God’s Treasured Possessions

Pentecost 8, 2017, Hillsboro Il. Deuteronomy 7:6-9

We all likely have something that we hold as a treasured possession. It may not have much value in itself, but it has value to us.  Abby, our 11-year-old granddaughter, has two prized possessions.  Number two is a new Iphone she recently received.  But Number one is “Blue Bear,” a small nondescript stuffed bear, which she received from her uncle Adam when she was I year old.

God also has his treasured possessions.  In our Old Testament lesson Israel is about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the Promised Land.  Through Moses, God reminds them “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.  The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the people who are on the face of the earth.”  In fact, God reminds them of their status two more times in the book of Deuteronomy.  However, Moses also recalls that during their wilderness wandering, they had wandered away from their God, their king.  While on Mt Sinai God had been writing in stone with his own finger how Israel should live starting with, “Don’t have any other gods beside me, at the base of the mountain His treasured holy people were busy fashioning with their fingers the golden calf to whom they credited with their rescue.   They had hardly gotten on the road to freedom when they began to complain, “What shall we drink?  What shall we eat?”

It would be like if we, freed in Jesus Christ from slavery to sin, death and devil, would not fully trust God to care for us.  That we would worry about what to eat, drink and wear.  Oh, wait, that’s one reason we are here this morning, isn’t it?  We too have wandered.  Let’s consider whom we are and to whom we belong? Peter writes you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession.” We have been given the treasure hidden for ages, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ in whom we believe.  God has given us the priceless pearl of the kingdom of heaven, that is, living un der God’s rule through the victory of Jesus’ resurrection.  God has given us his Holy Spirit as a guarantee, a down payment, on all the blessings which are already ours and are kept in heaven until we come into full possession of them when Christ returns.  Therefore, we ourselves are God’s treasure, a pearl, not paid for with gold and silver, but with Christ’s holy, precious blood.

St. Paul tells us that God appointed us to this gospel a long time ago, before God even said in the beginning, “Let there be light.”  All of this was God’s plan from the beginning.  Therefore, Paul writes, that for those called according to his purpose all things work together for good for those who love God.  Sometimes it’s hard to cling to that promise and really trust that it is true.  No wonder God reminded Israel three times in Deuteronomy that they were God’s treasured possession.  Again, and again, they had to come to God to ask forgiveness for their wandering and straying ways.  So, we are here again this morning confessing that as we watched TV or met in coffee groups or worked in our jobs, or have sat in the doctor’s office we have been worn down, not just physically, but in our faith life with the pressing concerns of gold and silver and health and just working and living with other people.

Nevertheless, maybe, just maybe there is something in us that led God to choose us.  Maybe God said, “you know, those people in Hillsboro are such nice people.  I think I’d like to hang out with them for eternity.  They could play a key role.”

Remember when we would play a game of pick up softball?  Two captains would toss a bat and go hand over hand until one could not get three fingers under the nob.  That captain would choose first.  Now there was always someone, I’ll call him Dale who couldn’t field, throw or hit a lick.  Dale was always picked last and batted last and assigned to right field.  But what if the captain made Dale his first choice?  And then as Dale headed, for right field the captain, “Dale you play shortstop today and you’re batting cleanup.”  You see, we, you and I, were as inept as Dale when it came to qualifying to be on God’s team.  We had nothing to offer.  God says it this way to Israel, “It was not because you were more in number that any other people (that I chose you) for you were the fewest in number.”

Ok, then why did God choose Israel?  Why did God choose us before the light began to shine in the beginning?  Why did God set his affectionate love on Israel and you and me?  God did it because he decided to do it, because he was fulfilling an oath sworn to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Listen to these familiar words, “All this he does only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in me.”  Martin Luther hit the nail on the head once more.  The world might well ask, “What did God see in you anyway?”  We do well to answer, “It’s grace and grace alone, that I was drawn to the cross.”  As Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  Jesus is God’s loving grace in the flesh, through whom God chose to choose us.

