Sincerity and Hypocrisy

 

And underlying theme in our lessons from last Sunday is sincerity and hypocrisy.

In classic Greek hypocrisy meant to wear a mask and play a part on a stage play.  Thus the word comes to mean to pretend, make believe.”  When I was growing up one of my favorite Saturday morning radio programs was “Let’s Pretend” in which stories such as Jack and the Bean Stalk would be told through voice actors.

The word “Sincere” comes from the Latin and originally meant sine/without and cere/wax. A sculptor working with marble might unintentionally chip out a piece of marble.  He might cover the mistake with a chunk of wax.  Of course when the heat of the sun hit the wax, it would melt.  In the same way, the “heat” of God’s judgment melts away our insincerity.  However, a perfect piece of marble sculpture would be sinecere/without wax.

Psalm 32 is attributed to David after the Prophet Nathan confronted him for his adultery and murder.  He was playing the hypocrite.  His life was not sincere.  Though he would not admit it prior to facing Nathan, later he wrote, “For when I kept silent my bones wasted away through groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me…I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not deny my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Peter in the epistle (Gal. 2:11-21) Peter began to play act when some men came from James.  He feared the news that he was eating with the Gentiles would get back to the circumcision party.  He began to act with insincerity or a false piety in which he did not believe.  He began and play “Let’s Pretend.”  Soon all the Jewish Christians followed his example and began playing let’s pretend.

Lord, as we enjoy the fullness of your daily bread.  Keep us from play acting in our faith life and give us rather the joy of our salvation and lead us to daily dine on the “bread of sincerity and truth” for you live and reign to all eternity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

 

Crucified with Christ

Pentecost 4, 2016, Bunker Hill, Galatians 2:19-21, 3:13

2:20, I have been crucified with Christ…the Life I now live in the flesh I live by faith.  3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law becoming a curse for us.

Every Friday my mother got out a big pan, sifted cupful’s of flour into it, added water, mixed it all together and at some point added Fleischmann’s yeast.  That small bit of yeast kneaded into the flour mixture would cause the dough to expand. When baked it resulted in enough loaves of bread to feed our family for a week.  It is true that as Paul wrote to the Corinthians “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (I Cor. 5:6)

But in that case, Paul was writing of yeast in a negative way.  Paul was pointing out something that was working its way among God’s people in a secret, silent way corrupting relationships with God and with one’s fellow believers.  In his letter to the Galatians Paul relates a time when a yeast named, not Fleischmann’s, but the yeast of fear and disruption was spreading among the Christians in Antioch. The yeast of fear had been added to the batch of believers by none other than Peter.  Yes, Peter, whom Jesus had named as the rock, the foundation of the church.  However, the Rock had crumbled.  The yeast of fear was overwhelming the yeast of faith in Jesus Christ who, through the cross, had cleared everything out the way which might hinder our salvation from sin, death and the devil.  Through their trust in Jesus Christ the congregation was growing in numbers and strength of faith in God’s grace especially among the non-Jews.  Faith in the good news of Jesus meant that no longer did you have to work your head off in a fruitless effort to try to get yourself in the clear of God’s judgment against your sin.   Jesus Christ had done it all.  So that we might with confidence draw near to our God and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.  In Christ, we receive only grace upon grace.  That we may boldly pray, “Our Father in heaven forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Peter knew that.  Previously in a vision God had shown him that all people whether Jew or Gentile, African or Oriental, no longer had to observe dietary rules in which a person could order somethings on the menu were verbotten, because God had said so.  At first Peter was taken aback, as many of would have been.  He said, “Oh, no Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”  The voice said, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”  With that God-given insight in mind, Peter almost exploded with his good news, “God plays no favorites!  It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from…the door is open to everyone.”  That is in perfect agreement with what Paul later wrote to the Galatians: “In Christ’s family there can be no division, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.”  That’s worth thinking about when differences among us threaten to divide God’s people.  Christ has done away with all that.  That yeast is dead and deserves only to be thrown into the garbage, not revived and allowed to work its corrupting influence.  It’s been replaced by the yeast of faith powered by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So how did Peter get off on the wrong path?  How did he get out of step with the Gospel?  How did he allow fear to overcome faith? What led Peter to go to the cross and drag those things out which Jesus had carried there and set them up in the path of Christ’s people and take them on a detour down the wrong road?

