Sunday, September 21, 2008

September 21, 2008 Proper 20A

"If Yahweh was not on our side...may Israel now say: If Yahweh was not on our side; in the rising against us of men. Then alive they would have swallowed us; in heat their anger against us. Then the waters would have washed us away; the stream would have swept over upon our soul. Then would have swept over our soul, the boiling waters. Blessed Yahweh; He has not given us to be torn in pieces in their teeth. Our souls as birds have flown to safety; from the mouth of the fowler's snare. Our help–in the Name of Yahweh; He made heavens and earth."
Psalm 124

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you really needed help? Perhaps you were failing history, or unable to finish a task at work. Maybe you were so behind on your bills that your debt was mounting. Or you may have bungled a relationship so badly that there was nothing you could do to smooth things over. At such seemingly hopeless times, all we can do is swallow our human pride, and sometimes begrudgingly, ask an outside source for the help that we so desperately need.

So it is with your salvation. There you are in a predicament in which you truly need outside help. God has given you His commandments to keep, but you've failed to love Him with your whole heart, nor have you loved your neighbors as yourself. You know that you've sinned against God & man, and that the wages of your sinful works is nothing but death–eternal death. God's Law convicts you so that you turn away from yourself, outwardly seeking help the only place it can be found–in Jesus!

But exactly how much help do you need? Some foolishly think that all you really need is a good jump-start from God. If Jesus does enough for you to get the ball rolling, you can take it and do all the rest. Some mistakenly think that this is what grace is. Just a shot-in-the-arm from Jesus to infuse in you just enough get-up-and-go to do the right things. Then, if you haven't done enough good to cancel out your sin, perhaps God will give you a second chance, some absurdly hope. But that's not grace.

God's Grace in Jesus is a complete rescue, like a bird facing certain death is freed from the fowler's snare to fly away completely free. No cooperation there. The help God offers is hardly just a booster shot. It is the complete cure! For Jesus cleanses you from all of your unrighteousness, from all of your sin in Holy Baptism. There you are rescued completely, delivered from death and the devil. Why? Because God is just that generous to do it all for you, completing your salvation in Christ Jesus.

Others are foolish enough to consider that they must strive & struggle to do enough on their own first, before God will intervene. Such people believe that you must try your best to be good enough first in order to merit God's favor. If you strive hard enough toward perfection, then, and only then do these folks believe God will have mercy on your soul, and make up the difference in the end. Once you've earned God's help by your own efforts, only then, they believe, will God come to your aid.

This foolish Method does not merit God's grace. Jesus' parable today makes that clear. Whether one worked hard, or hardly at all, God's gift was the same. For sometimes, in God's kingdom, the last are first, and the first–last. God does not show partiality. He is on someone's side only because He wants to be, not because they have earned it. This is the gospel message, that God wants all to be saved & come to the knowledge of the Truth, Who is Jesus, Who died for you on the cross so that you may live!

Still more believe that it's too good to be true that God does all the helping. Surely He would want us to meet Him half way, they foolishly think. These folks are willing to let Jesus do all of the work so far as grace is concerned, but seek to rob God's job when it comes to faith. They would turn God's gift of faith into a work of man, a decision of human will, a conscious choice, or a sincere commitment to Jesus. Their confidence is in their invitation to Jesus to come into their heart and be their Lord.

Puffed up with pride that they have found Jesus, these people are surprised to find out that it is He that found them! Jesus chooses to give his gifts of faith & grace according to His will, not man's. He finds the lost often before they even realize that they are lost! He seeks them out for work in His kingdom, work He gives not as drudgery, but as joy!. For He has already done the harshest work, giving His body to death on the cross & shedding His blood there, for us to eat & drink for forgiveness.

So what do you do when you are in great need for help with your salvation? Nothing! For you are saved by grace through faith, not of works, it is the gift of your most generous God! For your salvation is not about what you do, but it is all about the help of your God, Who is on your side, to give you life!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

September 7, 2008 Pentecost 17A Psalm119s

The double-minded I hate; yet your instruction I love. My hiding-place & my shield,You are; in Your word I wait. Evildoers from me depart; and I treasure the commandments of my God. Uphold me according to Your spoken word & I will live; and do not let me be shamed from my hope. Sustain me & I will be safe; and I will look upon Your statutes continually. You make light of all those who wander from Your statues; for lies are falsehood. As dross You make stop all the wicked of the earth; therefore I love Your testimonies. My flesh bristles from fear of You; and from Your judgments I am afraid.

What does it mean to be *great*? One man claimed back in the 60s to be the *Greatest*, but now he has been humbled by Parkinsons. Two cousins of Jesus once had their mom ask for the two greatest seats in heaven next to Jesus, but were quickly shot down and put in their place. Last week we heard Peter, self-appointed leader of the disciples speaking as though he was greater than Jesus, yet was summarily humbled, called *Satan* by his Lord, and told to take a back seat behind his Savior.

