A More Excellent Way

Epiphany 4, 2016, Bunker Hill, I Cor. 12:31b-13:13

13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

The last three weeks we’ve read in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians how the church, inspired by the Holy Spirit proclaims, “Jesus is Lord.”  From this same Holy Spirit, comes a variety of gifts.  Gifts, like wisdom, knowledge of the things of God, healing, working miracles, preaching, distinguishing between helpful and destructive spirits.  Many of these are gifts spread throughout every congregation of Jesus’ followers; evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of these many and varied gifts are to build up the church that it may continue to grow until it reaches the maturity of Christ.  Empowered by the Spirit each person using their gifts is like the parts of our body working together to allow us to walk, and talk and hear and see and live a life of thanksgiving and service.  To see the church functioning in such way would really be something to behold and what a witness to the world it would be. Such a church would be a living testimony that “Jesus is Lord.” How much better can life in the church be than that?  Nevertheless, St. Paul thinks that the church needs one more gift.  The gift and practice of love.

“Now I will show you a still more excellent way.” St. Paul writes.   He has an even greater vision of what the Spirit led church can be.

However, he begins his prescription for the way of the church and we as individual members describing something sounds more like a piece of machinery gone terribly haywire, emitting the loud screeching sound of metal grating against metal.  I’m paraphrasing Paul’s words from our epistle lesson, “If I speak with soaring language that lifts crowds to the ecstasy of angels round God’s throne in heaven, but have not love, I am a nothing more than a monotonous and annoying bonging gong or a loud clashing cymbal.  If I speak God’s word with power, revealing all of God’s mysteries and make everything as plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain “jump” and the mountain asks, “How high?”, but don’t have love, I’m nothing.  Even if I dole out bit by bit all I have, to feed the hungry and readily give up myself for any cause, but don’t have love, it doesn’t help me.”   Rather than building up the church; I’m building up my own prestige; and that serves no good purpose.

What is this love which we assert in the folk hymn, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love?” It’s the love which according to Jesus command to his followers prior to going to the cross to, “love one another.”  An example of that love of which Jesus speaks was shown by the school principal in Indiana who pushed school children out of the way of a bus, but gave up her own life in doing so.  Its love patterned on and powered by the love of Jesus.  We read of that love in the Gospel in a nutshell, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  God’s love in Jesus is such that whoever believes in him will be saved.  Whoever believes in him!  It’s the love of which Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “But God showed his love in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

During deer hunting season in November, my younger brother’s son- in – law, saw deer but couldn’t hit one.  My brother said he should try shooting at a target in order to line his sights up right.  Well, God didn’t wait for us to line up our sights on his word, so that we might hit the mark twenty-four – seven in the way we live, because we are never going to manage that.  He showed us his love by sending Christ to death for our failures.  The love Paul is writing about is the love of God that loved us first and our self-sacrificing love is a response to his self-sacrificing love.  It’s the love that took on the demons in our Gospel lesson, rebuked the fever in Peter’s mother-in-law and went about Galilee preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.

This sort of Love is patient, writes Paul.  Maybe we could put our own name in place of love.  How about “Ron is patient.” Well, there was that woman yesterday walking slowly across the street in front of Bed, Bath and Beyond talking on her cell phone while we waited. Fortunately, Becky was driving.  So let’s not do, “Ron is patient.”  Let’s instead insert Zion, “Zion is patient, long suffering, or long tempered.”  Being a congregation where the pastoral office is vacant can wear on our patience.  And then to be lovingly patient with one another and the fine grinding gears of the synod, district and seminary can be a challenge. We find such patience in Jesus who says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Consider the loving patience of Christ with you and me as His church, while he waits to return and take us to His Father in heaven. Little wonder the bible ends with, “Come Lord Jesus.”  In the mean time we live under his grace.

Love is kind. St. Paul wrote to his student Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared he saved us” not because we were patient and kind “but according to his own mercy.” He also cautioned the Christians in Rome not to take for granted the “riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience” in which he created us, provides for our daily life and buys us back from sin, death and every kind of evil.  Some years ago I filled in at the congregation in Cuba Missouri a week after their pastor had suddenly died.    I assured the congregation that the word would continue to be preached.  I have done much the same thing when I started to serve in vacancies.  So for Zion, God’s word continues to be preached and taught, Holy Communion celebrated, children baptized, the dead in Christ receive Christian burial, hymns are accompanied, Sunday school children taught, confirmation classes held, ushers usher, the altar guild prepares the chancel for worship, bulletins are printed, the offerings counted, bills paid, etc.  All of this according to the loving kindness of the Lord whose Holy Spirit continues to grant gifts for our service to our Lord, who uses us each according to the gifts we have received.

