Wading Through Grace

 

Being in Jesus Christ means we are wading through grace.  That’s what the Prayer of the Church (Collect) tells us about our life in Christ. “Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace always precedes and follows us.”

Therefore, living in Christ’s flood of grace we ask Jesus to “help us forsake all trust in earthly gain.”  Does that mean that though the lottery is nearly a billion dollars this weekend we shouldn’t buy a ticket?  Well, how about if I don’t come to trust in such earthly gain?

The prayer goes on to tell us in what we should trust.  Notice that we are praying for each other.  “Help us.”  Lord help us “to find in You (Christ) our heavenly treasure.”

According to the entrance psalm, 112:3-4, this is the heavenly treasure of the “wealth and riches” that “are in his house.”  Wading in grace means that our rightness before God and in our life endures forever.  The light that dawns in the darkness is that Jesus grace, mercy and rightness also flows out of our life to flood the lives of those we encounter.

 

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Joseph, Mary and family to go Jerusalem

Pentecost 20, 2018, Ruma/Evansville, Il Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vain.

Fifteen psalms, 120-134, were used by groups as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover.  This sermon is an imagined account of one family’s experience.

Joseph closed his carpentry shop.  He and his family would be gone for about three weeks. It was their annual spring trip south to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  The prospect of a journey of over fifty miles was daunting.  Especially considering Joseph and Mary had five boys and a couple of daughters, all age twelve and under.

More than a dozen years ago, while pregnant with her firstborn, her cousin, Elizabeth had said that she was blessed among all women; indeed “blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  So, it was that following that arduous trip south to Bethlehem the fruit of her womb was born while angels sang, and shepherds visited her and her newborn in the maternity ward stable.  According to the angel Gabriel’s direction nine months before, she named her son Jesus, for he would be a Savior, the Messiah, the Christ.  That and the experience in the temple when the aged Simeon took her 6-week-old in his arms declaring that he had seen salvation with his own eyes. He could take his leave of life on earth in peace. Then the star gazers from the east arrived, followed by the hurried escape to Egypt, and then the return to settle in Nazareth.  She was left with much to ponder and think about.

Although she didn’t have much time for pondering as her oldest continued to grow in mind, body and God’s favor.  Her womb was soon fruitful again. She and Joseph were now parents to James, Joses, Jude, and Simon, and their daughters.

Now she and Joseph were about to once more herd this rambunctious and growing family along the trail on the east side of the Jordan, which may have taken at least three days. They were traveling with other relatives, friends and neighbors.   As they recrossed the Jordan at Jericho, Joseph tried to get the kids to pretend they were their ancestors who centuries ago had completed a forty-year journey through the wilderness and crossed the Jordan into the promised land. But what the kids really liked was choosing a rock to carry across with them and place it on a pile of stones, just as their ancestors had done in the time of Moses.  Joseph and Mary hoped that something of this would stick with them and be remembered when they grew up.

Joseph thought that this might be one more way to build up his family in the Lord.  To keep the Lord in the center of their lives. He knew the psalm verse we read earlier, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  Though raising a family had its ups and downs he tried to keep in mind another verse from the psalm, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord.  They are a reward from him.”

Joseph was a man of integrity.  He was a man blameless and upright in the way he lived his life, as a husband, a father, and in his work.  Without the Lord, it was useless to get up early in the morning and work all day into the night and eat one’s meals worried and anxious.  No, sleep too was a gift of the Lord.  No use staying awake baby-sitting the world all night.

And Mary, blessed among women marveled, when she had the time to marvel, that the lord had looked upon her, a humble servant of God, had shown her such favor in that she would be the mother of the promised Savior, her own savior.  Both Joseph and Mary sought to live by the words of another psalm recited during the pilgrimage, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.”

