Gifts for Father’s Day

 

This morning as we left the service men received a gift, a booklet, “Blueprints for Life.”  We left with something tangible in hand.

Earlier, when we took communion, we received a piece of bread in our hand, something tangible, yet more, the Body of Christ something intangible.  With that bread/body and the wine/blood we received forgiveness of sin, and the tangible/intangible grace of Life and salvation through faith in the One we received in that bread and wine.

Still earlier we received something totally intangible gift.  The forgiveness of all our sins, all the ways we messed up this past week and going back for as long as we have lived.  We also left with those words.  Luther said in a sermon on St. Matthews Day, “It is easily said, forgiveness of sins. We need to diligently study what those words means.  If it only could be won and done with words!  But when we have a serious encounter, suddenly we find that we know nothing of this forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, which I can only grasp with my heart, namely, that all my sins are forgiven and that through this faith I am justified before God.  This is not a quality which is already in a person’s heart or soul; we must learn and grasp with faith that we are redeemed and made just through the forgiveness of sins.”

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Why being ‘Spiritual’ is Never Enough

I came across an interesting article by Fleming Rutledge in the June issue of Christianity Today. The article is entitled, “Why being ‘Spiritual’ is Never Enough.” In three pages she drives home the point that faith in Christ is neither “spiritual” nor “religious.” Spirituality and religion, as we use the terms today, are human endeavors; whereas Christ is God’s work giving us badly needed justification and salvation, both acts of God’s grace, which we cannot control, but only believe with a radical faith which risks everything on Christ’s death and resurrection.
Fleming Rutledge was an Episcopal parish priest in New York City. I have two of her sermon books. One is “The Undoing of Death” sermons for Holy Week and Easter, the other on the book of Romans. Good stuff.
I highly recommend her article. I Googled her name and the word “Spirituality.”

Grace is the Hardest Thing

“Grace is the Hardest Thing.”  That’s what I said to the pastor this morning as we left church.  Our pastor just closed on a house this week.  His sermon was about a good banker who gives us a way to pay off a debt.  However, God is a bad banker, who doesn’t give us a way to pay off our impossible debt to Him, but in Jesus He simply cancels the debt.  Jesus paid the whole debt against us with his life.  While we might rejoice over that, a part of us doesn’t like it because its too difficult to understand. How dare God simply cancel my debt to him and not give me any points for going to church, being good to other people, treating my kids and spouse well.  If I give a hand out to the person standing at the bottom of the ramp off I-44 and Lindberg Ave, I get nothing for that.  That’s not fair.  Give me something I can do.  Give me back my control.  I hate losing control.  God says, “Nope, there’s nothing you can do.  Now go out and love your kids and spouse, give something to the homeless person, go to church.  Wait, there is something you can go.  Say, ‘Thank you,’ That’s about it.  Say, ‘thank you’ and love one another and that means all the other others.  That will keep you busy.  Don’t worry about the debt, because I can’t even find it on my books.  In Jesus, I admit I cooked the books.  Have a nice life.”

Increase Thanksgiving

Ruth a member at a former church related that a grade school teacher gave her the impression that her purpose in life was to believe in Jesus, so she could go to heaven.  And the sooner the better.  But, “I haven’t even begun to live yet.”

The teacher neglected our purpose in this life.  According to St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:15, part of our second reading this weekend, our purpose is to increase thanksgiving.  “For this it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.”  As through us, more and more people hear of Jesus resurrection which leads to our own rising they too will join in thanksgiving to the glory of God.  In 9:11 he writes that the offering he is gathering “for the relief of the saints,” in Judah will also lead to greater thanksgiving to God’s glory.

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, heaven can wait.  I have a purpose in life right now, to teach, preach and write about the gospel so that people have a reason to join the angel chorus the night of Jesus’ birth in praise and thanksgiving to the glory of God.

Now when we are hitting the road early on Sunday morning, well hopefully with the Holy Spirit’s help and some coffee, I can also join in thanksgiving to God’s glory when we arrive at our destination.

Martin Luther: We’ve all got it.

Martin Luther and our Christian Fellowship

An excerpt from a 1530 sermon.

In this Christian fellowship no person possesses more than another.  St. Peter and St. Paul have no more than Mary Magdalene or you or me.  To sum up: There is no difference between the persons.  Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and John the Baptist, and the thief on the cross, all possess the same good which you and I possess…And what have all the saints?  They have the knowledge that their sins are forgiven.  They have comfort and help promised them through Christ in every kind of need, against sin and against death.

