Personal Psalms

 

I read Psalms 34-41 this morning.  These psalms are intensely personal.

Psalm 35, particularly caught my attention.  The author is already in trouble at the very beginning as he asks the Lord, “Contend…with those who contend with me…say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

There may be times when we sense that people are setting a “Gotcha trap.”  V. 7 “Unprovoked they have hidden a net to catch me, unprovoked they have dug a pit to trap me.”

He continues in verses 11-12, “Malicious witnesses come forward and question me on matters of which I know nothing. They return me evil for good, lying in wait to take my life.”

As for his part, (13-14) “Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth, I mortified myself with fasting. When my prayer (for them) came back unanswered, I walked with head bowed in grief as if for a brother; as one in sorrow for his mother I lay prostrate in mourning.”

In return for his mourning others as if they were closest family his pursuers reacted with schadenfreude when he had set backs, (15-16), “But when I stumbled, they crowded round rejoicing…unknown assailants jeered at me.  When I slipped, they mocked and derided me, grinding their teeth.” And in verse 21, “They open their mouths and shout at me, ‘Hurrah!  What a sight for us to see!’”

Prayer: Lord God, you rose to the aid of your beloved Son against those who unjustly sought his life.  Look on your Church as we journey to you, and rescue the poor from their oppressors, that they may tell of your righteousness and your praise; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The True Headwaters of the River of Life

Pentecost 2017 John 7:37-39

 

It may have been in 1975, that our young family emerged from a stand of Red Pine at Itasca State Park in Minnesota to splash across the Mississippi River at its headwaters.  However, discovering the headwaters was not so easy.   After several people followed the wrong streams, finally in 1832, Henry Schoolcraft discovered the true headwaters of the Mississippi River.  He named the lake, Itasca, meaning “True Head.”  In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus invites people to come to him as the true headwaters of the River of Life.  The scene for our text is the temple in Jerusalem, during Jesus’ ministry.  For the crowds gathered in the temple at Jerusalem, many missed the True Headwaters of the River of Life, but some found it in Jesus.

It was early October, the Feast of Booths.  The festival, remembered Israel’s journey in the wilderness and specifically the time Moses struck a rock and waters flowed quenching the parched throats of the Israelites.  Centuries later Solomon dedicated the newly build temple during the feast.   Part of the festival included prayers offered to God to send the winter rains, that the grain would sprout, grow and ripen in time for Pentecost.  And…there was an expectation that the Messiah would come.

For seven days, priests carried a golden pitcher of water up to the temple and poured it over the altar.  On the seventh day, they circled the altar seven times while the crowds waved bundles of myrtle and willow twigs.  The choir sang, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”    And when the Messiah arrived, “water would gush from below the threshold of the temple.”

However, there was a distraction. A man from the north, named Jesus, was teaching in the temple. He was the center of controversy.  The rumor mill was working overtime.  Some had heard that the Samaritans, of all people, believed in him.  However, some of his own disciples had recently left him.  Others’ like Peter thought that Jesus had the words of eternal life.  Some among the religious leaders were seeking to kill him.   Even his own brothers did not believe in him.  Opinions ranged from Jesus being a good man to one possessed by demons.  Other people wondered whether he might be a prophet or even the Christ.

Amid all the hubbub Jesus stood up and shouted, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  He was the true headwaters of the Rivers of Life who would quench the thirst of parched spirits.  No longer would they need to carry water up the hill to the temple.   For he, Jesus, was the temple, the center of worship and the source of the River of Life that would rehydrate parched lives filling them with eternal life. Filling lives with the same living water he offered the Samaritan woman at the well.

Sometimes I find myself tired and weak and in need of a nap.  But then I finally figure out I need to drink some water.  At times we become spiritually dehydrated, past sins pop into our minds, we become irritated and snap at someone, we worry about our life and our work.

One of the songs associated with the late country western singer Eddie Arnold was “Cool Water.” That song describes parched spiritual condition.

All day we faced the barren waste

Without the taste of water, cool clear water.

Old Dan and I with throats burnt dry

And souls that cry for water,

Cool clear water.

 

Therefore, the thirsty come to the true headwaters to drink of the rRver of Life, that is, believe in Jesus, for from him flows the words of eternal life.  When Jesus stood and proclaimed shouting, “If anyone thirsts let him come to me,” it was the seventh and great day of the festival.  A great day, indeed. I can imagine that for some, the festival had become another tradition, “yeah, we do this every year.  We’ve been doing this for a thousand years.  And still the Messiah hasn’t shown up.”  Jesus proclamation reenergized the greatness of the day.  “Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Jesus awakens us to our need for spiritual satisfaction.  HeeHe also provides the Holy Spirit to lead us to himself, the true headwaters.  To paraphrase Luther, “The Holy Spirit has (quenched my thirst) by the gospel.”