But now having crossed the Jordan into Jericho, the most difficult part of the walk to Jerusalem ahead of them.  Another psalm verse said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved.”  Well, when they lifted their eyes they saw the beginning of a fifteen mile climb up hill along a narrow road, with wall of cliffs to one side and a precipitous drop off the other.  Now they were about to try to get their family up that climb safely.  They needed the help of the Lord, who had created these hills, but also who promised to keep their going out and coming in forevermore.  Not only their strength but the safety of their family and their trust in the Lord’s keeping would be put to the test.

At last they made it, all intact.  As they viewed the gleaming walls of the temple complex across the Kidron valley, in more ways than one they could sing another of those pilgrim psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”  Their pilgrimage was finished.  They would they find a camping spot among the thousands of others from the whole Mediterranean who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover.

However, the drama was not over with their arrival, and the making and eating of the Passover meal. When they started back down the fifteen mile stretch to Jericho, Jesus had stayed behind, and Joseph and Mary supposed him to be with his friends and didn’t discover his absence until that evening.  Then back up the hill and after searching for three days they found him in the temple.  Mary burst out in distress at her son.  Even the Savior of the world could be a challenge for his parents. The twelve-year-old answered, “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Jesus went back down the hill with them and was an obedient son in his earthly father’s house.

But in about twenty years he would for a last time walk up that fifteen mile stretch from Jericho, He would be welcomed to waving palms and acclimations of Hosanna to the Son of David.  He would return to his heavenly Father’s House, clear it of the merchants selling their goods right there in the court of the Lord.  Soon he would be led up another hill to be fastened to a cross and there die and carry out his mission as Savior.  After his resurrection and ascension, he sent the Holy Spirit to aid us in our trust in himself and out of his never-ending patience and loving-kindness help us to think and to do those things are pleasing in his sight.  To help us live holy lives. Blessed as Mary and blameless and upright as Joseph as we live as members of a community, a church, a family, and in our labor. That we remember, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor, labor in vain.”

 

 

Patience and Loving-Kindness without end.

Patience and loving-kindness without end.

Well, we may not have never ending patience and loving-kindness, but that is what we ascribed to our eternal heavenly Father in the Prayer of the Day on Sunday.  I was surprised when I drove to the Seminary library early this morning by my patience with the traffic, That, is not usually the case with me.  So, to have never ending patience and loving-kindness is beyond my reach.  Thankfully, it is one of the chief characteristics of our eternal Father, who in Jesus Christ puts his arms around us and blesses us.

What we did pray for on Sunday is that our eternal Father would send the Holy Spirit to help us “always think and do those things that are pleasing in “Your sight.”  Of course, no matter how much aid I receive from the Holy Spirit I’m not always able to think and do God pleasing things.  Thankfully we pray our request through Jesus Christ who visited us with God’s patience and loving-kindness and lives and rules our lives in grace and mercy, along with the eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, yes, both now and forever.  To that I add my grateful, “Amen.”

What God has gotten us into

Pentecost 19 2018 Ruma/Evansville, Il.  Numbers 11

In 1848 Father Theodore Van den Broek, a missionary in Wisconsin along the Fox River southwest of Green Bay, returned to his native Holland to take care of some family business.  While there he recruited three ship loads of Dutch people, including my great great grandparents, to emigrate and found a catholic colony.  These emigrants were far from well off in Holland, but when they arrived at their destination they found pretty much wilderness, woods, forests and not much else. Dealing with such primitive conditions led some to return to Holland.  And among those who stayed many began to grumble and vilify Father Van den Broek asking, “What have you gotten us into?” They felt they had been sold a bill of goods without the goods.

As we turn to our Old Testament lesson we find the people of Israel in the wilderness.  It’s one year since God rescued the Hebrews from over 400 years in Egypt, much it as oppressed slaves.  You know the story, edicts to make bricks without all the supplies. Orders to kill new born Hebrew boys; however, the midwives outsmarted Pharaoh.  Then in the desert of Midian the voice of God in a burning bush called 80-year-old Moses from shepherding sheep to shepherding his people out of slavery.   Then the plagues, the Passover meal, death of firstborn Egyptians, escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea.  Then the singing and tambourine led dancing, “For He has triumphed gloriously…The Lord is my strength and my song. And he has become my salvation.”  Then at Mt Sinai their declaration, “We will do all that the Lord has spoken.”

