St. Andrew, Apostle

John 1:35-42

“Behold, the Lamb of God,” John the Baptist exclaimed.  Jesus turned, saw two of John’s disciples following and he asked what they were seeking.  They asked where he was staying.  Jesus said, “Come and you will see.”  In response, they came, they saw and they stayed.  One of them was Andrew.  Immediately, Andrew found his brother Simon Peter and informed him, “We have found the Messiah.”  He brought his brother to Jesus.

The “Treasury of Daily Prayer” mentions that when Andrew became the first home missionary.  He also became the first foreign missionary (John 12:20-22). Following Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, a group of Greeks, there for the Passover feast, asked to see Jesus.   Jesus took this as the sign that his hour had come.  Though Jesus was troubled over what lay ahead, nevertheless he proclaimed, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

St. Andrews Day comes near the beginning of Advent when we follow the Lamb of God not only to the manger, but to the cross where we receive the gift of eternal life.

Prayer: Almighty God, by your grace, grant us to follow Jesus Christ in heart and life as Andrew your Apostle did.  Give us courage to be among those of whom St. Paul says, “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”  In Jesus name.

 

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God’s Fashion Line for Bill Paying

 

Romans 13: 8 & 14

Many of us have a “Christmas” sweater, tie or pair of socks. We might be surprised that God has a line of fashion especially designed for paying off our debts.   In writing of God’s line of fashion, St. Paul isn’t referring to our financial bills, but our debt of love.  “Don’t owe anyone anything, except to love one another.”  Paul directs us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The good news is that God dressed us in Christ at our baptism.  “For as many of you were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”

We are wearing a power suit through which God puts us to work doing the good works which God has already created for us to do.

Wearing Christ does not turn us into superheroes, but gives us power for our daily life.  Respect marriage, don’t murder one another in word or deed, don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, don’t covet what someone else has.

So have fun wearing your Christmas sweater, tie or socks, but let Christ, whom you wear every day, bring joy into your life and those whom you encounter.

Prayer: Lord, you dressed me in your Son Jesus, when I was baptized. Grant me the courage and the will to show the power of your love in the way I treat my neighbor.

Isaiah Saw the Word of the Lord

                                   Isaiah 2:1-5

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  Those words are inscribed on the wall of the United Nations building in New York.  In the plaza a statue by Russian sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich depicts a figure holding the hilt of a sword in his left hand while his right hand grips a sledge hammer poised to strike another blow in turning the weapon into a plowshare.

Isaiah 2, begins, “The word that Isaiah…saw.” What Isaiah sees is not humanity’s efforts, but God’s work completed in Christ. The Lord assures us, that our warfare with him is over.  Our sins are pardoned. God has given us double grace for all our sins. Isaiah sees “all the nations” flowing to Zion, a vision which finds its fulfillment when, in Jesus words, “I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

Prayer:  Lord, through the eyes of my faith let me see the Word of the Lord that I might walk by His light and evermore learn to walk in your peaceful paths, through Jesus Christ, Your Son Our Savior. Amen.

God is Gracious

Advent 1, 2016, Glen Carbon Luke 1:5-15, 23-25

The dawning of the Day of our salvation began in the dark days when the people of Judea had been under the thumb of the Roman empire for 60 years.  An outsider, Herod was king, a Jew by birth, but not in conduct.  He had ten wives.  He erected The Roman golden eagle, in the temple.   He partially financed his extravagant building programs by appropriating money from the temple treasury.   He controlled the appointment of high priests.  It’s not that he was worse than other provincial kings, but he fully as bad as the others.

But in the quiet hill country of Judea, lived an older couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth.  They were among the treasured possessions of the Lord.  Zechariah, meaning “The Lord Remembers,” trusted in the Lord who had remembered his people, and acted in behalf of Israel ever since the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Zechariah lived his life in accord with his faith.  As did his wife Elizabeth who also lived up to her name which meant, “God is an Oath.”  Her name testified, that what God promises God delivers.  Their faith was accounted to them as righteousness and they lived law abiding lives.  We would like to think the same could be said for us that we are faithful, righteous and law abiding.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were the ideal couple.  Both of priestly heritage.  Zechariah of the tribe of Levi, those who assisted the priests in the temple.  Elizabeth was a descendant of the first priest, Aaron, brother of Moses.  In fact, she shared her first name with the wife of Aaron. It was like the early days in our synod, when pastors’ sons married pastors’ daughters and kept all in the family.

As the book of Deuteronomy promised, they should have been blessed with numerous children.  Psalm 127, tells us, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”  But there was no fruit of the womb for Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Oh, they had prayed and prayed for a child, but Elizabeth never got pregnant and now they were both old.  Do we have things of which we have dreamed, prayed for, hoped for, planned for, that never seem to come to fruition? How long do we keep praying and hoping for the fulfillment of our dreams when all we hear from God is the sounds of silence?  How long before we finally decide that God’s answer is “No?” and get on with life.