Jesus reveals another way to be great, one that comes as a big surprise to most. He reminds his disciples, and us, that you cannot do anything to make yourself great in His kingdom. So if you want to be great there, you must seek a different Actor, a different Do-er, a different Achiever for your greatness. Much like a child, who knows his own lack-of-greatness looks up to others, so too do you look to God, and to Him alone, to bestow upon you the greatness of His kingdom.

So those who are proud of their own greatness on earth will find that it gets them nowhere in the kingdom of heaven. The psalmist tells us that God will make light of those who wander from His word. He will treat such folks as dross, the impurity that is removed from purified gold and discarded. He causes them to stop, to cease to be great at all, in His kingdom. So those on judgment day who cry out to Jesus, "Lord, Lord, look what we did for You" will be turned away, as those Jesus never knew.

"What?! I thought we were supposed to do things for Jesus, Pastor!" Indeed, in our holy living, God accomplishes much of His good will through our actions. But our acts of kindness aren't really for God's benefit, since He doesn't need anything. Nor can they benefit us, for we are already saved by the righteousness of Jesus bestowed in Holy Baptism. God may well bless our neighbors, who need these good works God does through us, that even they may be blessed & even perhaps saved! But these sanctified works do nothing to merit heaven for you.

Does this cause a bit of fear as you wonder how Judgment Day will go for you? Good! It's good to have a few goosebumps as you consider God's judgment against sin, the wages of which is death. Judgment Day is serious business, and we all should have some fear of God's final judgment as the Psalmist does. Not that we are so scared that we have no hope. But scared enough that we pray the Lord's Prayer, trusting that He will lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one at last.

But if we try to approach Jesus with a proud attitude of all the stuff we did for Him on the last day, tooting our own horns, we will be in for a sad surprise. If we act as though we are *great enough* for Jesus to want the likes of us in His heaven, we will find nothing but disappointment in the end. Instead our attitude is to be humble children, recognizing that we are imperfect, poor sinners who deserve nothing good. Then, knowing that we have not earned God's favor, we have only humble trust.

"Ok, Pastor, what do I have to do to get such humble trust?" Actively–nothing. You must simply be still and know that He is God. For such humble faith comes by hearing God's Word. His word upholds you, sustains you, makes you safe, and gives you life. His word gave you faith back when you were baptized as a child. That same Gospel message strengthens your faith, keeping it firm and Christ-focused each time you hear it preached, or receive forgiveness in the sacrament of Absolution.

So, do you want to be great in God's kingdom as the disciples wanted? Know that you cannot do it for yourselves. Be made like a child, humbled by God's Law which reminds you that dead in your trespasses, you could do nothing to get there on your own. Then trust Jesus through your God-given child-like faith, for He has accomplished all for you, loving God's commandments and keeping them in your place, and then giving up His life unto death on the cross for you, giving His body & blood as your food.

In God's Word you keep on waiting, child-of-God, with expectant hope in Jesus for your life forever in heaven!

Friday, September 5, 2008

August 31, 2008 Proper 17 Psalm 43

Judge me, God, and contend my contention from a people not of loving-kindness; from a man of deceit and twisted, let me escape. For You–God, my Fortress, Why do You spit me out? Why do I dress as a mourner walking in the oppression of an enemy? Send Your Light and Your Truth, cause them to lead me; and cause them to bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling place. And I will come to the altar of God, to the God of my great joy; and thank You on a lyre, God, my God. Why are you bowed low, my soul; and do you groan in me? Wait upon God; for yet I will thank Him, Savior of my face--My God.

How do you really know that you are on the right track? How can you be sure that the way you are thinking is the best way to think? How can you be certain that the things you are doing are the most beneficial for you and for others? Well, Peter shows us in today's Gospel how not to think or speak as we ought, that's for sure. But the Psalmist today gives us the best answer: that God act first, to send His Light and His Truth, causing them to lead us into the best thoughts, words & actions.

The first thing never to try first is emotions. Sometimes we are tempted to trust our gut, and think, speak & act based on how we feel. Many a failed marriage starts out this way, for example. But as soon as the honeymoon is over and the sentiments of bride & groom begin to change, they think that they aren't *in love* anymore, and seek to break up. How sad that so many today fail to remember that it is *God* who joins together husband & wife, and keeps them together for better or worse.

Peter certainly *felt* that Jesus' imminent suffering & death wasn't appropriate. "Lord have mercy on you" is what he literally says to Jesus. Though Peter felt that Jesus should get the mercy, he failed to see a greater mercy, the loving-kindness of God coming to him & to all people at the +. There, Jesus would give up His body to death, & shed His blood for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins. That same body & blood He gives us to eat & drink this day for your forgiveness, life & salvation.