Here’s what happened.  Some people had come from Jerusalem from James, Jesus brother, down north to Antioch.   When they showed up, Peter began to draw back from the Gentiles.  We don’t quite know why.  As we saw in the courtyard during Jesus trial, some years before, Peter did like to please people which during Jesus trial, led him to the embarrassing denial of Jesus.  Maybe Peter thought that the folks from Jerusalem would be displeased with the way he associated with everyone, like being a Jew wasn’t special anymore.  Before that everyone, Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles were sharing in a community fellowship meal.  Nobody cared who ate what, and Peter joined in too.  He put kosher Lamb and pulled pork together on his plate.  But now his change of behavior, his withdrawal from the Gentiles, his backsliding in regard to the Gospel, this corrupting yeast was spreading throughout the whole congregation. The Jewish Christian starting play acting like Peter.  That’s what hypocrisy is, play acting.   When this occurs in a congregation it’s effects are corrosive.  When Paul saw it he was livid   He was mightily upset.  Because Peter’s conduct was out of step with the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ who came to seek and save all who were lost, as we heard it in the Gospel lesson this morning.  Peter was leading the people off the Gospel road and the people, suddenly confused and doubtful about their faith were following him.

In response to what the behavior he witnessed Paul makes one of the best known statements in the scriptures.  “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  I died to the law so that I might live to God.”  Consider the Old Testament reading.  David had been guilty of coveting another man’s wife, stealing her, committing adultery and planning her husband’s murder.  That’s pretty serious stuff.  He needed someone to tell him that God was not pleased and god chose the prophet Nathan to be that someone.  When confronted, David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  Nathan said, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”  As long as David tried to get away with his heinous crimes, God would hold him responsible.  But once God forgave him, he was dead to those sins. God cleared all out of the way.  He was clear of God’s judgement.  When Jesus was crucified, there was David on the cross with him, even as you and I were there.  That gives new meaning to the hymn which asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord.”  “Yes I was there right on the cross with my Lord.  In the Gospel lesson a woman, a sinner from the city broke in on Simon the Pharisees dinner party.  Weeping she washed Jesus feet with her tears.  Even though she committed a social faux pas and she a sinner touched Jesus thus making him unclean, Jesus forgave her sins.  Her past life was dead to her.  When Jesus was crucified, she was on the cross with him.  However, Simon, was willing to place his life up against anyone else’s life, not only that of the woman but of Jesus as well. He was willing to stand before God on the basis of his life.  He didn’t need Jesus and his cross.  On the last day when Jesus returns as judge, he was willing to face God’s question, “What about this woman?  How do you square your attitude and treatment of her with my command to love your neighbor as yourself? And what about the way you treated my son, Jesus?  How do you square that with my commandment that you should love the Lord your God with your total being?”  He was invited to be crucified with Jesus, but said, “No thanks, I’m good, just the way I am.”

What about you and me?  Are we willing to allow the yeast of faith to grow and expand in our lives that we might put away the yeast of fear and say, “Thank you Lord for inviting me to be crucified with you?  Thank you Jesus for becoming a curse for all the cursed things I’ve done in thought, word and deed against you and my fellow members of God’s congregation?”  May we hear Jesus say to us as he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

God grant it for Jesus sake.

 

 

 

Forgiveness

 

For our children’s message at Bunker hill, Becky came up with the idea of doing a “word for the day” every Sunday.  She watches a lot of Sesame Street while chasing after our two- year- old grandson.

The word for this weekend is “Forgiveness.” In the Old Testament lesson, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14, David discovered that he didn’t get away with coveting his neighbor’s wife, stealing her, committing adultery and planning her murder.  Pretty serious stuff.  God was not pleased and sent the prophet Nathan to so inform him.  At last David admits, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan announces the Lord’s verdict, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

There would be in – this – life consequences, the son born of Bathsheba would die.  However, God had covered all the sin connected with the death of David’s son, through the death of David’s Son, Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus is invited at a dinner when an invited guest breaks in.  However, Simon the Pharisee host had failed to act as a proper host.  The woman, city sinner that she is, acts as the hostess in this all male soiree.  She washes his feet and gives him welcoming kisses.

