Years ago, I heard story that at the creation God sent out two angels each with a bag of rocks to be strewn about the entire world. However, when one angel flew over Israel the bag broke. Perhaps its that prevalence of rocks in the middle east, which led the writers of the Old Testament to call God “Rock” at least a dozen times.
In Psalm 28, God is the Rock who can hear. “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me.” In Deut. 32, God is the Rock whose work is perfect. God is faithful and without evil, just and upright. He’s the Rock of salvation and the Rock who gave birth to his people. When everything else is crumbling under our feet or an avalanche is crashing down on us, God is the “solid Rock on which I stand,” the Rock of refuge who sits us high above the crumbling crashing times of our life.
Therefore, Psalm 95 begins, “Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” The challenge for us is, what is the noise we make when the road is crumbling, and the mountains are tumbling. Ultimately, as Paul tells us in I Cor. 10, this Rock is Christ, who was crucified on the stony hill and split open the rock tomb that we might follow him in our new life.
In the Gospel lesson this morning we heard of God’s Cavalry making its first attack Mark 1:21-29). This Cavalry did not come riding in on a steed wielding a sword but arrived in Capernaum coming in the power of the Holy Spirit wielding the sword of the word. God’s Cavalry launched its attack at the very core enemy which keeps us from the joy of all that God intends for us. An unclean spirit, a demon, an ally of the forces of evil built a stronghold in a member of the congregation. While others were astonished at Jesus’ teaching this person voiced a protest to Jesus’ assertion that God’s rule was now taking back the territory which had fallen under the power of sin, death and devil. “Come out of him,” Jesus ordered, and the unclean spirit had no choice but surrender his fortress.
However, this war between God’s Cavalry and the opposition would not be easily won. The forces of evil would continue to find allies among those whom Jesus came set free from their oppressor. In what they thought would finally, be their victory, they hung him up on a cross on skull hill, Calvary. (Calvary comes from the Latin for skull). But the satisfaction which Satan’s allies felt was short lived as Jesus broke free from the tomb and rose to continue the battle through those who still trust and believe that he is the resurrection and the life. God’s Cavalry is now Jesus’ followers wielding the sword of the word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
January 26, is set aside to remember Titus, Pastor and Confessor of the faith.
On his third missionary journey Paul learned of problems in Corinth. He sent Titus ahead to check out the reports. Titus reported that the Corinthians were repentant and longed to see Paul. Paul sent Titus back to Corinth to continue his pastoral work and to encourage them to participate generously in the collection for the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea.
Later, in 2 Tim. 4:10 we learn that Titus is in Dalmatia, which is in present day Croatia on the east side of the Adriatic Sea across from Italy.
The letter Paul wrote to Titus contains qualifications for church leaders. Christian life is based on the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ who is our Savior and has redeemed us.
According to tradition Titus died on the island of Crete in 96 AD having served the church there as bishop.
We first meet Saul at the stoning of Stephen. Acts 8:1, “And Saul approved of his execution.” Chapter 9 begins, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples…” Stephen’s passionate witness to Christ had inflamed Saul’s sense of urgency that this sect of Jesus’ followers must be snuffed out.
With letters from authorities in Jerusalem in hand he was on his way to Damascus when Jesus met him with a blinding light that knocked him to the ground. Now blinded by Jesus, Jesus opened his eyes of faith. At Jesus direction he sought out a follower of the Way named Ananias to whom the Lord had also spoken directing him to seek Saul. At first Ananias was reluctant. But when he found Saul, he blessed him with the Holy Spirit. Saul regained his sight. With his new and renewed eyesight, he was baptized.
Our conversion may not have been as dramatic. However, the same elements, as those in Saul’s case, were present. Jesus confronted a sinner who was in open rebellion against him. The eyes of our faith were still blind. The sinful person was drowned in baptism and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Immediately following his baptism Saul began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God. “Jesus is the Christ,” was his message. How long ago were we baptized? What message do we proclaim?
I finally got around to listening to the National Lutheran’s Christmas concert at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis. Between the songs a person read a narrative. At one point she said,
“This is the irrational season. If Mary had been a person of reason, there would have been no room for the Child.”
The Irrational season continued in the Gospel lesson for last Sunday (Mark 1:14-20). While Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee proclaiming that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel, he spots two brothers, Simon and Andrew washing their nets. He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Without hesitation they dropped everything and followed. Shortly after he called James and John and left their father Zebedee in the boat.