St. John tells us, “God is love.”  Just as the Word became flesh in Jesus, so God’s love became a person named Jesus.  Jesus is God’s love in the flesh. Jesus is God so loving the world that he gave himself so that whoever believes in him has eternal life.  I want to read some of Paul’s words about love from our text.  Only this time I will insert the name of Jesus. Jesus is patient.  Jesus is kind.  Jesus is not envious or boastful.  Jesus does not insist on his own way.  Jesus is not irritable or resentful. He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Jesus bears all things, believes all things that his heavenly Father spoke.  Jesus lived in the sure hope of his resurrection and our salvation.  Jesus endured all things until he called out from the cross, “It is finished.”  Jesus never ends.

These are things that we will not fully understand until we come face to face with our savior and see the full glory of God.  Then we will recognize how well he knows us and be eternally thankful for his grace.  So now faith in Christ, hope in Christ and the love of Christ abides.  But the greatest of these is the love of Christ.

This is the more excellent way and the greatest gift we can receive from the Holy Spirit as we say, “Jesus is Lord.”

Advertisements

Baptism’s Crowded Shower

 

For just as the body is one has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one, so it is with Christ for in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-all were made to drink of one Spirit.  I Corinthians 12:12-13

I have this vision of a great crowd of people of every race and social status standing in a shower in which the waters of baptism are pouring down upon everyone.  And slowly the bodies of those in the baptism shower begin to merge into a single multicolored, multifaceted body which melds into the body of Christ.

In the second verse of his letter, Paul addresses the “church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ, called to be saints TOGETHER WITH ALL THOSE WHO IN EVERY PLACE CALL UPON THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, BOTH THEIR LORD AND OURS:

Some in the church at Corinth may have been led to believe that they were not part of the body of Christ.  However, the problem of the church over most of its history is for a group to think that they are part of Christ’s body, but they are not sure about some others or only grudgingly offer membership in Christ’ body.

The congregation in Corinth was a fractious group; as the church is yet today. But we cannot undo what Christ as done.  When he includes people in his body, it doesn’t matter what we think.  He is the one who decides who are members of his body.

On Sunday when Becky and I drive down the street to Zion Lutheran, we pass by two other churches, two other members of Christ’s body.  I may think that my group is the more valuable part of Christ’s body, but I doubt Christ holds that opinion.

At the conclusion of the epistle lesson for this coming Sunday, we will read, “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” That’s a love which begins with Christ and finds its fullest expression on the cross.

 

 

 

Eat and Drink

 

The Old Testament lesson for Sunday, Nehemiah 8, ends with, “Go your way.  Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing, for this day is holy to our Lord.  And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The bible is full of accounts of celebrating with eating and drinking when in the presence of the Lord, or after hearing His word.  Adam and Eve enjoyed the fruit of “every tree in the garden” except for one.  When the three men, visited Abraham (Gen. 18), he invited them to rest while he brought, “a morsel of bread,” which turned out to be a meal of veal, milk and cheese and an abundance of bread.  The exodus was preceded by a meal during the Passover. (Ex. 12).  At Sinai, (Ex. 24) Moses took the 70 elders up the mountain where they saw God and “ate and drank.”

Jesus fed thousands at one time.   He provided an overabundance of wine at a wedding reception.  After his resurrection he cooked a fish breakfast for the disciples.  Holy Communion was instituted as part of the Passover meal. It looks forward to the great wedding feast to be celebrated in the presence of God.  The bible ends with a picture of a renewed Eden with the “tree of life” growing by “the river of the water of life” with ripening fruit the year round and its leaves will heal the nations.

In Isaiah 25, the prophet looks forward to the day God will swallow up death.  “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”

Two Sermons

 

Nehemiah 8:8, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

The Old testament lesson from Nehemiah 8 describes how Ezra read from the word of the Lord from early morning until noon.  He didn’t do all the reading himself and as the lectors read they also explained what the word of the Lord was about and how it applied to their lives.  The people of Israel had returned to a Jerusalem devastated by the Babylonians 70 before.  But now as the rebuilding process was ongoing Ezra called everyone together at the Water Gate.