But now, the riffraff is grumbling, murmuring, weeping.  It is contagious and leads to 600,000 people wailing because they have had enough. What have you gotten us into?  They are fed up with being fed day after day with “nothing but this manna to look at.”  Fed up with daily picking it off the ground. Fed up with grinding it, pounding it, baking or boiling it.  For the remembered taste of cucumbers, melons, leeks and onions they would rather reverse God’s salvation; reject their freedom; return to Egypt and be slaves again.

God heard their grumbling and got hot under the collar. Moses was distressed because it was just getting too much.  He had had enough.  “God what have you gotten me into?  These are your people.  You conceived them.  You gave them birth.  But now I am left to nurse them like a bunch of crying colicky babies and carry them into the land You swore to give to their fathers.  They want meat, but where am I to get meat? Unless you do something, you might just as well kill me and let it be done. God, do something to help me.” It is not well with God and people.

Some years ago, I taught a breakfast bible Class at a restaurant.  The day we covered our text for today, one person laughed and said, “It’s still the same today.  We haven’t changed.”

Here’s the thing, for those homeless Hebrews, journeying in the wilderness, for those Dutch emigrants in the Wisconsin wilderness in 1848, and for you and me in 2018, we all find ourselves on occasion in a wilderness of one sort or another.  We all are emigrating from our earthly home to that promised eternal home in heaven.  Furthermore,  we all live under the same blessing of God.  We hear it week after week.

“The Lord bless you and keep you

The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”  Then the bible says, “So shall they put my name upon them and I will bless them.” So, we leave this morning with the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit upon us.

That blessing is well worth remembering when we enter our own wilderness in our life.  Sometimes it can feel like Job.  “Here I am an honest and upright person who believes in God and salvation through Jesus Christ and I try to avoid evil.”  And then things go haywire.  Things were going along well for Job, he had the perfect family, He had a mammoth livestock operation supporting numerous hired hands.  And he lost it all in short order, his livestock stolen, his children due to a storm, his health and even his wife.  And his friends came and piled on a heap of guilt as they tried to figure out why all this happened.  Most of the time we can’t figure out why things go wrong, but then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can’t figure out why we are so richly blessed.

Sometimes our wilderness is not all that catastrophic.  Some of us are getting along in age and the Pickles cartoon in the paper speaks to us, two men are sitting on a bench in town and one says to the other, “This morning I brushed my teeth and didn’t use the Bengay,  the shower head didn’t fall off when I took a shower and when I went to get the paper I didn’t lock myself out of the house.  Yup, pretty good start to the day, I’d say.”

Whether we are into a latter year of our journey, whether we are young and have a long journey ahead, whether we have small children to carry on our hip; whatever our journey we will find ourselves in one sort of wilderness or another not knowing which way to turn. And we want to cry out, “Enough!”  What have I gotten myself into?

We also do well to remember God didn’t pull Moses out of his situation.  Moses had been blessed with the Holy Spirit, and God took some of his spirit and put it on 70 elders who would assist him in managing the day to day life of all those people.  God also gave the people meat, sending flocks of quail, knee deep, covering the camp.

What does that have to do with us?  I suspect that if we didn’t eat breakfast it was because we chose not to. Furthermore, before those Hebrews started their journey, they passed through the waters of the Red Sea.  St. Paul says this was a baptism of sorts.  Those Dutch people who emigrated in 1848, had passed through the waters of baptism, and it is the same for you and me gathered here in 2018.  In that act God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is with us and we are added to the blessed number of God’s people. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payment on the promise that as we journey through the various wildernesses in which we might find ourselves during our life, that despite our grumbling, despite our cry “enough” God will never abandon nor forsake us.  For in Jesus he himself spent time in the wilderness tempted to reject God and remained faithful in our stead, and on the cross, though abandoned by his own heavenly Father, he still held firm in faith in our stead.  So, when God looks to us, he sees not us, but he sees His Son and he says, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of Your master.”  And so we will enter and our journey will at last be complete. That’s what God has gotten us into.

