Saturday, October 25, 2008

October 26, 2008 Reformation Psalm 46

God, to us, a Refuge and Strength; a Help in trouble, well proved. Therefore we will not fear in a changing earth; and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. Its waters roar, foam; the mountains quake at its swelling. Exalt! There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God; the holy dwelling of the Most High. God is in her midst, she will not be moved; God will help her in the dawn of the morning. Nations uproar, kingdoms totter; He raised up in His voice, the earth melts. Yahweh of armies is with us; our Stronghold is the God of Jacob. Exalt! Come, look at the works of Yahweh; He has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes war stop to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and breaks the spear, He burns the chariots in fire. Stop, and know that I Myself am God; I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Yahweh of armies is with us; our Stronghold is the God of Jacob. Exalt!

Have you ever encountered a foe simply too overwhelming for you? Like a politician down 20 points to an opponent with only 2 weeks to go before election day. Maybe it was a class you were failing, with no hope of passing the final. Perhaps it was an illness for you or an ailment for family member, and the prospects for recovery were dim. Or it could be a relationship you'd sufficiently messed up that there seemed no hope for repair. At such times, you cry jumpin' Jehosephat & pray for a miracle.

The real Jehosephat, king of Judah, faced an overwhelming foe of his own. The mighty Ammonites of Jordan joined the Moabites & Edomites of the South to form a huge army. They marched on Judah in battle. King Jehosephat prayed before the people for God's help, and He was answered–the battle belonged to God. He fought all 3 armies Himself to save Judah. He turned the enemy armies against one another, & they were all killed. In joyful response the sons of Korah sang Psalm 46!

Which brings us to the overwhelming foe of Jesus' day. Not an outward force like the Roman legions. Such an enemy, no one would deny. But this was the enemy within. This was an enemy which enslaved the people, without many of them realizing it until it was too late. This was no ordinary illness which rose up within men, for such could be cured with medicines & treatments. This enemy was sin, which wrought death. And not just ordinary, everyday death, but eternal, permanent death.

Now, the pharisees of Jesus' day were in denial of this enemy within. They strove to keep some 613 commands they found in the scriptures, foolishly thinking they could defeat this enemy on their own. Modern day pharisees wrongly assume the same thing, proudly announcing that they are no longer sinners of any sort. The pharisee within your flesh may also rear its ugly head to claim that you can fight the foe of sin on your own, but you know that you cannot. Sin is much too powerful an enemy.

For sin enslaves you. It captures you, and causes you to think its thoughts, feel its feelings, desire its desires, and do its dark deeds. If you stop denying sin's hold on you, and admit it has thoroughly enslaved you, they you will realize how bad off you really are in the face of this foe. For at such times, the Law of God has done its job well, convicting you of sin and the hopelessness and helplessness you face on your own in dealing with such an overwhelming & devastating opponent.

Martin Luther realized this, all too well. He knew what a great sinner he was, so much so that even dedicating his life to God's service as a monk could not help him overcome his servitude to sin. He was a failure at fighting this foe. But then the Gospel of God finally dawned its light on Luther. There was a Champion who was strong enough to defeat this enemy of sin–Christ Jesus! So Luther stopped trying to battle sin himself, and searched the Scriptures to see how God fought for him!

Jesus, God's Son made Luther free indeed! That is when Luther realized that the Christian church was not all about what man does, but about what God does to free us from sin by forgiveness. So Luther sought out all those ways God sets us free from sin-slavery in the means of grace. He discovered baptism which delivered you from death as a rebirth to everlasting life. He found the preaching of the gospel which declares you absolutely forgiven from the Pastor as from Christ Himself. He uncovered Jesus' very body & blood hidden in bread & wine of communion to save you.