Through Jesus, God put his loving grace into action.  Moses told the Israelites, “It is because the Lord loved you and because he kept the solemn pledge he swore to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with a strong hand and saved you from the house of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh, Egypt’s king.”  God’s strong arm in saving us from the house of slavery to sin, was that of Jesus, who though he would not break a bent reed or snuff out a guttering candle, stretched out his arm, not over the Red Sea, but upon the cross and died as the cost of ransoming us from sin, death and power of the Evil One.

So, Moses concludes: “Know now then that the Lord your God is the only true God! He is the faithful God.”  God is faithful.  God keeps his pledges and proves loyal to you and me.   At St. Anthony’s Hospital in Sunset Hills, Mo. on the wall of each room is fixed a small crucifix and beside it is a plaque quoting the first part of Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you.”  But rest of the verse tells us how God is with us. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.”  The verse doesn’t promise that health and healing will be the result of the wonderful work of the medical world.  But it does promise that God will be with us no matter what.  He is present with his Holy Spirit strengthening us in our trust, and upholding us in the strong arm of our risen Savior.  Or as St. Paul concludes in our epistle lesson, nothing in all creation, “will be able to separate us from the love of God-in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  What more is there to say, except, “Amen, and the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Mary Magdalene, First Apostle of Jesus’ Resurrection

 

She is one of the first women who followed Jesus.  She was the first to see Jesus resurrected.  It was still dark when she saw the stone rolled away from the tomb.  In some panic she ran back to inform Peter and John that someone had vandalized the tomb and taken Jesus’ body and apparently hid it.  She returned to the grave with Peter and John and after they left remained behind.  Taking a second look she, saw two angels, whom she questioned as to Jesus whereabouts.  “Why are you weeping?” they asked.   Turning around and she saw Jesus standing but didn’t recognize him.

Jesus asked her, “Whom are you seeking?” Jesus simply said, “Mary.”  She fell to the ground and grabbed hold of him, because Jesus told her not to cling to him.  At Jesus word, she became the first evangelist of the resurrection.  She announced to the disciples she had seen the Lord.

Though often associated with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’s feet in the Pharisees home; there is no biblical basis for her being identified as a prostitute.  Nor was she Mary, Marth’s sister.  Bernard of Clairvaux, with good reason called her, “the apostle to the apostles.’

LSB hymn 855,

We sing Your praise for Mary,

Who came at Easter dawn

To look for Jesus’ body

And found her Lord was gone.

But, as with joy she saw Him

In resurrection Light,

May we by faith behold Him,

The Day who ends our night!

Watch Your Citations

From Touchstone magazine:
During a man’s courtship with his future wife, he wrote a note citing a Proverb at the end.
He intended to cite Proverbs 22:11, “The one who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king as a friend.”
However he cited Proverbs 11:22, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without good sense.”
They have been married for many years.
Watch your citations.

Isaiah 55 on a 100 Degree Day

 

On a day when the temperature hit triple digits with three more days to come, Isaiah 55 provides some relief, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven…”  We could use some rain and I suspect wouldn’t mind some snow, anything to cool things down.

Did God catch Isaiah’s attention on a dry and hot day, when He told the prophet that as rain and snow soak the ground so God’s word accomplishes its purpose.  It begins to sink into lives of those upon whom it falls. “It shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word tells of a shoot from the stump of Jesse that will grow. The Spirit will rest upon him.  A virgin shall conceive and bear a son.  His name is Immanuel.  He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.  Arise, shine for your light has come.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 13 we find this virgin born son sitting in a boat teaching the great crowds.  Soon enough he will be swallowed up by death himself.  But death could not hold him.  For He is Jesus, God’s Savior, Immanuel, God with us, and his successful escape from the throes of death is also our escape.  For we ourselves are children of God adopted, in Christ to be fellow heirs with Christ.

Digesting the Word

 

A pet peeve of mine was a change made in a vital phrase from my favorite prayer.  Someone changed “Inwardly digest,” to “take it to heart.”

I was glad to see that this week, we were back to asking the Lord to aid us in inwardly digesting Holy Scripture. “Blessed Lord, since you have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them…”  So, we prayed in the Prayer of the Day (Collect) this morning.