A second place we should never begin is with logic. What seems right to our simple minds is often not what is best. Like when we think that we know how to grow our church. We are tempted to treat it like a marketplace, seeking to get folks to make their decision to come here in their church shopping. "If we only give folks what they want, we can fill the pews." But this thinking quickly forgets that it is God Who decides to give faith to people, & it is He Who causes them to come to church in the end.

Peter thought it illogical for the Messiah to die. What good would a dead God be, after all? But Peter was not speaking God's word of truth. The devil spoke through him, words of deception. So when God says something, by faith, we simply take it as truth, regardless of whether it makes sense to us. God proclaims His word to you through the simple human vessel of your Pastor, yet you accept it because it is God's message of love to you in Christ Jesus Who died your death so you may live!

A third place we ought not begin is popular opinion, or common sense. We are tempted to fall into this trap each election cycle. Politicians put their finger to the wind, and then promise whatever the majority of people seem to want. Since it works for our leaders, we follow suit, and try to live our lives in ways that bother the fewest people. But common sense isn't all it's cracked up to be. That's why it is only common. It is not as enlightened as God's rather uncommon way of dealing with us sinners.

Peter falls into this trap as well. He is the spokesmen for the 12, after all. He knows their collective sentiments, and that of the many other followers of Jesus. He speaks the common things of men, and misses the uncommon things of God. Yet this is not an unforgivable sin for Peter. His baptism in the Jordan washes away even this transgression. As does your baptism, much superior to the common everyday washings, for it cleanses you from all unrighteousness in Christ Jesus,.

So before you act or open your mouth and insert your foot, be still a moment and know that the Lord is God. Even before you start to think your own thoughts, pause a bit and consider God's way of thinking first. When God's word of light & truth reminds you that you are a baptized child of God, that you are fed from His family Supper table, and that your ears constantly are hearing of His loving-kindness to you in Christ Jesus, then you are prepared by God for your thinking, speaking & acting.

August 24, 2008 Proper 16 Psalm 42

As a deer pants upon the water brooks, so my soul pants to you, God. My soul thirsts to God, to the living God; when will I come and appear (at) the face of God? My tears, to me, my bread, days and nights; in their saying to me all the day, "Where is your God?" These things I remember and I pour out in me, my soul; for I had gone through in the crowd; I went slowly to the house of God. In a voice of joy and thanksgiving; a multitude keeping the festival. Why are you bowed low, my soul; and do you groan in me? Wait upon God; for still I will thank Him, Savior of my face. My God, in me, my soul is bowed low, therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and the Hermans, from mount Mitzar. Floods to floods cry out to the sound of Your canals; all Your breakers and Your waves over me have passed. Daily Yahweh will command his loving-kindness; and in the night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I will say to God, my Rock, "Why do You forget me? Why do I mourn, in the oppression of an enemy do I wail? In a breaking in my bones my oppressors scorn me;

Have you ever been in a situation where it seemed like all the cards were stacked against you? ...a time when nothing was going right, and you began to question whether or not God was even anywhere to be found for help? Perhaps there have been occasions when it appeared to you that even the gates of hell had been stacked up against you. At such times we are tempted to want to give up on God, since we have the impression that He might have given up on us.

Yet we don't give up on God, since we know that Jesus hasn't abandoned us. We remember as the Psalmist says, that He is God our Rock. Then we go to Him in prayer with the honest question, "Have you forgotten about me God?". His answer is, "Of course not, I remember you in my Son Jesus, for He is the foundation Rock upon which you are built. In Him you remain steady & sturdy, no matter what flood waters & waves may try to topple you over. For Jesus is my loving-kindness to you."

We may find ourselves tempted to disbelieve that Jesus is our Rock. Some foolishly thought that Jesus words to Peter (whose name means *stone*) indicated that this disciple is the first Pope and a rock upon which the church should be built. But the church cannot be built on a petros, or small stone like St. Peter. Upon such an unstable human footing, it would surely crumble. It must be built on the petra or bedrock foundation who is none other than Christ Jesus, our Savior.

We may also fall into the trap of thinking that the foundation of our faith is Peter's words alone. His words make a good confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. But that confession alone cannot be the foundation stone upon which God's church is built. For a confession of faith is only as solid as the One Who is confessed. Your faith is only as reliable as the one you believe *in*. That one can only be the Savior of your face, and your God, Christ Jesus.

Still, we get worried and apprehensive, especially when Jesus doesn't act to rescue us from our present predicament as quickly as we would like. So we hastily begin to take over for God, trying to right our own ship in the midst of the current storm. But we find that we just make matters worse. That's when we learn the hard way to simply wait upon the Lord, because the opportunity will soon come to thank Him, when He indeed does act to save you from the current calamity.

