Christian Posture

 

Kneeling has been generally seen as a posture for prayer.  A photo on my Facebook page features Jordy Nelson of the Green Packers kneeling on one knee in the end zone after making a touchdown pass.  It was his first touchdown in over a year, He was injured all last season.  The same weekend other players knelt on one knee during the national anthem as a protest.  Kneeling puts one in a vulnerable position.

When we see a number of men kneeling on both knees and bowing to the ground we immediately think of Muslims.  Yet, we often read of just such a practice in the Bible.  In Mark 5, first a ruler of a synagogue falls at Jesus feet and then a woman does the same.  Paul writes in Philippians 2, that the time will come when every knee in the universe will bow down at the name of Jesus.

Once, I filled in at a church where some of the congregation kneeled for communion and others remained standing.  There was a time when Lutherans thought kneeling to be too Catholic.  Perhaps, there had been a division in the church over the posture for taking communion and someone suggested, “What does it matter?”

We do well to first learn the story behind a particular body posture.

From a sermon by Martin Luther, 1523.  It may or may not be relevant.

“God has made provision that we should become holy…in order to make manifest that there is no holiness that which God works in us…You must be holy and yet you must not bear yourself as though you were holy of yourself or by your own merit, but through Christ you have become holy.”

I think Luther is saying, in part, don’t take a posture in life where in you put yourself above someone else, but remember who we are and what we are, is only through the holiness of Christ.

 

Mercy for a Piece of Junk

 

Some years ago a saying gained popularity, “God doesn’t make any Junk.”  That is true in the sense that God is our creator, the one who made everything good, very good.  But Paul writes in his letter to Timothy (I Timothy 1: 12-17) that in ignorance he had turned himself into junk.  He turned himself into one of the sinners with whom Jesus loved to hang out with and invite himself to dinner.

Paul writes of himself, “a blasphemer, persecutor, insolent opponent of Christ and ignorant unbeliever.”  He is thankful to God who gave him Jesus Christ and judged him faithful and appointing him to be in His service. Though Paul was deep into sin, Jesus who came to save sinners such as him overwhelmed his sinful self with grace.  Paul received mercy in order to show him as an example God’s perfect patience to “those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”

So what’s left for Paul to do?  Nothing, accept to praise God.  So he concludes our lesson for Sunday, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”  What can we do in the light of such great undeserved mercy?  Nothing except add our “Amen.”

As the reader said at the end of the lesson, “This is the Word of the Lord.” And ours was a fitting response, “Thanks be to God.”   As Paul said, this is a saying that is “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.”

The Lost Sheep

 

 

Prayer of the Day: Lord Jesus, You are the Good Shepherd, without whom nothing is secure.  Rescue and preserve us that we may not be lost but follow You, rejoicing in the way that leads to eternal life, for you live and reign with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The problem with the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:1-7, is that it didn’t follow the shepherd all the way back to the sheepfold.  Perhaps it was in the back of the flock and started lagging behind a bit and soon found an interesting ant carrying a leaf and decided to follow it.  The ant led the curious sheep through an opening between two large stones.  By this time the sheep had lost sight of the shepherd and the rest of the flock.  As he trailed the ant he didn’t see the thorn bush.  Too late he found he had snagged his wool on the thorns and there he was stuck.  The more he struggled the more he became ensnared.  Exhausted from his struggle, his mouth dry and throat parched he barely could issue a weak “bleat.”

There he stood, too snagged to even lay down. Eventually the sun moved far down the western sky.  Night would soon be upon him. He would be easy prey for any, bear or lion, wolf or coyote on the prowl.

Then he heard a familiar voice calling.  He knew that voice.  It was the shepherd.  He bleated a “baa.”

“What have you got yourself into?” the shepherd asked.  “How did you get back here? Well come on let’s get you back home, though we’ll have to leave some of you here.  This might hurt a bit.  Ready?  Here we go.”  All in one motion the shepherd yanked me from the thorn bush and soon I was flying through the air only to land on his shoulders.

