The Full Armor of God

Ephesians 6: 10, & 11 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Vicar Nick preached on Ephesians 6:10-20.  In part he made the points that Christ has already wrapped himself around us and thus we are equipped with the full armor.  He also noted that among 18-30 years old the church is perceived as being against everything, but not seen as being for anything.  That’s a good point.

Could it be that one of the schemes of the devil is to convince us that dressed in the full armor of God, we should use the sword of the Spirit, the word, to condemn the world and thus divide ourselves off from the world.  Thus we use up our energy not walking in the in the good news of peace through Christ, who has torn down the dividing walls of hostility, but using the word to slay those from whom we feel divided.  We are called to walk not as warriors against people of different races, sexual orientation, religions, political parties, denominations and those within the church with whom we do not agree; but to do the much more difficult task of thinking about how we might speak the truth of the Gospel in love, with integrity and tactfulness that we are part of fulfilling God’s plan for the unification of the whole universe in Christ

As Paul reminds us in verse 12 that we do not wrestle against other people here on earth, but against the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil.  Christ has given us a strong ally in the Holy Spirit, who is available to us at all times and places through prayer for guidance and discernment.

Singing Theology

The Hymn of the Day for tomorrow is “By Grace I’m Saved.”  Along with the 10 stanza hymn, “Dear Christians One and All, Rejoice” and “Salvation unto Us Has Come,” pretty much cover the whole of Lutheran Theology.  Well, just to be safe one might add, “Baptized into Your Name Most Holy” and the communion hymn, “Lord Jesus Christ, You have Prepared.”

A thorough study of these hymns could provide a basis for weeks of teaching and learning the depths of Lutheran Theology.

For instance, “By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless; my soul, believe and doubt it not.”

We could all agree that we are saved by grace.  However, when we got into the particulars of what “grace free and boundless” actually means we may want to pause for some reflection and discussion.  Does that include those who have dropped out of “church” because the church has been a disappointment and in order to save their faith they need to get away, they are covered too?  Yep! You mean all this I’ve been doing for “church,” counts for nothing toward my salvation, not even a teensy weensy bit? Nope!

We may well “stagger at this word of promise.”  But why?  Is the scripture wrong and false?  Well, No. Then if the word of promise in scripture remains true, and despite my sense that it just isn’t fair (and we all should be thankful that God isn’t fair) and that I can’t contribute anything seems demeaning; nevertheless, “By grace you too will life obtain.”

But, if I sing through stanzas 1-4 with some doubt clinging to my mind, stanza 5 is just the word I need,

By grace to timid hearts that tremble,

In tribulation’s furnace tried,

By grace, in spite of fear and trouble,

The Father’s heart is open wide.

Where could I help and strength secure

If grace were not my anchor sure?

Wonderful Words

Psalm 119: 129 – 136

129 Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.
133 Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from man’s oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.

Psalm 119 extolls the word of God as the source and guide for life.  Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Verses 129-136 continues that truth.

The Lord’s testimonies are wonderful, because they are words from God and not from man; therefore, the psalmist live according to them.  When he studies the word it opens up before him like a light shining from the pages giving insight and enlightenment even to ordinary folk.  He knows the sweetness of the God’s word and opens his mouth allowing the Holy Spirit to fill him with him its life giving and satisfying nourishment.  He prays for the Lord’s gracious love helping keep his footsteps steady as he walks the Lord’s path.  Sunday we will pray, “Forgive us our trespasses” and “lead us not into temptation.”  The psalm borrows words from the benediction asking that the Lord keep him in the sunshine of his face and teaching how to live and walk in faith.

The section ends with his great regret over those who do not live according to God’s wonderful word.

A fitting prayer for the end of the Psalm:

Lord, you are just and your commandments are eternal.  Teach us to love you with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves, for the sake of Jesus our Lord.