Simon condemns both the woman and Jesus.  But Jesus welcomes her touch, though it makes him unclean.  In the end he forgives her sin.  On the cross he became a curse, taking on all our curses which we have gained under the Law.

The word for the day is “Forgiveness.”

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope and love that we may receive the forgiveness You have promised and love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

I Should Have Known That

 

Every afternoon Becky and I watch Jeopardy to see how smart we are.  Actually, it is confirmed on a daily basis how little we know.  I usually do best on the Final Jeopardy.  But yesterday was one of those days when my mind failed to key into an answer I should have known.  The statement was something like: “What Midwestern state capital is named after a man who was born 2,000 years ago in what is now Turkey.”

I flitted through Columbus, Lansing, Madison, Pierre etc.  At the end of thirty seconds the answer was revealed, “St. Paul.”  How could I have not got that?  I grew up only 90 miles from St. Paul.  Our grade school visited the capital.  Our family went shopping in St. Paul.  I went to school in St. Paul for three years. I’m studying St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Which leads to another lapse of the mind.  Sunday, as we left Bunker Hill, Becky wondered why I didn’t tie Paul visiting Jerusalem three years after his conversion with Jesus’ resurrection after three days and the threesome we call the Trinity.  I could only say, “I never made the connection.”  For that matter in the Old Testament lesson, Elijah stretches out three times over the dead boy and then he is revived.

At least I’ll have an opening for Bible Class this coming Sunday.

The human mind is one of the greatest of God’s creations.  Our minds are gifted in a variety of ways.  I have little facility for mathematics.  But I like to play with words.  Give me a pile of lumber and I’m stumped.  Give me a pile of words and I immediately know what to make of them.  My wife can’t get too much of politics.  I can’t get too little.

The human mind is a one of those marvelous things in all its variety for which we do well to praise him with a new song.

And this afternoon at 4:30 we’ll have another opportunity to see how smart we are or how little we actually know.  Thank the Lord for “Jeopardy.”

Elijah and the Widow at Zeraphath

 

I Kings 17:17-24, “What have you against me, O man of God?  Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son?”

Elijah the prophet of Israel and the widowed mother of her small son were living by God’s grace.  God was showing that his power and grace was not limited to Israel.  The whole world was his.  The meager amount of flour and oil never ran out.  “Give us this day our daily bread,” was literally true.
Yet, when the son suddenly dies the woman remembers only her “past.”  Had she talked about her past with Elijah? Is Elijah punishing her for her past.  In a way she asks, “What have I done to you, O Preacher? I thought I had put my sins out of my mind, and now they all come rushing back to me in my time of grief.  Why else would my son die?”

In prayer, Elijah also asks, ”Why?”   He had been an instrument of God’s grace.  “God what’s going on here?” Elijah carries the boy up to his room, prays that God would restore his life, performs a sort of life saving tactic, and the boy is revived.

The mother exclaims, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Trusting God is no easy thing.  When things are going well, we take it for granted and think we must be doing something right.  When things go awry we wonder if God is punishing us.  God can’t seem to win.  But of course he has won though Jesus Christ who is “grace upon grace.”  Therefore, we too win everyday living in “grace upon grace.”

 

 

Saul to Paul, Persecutor to Proclaimer

Pentecost 3, 2016, Bunker hill, Galatians 1:11-24

1:15, But when he who set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace.

I thought of Prof. Marvin Middendorf this past week. He taught Greek at Concordia, St. Paul, MN., with such earnestness, that though I was not one of his best students; nevertheless, he instilled a fondness for the language of the New Testament that remains these decades later.