The people received the word with weeping.  But Ezra said not to mourn and weep.  This was a holy day to the Lord.  Instead they should celebrate, “eat the fat and drink sweet wine.” And then they should send portions to anyone who wasn’t ready for the celebration.  This was a day not for grief, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The second sermon for Sunday was Jesus from Luke 4, when Jesus returns to his home town, Nazareth, and as the visiting rabbi is invited to preach.  At first everything goes well.  He takes the scroll, turns to Isaiah and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the Poor….to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  He then rolled up the scroll, sat down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Everyone was impressed with the hometown boy. But then Jesus continued saying, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”

By the end of his sermon the people were so upset about this son of Joseph that they forced him out town and was about to throw him off a cliff, but Jesus escaped passing through their midst.

These two stories should have at least two cautions.  For the preacher who preaches the word and for the people who hear it.  Preaching and hearing God’s word is serious business, a matter of life and death.

 

 

 

Silence and Peace in the Snow

 

A posting on Facebook explained why it is more quiet when it’s snowing.  “Fresh snow absorbs sound, lowering ambient noise over a landscape because trapped air in the snow attenuates vibration.”

Sunsets are awesome and mountains majestic and the sky at night sings the glory of God.  But when I wake in the middle of the night and want to get back to sleep I think of snow.  “Now the silence Now the peace.”

Someone responded on Facebook with “Sound of Silence.” I love the old Simon and Garfunkel song, but I thought of my favorite hymn “Now the Silence.” (LSB 910, ELW 460) According to LSB notes, “This text traces the path of the Divine Service: from confession and absolution through the Word and Sacrament.  Earthly worship, centered in these precious means of grace, is a joyful foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet to come.”  Therefore, LSB puts it in the Beginning of Service section of hymns.  But one can’t really go wrong with singing it during Holy Communion as ELW suggests.

One of the great hymn writers of our day, Jaroslav Vajda penned the hymn and Carl Schalk wrote the tune.  Perhaps because of its peculiar meter the only time I get to sing it is when I pick the hymn.  So I picked it last Sunday for the folks at Bunker Hill.  Some of the people didn’t do too badly with it.  I chose a familiar hymn to close the service, “Beautiful Savior.”

The words for Now the Silence:

Now the silence Now the peace

Now the empty hands uplifted

Now the kneeling Now the plea

Now the Father’s arms in welcome

Now the hearing Now the pow’r

Now the vessel brimmed for pouring

Now the body Now the blood

Now the joyful celebration

Now the wedding Now the songs

Now the heart forgiven leaping

Now the Spirit’s visitation

Now the Son’s epiphany

Now the Father’s blessing

Now Now Now

(Notice there is no punctuation, not even a period at the end.)

A Ninth Planet

 

I was really disappointed when Pluto got kicked was demoted.  However, now there is the possibility of a new ninth planet bigger and farther out than poor Pluto.  With a possible orbit that takes 10,000 – 20,000 earth years.

As we read Psalm 19: 1-6, it presents an awe filled way at looking at and listening to the universe.  One day informs the new day of the wonders of the Lord and what has taken place on the earth, night does the same for the next night.  But the vault of the heavens is also communicating with us, with wordless messages.  The messenger of the heavens is the sun, which arises out of the darkness like a newlywed man emerging out of his marriage tent.  Like a champion the sun races across the sky and nothing escapes it hot notice.  The first six verses of the psalm invite us to join the universe in glorifying the Lord.

The heavens tell out the glory of God,

Heavens vault makes known his handiwork.

One day speaks to another,

Night to night imparts knowledge,

And this without speech or language or sound of any voice.

Their sign shines forth on all the earth,

Their message to the ends of the world.

In the heavens an abode is fixed for the sun,

Which comes out like a bridegroom

From the bridal chamber,

Rejoicing like a strong man to run his course.

Its rising is at one end of the heavens,

Its circuit reaches from end to the other,

And nothing is hidden from its heat.

 

However, we also have the awesome word of the Lord with its never failing instruction, making the simple wise and bringing joy to the heart and as the sun lights our way during the day, so God’s word lights our eyes to see the wonders of the Lord.  Psalm 19:7-9

Double Cropping and Wine Falls

 

In connection with studying the wedding at Cana at which Jesus turned water into wine, we looked at Amos 9:13-14 in Bible Class.

“A time is coming, says the Lord, when the plowman will follow hard on the reaper, and he who treads the grapes after him who sows the seed.  The mountains will run with fresh wine, and every hill will flow with it.  (Israel) will plant vineyards and drink the wine, cultivate gardens and eat the fruit.”

One of the retired farmers in the class said, “That’s double cropping.  We plant soybeans after the wheat is harvested.”

What was a dream for the people of Israel in the time of Amos over 750 years before Jesus made an overabundance of wine in Cana, is often a reality for the farmers of Southern Illinois.

