God’s Mega Mercy

Easter 2, 2017, Glen Carbon, I Peter 1:3-5

Walter Braem was pastor of our Pipe Lake church in Northwestern Wisconsin until I was 14. Nearly every Sunday we closed the service singing, No. 644 in the Lutheran Hymnal.  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Ending with, “praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” I never thought much about back then, but it is fitting to close the service in which we received the Word by returning praise to our triune God.  As will happen again this morning, we were also sent on our way home with the promise of the Lord’s safe keeping and life lived with the face of the Lord shining upon us in the week ahead.

In our epistle lesson for this Sunday, Peter begins his letter praising God for all the blessings his readers have received in Christ.  “Blessed, (or Praise) be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  Peter is writing to the Christians living in territory bordering the Black Sea in the northeastern part of what is now Turkey.  People from that area Pontus, Cappadocia and Asia were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost.  But now having become Christians, they were like foreigners and immigrants in their land.  He calls them exiles, temporary residents, scattered throughout the area.  To become a Christian in first 300 hundred years of the church meant having to make a huge change in lifestyle. Leaving behind old gods and worship of idols and the pagan practices that went with them.  At this point in time, there wasn’t much active persecution, but more of an alienation from society, perhaps something like we feel at times living in a culture that seems to be increasingly at odds with what we believe to be right and true and godly.  So this morning we join in exploring what we have received through God’s great mercy which has caused us to be reborn into a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Our God is a God of mega mercy.  Once we have sung the Alleluia, Christ is Risen on Easter; once we have declared I know that my Redeemer Lives; once the organ and sound of the trumpet have faded from our ears; once we go back home and hear and read all the goings on in our world; once we went back to our ordinary life last Monday, God’s mega mercy was still with us.

Remember the close of the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Catechism about God punishing sin for the next 120 to 160 years?  It took me some years to understand that God wasn’t extending his punishment for three or four generations, but was placing a limitation on his judgment against sin.  His punishment does not go on forever.  What does continue forever, is his love and mercy, carrying forward for a thousand generations (40,000 years) for those who love him and live accordingly.  Scripture tells us that God is compassionate and gracious slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.  King David needed to learn this.   After the tragedy of his adultery and scheming to murder Bathsheba’s husband, David’s family life became something of a soap opera. His son Absalom murdered his half – brother Amnon for raping his sister Tamar.   David banished Absalom.  But after a couple of years, Joab, David’s chief of staff, sent a wise woman to David to convince him to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem.  At one point she says, “We are all going to die, we are all like water that is poured on the ground and can’t be gathered up.  But doesn’t God forgive a person?  He devises a way so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”

We Christians exist as Christians because of God’s mercy.   God devised a plan to bring us, outcast sons and daughters back home again.  “He caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  We have been given a brand – new life.  One night during Jesus’ ministry a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to him. During their conversation, Nicodemus became a bit confused, because Jesus told him he couldn’t see the kingdom of God unless he were born again.  What?  He needed to get back in his mother’s womb and be born again?  “No, no,” Jesus said, “You need to be born of water and the Spirit.”  Be baptized, and then the eyes of your faith will be opened and you will see the kingdom of God standing right in front of you.”  That is the new birth every one of us experienced at the baptism font.   God’s mercy giving us a new life.

We are given a new birth into two things.  A living hope and a salvation which will be revealed fully when Christ returns.  What of this living hope?  Like God’s mega mercy it also persists forever.  Now the disciples in our gospel lesson had living hope, but they didn’t realize it.  They were still behind locked doors, filled with fear that they might be the next ones to be hung up on crosses.  Peter and John had raced to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty just as the women had told them.  But they didn’t understand that all the Old Testament pointed to Jesus’ resurrection.  Suddenly Jesus’ appeared saying, “Peace be with you.” Then after showing them his hands and his side, he said he was sending them, fearful though they were, out into world, under the power of the Holy Spirit with the power to forgive sins.  They were to carry God’s news of a living hope that would lead to salvation.  Because they obeyed Jesus, we are included in his’ thousand generations of those who love him and live accordingly.

