What is Really Scary

 

This is the time of year of haunted house, costumed ghouls, and carved pumpkins leering with eerie light.  In the 16th century All Saints Eve was a time when people believed the ghosts of the dead rose from their graves for a night of haunting prior to All Saints Day.  But of course, our neighbors yard and house which apparently has been invaded by purple spiders, nor the folks lying in repose in nearby St. Lucas cemetery are scary.

I’ve been reading in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans about God’s wrath.  Now that’s really scary. “God’s anger is revealed from heaven against all the sin and evil of people…” (Rom. 1:18 TEV) We are in big time trouble.  We receive what we have earned, and that is death.

I know, who needs such negative thinking.  Well, here’s something positive.  God gives us a gift.  The wages of failing to be perfect in mind, word and deed may be death.  But God gives us the death of his Son, Jesus, who lived the life we were intended to life.  With Jesus’ death and resurrection comes the gift of life, not just for our years here, but in eternity in our resurrection.  Thus, the day of God’s wrath is changed into the day of his forgiveness.

So, there really isn’t anything scary about All Saints Eve, though I still didn’t like the stink bug I found on the toilet seat last week.  It suffered from my wrath.

Happy Reformation Day 500.

 

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When the Gospel became Good News

 

During his early days as monk and theologian Martin Luther would have been judged as a man blameless and righteous before God.  Except in his own eyes. When he compared his life to the perfect life of Christ, he found he was sorely lacking.  The Gospel (good news) of Christ’s life, death and resurrection was not Gospel for him but a standard against God judged his life.  Thus, he even resented the Gospel, which only increased his sense of his sins.

However, Habakkuk 2:4, quoted by St. Paul in Romans 1:17, threw a monkey wrench into his finely tuned sense of God’s condemnation of his life.  “But the righteous shall live by faith.”  But how could he trust that he was right with God, acquitted of all sin, when he was judged against God’s own holiness?

After much study, Luther said, the Holy Spirit led him to see that it wasn’t his holy status before God that counted for anything.  God gave Luther, and us, His own Holy status in Jesus Christ.  Righteousness, exoneration from all sin, was not something Luther had to strive to attain.   Through faith in Christ, God judges us to be holy and blameless before him.

We are therefore free to go about our daily life doing the good works which God sets before us and at the end of the day receive his forgiveness for our failures.

Reformation 500

 

Are you ready for Reformation 500?  I know there will be many celebrations.  Here are a few alternatives.

Do you have your costume?  Martin Luther, his mother Margarethe Ziegler, wife Katy von Bora; perhaps Philip Melancthon, Pope Leo X who came from the Medici family, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, let’s not forgot indulgence salesman, John Tetzel.  The Borgia family might be an interesting group, Pope Alexander VI and his children Lucrezia and Cesare.

You might form a Reformation caroling choir to go out on All Hallo’s Eve singing: Ein Feste Burg; Vom Himmel Hoch; Nun freut euch, liebe Christen g’mein; Von Himmel Kam der Engel Shar.

After caroling everyone could enjoy a beer.  Luther liked beer.

When a Child Dies

 

In the light of the tragedy/travesty which has ensued since the death of four soldiers in Niger, Africa, James Lee Burk’s 2008 novel, “Swan Peak,” provided words of wisdom.  Two college students had been brutally murdered.  Detective Dave Robicheaux says in an epilogue,

“Two weeks later, I placed flowers on the graves of both Seymour Bell and Cindy Kershaw.  I didn’t try to contact or console their families, because I believe absolutely without reservation that the worst thing that can happen to human beings is to lose ones child, and the words we offer by way of solace become salt inside the wound.  Instead, I said a prayer over their graves and told them that I hoped they were all right… (that for the Lord) to keep all of us safe from those who Jesus said should fasten millstones around their necks and cast themselves into the sea.”

I found that when I sat with the parents of children who had died in auto accidents or when two of newborn triples died, that there was little that could be said.  In the early 1970’s Earl Bollinger, a member of Zion Lutheran in Albert Lea MN whose daughter had died, said to a young pastor who still had much to learn that we don’t expect a child to die before their parents, “It’s out of the order of things.”

 

 

God Chooses Cyrus as Messiah and Gate Basher

 

In the OT reading, Isaiah 45:1-7, God anoints the Persian king Cyrus II as his temporary Messiah who will conquer Babylon in 539 BC and free Israel to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem.  As God had led his people Israel so now God will take Cyrus by his right hand.

God will go before Cyrus, “I shall break down the bronze gates and cut through the iron bars.”

The gate was the weak spot in the walls surrounding a city. The road to the city gate was often set at an indirect angle.  Some approaches came from the right of the gate forcing enemy soldiers to fight with their right arms against the wall.  This led to the development of corps of left handed soldiers.

The entryway of the gate would be narrowed with walls protruding into the path of those entering.  Rooms may have been built between these protruding walls giving defenders protection as they shot arrows into the mass of attackers.  The gates themselves were covered with bronze to make them more solid and fireproof.  Iron bars inserted across the gates provided more strength and protection.