Rejoice dear friends in Christ, for the battle agains the overwhelming foe of isn isn't yours. It's God's! He is your Mighty Fortress of refuge & strength! There is a river which makes the city of God glad. A river flowing from Jesus' Own pierced side at the cross, through His water & blood of forgiveness. Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October 12, 2008 Proper 23A Psalm 73

Indeed, God is good to Israel; to the clean of heart. Yet I, my feet almost turned away; as nothing my feet slipped. For I was jealous at those boasting; prosperity of the wicked, I saw. For there is no suffering in their deaths; and fat is their belly. In the troubles of men, they are not; and as men they are not plagued. Therefore pride circles their neck; violence clothes them as a garment. As fat, their eyes go forth; the imaginations of their heart overflow. They mock, and they speak in wickedness; oppression from on high, they speak. They set in the heavens, their mouths; and their tongue walks on the earth. Therefore, their people return here; and abundant waters are drained down in them. And they say, "How does God know; and is there knowledge in the most high?" Look, these are godless; and carelessly for a long time they became great in strength. Only in vain have I cleansed my heart; and washed, in innocence, my hands. And I was plagued all the day; and my punishment in the mornings.

Doesn't seem sometimes like life is not fair? You try to take care of yourself, only to have some odd malady come upon you to bring you down, while those with unhealthy lifestyles never seem to become ill. You strive to be honest, yet you see those who lie & cheat succeeding much more than you. You are a nice person with much to offer, yet the guy or gal you care about chooses another, less-worthy companion. Not only do you think life is not fair, but you may question if God is fair.

In today's Gospel, God doesn't seem to be acting fair. He is the King Whose invitees to the wedding fail to show up, so He invites strangers. But one of the strangers shows up without the proper attire. No big deal, we would like to assume, since we view God as One Who doesn't care about the outside, but only what's on the inside. So he ties up the poorly clothed guest & casts him into the outer darkness, presumably to die! Now that doesn't seem very fair at all!

The psalmist Asaph shares a similar frustration in Psalm 73. He speaks from the perspective of a clean-hearted man, innocent of the sins of the prideful & violent men of the world. Yet, though undeserving, they are richly blessed with food, comfort and health. But what about the godly one? He is plagued, punished & persecuted. He is mocked & oppressed, with seemingly no way out. Why are the godless seemingly blessed, while the faithful one is allowed to suffer and die? It just isn't fair.

Wait just a moment...what exactly is *fairness*? Some would say equality at least would be more fair. Others would argue that getting what you earn or deserve would be fair. But neither one of these is God's idea of fairness. For God's justice doesn't punish those this world would discipline, nor does He bless those whom this world would reward. Which is why the Righteous One ends up the One being punished...which is why the One without proper clothing is the One Who is forsaken.

In all honesty, there is only One Who is truly righteous. Only One person has ever been able to clothe Himself in His Own holiness. Only One is completely pure & innocent. Only One is truly Godly. And that One is none other than Jesus, Himself. So He is the only One truly worthy, on His Own, to come to the wedding feast. He is clothed in the white robes of His Own holy righteousness, and is the only One Who should never be persecuted, plagued or punished. But He was, anyway.

It appears that God's justice is quite different than this world's fairness. Jesus, God's Son Who had earned life eternal in heaven by His perfect obedience chose, willingly to give that up. He forsook the holy garment of His Own righteousness and gave it to you to clothe you in Holy Baptism. He is the only One found at the wedding feast without clean clothes. For He Who knew no sin became your sin, and received your punishment at the +, cast out & forsaken, into the utter darkness of death.

Jesus underwent all of this so that you could receive the blessed invitation to come to the wedding. The gospel message of the Son's great love for you drew you to accept that invitation by the gift of faith. Cleansed from your sins which were washed to Jesus at the cross, you are now and evermore clothed in the wedding garment of His Own holy righteousness. And you come to the wedding feast to be satisfied from His banquet table, eating His body and drinking His blood for your forgiveness.

Is God fair? Not as this world counts fairness, for which we are grateful. For your God is better than fair, giving the punishment you deserve to Jesus, and instead, giving you the life Jesus earned!

