1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed

Erich Cline has written the first in what is to be a series on “Turning Points in Ancient History.”  As I read the 176 page book published in 2014, I thought of Lois a member of our noon bible class I taught while at Holy Cross, Collinsville.  She was interested in what else was going on in the world besides the biblical accounts.  In our study of the Old Testament we center on our attention on the Hebrew people who eventually occupy Canaan in 1446 B.C.  or between 1350-1200, depending how one reads the historical evidence available.  Geographically, we concentrate on a piece of land some 100 miles long and 70 miles wide.  We know of several small nations and the surrounding powers of Assyria and Babylon.  Later Persia and Rome come into play.  If we include the Apocryphal, we might include the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, against whom the Maccabees led a revolt in the 2nd century B.C.

Clines book takes us back through the 15th to the 12th century when the great powers of the world included Mycenae (southern Greece), the island of Crete, Hittites in most of what is now Turkey, Kingdom of Mitanni on the upper Tigris River, Babylonia in present day Iraq, and the Egyptians.  The Egyptian kingdom was a narrow snakelike power extending from north of Beirut, through Canaan and following the Nile well down into Africa.  All these kingdoms flourished until within a short period of time, between 1200 to 1130, they all collapsed and took hundreds of years to rebuild, some never did.

So while we in our biblical studies concentrate of Israel as slaves in Egypt, the Exodus and wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before crossing the Jordan into the Canaan, the Promised Land, the rest of the Mediterranean world took little notice.

However God took notice and through this minor nation completed a universe-large project of reclaiming all creation and its inhabitants through the crucifixion and resurrection of a Jesus. As we enter into that period of the church year which looks to return of Christ we take note that What God is doing is often not in view of the public stage, but the consequences of His actions include the whole of the universe.

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Peter and Paul and Psalm 16

Psalm 16 is quoted in two Sermons in Acts.

Psalm 16 is appointed for this Sunday the 25th week after Pentecost.  We are a long way from Easter, but the apostles Peter and Paul quoted from Psalm 16 in preaching concerning Christ’s resurrection.

Peter’s Pentecost sermon is included in Acts 2.  “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  He then refers to this Psalm of David verses 8-11.  Perhaps quoting from the Greek translation of psalm 16: 10, Peter quotes David, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”

St. Paul includes the psalm in a sermon preached at the synagogue in Antioch.  Acts 13:15, “You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.”

As commentator James Limburg of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. writes, “These early believers were convinced that the promises found in the Old Testament were being fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  And when they had experienced the resurrection, they thought of Psalm 16.”

Then last verse of the psalm also found its way into the early church.  “’You show me the path of life.’  The earliest believers referred to themselves as a movement, not an institution.  They used the image of being followers of the ‘The Way.’  Of course Jesus had already used that image in a conversation with Thomas before his cross and resurrection.  Thomas asked, ‘How can we know the way?’  Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6)’”

Still a good path on which to walk as we consider the end of the church year and its emphasis on the return of the resurrected Christ.

God makes a Footstool

The epistle Lesson from Hebrews 10:11-25 is filled with grace.  Priests needed to daily stand and keep offering the same sacrifice for sin which were never fully taken away.  Christ offered himself once, a single offering and took care of all sins.  Then he “sat down at the right hand of God.  He doesn’t have to get up and repeatedly stagger to the cross to daily sacrifice his life for sin.  One time was good enough to do the job forever.  Now he sits, like God on the seventh day after creation, and waits until God, the Father, makes all his enemies, sin, death and devil, into a footstool upon which to rest his feet.

Since Christ’s enemies are our enemies, we have no reason to fear approaching God in his holy place.  God promises, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  They are forgiven and forgotten through Christ’s offering of himself.  Hebrews says, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”  The only offering we can give to God is our thanksgiving.

