lead to certain death.  But Adam and Eve did not realize the poison that it would bring. Before they knew only good. Now, knowing evil, they were deceived, tempted, drawn, and harmed by it as with deadly venom. They could not erase or undo that knowledge, they could not back away from the evil that they let loose—like the fable of Pandora’s box—they could not recover from the step they had taken. The knowledge of evil now gripped them and filled them with sinful desires and guilt and shame. Their relationship with God was completely altered. It converted their loves from things that were good and pure, to lusting after what was forbidden and harmful to them. In their son’s own generation they would already see how Cain’s love for self and his own pride would become greater than the love of his brother Abel’s life. Sin distorts love.
We likewise are often deceived to think that we can handle the knowledge of evil, and all too often we pollute our eyes and minds and hearts with sinful desires and forbidden pleasures. We think that it’s no harm to know these things—but then out of our heart and mouth come “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). But St. Paul tells us what is worthy of our thoughts and knowledge in Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”.
But we can’t truly know and love these things from our heart—love what is true, honorable, excellent, etc—if not for our rescue by the “man from heaven.” The other part of 1 Corinthians that we left off, is that verse: Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. God did not abandon the creatures He had so lovingly made in His own image, face to face—God did not abandon Adam and Eve to suffer an irreversibly broken relationship to Him—but God from the very first gave them the promise of  redemption. He promised one of Eve’s offspring to war against and defeat the devil. He promised them Jesus, the man of heaven—God’s Son, come to earth, to take on our flesh—join Himself to our suffering, sinful, humanity, and to give victory where our entire human record is failure. To defeat sin at every turn, to have His mind set completely on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. All this Jesus knew and He loved. He was filled with a perfect knowledge and desire for what is good, and no knowledge of evil never gained mastery over Him. He resisted the devil at every turn, and resisted all the abuse, mistreatment, hatred, and tricks of those who made themselves enemies of Him. And He did it delighting in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1) and honoring God always.
And because Jesus was faithful even to death, death on a cross—that faithfulness reaped for us such a reward as a restored and healed relationship with God, by the forgiveness of sins. Such a reward as to take away the dreadful curse of that first sin—the death that holds our human race and planet captive—and for Him to burst it, so that in His life, we shall also live. And such a reward as to make us sons and daughters of God—born into His image—the image of the man of heaven. This dying form that we bear now, is going to be resurrected as He was, in the new, living image of the man of heaven—a body made for eternal life—a new and greater Paradise—and, by His Name and His blood, we’ll have access once again to the tree of Life, together with Adam and Eve, and all of the saints. This Jesus, the man of heaven, we worship for all He has done for us. Amen!  

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What is unique about the way in which God made man (in contrast to the animals)? Genesis 2:7. What does this teach us? What did God make Adam from? What significance did this have after Adam sinned? Genesis 3:19b.
  2. Of the two specifically named trees in the garden, which were they permitted to eat? Genesis 2:9. Which did they, and what was the consequence? What significance does that tree hold in the rest of the Bible? Genesis 3:22-24; Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19.
  3. Did “work” become a part of creation before or after Adam and Eve fell into sin? Genesis 2:15 What should that teach us? What changed about the nature of work, after the curse of sin? Genesis 3:16-19. How does God redeem our work through Christ Jesus? 1 Corinthians 15:58
  4. What continuing role of stewardship do human beings have toward God’s creation? How does being a “steward” rather than just an organism within the creation, or even an owner of the creation, change how we view our responsibility?
  5. Why was eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil self-destructive? Genesis 2:16-17. Note that after they ate the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were banned from the tree of life. Once humans gained the knowledge of good and evil, they were unable to resist the evil. How did it corrupt the heart of man? Genesis 6:5-6; Matthew 15:18-19.
  6. Who gains access to the Tree of Life in heaven? Revelation 22:14; How do they “wash their robes”, in order to gain this access? Revelation 7:14. “He broke the age-bound chains of hell; the bars from heavens’ high portal fell. Let hymns of praise His triumph tell. Alleluia!” (LSB 464)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sermon on Exodus 20:1-17, for the 6th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "The Ten Commandments"

