Martha and Mary

Martha was busy and hurried,
Serving the friend divine,
Cleansing the cups and platters,
Bringing the bread and wine;
She had no time to be sitting

–Mary was quiet and peaceful,
Mary was hearing His words
Mary was letting Him give—
Learning the Master’s mind,

 

No I am not Mary,

Who sits quiet and peaceful

Who Hears, Who Listens

For I have places to go

Roads to Travel

People to see

Mysteries to unravel.

 

Are you Mary or Martha?

It’s good Jesus loves us all!

Becky Jansen wrote most of the above.  It will be my children’s sermon tomorrow at Bunker Hill, Illinois.

Psalm 136: His Kindness is Forever

 

In Psalm 136, tells us that God’s steadfast love or kindness is forever, twenty – six times. To start with, God is good.  God is the greatest God and the greatest Master.  Then the psalmist tells us of his great wonders.  The heavens are created in wisdom, he stamps firm the earth, makes the great lights giving the sun dominion over the day and the moon and stars dominion over the night.  All of this God does because his kindness is forever.

But God also takes an interest in what is going on earth.  In order to free Israel from the grip of slavery God struck down the firstborn of Egypt.  God effected history, splitting the Reed Sea and shaking Pharaoh and his army into the waters.  Because of his never ending kindness, God led His people through the wilderness, struck down great and mighty kings. God names names, Sihon of Amorites, Og of Bashan.  He gave their land to Israel his servant when they were low.

Finally, God, creator of the universe and caretaker of his people, gives bread to all living creatures.

For that reason, “Give thanks to the God of the heavens for his kindness is forever.”

Prayer: God of everlasting love, through your Word you made all things in heaven and on earth; you have opened to us the path from death to life.  Listen to the song of the universe, the hymn of resurrection, sung by your Church and give us your blessing; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Hopitality

 

Luke 9 & 10 are about showing hospitality to Jesus and his messengers.  Soon after Jesus had set his course for Jerusalem he and his group, perhaps numbering nearly 100, came to a Samaritan village seeking overnight accommodations.  The village them turned away because Jesus was going to Jerusalem and not their worship center. Jesus would have nothing to do with the suggestion of James and John to rain a bit of fire on the village.  Instead they moved on.

At the beginning of chapter 10, Jesus sends out 70 or 72 others to heal the sick and proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom.  Those who showed hospitality would be blessed with the messengers greeting of peace.  However, those who turned them away, though Jesus’ messengers would shake the dust of the town off their feet, would know that the kingdom of God had also come near to them.

Jesus sums up the reactions saying, whoever hears you is also listening to me and to my Father who sent me.  Whoever rejects you is rejecting me and the Father.

Jesus next encounters an expert in biblical interpretation, a lawyer.  Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to see if the man would hear and obey his word to “God and do likewise.”

Finally, Jesus comes to the home of Martha and Mary, where again we deal with the way to show hospitality to Jesus.  It turns out that serving him does not mainly mean busying ourselves with the usual affairs of hospitality, but to emulate Mary who sits at Jesus feet and listens.

There is an old prayer that advises  us to,  “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” what Jesus has to offer.  We serve him because he first served us with his word.

Would You Be My Neighbor?

Pentecost 8, 2016, Bunker Hill, Luke 10:25-37

10:36-37 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

For years, Mr. Rogers, entered our living rooms via the TV set.  He put on a sweater and sang, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” He invited each child and parent to be his neighbor. “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood extended beyond all boundaries and barriers. The idea for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, could have come from our gospel lesson.

A lawyer asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He should have asked, “How do I become an heir of eternal life?”  St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints.”

The Father made us fit inheritors when Jesus rescued us from the power of darkness and moved us into the neighborhood where He is our friend through the forgiveness of sin. What Jesus has done for us is similar to an athlete who has grown up in a dangerous, poverty-stricken neighborhood. When he signs a professional contract move his parents to a safe neighborhood. Jesus has transferred us to the neighborhood where grace and peace light our lives and we live in safety from the perils of God’s judgment upon our sin. Psalm 136 tells us,  “He remembered us when our fortunes were low- for his love endures forever.”

When Jesus asked the expert in the scriptures. “What is written in the Law? How do you recite it?” he was seeking to move the Lawyer to that new neighborhood. The scripture expert knew the catechism by heart, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He committed himself to total devotion to God, with every ounce of his being. He would love God with all his emotions. His every inner drive would be devoted to God. With his intelligence he would be thinking of nothing else than loving God. Then, having devoted himself to God completely and totally he would do the same concerning his neighbor. He would do nothing but good in God’s neighborhood.

However, he needs Jesus to clarify something. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?” It is hard to do good in God’s neighborhood; if you don’t know the extent of the neighborhood. Then of course, we may know our neighbors, all too well. As a limerick says, “to dwell there above with those we love, oh that will be a glory. To dwell here below with those, we know, well, that’s another story.”