Zechariah and Elizabeth shared in the pain of some prominent Old Testament couples.  We know well of Abraham and Sarah.  God had promised descendants as many as the stars in the night time sky or sands on the seashores. However, there was no baby with twinkling eyes peered at them from his crib.    It was laughable to Sarah when three men came along one day and promised a child within a year.  She was 90 and her husband 100.  Nevertheless, a son was born. They named him, Isaac, laughter. Their son Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah.  Twenty years he and Rebekah waited for a child. Finally, their prayers were answered.  Rebekah was pregnant, but with twins who fought with each other even in the womb and her labor pains were excruciating.  Later one of their twin sons, Jacob, was conned into marrying two sisters.  The older, Leah, for whom he cared little, bore one child after another, but beloved and beautiful Rachel could not, until the very end when she mothered Joseph and Benjamin, but died in childbirth.  Like smoke on a quiet day the pain of childlessness hung in the background of the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth, but they were in good company.

Then one day Zechariah received word he had won the lottery.   His name had been drawn to burn incense on the altar in the Holy Place in the temple in the Jerusalem at conclusion of the afternoon service. Perhaps this was a once in a life time occasion for Zechariah, and his family and his hill country village.  The incense altar stood in the Holy Place just outside the curtained off Holy of Holies.  Off to the side was the eight candled Menorah, the one which burned eight days after the temple was reconsecrated in the time of Judas Maccabaeus, a century and a half before, inaugurating Hanukkah. What a humbling honor to enter into the Holy Place.

Outside, the multitude of the people were praying as the incense rose.  To this day, we sing in the evening prayer service, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”  Undoubtedly, among the multitude was Simeon, who would soon take up in his arms and look upon God’s salvation in an infant named Jesus.  And there was Anna, worshipping with prayer and fasting day and night in the temple who would speak of the baby Jesus to the multitude who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

They were all waiting for Zechariah to complete offering the incense.  He would come out, stand on the steps and bless the people with words first spoken by Elizabeth’s ancestor, Aaron, and still spoken today, “The Lord bless you and keep you, The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”  But today there was a delay.  What could have happened?  People needed to buy some bread and go home and make supper.  People had things to do.  What’s the hold up?

The holdup was that the angel Gabriel had appeared, standing on the right side of the altar.  Zechariah was troubled and overcome with fear and finally doubt.  Remember that part of the service in which the pastor says, with “Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name.”  What if those angels and archangels and company of heaven appeared here?  It might boost attendance, but wouldn’t we be troubled and overcome with fear?  That’s the way it is when we are confronted by the holy heavenly host.  We like the prophet Isaiah know that we haven’t quite lived up to the holiness which is ours in Christ Jesus.

The angel said, “Fear not.” Then Gabriel told Zechariah that his prayer is answered.  “Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John,” which means God is gracious. Yes, the Lord had remembered his promise of mercy spoken first to Abraham.  In acting in behalf of Zechariah and Elizabeth, God was also acting in behalf of all Israel as they waited for their redemption.  The answering of their prayers.  And God was acting in our behalf too.

It was the dawning of the day of salvation when God would visit and buy back his people from sin and death.  John, would prepare the way for the One who would come with salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

All of this happened during a conventional twice a day worship service.  So, it is happening beyond our sight during a conventional worship service this morning.  The Holy Spirit is carrying the word into your hearts and minds and lives, strengthening your faith and life.  As we receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion we will also be receiving Jesus invisibly wrapped inside the bread and wine.  Once more our gracious God remembers his people.

And after the service Zechariah went home again. Elizabeth conceived and gave birth to John.  A few months later the angel Gabriel made another appearance to a virgin named Mary.  She too would conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus, who would bring about the day of salvation.  Therefore, we can go home to wait for the Lord’s coming, knowing that we are living in our gracious God’s day of salvation.

 

 

Parson Brown or Circus Clown

The other day I was listening to “Winter Wonderland” and noticed that “Parson Brown” had become a “Circus Clown.” One source said the “circus clown” version originated in 1953.

Well, Steve Miller, Bob Reinhardt, Dan Jansen and Nathan Jansen “Parson Brown” or Circus Clown” what’s the difference?
We’re in good company with St. Paul, “We are fools for Christ’s sake” in a world that think’s it’s wise.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving everyone.  We will be thanking God for our blessings and eating some Turkey with our oldest son in Tennessee.  Blogs will pick up again on Sunday.

Gathering the Scattered Flock

 

Psalm 100:3, Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people the sheep of his pasture.

We are the sheep of his pasture and therefore when we are in need we call out with the author of Psalm 80:1, “Give hear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.”

Psalm 77:20, recognizes that God leads his flock through shepherds. “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

But what happens when the shepherds are not faithful to their call and responsibility?  In one of the Old Testament lessons (Jeremiah 23:1-6) for Christ the Sunday, the Lord speaks through the prophet Jeremiah.  “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.”  It’s not only the sheep, the people of God, who belong to the Lord, but the pasture, the land on which they dwell that also belongs to God.