See also the catechetical hymn that I wrote as a paraphrase of the commandments and their explanations, to use as a sermon hymn:

Sermon Outline:
·         The most widely recognized set of laws—often represented with the symbol of two stone tablets. But how well are they known, individually? Name by heart? 1st Table, 2nd Table (Jesus made this division—Love God, Love neighbor). Which is the first? “I am the Lord…out of the house of slavery…” or “You shall have no other gods before me?” Numbering is not so important; content is; don’t reduce.
·         In Proverbs 1, Solomon describes the foolishness of violent and greedy men, and says that their plans for evil are in reality setting an ambush or a trap for their own lives (Prov. 1:18-19). The point is that they are greedily pursuing their own interests, but as it turns out—disobeying God’s commands is actually against our own interests. Whether in the short run, or the long run, the consequences of disobeying the 10 Commandments are proven through thousands of years of human sin. We disregard God’s Word at our own peril, and the Truth is that He has set down the commandments for our own good, and not for our harm. He threatens to punish those who hate Him, but promises steadfast love to thousands of generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.
·         But in our short-sightedness we often judge things differently. We make excuses for our sin by calling God a kill-joy, or trying to claim that commandments run against our nature, or that His commands are arbitrary. And so we treat them as “suggestions” or “advice” that can be ignored—but not seeing that disobedience is actually against our own interests.
·         But to say that disobedience is against our own interests, is really only to name our second biggest problem. Sin is not just harmful to us, or others—but in reality, as David confessed after sinning with Bathsheba—“against you O Lord, against you only have I sinned.” Our biggest problem is the offense against God. When we break any of the commandments, what we really have done is dishonored and disregarded God’s authority. It’s just doubling down on the trouble that this makes things bad for us as well.
·         Let’s consider an example from each of the commands, how it goes against our own interest. #1. Worshipping false gods, however satisfying it might briefly be to worship money, fame, or some fictional god of our own creation—is against our own interests, because as God tells His people in Isaiah 45—false gods have no power to save or hear our prayers. #2 Taking God’s Name in vain can mean to curse someone by God’s name, or to teach or act falsely using the Name of God. This really is dangerous, because God will not be mocked, and allow His name to be dishonored. #3: Failing to remember the Sabbath day deprives us both of physical and spiritual rest that we need. Both are vital to our health.
·         #4. Dishonoring parents or authorities—God warns that this shortens our life and our blessings—in other words, a life of respect, honor, and obedience trends much more towards happiness, peace in the home and society, and fulfillment. The alternative leads to bad choices and bitterness. #5 Murder, or taking of innocent life has predictable outcomes—haunting guilt for most, and crime leads to punishment for most. Taking innocent life also diminishes us. #6 Adultery, goes against our interest in many ways—not only sowing the seeds of bitterness, jealousy, and worse passions—but also when sex is taken outside of God’s designed context of marriage, it undermines the foundation of family. Serving our own passions seems attractive in the short term, but in the long run, it also is against our interests #7 Stealing also makes our own possessions less secure, as we expect others to do unto us as we do unto them. #8 Lying or slandering others destroys reputations, but it also taints us, as the ones who carry evil on our tongues, and destroys our integrity. #9 & 10, coveting our neighbor’s house, wife, workers, etc—this sows the seeds of discontentment and greed in our hearts, and leaves us continually dissatisfied with what we have.
·         Obviously these are just quick examples, and each commandment could be explored much more thoroughly for the reasons it goes against our own interests to break them. But even more importantly, why is it against God’s will for us? Because the commandments aren’t given for our harm, but for our good. God wants to reward those who keep them—because aligning our lower desires and passions with the higher virtues and noble things to which He calls us, is actually what’s truly in our own interest. The whole book of Proverbs explores the dynamic of wisdom and foolishness, and how wisdom is found in the pursuit of God, of His word and commands, and what is good.
·         The author of our Sunday Bible study has described the 10 Commandments as God’s “House Rules,” playing off the words that begin the commandments: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Egypt was a “house of slavery.” Now God had given them ten good commands that would govern a life meant for freedom and blessing. But how did they get into the “house of freedom?” It was completely by grace. God elaborates on this many times to them, but basically God says they didn’t deserve what they got, but God did this because He loved them! He redeemed them out of the bondage of Pharaoh. It’s no coincidence that the New Testament considers Jesus’ deliverance of us from the bondage of sin, to be a New Exodus. Note that we don’t get into the house of freedom  on the basis of our obedience to these ten commands—but that our entrance is by grace! Sadly, like ancient Israel, we often, against our own interests, set out to return to the house of slavery. Freedom is not easy—but slavery is—and when Jesus tells us that whoever sins is a slave to sin—we know where that road leads. But only the Son can set us free.
