Having the Lord on our lips

 

I’m working on a sermon on Psalm 27 for Sunday at Glen Carbon and later in lent I’ll use it at a midweek service in Bunker Hill.

In the Hebrew the psalm, begins and ends with the personal name of God, Yahweh.  It’s usually translated as “Lord” in English.

1 Yahweh my light and my rescue. Whom shall I fear? Yahweh my stronghold. Of whom shall I be afraid?

14 Wait for Yahweh. Be strong. Strengthen your heart. Wait for Yahweh.

I wish I could be as the psalmist to begin and end each day with the name of the Lord on my lips.    However, that never seems to happen.  My first thought is often, “Coffee.”  And my last is “Time for bed.”

Still though I can’t trust myself to utter the Lord’s name upon arising and going to bed.  I can count on the Lord being present in my rising and in my retiring for the night.  I can count on the Lord to be the light of my life whether awake or sleeping.  That’s a wonderful grace to have, and it is grace.  It’s the kind of grace that allows me to have confidence to see the goodness of Yahweh in the land of the live ones. (v.13) I can count on Yahweh’s presence as long as I am in the land of the living here on earth; and one day in the land of the eternally living.

Prayer: Gracious Father, protector of those who hope in you; You heard the cry of your Son and kept him safe in your shelter in the day of evil.  Grant that your servants who seek your face in times of trouble may see your goodness in the land of the living, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Jesus bests Diabolos

First Sunday in Lent, 2016 Bunker Hill Luke 4:1-13

Baseball’s spring training starts this week.  Even Major league veterans, no matter how great their talent, spend about 40 days testing their skills in order to prove that they are worthy to play with the big club and complete the long grind of a major league season.

Jesus too prepared for the long and grinding season during which he strove to win our salvation.  It took him from Bethlehem to Nazareth to Jerusalem before he could be proclaimed as the victorious Christ.  He was the Holy One of God with whom nothing is impossible. Simeon saw his salvation the in eight day old child, the light and glory of all humanity.  At age 12 Jesus, in the temple, said that he needed to be about the things of his Heavenly Father.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day he went back home to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph.  Jesus was not only Son of God, but Son of Man, descendant of Adam and Eve.  As the Son of Man he had united himself to all humanity.   And so in this Lenten season we come down from the glorious vision on the Mt. of Transfiguration and go with him to Jerusalem, to the inglorious Mt. of his crucifixion.  The question is, will he win our freedom from sin, death and the devil? Just as his human nature did not make him any less divine; so his divine nature did not make him any less human.  Jesus did not have a souped up human nature.  He was the genuine article, human through the through.  In Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, a Jewish character says, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison us, do we not die?”    Jesus, born a Jew, felt blood trickle down his face as the crown of thorns pricked his scalp.  Undoubtedly he laughed at celebrations of the people.  When nailed to the cross he died.

As a human being, Jesus is in need of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the hope for Jesus and thus it is our hope also in the time of temptation.  Jesus knows better than anyone else the full fury of temptation and the need for the Holy Spirit and its sword, the word, trust in the word.  Luke tells us, “He left the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the Wild.”

We tend to associate the presence of the Holy Spirit with joy and happiness and clapping of hands.  However, in Jesus’ case the Spirit led him into the wilderness, the wild.  It had already been said of Jesus that he will “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”  However, in order to be the sonshine of our life he must go into the place of darkness and shadows of death.  In the temple Simeon had also foretold that Jesus would be a sign that would be opposed.  The question is, “Will Jesus follow the leading of the Spirit and demonstrate unwavering trust in God to supply his needs or would he use his power to serve himself apart from God.  St. Paul wrote, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  Would Jesus remain the Son of God in order that you and I could be Spirit led sons and daughters of God?

In scripture, wilderness, the wild, was a place of chaos, devastation and barrenness, the haunt of predators jackals, owls, lions, and vultures.  The Wild was the place where God’s chosen people, a people whom God intended to be priests for the whole world, had failed miserably again and again. In the time of testing, a time for them to discover whether they would learn to know God as their God, the God in whom they could trust, God’s chosen and blessed people failed.