October 5, 2008 Proper 22A Psalm 80

A vine, from Egypt, You have torn out; You drove out nations and planted it. You cleared ground before it; and it rooted its root and it filled the land. Covered mountains (with) its shadow; and with its boughs, the cedars of God. It sent its branches to the sea; and to the river, its shoots. Why have You torn down its walls, and they pluck, all who pass through that way. And ravages it, a wild boar from the forest; and small animals of the field feed on it. God of armies, return now; look down from heaven and see, and care for this vine. And the stand which is planted of Your right hand; and upon the Son You made strong for Yourself. It is burned in fire, cut down; from the rebuke of Your face, they perish. May Your hand be on the man of Your right hand; on the Son of Man You made strong for Yourself. And we will not turn away from You; revive us, and on Your Name we will call. Yahweh, God of armies, restore us; cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.

Have you ever wanted a second chance? Perhaps you acted foolishly, or in your laziness you failed to do your best, and you wanted another opportunity to try again. Maybe you've regretted how things have turned out for you in relationships, with finances, or in health matters. You wish that you could turn back time and start over again, but you cannot. That's just how Asaph felt when the impending doom of the Assyrian army was at Israel's doorstep. Yet, God's people still hoped for a second chance for life...

Fast forward to the days of the New Testament, and things haven't changed much. Israel is still the Lord's vineyard, but the ruling clergy and leading laymen had long rejected God's spokesmen, and even God's Own Son, planning to put Jesus to death! So God would remove the vineyard from them, and give to those of faith, who would bear Him the fruit of faithfulness. Just as God allowed Israel to be destroyed in the Old Testament, the same thing happened in the New Testament. But God always leaves a faithful remnant.

Fast forward to today. God has replanted His vineyard in the Christian church. He has blessed it richly with His Word of Gospel love to be proclaimed, and with His forgiving actions in the sacraments. But how have we reacted to all God has done for us? In many circles, the Christian faith is all but absent in the churches. Crosses disappear and the message of forgiveness of sins is shunned, lest people be offended. God's sacramental acts are replaced with what man wants to do.

The hope we have is that we may yet remain the faithful remnant of God, even in these trying times. When almost all the tribes of Israel were destroyed by Assyria, the one tribe of Judah remained faithful and true. When the Pharisees & Sadducees rejected Jesus, some so-called-sinners received Him by faith and were saved. In this era of tolerance and lack of accepted truth, will you be able to stand fast & firm in your God-given faith, trusting & relying on Christ Jesus no matter what happens?

By God's grace, you will. For just as the psalmist prayed for a second chance for his nation, so too has God given you a second chance at life, already! For you have tasted the first death when you died to sin in holy baptism. There, you were buried with Christ Jesus by baptism into His death. Sinful you perished that day, your old Adam drowned & killed in the waters of the font. For,as Jesus didn't stay dead in the tomb, but raised Himself to life, you are raised in Christ through baptism to a new life!

Like a replanted vine, you have been restored, revived to life again, a life that is now everlasting! In that life you are fed with something better than three square meals a day. You are nourished with the spiritual food of Christ Jesus' body and blood for your forgiveness. And it is no dead body on which you feast, nor lifeless blood which you drink in communion, for it is the ever-living body of Jesus from God's right-hand, and the life-giving blood which flows from His veins which you receive.

The Son of Man, Christ Jesus, is the Genuine Vine into which you have been grafted unto life eternal. His Father's face now shines upon you for Jesus' sake. For you receive His loving grace each time the Pastor pronounces your sins forgiven in the Name of your Triune God, upon which you call. The Lord smiles upon you with that forgiving grace which is delivered to you from the Pastor, as from Christ Himself–the complete, the total, the absolute forgiveness of your Savior Jesus.

You have already been given a second chance at life. Though you forfeited your first chance, since the wages of your sin is death, you are blessed to walk now in newness of life with Christ Jesus. By His grace, though you have tasted the 1st death of your sinful self in baptism, you need never taste of the second death. For when your last hour comes, you will sleep in Jesus to awaken in heaven. Amen.