“Well,” said the shepherd.  “Some bear or lion is going to pretty disappointed when they follow the scent to this bush, only to find a few strands of your wool caught on the thorns.

We haven’t had a party back at the sheepfold for a while.  There’ll be dancing tonight.”

And so it is that the Lord Rescues us and turns our mourning into dancing.

 

 

Psalm 119:169-176

 

Taw

169 Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.

Why Taw as the heading of the Psalm?  Psalm 119 is an acrostic Psalm.  The first word in each line of each stanza begins with the same Hebrew letter.  Thus, each line in stanza one (vss. 1-8) begins with the Hebrew letter ALEPH, or in English “A.”  There are 22 stanzas ending with vss. 169 -176 where each line begins with the letter Taw, the last Hebrew letter.

The entire psalm is encouragement to walk in the law of the Lord (v.1). Blessing comes in keeping his testimonies (vs. 2).

In the final stanza, the psalmist pleads to be heard.  He requests understanding and deliverance according to God’s word or promise. He confesses (vs. 176) that he has gone astray like a lost sheep.  He requests that the Lord seek him out. (See the gospel lesson, Luke 15:1-10).

A variety of words describe God’s word.  God’s word are his promises, his statutes, his righteous commandments, his precepts, his law and his rules.

He longs “for your salvation.”  Though he has strayed God will save him so that he might live and praise the Lord and live a godly life through God’s helpful rules.

 

Time Out

After preaching every Sunday since the end of May, save one in August, Becky and I won’t be driving up to Bunker Hill for three weeks.  Then the first two weeks in October I’m out of a job.

It was relaxing come Sunday evening not to start thinking about a sermon for next Sunday.  Sort of like a sabbath or a year of the Jubilee.

I think I’ve previously shared a definition of preaching from one of Jan Karon’s books.  Preaching is like giving birth on Sunday only discover that you are pregnant of Monday.

I thank the Lord for the ability to keep on getting into the chancel and pulpit.  But I also thank the Lord for a breather.

However, I do have plenty of preparation to do today to get ready for the Friday morning retired men’s “Coffee and Conversation.”  I’m using the video course from Lutheran Laymen’s League on Martin Luther, Part I.  They supply some resources for digging deeper.  Of course with history, the deeper one digs the more there is to excavate and try to put together in a coherent  story.

A retired engineer in the class has problems when things in the Bible don’t work logically.  He asked last week why it was the Martin Luther lived and many people who tried to reform the church before him ended up at the stake and fire.  The problem is, human history just doesn’t make a lot of sense and at times we do the thing which harms us the most.

Yet somehow God works his will and his plan through all the twists and turns and ups and downs of history.  Beyond that things are bewildering.

It’s time to close this out and start digging into the Reformation story.

Philemon

 

Paul’s letter to Philemon is a masterful example of applying the petition from the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  I used the letter in Bible Class on Sunday.

One member of the class asked if I thought Philemon laughed when he read the letter.  I suspect that he did and humor is part of the reason the letter was accepted as Scripture.  Paul was well known to Philemon and the congregation which met as his house in Colossae.  Like a congregation knows the quirks and tendencies of their pastor, so they knew Paul.

Paul thanks God for Philemon’s faith and good works.  He could command Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus.  But Paul appeals to him on the basis of love.  Then for the second of three times he mentions that he is a prisoner of Christ or for Christ.  Somehow Onesimus (means useful) found Paul either in Ephesus or in Rome.  Onesimus had become useless, but now he has been useful to Paul. Paul reminds Philemon that he could keep Onesimus himself and regard him as someone sent by Philemon to help him out.

However, in sending him back, he is sending his very heart.  It will break his heart of if Philemon does not accept Onesimus, not only as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.  Paul, though in prison, as he reminds Philemon three times, offers to pay for any damage and loss that Onesimus may have caused.  Of course, Paul reminds Philemon, he owes Paul his very life, because it is through Paul’s preaching that Philemon is now a Christian.  He is to welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul. In fact, Paul says, he plans on coming to visit once he gets out of prison.