Luke tells us, he was in the wilderness “for forty days being tempted by the devil.”  In the Wild he becomes prey for the predator Devil.  The Devil preyed on him continuously during his time in the wild.  In the movie version of J.R.Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” Frodo, whose task is to destroy the ring, is beset by Gollum in the wilderness.  Gollum is a subhuman creature who uses all his evil wiles against Frodo, including convincing Frodo, through whispered lies and innuendos to turn against his companion and closest friend and send him away.  Thus Frodo is left alone to fend off the wiles of Gollum.  We don’t have to be in the desert or wilderness to be in a place of chaos, devastation, where stalks destructive forces threatening our trust in God and our own well- being.  It can happen in the time of grief, in the time of youth, in the time of middle age, in the time of our declining years, in the setting of our homes, or school or work.  We can be starving for some order in our life, some, hope, some way out, some comfort, someone to care, someone to rescue, some sign from God.

Then Luke tells us, “When the days were ended, he was hungry.”  Actually, he was near starvation.  His hunger was like setting a ball on a Tee for the devil.  He took full advantage of Jesus weakened condition.  “If, (or better,) since you’re the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The devil strikes at the very heart of who Jesus is.  Will he remain the faithful Son of God even while starving?  Who could blame him if he used his power to rescue himself from starvation.  He had the power.  Why not use it? Wouldn’t we? What good is the Christ if he died of starvation?  But Jesus answers, “There is more to life than food, there is the food of God’s word which feeds us not only today, but unto eternity.” And yet this does not mean we should stand by and quote scripture to the people starving in the Syria as the result of a policy of war.  For we need both the word for our spiritual life and food for our physical life.

From the temptation of the mundane everyday things the devil tempts Jesus with power to control and rule all the nations of the world.  All Jesus has to do is recognize that the Devil really is in control of the world.  Of course it’s a scam, like being told you have won the lottery in Nigeria and all you have to do is send some money to cover the costs of getting it to you.  The Devil owns nothing.  Though the world may seem a sorry mess, God, who created it, still governs it. Our worship is called a Divine Service, for only God is Divine and worthy of worship.

Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple, over 500 feet above the Kidron valley.  “Now prove that you can trust God.  Jump off and see whether God will really send his angels to lift you up lest you stub your toe on a stone.”  And Jesus says, “Get out of here.  Scram.”  And the Devil can do nothing other than leave.  However, he will be back at a more opportune time, when Jesus is on the cross.  The Devil will speak through the rulers of the people, “Let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God.” And through one of the criminals crucified with him, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.” It was left to Pontius Pilate to post a sign above Jesus head, “King of the Jews.” It was left to a Roman soldier to declare, “This man was innocent.”

For us and for our salvation Jesus died an innocent man.  The devil had done his worst, but had failed.  Thus for you and me, Spirit led people, trust in the Lord, for he will declare you innocent too.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but his word will remain.

 

 

And He was Hungry

 

He said, “I never want to be hungry again.” His middle age paunch testified that he had not missed any meals of late.  But during World War Ii, then a teenager he had known aching hunger. He was a member of Grace Lutheran church, Oshawa, Ontario where I vicared in 1965-66.  His wife was the church secretary.  Both had come over from Germany after World War II.  She was sixteen when the Russian army came through.  Her family hid her in the barn.

Most of us don’t know what it is too be hungry.  Yet there are many today, victims of the policy of war in Syria, pilgrims, refugees in foreign lands.  At first welcomed, then tolerated and now a problem, as the flood keeps flowing out of lost homeland and homes.

Under the strange leading of the Holy Spirit Jesus was led into the wilderness to begin his ministry.  He would fast for forty days, during which time he would be tempted by the Devil, the Diabolical One.  At the end of that time Luke reports, “And when they were ended, he was hungry.”  It’s at this point that Matthew and Luke report some of the details of his temptation.  Turn “this stone to become bread.”  See, how helpful the Devil is? There are stones galore in the wilderness.  But the Devil helps the starving man to concentrate.  Jesus doesn’t have to make all the stones bread, just this particular one.  He doesn’t need to feed 5,000, just himself.  Surely the Son of God could do that little thing to help himself, to help himself help the world.

