The Word, in Season and out of Season

 

Paul wrote to Timothy, “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season.”  Martin Franzmann wrote in his hymn, “Preach you the Word and plant it home to men who like or like it not, the word that shall endure and stand when flow’rs and men shall be forgot.”

Preaching the Word when men like it not or even when you yourself would soon as not, is a theme running through the lessons for this Sunday.

In Jeremiah 20: 7-13, the prophet accuses God of deceiving him.  He has become a laughing stock.  His close friends are plotting against him.  All he seems able to preach is violence and destruction, in return he is denounced.  He determines “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name.”  But when he does, a burning fire rages within him and he can’t hold it in.”

I saw on Facebook this week an article about a church in North Carolina which is going to try not mentioning God in hope of attracting more people.  The question is, will they be able to say at the end of the day, along with Jeremiah, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord!”  or will they hear the Father say, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

Preaching the Word is not a guarantee of success in numbers.  But Jesus says, even in the face of opposition and betrayal, we are not to fear, for the Father who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground certainly knows our situation.

Preaching the Word, is of vital importance.   Paul wrote to the Romans: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The Word is the difference between life and death.

First Day of Summer in the Garden

 

Before the heat of the 90 + day set in I spent a couple hours gardening; that is, harassing the weeds enough to set them back a week or so.  Snapdragons, Petunia, Vincas, Sunflowers, Elephant Ears and tomatoes are all coming along.  Salmon colored Daylilies are at their peak while Cone Flowers are hitting their stride.  Easter Lilies have finished blooming and the Surprise Lilies wait for the end of July to leap out of the ground like Flamingo feet in the air.

God set us humans in a garden.  But gardeners should be under no allusion that we can recreate Eden, though we strive to do so. We garden between Eden and the new heaven and new earth where the water of life flows bright as crystal from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  On both sides of the river the tree of life grows with its twelve kinds of fruit and the leaves providing… healing. (Rev. 22:1-2)

The garden is the scene of our Fall, but also of our resurrection for it was Jesus who not only prayed in a garden, but was buried and rose to new life in a garden.

One year I expressed to my neighbor June Launhardt that things didn’t turn out as I had hoped.  June said, “Well that give us something to work for next year.”  So, we garden in hope according to the promise of Genesis 8:22, “As long as the earth lasts, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, they will never cease.”

Reflecting

 

We were returning from a Sunday morning in Hillsboro, Il. We’ve out and about on four consecutive Sundays.  We’ll be back in Hillsboro on July 2, and then at Prairietown on the 9th.

Becky said, “You’re doing what you always wanted to do.  You’re a circuit riding preacher.”

Me, “But I’m glad I’m not doing it by horse.  I like mine under the hood.”

Becky was right.  Since I retired, sort of, in 2003, I’ve been running around and preaching or filling vacancies which are often less than a year.  She also mentioned that it was good to get out of the city and into the country.

It takes patience to let God work things out according to his plan.  In the late 1990’s I began thinking about doing smaller churches, since it seemed that God wanted me to do large ones for most of my ministry.  Also, to do something in a diverse cultural setting.

I should point out that for me prayer is thinking about things.

God has granted my thinking-about-things -prayers.  As the Psalmist says, “I will walk in the land of the living.”  In my case, that’s no small miracle.   I’ve been running around and preaching for the last 14 years.  And I’ve served in a largely African -American congregation with some members originating in West Africa.

Psalm 116, says, “What shall I render to the Lord for his benefits to me?… I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

Well, psalm writer, I couldn’t have said it better.

 

The Shepherd’s Compassion

Pentecost 2, 2017, Hillsboro, Il.

Matthew 9:35-10:4

Crowds.  Great crowds. From Galilee in the north to Judea/Jerusalem to the south and all up and down the eastern side of the Jordan River from the sea of Galilee to the Salt Sea, they came to follow him.  Sometimes we need to get away from the crowds, so he took his disciples up a mountain and taught them, “Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual poverty, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied; Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  He continued, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” What other light do we have, but him who is the light of life? He taught them to pray, “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come, Your will be done…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven others.”  And he said, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”  All his teachings within the circle of his presence as Immanuel, God with us. The one who would save us from our sins for with him is forgiveness of sins.