On this Day of Pentecost, this day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit leads us to the cross where, as Jesus was about to give up his spirit, cried, “I thirst.” He cried on behalf of all people.  Earlier Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”   All people thirst for something and they may not even understand that they are thirsting for what God has to offer. There is a scene in a movie about Jesus crucifixion that I find particularly moving.  Jesus is hanging on the cross.  A stream of blood and water flows from his side. Of course, it’s raining and his blood commingles with the water forming a stream which goes out to cover the whole earth.  In Missouri at St. James and at Montauk park. At the base of a rock wall a pool of water forms.  The pool is fed by springs running from deep in the earth and issuing out as a fully formed river. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I have drunk from that river of life flowing from the deep love of God.  In baptism, the flow of the river of living water is now flowing in us and through us.  Notice I said, “through us.”

Think of your heart being in the shape of a Pool of living water.  It’s filled to the brim with pure water, alive with the love of God’s Holy Spirit, compassion, gentleness, mercy and forgiveness.  The pool is constantly overflowing because the source of the living love of God flows from deep within God himself and never runs dry.   From the pool of your heart, out flows the living water into the lives of others.

Now we are the source of living water for a world that is parched and dying.  We are a “Channel,” “conduit,” or “vessel” is more like it.  We become a channel for God’s blessings, a conduit for the water of life to flow through.  That’s Jesus goal, you will be a vessel for bringing the life and love of Jesus into the lives of others.  Now streams of living water flowing out from us bless those around us.  In the coming week, don’t damn up the flow but it run freely into the lives of those you contact.  Because in the book of Isaiah we read, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” And we are filled with that thirst quenching water of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember Me, Not My Misdeeds

 

I was reading Psalm 25 this evening.  It’s the Psalm the LCMS has chosen to be used on Pentecost this year.  Verse 7 caught my attention, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness.”

While pondering that verse, I checked into Facebook and found the following posted by a relative of my wife.  “Sometimes I really wish I could go back in time and fix whatever mistakes I’ve made that hurt another.”  I referred her to the psalm verse quoted above.

The psalmist is asking God to act toward him according to his and never -ending-love which has characterized God for ancient times.  On the other hand, he asks God to not act upon (remember) his youthful sins and transgressions. Rather, based on his steadfast love he wants God to remember “me” as a person, not only as a sinner and law breaker.

We all find that things we did in our younger days can rise up to haunt us and accuse us.  Almost invariably there is nothing we can do about those past misdeeds or misspoken words.  However, acting not on our sins, but out of the love which led Jesus to bear the sins of our youth and old age, god would, through His Holy Spirit teach us to walk in his paths and his ways.

The psalmist asks in v. 11, “for your name’s sake, O Lord pardon my guilt, for it is great.”  Sometimes our guilt even outweighs the wrong we might have done.  Therefore in v. 18 the psalmist asks God to consider how his guilt afflicts him and how he is troubled and turn to him with forgiveness of all his sins.

We find ourselves on the cross beside Jesus pleading, “Jesus, remember me which you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers were there

 

In the middle of the First lesson for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, from Acts 1:12-26, we read in verse 14, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to pray, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers.”  I suspect that when we read that lesson last Sunday we simply passed over the presence of Mary and Jesus’ brothers.  Of course, they were there.

However, the Gospel lesson in the LCMS for Pentecost is John 7:37-39.  Jesus is teaching in the temple during the Feast of Booths.  He does so amid a rumor mill working overtime regarding his identity.  Even though people were seeking to kill him his brothers urged him to go to Judea and show himself to the world.  Then John writes, “For not even his brothers believed in him.”  (John 7:50) So, when his brothers went up to Jerusalem, Jesus didn’t go with them, but went by himself.

Somewhere during the latter part of Jesus’ ministry his family did come to believe in him. Thus, when we come to the gospel lesson for Trinity Sunday, Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus sends his disciples into all the world, with no qualifications as to who was Gospel worthy.

I think of a man who lived only a couple of doors down from the church where I was pastor.  The secretaries informed me that he had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital, however, “there was no use in going to see him, he won’t want to see you.”  I said, “I’ll let him decide if he wants me to visit or not.”  So, I went to see him.  He was receptive.  I asked if I could pray with him.  He accepted.  And about the second or third visit I brought communion.

I can’t remember why he was upset with the congregation, and I don’t think he ever talked about it.  But he did return to church.

Know

 

Since I preached on John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” I concentrated on the knowing eternal in that verse.

But I was struck anew as we read the readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter how many times know was emphasized in the texts.   It happens quite often that new insights arise as the texts are being read during worship.  Sometimes I think I should discard my sermon and go in a different direction.  Perhaps there are pastors who could do that on the spur of the moment, but that simply would not work for me, that’s not my gift.

Jesus goes onto pray to his Father, in v. 6, “I have made manifest (made known) your name.”  V. 7, “Now they know…” v. 8, (They) have come to know the truth that I come from you.”

In the Introit, Psalm 100:2, “Know that the Lord is God!” From the Psalm for the day, Psalm 25, we read in v. 4, “Make me to know your ways O Lord.”

These uses of “know” point to a deep relationship with God in which the believer experiences the presence of God and deepens one’s own faith.