The worthless shepherds have driven the flock away instead of gathering them.  Because they have not attended to God’s flock, the Lord will attend to them.  Then the Lord himself will act as the shepherd and gather his own flock unto himself.  He will set shepherds over them who will care for them, so that they will not live in fear and wonder which way to turn, nor will any go missing.

The shepherd God chooses will be the Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, who will lay down his life for the sheep.  He will be known as “The Lord is our righteousness.”

With those words, we leave behind an old church year and enter the New Year as once more we tell of the stories of the coming of Day of salvation through Jesus Christ, birth, ministry, and death and resurrection.

 

When the Books are Opened

 

The question, “Do I really want that to happen?” ran through my mind this morning as the congregation sang the third stanza of LSB 508 “The Day is Surely Drawing Near.”

 

The books are opened then to all,

A record truly telling,

What each has done, both great and small,

When he on earth was dwelling,

And ev’ry heart be clearly seen,

And all be known as they have been

In thoughts and words and actions.

 

Do I really want the Book of my Life opened for all see?  The answer is “yes” only in Christ.  Because then the book of my life is the book of Jesus’ life.  Christ invites us to come with him, the blessed of his father, because what Christ sees is how we helped him in the time of need, that is, we helped the least of those who belong to him who are his treasured possessions.  All the times we failed come to the aid of those in need is forgiven and forgotten.

 

Stanza five of the hymn tells the rest of the story:

My Savior paid the debt I owe

And for my sin was smitten;

Within the Book of Life I know

My name has now been written

I will not doubt, for I am free,

And Satan cannot threaten me;

There is no condemnation.

 

 

The King who refused to save Himself.

 

The king was the beloved Son of God.  But what kind of king is crucified as a criminal amid criminals?  “Save yourself and us,” they cried.  He saved them, but he refused to save himself.  What kind of king would bring a criminal into Paradise?  Criminals in Paradise?

Yes, this king populates Paradise with ex-cons, that’s the kind of king he is.  He’s Christ the king forgiving lawbreakers.  In him the wholeness of God is pleased to dwell.  Through him criminals, breakers of God’s laws, are made friends with God.  Through the blood of his cross he makes peace with ex-cons.

It’s Christ the King Sunday.  We do well to confess our criminality.  Then we too can join all the other ex-cons in Paradise.

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive Your people their offenses that we, may enter at last into Your eternal Paradise.

Surprised by Grace

 

Thursday is my run around day.  Shortly after 8 am I dropped Becky off at our daughter and son-in-law’s home and then drove to the seminary.  After that I decided to take a look at Ascension Lutheran in south St. Louis where our son has submitted his name to be considered for a call as Minister of Music.  My next move was to find a place to eat.  The Chinese restaurant on Hampton I sought has been replaced by a Club Fitness.  So I ended up at Golden Corral on south Lindbergh.  By the time I got back home, the temperature was headed for 80, and I changed into T shirt and shorts.

Since I needed to be back at our daughter’s house by 3, I went to Subway to buy a sub for Adam and myself for supper.  When I was about to pay, I noticed my credit was not in my wallet.   I had a problem. “I left my credit card at home.” I said, “Could you hold the subs while I get my credit card.”  “Sure,” he said, “I’ll just put it in the cooler.”

I raced home and found my card in the shirt pocket I had worn in the morning.  Back at Subway the manager, a young lady, was standing by the cash register with my subs.  “Here you go,” she said.  “I’ve got to pay for them,” I replied.  She said, “No, you will not,” and handed me the bag.  “Enjoy.”  I said, “Thank you.”

When one receives grace, “Thank you,” is all one can say.  Though it sounded so inadequate; yet, it was enough.  To insist on paying would have ruined the surprising gift, because you can’t pay for grace.

 

Rock of Ages

 

The hymn was written by Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778).   He was born in Farnham, England.   After the death of his father, He and his mother Katherine moved first to Westminster and then to Ireland and then back to England. He credited his conversion to a sermon he heard preached in a barn soon after he graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. He was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England in 1762.

The story arose that the inspiration for Rock of Ages came when he was caught in a violent storm and found shelter under a rock overhang.  However, most historians discount that story.

In I Corinthians 10:3-4, St. Paul writes, in the context of the fathers of Israel journeying in the wilderness, “And all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”  The tradition arose that the rock from they drank followed them through the desert and Paul interprets that rock as the saving presence of Christ.

When we sing of the water and the blood flowing from his riven side, we think of the scene on Golgotha when, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once came out blood and water.”

Thus when we come to God we come empty handed and naked.  We can but helplessly cling to the cross looking for Christ’s grace.  Thus when we gasp our last breath and we enter into the realms of heaven to come before God’s judgment throne, we can only pray, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.