Sunday, May 23, 2010
And all the earth was one lip, and of words–one. And it was in pulling out from the East, and they found an opening in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. And they said, a man to a friend, "Come, let us make bricks dried in the sun, and let us burn them in fire." And it was to them the bricks for stone, and tar was to them mortar. And they said, "Come, let's build to us a city and a tower, and its head into heaven, and let's make to us a name: so that we won't be scattered on the face of all the earth. And Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower which was built by the sons of Adam. And Yahweh said, "Look, one people and one language to all of them; and this–the beginning of what they are to do; and now, nothing is cut off from them which they purpose to do. Come let Us go down and confound, there, their language, that they will not hear, a man's lip to his friend. And Yahweh scattered them from there, on the face of all the earth; and they ceased to build the city. On this, they called its name "Babel" because there Yahweh babbled the lips of all the earth. And from there, Yahweh scattered them over the face of all the earth.
Sometimes people have a few good ideas; but this is never sufficient. First, a few good ideas is never enough. All ideas had better be good so that the not-so-good ones don't overwhelm the decent ones. Secondly, what you do with those few good notions matters. The ideas themselves need to be implemented correctly. Otherwise, you'll never get positive results in the end. 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration, as the saying goes. But if you do it wrongly, the best of ideas is useless.
These sons of Adam had a few good ideas. They wanted to get up to heaven. Nothing wrong with that. They wanted to have a good name. This is a laudable goal. And they wanted to stay united. Togetherness is a fine thing. The problem these folks had wasn't with their ideas, but with how they thought they should be accomplished. Each time, they thought that it was up to *them* to get the job done. It wasn't. These good ideas were all those which God alone would accomplish.
First they started building a tower into heaven. God stopped them in their tracks. It wasn't for them to do the work to get themselves to heaven. You may be tempted similarly to think that your good works make you worthy of heaven. They don't. Or you might think your choosing to believe makes you worthy of eternal life. It doesn't. You can't do a single thing that brings you an inch closer to heaven.
You are saved by grace thru faith, not of your works at all. God takes you to heaven on the merits of Jesus Christ alone, and all that He has done for you. He kept the commandments perfectly in your place, earning heaven. Then He gives it up to you thru His death on the +. He then sends His promised Spirit at Baptism to cleanse your heart and dwell there to produce a trusting faith which clings to Jesus' works alone for your salvation. It is not you, but God alone Who takes you up to heaven!
Secondly, these sons of Adam wanted to make a name for themselves. But God wouldn't let it happen that way. The Lord confounded their languages so that a man couldn't even call his friend by name any longer. You too are fore-warned not to attempt to make your own name great. For that leads to the sin of pride, which goeth before a fall. It is not *your* name that God wants to be great.
So God gives you a new name, which you know is truly great. His Name! You are given His name at Baptism, God's family name, which becomes your new name. You were adopted into God's family on your baptism day, to bear the name of Christ as a Christian from that day forward. You heard that name of Jesus clearly, in your own language, in that gospel message that made you a believer in Christ. Just like God un-did the confusion of languages in the Pentecost miracle!
Lastly, the sons of Adam wanted to keep themselves united. Not God's goal at that time, since He had commanded them to fill the earth. So He filled the earth with them Himself, scattering them everywhere. You too fall into the temptation to stay in your own little clique, or to shy away from those places and people He wants you to interact with. The unity of a small, comfortable click isn't God's plan.
God provides unity among all believers in a special way. He takes sinners who have lots in common, and provides a union for them. As each of us comes up to the altar rail to receive the Lord's Supper for our forgiveness, Jesus is uniting us with Him as we eat His body given in death at Calvary, and drink His blood shed for us on the cross. And if we have a common union with Jesus, we are together also in communion fellowship with each other. You are made one with every forgiven sinner in Christ Jesus!
So, the next time you get a few *good ideas*, pause for a moment and be reminded how God performs His tasks much better than you do, and faithfully rely on Him to execute the best ideas to absolute perfection! In His Word and Sacraments, He provides everything you need for life and salvation.