·         So who lives in this “house of freedom” that we’re describing? God our heavenly Father. And what does Jesus tells us that His Father does, when a lost son or daughter has run away from home, and squandered their life in reckless living…what does God do when they return home to Him? Go scrub the toilets? Go be my slave till you prove your worthy? No, God runs out to them with open, rejoicing arms, embracing us and rejoicing that the lost is found.
·         You see, the 10 Commandments describe God’s perfect will for our lives. But we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our score is none too impressive on the Ten Commandments. But God hasn’t been keeping score, or every last one of us would be forever ruined. Rather, He is gracious to forgive—therefore we fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. Rather, He invites us home by grace, restoring us to become His children once again. And furthermore, He does not abandon His desire for us to keep the commandments, but takes away the fear and dread of their punishment, by laying every curse and judgment of the law against our sins, upon Jesus Christ, who willingly bore it all on the cross. Jesus paid the full price for our disobedience. But that’s not all the good news! There’s still more! He not only bore your sin, but He perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments through and through, and God credits His righteousness on your behalf! That’s what the beautiful truth of justification is all about. God counts the righteousness of Jesus to those who believe in Him. By faith, His righteousness, innocence, is yours! But that’s still not all! Because God knows you and I will daily wrestle and struggle with our sinfulness, and still hopelessly fall short of pure obedience to the 10 Commandments—He gives us His Holy Spirit to live in us, and to create the fruits of faith and obedience. He steps inside and begins a good work in you, that He promises to bring to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ!
·         Are you ready for more good news? In baptism, He has joined you to Christ Jesus, so that His death is the death of your old sinful nature. Walking with Him in daily repentance, we crucify and suppress our sinful desires. And baptized into His resurrection, He’s given you the source of your new life, and your new nature/identity in Him. And living in the house of freedom, God pours His precious blood and serves His living body as the Supper of forgiveness and refreshment, to be our daily manna through life’s journey. As God sustained Israel in the wilderness on their way to the promised land, so does Jesus provide and sustain you on the way to His eternal promised land.
·         All this transforms how we look at the Ten Commandments, from a dread symbol of our doom, because we could not keep them, to a godly way of life described by our Loving God, who has already kept them on our behalf, and transforms us into new creatures, who begin to learn to walk in His ways. And all to His credit, we claim that no merit or righteousness of our own can stand before Him, but only the pure and innocent, perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ our Savior. In His Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Exodus 20:1-17, the Ten Commandments. (cf. Deuteronomy 5:1-21, the second place they are recorded; and Exodus 34:28, where they are referred to by number). The Jews count the first commandment as “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Even though this isn’t a “command” in the sense we usually think—how does it define and set the stage for what follows?
  2. Why can it accurately be said that when we disobey the Ten Commandments, we are acting against our own interest? How does it load us down with trouble, even in this life? Give examples for each of the Ten Commandments. Read Proverbs 1:17-18. Which commandments does this passage provide examples for?
  3. Read Proverbs 2, especially verses 1-5. How does receiving and treasuring (and doing) God’s commandments give us wisdom and good rewards?
  4. How is sinning against any of the commandments, first of all a sin against the first (“You shall have no other gods before me”)? Cf. Psalm 51:3-4. When we disregard God’s Word, what are we really saying about Him and His authority or power?
  5. Consider the thought that the Ten Commandments are His “house rules” (what “house” had they left behind in Exodus 20:2? What “house” would that make their new “home?”). Do we gain entrance to God’s house by grace or by works? Who lives in this “house”, and how does He regard repentant sinners come home? Luke 15:11-32
  6. We all fail and fall hopelessly short of the glory of God: Romans 3:23. Who gives us the free gift of redemption? How did He achieve it? Romans 5:19; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8.
  7. Why does Christ’s death on the cross remove the fear and dread from the commandments, and free us to love them and strive for them out of joy? Colossians 2:14; Psalm 119:47

