Happy the One who Trusts in God

 

My wife has a niece who for several years worked as one of the demonstrators at Williamsburg, Va.  She played the role of someone who lived in the 17th – 19th centuries.  She left that position this summer and suffered the uncertainty of being between jobs.   She applied at various places and was told she was over-qualified.

One day she posted a confession and a confession of faith on Facebook. “Glad my pal reminded me to leave it in God’s hands: worries and insecurities during this process.  I may stink at it sometimes, but that’s what faith is all about.”

After taking a couple of part time jobs, she landed a position at Jamestown, the early 17th century settlement on the James River.

In psalm 146 we read: “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh…”   As my wife’s niece wrote, “That’s what faith is all about.”  Leave it in God’s hands.  We may stink at it sometimes, but our God is the one who made heaven and earth and “raises up those who are bowed down.”

No one was more bowed down than Lazarus in the Gospel lesson, lying at the rich man’s gate covered with sores hoping for scraps from the rich man’s table.  His only attendants were the roaming dogs who licked his oozing sores.  But he was the one whom the angels carried to Abraham’s side.

Prayer: God of glory and power, happy indeed are those who have put their trust in you.  Shine the brightness of your light upon us, that we may love you always with a pure heart and praise you forever; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hallelu Jah!

Psalm 146

 Praise Yah!*
Praise Yahweh, my soul.
While I live, I will praise Yahweh.
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist.
Don’t put your trust in princes,
each a son of man in whom there is no help.
His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth.
In that very day, his thoughts perish.
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in Yahweh, his God:
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps truth forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
Yahweh frees the prisoners.
    Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind.
Yahweh raises up those who are bowed down.
Yahweh loves the righteous.
Yahweh preserves the foreigners.
He upholds the fatherless and widow,
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
10 Yahweh will reign forever;
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise Jah!*

In Hebrew, the psalm begins and ends with Hallel jah.  The World English Bible translates it literally as “Praise Jah.”

Prayer:

God of glory and power, happy indeed are those who have put their trust in you.  Shine the brightness of your light upon us, that we may love you always with a pure heart and praise you forever; through Your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Discussion: Compare verses 3-4 with 5-8.  What reasons does the psalmist give for trusting God rather than humans?

How does verse 10, seal the deal in comparison with humans and other gods?

 

 

 

The Quality of Mercy

 

Shakespeare wrote in the “The Merchant of Venice”

“The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

…Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.”

 

Martin Luther preached a sermon in 1522 on Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”   By his time, he had been excommunicated, declared an outlaw by Charles V, faced opposition from those who thought he wasn’t moving fast enough, and Suleiman’s troops threatened Europe from the East.

“Whatever good and honor God gives us, it is out of sheer mercy.  He sees we are stuck in death, and He has mercy upon us and gives us life.  He sees that we are children of hell, and He has mercy upon us and gives us heaven.  He sees that we are poor, naked, hungry, and thirsty, and He has mercy upon us and clothes, feeds, gives us drink.  Thus all that we have in body and spirit He gives us out of sheer mercy, and pours out all His goodness upon us.

The mercy of Christians must not seek its own, but must be complete and comprehensive, regarding friend and foe alike, as our Father in heaven does.

And where this mercy is absent, faith is also absent.”

 

Chaff for Sale

 

Amos 8:6, …and sell the chaff of the wheat.

God is about to unleash devastation on Israel.  Corpses will be lying everywhere.  There shall be silence in the land.  Why?  Because the merchants and businessmen, “grinding the needy and suppressing the poor in the land.”

They can’t wait for the Sabbath to end so they can open their stores.  But when the poor come to buy wheat for their daily bread, the sellers tilt the scales making the bushel smaller on one end of the sale and on the other end overweighing the change they give back. They also sweep up the chaff from the threshing floor (along with some dirt) and mix the chaff and dirt into wheat bulking up the already shortened bushel.

Finally, when the poor become indebted beyond any hope of getting out of the hole, they are sold into slavery, even over a pair of sandals.

God says, “I shall never forget their deeds.”  The punishment God is letting loose upon the land under the Assyrians will flood the land like the Nile floods and it will recede slowly like the Nile.  Left behind will be the destruction and debris such as a flood leaves behind.

In 8:11 God says he will send famine, hunger and thirst to the land, not for bread and water, “but for hearing the word of the Lord.”