When Nothing Comes to Mind

What happens when a person wants to write, but nothing comes to mind?  Shall I write of politics which appears to me to be equivalent to professional wrestling this round?  A bunch of “good guys” in the ring with one wrestler taking the role of the “bad guy.” The bad guy is beating up on the good guys while the referee is distracted.   I want to join the psalmist in crying “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”

Do I write of the letter from a Texas company warning me that I better act soon to extend my warrantee coverage on our 2011 automobile?  And in case I replaced said vehicle with a new one then I better act to get extended coverage on the new one.  Well that makes me think of Ephesians 5:6, “Let no one deceive you with empty words…”  The verse goes on to say, “For because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Perhaps I could join the psalmist (144:11) in praying “Rescue me and deliver me from the hand of those whose mouths speak lies and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.”  The letter is now in the recycling bin.

But God, our faithful God comes to the rescue.  The Holy Spirit brings to mind the closing verses of Ephesians 5.  Our response to the good news of Jesus is to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving, “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As I look outside I see that the abundance of rain this summer have left us with lush green all around.  Bright sunshine is breaking through the trees which line the backyard.  I am still alive in this world and will be able to take the dog for a walk as soon as I finish writing about when nothing comes to mind.  Who knows what wonders I will see and hear, for as another psalmist writes, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1)

Thank you Lord for bringing to my mind your things, when I have nothing worthwhile going on in mine.

Wonder Upon Wonder

The Old Testament lesson for Sunday, Isiah 29:11-19, seemed to be ripped out of context. The people were unable to read the book.  What was that about?  I thought of some dreams a person has where no matter how hard you try you just can’t get to where you’re going or do what you need to do.  In this case they were unable to unseal the book, because they read with blind eyes and not the insight which the Holy Spirit gives.

The situation is that Jerusalem, the city where David encamped, was under siege.  However, God whose dwelling place on earth was Jerusalem and the temple now intended to encamp against the city, to raise siege works against His own home.  Theoretically, it was impossible for God’s city to be conquered, but that is exactly what was going to happen.

The prophets, priests and princes and consequently the people have blinded themselves to what is going on.  Instead of turning to God they follow the conventional wisdom of turning to an alliance with Egypt to save them from the threat of the Babylonians.  To the Lord the formidable foe besieging Jerusalem is like a puff of dust or smoke.  If God removed his support from them, they would be like a dream gone upon awaking.

However, even though the people worship and read the scroll of the scripture, they can’t understand.  Nevertheless, God promises that once Babylon has exacted his punishment upon his people, he will do wonder upon wonder for them.  God will deliver them from exile in Babylon, just as he rescued his people from slavery in Egypt.

Looking ahead to the coming of Jesus, Christ and Messiah, God will do wonder upon wonder for the whole world though they do not recognize his lordship.  He will confound the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning, through grace upon grace.

Blackbirds Sitting onTombstones

The other day while walking in the cemetery I saw two blackbirds sitting on tombstones.  Now ever since the movie “The Birds” a gathering of birds, particularly those of the ebony hue conjures up some suspicion.  That they were sitting on tombstones also brings to mind Edgar Allan Poe.  However, the reason blackbirds usually congregate is that they have an owl or a hawk cornered.  A quick scan of nearby trees didn’t indicate any birds of prey seeking refuge among the leaves.

The blackbirds reminded me that they are not the enemy, but point in some way to our last enemy, death.  This morning a blue tarp over a mound of dirt and a sheet of plywood covering a rectangular excavation awaits another person who has succumbed to the last enemy.

St. Paul also calls death a sleep.  The guarantee that we shall awake from that “sleep, is that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  Thus though movies, Edgar Allan Poe and blackbirds remind us of the enemy which lies in wait; nevertheless, death will not end up the victor.  Death will not be the one who will write the history of our life.  As Paul says later in I Corinthians 15, “For the trumpet will sound, and dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”  Christ is the first of an imperishable fruit and one day, though our bodies are spoiled by sin, illness and death, Christ will raise us with new bodies, imperishable as well.

Perhaps the next time the blackbirds sit on the tombs I should quote St. Paul, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Interconnections for Pentecost 13, Year B

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the interconnections between the lessons for a particular Sunday; however, for this week, August 23, is like the conjunction of numerous freeways, giving us several directions to travel.

Introit: Psalm 26

Psalm 14,

Isaiah 29:11-19

Ephesians 5:22-33 (Should include verse 21)

Mark 7: 1-13

How dare we say as we do in the Introit, Entrance Psalm, “I have trusted without wavering when Psalm 14 tells us, “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, no not one”?