Now Jesus blows our ideas of neighbor and neighborhood all to smithereens. He tells a story of a man who was traveling the notoriously dangerous 17 mile Jericho Road that descended from Jerusalem 2,300 feet above sea level to Jericho, 1,300 feet below sea-level. Along the way, some robbers attacked him, beat him, left him bruised and bloodied, stripped naked and stole all he had. They left him for dead.

After a time, he heard the crunch of sandals on gravel. Half opening one swollen eye he saw dimly a priest approaching. In his mind, if not with his voice he called out, “Help me. Would you be my neighbor? Won’t you be my neighbor?” However, the priest hardly gave the mess by the side of the road a glance, but went on his way without breaking stride. He didn’t want to risk defilement and mess of trying to get back to doing his priestly duties. The crunch of sandals on gravel receded in the distance.

After a time, the crunching of gravel told of the approach of another man. Once more through the slit of what remained of his vision the man saw, a Levite who assisted with all the holy matters happening at the temple and directed the choir and musicians. Through parched lips, the beaten man weakly called, “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” After stopping to look for a moment, the crunch of gravel receded in the distance.  He was just too busy.

In time, the sound of crunching gravel again caught the man‘s attention a third time. Through his increasingly swollen eye, he saw it was a hated, heretical Samaritan. For a Jew, the thought of being touched by a Samaritan was revolting. They were outside the neighborhood in which any God-fearing Jew would ever find himself. They would never live in God’s neighborhood. Still, the Samaritan stopped, came near, tore some of his own clothing into bandages, and poured on soothing oil and cleansing wine. He put him on his donkey. When they came to the inn, he did not just dump the man off and run. He stayed the night caring for him. The next day he paid the Innkeeper a full month’s rent promising that when he passed by again, if there was more expense, he would pay that too.

It’s a wonderful story, one of our favorite parables.  At the end of the story Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”  The problem is, we often don’t.  The lives of others are too messy! Our lives are too busy.  How can we trust those who ask for our help?  Who knows what’s behind their woeful stories?

St. Paul writes of us, “While we were still weak; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies, God made us his friends through the death of Jesus.” And there was no guarantee that we wouldn’t use Jesus generosity to just go off and do whatsoever we pleased. He set no limits on his love.

Jesus, is the despised one who has come down the road and spotted us in the wounded nakedness of our need. He took on our wounds in the balm of his steadfast love he healed us.  He himself, received no mercy. He was left to die on the cross, naked, bruised and bloodied. “And those who passed by derided him.” Jesus’ crucifixion is in violation of both parts of the commandment. When Christ was hung on the cross we sinned both against God in our failure to love him with our heart, soul and mind, and against our neighbor, Jesus. Christ is the only one who was fully able to love God and neighbor as self. He fulfills the law on our behalf; on our own side we still fall short. In Christ we find God acting as the true neighbor. Through his love, which knew no bounds, He paid the whole cost of restoring us to life. Now there is nothing more for us pay save for giving thanks to the Lord, for his good and steadfast love that endures forever. There is no one to whom Jesus would not be neighbor. He doesn’t say, “Let’s see if you are the right kind of people.”  He says, “Come unto me all who are loaded down with cares and woes, and I will give you rest.”

But now, Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise.”  We join in Christ’s mission, and serve in his name.  We serve in the messiness and busyness of life.  We serve because he first served. A man once observed Mother Teresa cleaning the wound of a leper.  He turned away in revulsion and said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”  Teresa looked at him and replied, “Neither would I.  But I would do it for Christ.”  Jesus says, “What you do to the least of my brethren you do it to me.” When we answer the call, “Please, won’t you be my neighbor?” Then indeed, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”

 

Jesus Sets His Face Toward Jerusalem

 

In Luke 9:51, as the days drew near when he would be taken up, he set his face toward Jerusalem.  In Jerusalem, Jesus would accomplish his exodus of which he spoke with Moses and Elijah at his Transfiguration (Luke 9:31).  He is referring to his ascension to the right hand of the Father. His ascension marks the end, the goal of Luke’s Gospel and begins the story of the church.  However, on the way to his ascension he must be delivered into the hands of men who will execute him (Luke 9:44).

When Jesus makes his exodus he promises to return and take his disciples with him when he returns in his glory.

But along the way to Jerusalem they encounter a Samaritan village which refuses to receive him because he was going to Jerusalem (Luke 9:52).  The village refuses the request of Jesus’ messengers to give them overnight accommodations.  John and James volunteer to call a bit of fire from heaven.  They are looking to emulate the prophet Elijah and John the Baptist’s preaching about the wrath to come.