All congregations have Matthew 18 is their constitution as the guideline for working out problems.  I told the class that I thought Paul’s letter to Philemon should be included as a practical example of how to go about settling issues in a congregation. An example of grace, humor and gentleness.

God’s House of Pottery

Pentecost 16, 2016, Bunker Hill, Jeremiah 18:1-12

This morning as we turn our attention to the prophet Jeremiah we learn that God has directed him to “Arise and go down NOW to the potter’s house and there I shall tell you what I have to say.” Every community had a potter using his skills to shape jars for carrying water or storing grain, pots for cooking, bowls, pitchers, cups and oil lamps to chase away the darkness.

A writing called “Sirach” from two centuries before Christ informs us of the work of the potter. “Turning the wheel with his feet…he molds the clay with his arm, crouching forward to exert his strength.”  The potter put his heart into his work, working long hours to finish the task.  Sirach includes the farmer, smith and potter when he writes, “They maintain the fabric of this world and the practice of their craft is their prayer.”  What a great way to look at our work.  Our daily work is our prayer, our service to God and our service to the community.

God, like a craftsman, labors to shape and reshape you and me into the people he would have us be.  God puts his heart into his work and stays up to all hours to give us a perfect finish. It cost God dearly when he was arrested, put on trial in the middle of the night, led out to a cross and executed that we might be perfected, by Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Let’s go back to the beginning when God crafted his creation.  Picture God pacing along the bank of one of the four rivers flowing out of Eden.  Searching for the just the right clay for his project.  When he found it he scooped up hands full of the red clay.  He knelt down and kneaded the clay to the right consistency and then he began to form what he had in mind.  He formed a figure that looked like a human being, like us, with arms and body and legs.  Then he blew his breath into the form’s nostrils and his work became a living being, a human, us.  But he wasn’t not done yet.  He saw that the man of clay needed a companion. God scooped up more globs of clay and shaped animals for the man to name. Can you imagine how much fun God had doing that?   When he still hadn’t hit the mark, he took a rib from the man and formed a woman and brought her to the clay man.  You see God works in multiple mediums.  Clay, rib, makes no difference. The man exclaims, “I believe you’ve got it.  This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”  Adam and Eve were lovingly molded by God into his own image, the image of the first Potter.  And now God’s work was done, human beings were the crowning achievement of his perfect creation.  Only a little lower than the heavenly beings.  What was there left to do? Unfortunately, there would still be much to do.

Pottery, made for everyday use, had a short life.  Through wear and tear of everyday use it was liable to become chipped, cracked and broken.   And, so it seems the clay man and woman didn’t remain perfectly formed in the image of their maker for very long either.  At the urging of the serpent, they rebelled.  Decided to go it alone.  Thus they twisted themselves out of shape and became cracked, chipped and broken.  Like the gingerbread man who ran from the baker they ran themselves into their own doom.  Which left the rest of us to be born warped and ruined, cracked and broke too, only to finally to end up as dust.

That brings us to what God had to tell Jeremiah down at the potter’s house.      As he stood watching he saw a familiar sight.  The vessel on which the potter was working didn’t turn out right, so the potter remolded it into a vessel to his liking.  Suddenly, Jeremiah gets what God has to say, and it’s not good.  God, is the potter and the clay is his people Israel.  The people are not cooperating with God as he shapes them into the people he wants them to be.  Israel has forsaken their God, for fake gods.  I remember the first time I went into a store called “The Pottery Barn” at the Galleria.  There were some interesting things, but the store didn’t look anything like any barn I had ever seen and I couldn’t find any pottery. The store was not what the name claimed it to be.   Israel was no longer what they claimed to be, that is, God’s people. And their daily life showed that they were not as advertised.  They had failed to take care of the poor, but pushed them further into poverty.  They had failed to care for the orphan and widow but took whatever goods they did have for themselves.  They had failed to welcome the stranger.  God intended them to be what he intends us to be.  His spokesmen and his show case of what he is doing in the world so that all people might know God and glorify his name. Bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the oppressed, showing hospitality to the stranger.