When Jesus came down the mountain there were the crowds.  And out of the crowd stepped a leper, a man with a skin infection, one who should have stayed far away.  He kneeled before Jesus and said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out and touched the untouchable man and said, “I will; be clean.”  Then an army officer came beseeching him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”  Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”  But the officer said, “No, no, I am not worthy, only say the word.”  Jesus said the word and the man was healed at that very moment.  He went into his disciple Peter’s house where Peter’s mother-in- law was cast into bed by a fever.  He touched her and she got up and began to serve him, as we are called to do.

In our text this morning Matthew reports, “Jesus, kept on going around all the cities and villages to teach in their synagogues and preach the Good News of the God’s reign and heal every illness and ailment.”  Our Savior, that’s your name, went about teaching the good news that, God was reestablishing his ruler ship in the world.  As Becky and I go about on Sunday mornings, I am in wonder of the Gospel proclaimed in the churches names.  Last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we first went to Trinity Lutheran in Iuka located at the end of Trinity Lane.  Then to Faith,  Lutheran in Flora, where again we confessed our faith in the Triune God.  We belong to a congregation named, Resurrection.  What gospel is in those names.

But then Matthew tells us, in our text, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”  The crowds were made up of descendants of ancestors whom God had freed from slavery in Egypt, of whom God had said, in our Old Testament reading, “you yourselves have seen how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  You shall be to be a treasured possession…a kingdom of priests; a holy nation.”  But now these descendants didn’t feel as if they were flying on eagles’ wings.  They didn’t seem like a treasured possession.  Nor did they see themselves as God’s priests; a nation sacred to God. Literally, the crowd  felt like they were flayed and throw down, dejected and being kicked around. There are times in our personal lives and in our life as a congregation that we feel harassed and helpless against forces we can’t overcome.  I know that all those gospel – named churches I listed above have gone through times like what Jesus saw in the crowds before him.

Matthew says they were like sheep without a shepherd. A high school textbook of our oldest son contained a painting of a flock of sheep with no shepherd in sight.  They had grazed their way to the edge of the cliff overlooking a broad valley below them.  And some of the flock had already fallen over the cliff and landed on a ledge below them and were now trapped.  They were looking up at the rest of the flock.  Worse was yet to come, because above, the painting showed more sheep grazing their way up toward the edge.  And soon they would be pushing up against the sheep already on the edge and more of the flock would soon going tumbling down.

When Jesus sees the harassed and helpless, he is filled with compassion.  His heart goes out to us.  He doesn’t abandon us, for he was born Immanuel and as we heard last Sunday, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”

Because in the epistle lesson Paul throws three fast balls right past us.  We were weak, unable to come to God. Strike one.  We sinners.  Strike two.  We were enemies of God. Strike three.  But Christ stepped to the plate in our place.  He belted each accusation out of the park.  Weak and ungodly?  “Christ died for the ungodly.”  Sinners?  “God shows his love for us in that…Christ died for us.” Enemies of God?  “God reconciled us to himself by the death of His Son.”

Now Jesus points his disciples, including us, his 21st disciples, to look at the outside world.  There we will see, that, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  One of the things I noticed in the last few weeks traveling through Illinois was that the wheat field had ripened and turned golden.  Then last weekend the harvesting was well underway.  Jesus says, “Think of the world as a vast wheat field waiting for the harvest.”  But this isn’t our field or our harvest.  That belongs to God.  But laborers are needed to get the harvest ready.  The first thing Jesus says to us disciples is to, “pray, earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers out into his harvest.”  Then Jesus, who took our place in his dying and rising to life, now sends us out to take his place and carry on his ministry.