But Jesus is taking the long view.  He sees in the future the story of the Good Samaritan and the Samaritan leper who alone will return to give him thanks for healing.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus speaks of the gospel going out to Samaria and most of Acts 8 and 9:31 tells what happens after the church goes to Samaria with the good news of Jesus.

One does wonder when we come to Luke 10:1 whether some of the seventy – two Jesus sent out were sent to Samaria, since that is also where he intended to go.

At Jesus birth the heavenly host sang of peace on earth and that peace would fall on all with whom God was pleased.  It was Jesus purpose in coming that through his death, resurrection and ascension he would make everyone pleasing to him.

The Prophet Isaiah

 

Today is the day to remember Isaiah.

Isaiah begins with God calling heaven and earth to bear witness at Israel’s trial.  1:4 “ah, sinful nation…laden with iniquity…have forsaken the Lord…despised the Holy One of Israel…is utterly estranged.”  Yet, in 1:18 we read, “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

Chapter Five begins with Isaiah singing about God’s vineyard.  He gave it every advantage, but when “he looked for it to yield grapes, it yielded wild grapes.” “What more was there to do for my vineyard?”  5:7 reveals that the vineyard is Israel and Judah.  They will be trampled on and laid to waste.

However, Chapter six takes us to the Temple where Isaiah describes his vision of Yahweh accompanied by the six winged seraphim.  Isaiah confesses what applies to all of us, “Woe is me!  I am lost.  I am a man of unclean lips.”  Yet, he hears words of absolution, just as we do each week, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

So it goes throughout the whole of Isaiah, in chapter 7, King Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign.  So God gives him a sign, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Not without reason Isaiah is called, “The fifth gospel.”  But if one sets out to study Isaiah in depth and not just the gospel highlights, be aware, you are in it for the long haul.  Studying one chapter a day will often fill an hour or more.  One chapter a week will fill more than a year.

There is great blessing and enrichment of faith offered in Isaiah.  But like anything worthwhile, it takes work.

A Modern Martyr

 

We may be familiar with the movie “Chariots of Fire” which portrayed Eric Liddell who won the 400 meters race in the 1924 Olympic games in Paris.  Because of his devout Christian faith and principles, he refused to run in his best event the 100 meters’ race because it was held on Sunday.

Liddell was born in China to missionary parents.  He returned to China and served under the most difficult and dangerous occasions.  As the Japanese increasingly took over control and ruthlessly ruled China, he continued his work.  Eventually, he sent his wife and children out of the country.  He was interned in a camp along with 1,500 or more non-Chinese personal.

In his book, “For the Glory,” Duncan Hamilton writes of his heroism.  “In his own way he proved that heroism in war exists beyond the churned-up battlefields.  His heroism was to be utterly forgiving in the most unforgiving of circumstances.”

A fellow internee spoke of him, “It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint.  He came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”  Another missionary said of him, he had a calming and very stable influence in the camp.  “He was always so positive -even when there wasn’t much to be positive about and he carried the weight of others’ worries and burdens without hesitation.”

“He didn’t blame God for the situation we were all in.  He believed God was in that situation with us.”

Preaching on the Sermon on the Mount, he taught, “I’ve begun to pray for the guards and it’s changed my whole attitude toward them.  When we hate them we are self-centered.”

His efforts on behalf of others took its toll; yet he kept up doing more than his duties.  He died in 1945 before the war ended.  The Chinese a memorial to the camp and especially to Eric Liddell because of his tireless work on behalf of everyone with whom he came into contact.

 

When your Brother Slips into a Sin

Pentecost 7, 2016, Bunker Hill, Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18

The Tuesday Family Circle cartoon in the Post-Dispatch featured little Jeffy sneezing on his sister in an up close and personal manner.  She cried out, “Jeffy sneezed on me!  Do I still hafta ‘God bless him’ him?”  Good question.

A few years ago a woman attending a national church convention in St. Louis was at a barbecue.  She got some spare ribs stuck in her esophagus.  According to an emergency room nurse at BJC the woman apparently tried to push the stuck meat through by stuffing in more meat.  She was in serious trouble when she reached the emergency room.  Here was a sister in Christ, one made alive in the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit who in a moment of weakness was overtaken by the sin of gluttony.    We tend to react to those kinds of stories with headshaking and a question, “How could she be so dumb?”

However, the apostle Paul writes, “Brother, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”  Now if we move out from sneezing Jeffy and the barbecue stuffing woman, we might think of some person we know.   Some person who has put on Christ in baptism, was made alive in the Holy Spirit and walking in a Spirit led life suddenly caught unaware in a situation and slips into a sin.  That person may well be our self at one point.