The question for us is, how can we who pray for our daily bread, share our daily bread with the hungry?  Perhaps we can’t feed millions.  But who can we feed?  Jesus says “For I was hungry and you gave me food.”  We can start with a local food pantry.  We may never see the hungry person in whom Jesus is hidden, but Jesus will bless the food that feeds a family of “the least of these.”

Lord let Lent be not a time of going without, but giving to those who do go without. Amen.

 

 

Friday after Ash Wednesday

 

For myself and the people of Zion, Bunker Hill, Il. this isn’t really the Friday after Ash Wednesday.  We cancelled services because of a narrow band of snow which passed through in the afternoon and evening.  So we may do Ash Wednesday this coming week.  However, in my mind it really doesn’t matter, since Easter gets moved around between the end of March (2016) and near the end of April (2019). The dates for Easter are on page xxiii in LSB. I could not find a similar listing in ELW.   I grew up with the TLH and the listing of Easter dates got me through many a boring minute during the worship service.  It allowed me to dream into the future.

In any case, this coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent, whether we cancelled Ash Wednesday or not.  Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wild where he is tempting, while fasting, for forty days.  At the end of the time Luke writes, “And he was hungry.”  I ran across a line from the fourth century churchman and bible translator, Jerome.  “When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting.”

In the light of Jerome’s statement, I think of the refugees from Syria and in Syria who are left with empty stomachs and without a home who are fasting, not because they are driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, but by the ruthless bombing and policies of war.  They deserve our prayers and our actions, not only because they are human beings, but also because we are Christ’s people.

 

 

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Merciful God, you called us forth from the dust of the earth;

you claimed us for Christ in the waters of baptism.

Look upon us as we enter these Forty Days

bearing the mark of ashes,

and bless our journey through the desert of Lent

to the font of rebirth.

May our fasting be hunger for justice;

our alms, a making of peace;

our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.

All that we do and pray in the name of Jesus,

for in his cross you proclaim your love

forever and ever.

Luther on Psalm 51:5

 

Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Ps. 51:5

The Psalm for Ash Wednesday is David’s psalm of repentance, psalm 51.  I’m preaching on this psalm this evening.  But today, and perhaps in the remaining days of this week, I would like to use Luther’s thoughts regarding psalm 51.

The real reason why a person is saved is that Christ and the believing heart are so united that what each possess becomes the common property of both.  But what does each possess?

Christ has a pure, innocent, holy birth.  Humans have an impure, sinful, cursed birth…There is no remedy for this sinful birth except through pure birth of Christ…

See, in this way Christ takes from us unto Himself our birth and sinks it into His birth and gives us His birth, as though it were our own.  Every Christian may rejoice and glory in this birth of Christ as though he, too, like Christ, had been bodily born of Mary.

Tomorrow it’s Lent

Tomorrow we walk down into the purple valley of Lent.  But today, which some call “Fat Tuesday” we still celebrate.  However, in lent, as the hymns says,

Alleluia we deserve not here to sing for evermore;

Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while give o’er;

for the holy time is coming bidding us our sins deplore.

Therefore in our hymns we now pray, grant us, blessed Trinity,

At the last to keep your, Easter, in our home beyond the sky;

There to you for ever singing Alleluia joyfully.

 

 

 

Transfiguration Sunday

Transfiguration Deut. 34:1-12

Careful to avoid tripping over any tent ropes, Moses picked his way through the portable city he had called home the past forty years. In his lengthy farewell sermon recalled Israel’s history, reminding them of the ten commandments He passed on a confession of faith to remember and teach to their children. He warned of curses befalling the people, if they wandered from the way of the Lord. Finally, he placed a blessing on each tribe of Israel. While everyone else was preparing to cross over the Jordan river into the land promised to them in the time of Abraham, Moses turned and left the camp. God had summoned Moses to one last mountain-top face to face meeting. He would not join his people in the land of milk and honey.