But it is also true, that you and I do not believe it so firmly as John the Baptist and St. Paul; and yet it is the one and only treasure.  It is like two men who hold bags of money, one in a weak hand and the other in a strong hand.  Whether the hand be strong or weak…it neither adds to the contents of the bag, nor takes away.  In the same way there is no other difference here between the Apostles and me, though they hold the treasure firmer.  Nevertheless, I possess the same treasure as all the holy Prophets, Apostles, and all saints.

Treasure in Jars of Clay

Pentecost 2 2018, Ruma, Evansville Il.  2 Cor. 4:4-7

4:7, But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

On April 15, 623 BC, a surprising treasure was found in the temple at Jerusalem.  During a renovation of the temple someone found,  the bottom of a box, one of the earliest scrolls of what was likely the Book of Deuteronomy.  They found a book of the Bible.  Without that word of Scripture false worship practices became mixed in with idol worship and practices.  This scroll of scripture became a valuable guide in the renewal and renovation of the temple, it’s worship and the lives of the people.

In our epistle lesson St. Paul writes of a treasure which also is important to our worship and lives.  “Now we have this treasure in clay jars to show that its extraordinary power comes from God and not from us.”  What is, “this treasure in clay jars?”  It’s not only valuable but it demonstrates God’s power. These clay jars are those who believe in Jesus Christ, they are you and me. What is this treasure that is to be found in each one of us?  Johann Franck identifies it in a hymn he wrote It’s Jesus priceless treasure.  So, let’s examine how this treasure of God came to be placed in each of us.

First, why does Paul call us clay jars?  Well because that’s what we are.  We are copies of the first work done in clay.  In Genesis, God knelt beside a stream, took a ball of red clay and shaped a man of it. We know him as Adam, the man of red clay.  Then God breathed the breath of life into his clay pottery work and it became a living being.  After a while he took a chunk out of the man of clay and constructed a partner, a woman to stand beside him.  But this duo, this husband and wife partnership from his maker were tricked by the wily serpent to go off on their own, never mind God.  Reminds me of the ginger bread man who escaped from the oven and ran off from his maker as fast as he can.  Of course, he ended up as a snack for the wily red fox. Adam and Eve forgot they were made of clay.  They forgot their maker.  In Isaiah God asks, “Does the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” or criticize his work, “Your work has no handles?”  What they should have said, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  But they didn’t allow God to complete forming them as he wished.  What happened when they tried run away from God?  Did you ever blame someone one else for something going on and hold yourself as pure as the driven snow?  Well, this is where that started.  Adam blamed God for the gift of his wife.  Eve blamed the serpent.  Now the man and the woman were broken pottery. Broken apart.

So, Now the whole creation is broken.  The care of creation is hindered by weeds and thorns.  The man labors in the field and the woman labors to give birth. St. Paul says, “The whole creation groans together in the pains of childbirth as we ourselves groan as we wait for the redemption of these jars of clay”  Job, who knew a thing or two about groaning pleads with God, “Remember that you have made me like clay.”  He groans, “My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me…my plans are broken off, the desires of my heart.”    Human kind is fragile, breakable. But God did not throw us in the dump for broken pottery. God was rather determined to repair, to put our shattered pieces back together again and make us new again.  Here is how God put his greatest treasure in us jars of clay.

God became a clay jar in Jesus.  Yes, He who was in the beginning with God and was God became one of us.  He who through whom all things were made, who participated in the forming of the first clay man; who is light and life itself became a second Adam.  He became like us fragile, breakable, liable to death.  He became God with us.  He became, St. Paul admits, the foolishness of God and the weakness of God.   But to us who believe he is the power and wisdom of God.  He is the source of our life, so that if we are temped to boast that we did it ourselves, we are being delusional. He did it and if we want to boast, boast about how God brought you and me, poor miserable sinners out of death into eternal life through Jesus whom God brought out of death into life via the resurrection.

You see those who thought he was foolish, dangerous, and weak treated him like just another piece of pottery, no more valuable than their cooking pot in their kitchen, when its broken toss it out.  So, after breaking him on the cross, or so they thought, they would have tossed Jesus into the pottery dump outside Jerusalem where Judas ended up.  However, early in his ministry Jesus gave us a hint, a sign that something great was going on.  He with his family and disciples were invited to a wedding in a village called Cana.  As you know the wine ran low.  As you know there were six clay jars sitting nearby, each holding 20 or 30 gallons.  When the jars were filled with water the master of the wedding reception discovered that Jesus had turned it into the finest wine.  That was between 120 and 180 gallons of wine.  That would make for a lot of celebrating.

