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.