Like a scapegoat, he crossed the plains of Moab toward Mt. Nebo. Oh, he had argued with God about the matter. He just wanted to go over to see the good land beyond the Jordan. But the Lord would hear none of it. Like the rest of his generation, who started the trek from Egypt, the exodus would remain uncompleted for Moses. The people had broken faith with God under his leadership. On one of several occasions when they had quarreled about the lack of water, the Lord appeared in glory in the tent of meeting. The Lord instructed Moses to tell the rock in front of them to yield its water. But this was one of the many, “enough is enough” days for Moses. Calling the people rebels, he whacked the rock twice with his staff. God had taken one more opportunity to show his holiness tin order to convince the people that they could count on the one who had brought them out of Egypt, but the people and Moses demonstrated their unholy lack of faith.

Now, Moses, still strong and able, with eye sight undiminished, climbed Mt Nebo to its highest peak, Pisgah. The Lord had done wonders through his servant Moses. Who could forget the burning bush through which God called him, from a life as a fugitive shepherd, to shepherd his people to freedom? Through Moses, Yahweh had inflicted plagues upon the Egyptians. He sent his angel of death to kill all the firstborn of the Egyptians. At the sea, with the enemy bent on annihilating their run away slaves rushing up from behind, God used Moses to part the waters. In the wilderness, the Lord provided manna and quail for food. God made Israel his own special people, a kingdom of priests in the world. Through Moses, God gave Israel ten commandments by which to govern their relationship with God and with one another. He had even appeared to Moses, face to face, leaving Moses face glowing with such brilliance that he had to wear a veil. There was no one like Moses, the servant of the Lord. Nor would another prophet like him ever arise in Israel again, a prophet who knew the Lord, face to face.

The Lord had one more wonder in mind for Moses to experience. On Mt. Nebo He showed Moses the whole promised land from Dan in the north to the Negev in the south; from east to the shores of the Mediterranean . “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” But Moses would not set one foot in the land.

Then, he died, just as the Lord had promised. His life went back to God. The Lord, with whom he had such a lively, close and sometimes volatile relationship, buried him in a valley in the land of Moab. God had been his closest friend. He had been a servant of the Lord. He had spent much of his 120 years alone. Now in death, he was once more alone with his God. The people never found the location of his grave. No shrine was built. No pilgrimages were made. When the thirty days of mourning were over, the people turned west toward the Jordan river.

Great as he was, Moses went the way of all people, since the sin of Adam and Eve. Soon he too, turned to the dust from which he had been taken. He knew nothing of the conquest of the land under Joshua, his appointed successor; a man “full of the spirit of wisdom.” King David came, reigned and, in his own time, returned to dust. Moses did not know of the exile into Babylon, nor of the return. He did not see the terrorism of the reign of Antiochus Epiphanies; nor the rising of the Judas Maccabeus who led a rebellion , and reconsecrated the temple. He missed the Romans taking over the promised land.

But one day, after what seemed, not 1300 years, but only the blink of an eye in time, he was standing on a mountain, again face to face with God. Beside him stood another person. Off to the side three men were asleep. But before him, Oh my, before him stood one who shined in dazzling glory. It was the same glory he had seen when God appeared in all his holiness in the wilderness. Once again, he was speaking with God face to face. But this one was a man. This one made the introductions. “Moses,” he said, “meet Elijah.” “Elijah, greet Moses.” “Elijah met me on Mt. Nebo too. It wasn’t in the thunder, lightning and earthquake that I spoke to him. I chose to speak out of a gentle breeze. I sent him on a mission too. But like your exodus, Moses, his mission was incomplete too. By the way, my name is Jesus. I’m about to complete your exodus, Moses. Elijah, I will finish the job of wiping out all the false gods who people still follow.”