God has filled us ordinary clay jars with something so valuable and abundant that its worth celebrating with overflowing thanksgiving from now and forever.  He has filled us with the good news of the glory of Jesus Christ who is in the image of God.  So that when we are looking at Jesus, we are looking at God.  Where do we find that priceless treasure of image of God as we see it in the face of Jesus Christ.  God has put it in us.  Now we may not look like it.  When I look in the mirror I see this older guy, who was once young, who is now missing a lot of hair, and carries scars from multiple heart surgeries.  I won’t ask what you look like.

Nevertheless, that treasure is changing us.  The psalmist says, we are going from strength to strength.  And Proverbs tell us, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn which shines brighter and brighter until the full day.”  Oh, there are times when the Son, that is Jesus, doesn’t seem to be shining very brightly in our lives showing us the path.   There are times when we don’t shine brightly showing the way for others to find this treasure.  But it’s happening.  This temporal time in which we live is headed toward the eternal.  There will come that day when we will all be changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye and we shall be raised from that now quiet village that resides in our cemeteries.  This jar of clay will be changed, and the mortal will put on the immortal.  We will join in thanksgiving for the victory which God has given us through Jesus Christ. Yes, for Jesus Christ our priceless treasure gives eternal pleasure.

 

Sunday Evening Thoughts

Don’t expect much.
Becky and I ventured across the Mississippi via the JB Bridge into Illinois. We passed through Columbia without a Hail, though we did make a pitstop at the MotoMart. Next was Waterloo where we made it safely through without meeting ours. We arrived at Redbud long after the buds were red. then south a few miles to Ruma, looking for St. John’s. We don’t have a GPS but I do use Google maps, though the view from the road is different thanthe one from the sky. But south of Ruma,(pop 300) I called out, “There’s the church.” and so it was.
I preached on 2 Corinthians 4:7 where Paul tells of a treasure in jars of clay. In the course of the sermon I took us back to God kneeling by a stream and taking a ball of clay and making the first clay work. On the way out of church a man stopped and told of the agnostic who told God that he could make a man of clay as well as God could, so that wasn’t so special. When the man reached down to pick up some soil God said, “Get your own dirt.”
Then a short 4 miles across the Kaskaskia River to Evansville, even smaller than Ruma, On the south end of town was St. Peters. There is a Lutheran high school there which I didn’t know.So now we know where a couple of new places are.
Then we retraced our journey and arrived home ready for the couch.
The winter wheat is turning and by the next time we venture out on the 24th will likely be harvested and the corn will be knee high before the 4th of July.

Hey, It’s Sunday Tomorrow

Observing the Sabbath

Observing the Sabbath is the theme in Sunday’s reading.  In Deut. 5:12-15 God commands people to rest, not work, on the Sabbath because God saved them from slavery in Egypt.  When we come to the Gospel lesson Mark 2:23-28, the Pharisees catch Jesus’ disciples plucking some heads of grain to eat.  “Ah ha! Caught you workin’ Jesus.”  Jesus reminds them that the Sabbath was a day for the benefit of people, not that the people should be slaves of Sabbath rules.  Jesus declares that he is Lord of the Sabbath, not the Pharisees.  Uh oh.  Big trouble ahead.

But for those of who will mount a pulpit on Sunday, St. Paul reminds us of what is important.  “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake.”  It’s not about us preachers, it’s about Christ and it’s about the people who will hear us.  There is a tension every time I craft a sermon.  I want to make it about Christ in a way that is both helpful and interesting.  I want to give the folks something to take home.   That is, a visual of Christ which will stick with them for at least awhile and to do it in a way that does not bring attention to the clay jar (that’s me) which contains the treasure of the Gospel, but to the Gospel treasure.     2 Corinthians 4:5-7.

 

How Can These Things Be?

How Can These things be?  That’s the question Nicodemus asked after Jesus told him about being born from above in water and the Spirit.

I wonder if in the early months of 1529, Martin Luther might have been reading the Gospel of John when he asked a similar question in his Small Catechism, “How can water do such things?” How can this be?  He was writing about the water and the Spirit in baptism, “But with the word of God it is…a life-giving water…a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”  Then he quotes Paul, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…we become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  That is what Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus.  A life-giving water…a new birth…rebirth…renewal, generously poured out on us.  We’re kind of stingy when it comes to the amount of water we use in baptism, but God is extravagant in dumping a whole bucket full of the Holy Spirit on us.

 

Nicodemus meets Jesus

Trinity Sunday, 2018, New Melle, Mo. John 3:1-8

Has it ever happened that you laid out plans for talking with someone, imagined how the conversation would proceed and what the outcome would be, the outcome you wanted?   Then the whole meeting veered off onto some gravel road leading who knows where?  You left thinking, “Well that sure didn’t go like I planned.” This morning, in our Gospel, John lets us eaves drop on Nicodemus’ after sunset meeting with Jesus.  Things did not go as he planned. He discovered the truth of a couple familiar sayings: One is, man proposes, and God disposes.  And, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.   When it comes to an encounter with God, we do well to remember the Lord’s word through Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”

Nicodemus was financially secure, an influential member of the ruling council of Judah, a teacher.  He was a person of integrity.  A pharisee who took seriously the words of Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” He was someone who we would value as a member of our congregation.