Prayer of the Day, (Evangelical Worship) Almighty God, Your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth.    Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Luther on Grace and Peace

Martin Luther was born Nov. 10, 1483.  He was baptized the next day on Martin of Tours day.  The following are selected comments from his lecture on Galatians 1:3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Grace and peace,…embrace the whole of Christianity.  Grace forgives sin and peace stills the conscience….Peace is impossible unless sin has first been forgiven, for the Law accuses and terrifies the conscience on account of sin.  The more we work and sweat to extricate ourselves from sin, the worse off we are.  Your bones and mine will know no rest until we hear the Word of grace and cling to it firmly and faithfully.

The world brags about free will, about our powers, our works.  The world’s peace grants nothing except the peace of our property and of our bodies, so that we can live happily and peacefully in the flesh.  But the grace and peace of the world cannot help us or deliver us from trouble, despair and death. When the grace and peace of God are present, a man is so strong that he can bear both the cross and peace, both joy and sorrow.

True Christian theology, does not present God to us in His majesty.  Begin where Christ began – in the Virgin’s womb, in the manger, and at His mother’s breasts.  For this purpose He came down, was born, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and died.  He wanted us to fix the gaze of our hearts upon Himself and thus to prevent us from clambering into heaven and speculating about the Divine Majesty.”

The Widow in the Temple

Mark 12:42, A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.

Was the poor woman in the temple whom Jesus observed young or elderly?  In 1973, Christians in Cameroon, were asked to depict certain bible passage which were later turned into paintings.  The painting of the widow in the temple is seen through the eyes of Jesus.  She young, tall, slim earing a gold-yellow dress while carrying a large basket on her head and a thumb sucking toddler in her arms.

A wealthy black man in a flowing robe, wearing glasses, is walking away from the viewer as he drops a large gold coin into an offering jar.  He appears to give the widow a disdainful look.

The young widow is barefoot, whereas the wealthy man and all the bystanders watching are sandaled.  Her eyes look down as her last means of support fall into the pot.  The rich man sort of flips his coin without breaking stride, “no big deal.”  The widow’s son eyes the man.

In the background several women watch the scene playing out.  Off to the side an elderly man also watches; a quizzical look on his face.  He holds his purse in front of him, his hand poised to take out his own offering, wondering about his own offering.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t tell us what becomes of the widow.  But the wealthy man will soon face a test. As he leaves the room he will pass by a beggar seated at the doorway holding out his hand.  The question hangs in the viewer’s mind, how much will he drop in the beggar’s hand?

An Owl Sitting on the Mailbox

Becky was sitting in the car in our driveway when she called me one day last week.  She had just had an up close and personal meeting with a large owl, probably a Great Horned or Barn Owl, sitting on our mailbox as she turned into our driveway.  Owls are quite territorial and seem to have been attacking people lately.

Then I remembered that I had found a dead grey squirrel laying by the mailbox.  Likely the owl had come to enjoy some lunch, however; I had moved the squirrel.  It’s not that the owl hasn’t had anything to eat lately.  Becky mentioned that we don’t have any stray cats about anymore, and few rabbits, though during the summer I had seen several small rabbits scurrying about the garden.  They had been born in a hole under our mailbox.

It strikes me that while we humans go about our business, often not paying much attention to the animal world, the world of predators and prey go about their too.  It’s a reminder that perhaps the world does not solely revolve around us.  The animal world serves God as well and God takes care of them.

In I Kings 17:6, while the prophet Elijah is camped out at the Cherith creek, “ravens brought him bread and meat morning and evening and he drank from the brook.”

In Isaiah 34 owls are among the creatures that settle in to the wasteland to clean up the mess left after God’s judgment against the nations, particularly against who were the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham and Hagar’s son.

Isaiah 34 makes for some pretty gory readings and then is followed by Chapter 35 in which God reverses everything He has brought on in the previous chapter.

Standing on the Promises

Pentecost 24, 2015, Conant/Pinckneyville  I Kings 17:2-16; Mark 12:38-44

There’s an old hymn called “Standing on the Promises.”  Kelso Carter, the author, found new meaning in his hymn when he suffered from a heart condition at age 30.  He pledged to God at that time, whether he was healed or not, he would devote his life to serving the Lord and teaching the promises of God.  This gifted man, pastor, physician and hymn write lived another 46 years.  His life was a living example of:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,

When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,

By the living Word of God I shall prevail,

Standing on the promises of God my Savior

Standing on the promises of God.