We also hear of Thomas who wasn’t present that first Easter evening and he had grave doubts about this rumor of resurrection.  So now it came to the week after Easter, this week, the disciples are still playing it safe behind locked doors.  Jesus appears and he accommodates Thomas’ need to stick his finger into Jesus wounds.  In a painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt, Jesus and Thomas are standing in the center of the painting.  The other disciples are gathered off to the side in semi-darkness.  Jesus’ showed Thomas his scars.  Suddenly, he who had been in darkness of doubt, is standing in the light. He is taken aback in surprise, exclaim, “My Lord and my God.”  He grasps that he is born again to a living hope through Jesus death and resurrection.  With the new life, he has an inheritance which will never decay, never be stained by evil and with will remain free from ravages of time.  A treasure stored in heaven for him.

We have the same living hope.  An inheritance of perfect salvation, to be revealed when Christ returns.  Think of what that means in the context of our world.  Last week a man walked up to two workers for Laclede gas and shot them and killed himself afterward.  Think of the utter hopelessness in which so many live today.  This happens repeatedly.  Or consider a person who was invited to join a Christian online site.  She responded, “Thank you for the invitation, but I’m a militant atheist and proud.”  That is her hope, but it’s all based in herself.  Ultimately that hope will take her nowhere but the grave.  But we have a hope that is kept in heaven for us, guarded, not by what I can convince myself is true, but guarded by God’s power.  Therefore, we are able, not just to be happy, but to rejoice with joy beyond words because we are obtaining salvation based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ who gave his life that we might live.  Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for such a mega mercy.

 

 

Solomon on Science Day

1 Kings 4:29-34

29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment; the breadth of his understanding was as infinite as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon was wiser than all the men of the east and all the sages of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than any man…  He was famous in all the neighboring nations. 32 He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. 33 He produced manuals on botany, describing every kind of plant, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows on walls. He also produced manuals on biology, describing animals, birds, insects, and fish. 34 People from all nations came to hear Solomon’s display of wisdom; they came from all the kings of the earth who heard about his wisdom.

Joab Rebukes David

After Absalom’s rebellion was quashed and Absalom was killed, David went into deep mourning for his rebellious son, but neglected his duties as king to reunite his nation.  He didn’t immediately return to Jerusalem.  Things were coming unglued as he continued to be absorbed in his grief.  Therefore Joab, David’s chief of staff and military commander, stepped in to rouse his king to get back to being the nation’s leader.

A leader must prayer for strength when events tempt one to self pity and despair.

2 Samuel 19:1-7

19 Joab was told that the king was crying and mourning Absalom. So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops because they heard that day that the king was grieving for his son. So that day the troops crept back into the city like soldiers creep back ashamed after they’ve fled from battle. The king covered his face and cried out in a loud voice, “Oh, my son Absalom! Oh, Absalom, my son! My son!”

Joab came to the king inside and said, “Today you have humiliated all your servants who have saved your life today, not to mention the lives of your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your secondary wives, by loving those who hate you and hating those who love you! Today you have announced that the commanders and their soldiers are nothing to you, because I know that if Absalom were alive today and the rest of us dead, that would be perfectly fine with you! Now get up! Go out and encourage your followers! I swear to the Lord that if you don’t go out there, not one man will stick with you tonight—and that will be more trouble for you than all the trouble that you’ve faced from your youth until now.”

Easter Wednesday

 

Psalm 96:12, “Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

This is truly the time of year when the trees are full of music.  The newly birthed mustard green oak leaves rustle in the breeze.  Music flows from robins and cardinals resting in the branches.  The great horned owls add their base line antiphonally calling, “hoo, hoo hroot.’  Soon the percussive woodpeckers will join in ratta tatting.  Silently, maple helicopters spin confetti out of the sky.

