Jesus Knew the Psalms

I began teaching a class covering some of the Psalms last Friday.  I sense that the men are a little apprehensive, which means one of my goals is to raise their appreciation and understanding of biblical poetry which comprises the bible’s hymnal.

When Martin Luther began teaching at Wittenberg University as a freshly minted professor, he started with the Psalms in August 1513 and finished in 1515.  His view of the psalms echoed that of the early church fathers, “It might be called a little bible.  Everyone, whatever his situation may be, finds in the psalms words that fit his situation and apply to his case put in a way that seems only for him.”

When Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples, they sang psalms 113-114 before the meal and 115-118 after eating.  Mark tells us, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mt of Olives.”  (The Greek word for hymn is “umnos.”)  Soon Judas and his agents showed up and arrested Jesus.  We know that ended on the cross from which Jesus called out in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  That afternoon darkness ended with Jesus voicing Psalm 31:5, “Into your hand I commit my spirit.”  But as anyone around the cross who was well versed in the Psalms knew, that verse ends with a note of gospel, “You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful Lord.”  Jesus was not giving up his life to no good end.  God would be faithful and rescue him from death and in doing so would also redeem our life and death with new life.      

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Jesus, Fish Finder

 “We’ve been shut out all night,” Peter said, “But if you say so, I’ll try again.”  That was Peter’s response (Luke 5:1-11) to Jesus command to take the boat out and “lower the nets to catch some fish.”   Yes, the nets they had just washed clean. Yes, this is Jesus the preacher who now suddenly thinks, not for the last time, he knows where the fish are.  But then, this is the One who had said long before, “Let the water swarm with swimming creatures” of whom John will write, “Not one thing that exists was made without him.”  I’m not sure how much Peter knew about him, but he preached good news and healed his mother-in-law.  So, Peter and his partners threw the nets over the side.

And behold, the nets netted so many fish that it was starting to tear, and they had to call out for help.  More fisherman came and they filled both boats with flopping fish until the boats were in danger of sinking.

Peter, overwhelmed, knelt before Jesus, “Leave me.  I’m a sinful person.” Jesus doesn’t say “You are forgiven,” but says “Don’t be afraid.”  120 times that phrase is used in the bible. Grace is such an undeserved gift that it can leave us fearful.  You know, if the sun is shining today and I’m enjoying the warmth, then I’m going to pay for such joy.  Its, going to storm tomorrow and I’ll be miserable because that’s what I deserve.

A few verses down, Jesus does forgive sins.  Yes, God graces us with undeserved forgiveness, but also gives comfort and encouragement.  And Jesus has a plan for Peter the sinner. “From now on you will catch people instead of fish.”

Ida Died in February

I was reading a passage from James Joyce novel Dubliners in which he wrote of snow falling on a cemetery.  It made me think of Ida who had been a first-grade teacher at Immanuel School in Marshfield.  She was Sarah’s teacher. It must have been about 1982 when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to resign her position.

She was a shy person who when it was her turn to lead staff devotions, she recorded them the night before and played her recording for us the next morning.  Ida had never married.

We were in Peoria, Il. for a basketball tournament the weekend she died.  We had left Marshfield’s high snow banks which had led some to put orange balls on their car antennas so they would be visible.  The temperature rose into the 70’s in Peoria that weekend, which was a welcome two-day respite from winter in central Wisconsin.

When we learned of Ida’s death our group wanted to have our own Sunday morning service to remember her and her service to our school.  Her funeral service was later that week at a Wisconsin Synod congregation out in the country.  The pastor mentioned her service to their congregation, but never mentioned her work in an LCMS congregation.

As we drove away after the committal that afternoon, Sarah looked at Ida’s casket sitting out in the snow-covered cemetery.  Our 6-year-old youngest said, “Won’t she get cold?’  I’m not sure what Becky and I answered, but I always remember Sarah’s question.   

Jesus Asks Peter For a Favor

Yesterday in Luke 5:1-2, we read of Jesus commandeering Peter’s boat where he could sit down and teach the people on shore.  In those days teachers usually sat down to teach.  Later, the church would think of itself as a ship or ark of salvation.  We still carry that idea in our buildings when we call the area where people sit, the Nave.

Something I only noticed this morning is that Jesus asked Peter to row out a little way from shore then he sat down to teach.  Now understand, Peter was among the fishermen washing their nets.  They had been out fishing during the night. And getting off the night shift, so to speak, Peter was likely tired and wanted to go home and get some sleep.  But Peter climbs back into the boat with Jesus and takes him out anyway.  What made him respond to Jesus request?  Was it that he knew Jesus and Jesus seems to have stayed at stayed overnight at his house (4:38)?  And we know from other experiences that Jesus had a way of inviting himself into people’s homes and then acting more like the host than the guest.  Jesus had also healed Peter’s mother-in-law and he’s grateful.  Or was he the kind of guy that who would do that sort of thing, even though he was dead tired?  Or was he responding to the urging of the Holy Spirit?

Whatever the reason he just does it.  That gets at the question, what makes us respond or not respond to Jesus requests in our life.  Why do we do things even when we may be too tired or not have enough time or think something is beyond what we can handle?  Or what leads us to say, “No, not interested?”

Distracting Interruptions

Last Sunday a couple small children were fussing in the back row.  I wonder if Jesus, ever bawled during the synagogue service.  He was human you know.  Kids make noise.

Also last Sunday Grown up Jesus experienced an interruption while he was teaching in a synagogue.  A man possessed by a demon confronted him.  Jesus ordered the demon to shut up and get out of the poor man.  Which it did.