Paul writes “You who are spiritual…?” Well, that’s you and me.  We are spiritual, since “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death…since we have put on Christ and have been made alive in the Holy Spirit…since we are led to walk in life by the Spirit to live a new life, since we are new creations living in the new age of God’s reign through Christ.”

The person is to be restored.  The word restored has a medical background, meaning to set a bone in place so that proper healing might take place.  Luther says, “Run to him and reaching out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words and embrace him with motherly arms.”  The Old Testament lesson ties in with Luther’s words.  When Jerusalem is restored it will be a place, like the church, where one finds love and comfort.  “You shall nurse and be satisfied at her consoling breast…you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced on her knees.” God will comfort the people through His people; “as one whom his mother comforts so I will comfort you.”  Show a mother’s love by enfolding in your arms those who have mistepped into sin.

A campus pastor tells of a college student who had slipped off the path of Christ, neglecting the leading of the Holy Spirit. The person went to the pastor wondering, “How am I to be restored to God’s kingdom, having this mark against me?” The pastor knew the student’s family. He asked, “Your family makes fine handcrafted furniture, right?” “Yes,” replied the student. The Pastor continued, “If a piece of furniture has a scratch or a mar in it, do you throw out the whole piece?” “No,” said the student, “We sand and buff the wood until the imperfection is gone.” “Well,” said the pastor, “God, in Jesus’ death on the cross has removed the imperfections from your life. We will simply use the good news of Christ to gently sand and buff the sin that mars your life, and it will be gone.”

We are to restore the person gently. Gentleness is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for gentleness is difficult to translate. It means to use consideration for the person and not to give great attention to the sin. The goal is not to emphasize the misstep, but to restore the person in their walk in the Spirit as they follow Christ.

Martin Luther lectured on this passage in 1519 saying that, “we should be more ready to extenuate than to exaggerate.” In other words, give the person a break, or give him the benefit of the doubt. He continues that to “exaggerate the sin” is characteristic of the devil and slanderers.” Luther cites St. Augustine, “Nothing so demonstrates the spiritual man as his treatment of someone else’s sin, when he plans how to set him free rather than how to deride him, how to help him rather than how to revile him.”

Again, Luther, “when our conscience accuses us, the Holy Spirit protects us in the presence of God and comforts us by giving a good testimony to our conscience and to our trust in God’s mercy. He excuses, extenuates, and completely covers our sins. On the other hand, He magnifies our faith and good works.” What the Holy Spirit does in our life St. Paul urges us to do likewise in the lives of our brothers and sisters in the family of Christ.

Having urged us to act as spiritual people, Paul has a warning for us. “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Part of the reason any misstep by a candidate for public office is enlarged for all to see is that it works. We are attracted to that sort of negative thing.

But Paul reminds us, “For anyone who thinks he is something.” Anyone who believes he can stand on his own two feet before God, has taken a misstep with serious consequences for a great fall is in store. We are nothing without Christ. We have nothing without Christ. We are deceiving ourselves. For in the judgment, we will have to be accountable for our own actions. It does us no good to compare ourselves to our brother and sister in Christ. We may not be inclined to the same misstep they are, but we each have our own potholes and divots we are inclined to step in. More than that, having restored someone in the spirit of gentleness, we may take pride in how spiritual and humble we are. “I did well,” our inner self, informs us.

Therefore, St. Paul leads us once more to the cross. We do not ever seem to get away from the cross, do we? Thank God for that. Paul reminds us, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He invites us also to lift high the cross. For only in the story of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave do we find the means and the power to restore the brother or sister who has slipped. We glory in the story of the cross for from the cross comes the message that the Holy Spirit uses to stand us also on our two feet when we have slipped.

Now let me give you something to think about.  Remember sneezing Jeffy at the beginning of the sermon?  How would you handle his sister’s cry, “Do I hafta God bless him?”  And the barbecue stuffing woman, how might her friends have welcomed her back from her ordeal?  What can we learn from the apostle Paul about how we deal with each other in love in the times we sin against each other at Zion, in Bunker Hill.

 

 

America, Crowned with Brotherhood

 

This weekend as celebrate our Independence Day we will sing the familiar songs that fit the occasion.  But we also live in a time when we as a nation seem to be increasingly divided and that is being exploited and encouraged in the campaigns which invade our homes and sensibilities.

It’s a time when we need less glaring red rockets and bombs bursting in air.  We live in a beautiful country with spacious skies and amber waves of grain weaving in the breeze.  The plains are fruitful and the purple hued mountains rising majestic.  God has shed his grace on our country.  We do well to crown God’s goodness with brother and sisterhood, “from sea to shining sea.”

This land is not only your land, but it’s also my land from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from the waters of the gulfstream to the white pine forests.  This land was made for you and me.  Therefore, we lift up our voices and sing that God would keep us forever in the path of liberty for all.

In the light of all of the above, we ask God to bless our native land.