And yet, God never is able to let judgment be his last words.  The last words in Amos promise that “I shall not totally destroy Jacob’s posterity.”  Through the remnant left He will restore the fallen house of David.  The crops will grow so that there is a continuous harvest of wheat and grapes.  “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel…It is the word of the Lord your God.”

Yesterday, in choir we sang “Amazing Grace.”  God’s grace is truly amazing.

Abby and Her Plants

 

I asked my granddaughter, Abby, about a plant on the stairway leading to their deck.  5th grader Abby is a gardener at heart, so she led me to some other potted plants on the steps.  She was dismayed because the marigolds and petunias weren’t looking too good.  I told her that they were annuals and summer is ending so they have run their course.  But come next spring they may reappear, especially the petunias.

On September 14, the church celebrates Holy Cross Day.  It commemorates the dedication of a church built by Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century at the site at which it was said, the  true cross of Christ was found.

Holy Cross Day reinvigorates our faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death.  The time until Advent looks forward to Christ’s victorious return and our resurrection.  From All Saints Day, the Sunday lessons lead us to look at the ends times, culminating with Christ the King Sunday.

Our gardens are coming to the end of their season.  One day frost will leave my tomato plants and elephant ears limp and lifeless.  Yet some tomato seeds sprout next spring.   I will dig my elephant ears roots and replant them when the sun is warm again.  Geese will soon be honking high in the sky winging their V shapes south.

In Christ we have our own V, victory over the grave.  One day we will sprout forth when the Son returns.  Fall is not only a time of dying, but a looking forward in faith to resurrection and new life.  Then Abby and I go will back to the garden and try to create a little of paradise in anticipation of the final Paradise.

The Psalmist, Amos and Mary

The following reading is largely drawn from Psalm 113, Amos 8:4-7 And Luke 1

Psalm 113, Amos 8:4-7 are two of the readings for this coming Sunday.

Psalm:

Praise the Lord!  Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord.

Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord.

Amos:

Hear this, you who say, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?”

Psalm:

Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time and forevermore!  From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord be praised!

Amos:

Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. “That we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

Psalm:

Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.

Mary:

He has looked on the humble estate of his servant…for he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. He has filled the hungry with good things.

He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones…and the rich he has sent empty away.

Jesus:

For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Amos:

Hear this, you who…make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances.

The Lord has sworn…” Surely I will never forget their deeds.”

Psalm:

He raises the poor…to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

Mary:

He has exalted those of humble estate.

St. Paul:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Psalm:

He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.

Elizabeth:

After these days Elizabeth conceived, saying, “Thus The Lord has done for me in the days when it looked on me, to take away my reproach among people…  “When the sound of your greeting came to my ears (Mary), the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

St. Paul:

Yet she will be saved through childbearing…

Mary:

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior

Luke – Matthew:

And (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son, and (Joseph) called his name Jesus.

Psalm:

Praise the Lord! O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord!

Prayer:

Lord, Jesus, surrendering the brightness of your glory, you became mortal so that we might be raised from the dust to share your very being.  May the children of God always bless your name from the rising of the sun to its going down, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Praise the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once strangers, but now brought near

 

The other day I was at a nearby Walgreens.  In our area it’s difficult to not be near a Walgreens.  At the checkout counter an older woman was in front of me, though not as old as me, but who is?  The woman had two birthday cards.  She was asking the young checkout person which she would choose to send, I think, to a grandchild.  I wanted to be impatient, but the Lord interfered.  The young lady at the counter looked at both cards and then suggested one.  “Thank you,” said the grandmother, “I really didn’t want to buy both cards.”

When I moved up, I noticed that the young lady’s name was Je-Dan.  “Ah,” I thought, “a Bosnian immigrant or daughter of immigrants.”  I’ve noticed the women have interesting sounding names.  (Am I profiling?  Probably.  Live with it.)

As I left the store I thought, “An immigrant, probably a Muslim, who does not seem to be a threat to anyone, but a helpful young lady making her life in her country, just as I am.”  After all, I’m a grandson of immigrants.  In fact, our families were all once strangers in a strange land which we now call our own.  Even the Native Americans who live in the area where I grew up are descendants of immigrants.

We followers of Christ are also immigrants in another way.  We are immigrants into God’s kingdom.  As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ… and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you…have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Jesus would have us also remember that we are in the world, but not of the world.  We are members of a kingdom not of this world.  We do well to remember that in the light of the disparaging rhetoric that bombards our ears and minds in this world.

