Being Darkness and Becoming Light

In our Friday morning bible Class we studied Ephesians chapter 5 this morning. Verse 8 stood out for me, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

The bible has numerous passages relating to being in the darkness and in Christ being transferred to the kingdom of light.  In other words, without Christ we lived in the culture and environment of darkness under its domination.  However, none that I am able to remember say that without Christ you are darkness itself.  Of course, this does not accord with prevalent American thinking or even religious thinking in our day which holds that all of us have a little bit of light in us and we need to find the way to ignite it and let it shine.  That’s an old heresy going back to the time of Pelagius (400).

St. Paul says “At one time you were darkness.”  That’s an astounding commentary on humanity without Christ.  However, in Christ, who “gave himself up for us” (5:2) according to God’s plan to unify the whole universe under the direction of Jesus we who once were darkness are not transformed into light.  In Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  We already have everything that God has to offer us, including being resurrected with Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the guarantee into which we were sealed in Baptism.

Now in Christ, having put on Christ, we are light.  So don’t fall back into being darkness by being duped by fine sounding empty words, which may provide a temporary benefit, but will fail to provide in the long run, in the completion of our resurrection in Christ.  Now we are light in the Lord, and just as God is light and Jesus is the light that came into the world, live like we belong God.  Live like God, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (5:9)

Being light in the Lord, imitators of God as beloved children, culminates in worship, “giving thanks always and forever everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Martin Luther on being nothing before God

Psalm 38:21 Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me.

Martin Luther, 1517, lecture on the psalms.

I am alone and despised by all, therefore, O Lord, receive me and do not forsake me.  It is the nature of god that He creates out of nothing; therefore, God cannot make anything out of him who has not yet become nothing.  Men, on the other hand, change one thing into another, which is a futile occupation.

Therefore God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to none but the dead.  He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools.  In short: He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace. Therefore no arrogant saint, or just or wise man can be material for God, neither can he do the work of God, but he remains confined within his own work and makes of himself a fictitious, ostensible, false and deceitful saint, that is, a hypocrite.

From the Gospel Lesson

Mark 9:31-34, “The son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of me, and they will kill him.  And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him…And they came to Capernaum and (he asked them) “What were you were discussing on the way?”  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

Prayer of the Day:

O God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, grant us humility and childlike faith that we may please You in both will and deed; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever.

Strengthen us by Your Spirit according to Your will, both in life and in death, in the midst of both good and evil things, that our own wills may be crucified daily and sacrificed to Your good and gracious will.  Into Your merciful hands we commend all those we name before you who are need of Your care, praying for them at all times. Thy will be done.

A Time to Celebrate

There are times we simply need to celebrate.  That was the kind of day it was at Holy Cross in Collinsville on Holy Cross Sunday, September 13.  The congregation feted the 100th anniversary of the church building.  A century ago when the church was dedicated it was the end of a long and arduous process.  Financial problems, as always stood in the way.  Pastor Von Strohe was suffering from shattered nerves.  He would resign in October 1914 shortly after the cornerstone was laid.  He had missed numerous congregational meetings citing a need to be visiting in the members’ homes.  In 1912 three long time leaders in the congregation died.  One had been in the first confirmation class back in about 1854.

But the Introit for Holy Cross Day calls on God’s people, in the words of Psalm 98, “Sing a new song unto the Lord, for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and holy arm have worked salvation for him.”  Too often in the church we are stuck singing the old songs, laments about lack of members, money and enthusiasm.  Often divisions create disunity resetting the walls of hostility which Christ destroyed in his death on the cross.

Thus it was good to be a part of Holy Cross’s celebration on Sunday.  After an outside lunch, they displayed the items in the metal box set into the cornerstone in October 1915.

Sometimes we just have to celebrate and set aside the challenges that are ahead.  Holy Cross has had a pastoral vacancy for a year.  However, they are blessed in having a member as vacancy pastor and three other members who are pastors.

Karen Shimkus had heeded the words of verses 4-6 of the psalm.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth;

Break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,

With the lyre and the sound of melody!

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

Make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Karen didn’t have any lyres, but she did have an orchestra, the organ and children’s and adult choirs.

I rejoice that Holy Cross had an opportunity to rejoice and give praise.  Such times can help us remember that our success and joy is not in our success but in that of the Lord of the cross.