So Moses, who knew God face to face, once again spoke to God face to face about Jesus’ exodus. Jesus’ exodus would take place in Jerusalem, where he, like a scapegoat in the wilderness, would bear the guilt of all upon a cross. Unlike the scapegoat, Jesus would bear the guilt of the whole world. Also, unlike the scapegoat, dying for the guilt of the people would not need to be a yearly event. Jesus’ exodus into death and his return in the resurrection would wipe out all guilt for everyone, for all time.

By this time the three men woke up, having nearly missed the whole event. As Moses and Elijah were departing one, named Peter, began to babble about building booths at the sight. As Peter was still talking a cloud overshadowed the scene and covered them all. Moses and Elijah knew what the cloud meant and they waited for it. Then a voice, like the sound of thunder, spoke from the out of the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

Moses had been a servant of the Lord. There had been none like him. but here was One greater than even he. Here was the Son of God, who himself had gone down into Egypt and returned once again. He was about to do even greater signs and wonders than Moses had accomplished. He was about to die for all the lack of faith, rebellion, orneriness, quarreling and complaining that humanity had done toward God and one another. He was about to lead an exodus out of slavery to sin, death and the devil.

When the voice had spoken Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus stood alone. Before his God, Peter had finally shut his mouth. Then, in silence they went down the mountain to go to Jerusalem. There God’s chosen One, His son would climb Mt. Calvary to die on cross. In the light of such awesome deeds of salvation a hymn verse comes to mind,

Let all mortal flesh keep silence

And with fear and trembling stand;

Ponder nothing earthly minded,

For the blessing in His hand Christ

our God to earth descending

Comes our homage to demand.

Transfiguration in Luke

 

If only those mountain top experiences, would last a lifetime.  Too soon we need to get in the car and leave the vista.  Too soon a cloud comes or a storm and we have to head down the mountain.

The Transfiguration in Luke was like that.  Peter wanted to memorialize the event, put up three tents.  But Luke tells us, “He didn’t know what he was talking about.” However, when we look at the context of Luke 9:28-36 we see what the Transfiguration was about.

In 9:18-20, Jesus asks who people are saying his is, and he follows that up with a personal question, “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter makes a glorious confession, “You are the Christ of God.”  “You are the Messiah.”

Immediately Jesus charges them to not tell anyone who he is, because He must,” Suffer many things… be rejected…killed and on the third day be raised.”  Jesus follows the prediction of his suffering by talking about what his disciples will suffer.  Each person must take of his cross and follow him.  His disciples save their lives by losing it for his sake.

Then Jesus ascends the mountain with Peter, James and John to pray.  During his prayer he is transfigured, his faced altered and his clothes become dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah appear.  However, they don’t discuss Jesus’ glory but his “exodus, his departure for Jerusalem where he will suffer, die, rise again and ascend to the Father.  A voice declares Jesus to be his Son, his Chosen One therefore, listen to him.

Then in verses 37-43, they come down the mountain only to encounter a great crowd unhappy because the disciples left at the base, could not cast out a destructive spirit from a boy.  Jesus rebuked the spirit and the spirit came out of the son.

In the order of things in the Gospel of Luke, the cross comes before the glory of the resurrection.  Though Peter and we, ourselves would like to cling to moments of glory that happen in our life, that is not the order of things.  We live under the cross before we live eternally around the throne of God.

Our Lenten Spring Training

 

With Ash Wednesday falling on February 10 the church’s Lenten season coincides with baseball’s spring training.

On Ash Wednesday we hear that “The acceptable sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You will not despise.”

Baseball shares several terms with Christian theology.  Players practice sacrificing or giving themselves up.  Fielders try to atone for errors and redeem themselves at their next at bat. Pitchers get in trouble if they can’t hit the catchers target. Managers have to have faith in their relief pitchers.  Ninth inning relief pitchers will come into make saves. As the season progresses batting streaks, slumps and bats will be broken.  Managers make substitutions.  Following the game managers may be asked to justify their moves.  And, of course, the goal is to run home safely.

Jesus is our substitute, sacrificing himself for our sins, the times we miss the target, and making atonement on the cross, justifying us through faith.  He is our redeemer, healing our broken and contrite hearts.  All of this so that we might run the race of faith and be at home safe with Christ.