A Paradox

 

I’m going to be gone for about a week and I’m not adept enough to post blogs from just anywhere.  I want to leave you with something to think about.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus presents a paradox.  A paradox are two apparently contradictory statements which are not contradictory.

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus is telling us to let your good works be seen.

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness (Christian life of good works) before other people in order to be seen by them…

Jesus is telling us to keep our good works hidden from other people.

I will be back in a week.

 

The Harrow

 

It was during the planting of oats that the harrow came into play in the spring.  First the ground was turned over by the single bottom plow pulled by our new 1949 Allis Chalmers tractor.  Today, the tractor, which replaced our ancient Fordson, appears to be little more than a garden tractor. In the second, step we used a spring tooth “drag” to even out the furrows.  The third step was loading the “drill’ boxes with oats seed and fertilizer and planted.  Then came the last step, the harrowing.  The harrow had spikes which when drug over the field would smooth out the final clods of dirt.

However, the word “harrow,” was also used to describe Jesus’ descent into hell between his crucifixion and resurrection. In the Apostles Creed we confess, “He descended into hell…”  This is based on I Peter 3:18-19, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.”

One of the interpretations of this passage is that Jesus went into “hell” to plunder or pillage hell of the souls of the righteous Old Testament believers.

An Easter Carol from the fourteenth century tells us of Christ,

Who baffled death and harrowed hell

And led the souls that love him well

All in the light of lights to dwell.

Most scholars interpret Jesus’ descent into hell as an occasion when he proclaimed his victory to those who had rejected him as Messiah and Savior.

I suspect that our harrow on the farm hasn’t been used for several decades.  The “harrowing of hell” is also a concept fallen by the wayside.

 

Jesus Real Presence

David Lose in his weekly article, “In the Meantime,” on the Gospel lesson for Sunday (John 14:1-14) wrote the following.  Many of us will partake of Holy Communion tomorrow and its good to have a reminder of what God is really doing.

I’ve always been captivated by Martin Luther’s sense of the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Rather than side with those who said that mere finite bread could not hold Jesus’ infinite body, and so argued the bread was not really bread but had been transubstantiated into Jesus’ body, or with those who again said that mere finite bread could not hold Jesus’ infinite body, and so the bread was just bread, a reminder of Jesus’ love, Luther argued that, as with the Incarnation, there are times that, indeed, the finite can hold the infinite. What we experience in the Lord’s Supper, he believe, is just that kind of real presence. It’s a confession of faith that doesn’t boil down very easily to clean cut answers but instead offers a relationship: It is really God who is really present for us  in a way we can really receive.

As Pants the Hart/Heart for Cooling Streams

 

Based on Psalm 42, the hymn “As Pants the Hart for Cooing Streams” struck me as a bit strange when I was a young boy.  I didn’t know that the hart was a deer.  It seemed to me that with the addition of one vowel “e” one would have “heart.”  It turns out my childhood thinking was on the mark.  As a hart pants for a stream of cool running water, so does my heart pants for the refreshing ever flowing stream of God’s grace filled faithfulness toward me.

The 17th century hymn by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady provides the image of a hart (heart) who is being chased by relentless a pack of dogs or wolves or human hunters.

As pants the hart for cooling streams

When heated in the chase,

So longs my soul, O God, for you

And your refreshing grace.

One version of the hymn contains the striking image of a gathering storm of troubles which will pour down upon the individual, turning those quiet streams into a sea of water threatening to drown the one being chased.

One trouble calls another on

And gathers overhead,

Falls splashing down, till round my soul

A rising sea is spread.

However, though the person is near drowning, he/she will not despair of the steadfast love of the Lord.

Why restless, why cast down, my soul?

Hope still, and you shall sing

The praise of him who is your God,

Your health’s eternal spring.

 

Conversation at the Church Coffee Pot

 

I stood with another man after the confirmation service at St. john’s, Burn, TN.  I must have asked, “How’re you doing?”  He replied, “Still upright.”  I said, “One time when I was filling in at a church a man I knew fairly well asked me, ‘How you doing?’ and I said, ‘Still upright.’  Within in two weeks I received word that he had suddenly died of a heart attack.  So, I don’t tell people that I’m still upright anymore.”

The man at the coffee pot said, “I knew a guy who lived his life sort of helter –  skelter.  But then he got cancer and I asked him if he had ever been baptized, ‘No,’ he said, ‘But I’ve always wanted to be baptized.’  He lived near a catholic church and school, I asked if he wanted me to talk to a priest or one of the nuns about baptizing him.  ‘No, I don’t want that,’ the man said. Well would you like me to baptize you.  He said, ‘Yes, I would like that.’  So, I baptized him and told Pastor Nathan. Nine days later he died.  It made me feel real that I did that.  It was a real blessing to be able to do that”

“Yes, I said, “It was a blessing to you and think of what a blessing it was to your friend.”

 

 

I am the Door

 

One of Jesus “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John is from John 10:7, “I am the door of the sheep.”  To enter the protection of the sheepfold, Jesus is the door which is open to those who know his voice and by entering is saved.