Unless the Seed Dies

Jesus says in the Gospel lesson for Holy Cross Day (Holy Cross Day is September 15) “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

We grew oats on our dairy farm where I grew up.  On threshing day (we called it “thrashing day”) after the oats was separated from the stalk in the “thrashing machine” it flowed into sacks and we took it over to Elsie and August Becker’s farm and put it in the grain bin.  We didn’t have a bin on our farm.  Throughout the winter the grain was taken to town where it was ground into cow feed. However, one day in the spring several sacks were taken to the feed store, not to be ground up but to be fed into a fanning mill where the chaff was blown off the seeds.  This grain was then poured into the boxes on the grain drill and planted for the harvest later in the summer.  As long as the grain sat in my uncle and aunt’s grain bin it didn’t grow.  However, once in the ground it would soon sprout, in order for that to happen, the grain seed needed to give itself up to the new growth.

When Philip and Andrew (John 12:20-26) brought word to Jesus that some Greeks wanted to see him, this was the signal that it was time for him to go to the cross and die.  And by giving himself up, having very life winnowed from his body, he would be planted in the ground and in his rising would produce a huge harvest.  Followers of Christ are part of that growing harvest which will keep unto eternal life.  However, it means following Jesus.  And when we follow Jesus we too will go to our cross, for that is where Jesus said his time of glorification began.

Wisdom of Holy Cross

100th Anniversary of Holy Cross Church Building, I Cor. 1:18-25, 31

For the proclamation of the cross is, for their part, folly to those who are on their way to ruin, but, for our part, the power of God to us who are on the way to salvation.  As it is written, “Let the one who glories, glory in the Lord.”

The second Sunday of Trinity on June 13, 1915 was a grand day here.  Two dedication services in German and one in English were held. However, the day began with a brief service at the Temperance Hall.  Then, with the leaders carrying the Bible, the liturgy books and communion vessels everyone walked to the new church.  After another brief service at the church door, contractor Henry Eberhardt handed the key to Pastor Klein who unlocked the door and the congregation filed in.

The order of dedication calls for the words of Jacob, to be cited, “Surely the Lord is in this place:  This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate to heaven.”  The epistle from Revelation 21 announces, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”  Thus the baptized gathered in their new house of God, themselves dwelling places of the Holy Spirit, as we are today.  Like those folks a century ago, we too are built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.  The men took their places on the pulpit side, the women sat on the lectern side and the children were located in the balcony under the watchful eye of the teachers.  They were part of that one great stream of saints in every time and every place; whether it be the church triumphant who have gone on to glory or we the church militant in our day or those of generations to come, all our glory found in the Jesus Christ and him crucified.

It is through Christ crucified that God has clothed us in love and acceptance, purified and set us apart for himself.  We are marked and identified by God as his own, bearing the name of Christ; freed from bondage to sin, death and the devil.  We are God’s precious people having Christ as our leader by day and by night.   However, as it is so often among us, that in striving to serve him we stumble along the way, for we are the church not in glory, but still abiding under the cross.

Prior to the 150th anniversary of the congregation a member of the Caseyville congregation was working on the minutes written in German script.  One day I happened to meet her out in front of the office area.  She said, “I don’t think there is much use of going on.  I’m up to 1910 and they’ve decided to return the money contributed for a new church.”  I said, “See this building we’re standing beside?  That was dedicated in 1915.  Don’t give up yet.”  The need to build a new church was suggested in 1902.  In 1908 the voters decided to go ahead.  Though that decision was rescinded two years later, the issue continued to simmer like a pot of coffee on the back of a wood cook stove.  In the spring of 1913 John Schroeppel, a local brick maker, offered to give one-half of the bricks needed for a new church. What a deal. But…nothing.  A year later he set a deadline of one month on his offer or he would withdraw it.  Suddenly wisdom found a home in the men who had so long been stuck between Ja und Nein, Yes and No.  The young men’s association offered their support; as did the Ladies Aid and the children collected their pennies and nickels.  A flurry of activity followed and by October 1914 the cornerstone was ready to be set in place.

Wisdom also prevailed in the architecture of this century old building.  The pie shaped seating arrangement has stood the test of time.  Everyone on the sanctuary floor is within face recognition distance of the chancel and pulpit.  If this edifice had been built in the rectangular, some of you would be sitting out in the parking lot, saying, “Who is that guy preaching, he seems familiar.”   There is also wisdom dating back to 1848, when Pastor Friedrich Lochner founded the congregation and it was named Holy Cross. That name is a reminder of the symbol upon which Jesus, Son of God and son of man gave up his life so that we might be holy.  Without the wisdom of the cross this facility would be no more than a building built with bargain bricks.