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Into a Net that Christ Prepares

Into a Net that Christ Prepares
Text: Joshua V. Schneider
Meter: CM (86 86)
Melody: MCKEE (LSB 653 In Christ there is No East or West)

1. Into a Net that Christ Prepares
A world of sinners swim
His Gospel promises He shares
And whole, encircles them.

2. Though nets may strain, they will not break
His church, it firm shall stand,
For this confession it shall make:
“Christ is Living God and Man!”

3. Before His holiness we cry:
“Have mercy, Lord, on me!”
And on our knees hear His reply,
“From all your sins be free!”

4. “Caught live for purposes my own,
Gifts I bestow on you;
Are to be used as I have shown,
Serve them as I have you.”

5. Beholding Christ with unveiled face,
His image we will take;
Drawn on our service He will trace,
To live for other’s sake.

6. Into the world the Gospel casts
The joy of Christ’s new life!
Releases us from dreadful blasts,
Of sin and bitter strife.

7. God’s kingdom prospers by His grace
We’re sent by His command
Catch men and women, every race
Drawn by His nail-marked hand.

Sermon on Luke 5:1-11, for the 5th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Live Caught for the Lord's Service"

**See also in the following post my new hymn composition to match this text: "Into a Net that Christ Prepares"**
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. After a long night of fishing in the Lake of Genessaret, or Galilee, and with nothing to show for it, Peter was likely ready for a good nap. But Jesus was pressed by the crowds nearby and needed a place to teach them from. Jesus was new to Peter—He had just healed Peter’s mother-in-law and other sick people in the neighborhood, shortly before this. No doubt Peter was thankful. So when Jesus hops into the fishing boat and asks for a short row away from shore, so Jesus has room to teach the gathered crowd from Peter’s fishing boat, Peter willingly accepts.
But when the sermon is over, Jesus asks something that is sure to make Peter look ridiculous to the other fisherman. Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch. It’s against all fisherman’s logic; and perhaps feeling a little embarrassed to do it, Simon Peter answers, with a hint of disapproval: Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” When we are tired and weary from fruitless labor, and hear God’s call to work again, or to serve, then we might protest a little too. When we are called into action, God is not always sympathetic to wait till we are well rested and eager to go. A parent caring for a little infant knows that love is expressed in their untiring duty—waking in the night, feeding round the clock, changing diapers and cleaning up messes. In many other areas of life, duty calls whether or not we are weary—the doctor on call, the worker who is called in for an extra shift, the teacher who works late hours to catch up on the piles of grading. For all these reasons, God has given us a commandment that we should work 6 days, but also rest and worship on the 7th. A commandment that does us good, but all too often we ignore. We need our rest—but whenever duty calls it is an expression of love and faithfulness to answer and obey.
It was Jesus’ word that prompted Simon Peter to go and obey: But at your word, I will let down the nets. What happened next was a miracle! A sinful man was netted and caught in His own fishing boat, and kept alive in the presence of the Holy God! And after that miracle of forgiveness, he was given a new purpose by Jesus. …Wait…what…you thought the catch of fish was the miracle I was talking about? Well, ok, that was truly a miracle too—but it really just serves as the appetizer to the main meal.