Holy Scripture enters us in two ways.  We either hear it read or we read it.  However, we can aid the Holy Spirit in making that Holy Scripture a sanctifying nourishment in our lives.  We can mark it with a cross or check mark or underline it.  Then we can Learn it.  That is, spend some time with it. if we have a study bible, read the notes.  Look up the cross references.  Then comes digesting it.  As you are doing all this think about it.  Meditate on it.  How is this Word of the Lord Word of the Lord for me?  How am I able to put this Word into practice?

Give the Holy Spirit an opening a pathway to work that Word into our minds. As the prayer concludes, “that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

Out of Sight out of Mind

 

Isaiah 38:17 You yourself have spared my whole being
from the pit of destruction,
because you have cast all my sins
behind your back.

Christian comes before God on Sunday morning.  “What are you doing carrying around those old things?” God asks.

“What old things?” Christian asks.  “You mean these?  Surely you don’t want these old sins of mine. Some of these go back decades.  They are my constant companions. I’ve gotten quite comfortable with them.  Oh, occasionally they give me a prick, but I just shift them around and soon I hardly notice them at all.”

“I don’t mean to insult your intelligence,” God says, “But you are an idiot.  You claim to be Christian.  You were baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  You come up to the railing and receive my Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  And yet you hold onto these.  When you confess your sins, these you hold back.  Why?”

Christian shrugs his shoulders, “I don’t know.  I guess I just don’t want to let them go.  But okay, here they are.”

God grabs them out of Christian’s hand before he changes his mind, throws them behind his back where they land at the foot of the cross.

Christian: “Wow, thanks, that’s a load off.  I should have done that a long time ago.”

God asks, “Done what?”

Christian: “Given those sins to you.”

God: “What sins? I don’t remember any sins.”

Christian: “Okay.  Thanks anyway.  See you next week.”

God: “I’ll be here.”

 

 

 

God’s Rest is not a Hammock

 

Isaiah 28: 12, “This is rest; give rest to the weary and this is repose…”

That verse struck me today as I continue reading through the book of Isaiah.  We know that Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest.”

What Isaiah seems to be saying is that one’s rest from all the “wearisome changes of this world” (Prayer for Pentecost 5) is in the Lord.  However, our rest does not mean that we can relax in a hammock the remainder of our days.  Rest is also found in giving rest to those who are weary.  The implication of coming to Jesus in the mist of our own toil to receive his rest is to trust Him and ease the labor and heavy burdens which others carry. If Jesus is the means by which we find our rest in God, then we are means by which Christ eases the burdens of others, that they too may find rest.

In Revelation John hears a voice from heaven telling him to write, “Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord…”  The Spirit responds, “Yes, let them rest from their labors, for the record of their deeds goes with them.”

 

The Bishop of Digne

 

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable, Monseigneur Myriel is the Bishop of Digne.  The Bishop gave away all but the barest minimum of his possessions to care for the poor.  He even sold his carriage to have alms.  Therefore, when he visited the mountainous parts of his diocese he rode a donkey.  Hugo tells us, “One day, riding a donkey, he arrived at Senez…His purse being empty at the time he could not afford any better conveyance.  The mayor of the city, coming to receive him at the gate…was mortified to see him dismount his donkey.  Several citizens stood nearby, laughing.”  “Monsieur Mayor,” the bishop said, “and good citizens, I can see why you are shocked; you think it shows pride for a poor priest to use the same conveyance used by Jesus Christ.  I have done it from necessity, I assure you, and not from vanity.”

The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Behold, your king comes…humble and mounted on a donkey.” Zech. 9:9.

 

The King on a Donkey

Pentecost 5 2017, Prairietown, IL. Zechariah 9:9-12

With its cannon fire, ringing chimes and brass fanfare Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is a favorite accompaniment to 4th of July fireworks. Also in 1812, Francis Scott Key, while held prisoner on a British ship, penned a poem which became our national anthem.    He watched through the perilous night as the British bombarded Fort McHenry outside Baltimore.  Then by the dawn’s early light he saw that the American Star- Spangled Banner still waved.

National hope and expectation are aroused by our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Zechariah.  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is he.”  We would expect it to continue, “mounted on a white stallion, with rank upon rank of chariots and foot soldiers marching right behind.”