St. Paul was the best student of Gamaliel who was the best teacher of Judaism in his day.  Paul was at the top of his class when it came to knowing the teachings of the law found in the first five books of the Old Testament.   He was an expert in the 600 plus rules that the Pharisees developed to make sure that they had no excuse for not keeping the religious laws.  He was Super Pharisee.  But  his enthusiasm had a dark side .  He was so sure and so fired up over what he believed that he engaged in a violent and systematic effort to destroy those who were following in the Way of Jesus who was the Way the Truth and the Life.  He sought out and arrested followers of Jesus and hauled them back to Jerusalem for trial and possible execution.  Ever since he stood holding the cloaks of the men who stoned Stephen, eradicating the Christian was his way of life.  We would label him a religious terrorist.

But what did it get him?  Face down in the dirt on the road to Damascus, blinded by a great light and hearing a voice ask, “Why are you persecuting me?”  “Who are you Lord?” he asked. The voice answered, “I am Jesus.”  In that moment, his life was transformed from a persecutor of Christ to a preacher of Christ.  The transformation happened not because he was looking to make a change in his life, not because he thought something was lacking in his life, not because he was burdened with his sins, but it was at the pleasure of God, it was pure grace.  Amazing grace.  At that point Paul could have said of his pre-Christ life, “Well that didn’t go as I planned.”  No, God had other plans for him from before he was even born. God has plans for life, not for death.

In our Old Testament lesson the prophet Elijah prayed to God to the restore life to the son of the widow at Zeraphath.  In the gospel lesson Jesus, followed by a large crowd meets a funeral procession coming out of Nain, stopped it, touches the only son of another widow telling him, “I say to you arise.” And to Paul, lying in the dusty Damascus road, Jesus said, “Rise and go into the city and I will tell you what you are to do.”  In that encounter with Christ, a man by the name of Saul died to everything which he had held most dear in life.  He arose from the dust, went into Damascus where he was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, he immediately began to proclaim Christ as the Son of God.  He, now a new creation in Christ, takes a new name, Paul.

Now Paul becomes a student of the best teacher the world has ever known, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Jesus, who at age 12 was educating the religious experts in the temple; Jesus who walked up a mountain sat down and taught; Jesus, who taught from a boat to a crowd on the seashore; Jesus who while walking to Jerusalem and the cross taught along the way; Jesus who on the evening of his resurrection opened the scriptures to two disciples on the way to Emmaus, showing how everything in the Old Testament, pointed to himself.  Now Paul, for the next three years, came under the tutelage of the risen Savior.

While all of us may be able to think of a teacher whom years later we still appreciate, all of us have also been taught the good news of our salvation through by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send prior to his ascension.  We too have been taught by the best teacher the world has ever known.

What we have been taught is not a message of human origin.  The word we have heard preached, and taught and read and studied, is God’s message of our salvation in Jesus Christ.   Paul writes to the Galatians, “The gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.”  It’s not our Gospel, it’s God’s gospel.  That’s the good news which is before us every week.  That’s the news we need to hear and learn and trust.

Therefore, we owned up to who we were this past week in the confession at the beginning of the service.  We prayed, “Lord if you kept a record of sins, who could stand?”   But we also reminded the Lord, “But with You there is forgiveness; therefore, You are feared.” We threw ourselves on God’s mercy, “Almighty God have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life.”  In the sureness of God’s mercy, I said, “I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Paul also owned up to who he was.  We sang in our opening hymn, “Chief of sinners though I be.” On the human level, Paul really was the chief of sinners. He could not blame it on his teacher Gamaliel.  He could not shift the fault to his fellow Pharisees.  He didn’t even blame the devil. It was his conduct and his conduct alone that condemned.  There is a confession of sins in the evening service of Compline in which the sinner confesses, “by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault,” no excuses.  That is Paul’s confession and ours as well.

Paul acknowledges that God called him by His Grace alone to preach the gospel; there being no merit or worthiness in him. In Paul we see the power of the gospel to change lives.  A pastor tells of a woman who passed by his church every Sunday on her way to her church.  Her church was named, Starbucks.  She was satisfied with the church of Starbucks and those who congregated there for coffee and conversation.  But one Sunday she was drawn to stop by the pastor’s church.  She really couldn’t explain why.  She participated in this rather foreign, at least to her liturgy and hymns and sermon and even went to communion with everyone else.  No lights went on or bells rang for her.  But then the next Sunday on the way to Starbucks she was again drawn to the church.   Eventually she was baptized and joined the church.  She developed a food pantry and outreach to that community.  Sometimes we just can’t explain how the Spirit, through the power of the Gospel, transforms people and their lives.  Sometimes God doesn’t limit himself to our carefully constructed channels.  Sometimes He does things His own way and chooses people of His own choice.