However, when Cyrus’ Persian army surrounded Babylon in 539, the priests of the god Marduk   opened the gates and declared Cyrus Marduk’s chosen king.  But, it was Yahweh, God of Israel, whom Cyrus did not know, who had brought about Babylon’s downfall, all to serve his people Israel.

  1. 7, “I make the light, I create the darkness; author alike of wellbeing and woe, I the Lord, do all these things.”

 

Sing a New Song

 

Psalm 96 calls us to sing a new song.  Does that mean we only sing new songs in worship?  I’ve discovered that writing hymns is not an easy task.  Rightly understood that is not what Psalm 96 is about.

The Psalm was used when David placed the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle in Jerusalem (I Chronicles 16:23-33).  It marked God’s enthronement as King of Israel sitting between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies.

The psalm finds a deeper meaning in Jesus when, “The word became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14).   The “new song” is of salvation through Jesus’ victory over death.  The same term is used in the anthem sung to the victorious Lamb. (Revelation 5:9) From this time forward humanity is dealing with a new reality.

Christ’s resurrection summons all the earth to sing to Christ the King.  Christ is King over all nations.  Every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea, are included in the chorus.  All of creation is on its way to restoration through Christ’s victory on the cross and in his resurrection.

Therefore, “Sing to the Lord a new song: sing to the Lord all the earth…bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.”

A Day When Three Lights Shined

 

One of the numerous hymns written by 19th century scholar and poet, Christopher Wordsworth, nephew of William Wordsworth, is “O Day of Rest and Gladness.”

In stanza 2, Wordsworth writes of the light which shined on three Sundays.  Creation, Resurrection, and Pentecost.  At one – time people thought that God started creating on Sunday, which would make us Friday folks.  Maybe God was the one to say TGIF.

This version is from ELW

On you at earth’s creation,

The light first had its birth;

On you for our salvation,

Christ rose from depths of earth;

On you, our Lord victorious

The Spirit sent from heav’n;

And thus, on you, most glorious,

A three – fold light was giv’n.

 

In each case darkness preceded God’s creating act. The darkness over the face of the deep; the 3 hours of darkness on Good Friday and the tomb; the darkness of ignorance that permeated humanity before the enlightening of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

Each featured a creation out of nothing, the world; life out of death; and a people called to be the church.

 

 

Crosses behind the Crossbar

Benjamin Hochman’s wrote an article on football at Valle Catholic High in St. Genevieve Mo. in the St. Louis Dispatch sports page. It offered a pleasant surprise this morning.

“Behind the crossbar, there are crosses. They sprout from the tops of tombstones in the cemetery, which sits on a hill behind the south end zone, here at this high school football stadium, where the names on the field are the names chiseled on the grave.”

Going to Church

 

“I don’t go to church ask God for anything,” Bob said, at the Friday morning Coffee and Conversation Bible Study group. “I go to give thanks to God for what I have and am able to do.”

The main reason I go to church is to sing.  This morning we began our sabbath rest singing, “O Day Of Rest and Gladness.”  How is one’s body able to rest while singing of the day of gladness, a day of joy and light.  We also sang, “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing.”  We sang of Easter triumph, Easter joy.

We heard in the readings of the mountain top feast in Isaiah 25, and Jesus’ story of our invitation to his wedding banquet. These were sandwiched around the promise of psalm 23 that the Lord prepares a table for us even in the presence of our enemies, even as we walk through death’s dark valley, followed Paul’s assertion that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” How appropriate to sing “In Thee is gladness Amid all sadness.”  The hymn is set to a 16th century tune, which surely must have been intended for dancing.

Then going to the altar where, “Christ Himself, the priest presiding, Yet in bread and wine abiding, offring pardon grace and peace.” Finally we were ”Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing…to work for God’s Kingdom and answer His call.”

That’s why I go to church, what about you?
 

Come to the Feast

 

If God wants to host a wedding banquet for us, as promised in our readings this weekend, the Lord will have to outdo Bill and Leslie Jourdain.  Only a few people attended their wedding in the chapel at Holy Cross, Collinsville, so Becky and I assumed that the wedding dinner would be a quiet intimate affair.  When we arrived, however, a large banquet room was filled.  And around the outside several serving stations featured food from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Leslie and Bill set the bar high for the Almighty.

This weekend God invites us to his banquet hall featuring a variety of fine wines and rich food, beef with marrow in the bone, and veal.  It’s a wedding feast.  Jesus is both host and groom and we are guest and bride.

But God will not be dining on his own cuisine.  No, God’s appetite is already sated.  He has swallowed the shroud of death that hangs over us and all peoples.  Death is destroyed.  At this banquet God wipes away all cause for tears.

Therefore, St. Paul, urges us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  As we wait for the banquet hall doors to open we live with the blessing that, “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Jesus Christ.”

Get dressed in our wedding attire, which we received in baptism, even Jesus Christ.  The aroma of eternity wafts out even now.

Is. 25:6-9; Philippians 4: 4-13; Matthew 22:1-14