Let me explain. I’m not much of a fisherman, and I don’t know if you fish much. But have you ever caught a fish and looked into its eye? Or maybe it’s eyes seem to be looking at you, wondering… “Am I what’s for dinner??” or “I’m getting a bad feeling about this…”  Well, I think there must have been a certain resemblance between the panicked look in the fish’s eye, and the look in Peter’s eye, when against all his fisherman’s wisdom, and against his hint of scorn for Jesus’ command, and against all odds in fishing, he was looking up into Jesus’ eyes with a net-busting catch of fish in his boat. “Oh no, I’m cooked”  or “I’m getting a bad feeling about this…” or really, as Peter said in his own words, falling on his knees before Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Suddenly the world seemed crashing in on him, his pride and self-confidence in his own corner of expertise were all in shambles, and he realized he was on holy ground. Like Isaiah or Moses before him, he dreaded what the holiness of God might do to him—because it finally dawned on him that he was in the presence of real majesty. Unassuming majesty, yes, but Jesus was clearly no ordinary carpenter with a few great moral teachings. Peter changed his address from “master” to “Lord” in an instant—realizing he was in the presence of real greatness.
But the miracle I’m talking about, is the miracle of Jesus’ response. He looked at that panicked, fishy look in Peter’s eye—the one that said, “I’m toast—depart from me, a sinful man”, and Jesus answered, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” No Peter, don’t fear—you’re going to live—in fact I have a special purpose for you! Jesus had moved from a rather un-specific request for Peter’s help—to borrow his boat and row a bit—to a test of Peter’s faith and willingness to obey—to now a very personal and specific request, to follow Jesus as His disciple. Jesus had caught or netted Peter in his own fishing vessel, all while Peter was trying to show off his superior fishing wisdom. But the miracle was that Jesus didn’t want to punish, destroy, or humiliate Peter, but to invite him into His service. The other miracle, of the great, bursting catch of fish, just helped illuminate Jesus for Peter—helped him see who Jesus really was, and that Jesus’ power and authority extended over all things, even the fish in the lake.
Jesus has room for plenty more “live caught” disciples to enter His fishing vessel of the church. In fact, the miraculous God-directed catch of fish, would foreshadow for Peter and the Christians, the great Gospel catch that God was going to continue sending His church. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the others had a déjà vu (John 21) as this happened all over again, with a great catch of fish, just before Jesus sent those “fishers of men” out to the real world with the message of His death and resurrection. Peter also needed an extra measure of forgiveness on that occasion too, before Jesus sent Him out to be his shepherd and fisherman.
Sometimes like Peter, we get a little over-confident in our own area of expertise, or we naively think that Jesus is happily confined to that neat area of my life called “Sunday morning”—but He doesn’t need to be messing around with my daily affairs—or rather, it’s none of His affair, what’s going on in my daily mess. But Jesus gently begs to differ. He gets involved, climbs in our fishing boat. It’s most puzzling, really, but He actually asks for our help. As if He needed anything from us—He who can fill a net of fish or multiply loaves to feed a multitude—it almost seems a little “rich” that He’s asking for our help. But it’s not like Jesus is just making up artificial requests. Just like asking Peter to row the boat and to fish, Jesus has a real use for your gifts and talents. What, you think God gave them to you for no reason? Or what, you think, what could God want with me, or use me for? Or what, you say, “Depart from me, I’m a sinful person Lord”? What’s that panicked, fishy look I see in your eye?
Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid”. Jesus truly has a plan and purpose for each of you—young and old, weak or strong, successful or struggling to get by. Jesus asks for your help, not because He can do without your help, but because Jesus doesn’t want to do without you. Jesus is after the fish—live fish!—by which I mean, disciples. He’s not after your skill in getting them in the net! He’s got that covered! While you and I aren’t called to be apostles and to necessarily die for the faith like Peter eventually did, we can be fishers of men. We can “live catch” people into the same net of grace that Peter found Himself in—that you and I find ourselves in when Jesus casts His net over our lives. And surrounds us whole, with our gifts and uniqueness, and sends us splashing out into His mission—joyously alive, but free and with new purpose and courage.
