The entrance Psalm for tomorrow from Psalm 121 says, “I lift up my eyes” when I need help because my help comes from the Lord who keeps me from evil; keeps my life and keeps “(my) going out and coming now and forevermore.”
Looking up occurs several times in Scripture. In Genesis 21, Sarah demands that Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael. With great reluctance Abraham does so. When Hagar’s water skin goes dry, she puts Ishmael under a bush and moves away, not wanting to hear his cries and see him die. But the angel of the Lord tells her to lift up her son and when she lifts up her eyes she sees a well.
In Chapter 22, God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac to Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering. On the third day of the journey he lifts up his eyes and sees the place. Later, on the mountain with Isaac trussed up laying on the altar and Abraham reaching for the butchering cleaver the angel of the Lord intervenes. Abraham lifts up his eyes from the horror before him, he sees a ram caught in a thicket and it became the offering.
Then in Luke 21, Jesus talks about the entire world and the universe coming apart. As these things begin to happen he says to raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.
Living in trust of God is no walk in the park.
I’m reading a book, published in 2003, by Louise Murphy, “Hansel and Gretel.” Two Jewish children are taken in by an old lady outside a small Polish village during WWII. They live under cruel Nazi terrorism. The Poles take extreme measures themselves to stay alive and survive.
But amid the horror is a scene from Christmas Eve. Nelka, whose new born baby has been taken away from her by an SS Oberfurher, to control her, joins in telling the Christmas story in the “witch’s” hut.
Now listen children, listen. “Mary and Joseph were given the gift of a child. They were so poor that the babe was laid in a manger, and angels and shepherds and wise men came to see the beauty of the baby. An evil king wanted to kill the child, but angels warned Joseph in a dream, and he put Mary and the baby on a donkey and fled into Egypt, so the evil king couldn’t kill his son. The baby was saved and lived to grow up. And he teaches us to be brave always and never lose hope. Never. Even when all the world wants to kill your innocent babe. In the darkness of deep winter when everything is cold and dead, the babe is born, and God begins to walk in the world. He walks for four months among us, and then he will be killed, and rise from the dead because there is no death. Death will die in four months.
God cannot see the darkness that man has created and not throw out light to combat it. He is walking in the world.”
“Are you sure Nelka?”
He knew that she would never lie to him.
Following a night, now morning, of a parade of Donner and Blitzen, I’m thinking of Job 38:8 from last Sunday’s Old Testament lesson. “Who shut the sea behind gates
when it burst through and came out of the womb. When I clothed it with clouds
and wrapped it up in dark clouds.”
For 37 chapters God listened to Job and his friends discuss guilt, innocence, suffering and God. Now God speaks up out of a tornado, “Who is this who speak empty words of wisdom but doesn’t know anything about anything. Put on your pants, stand up like a man, I will question you. Where were you when…”
In vs 8-9 the poet describes the birth of the sea as a violent baby gushing forth from its mother. It’s not clear who is the mother. As the attending physician, God sees immediately that this baby must be contained, or it will wipe out all the rest of creation. Yet, God will not leave this monster unattended. God provides clouds for its clothing and darkness as it’s swaddling cloth.
In the Gospel lesson when Jesus quieted the raging sea, the disciples ask, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” On Sunday morning the waters again obeyed our Lord. God who commanded the sea to gush forth, who, in Jesus spoke peace to the raging water, used the quiet and obedient baptism water to give new birth, life and salvation to three youngsters.
On June 25th, 1530 the German and Latin editions of the Augsburg Confession were presented to Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. It was signed by a number of leaders from German cities and regions. Since it was too dangerous for Martin Luther to appear at the Diet at Augsburg (meeting), the Augsburg Confession was written by Philip Melancthon and endorsed by Luther. It consists of a brief summary of the points in which the reformers saw their teaching either agreeing with historical teachings of the Christian Church or disagreeing with the Roman Catholic Church at that time. A few weeks later, the Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession. In 1531, Melanchthon defended the Lutheran stance in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. In 1580 when the Book of Concord was dawn up, the unaltered Augsburg Confession was included among the principal Lutheran confessions.
Prayer of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon your Church that we being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
In 1522, declared an outlaw and under excommunication, Martin Luther was in grave danger. Within that context he preached the following excerpt in a sermon on mercy.
How does God, our heavenly Father, show His mercy? He gives us freely out of sheer goodness all that is good for body and soul, for time and eternity. If He should give us according to our merit, He could give us nothing but eternal condemnation. He sees that we are stuck in death, and He has mercy upon us and gives us life. He sees that we are children of condemnation, and He has mercy upon us and gives us heaven. He sees that we are poor, naked, hungry, and thirsty, and He has mercy upon us and clothes us, feeds us, gives us drink, and satisfies us with all that is good. Thus, all we have in body and spirit He gives us, out of sheer mercy, and pours out all His goodness upon us. That is why Christ says, “Be merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”
The mercy Christians give must not only be those like ourselves or we like, but must be complete and comprehensive, to friend and foe alike, as our Father in heaven does.