In the cycle of planting and harvest in Israel the barley and wheat ripened in April-May.  The grapes were picked in August-September.  The fields were plowed after the October rains after which the barley and wheat were planted.  In the promised days when the Lord restored the fortunes of Israel the grain harvest would be so abundant that the harvest would be barely finished before the plowing began.  They wouldn’t be done pressing the grapes before it was time to plant grain.  The grapes will hang so heavy in the mountain vineyards that the slopes will seem to drip and flow with fresh wine.

Furthermore, they will be able to eat the produce of their gardens and drink the wine that they tread.  It’s a picture of God’s blessing and favor.

As we partake of the bread and wine of Holy Communion we enjoy the harvest of God’s abundant grace.

The book of Amos closes with, “It is the word of the Lord your God.”

 

A thousand Bottles of Win on the Wall

 

Remember, the old song, “99 bottles of beer on the wall?”  Imagine counting down from a 1,000 bottles of wine on the wall.  One person has figured out that’s how much wine Jesus created from the water.

I went on line to Stone Hill winery in Missouri.  There I found their most expensive wine Cross J Norton for $25.00 a bottle.  If the calculations are correct, Jesus made $25,000 worth of wine.  But I was also interested in the label of the Cross J.  It features a cross overlaid with a J, which looks like a cattle brand.  I don’t know what Stone Hill Winery intended with the cross J, but I could not help but think of Jesus on the cross.  There his extravagant grace was shown to us.  When we receive Holy Communion we are receiving that extravagant grace in the wine (blood) and bread (body).

In bible class yesterday I covered Jesus turning a lot of water into too way too much wine.  It was also the text for my sermon.  When I got to the part where Mary tells Jesus, “They have no wine” Kevin, one of the elders smiled and said, “I can hear just my mother saying, ‘They’ve had enough. They don’t need any more wine.’”  While Kevin’s mother may have disapproved of Jesus supplying way too much wine for the wedding reception, the wine actually points to Jesus who reveals that he is the fleshly embodiment of the fullness of God’s glory, grace and truth.

Of course in John the signs Jesus does always points to something more.  For instance, the feeding of the 5,000 signals the return of the manna in the wilderness.  Again, Jesus supplies an overabundance. Jesus raising Lazarus looks ahead to his own death and resurrection and the abundant life which Jesus brought while visiting among us.

 

Extravagent Grace

Epiphany 2, 2016, Bunker Hill, John 2:1-11

It’s been a busy week for Jesus.  John proclaimed him, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The next day one of John’s disciple’s Andrew, told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Christ.” The following day Jesus gained two more disciples Philip and Nathanael.  Nathanael proclaimed Jesus, “The Son of God…the King of Israel.”  Those are some weighty titles, Lamb of God, Christ, Son of God and King of Israel.  Jesus was all those things, but lambs get sacrificed for sins.   At the foot of the cross, Roman soldier identifies him as Son of God.  A piece of paper flaps above Jesus head in the breeze notifying spectators he is, “The king of the Jews.” But of course his kingdom was not of this world. However, all of that is in Jesus’ future and our future.

Today, we are at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, his mother and those four disciples are at a wedding.  Now when you invite Jesus to any kind of event, you have to be ready for almost anything to happen.  The same goes for answering his call to “come, see, stay and follow me.”  At the pool of Siloam Jesus told an Invalid to get up pick up his bed and walk. The man gets in trouble for carrying his bed on the Sabbath. And don’t sin anymore.   A Samaritan woman who has several failed marriage meets him at a well and hears of the water of life.  She becomes the village evangelist.  A man blind from birth receives his sight and discovers he doesn’t have the support of either his parents or the religious leaders.  We need to keep that in mind when we invite Jesus to “be our guest” at a meal because sometimes Jesus shows up as the least of his brethren.  Or he might show up in the middle of a storm and tell us not to fear, simply because he is present.  Or ask us to help him feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish and then pick up the left overs.  Jesus went against the advice of his disciples when they warned him not to go to Bethany and see his friend Lazarus.  He went anyway and told the now deceased Lazarus, “I’m telling you, come out.”  That was the last straw for Jesus opponents.  When you are around Jesus, things happen.

We need to keep those things in mind if we are going to accompany Jesus to this wedding in Cana, a place that nobody is sure where it was located; yet Cana is well known today because Jesus chose this little village to first show his glory. At an unknown location, at a wedding of an unnamed couple, he performs his first sign turning water to wine.

There’s an old saying about what a bride should wear, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”  A pastor, veteran of numerous wedding, added to that old adage, “Something goes wrong, something is askew.”  Something was certainly askew at the wedding in Cana.  The cups of the guests lounging on the couches were empty.  They ran out of wine.  Out of the blue, Jesus mother said to him, “They have no wine.”