Hymns from LSB:
#501 Come Down O Love Divine
#870 Now that Daylight Fills the Sky
#497 Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord
#500 Creator Spirit By Whose Aid
#489 Hail Thee Festival Day-Pentecost
Sunday, May 16, 2010
For this, say to the house of Israel, "So says Lord Yahweh, ‘Not for your sake, I Myself act, house of Israel, for if in My Name of holiness which you profaned in the nations, which you were there. And I make holy My great name, the one profaned in the nations which you profaned in their midst, and the nations will know that I Myself am Yahweh'–declaration of Lord Yahweh, ‘in being holy among you in their sight.' And I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land. And I will sprinkle on you water of cleansing and you will be cleansed from all your defilement and from all your surrounding idols; I will cleanse you! And I will give to you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will give in your inner parts, and I will get rid of the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give to you a heart of flesh. And My Spirit I will give in your inner parts; and I will act on you which work you walk in, and My judgments you will safe-guard, and you will produce."
The Israelites hadn't learned their lesson. They had been unfaithful to God back in Israel, so God had taken them captive in Babylon for some 70 years. But while there, they still kept messing up. God had given them His holy Name, naming them as His chosen people. But that Name of God they hadn't treated as a cherished possession. Instead of hallowing it, they *profaned* God's Name among the Babylonians, Medes and Persians. Now, you'd think God would just give up on such people.
How about you? You pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Hallowed be Thy Name", but do you really mean it? Oh, perhaps you don't curse or swear too often, but that's only part of God's name being holy for you. Even if you are pretty good at holding your tongue and avoid taking God's name in vain, have you been using His Name in a holy way? Have you considered what God does to make His Name holy?
You profane God's name when you teach contrary to what God's word says. Don't think that you don't. Even if you don't teach Sunday School or bible class, you teach just the same when you offer advice that comes from sources other than God's word. If you offer your human wisdom tainted with sin, the common sense of this sinful world, instead of what God's word teaches, you profane His name.
Although you ignore God's Name connected to His truth by avoiding SS or bible classes, or devotions at home, God keeps on instructing you with that word anyway. He sings it to you through the voice of your Pastor in the liturgy. He proclaims it to you in the readings & in the message of the sermon. God says, "Though you've been unfaithful teachers of my Word, I can't do anything but faithfully teach it to you. For that word bears witness of the Name of Jesus, your Savior Who died for you!"
You profane God's name whenever you live contrary to how Scripture says you ought. Don't think that you don't. Even if you never cuss with God's Name, you still profane that Name whenever you sin in other ways. For God's Name claims you to be His Own; yet you often act like you don't belong to God at all (whenever you gossip, lie, speak judgmentally, bad-mouth, or degrade your neighbor).
Though you live like you don't bear God's Name, God still lets you live, even though the wages of sin is death and all. You are a rebellious house like that of Israel in Ezekiel's day, but God doesn't deal with you like you deserve. Instead of your death, your heavenly Father sacrifices His Own Son to death at the cross in your place! His body is given for you there, and His blood is shed for you on Calvary. You eat that body and drink that blood for your forgiveness, and for your life restored!
You profane God's name when you simply forget who you are in Christ Jesus. You are not your own, but you've been purchased by a great price. Yet you act like you are independent from God, doing your own thing, following your own whims and neglecting to consider what God, your Owner, wants from you. You bear bad fruits, instead of those good fruits God would have you produce.
Though you fail so often to act like a child of God, God loved you enough to adopt you anyway! He gave you His holy Name at your Baptism, sprinkling you clean to bring you into His heavenly family. He took your old sin-sick heart of stone and removed it from you, nailing it to Jesus' body on the tree. In its place, God gives you the very pure heart of the flesh and blood Jesus as your very own! In Baptism, you now have a holy residence so that His very Spirit was given to live within your heart!
Yes, on our own we would be miserable failures in all we teach, in how we live, and in who we think we are. But you are not on your own. Your God is faithful toward you even when you are not. He cleanses you of all your sin, gives you His holy Name, and even produces good works through you!