Our Savior commissions Our Savior Lutheran Church to carry on his work.  Us? Weakened as we are? Yes.  Look whom he sends out in our Gospel lessons, Peter and his brother Andrew; James and his brother John, who wanted to call down fire and brimstone on a village who wouldn’t let Jesus stay overnight.  There was Philip who found his friend Bartholomew.  It was Bartholomew who wondered if anything good could come out of that hick town of Nazareth. Let’s not forget doubting Thomas.  And Matthew, a hated and crooked tax collector. There’s another James and a person named Thaddeus.  Rounding out the twelve was a Simon, who belonged to a group called the zealots who were dedicated to getting rid of the Romans even if it took terrorist means.  And Judas, who would betray Jesus to his enemies.

If Jesus can send these out to continue his ministry, then surely, he can use us.  And he does.  So again, today we will leave with the assurance that the Lord blesses us, and keeps us.  We shall live under the beams of his shining presence and will receive grace upon grace.  He will look upon us and in him we have peace.  Lord, grant us faith to believe Your promises.

 

 

 

Compassion of the Shepherd

 

The Entrance psalm for Sunday is psalm 67:4-7.

Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you!…

I would have liked vs. 1&2 to be included.  One translation reads, “O God, have compassion on us and bless us, and let Your face shine upon us, to make known Your way upon the earth, and your salvation to all the nations.”  These verses would have given the reason for the double refrain, “Let the people praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.”

God’s compassion is picked up in the Gospel lesson, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The Psalm for the Day, Psalm 100 also finds a tie in.  We are called to “serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”  “It is he who made us and we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”  Therefore, to paraphrase v. 4, we can enter the church doors with thanksgiving and sit in the sanctuary with praise.  Because, “His steadfast love endures forever, and he is faithful to all generations.”

We pray: Almighty, eternal God, in the Word of your apostles and prophets You have proclaimed to us Your saving will.  Grant us faith to believe Your promises that we may receive eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Walking in the Lord’s House

 

Psalm 84 is about being in the Lord’s temple.  Vs. 10” For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”

As I read the Psalm this morning on our back patio, I thought of how often I liked to take a break from the office and walk through the church.  I generally didn’t do anything spiritual.  I would pick up a stray bulletin, straighten a hymnal, study the stained – glass windows.  Yet, there was something peaceful and settling about walking about in the Lord’s house.

There were a couple times when as Psalm 73 says, I was seeking to understand something, “until I went into the sanctuary of God…”   On vicarage at Grace in Oshawa, Ontario, I struggled with the statement in the creed, “descended into hell.”  It’s based on I Peter 3:18-19, in mind a rather vague statement.   But a sense of resolution occurred when I walked about the sanctuary.  The other occasion was when I was considering the call to Immanuel, in Marshfield Wisconsin.  I didn’t want to take the call, yet I didn’t feel comfortable turning it down.  Saturday night I took the envelope with the call documents and literally tossed them on the altar at Zion, Albert Lea, MN.  The answer didn’t come that morning during worship.  However, while making some hamburgers at home after church, I was discussing my dilemma.  Becky said, that my discomfort in turning the call down was maybe a sign I should take it.  So, I did.

The other take away is that one does not know when, how and through whom the Holy Spirit will work.  So be alert and open for surprises.

 

Trust God to Act for You

 

Within the 72 verses of psalm 78, the writer goes over the complicated relationship between God and his people.  He sets out to tell an important story of Israel’s lack of continuing faith in God, despite his “glorious deeds…his might and the wonders he has done.”  He charged the people to teach this to following generations and to trust God in tough times by remembering what he has done.

The problem is that every generation was disobedient and lived with no purpose neglecting to set their hearts steadfastly on God’s steadfast love.  For instance, though He had split a rock in the wilderness from which water poured out in abundance, “they sinned again.”  They raised the question, Yes, he gave us water, but will God “spread a table in the wilderness…will God give us bread as well…can he provide meat.”