 

 

 

 

A Petition for those in or seeking a political office.

Becky and I just returned from a morning in Ruma and Evansville, Il. As I prayed the Prayer of the Church, I thought of the inundation of political ads where one minute a person is somewhere between a saint and a savior of us all and literally the next minute is portrayed as somewhere between the chief of sinners and a devotee of Satan who has suffered catastrophic loss of pigment and appears grey and zombie like.
I found the following petition appropriate:
“To Your kindness, Lord, we commend all who have been entrusted with public service in our land. Keep them ever mindful that they will give account to You. Protect them from every impulse to serve self and to live in luxury or self-indulgence. Fill them with Your wisdom, and make them a blessing to our people.”

Job: A Best First Sentence

Some years ago there was a listing of the ten books with the best first sentences. Moby Dick, “Call me Ishmael.” Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

This morning I started to read Job. It begins, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

Seems quite fitting for today and everyday, for everyone. Just insert a name, yours first.

Good Day so Far

The Old Testament lesson from Numbers 11 for Sunday is an episode in Israel’s journey in the wilderness. I thought I might use the Pickles cartoon from the paper today in my sermon as an example of the journey into the wilderness of aging.

I didn’t brush my teeth with Bengay this morning. The shower head didn’t fall off while I was taking a shower. And I didn’t lock myself out of the house getting the morning paper. Yup, this has been a good day so far.

Humble and Childlike Faith

 

Jaroslav Pelikan was a graduate of Concordia Seminary well before my time.  He taught at Harvard, translated some of the volumes of Luther’s works and much more.  To quote Yogi Bear, “he was smarter than the average bear.”   When I used to meet with parents prior to their child’s baptism, I would conclude by often pointing to the shelves full of books in my office.  I would say that no matter how much theological learning one had, it all comes down to what Pelikan said one time, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  I thought of that when I read the request that God would “grant us humility and a childlike faith.”  And then the will and the follow through to carry out what determined I should do.

“O God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, grant us humility and childlike faith that we may please You in both will and deed; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit one God, now and forever.”

What about the Roof?

 

In Luke 5:17-26 a room full Pharisees and Scribes were listening to Jesus, when up on the roof they heard such a clatter. What could be the matter? Dirt and debris rained down on their heads.  Then, through the hole in the roof a man on mat descended from above.  But Jesus took no notice of the deliberate destruction nor, it seems, of the man’s disabled condition.  He saw only faith and he said the most surprising of things, “Your sins are forgiven.”

“What?” thought his audience, “Does he think he’s God?  How deluded can he be, for all of us know only God forgives sin.”

“Ah, yes,” said the Lord, “I know what you’re thinking.  You see, its as easy for me to forgive sins as it is to tell the man to get up and walk.”  So that you see that I’m not just talk, “Sir, pick up your mat to home you will walk.”  And man did just that, picked up his mat and went home.

People were amazed, to God they raised praise, and no one asked, “What about the roof?”

 

Adam Pondering

I was at the Sem. library yesterday and picked up some weighty books for sermon and bible class preparation. Have I mentioned before that theology is not for wimps?
They were also getting ready for an art show. The one piece that caught my attention was a painting of the newly created Adam. It showed the upper torso of a young man from the back. Grains of sand stuck to his back and arms as if he had been laying on the beach. A handful of sand was streaming through the fingers of his left hand with the rays of sun shining through the grains and and also lighting his face and left arm.  It looked to me as if Adam was pondering how he had come to be, of sand?