Jesus said before his crucifixion that he would draw all people to himself, we have a part to play in being magnets for Christ.  On Pentecost, Peter and the disciples were speaking to a crowd of numerous nationalities and cultures inviting these strangers into God’s kingdom.  Peter proclaimed, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord…will be saved.”  We have a part to play in that promise, for its intended for everyone in Bunker Hill.  St. Paul states God’s long term purpose is that everyone worship at the name of Jesus and every tongue acclaim, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

But Israel has not been bringing glory to God. God, is about to throw Israel back into pile of clay from which it came. However, if they turn from their ways and turn back to God’s ways, God will change his mind and will rather build them up and plant them. If they repent, God will relent.   But in the end Israel said, “There’s no longer any hope.  We will stick to our own plans and each of us follow the promptings of his wicked and stubborn heart.”  Is that it?  Is God finished with us?  Is this where it ends?  Like broken pottery thrown out with all the other broken pieces?

I’ll let Martin Chemnitz, an early Lutheran leader after the time of Luther, answer, “But soon (God) turned and picked up that clay and ‘made it into another vessel as seemed good to him.’”  No, the word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah in the Potter’s house was not the last word from the Lord.  Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed and the people will go down to defeat and taken into exile.  But this word also came to Jeremiah, “The days are coming when I will make a new covenant.  I will put my word within them and I will write it on their hearts…For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.”  Since we can’t mend our misshapen selves, God will do it.  And he did, through Jesus Christ, his son our Savior.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.  That’s us, we are jars of clay.  We are the newly created pottery work of God containing the gospel of the light of Christ.  We are lamps in the world to chase away the darkness.  Furthermore, God the Potter has created us in Christ for good works, which God prepared a long time ago that we might live in them.  Thus once more this week we have an assignment.  Be lamps filled with the fuel of gospel to let the light of Christ shine.  Be alert for the opportunity to do the good works which God will set in our path.  Like pottery, we are made for everyday use.  “Have thine own way Lord, You are potter we are the clay.”

 

 

 

 

 

Funeral Sermon

I had a funeral this morning for a person who died suddenly of an apparent heart attack.  His wife found him Wed. when she came home from work. He was 62.  I did not know the family.  The deceased had been an active Lutheran before they moved to the south county and then did not reconnect with the church.

Revelation 21:5a, Behold, I make all things new.

The poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “And death shall have no dominion.”  He wrote that three times.  But of course death does have dominion in our lives.  The author of the New Testament letter, Hebrews writes, “It is appointed for each person to die once.”  And so it happened to Dylan Thomas, so it happens to everyone and so it has happened to William Goodman.  Age 62, is considered young.  Even on average we can expect to live another 20 years.  But death can demonstrate its dominion, its power at any age and leave behind mourning, grief and sorrow at any age.  Death, we all face it.  Yet we think little of it until it strikes in our families and leaves a vacant space that can’t be filled.  We are left to carry in our memory the one who has died the rest of our life.  Out on LeMay Ferry the traffic is whizzing by as it will be on 270 on the way to cemetery.  Everyone going about their business.  But for those here today and traveling along the way, time has stopped.

However, I would like to present a picture from the early church.  They used to call the death of a Christian his “Birthday.”  Now that may sound strange to us.

Those early Christian lived in the first glow of the Christian age.  They were very conscious of the fact that physical death is the doorway to a greater life.  They knew that to die was, as the hymn says, to be “Asleep in Jesus!  Blessed sleep, from which none ever wakes to weep”.

So it is fitting to call the day of death a person’s “Birthday.”  The follower of Christ enters into a new dimension of that life which knows no end.

It may sound strange, but the early believers knew what they were doing.  While day a person dies proves to be a sad day, Christ assures us it’s a day of rejoicing among the heavenly beings, it’s a day of rejoicing for the one who has died in Christ.