This psalm is for the continually dissatisfied.  We always want something more, something new, something which someone else has but we don’t.  We look through the lens of what we don’t have.  And despite all the Lord does, “they persisted in their sin and had no faith in his wonders.”  Sometimes the Lord reacted in anger.  Other times he controlled his wrath.  But in the end the psalmist wrote, “yet he was merciful, wiping out guilt and not destroying… He chose David to be his servant and took him from the sheepfold to be the shepherd of his people.”

The story of this psalm is our story.  The shepherd who guides us, is the son of David, Jesus Christ who shepherds us to approach the throne of God boldly for there we will find grace and will receive mercy in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Lighter than Air

 

When we lived in Winona, MN. The Good Year blimp made an unexpected landing in a field just outside of the city.  I, went out to get a close – up look at this lighter than air wonder.  Someplace among my slides is a photo.  Lighter than air objects are fascinating.  I spent much of my youth looking at the clouds when I should have been picking beans for Stokely Van Camp’s.  When we were in Marshfield, Wisconsin one year we let some helium filled balloons loose during the Ascension Day service.

However, we may not appreciate the comparison in Psalm 62:9:

“The common people are mere empty air, while people of rank are a sham; when placed on the scales, they rise, all of them lighter than air.”

In recognition of our lighter than air weightiness, the Psalm begins, “For God alone I wait silently; my salvation comes from him.  He only is my rock of salvation, strong tower, so that I stand unshaken.”  Vs 7 “On God rests my salvation and my glory, my mighty rock, my refuge is God.”

The basic meaning of glory is “weight, and “importance.” According to the psalmist we have no weight nor importance. Therefore, our glory is found only in God’s glory.  And God’s glory is found in Christ who glorified His Father by going to the cross for our salvation.  Christ is our rock of refuge, our fortress to whom we can go for refuge.  He is our salvation. Anything else in which we might trust, including ourselves, our own status, and our possessions, when placed on the scales of God’s judgment are lighter than air.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday 2017 Iuka/Flora, Psalm 8

A man confessed to going to church only once a year.  He didn’t choose Christmas or Easter to fill his spiritual tank for the next 364 days.  He chose Trinity Sunday.  “Because,” he admitted, “I love to see the preacher get so confused trying to explain the Trinity.” This is that Sunday today, Trinity Sunday, as we confessed in the Athanasian Creed, the Sunday devoted to the blessed Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, St. Augustine cautioned, “If you think you understand it, it’s not God.”  Even with interlocking circles and triangles, we fall far short of grasping the greatness of our awe filling God.

Therefore, I turn our attention to Psalm 8 in which the writer exclaims, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” No explanations.  Only an exclamation of praise to the Lord who created the heavens and the earth, who brought light out of darkness, order out of chaos, whose strong word ordered the seasons to run.  His fingers set the moon, stars, planets, and comets in their place like an artist creating a mosaic on the vault of heaven.  All of creation, from Super Novas to nursing babes tell the wonders the Lord has done.

The Psalmist asks, what are we that the Lord of quarks, atoms and neutrons should think about us, here on this third rock circling a middling star we call the sun? We should Know that humans are not an afterthought, but the crown of creation, slightly less than heavenly beings.  God already had a pattern in mind when he reached down and formed the first lump of mud into man.  Christ, is who God had in mind.  St. Paul calls us to have the mind of Christ among ourselves.  That’s the way we were created with a mind turned toward Christ as the pattern for our life, that we might run to him, and in running to Christ we are running toward God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Christ was not an afterthought either.  For St. Paul tells us in Ephesians “God was making known to us the mystery of his will, which he set forth in Christ, from before the foundation of the world.”  And to all that, God said, “It is good, it is very good.”  He blessed man and gave him governance over his creation from the purple mountain majesty to the fields of golden grain, from the mighty Mississippi to the wandering Skillet Fork, to care for it in his stead.  Yes, this was all the work of the blessed Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But something went terribly wrong.  Remember the story of the fox and the gingerbread man? An old woman baked a gingerbread man, who when she opened the oven, he ran.  He outran the woman and her husband and the cow and the horse all the while taunting his pursuers,

“I’ve run away from a little old woman,

a little old man,

And I can run away from you, I can!”