Hear again St. Paul, “We preach Christ crucified…who (is)…the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Therein is the wisdom of Holy Cross.  But how can you put the words, “cross” “wisdom and power” and “holy” in the same sentence? The Greek word for foolish, is the root word for our word “moronic.”  It’s moronic, it doesn’t make one bit of sense.  Ah, but there is the key to the cross’s true meaning to you and me.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “If I say where God will be, I will always find a god who is like me, is agreeable to me.  But if it is God who says where he will be, that place is the cross of Christ.”  The cross of Christ is a scandal, it makes hash out of all secular and religious attempts to make sense of God and world through human wisdom.  The goal of our Christian life is not to be more spiritual, but to be more centered on the cross.  Jesus was not crucified on an old rugged cross on a hill far away, but on heap of dirt near a main highway on the outskirts town, where gamblers toss dice for the clothes of the naked man hanging on the cross. A bit of macabre entertain. There is nothing sentimental about it.  Jesus was not crucified on a grassy knoll, but on a barren skull shaped mound of a public execution ground.  The cross was not crafted from the fragrant cedars of Lebanon, but of splinter filled poles with the stench of human dying filling the air; which was to God a fragrant offering.

The shame that came from our first parents eating the forbidden fruit is removed because Christ disdained the shame of death by a tree and has become the first fruit of a great harvest of salvation.  In the cross of Christ God makes sinners saints, and thereby gives the members of Holy Cross the  privilege of calling themselves holy declared so by God.

On such days as this the psalmist calls us to: “Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”  The psalmist may be looking back at God’s victory in the time of Moses rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt.  When we look at the psalm in terms of Jesus, we see the wondrous deeds carried out by God who took on our flesh as a baby, whom the angel proclaimed to be the Savior, Christ the Lord; yet he was so weak he could but flee in his mother’s arms from the tyrant Herod.  Years later he reached out to touch the untouchable and take their sin and uncleanness and infirmities into himself, as he has our own. On a Friday we call good, He stretched out that powerful right hand and holy arm on the cross where he was nailed in weakness.  It is through such unexpected wisdom and weakness that God gained his greatest victory on Mt. Calvary and the empty tomb.  Therefore, our last enemy, death, is left without victory and without sting, no longer able to kill, but merely to put us to sleep in Jesus until the trumpet blows and we arise, leaving the cemeteries empty and in shambles. Then we will not need this dwelling place of the Lord.   We shall be with the Lord in glory where God almighty and Christ the Lamb will be our place of worship.  Thus we will walk in the land of living forever and ever. But until then, let us glory in the Holy Cross of Jesus.

Walking in the Land of the Living

Psalm 116:1-9 is the psalm for this coming Sunday.  Yesterday I had my yearly check up on my pacemaker.  Everything was just fine.  The battery itself is good for another 10 years.  I said, “I’ll guess I’ll just have to keep on going then.”

When I read the psalm this morning in preparation for the Friday morning Bible Class I teach, the psalm struck a chord with me.  I am familiar with being encompassed by “the snares of death.”  I have discovered that the Lord is gracious, when I “was brought low, he saved me.”  Therefore I can say with the Psalmist, “Return, O my soul, to your rest.”  The Lord has delivered me from death and I am able to continue to walk in the land of the living, even now.  That is, I am able to continue to serve Him in walking about the altar in the sanctuary and in my everyday life to just plain walk about.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

God of power and mercy, through the Passion and resurrection of your Son you have freed us from the bonds of death and the anguish of separation from you.  Be with us on our pilgrimage, and help us offer you a sacrifice of praise, fulfill our vows, and glorify you in the presence of all your people, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Watch Your Mouth

James 3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

James 3:1-12 is the epistle for next Sunday.

The Man and the Styr

In Aesop’s Fables we read about a Satyr who thought that what comes from a person’s lips reveal the kind of person he is.

The Satyr (god of the woods depicted as goat-legged, goat-bearded men with budding horns) met a man on the road one frigid morning.  The man suggested they travel together, “you will find me a reliable friend.”

As they walked along the man blew on his hands.  The Satyr asked, “Why do you do that?”

The man replied, “To warm my hands.”

That night they stopped at an inn and ordered supper.  Within minutes two steaming bowls of porridge were place before them.  However, the porridge was too hot to eat.  The Satyr waited patiently for his to cool, but the man began to blow on his.

The Satyr watched him and then asked, “Why do you do that?”

“To cool my porridge,” the man said.

The Satyr shook his head in disappointment, “From now on I travel alone.  I don’t trust a man who changes so quickly.  Now that I have seen blow hot and cold with the same breath; I cannot travel with you.”