That just doesn’t make any sense. Yet that is the demand and that is the pull of the Gospel. Being a person of reason has its place in living in this world. But God’s reign in our lives centers on the irrational trust in Jesus who died on the cross and spent three days in the belly of the earth, only to bust from the grave with eternal life for all.
Three cheers for being Irrational.
In preparation for teaching Genesis, I read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.” It might also be called, Astrophysics for Dummies, a category into which I fall. He has an interesting connection about gravity and Isaiah 40:4.
Mount Everest is about as tall as a mountain on Earth can grow before the lower rock layers succumb to their own plasticity under the mountains weight.
Where gravity is high, the high places tend to fall, filling in the low places. Which sounds almost biblical in preparing the way for the Lord. Isaiah 40:4 “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”
The Old Testament lesson for this weekend was Jonah 3.
But I wonder, what did God have against the Mediterranean fish that the Lord appointed him to swallow such an indigestible dish? There sat Jonah in distress over his mess, dour and sour for 72 hours. Groaning and moaning from the belly of Sheol. Would that he had cried to the Lord before he asked to be thrown overboard.
After a three day ache in its tummy, the Lord gave the fish some relief, vomiting up the prophet providing some surcease. “Now,” the Lord said, “are you ready to go to Nineveh with the message that you already know?” So, Jonah went to that great city, to preach the lord’s word who was ready to dispense his forgiving pity. When the people believed and repented; instead of being glad Jonah was mad and he vented, “I knew it Lord, I knew it Lord, You would relent and show mercy and pity on that unholy city. So just let me sit here and pout while I try to figure this out, because right now I’m so angry I just want to die. Let me sit in this hot sun until I fry.”
Thus, we learn from Jonah, that rather leave people perish, God in his steadfast love does all of us cherish.
“How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?” (Ps. 62:3)
Jake, a lawyer in Mississippi in John Grisham’s novel, “Sycamore Row” knew experience of the Psalmist. His successful defense of Carl Lee Hailey led the Klan to torch his house. They burned a cross in his front yard, attempted to blow up the house and hired a sniper who wounded hit a guard. They threatened his wife on the phone.
Jake knew the feeling of verse 4, “They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths but inwardly they curse.”
Verses 3 & 4 are bracketed by a refrain, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation.” (vs. 1 &5) His salvation and hope (v. 5) are in “my Rock and my Salvation, my Fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” (vs. 2 & 6)
When we are battered and feeling like a leaning wall or a tottering fence, we are in good company.
If we can’t calm our troubled heart; then where do we look? The psalmist says, “Look to God alone.” There we will see Jesus who also said, “Now is my soul troubled…” We can look to Jesus who was battered, cursed and murdered, and suffered it all in silence. God was his rock, his salvation, his hope and his rescue. As our Rock of salvation, he will still be there when we reach back to grab hold of him and discover he has been holding us all along.
This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.
The above paragraph comes from a lengthy defense Martin Luther made on April 18, 1521 at the Diet of Worms. Besides church officials, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, was also present. The pope had issued a Bull of Excommunication on January 3. Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Worms under a letter of safe conduct. Along the way he had preached to overflowing crowds at churches and upon arriving in Worms on April 16, he received a tumultuous welcome. When he left on the 21st, he was forbidden to preach on his return trip. However, his supporters staged a kidnapping and took Luther to Wartburg castle for his safety.
Since Luther had refused to recant anything unless shown his error on the basis of Scriptures, on May 26 Charles V declared Luther an outlaw. Luther was now under indictment by both the Church and the civil authority.
Today we remember Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:13-9.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered on behalf of the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter (petros) and upon this Rock (petra) I will build my church.” This is foundation on which God builds his church, the apostles and prophets, which includes Peter. But the Rock that holds it all together is the Stone which has been rejected by many, but God has made the cornerstone, even Christ Jesus.
In his first letter, Peter made another confession regarding baptism. In comparing baptism to Noah and the ark, he wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels and authorities, and powers having been subject to him.”
Prayer: We give thanks Lord, that You have fitted us into the Your household in which we live in a temple solidly built on the Rock who is our Savior, a place where we find solid footing even when temples built of stone are shaking.