But when he came to a river he needed some help, which a fox was glad to provide.   At the fox’s invitation, the Gingerbread man hopped on the fox’s tale.  But as they crossed the river the fox said he was getting too heavy and suggested he climb up on his back.  Soon the fox coaxed the gingerbread to move up to his head which was still out of the water.  Just when the gingerbread man was settled high and dry, the fox flicked his head tossed him in air, caught him in his jaws and gobbled him down.

Is that not the story of man, who was created to run toward God, but instead ran away?  Isaiah describes it as everyone going astray, going his own way.  And in the end, we are done in by the sly cunning unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil, who have an inexhaustible hunger to devour what God has made.

But the blessed holy Trinity in their undivided unity had a plan.  The Son would be born of the Virgin Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.  This is how the psalmist describes it, He was made, for a little while, a little lower than the heavenly beings.  He was, as we confessed, “perfect God and perfect man, equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to his humanity.”

He was the good news we needed, a Savior, Christ, the Lord, a nursing infant laid in a manger, of whom angels sang and to whom shepherds ran to see this thing that the Lord had done.  This was Jesus, whose fingers touched the unclean leper taking his uncleanness upon himself and giving him health of body and of soul.  This was Jesus who said that if you have faith no larger than a mustard seed you could tell the majestic purple mountains to move and they would.  This was Jesus who plucked the golden grain as he walked along the fields on the sabbath.  This was Jesus who prayed in Gethsemane under the stars his fingers had set in place, that if it were possible let the cup of his suffering and death be removed, but if not, then the Father’s will must prevail.  This was the blessed Holy Trinity in their undivided unity at work for us and for our salvation.

Thus, according to the plan and foreknowledge of God, Jesus was crucified.  But also, according to God’s plan He raised Jesus from the dead, for death can have no permanent dominion over him.  He is now seated at the right hand of God in all power and will finally return to destroy, our last enemy death.

So, we are gathered here today, 21 century disciples, not on a mountain but on the plains of Marion County (Clay County) at the end of Trinity Lane (at Faith church in Flora) to worship him.  At that last gathering on the mountain in Galilee, his disciples worshipped him.  But this was not a perfect church, for there were only 11, not 12, in the loss of Judas they lost nearly 10% of their membership.  And even their worship was not perfect for doubt lingered among them.  Yet our gracious Savior did not reject them, he announced that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him.  And now he was sending them, imperfect and doubting as they were, to go and make disciples baptizing in the name of the Holy Trinity, who lives in undivided unity.  He who came into the world as Immanuel, God with us, before he left he issued one last blessing that he is still Immanuel, “With us to the end of the age.”

O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psalm in a Time of Bewilderment

 

“Bewilder,” is from an old English word “be wilder” meaning to lose one’s bearings.  The word borders on being lost in the wild.  I suspect that many of us have a sense of bewilderment these days. Psalm 44 is written by one who is bewildered by what God is allowing to happen to Israel.

The Psalmist speaks to God:

“We have heard for ourselves, God, our forefathers have told us what deeds you did in their time, all your hand accomplished in days of old…God you are my King.  In God have we gloried all day long and we shall praise your name for ever.

Yet you have rejected and humbled us and no longer lead our armies to battle.  You have given us up to be slaughtered like sheep.  You have made us a byword among the nations, and the peoples toss their heads at us.

Though all this has befallen us, we do not forget you…our hearts have not been unfaithful, nor have our feet strayed from your path …. had we forgotten the name of our God and spread our hand in prayer to alien gods would not God have found out?” The writer is implying that God has rejected them for no reason.

The Psalmist continues: “Rouse yourself, Lord.  Why do you sleep? …Why do you hide your face, …Arise and come to our aid; for your love’s sake deliver us.”

Prayer: Lord, rise up and come to our aid.  You are the king who knows the secrets of our hearts; fill us with the light of truth and with your strong arm lead us to freedom, as you mightily delivered our ancestors; for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.