The Satyr had jumped to some negative conclusions about his companion.  God did make our mouths to serve many purposes.  However, James warns us about a dual use of our moths that is not God pleasing.  There is something wrong if someone can praise God and then speak words of hatred all in the one breath.  We can also use our tongues to flatter another person or to scorn someone.  As James says our tongues can ignite a great fire.  We cannot tame them.  We must let Jesus fill our thoughts with his Love and goodness that is reflected in our speech.

The Royal Law

James 2:1 “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”  This verse might well be coupled with what James writes a few verses later, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. (v. 8).”

Loving your neighbor as yourself is a royal law, because it comes directly from God.  It is not a law of human origin.  Loving your neighbor as yourself is the will of God, the King of the universe, who declared all things good, very good.  Though his good creation has managed to fragment itself, in Christ God has destroyed the walls of hostility that divide us.  When God offers his grace of forgiveness and salvation he does not differentiate.  Literally, he does not look upon the face of the object of his grace before deciding whether to grant forgiveness, mercy and salvation.  God does not discriminate.  God is prolific and indiscriminant with his grace.

James reminds us that we are to follow suit.  As Paul says, for those who have put on Christ in baptism (wearing Christ) “there is neither Jew nor Greek (race or nationality)…slave or free (social status or class)…male nor female (sexual and gender division) for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

At the practical level we struggle with the royal law of God in his creation and in Christ. For instance, the African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded by blacks who grew tired of being relegated to the church balcony, and back benches while their white owners sat in the front pews.  Recently I talked with an older woman who had belonged to an integrated congregation, since I recently served a diverse church, we both said we missed the “energy” that seems to be lacking in an all-white church.  I suppose I am guilty of showing the very partiality that James and Paul were telling us don’t exist in Christ anymore.

Today we wonder how the church might deal with gay marriage or transgender issues.  It seems to me that God’s royal law to love your neighbor as yourself, which puts into action our love for God trumps our tendency to emphasize one sin over another.  God is prolific and indiscriminant with his grace.  Dare we be less so?

Worship, a Royal Waste of Time?

The author of Psalm 146 tells us that he will be praising the Lord as long as he lives, “I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.”  He urges us not to put our trust in “a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  “When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”

Marva Dawn, introduces her book “A Royal Waste of Time,” stating, “To worship the Lord is-in the world’s eyes- a waste of time.  It is, indeed a royal waste of time, but a waste nonetheless.  By engaging in it, we don’t accomplish anything useful in our society’s terms.”

She picked up the idea from a question asked her at lunch by a student of the Sacred Music Department at a conference of church musicians.  It led her to preach a sermon entitled, “A Royal Waste of Time” based on Colossians 3:12-17, Verse 16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your heart to God.”

Marva notes, that “We are not chosen because we are great; we are not holy because we act like it; we are not beloved because we have earned it.  We start with the awareness today that makes everything we do a royal waste of time.  Nothing that we do, no matter how wonderful…will change one whit how God feels about us!

It is a royal waste of time because we are participating in the kingdom of God, into which we have been born and borne by our baptism…It is a royal waste of time because we have to die to ourselves and our egos, our purposes and accomplishments to live now in God’s kingdom.

Marva had begun the sermon with the following prayer:

Triune God, illimitably beyond our comprehension, teach us to worship in Spirit and in truth.  We know that we will never be able to praise you as you are worthy to be adored until we join the angels and martyrs of heaven in the eternal bliss of worshiping you.  Till then, guide us to faithfulness and fill us with the Joy of your presence…May we listen now to your Word, so that we will be changed evermore into the likeness of Jesus Christ our Savior, in whose name we pray, Amen.

Open Ears, God’s and Ours

In fulfillment of the signs of the Messiah in Isaiah 35, Jesus opens the ears and loosens the tongue of a deaf mute.  The people the people in the area east of the Sea of Galilee react in astonishment saying, “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak (Mark 7:37).”

James, in the epistle lesson, (James 2:1-18) calls on his readers to listen to what he has to say, “Listen, my beloved brothers,” as he calls on his audience to live out their faith in Christ, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?”

Then the psalms and prayer call on God to hear the prayer and praise of the faithful.

In the Introit from Psalm 28, we will read or sing, “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me…Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy…Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.”

One of the themes that runs through the lessons and psalms for Sunday is that when the Messiah comes he will unstop the ears of the deaf.  At the same time, the psalmist pleads that God open his ears and be not deaf to his voice.  Thus hearing goes both ways.  We need to hear God’s voice speaking through the Gospel and God needs to hear our pleas for his gospel mercy to both protect and save us.

Notice the Prayer of the Day reference to God’s ears: O Lord, let your merciful ears be open to the prayers of your humble servants and grant that what they ask may be in accord with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.