Both Isaiah 29 and Jesus quote of Isaiah leads us to examine our motives for showing up in church.  The Lord says, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…”

How dare I sing in the Introit, “I wash my hands in innocence and go round the altar,” when Isiah 29:15 accuses God’s people of hiding their thoughts and deeds from God, saying “Who sees us? Who sees us?…He did not make me…He (God) has no understanding”?

The Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of eating with unwashed, defiled hands.  Who knows whom they may touched among the jostling unwashed crowds that surrounded Jesus?

Our hope is not in our unwavering trust, nor in our innocence, nor in successfully hiding our thoughts, words and deeds from our maker supposing we can keep God in the dark.  Our hope is found in Jesus who is the only one whose hands are innocent and it was his innocent hands which were washed in his own blood on the cross which cleanses us and is our innocence.   Thankfully, we are members of the Church for whom Christ gave up his life in order to sanctify the church, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (baptism).”  He presents the church to himself in splendor, like a bride, “without spot or wrinkle or any such things…” (Ephesians 5)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Lamb without stain, image of the Father’s glory: Give us strength to avoid sin and be faithful to you always.  Lead us to the place where God dwells in his glory, that we may praise him with joy among his saints now and forever.

Do Not Correct a Scoffer

It strikes me that the Old Testament lesson from last Sunday, Proverbs 9:1-10, applies to numerous situations in our life but particularly to the current national political climate.

Verses 7-8 tell us, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.  Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

Eugene Peterson paraphrases these verses, “If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you’ll get slapped in the face; confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins.  So don’t waste your time on a scoffer; all you’ll get for your pains is abuse.  But if you correct those who care about life, that’s different-they’ll love you for it.”

Proverbs 9 features two invitations.  “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.”  Wisdom existed from before the beginning, it participated in the creation.  When we view wisdom through the eyes of faith, we see Christ who is the wisdom of God and the power of God. (I Cor. 1)

The text ends, Verse 10, “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  Luther speaks of fear, love and trust.  Fear of the Lord is recognition that we have a responsibility to God for our life in thought word and deed, but it also involves the awesome salvation we have received through Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit we are led into a life of love and trust of God and kindness, gentleness and forbearance of one another.

Therefore, Paul writes in Ephesians 5, you once were darkness, but are now light in Christ.   Filled with the Holy Spirit we respond by living in the light of Christ.  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”

However, back in Proverbs Folly is also sending out invitations, “The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing.”

Wisdom is knowing how to apply our insight in Christ to our life.  That which is loud and bombastic may be appealing, but is not necessarily the “wisdom” we should follow.  St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Let no one deceive you with empty words…understand what the will of the Lord is.”  As chapter 5 concludes we hear Paul calling us to be filled with the Spirit that we might talk to one another in psalm and songs, with thanksgiving in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And rather than vaunting ourselves or anyone who would do the same, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.  That is wisdom empowered by God for everyday living.

Wise Walking

Pentecost 12, 2015, Glen Carbon, IL. Ephesians 5:15-20

5:15-16, Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

In the German city of Strasbourg on the Rhine, the cathedral clock features Christ and the twelve Apostles, as well as four figures representing the four ages of life: childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age.  Amid the four figures marking the ages of people stands Death, who strikes the bell on the hour.  The clock  challenges people to stop, look, listen and then ask themselves, “How am I living my life? How am I using this day? How am I using this day for Christ?”  St. Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith for good works which God has already prepared for us to do.

Paul writes in his epistle to the Ephesians that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom (the church) is joined together.”  We are being built, together with all other believers in Christ Jesus, into a home in which God lives by the Holy Spirit.

Last week Paul urged us to, “imitate God as His dear children, and live in love just as Christ also loved us.”  Today Paul tells us that through faith we have risen from the dead and Christ is shining on us and through us. Therefore, “Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but as wise.”

However, living wisely is not as easily done as walking along the level and shaded trail that passes through Glen Carbon.  Consider Abraham of old, chosen in God’s wisdom to implement God’s plan to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.  Through Abraham God would bless all the families of the earth. Our call as the church and as the body of Christ is to do the same thing.   God’s plan hasn’t changed since the days of Abraham, but was fully revealed in Jesus Christ when the time was ripe. The church is his instrument for carrying out that plan.  Yes, that includes St. James along with all the others believers gathering this morning throughout this community and the world.