And we ourselves declared in the Introit: “Let the redeemed, whom God has redeemed from trouble say: “He is good, his kindness is forever.”  We prayed: “You have given exceedingly great and precious promises…Grant us to believe so firmly in Your Son Jesus that our faith may never faulter.”

This morning we meet two widows who help us put meat and meaning on our declaration and prayer to stand on the great and precious promises of God. Both widows are nameless, both are faceless, both are without power.  One, is a gentile, living eight centuries before Christ in Sidon in the village of Zarephath. It’s near the hometown of Queen Jezebel, who is married to King Ahab and brought Baal worship into the heart of the spiritual life of God’s people.  The other widow lived 800 years later.  She is observed by Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish worship.  The first widow has a son; the other may be elderly.  One is starving; the other is penniless.  Neither has anyone to support them.

The widow at Zarephath is met by Elijah, whom God has sent into the center of Baal worship.  She is picking up few sticks to make a last supper with the little oil and flour they have left; knowing that she and her son will soon die of starvation.

The prophet Elijah asked the woman to bring him a drink of water and to bring him some food. Elijah himself had been drinking from a creek and living off twice a day scraps of food scavenged by ravens. He had announced that God was bringing on a drought because of Baal worship among his own people.  But the creek dried up and now the prophet is in dire straits.   Now here came the test for the widow, would she do as this hungry demanding man of God has commanded?  He had not begged or even asked politely.  He insisted, feed me first.  Would she feed the strange stranger first, before she made a last supper for herself and her son?   Would you?  Would she believe that the God of Elijah, had spoken to the prophet as he claimed.  Would you? We of course know she did listen and the jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty.

But what of the widow in the temple in the time of Jesus?  She whom Jesus observes in the temple casts her last two coins, worth less than a penny, in the  treasury box.  She gave “all she had to live on.”  She gave her whole life. The story has no ending. We don’t know what became of her. Furthermore, it’s the last time Jesus goes into the temple before he goes to the cross.  When the disciples call attention to the wonderful stones and beautiful buildings, Jesus says, “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”  The destruction would already begin when he breathed his last and the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.

The more important issue is what the widows are able to teach us who live thousands of years later, about the mighty promises of God upon which we claim to stand.

A key phrase is that the word of the Lord came.  It came to Elijah telling him to arise, go, and dwell in Zarephath.  The word of the Lord had also come to the widow, “Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  But as the story progresses it appears that God may have commanded her, but she doesn’t seem to have any recollection that God has told her to feed Elijah.  How could that be?  Well, let me tell you what happened to me last week.  Back in October, when I knew I was coming here today, I picked out hymns for the services.  Thus we sang in our opening hymn, “Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty, Zion let me enter there…”  When Larry Roethe sent me the bulletin on Thursday, there was an insert which will be in Zion’s bulletin marking their 130th anniversary as a congregation.  The insert mentions that on July 2, 1950 the congregation dedicated their present church building.  The opening hymn for the service was “Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty, Zion Let me enter there.”  Here was one of those mysterious operations of God moving me to do his will without informing me that I, was serving His purpose.  I mentioned this to the men’s Bible Class I teach on Friday morning and several of the other men shared similar occasions from their lives.

God’s ways are strange and mysterious.  In Psalm 146 he promises, “The Lord watches over the sojourners: he upholds the widow and the fatherless.”  God watched over Elijah, through the widow of Zarephath as he temporarily lived; he a man of God, in the midst of pagan worship.  She did as the Lord commanded; though she had no knowledge of his command. At the same time God watched over the widow and her fatherless son through the prophet according to his promise. Thus the Lord saw to it that these three desperate people continued to have their daily bread as they served God by serving one another.