 

Christian Posture

 

Kneeling has been generally seen as a posture for prayer.  A photo on my Facebook page features Jordy Nelson of the Green Packers kneeling on one knee in the end zone after making a touchdown pass.  It was his first touchdown in over a year, He was injured all last season.  The same weekend other players knelt on one knee during the national anthem as a protest.  Kneeling puts one in a vulnerable position.

When we see a number of men kneeling on both knees and bowing to the ground we immediately think of Muslims.  Yet, we often read of just such a practice in the Bible.  In Mark 5, first a ruler of a synagogue falls at Jesus feet and then a woman does the same.  Paul writes in Philippians 2, that the time will come when every knee in the universe will bow down at the name of Jesus.

Once, I filled in at a church where some of the congregation kneeled for communion and others remained standing.  There was a time when Lutherans thought kneeling to be too Catholic.  Perhaps, there had been a division in the church over the posture for taking communion and someone suggested, “What does it matter?”

We do well to first learn the story behind a particular body posture.

From a sermon by Martin Luther, 1523.  It may or may not be relevant.

“God has made provision that we should become holy…in order to make manifest that there is no holiness that which God works in us…You must be holy and yet you must not bear yourself as though you were holy of yourself or by your own merit, but through Christ you have become holy.”

I think Luther is saying, in part, don’t take a posture in life where in you put yourself above someone else, but remember who we are and what we are, is only through the holiness of Christ.

 

Mercy for a Piece of Junk

 

Some years ago a saying gained popularity, “God doesn’t make any Junk.”  That is true in the sense that God is our creator, the one who made everything good, very good.  But Paul writes in his letter to Timothy (I Timothy 1: 12-17) that in ignorance he had turned himself into junk.  He turned himself into one of the sinners with whom Jesus loved to hang out with and invite himself to dinner.

Paul writes of himself, “a blasphemer, persecutor, insolent opponent of Christ and ignorant unbeliever.”  He is thankful to God who gave him Jesus Christ and judged him faithful and appointing him to be in His service. Though Paul was deep into sin, Jesus who came to save sinners such as him overwhelmed his sinful self with grace.  Paul received mercy in order to show him as an example God’s perfect patience to “those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”

So what’s left for Paul to do?  Nothing, accept to praise God.  So he concludes our lesson for Sunday, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”  What can we do in the light of such great undeserved mercy?  Nothing except add our “Amen.”

As the reader said at the end of the lesson, “This is the Word of the Lord.” And ours was a fitting response, “Thanks be to God.”   As Paul said, this is a saying that is “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.”

The Lost Sheep

 

 

Prayer of the Day: Lord Jesus, You are the Good Shepherd, without whom nothing is secure.  Rescue and preserve us that we may not be lost but follow You, rejoicing in the way that leads to eternal life, for you live and reign with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The problem with the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:1-7, is that it didn’t follow the shepherd all the way back to the sheepfold.  Perhaps it was in the back of the flock and started lagging behind a bit and soon found an interesting ant carrying a leaf and decided to follow it.  The ant led the curious sheep through an opening between two large stones.  By this time the sheep had lost sight of the shepherd and the rest of the flock.  As he trailed the ant he didn’t see the thorn bush.  Too late he found he had snagged his wool on the thorns and there he was stuck.  The more he struggled the more he became ensnared.  Exhausted from his struggle, his mouth dry and throat parched he barely could issue a weak “bleat.”

There he stood, too snagged to even lay down. Eventually the sun moved far down the western sky.  Night would soon be upon him. He would be easy prey for any, bear or lion, wolf or coyote on the prowl.

Then he heard a familiar voice calling.  He knew that voice.  It was the shepherd.  He bleated a “baa.”

“What have you got yourself into?” the shepherd asked.  “How did you get back here? Well come on let’s get you back home, though we’ll have to leave some of you here.  This might hurt a bit.  Ready?  Here we go.”  All in one motion the shepherd yanked me from the thorn bush and soon I was flying through the air only to land on his shoulders.

“Well,” said the shepherd.  “Some bear or lion is going to pretty disappointed when they follow the scent to this bush, only to find a few strands of your wool caught on the thorns.

We haven’t had a party back at the sheepfold for a while.  There’ll be dancing tonight.”

And so it is that the Lord Rescues us and turns our mourning into dancing.