Mary’s been thinking, wondering, and pondering about her son for thirty years.  Mary told the catering crew, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Knowing what I now know about Jesus, I’d have been a little apprehensive at that point.  What’s he going to tell me to do?  You see, soon after the wedding he goes up to Jerusalem. He ties some cords together into a whip and chased a bunch of people out of the temple.   These people were just trying to make a living while providing a service to worshipers. What could be wrong with having some oxen, sheep and pigeons available for the convenience of worshippers who needed to make a sacrifice?  Thirty years before, Joseph and Mary probably bought a pair of turtle doves from these vendors when they presented their son Jesus to the Lord. Maybe the mooing, bleating and cooing was distracting to some and of course the smell and mess. After all they were providing these animals so that people could keep the Lord’s own laws.  That scares me a bit.  That makes me look around at the church and wonder what Jesus would tell us to get rid of.

Well, back in Cana Jesus instructs the catering crew to fill six pots with water.  And they do what Jesus tells them. Then Jesus said to take some of the water to the wedding planner.  When the wedding planner tastes the water it’s not water at all, it has become wine.  Not just any wine.  But the best wine. It was more than just enough wine. It was enough wine to fill a wine cellar and last for years. Someone figured out it was equivalent to a thousand bottles of wine take about a ton of grapes. This was grace.  This was not just enough grace.  But abundant grace. Extravagant grace. Unrestrained grace. Undeserved grace. This was grace upon grace coming from Jesus who is the fullness of God. This was a fulfillment of the prophet Amos, “The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Imagine a waterfall of wine, or a river of grace. Last time I was here Cahokia Creek was about to overrun 159 and 143.  Imagine that being grace. Isaiah says, “The Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food a feast of well-aged-wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  At the wedding feast in Cana that wine, that grace was poured into the cups of all those who attended the wedding at Cana.  And like the feeding of the 5,000 there would have been more than enough and plenty left over.

Because that’s what grace is, more than enough.  Grace is a gift of God.  It frees us from having to try harder.  It frees us from working longer, paying more, or any kind of effort on our part that involves giving more or being more than we are. John has already tipped us off about the glory and grace of God.  In the Old Testament God’s glory was seen in the storm and earthquake on Mt. Sinai, and in the pillar of fire at night and the cloud during the day as God led Israel through the wilderness.  But now since God became one of us in Jesus, since the word has become flesh and lived among us, we see God’s glory in Jesus who is full of grace and truth and out of his fullness we all have received grace upon grace.   Jesus just doesn’t tell us about his grace, he shows it to us.

This morning we will not only hear his grace in the forgiveness of our sins and in the word of scripture, but we will come forward and we will see it in the cup, and taste it and smell it and swallow it and take in our hands. His grace will enter our bodies and be digested and be carried by our blood to all the parts of our body from head to foot.  Jesus turned water into wine.  In Holy Communion he turns wine into his blood and bread into his body.

And so the wedding at Cana was but the first of his signs which pointed toward the one great sign, when his hour had finally come, at a place called “The Skull” when he drank the sour wine, and said “It is finished,” bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Because of his bitter suffering death and resurrection, the words of our introit ring true, “The Lord has brought us to his banqueting house and his banner over us is love.”  May we follow the response of the disciples when they saw Jesus glory at Cana.  “And his disciples believed in him.”

 

 

 

 

Psalm 128

 

The psalm is appointe for Sunday being paired with John 2:1-11 the wedding at Cana.

 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!

 

The following is adapted from “Christ in the Psalms” by Patrick Henry Reardon.

This psalm…is modest in its hopes.  It does not wish for wealth, or power or prestige.    Rather it speaks of eating the fruits of one’s labors.  It is not a wish for easy money, but for such resources as come from hard employment.  Indeed, the word used here…means labor in the sense of very arduous tasks, even pain…. The image evoked here is that of the fallen Adam, bending over his hoe to deal the uncooperative soil.  This is the blessing of the psalm, the simple joy of maintaining one’s own life; even at subsistence level.

And also the life of one’s family.  A man’s wife and children are blessings from God, here described with the metaphors of fruitful plants.  The blessing of this is the happiness found in the life of work and the circle of the family, all the way to old age and the vision of grandchildren.  God blesses His reverent and obedient servants.  Such things pertain to the peace of Jerusalem.

Prayer:

Lord from opened side the church was formed, and sanctified in your cleansing blood.  Make your Church a fruitful vine, with many children who will rejoice with you at your table and celebrate your goodness now and forever.