In his sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday, Nathan, our son, took us back to the previous chapter where Jesus gives to a man born blind.  Jesus smeared mud on the man’s eyes, sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam and the man came back seeing.  If he thought everyone else would be overjoyed with the man’s new found sight and Jesus who had opened his eyes to the light, well he had another think coming.  Suddenly nobody seemed to know him.  Some of his neighbors weren’t sure he was the man who had been blind.  The Pharisees grill him with questions about who had done this on the sabbath, yet.  His parents didn’t step in to defend and support their son.  Finally, he was thrown out of the community in which he had always lived.

Yes, sometimes the church is not a welcoming community and is blind to Jesus working among them.   Yet Jesus is present in his community, in the Word, in Baptism, in Holy Communion.  He is present as the resurrected Savior.  He is the door who welcomes all who believe and through whom those who enter will find life and “have it abundantly.”

Opening the Scripture

 

In Luke 24 the two disciples encountered a stranger who “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  Again, forty days later as he was about to ascend into heaven Jesus, with the disciples gathered around him, “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

Becky and I have two grandchildren being confirmed this month.   It remains a wonder that so many confirmands and their parents believe that the whole of scriptures has been opened to them by the time they reach 13 or 14 years of age.

Well here I am, nearly 50 years a pastor, in a couple of weeks it will also be 50 years of marriage with four children and I am still finding that the scriptures continues to be opened for me.  I wasn’t fully ready to be a pastor upon graduation from the seminary on May 26, 1967 nor for marriage when Becky and I were wed the next evening at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Desoto, Mo.

Just as I had to figure out and, am still doing so, how to be husband and father and now grandfather, so I am still figuring out how to live as a child of God and brother of Christ and a pastor even in retirement.  The scriptures have much more to say to me in these latter days than when as a 13-year-old I knelt before the altar at Christ Lutheran Church, Pipe Lake and promised I would rather die than give up my faith in Christ.

Thus, one of my favorite prayers speaks of reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting the Word.  And so, it is.

Little Things Mean a Lot

 

Mark 16:1, When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so they might go and anoint him.

Each of the gospels notes the “Myrrh Carriers,” who at first light on Sunday, went to Jesus’ tomb to complete his burial.  It was a little thing, but it meant a lot.

Two points are worth considering: 1. Doing little things is part of serving someone else.  A woman was in London England, when she learned her father had suddenly died.  She discovered that her cell phone didn’t work and all arrangements for returning to northwestern Wisconsin, where she lived.  She was flying into the Twin Cities, but the family lived in Milwaukee.  There was no one to pick her up.  However, her roommate had contacted the family about her arrival, but no one knew the time.  Her roommate drove the airport and kept watch at the gate for all flights coming from London.  She also got a fresh cup of Starbucks coffee before each flight landed so that she could have a hot coffee in hand for her friend when she got off the plane.  It was this little thing but it meant a lot to see a familiar face.

  1. A second point taken from the Myrrh Carriers faithfulness to little things is that they became the messengers of Jesus’ resurrection. The early church called them apostles to the apostles.

I find within congregations there a people who take care of the small things who are important to the smooth functioning of the church.  Who opens the door on Sunday and turns on the lights and the heat or air?  Who cleans the church or sets up communion or folds the bulletins?  Who fixes the plumbing etc?  Who takes the offering in the bank?

Jesus also forgives the little sins we may overlook in ourselves or which may bug us to no end.

These are little things, but they mean a lot.

Jesus Resurrection and the defeat of Leviathan

 

Today Leviathan, the great sea monster, might appear in video games and dramatic cartoon movies.    In the Bible and the early church, Leviathan was also a dramatic image of death, terror and chaos.  Job 40, asks, “Can you lead about Leviathan with a hook, or curb his tongue with a bit…upon the earth is not his like…he is king over all proud beasts.”

In a rabbinic legend we read, “The Holy One, blessed be he, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan.”

Cyril of Jerusalem describes baptism as a descent into the waters of death which are the dwelling place of the dragon of the sea.  Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan to crush the power of the dragon who was hidden there: “The dragon Leviathan, was in the waters, and was taking the Jordan into his gullet.  But as the heads of the dragon had to be crushed, Jesus, having descended into the waters, chained fast the strong one.”  Christ has made the waters a place where not only do we die, but a place which remembers Jesus’ battle with death and we emerge, like Jesus, alive.

In one of Jesus post Easter appearances, “While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them?”  Could Luke be relating something more than a proof of Jesus’ resurrection?  Could the image of defeating Leviathan be in the background?

An early church image of Christ was that of a fish-ichthus.  Christ himself is the fish.  Could it be that the in the background of eating fish on Friday, the weekly anniversary day remembering Jesus’s death, lies the battle in which Jesus’ caught and cut up Leviathan?  And if Christ is ichthus, perhaps we can see in Holy Communion that we are also eating the death and terror and chaos which are gathered into Christ’s cross, now cut up and peacefully eaten as love.