Sunday, May 9, 2010
And they pulled out from Mt. Hor, the way of the Sea of Reeds to go around the land of Edom; and the souls of the people were despondent on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in a wilderness in which there is no bread, and there is no water, and our soul is at its end in this bread of starvation. And Yahweh set free among the people snakes of fire, and they bit the people, and many people from Israel died. And the people came to Moses, and they said, "We have sinned, for we spoke against Yahweh and against you; pray to Yahweh and He may take away from us the snakes." And Moses prayed on behalf of the people. And Yahweh said to Moses, "Make to yourself a fiery one, and place it on a pole, and it will be, everyone bitten and he looks to it, he will live. And Moses made a snake of bronze and he set it on a pole, and it was, if a fiery one bit a man, and he looked to the snake of bronze, he lived.
It may be an old wives' tale, but some say that the best hangover cure is "hair of the dog that bit you". It seems so strange, for you wouldn't be foolish enough to try and grab hair off a dog that has already taken a bite from your hide! If too much drinking is what has bit you, how could drinking more help? Usually folks are smart enough to avoid altogether those things that hurt them. But when those snakes with a fiery bite afflicted the Israelites, God chose a bronze snake on a pole for their remedy!
Scales of the snake that bit you seems a strange cure for a deadly venom, especially since God had already written out on the two tablets of commandments that they should make no graven image of anything in or under heaven. But what Moses made was no graven image. It was an image, and it was engraved into a piece of bronze, but it was no idol for the people to worship. This was no false god the people were looking to. This was the answer to their prayer! This was God in action to save!
This was not just an answer to the Israelite's prayer, but to the prayers of Jesus' disciples as well. Jesus tells them that if they ask the Father for anything, He'll give it to them in Jesus' name. This is powerful stuff! Jesus was about to overcome the world for them, in a peculiar, but familiar way. Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up by Moses, so too would Jesus be lifted up, so that those looking to Him in faith would receive eternal life! At the cross Jesus would become the answer to their prayers!
For you too, it is in looking toward an ugly sight that your otherwise starving souls are saved. There is nothing attractive about the scene of Calvary, much like the Israelites looking at an image of the snake which had just bit them. The image of Jesus' beaten body nailed to the cross, and His bloody sacrifice there is actually repulsive to our senses. But it is only by looking there, through faith, are you saved. Only there do you see redemption. Only in Jesus lifted up on the tree do you have life!
On that cross Jesus becomes snake-bit in your place. As God first cursed the serpent in the Garden of Eden, He told him that he would strike a deadly bite on the Seed of Eve's heel. Jesus is that Seed of Eve Whom Satan snake-bit with your sin and condemnation at Calvary. Jesus willingly received that bite, He who knew no sin of His Own became your sin there as He was lifted up on the tree. That bronze serpent foreshadows Jesus Who bore all that poison-venom and its deadly consequence.
Yet Jesus is also that Seed Who would strike the crushing blow on the head of that snake in the grass. Christ did just that at the cross, overcoming sin, death and the devil once and for all there. Jesus even conquers death at the cross, by His Own death in your place. He has destroyed death's hold on you forevermore! Your sins He bore, your condemnation He received, and your death He experienced. To prove His Calvary victory for you, Jesus raised Himself to life again on the third day–Easter Sunday!
Moses lifted up that bronze snake in the Sinai wilderness as a type of Christ for the Israelites. God was directing their attention far into the future when Jesus would be lifted up for their salvation. Their trust was not in an inanimate object, but in God their Savior. The Israelites were trusting in Christ their Redeemer, the one who could conquer death for them and grant them the gift of life. Looking up at that pole was God's way of helping them look forward, into the future, to the lifting up of their Lord.
You are similarly blessed to look backward to the lifting up of Christ for you on the cross. Whether you've grumbled against God or His spokesman in this place (your Pastor), you seek forgiveness. Yet you won't starve to death in the wilderness of your sins. Jesus is your Bread of Life. His body lifted up is given to you to eat, and your drink is His blood shed for you there, in the cup. Your eyes of faith look up to the cross, where Jesus brings you His gifts from Calvary each Sunday and Festival Day. Amen.