It wasn’t long ago that we gazed on the barren tree which held our Lord, set among a forest of three.  Did the buzzard circle waiting for the dirge of death?  Did the crow alight on that tree and caw?

Now the trees of that forest stand empty.  Now the trees of the garden are alive with singing.  Now our lord is risen and walks in the forest to meet Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.  Now his voice is added to the chorus, “Tell of his salvation from day to day.” Join with all the earth in singing to the greatness of the Lord, to his spender and majesty.  Sing heavens and earth.  Let the sea add its roar. The Lord has come, was dead and is now alive.  He comes to judge the nations in uprightness and faithfulness to his promises.

 

Easter Monday

 

Psalm 100 is appointed for Easter Monday, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth, Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing.”  We certainly did that yesterday and the psalm calls upon us to continue the celebration.

Exodus 15, the OT lesson for the day, takes us back to Israel’s response to crossing the Red Sea describing the scene, “At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap…” and then when the Egyptians saw their chance and followed into the gap, “You blew with your wind; the sea covered; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.”  What joy.

But then we come to the Gospel, where we join two downcast and bewildered disciples taking a walk to Emmaus, trying to figure out how things could possibly have gone so wrong in one week.  From the heights of the welcome to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to being driven out of the city to the hill of crucifixion on Friday.  Then there was that rumor of the women who went to Jesus tomb that morning, but they didn’t find the body.  They returned to the group talking about an angel appearing, telling them that Jesus was alive.

For many, perhaps for ourselves, entering into the presence of the Lord yesterday with singing seems a long ago memory.    The key to continuing joy is in the stranger who joined them on their walk.  He was walking and talking with them.  He was present when they ate.  He opened the scriptures to them.  For us, today Jesus is still alive, walking with us, talking to us through scripture, present with us when eat and when we sleep.

Christ is Risen!  He is risen, indeed! That is as valid today as it was yesterday.

The Sunday that Shook the World

 

The Easter gospel for this year is from Matthew 28.  The text brings to my mind the old 50’s Rock and Roll songs of “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis’ song “Whole Lot a Shaking Going On.”  Now neither of the songs have anything to do with Jesus resurrection, but they do describe the events of that weekend as recorded in Matthew.

The shaking started on Friday afternoon when Jesus cried out with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  Matthew reports that the 4 inch thick curtain that curtained off the Holy of Holies was ripped in two from top to bottom.  “And the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

Tombs were cave like, dug into the rock.  The seismic action split the rock tombs. However, the Friday quake was a pre-shock to the major quake on Sunday morning.

The Sunday morning shaking is described as a mega – quake that accompanied the descent of the angel of the Lord who rolled back the stone and sat on it.  “Take that you chief priests and Pharisees, for trying to secure the tomb against God’s intervention in the deadly affairs of humanity.”

But it was more than the earth which was all shook up.  There was a whole lot of shaking going on, as the guards quaked in their sandals and fell like dead men.  To the women who came, the angel said, “He is not here, for he has risen.”  And when Jesus himself met them, he said, “Go and tell.”

 

Maundy Thursday Thoughts

 

On Maundy Thursday, we think of Jesus’ instituting the Lord’s Supper during the Passover meal in the upper room.

But the Gospel of John records some other events during the meal.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  Ambrose, the fourth century bishop of Milan wrote,

“Jesus, I wish you would let me wash your feet, since it was through walking about in me that you soiled them.  I wish you would give me the task of wiping the stains from your feet, because it was my behavior that put them there.  But where can I get the running water I need to wash your feet?  If I have no water, at least I have tears.”

 

Jesus said: “You are my friends, if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants.”  “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

An African-American spiritual responds:

I tol’ Jesus it would be all right,

if he changed my name.

Jesus tol’ me I would have to live humble,

if he changed my name.

Jesus tol’ me that the world would be ‘gainst me,

If he changed my name.