St. Paul wrote, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

 

Christ is My Lord

Easter 3 2017, Glen Carbon, I Peter 1:17-25

Do you realize how blessed we were this morning as we walked from our cars into church?  You returned once more to hear the good news of God’s eternal word revealed in Jesus Christ.   That wasn’t the case with two of Jesus’ Disciples of whom we read in the Gospel lesson, who needed to go for a walk that first Easter afternoon.  A stranger caught up to them and they began discussing the events of the past few days.  They asked the stranger, “Haven’t you heard, how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”     We are blessed to know that once again this morning we will meet Jesus as he speaks to us through scripture and take our Lord into our hands and mouth and body in Holy Communion.

In our first lesson from fifty days after that first Easter, Peter addresses the crowd on Pentecost, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  “What shall we do?” the crowd cried.  Peter answered that they should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  We have already been baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  And when life presses upon us we know “That (the Lord) will incline his ear to us and therefore we can call on him as long as we live.  I shall walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Ps. 116)

It’s no surprise then that when Martin Luther wanted to explain in simple terms who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, he seems to have turned to our text for today, I Peter 1:17-25.  Just as Peter begins with the blessings we have received from God the Father through His Son, Jesus; Luther does likewise, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.”  Last week we heard the disciple Thomas say he would not believe unless he placed his hands in Jesus scars and then when Jesus shows him his wounds he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.”  We too are able to exclaim with Thomas and Martin Luther, I believe “Jesus Christ is my Lord.”

However, there was a time we did not have a Lord. Oh, we had a lord, but our master was the sin and death we inherited from Adam and Eve through our parents.  But we cannot get away with blaming past generations for our plight.  We ourselves fell into failing to live as God intended for our life, that’s what sin is. We became trapped and living under its tyranny.  One thing which the scriptures do not do is whitewash what is true.  Scripture tells us the truth about ourselves.  A Psalmist describes it thus, “The snares of death bound me, Sheol held me in its grip.  Anguish and torment held me fast.”   The prophet Jonah describes what happened to him when he ran away from his Lord, “The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head.”  Or we might use the image of bullying. One that sticks with me took place in a Middle School boys restroom stall.  A boy was kneeling beside the toilet and someone was jumping on his back and it was all being videoed. Trapped and living under tyranny. These are “futile, useless, ways of living inherited from our ancestors,” writes Peter. In Ecclesiastes, the preacher begins his sermon, “Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”  Did not Martin Luther teach us in his catechism, that all this describes “me, a lost and condemned creature.”

But scripture also tells us the truth about what God has done for us.  As the song says, “Our God is an awesome, “ and Peter calls upon us to live in awe of God.  God in his grace has given us reason to rejoice with joy beyond words.  Here’s why, before the foundation of the world God had a plan to redeem us.  Through the ages prophets and even angels searched and inquired about the details of his plan. Though they preached of God’s coming grace in Christ’s suffering and glory But they did not live to see it.  It’s only in these last times that it was revealed through the revelation of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, born of the Virgin Mary. That is my Lord.

He is “My Lord, who has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature.” Notice how Luther writes, “redeemed me.” He did it for me.  He did it for you.  “Purchased and won (that is delivered) me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  In the Roman world a slave could be redeemed by paying money to a god or goddess at a temple and thus would be freed from slavery to a human master and would be now owned by the god or goddess, a god represented by a marble statue.  That’s not how our redemption was gained.  Peter finds the pattern for our redemption in Israel’s delivery from slavery to the Egyptians in the time of Moses.  The evening before they were delivered, the Israelites were directed to kill a healthy lamb, smear it’s blood above the door, so that the angel of death would Passover those houses.  And when Israel left their houses the next day, they passed through the blood which had saved them

That is how we were delivered from the trap of futility of life and the bullying of sin, guilt and death.  We pass under the blood of Jesus Christ.  “That I might be (wholly) his own and live under him in His kingdom…even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”  Christ brings us to the Father by overcoming sin, death, and the devil, which would keep us from coming to the Father.  Martin Luther once described Jesus’ work as putting me back on the Father’s lap. Yaroslav Vajda picks up on that idea in his baptism hymn, “See this wonder in the making: God himself this child is taking As a lamb safe in his keeping, his to be, awake or sleeping.  Far more tender than a mother, Far more caring than a father, God, into Your arms we place him, With in your love and peace embrace him.” God in Christ does this,  “That I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom.”  Delivered from the tyranny of sin, guilt and death.  Redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Having been born again as new creatures, son or daughter of God, having our faith and hope in God, both Peter and Luther urge us to take the next step.  That is to live as the children of God that we are.  Peter writes, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”  Luther taught us to “serve God in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”

There may be times in our life when we  are as bewildered as those two disciples on way to Emmaus.  We too may ask, “What shall I do?” We may not recognize the one who walks through life with us.  But through His Spirit, Jesus opens the scriptures to us as he did for them and in the breaking of the bread they recognized him and saw who he truly was, so it is for us also; there in the breaking of the bread and drinking of the wine is my Lord.  As Peter concluded, “This word is the good news that was preached to you.” Luther asserts, “This is most certainly true.”