But Abraham discovered the difficulty of walking wisely when in Genesis 20, for the second time, he passed off his wife, Sarah, as his sister out of fear for his life.  When confronted by Abimelech, Abraham feebly tried to explain, “I thought, ’There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.”  It turned out that Abimelech did fear and trust God, walking in God’s wisdom..  It was Abraham, the father of faith, who was faithless and fearful for his own life more than he feared and trusted God.

We have already taken care of our failure to imitate God this past week and  feared where the world’s going more than we feared and trusted God.  I no sooner announced the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, than we began a conversation.  Quoting words from John’s first letter I cautioned you, “If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  You, without blinking an eye responded, “But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  I said, in effect, “If that’s the case, let’s go ahead and confess our sins, no point in trying to hide our failings.”  So you said, “Most merciful God”…and so forth.  And I said, “In the mercy of almighty God…” and so forth and we were on our way to worshiping our merciful Lord who in Jesus cleansed us of all that would separate us from God.  Where else, but in the church are you going to hear such saving words this week?

But we have a calling to carry out the rest of the week.  Therefore, we have need to pray that, Our Lord would give us spirit of wisdom that we be focused on Christ and clearly see what it is he is calling us to do.  Part of the wisdom we have in Christ is that recognizing that though the days in which we live are evil, that is not the whole story.  We know that the world is God’s good creation and that all days are God’s gifts. Living in the time of Jesus resurrection the Holy Spirit has given insight into Jesus words in our gospel lesson when Jesus says, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”   Jesus was speaking of his body which was nailed to the cross; is now raised.   He is seated on the right hand of God in the heavenly places where all our spiritual blessings are being held in trust.  However many took offense at Jesus words and abandoned him.   He then asked the twelve disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  There are a lot of words being bantered on the TV talk shows this morning, but how many of them are words of eternal life?  Indeed, where else would we go?  A pastor told of being on vacation and was determined to enjoy the opportunity to be away from it all.  The first Sunday morning he reveled in the freedom and put his chair on the beach and read the entire morning away.  The second Sunday found him in the mountains.  He had his book already picked out and settled into a rocking chair on the porch of their lodge.  However, as the clock ticked closer to 10AM a certain restlessness set in.  It was almost as if his soul was hungry.  He said to his wife, “Come on we’re going to church.”  She responded, “I’m ready, I’ve just been waiting for you to be ready.”  So they got in the car and drove a half hour to church.  He says, the music was odd, the sermon was preachy, and the people were most ordinary.  Nevertheless, wrote, “I left that sanctuary humming and smiling and refreshed-somehow back in sync with God, with myself and with the world.”

Paul gives some guidance in order to live our life in sync with God’s will during the coming week.  God’s will is not to shine the light of Christ on the world in order to condemn the world.  Since we have the light of Christ’s grace, mercy and forgiveness in us we, the church, are to “walk as children of light,” shining that same grace, mercy and forgiveness on another and the world in which we live.   We are called to shine the light of Christ on these evil days to release these evil days and those who live in their darkness from the grip of sin and death separated from God and makes God out to be their enemy.  The task of the church is not to shake our heads nor to rant and rave at the sorry state of the world but to expose the evil to the light of the Gospel in order that more and more might join us in the household of God; that more and more might become places in whom God dwells through the Spirit.

Here is something really breathtaking, the church is God’s chosen instrument to bring the light of Christ to everyone – yes, everyone, and everything. That is, the plan of God for the uniting of everything, not only on earth, but for the whole universe.  Because we, the church, his body, is completely filled by Him and He fills everything in every possible way.  We are a beachhead for God’s redemption of the entire universe.

To that end St. Paul urges us “to be filled with the Spirit,” that we might address one another, “In psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father.”  God has given the church high privilege and opportunity.  He also gives even greater resources in his grace.  We will hear him saying to us in our closing hymn, “Go my children, with my blessing, never alone, waking, sleeping, I am with you: You are my own.”  Thus truly as we sang in our opening, this is a day of rest and gladness, a day of joy and light.  To that we can add nothing more than our Amen.