Maybe you’re not even in a “full time or part-time ministry.” Most of you aren’t pastors or teachers. You all have your own vocations and callings. God has sent you out on all sorts of callings and occasions for service in this life, and even to your dying breath you can lift up prayers to Him for others—even if you can do no more. I kept asking myself, “Why does God ask for our help?”, and I believe that at least part of the answer is that by working in God’s service—living life in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another—God begins to shape us to become more like Him. When God calls us into His service, in whatever area of life, we cease to live for ourselves, and we begin to live for Him, and for others. And through this, He begins to shape us, little by little, into the true pattern He first intended for us. As we are transformed by the renewing of our minds—we fade from the selfish image of the world, and begin to show glimpses of the glory God made us for, and is making us for one day in heaven.
Just think how it must have flashed for a moment in Peter’s mind, on the jackpot catch of fish. It must have made them a ton of money, and you can just think, if living just for ourselves, how Peter might have imagined that he could “cash-in” on a big living, with Jesus’ secret fishing powers. If we’re living just for ourselves, we’re beneath the glory God made us for. Maybe that’s part of what scared and troubled Peter. Here was Jesus, who obviously had a radically different set of priorities—Jesus wasn’t interested in making big money fishing—though He obviously could—He was after other fish—disciples. Jesus wasn’t about living for Himself. And maybe that scares us too—maybe it seems too risky or embarrassing to live for others in a more radical way. Maybe we’re a little frightened by our weaknesses or terrified by our sins…trembling before an awesome God.
But then Jesus steps over to us, lifts our head, and says, dear child, do not be afraid. And with His Word, we are forgiven. With His Word, we’re drawn into the net, alive, forgiven, redeemed, and repurposed. Repurposed from self-centered ways, to live for Him. Redeemed from loose roaming days, to follow Him. Reborn from a sin-dead craze, to be baptized in Him. And together with Peter, we witness the glory of the Lord, the Son of God, when we see Jesus living for others—and most especially dying for others, on the cross. There on the cross it became unmistakable how completely He lived for others, and not for Himself—even to death and the grave—and beyond to His resurrection, Jesus lived for others. He lives for us! He lives to call you joyfully to follow Him, forgiven and redeemed, serving in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What immediate, practical need drove Jesus to ask for Peter’s help? Luke 5:1-3. What had Jesus just previously done for Peter? Luke 4:38-39
  2. Why did Jesus’ instructions about fishing (Luke 5:4-5) seem doubtful to Peter? What is Peter insinuating that he thinks about this request? How does he address Jesus in verse 5? How does Peter address Him after the miracle, in verse 8? How had Jesus changed in Peter’s estimation?
  3. In our lives, where are the “boundaries” we artificially set for God’s work, influence, leading, or knowledge over us? In other words, how do we try to “compartmentalize” God’s role in our lives? How does He show He wants our whole life? Why is that such an uncomfortable reality for us?
  4. Why does God invite us to help Him? How can our gifts be used in His service? For what reason did Peter at first seem to refuse himself for the Lord’s service? Luke 5:8. What did he fear from Jesus? How do we sometimes do the same, or try to push God away?
  5. Jesus had “caught” Peter, in his own fishing boat, no less, but makes sure Peter knows this is not a “catch & release” or “catch to kill”, but a “live-catch,” and He wants Peter to do the same. How did Peter become transformed by Jesus’ call, into a servant for God’s purposes?
  6. How do we often misread God’s purposes in our lives, and so fail to follow His commands or listen to His call? What are God’s good purposes towards us? John 6:39-40.
  7. Why is God still sending us out to “live-catch” others? How does life change for those who follow His call? What are your own “callings” or vocations in life, and how can God work His purposes within them? What does God receive from your help? What do you receive from helping Him?