But I tol’ Jesus it would be all right-

If he changed my name.

 

This year the Passover falls during the same week as Holy Week.

Philo, the first century Jewish writer from Alexandria, Egypt wrote: The beginning of the Passover is half-way through the month, the fourteenth day, when the moon is at its full, to show that there is no darkness on this day, but that it is full of light, the sun shining from the dawn to the evening, and the moon from the evening to the dawn.

 

Name Changes

 

What if your name was: Etiasethevas; or Asebas?  Doesn’t mean much, does it? Well, those are descriptions of us in Romans 5:6.  In English your name would be Stillweak, and Ungodly. Who would want such names?  As we read on in Romans 5:6-11, we find other names,  Etiamartolos – Stillsinner (v. 8) and Echthros – Enemy.

However, St. Paul writes that even while we carried those names and behaved accordingly, “Christ died for us.”  Now we can carry the name, Dikaiothentes – Justified or Sothasometha – Saved (v.9).  In verse 10 and 11 is another name, Katallagentes – Reconciled.

What a difference a day makes.  As you approached your baptism, you were named, Stillweak, Ungodly, Stillsinner and Enemy.  After the pastor applied the water and the word of baptism, you left behind the old names having been renamed, Justified, Saved, and Reconciled.

That name change happened because of a couple of other days that made a difference, the day Jesus died and the day he arose from the dead.

God Promotes a Failure

 

Sometimes we hear of a CEO who failed in his responsibility to grow the corporation.  But what happens, sometimes that person is promoted or at least gets a golden parachute.  That’s what God did with the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 49:1-7

Isaiah wants the ends of the earth to hear what God did even when he considered himself a failure.  God had chosen him from before he was born to be his special servant. But…

49:4 “I put in all this demanding work; for what?  Nothing!  I haven’t accomplished anything.  I’m going put my situation in the Lord’s hands and see what reward he has in store for me.”

49:6 – The Lord said, “What I gave you to do, to bring back my people to me, that was too easy.  You need a bigger job. I’m going to make you my light to the nations.  You will be responsible to save people all over the world.”

Those are not only words which might encourage us when we think it’s all been for nothing.  But the epistle for the Tuesday of Holy Week, I Corinthians 1: 18-31, tells of what appeared to be God’s biggest failure in choosing Jesus Christ to be the Savior. He ended up dying on the cross.  But Paul says, the crucifixion of Jesus is his most powerful message.  Rather than a lost cause, Jesus’ crucifixion is the wisest and most powerful thing God ever did.  Though the word of the cross is foolishness and weakness to some to those who believe it is salvation.  if believers in Christ want something to boast about, boast about what Jesus did for all the people of the world.

 

Monday of Passion Week, 2017

 

We have two ears and one mouth, use them according, we are told.  But I suspect, we would rather have other people use their two ears to hear what my mouth has to say.

Isaiah, 50:4 The Lord has given me the tongue of those who are taught…Morning by morning he awakens my ear to hear…

But if we continue to read vs. 4-9, we learn that it’s not only his ears and tongue which the Servant employs in service to the Lord in sustaining the weary.  He engages his full body in service.  He didn’t turn his back on the Lord, but turned it toward his abusers, toward the bullies.  He offers his back to the scourger.  He offers his cheeks to those who will grab his beard and pull out fistfuls of hair.  He will endure the humiliation of spittle running down his face.

Through all the humiliating insult and abuse, he will not curse torturers.  The Servant knows that God knows that he is innocent.  When God knows I’m innocent, who will find me guilty.

No wonder we think of Jesus when we read these verses.  The reading could well have included vs. 11, But all of you light fires and arm yourselves with flaming torches.  So, walk in your own light and among the torches you have lit. So it was among those who arrived in the garden on Thursday night to arrest him.

Verse 10 calls us to trust in the same God as our Savior. Let those who walk in darkness and have no light trust the name of the Lord and depend upon their God.