Now, Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.  He immediately went to the temple and chased out all the people doing business there.  He declared it his Father’s house, not a market place. He spoke of destroying this temple and rebuilding it in three days.  A person could get into a whole lot trouble doing and saying things like that, and Jesus did get in trouble.  He lost his life over it.  Yet, Nicodemus saw that Jesus’ actions fit the expected signs of the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Malachi had said, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”  Furthermore, people were believing in him.  Nicodemus was edging that way too.

He had some questions.  So, he carefully planned his meeting with Jesus.  He would begin addressing Jesus as Rabbi, respected teacher.  He would acknowledge that no one could do the things Jesus did unless God was with him.  But we never discover what else he had on his agenda, because Jesus cut him off.

“You need to be born again, born from above, if you want to live under God’s rule.  If you want to see the kingdom of God.” This threw Nicodemus for a loop.  “What? You want me to go back into my mother’s womb and be born again?  I don’t think she’ll be too keen on that idea.”  Jesus clarifies what he means, well sort of. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Now put yourself in the place of Nicodemus.  He had never heard anything like this before.  You and I would also join him in asking, “How can these things be?”  Sounds like a question straight out of the catechism.

I wonder if in the early months of 1529, Martin Luther might have been reading our Gospel lesson when he asked in his Small Catechism, “How can water do such things?” How can this be?  He was writing about the water and the Spirit in baptism, “But with the word of God it is…a life-giving water…a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”  Then he quotes Paul, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…we become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  That is what Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus.  A life-giving water…a new birth…rebirth…renewal, generously poured out on us.  We’re kind of stingy when it comes to the amount of water we use in baptism, but God is extravagant in dumping a whole bucket full of the Holy Spirit on us.

We need that extravagant gift of the Holy Spirit because as Jesus said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.”  Back in Genesis, Adam “called his wife, Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”  Every second Sunday in May we honor that birth which we received through our mothers.  But Eve also became the mother of all dying. So, it has been ever since.  By being born we are assured of dying.  Our parents gave us life and gave us death.  Even if we went back and were born two or three times, death would still lay claim to us. We are born mortal.  However, we were created immortal.  When we lost our immortality, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit held a council in the realms of eternity and put a plan into action.  God’s plans do work out, because they are God’s plans.  Thus, we also have a Mother’s Day in December.  Through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Mary conceived and gave birth to a son, Jesus was his name.  As we confessed a bit ago, “(Jesus is) at the same time God and man, begotten of the substance of the Father in eternity and born from the substance of His mother in this age.”  On December 25th we celebrate that Mary became the New Mother of Life.  And in baptism we are reborn into that new life and becomes brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, children of the heavenly Father, gifted by the Holy Spirit with faith in everlasting salvation through Christ.

 

Being born of the Spirit is a little bit like what I do, as I go to fill in at various churches, this week here, a couple of weeks ago at New Athens, Ill. Next week at Ruma, Il.  I’ve discovered that not everyone does things the same way.  I need to hang loose and be ready to adjust.  And ask questions like, which end of the communion rail do we begin serving communion. Well, if one is born of the Spirit, and we all are in baptism, Jesus says its like being carried along by the wind. The wind keeps switching directions, and speed.  Way back in the second verse of the bible we read, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  When the Spirit is present you can expect something to happen, and it did, light, day, night, sky, land, plants, stars, swarming creatures, land creatures and humans.  If we’re willing to let go and let God use us as his servants, then we’re like Abraham whom God told to pick up everything and go where God would show him and in faith He did just that.

There is something in this text I never noticed before.  When we are reborn in the Spirit we become like the wind.  Jesus says, “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  What lies ahead in the future?   As baptized servants of Christ  “What does the Holy Spirit have in mind for us?  Both as individuals and as St. Paul’s congregation.  And if we are willing to be like the wind and be carried along under the guidance of the Spirit, then we can realize that God has plans for us, “plans for wholeness and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.”   But hang on. God’s plans maybe like the cartoon showing a young boy, hair streaming back, in wide-eyed terror grasping the grab bar with white knuckled fingers.  Beside him sits a young lady labeled “Holy Spirit.”  God is saying, “I have plans for you.”  Hang on those plans may feel like an out of control  plunge down a roller coaster ride or a gentle breeze nudging us along.