And where this mercy is absent, faith is also absent.
I searched in Frost and Sandberg for an ode to Summer,
Scarce as hen’s teeth for the season of firefly and hummer.
Many a lyric to Winter, Spring and Autumn
For Summer nary a single encomium.
Especially this year summer is owed a ballad,
Winter hung around, an overstaying guest
Doing its best to ruin our dandelion salad,
Then on May Day Summer came with vengeance,
Benching Spring without a moments hesitance.
Frost and Sandberg do you see
Your failure to pen a poem on the season of the bee?
You left it up to me.
Sorry you two should be.
The writer of Psalm 139 begins by acknowledging that the Lord has searched and known him intimately; even to the point of when he sits down and gets up. Nothing he does or believes is outside God’s knowledge; even every word before he speaks. The writer is surrounded by God no matter if he goes into the darkest depths of Sheol or the brightest realms of the heavens. God has been intimately part of his life from the time two gametes united and formed a zygote in his mother’s womb.
God’s thoughts, which number more than the desert sands, are precious as jewels. But then he reveals an element of hatred within himself. He wants God to act against the wicked, those who speak maliciously against God, who use God’s name to no good purpose.
He seems a bit defensive when he asks: “Shouldn’t I hate those who hate you, O Lord? Shouldn’t I be disgusted with those who attack you?” He wants to know what God thinks.
Therefore, he ends the psalm as he began. The Lord who knows him intimately, now needs to search him once again to see if his thoughts and heart are on the right track. “See whether I am on an evil path. Then lead me on the everlasting path.” It would be well also for us to ask God, “Am I on the right track?”
On Arbor Day in April someone brought a bunch of White Pine seedlings to the Sunset Hills Community. They were free for the taking. I brought one home and planted it. However, rather than taking root it turned brown and has apparently died.
This past Sunday was arbor day in the kingdom of God. We are the trees of the Lord, his plantings. In psalm 92, the righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. We are plants in the house of God. Even in old age we are full of sap and green. Psalm 1 tells us that we are like a tree planted by a stream of water, who delights in the meditating on the word of the Lord, bearing the fruit of God’s grace. Ezekiel 15 picks up the same theme as we branch out and produce fruit. It’s reinforced by Jesus’ parable in Mark 4:30-32. Like mustard seed we are planted to grow and provide a place of protection and safety for others that they too might grow and flourish under God’s rule.
The other side of that picture is seen in the white pine that has apparently died. What if with all that grace shown to us, we wither and die? We mistake the kingdom of the left hand, government and world social norms, for the kingdom of the right hand, God’s rule in our life through Christ, who tells us to love one another, as God has loved us, to show hospitality to strangers, as God has welcomed us into his kingdom. None of us were worthy to be included under his rule, but in grace he has brought us into his kingdom directing us to do the same for others, even those we consider unworthy.
Therefore, we prayed that we might hear, read, mark, learn and digest the scriptures, since they have been written for our learning.
This morning as we left the service men received a gift, a booklet, “Blueprints for Life.” We left with something tangible in hand.
Earlier, when we took communion, we received a piece of bread in our hand, something tangible, yet more, the Body of Christ something intangible. With that bread/body and the wine/blood we received forgiveness of sin, and the tangible/intangible grace of Life and salvation through faith in the One we received in that bread and wine.
Still earlier we received something totally intangible gift. The forgiveness of all our sins, all the ways we messed up this past week and going back for as long as we have lived. We also left with those words. Luther said in a sermon on St. Matthews Day, “It is easily said, forgiveness of sins. We need to diligently study what those words means. If it only could be won and done with words! But when we have a serious encounter, suddenly we find that we know nothing of this forgiveness. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, which I can only grasp with my heart, namely, that all my sins are forgiven and that through this faith I am justified before God. This is not a quality which is already in a person’s heart or soul; we must learn and grasp with faith that we are redeemed and made just through the forgiveness of sins.”
I came across an interesting article by Fleming Rutledge in the June issue of Christianity Today. The article is entitled, “Why being ‘Spiritual’ is Never Enough.” In three pages she drives home the point that faith in Christ is neither “spiritual” nor “religious.” Spirituality and religion, as we use the terms today, are human endeavors; whereas Christ is God’s work giving us badly needed justification and salvation, both acts of God’s grace, which we cannot control, but only believe with a radical faith which risks everything on Christ’s death and resurrection.
Fleming Rutledge was an Episcopal parish priest in New York City. I have two of her sermon books. One is “The Undoing of Death” sermons for Holy Week and Easter, the other on the book of Romans. Good stuff.
I highly recommend her article. I Googled her name and the word “Spirituality.”