Hymns for today from LSB:
#469 Christ the Lord is Risen Today!
#766 Our Father Who From Heaven Above
#490 Jesus Lives the Victory Won!
Sunday, May 2, 2010
And you will say on that day, "I thank You, Yahweh, for You were angry with me; Your anger turned away; You comforted me. Look God–my Salvation. I trust and I do not fear; for my strong-pride and my song–Yah, Yahweh; and He became to me, my Salvation. And you will draw water in joy from fountains of salvation. And you will say on that day, "Praise to Yahweh; call on His Name; make known in the nations His deeds; cause them to remember that His Name is exalted. Harp praise of Yahweh, for majestic works; may this be known in all the earth. Cry aloud and shout for joy, inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst–the Holy One of Israel!"
For generations, the Lutheran church was known in Christendom as the *singing church*. While Roman priests chanted in Latin, Martin Luther and those who followed his reforms restored the congregational song to the church. Not only did the early Lutherans write hymns for the people to sing in worship, but the laity were taught to chant their responses to God in the liturgy. Like the church of old, God's people once again began to sing the song of the LORD's salvation!
But it is not just *singing* itself that is important, but *what* we sing is crucial. God has given us to sing His words and works of salvation. Yet what have so many in Christendom done? Peruse the dial of Christian radio stations, and you will find very little singing of salvation. Whether contemporary Christian music, or old gospel favorites, what predominates there are songs with peppy tunes and words of how people feel. But very little is found on the airwaves of what God actually says and does...
You are given by God to sing God's words. The responses you chant in the liturgy are almost all directly from scripture. You sing Lutheran hymns which come from God's word. Why? Because you are privileged to sing of the Lord's salvation! You sing of Christ-crucified, and you sing of the works of God in your life, where the Lord Jesus proclaims His love to you on Sunday morning, and where He blesses you in the ways He makes you holy in holy baptism, holy absolution and holy communion.
*How* we sing also matters greatly. Many Christian churches nowadays build a stage up front, place a band up their to perform before the audience, and give microphones to singers who do their best American Idol impression. This is not humble worship. This is prideful entertainment! Often the performers aren't singing hymns to Him at all , but rather turn their backs to the altar of God's presence and sing pop-music to please their family members and friends down in the pews.
You are given to sing God's song of salvation, humbly, to Him. Your singing is an act of confession, saying to God what He has already said to you. Your singing is at times somber, as you admit your sinfulness and how God has every right to be angry with you. At times your singing is joyful, recognizing that the only worth you have is not in what you do, but in what Christ Jesus did for you at the cross of Calvary, giving His life up in sacrifice for you, to save your soul and give you life eternal!
The *why* of your singing is also important. Some sing to show off their talent. Others may sing in attempt to prove their perceived standing before God to other Christians. But most sing because of their emotions. Now, singing is in part an emotional undertaking, but many foolishly think that's all it is. They judge a song based solely on how it makes them feel. But many things which make a person *feel good* for a time are not really very good things at all, in and of themselves.
The LORD gives you songs to sing because they reveal His goodness! You don't sing to feel good, but because you know that God makes you good! You sing of drawing God's waters of salvation daily from the baptismal font to cleanse you of your sin. You call on His name in song, the Name He gave you at your baptism! You sing praise to Jesus for His majestic works, from living perfectly on earth to earn your salvation, to His willingness to embrace the death of the + in your place to save you!
You are blessed to be Lutheran, in the "singing church"! But you are further blessed to sing hymns to Him, appropriately so. For as you do, your pride is not in your singing, but in Jesus for what He's done for you. For Jesus your Savior is your song! Your focus is on Him alone, the forgiveness He proclaims to you from the cross "Father forgive them", and on His majestic works of giving His body for you on the tree, and shedding His blood there to save you.
"Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus Lord to Thee we raise, manifest in valiant fight, quelling all the devil's might; manifest in gracious will, ever bringing good from ill. Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in man made manifest." Amen.
Hymns from LSB:
#454 Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle
#556 Dear Christians One and All Rejoice!
#478 The Day of Resurrection