But it doesn’t. No, Zechariah wrote, “Your king is coming to you…humble and mounted on a donkey.”  This is certainly a different kind of king from the line of David that everyone looked for and hoped for.  He would do away with the chariot and battle bow. What sort of victory will he accomplish? To grasp the meaning of a victorious, yet humble king on a donkey we turn to Jesus, who prays in our Gospel lesson, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”  So, this morning, no matter our age or stature, no matter how wise and understanding we might be, we become little children sitting at the feet of Jesus learning to grasp what Zechariah is promising.  Zechariah provides us with a clue when he wrote earlier, “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”  The disciples asked Jesus prior to his ascension, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus answered, “You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses…to the end of the world.  This morning through the revelation of the heavenly Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit let’s take a second look at what the prophet wrote some 480 years before our Lord rode a donkey into Jerusalem where the crowd shouted, “Save us now, we pray, Son of David…Save us now.”

Zechariah is speaking to the remnants of Judah who had returned from captivity in Babylon nearly 60 years before, and struggled to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.  They were threatened by those who did not want them back in the land.  If only they could regain their strength and power like they had in the time of David.  If only God would send a new David, who would kill tens of thousands of their enemies and reestablish the throne in Jerusalem. However, some of the people despaired.  They said, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off.”  God says through Zechariah, “I will free those who feel like they are imprisoned in a waterless pit.”  Others placed their hope in the power of a rebuilt military. To that God said, “you people who are prisoners of false expectations thinking that you can save yourselves through alliances and military might, return to me your true fortress and stronghold.”

The new king will establish God’s reign from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth.  God’s reign comes not in saber rattling, but through the king who speaks peace to the nations.  Who is this new king, this different kind of king?  He is one who comes humbly and places his life and rule in God’s hands, upon whom he depends entirely.  This is the king of whom angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace, good will among men.”  He is the king to whom Magi from east bring gifts.  He is the king who scatters the proud and self-assured in their own imaged greatness and fills the poor, hungry, and humble with good things. He is the king, who though equal with God, made himself nothing being born in the likeness of men.  He is the king who looked with compassion on those who are lost.  He is the king to whom blind men cried, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” He is the king who was crowned with thorns, given a reed as his scepter and clothed for a time in a purple robe, mocked, scorned and scourged.  He is the king who carried his own throne to skull hill and then was nailed to it.  Above his head it read, “King of the Jews.”  He is the king who said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.”  He is the king, who taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come, your will be done…”

“Who is this?” they asked when he entered Jerusalem riding a donkey.  And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” And through the shedding of his blood, he freed us from our imprisonment to sin.   Basically, sin means missing one’s target with the bow and arrow.  No matter how much one practices we keep missing God’s target. Thus, St. Paul in our epistle lesson writes of a battle, one which is waged close to home for each and every one of us.  It is a war being waged within ourselves, our minds and bodies.

How many times have we done or said something only to regret it later. “Why did I do that?  Why did I say that?  That’s not what I intended.”  St. Paul writes, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  He concludes, “It is not really I who am doing this, rather it is sin living in me…I do not do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do.  I would really like to keep God’s commandments perfectly, but this a force living in my body fighting against God’s Law.  What a miserable person I am!  Who will rescue me from this body which brings death?”

Then Paul remembers, and he exclaims, “Thanks be to God – He does it through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He removed us from the waterless pit of despair that we can ever be free of this enemy of sin waging a war within us. He has flooded us with the waters of baptism, drowning sin, death and the devil at the baptism font.  Every day, when the evil foes rise to the surface to harass us, we can shove them under baptism’s water and we rise renewed each day instead.  Our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from prison of false expectations that we can overcome sin if we only try harder and determine to do better and have more faith.  Instead, he binds us to the true hope that Christ’s life, death and resurrection becomes our life, death and resurrection.

Whenever we come to the communion rail and receive Jesus’ body and the covenant in his blood, we are the forgiven for all the times we said and we did that which we did not intend.  Where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation.   Therefore, rejoice, your king who came once on a donkey, comes again and again in the water of baptism, the bread and wine of communion and in his word.  We go out in to the week ahead well equipped to deal with those times we miss the mark of what God would have us do and say, for he has already dealt with them in our king, our Lord Jesus Christ.