Jesus reveals the reason in Revelation “Behold, I make all things new.”  “Behold,” is an important word in the Bible.  It means “listen up” or “Pay attention to this.”  It was an important word when God began making all things new.  Let’s jump ahead a bit to Christmas.  On the night Jesus was born, an angel told shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

But not everyone thought it was good news for everyone.  Not everyone liked the gift God had given us in Jesus Christ.  So 33 years later a Roman official named Pontius Pilate said of Jesus, “Behold the man.”  That led only hours later to the death of this young man on the cross.  Yet through his suffering and death, he won for us forgiveness of our sins.  He opened heaven’s door.

And so we can say this day, “O death, where is your victory?  O death where is your sting…Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now in the time of mourning, in the time of grief, in the time of loss and sadness, we may not be ready to hear those words.  However, that is what happened for us in Jesus Christ.  Because the last word is not death and grave and burial, but resurrection, and newness and life eternal.  Therefore, we do well to hold onto the promise which Jesus made regarding the end of all things, “Behold, I make all things new.”  Because even in the darkness God is with us leading us through valley of the shadow of death.  In the end the poet was right, “And death shall have no dominion.

 

Hannah

 

I Samuel 1 & 2

In the hill country, 22 miles north of Jerusalem, lived Elkanah of the priestly tribe of Levi.

Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah.  Elkanah loved Hannah, but the Lord had closed her womb.  Peninnah, however, had given birth to numerous sons and daughters.  When Elkanah and his family went to the Shiloh to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts, he gave Peninnah and her children portions that they too might sacrifice.  Though Hannah was barren, Elkanah gave her a double portion.  Her rival taunted her in order to provoke her to grief and crying.  Year after year Peninnah tormented Hannah making her life so miserable that her tears were her only food.

Hannah would rise and pray with bitter tears.  She vowed that if the Lord would give her a son, she would dedicate her child to the Lord.  Eli, the priest of Shiloh saw her and supposed that she was drunk.  She said, “I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.”  Eli granted her shalom and promised that God would hear her petition.

Elkanah knew his wife and the Lord remembered and nine months later she gave birth to a boy.  She did not go up to Shiloh the next year, but waited until he was weaned and then lent him to the Lord for life.

The boy was named Samuel, he was the last of the Judges as well as a priest.   He would anoint Saul and then David as kings of Israel.

Hannah’s song in chapter 2 is similar to David’s in 2 Samuel 22 and to the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55.

Prayer from Treasury of Prayer

God the Father Almighty, maker of all things, You looked on the affliction of Your barren servant Hannah and did not forget her but answered her prayers with the gift of a son.  so hear our supplications and petitions and fill our emptiness, granting us trust in Your provision, so that we, like Hannah, might render unto You all thankfulness and praise, and delight in the miraculous birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Martin Luther at his Best

You Gotta Love Martin Luther

I came across an excerpt from Martin’s Luther’s exposition on John 15.  Though Luther can be quite verbose, there are nearly 60 volumes of his works and words, he has a way of speaking the gospel in such succinct and sharp terms that I am left amazed.

I’m putting together a sermon on Jeremiah 18 in which God speaks of himself as the potter and his people as the clay.  I’m not sure I can work Luther’s words on John 15 into the sermon, so I will share them with you now.

God is such a Craftsman that He has the skill to make those things that would harm and hinder us help and further us….  For he is the God who calls that which is not that it be, who changes all things and makes all things new.  Certainly when we Christians are trodden under foot, or when their heads are hacked off, it does not look like honor or glory joy and blessedness, and it feels like the exact opposite.

But God says, “I can call into being, what is not, and from a sad and sorrowful heart I can call for pure joy, I can say ‘death and tomb you be light; hell, be heaven and blessedness; poison, be balm and medicine; devil and world, provide better service to my dear Christians than the angels and holy saints.’  For I can and will build and tend my vineyard in such a way that through all kinds of suffering calamity it shall become better.”

John 15:1-2 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.