As for the widow in the temple; she had no idea that Jesus was watching as she gave her whole life away in those two coins dropped into the temple treasury.    Yet Jesus saw in her action a lesson for his disciples.  She was a living example of  what time and again he had been trying to get through to his disciples, that the first shall be last and last first.  That whoever would be great must be your servant.   The widow in the temple was a visible object lesson of the song that Jesus’ mother Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”

Beyond that the unnamed widow served as an object lesson for Jesus.  In giving her whole life she did what he would be doing in only a matter of days, giving his whole life, for the redemption and salvation of the all humanity.  Because a little further on in Mark we read, “Then Judas Iscariot … went to the chief priests in order to betray him…”  The result is summed up by our Epistle lesson, “He appeared once for all…to set aside sin by his sacrifice…So Christ, was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.  And to those who eagerly look for Him.  He will come  a second time,…to bring salvation to them.”

The alert for you and me is that while we stand on the great and precious promises of God waiting for Jesus to come he intends to use us, perhaps even unwittingly, to serve him by serving other people.  He is able to use anybody and does.  He who used unclean Ravens to feed Elijah, and used two widows one starving and one penniless to serve. He used a preacher sitting at his desk 70 miles away in St. Louis choosing hymns to get the one hymn he wanted us to sing this morning. How will he use us this week, while we stand on the great and precious promises of our God?

Fortuitous or…

I’m preaching at Trinity Lutheran in Conant and Zion Lutheran in Pinckneyville this weekend.  The congregations use the Lutheran Hymnal.  Concordia Publishing House has produced a book with suggested hymns for each Sunday of the year; however the suggestions are tied to the Lutheran Service Book.  None of the hymns I would have chosen are in the Lutheran Hymnal.  So I did what I could to pick hymns that went along with the theme of the lessons.

The opening hymn will be “Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty.”  When I received a copy of the bulletin from Larry Roethe, I learned it was the 130 anniversary for Zion, Pinckneyville.  He reminded me that I had preached at their 125th anniversary.  It turns out that when the congregation dedicated it present church building in 1950 the opening hymn for the service was “Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty.”

It’s one of those things that makes one wonder.  What simply a fortuitous choice of hymns to fit the occasion or…was God influencing the process of hymn selection without ever letting the selector know who was really in charge, at least in the matter of one of the hymns? It makes one wonder about the mysterious ways of God.

Totenfest

The sign outside the UCC church near us announced that November 1, was Totenfest –“Festival of the Dead.”  According to one church site, Totenfest comes out of the German Evangelical and Reformed church.  It was established in 1816 by Prussian Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm III to remember the soldiers who had died in the recent war.  In 1817 it was inaugurated for all church members who died in the last year.

The remembrance of saints, particularly those who died as martyrs dates back to the 4th century.  In 609 Pope Boniface first announced the celebration of all Saints.  It became part of the church Calendar under Pope Gregory III (731-741) and was moved to November 1st by Pope Gregory IV in 835.

Some Lutherans celebrate November 1st as Totenfest; however, most call it All Saints Day. The day often features a commemoration of the faithful departed in which the names of the dead from the congregation are called out followed by the ringing of a bell.  In some places a passage of scripture is read related to their salvation and eternal life.

The Proper Preface of the Communion liturgy remembers that we are part of something much larger than our local congregation.  We are part of a church which extends beyond even our earthly living.  “Therefore with angels and archangels and WITH ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying:”

Thus, we each time we celebrate Holy Communion is a Totenfest, as we celebrate with those saints who have preceded us into the Church Triumphant.

Come to Jesus

In the Prayer of the Day from All Saints Day we acknowledge that God knits His faithful people together of all times and placed in “one holy communion;” which is the mystical Body of God’s Son Jesus Christ.  We then ask that God grant us to follow his blessed saints in virtuous and godly living that together “we may come to the unspeakable joys” which God has prepared for those who love him.

However, in the Gospel lesson, which is the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus concludes that though we find ourselves poor in spirit, mourning, meek … and even persecuted facing suffering because of false charges against us because we are disciples of Jesus; yet even now in this life “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…”

The key for enjoyment of unspeakable joys in eternal life and rejoicing even now is found in Matthew 5:1, “when he (Jesus) sat down, his disciples came to him.”  His disciples came to him because that’s what disciples do.  It’s in coming to Jesus that we learn how to follow him and practice for that time when we appear before the throne of God, where we will serve him day and night.