You and I, have been set apart by God to be his people.  We too have been called by Grace.  This morning we are strengthened through His Word and in his sacrament, that we may be enabled to serve God as He chooses.

Give us This Day our Daily Bread

 

Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, has a long list of items he considers part of our daily bread.  The list ends with “And the like.”  The question arises, what do we include under the category of “And the Like.”  How do we decide what is a need and what is a want, what is a necessary and what is a luxury?

Joseph Epstein, in his collection of shorter essays, “Wind Sprints,” provides us with an honest analysis and confession.

“I just purchased a new large screen plasma television set, and the size and perfection of it both appall and thrill me.  I am appalled at my weakness for such a bit of unnecessary luxury and thrilled by the delight I’m finding in it.

The last year or so I discovered I did not see things on it (a 27” TV) as clearly as I used to do…Sometime having to rise out of my chair and walk right up to the television set to find out how or where, (a game) precisely stood.

I am an intellectual, University of Chicago bread…Intellectuals are trained to loathe television…

My general pattern is to be haughtily contemptuous of creature comforts and then, once I acquire them, grow accustomed to them with an unseemly haste.  Had I been born much earlier, I’m sure to have made an utterly persuasive case against indoor plumbing.  What do I need it for, I would no doubt has asked, as I have since asked about multiple other conveniences, all afterwards acquired and enjoyed with uncomplicated pleasure?  I am a moral puritan, saved only by his hypocrisy.

If I am to live out the rest of my days as a couch potato, this television set will as least allow me to do so au gratin. (Sprinkled with bread crumbs and cheese.)”

Whatever we decide to include under “daily bread,” Luther reminds us, “We pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize (He gives without our prayers) and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 30, I will Extol You, O Lord

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Psalm 30 carries a curious title which tells of its use in ancient Israel.  “A Psalm of David.  A Song at the dedication of the temple.”

First, the psalm in attributed to King David.  We have no difficulty thinking of David praying this psalm of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance.  He came to the throne of Israel after years of oppression and exile under Saul.  God delivered him and turned his hard times into times of dancing.

Second, the psalm was later sung as part of a festival celebrated every year – the Dedication or Hanukkah, of the temple. This was the winter feast dating back to 165 B.C. when Judas Maccabeus led a revolt against the ruthless oppression of Antiochus Epiphanies.  At the end of a decade of terror, Judas rededicated the temple.  This festival is still held every year in December, though the temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.

Both David and the temple were “types” of Him who was to come.  The deeper voice in this psalm is Christ our Lord on the day of resurrection. “O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol (the grave) You have restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.”

Christ is the true David, the new Israel’s Psalmist, our song leader in the eternal praise of God: “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.”

Christ is also our true temple.  As St. john wrote in his vision in Revelation, For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

For this reason, Psalm 30 is used on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, the vindication of the new David and the consecration of the true Temple.

It’s a fitting psalm on a day we focus on the resurrection of the widow of Zeraphath’s son through Elijah; Jesus’ restoring life to the son of the widow at Nain; and Paul’s recounting of Jesus raising him from spiritual death to life through grace.

No Ordinary Day

 

“Just an ordinary day.” I commented at our 6:30 breakfast while watching early morning TV news.  Neither of us were too excited.  But then things changed.

Some tall white blossom perennials are blooming in the front flower garden.  One managed to plant itself in a flower pot, so I put it in front of our living room window this spring.  Soon I noticed a humming bird flitting around the blossoms.  I never have gotten into feeding them myself, so when they appear I am filled with wonder.  On the bird spectrum humming birds are at the opposite end our neighborhood hawk and owl.   Each in its own way are wonders of God’s creation.  Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap. Nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

In Genesis God created the flying things.  “Let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”

That little humming bird changed what started as an ordinary day, to a day of wonder.  For soaring hawks and hooting owls and flitting pollinating humming birds may the Lord be praised.