You can trust God to deliver you from your temporary woes because He has already rescued you from your eternal pains. In Holy Baptism, Jesus has delivered you from death & the devil and given you eternal salvation, as the words & promises of God declare. Your victory in Christ is assured at the cross of Calvary where He defeated the devil, death & hell once and for all. That is why the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church of Christ Jesus, your Champion forevermore.

You can trust God to forgive you your current failings since He proclaims your sins forgiven, again and again in His Gospel word. This word is the Key which opens the doors of heaven, setting you free from your sins here on earth that eternal life be always opened to you by God's grace. Whenever your heart is heavy and you go to your pastor, He absolves you of all your sins, and by it your sins are forgiven, as surely and certainly as if Jesus were telling you face to face, Himself.

You can trust God to feed you better bread than your tears. For in addition to your daily bread, Jesus gives Himself to you in the bread & wine for the forgiveness of your sins in the Lord's Supper. Amen.

Monday, September 1, 2008

August 17, 2008 Proper 15 Psalm 123

A song of ascents. To You, I lift up my eyes; enthroned in the heavens. Look, as eyes of servants to the hand of their lord; as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress. So our eyes to Yahweh our God; until He has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, Yahweh, have mercy on us; for greatly are we filled with contempt. Greatly filled in our souls, with the ridicule of those who are not troubled; with the contempt of the haughty.

Have you ever noticed how the old, traditional kyrie used in the liturgy on Sunday morning cries out for God's mercy not just once, but 3 times? Lord have mercy...Christ have mercy...Lord have mercy. Of course, this 3-ness reminds us of the Trinity, but also of something more. It reminds us of the persistance of faith, which keeps on praying to God for the same things. Thrice today the psalmist speaks of God's mercy. 3 times also, the Canaanite woman of Lebanon asks for mercy from Jesus.

Sometimes our first reaction is thinking that it is bad to repeat our requests to God. If we keep praying for the same things over & over, won't that sound like pestering to God? But we do well to remember that our praying is not for God, but for us! We need to keep praying for the same things, as we do in the Lord's Prayer, as a faith-reminder that we are still trusting in God to provide. Faith keeps on asking, keeps on hoping, and continues to trust in God to finally answer in His Own timing.

We may react with a bit of contempt toward such praying. "Who does that woman think she is, begging God for a hand out?" We might with regard to those who pray to win the lottery, or for other worldly things. But we ought never feel this way with respect to those who pray for God's mercy, including ourselves. All Christians need regular helpings of God's good grace, the more the better. We should never become complacent, thinking that since we are baptized, we have enough mercy.

Yet another wrong reaction to requesting God's mercy is to think that you don't have to. If you begin to consider that you are pretty self-sufficient, able to do without God's mercy, think again. There may be many things you can do for yourself in this world, but you simply cannot pull yourself up by your own bootstraps to save yourself. Christianity is not a do-it-yourself endeavor. It is all about relying on the love of Jesus Christ, shown to us in His willingness to die our death, Himself, on the cross.

Both the psalmist and the Canaanite woman show us the proper response to God's mercy–asking for it in humble, persistent faith. The psalmist is willing to see himself as a humbled servant before his master, deserving of nothing. He must rely fully upon the kindness of His Lord. So too, the pagan woman who is perfectly willing to consider herself but a *dog* before Jesus. Yet she trusts that even a small crumbs of Jesus' mercy will be sufficient to help her demon-possessed daughter.

Such humility isn't easy. It is not an Olympic sport you can train for. For if it was, you would work so hard to be humble that you would begin to brag & boast that you are the humblest of all, winner of the gold medal for humity. No, humility is not achieved, it is given, by God. His Law condemns us as prideful & haughty whenever we think we don't need Him. God's commandments cut us to the quick, knocking us off our pedestals, and even killing our sinful human nature–that prideful Old Adam.

Once we come to accept that we can't do it ourselves, and have not earned or merited anything good from God, that's when His merciful gospel love does its thing. You see baptism as God's merciful washing away of your sins. You recognize the proclamation of Jesus' gospel as His personal message of love to you from the cross. Your eyes look to your God, Christ Jesus, and by faith they discern His very body & blood, in the bread & wine, for your forgiveness in the Lord's Supper.

So you cry out repeatedly to God as in the kyrie: Lord have mercy upon us...have mercy upon us...have mercy upon us. Just as the psalmist repeats this kyrie in Psalm 123. Just as the Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus for mercy once, and seems to be ignored; so she cries out again to His disciples who wish to send her away; and then again she pleads with Jesus a third time for help. Then she willingly allows herself to be a humbled dog in His presence, praying only for crumbs.

You have it far better. You are blessed to be baptized children of God and part of His heavenly household. You are in the presence of your Lord Jesus as He proclaims His gospel love to you again and again. You are invited to the feast to eat more than crumbs. You are blessed to eat of Jesus Own body & blood for your forgiveness, eternal life, and everlasting salvation. Amen.