But this Sunday, Isaiah tells of a major interruption while he was in the temple. (Isaiah 6) In 740 B.C. and he saw Yahweh sitting on a throne, probably the ark of the covenant.  Guarding Yahweh were two six winged fiery creatures known as Seraphim.  Perhaps, they were griffin-like with head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion or appeared as fiery dragons.  In any case these creatures were flying around calling to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of the Armies.  The whole earth is full of his glory.”   Their voices shook the foundations of the doorposts and filled the place with smoke.  Isaiah figured he had had it. “Oh no! I’m doomed.  My lips and everyone I know have lips that have sinned.”  But in an unusual pronouncement of forgiveness, the Seraphim took some hot coals and touched Isaiah’s lips telling him “Your guilt is gone, and your sin forgiven.”  “Ouch, the burns.” said Isaiah.  Well he didn’t, but wouldn’t you, plus watching what you say in the future?

Then Yahweh said, “Whom will I send?”  Isaiah responded with something like, “Who? Me? Yeah, I guess you do.  Okay, as long as I’m here, send me.“

“Oh, by the way, Isaiah, no one will listen to you.”

Isaiah said, “How long will this go on?”

Yahweh said, “As long as it takes.”

Be on your toes and pay attention in church tomorrow.  Who knows?  

Strong Words

Strong Words

We are advised to use strong passwords for our internet sites.  I believe strong words are a key to writing.  Strong words are packed with a visual, mental and emotional punch.

The Gospeler, Luke, uses muscular words in last Sunday’s Gospel, Luke 5:31-44.  Jesus was in Capernaum teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath Saturday.  People were astonished.  His word possessed authority.  Then Luke shares some examples.  A man possessed of an unclean spirit confronted Jesus while he taught.  Luke tells us “Jesus rebuked him.”  Later Jesus rebuked a fever in Simon’s mother-in-law and several more demons ordering them to stop.  He would not argue with them nor accept their testimony as to who he was.

Rebuke means more than to condemn and censure, but to halt further action.  Based on Jesus powerful word, the demons were forced out.  The fever in Simon’s mother-in-law left her.

Jesus would not allow anyone to control him.  When the people wanted to stop him from leaving, he asserted, “I have to preach the good news of God’s kingdom to other cities.”  For he was, as the angel told the shepherds, “Your Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.”

Strong words.   

A Rock on which I can Live

One of my favorite places when I was growing up was Interstate Park along the St. Croix River between St. Croix Falls, Wi. and Taylor Falls, Mn.  It’s been a long time since I crawled on those rocky cliffs above the river.  It’s also been since our children were growing up that I have walked among the Elephant Rocks in Mo.

In Psalm 71:3 (part of the psalm 71:1-11 for last Sunday) the writer asks God to be “a rock on which I may live, a place where I may always go.”

In vs. 9 in words that speak to me now that I no longer go crawling around and over huge boulders.  “Don’t throw me aside when I am old, don’t desert me when my strength is gone.”  He reminds God, that “you have taught me ever since I was young.” He notes that he, “depended on you before I was born.  You took me from my mother’s womb.”  He has become an example to many people.  So, he reminds God, “don’t leave me when I am old, and my hair turns grey.”

Sometimes as we age, we wonder how we can be of service others.  Does God have any use for me?  Indeed, our society and the church struggle to know what to do with older adults.  I think at least one answer is in the psalmist’s prayer in verse 18, “Let me live to tell the people of this age what your strength has accomplished, to tell about your power to all who will come.”

God is still a rock on which to live and we don’t have to climb up to him, but in Christ lifts us up to himself.  

The Day God Called Jeremiah

What did you want to be when you were 15 or 16?  How did that turn out?

Jeremiah belonged to a priestly family who Solomon banished to the territory of Benjamin in about 950 BC.  Now its 628 BC. God is about to turn the teenager’s life upside down.  One day, out of the blue, Yahweh broke in on him.  “Hey, Jer. Did you know I knew you before I even formed you in your mother’s womb?  And while I was splitting cells and knitting you together, I decided that I wanted you to be my international prophet.”

“Wait, just a minute,” Jeremiah protested.  “I’m just a kid.  You want me to talk for you?  Are you joking?  I don’t know how to speak, publicly.”

God retorted, “No excuses.  You will go where I send you.  You will say what I command you to say. You don’t need to be afraid, I’m with you.  I’ll rescue you when you get in trouble.”  Then Yahweh reached out and touched Jeremiah’s tongue and said, “There, I’ve put my word in your mouth.  You have authority to speak to the nations in my behalf.  Thus, you will tell them of doom and destruction and of rising and rebuilding again.”

Now, folks, you may think you’re safe from God breaking in and uprooting your day, because you’re no longer a teenager.  Well, remember Moses was 80 years old when God had a word with him from a burning bush.  And Amos, a farmer, was minding his own business when God told him to drop everything and go speak to the leaders in northern Israel.  When it comes to God, no body is too young or too old.  No one is safe.

Frailty

We know frailty when we see it.   This morning an elderly man will be assisted up the steps to the communion rail.  A retired president of Concordia Publishing House will push his wife in a wheel chair to the front to receive Christ’s body and blood.  Yes, we know frailty when we see it.

But wait a minute.  In the Prayer of the Day we admit, “that in our frailty we cannot stand upright.”  Yes, we are frail.  Even the most robust among us are breakable.  And God Almighty knows, “We live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright.”  We have fallen, and we can’t get up.

 Could it be that thinking we are not breakable is one of the dangers? Like the writer of Psalm 30, “When all was well with me, I said, ‘I will never be shaken.’”

In the light of whatever dangers have knocked us off our feet we pray: “Grant strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations.”  In the entrance Psalm (10:12) we asked God to “Arise…lift your hand; forget not the afflicted.” For we are the ones who face the temptations that we are just fine, “I can do this on my own, if you don’t mind God.”

Therefore, we asked God for support even if we think we don’t need it, “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”