In the First lesson from Acts 1, it’s the Lord who knows the larger group of disciples.  The disciples need to pick a replacement for Judas.  “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two (Barsabbas or Matthias) you have chosen…”

All of this “Knowing” leads to the declaration from Psalm 11, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

To Know Him is to have Life, Life, Life.

Easter 7 2017, Conant/Pinckneyville John 17:1-11

In 1958 three Los Angeles high school graduates formed a trio called the Teddy Bears and recorded a song, which became a no. 1 hit. They sang: “To know, know, know you, is to love, love, love you.”  Now this song had nothing to do with religion, but did have to do with a relationship in which one person had a deep three – fold knowing of another person which resulted in a three –  fold love.

Our text for today tells of a deep relationship with our three – fold loving God, resulting in life, life, life.  The scene is Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples.  He has washed their feet, sent Judas into the night of his’ betrayal, promised the disciple a helper, the Holy Spirit.  Now, within the flow of meal time conversation, he prays to His Father saying, “This is everlasting life- to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You sent.”  That’s right.  To know God as the only true God and His Son Jesus Christ, is life, life, life.

Time and time again, in the Old Testament God’s actions have the goal in mind that his people, “will know that I am God.’” Not just knowing the right answers in the catechism, not merely a Sunday morning nodding acquaintance with God, not simply knowing that our God is an awesome God.  Rather it’s knowing, knowing, knowing that His work for us, Jesus Christ, restores his close relationship with us as Creator, Caregiver and saving Father.  We are restored to our original family after being lost for so many years.

Preparations for our welcome home began in the Garden of Eden. One day during his evening walk, God couldn’t find his friends Adam and Eve.  God became like a parent calling to a child or a wife calling her husband on his cell phone asking, “Where are you?”  We know, don’t we?  They are hiding in the woods.  They have munched on the forbidden fruit hanging from the branch which suddenly appeared attractive, nutritious, delicious, and a health food for the mind.   God had told them it was deadly poisonous. But the serpent told them It would make them like God, wise in the ways of life. They did become wise.  They discovered that they were naked and for some strange reason that knowledge filled them with guilt, shame, and fear.  They now knew, knew, knew evil as a firsthand personal experience.   So, it is for you and me their sons and daughters.  They would now be cast out of that perfect paradise into a world of pain, sweat, toil and finally, dust.  Yet, they went out with a promise in their pocket.  Down the road, at some time, a woman through the pain of giving birth, would bear an offspring who would stomp on that serpent’s head even while the serpent sank its poisonous fangs into her son’s heel.

Centuries later, God heard moaning arising from the valley of the Nile river.  It was his people enslaved in Egypt.  Now Pharaoh would come to know, know, know it was the Lord God who was working through Moses in a series of inundations of frogs, gnats, flies, boils, hail and locusts, the night of death followed by Pharaoh’s disastrous military action at the Red Sea.  Pharaoh came to know the wrath of God.  But God wanted his people to come to know him as their Savior and Keeper.   They could count on his commitment to them.  So later, when Moses informed God of the grumbling rumbling through the camp of the ex-slaves, the Lord rained down bread upon them in the morning and quails at twilight so that they would “know that I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  They came to know God through the honey taste of manna on their tongues and the smell of roast quail.   So, it is for us, this morning we already have tasted the goodness of the Lord through our breakfast and will again at lunch and supper.

However, just as we often scarf down our daily bread without so much as a thought about who provided all our bounty, so it was for his people Israel.  The book of Isaiah begins with a trial.  God acts as the prosecutor pleading the case to a jury, “Listen, heaven; pay attention earth! I raised my children and helped them grow, but they rebelled against me.  Oxen know their owners, and donkeys know where their masters feed them.  But Israel doesn’t know its owner.”

How will it come about, as we read in the Introit, that we will “know that the Lord he is God!” That “It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture?”  John tells us near the beginning of his gospel, “The Word became flesh.” God lived in our midst full of grace and truth.  And to know Jesus is to know God.

Throughout, the Gospel of John we come to know Jesus with all our senses.  John the Baptist calls out for our hearing and seeing, the image of a romping lamb, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Jesus’ ministry is barely underway when he attends a wedding.  He saved the day when the wine ran short providing a better wine than that which came from the local vineyards for, of course, he is the vine.  So, this morning Jesus provides us with the best wine, that we might taste and see the goodness of the Lord.   It’s the best wine, not because you paid $500 a bottle, but because Jesus enters the wine and makes it a cup of salvation.  On another day, Jesus calls himself the temple of the Lord, “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.”  Of course, we know he was speaking of his body and his resurrection from the dead.  Strangely, He compared himself to a serpent.  That one which Moses lifted upon a pole in the wilderness so that whoever looked on the serpent would live.   He makes the comparison that whoever looks on him and believes will have everlasting life.  On another day, He broke the taboo of talking to a Samaritan woman at a well presenting himself as the water of life.  He is the water which quenches all thirst and gives everlasting life.  Elsewhere he said, He is the bread from heaven replacing the manna in the wilderness.  He is the bread which gives everlasting life.  In Holy Communion, today as we eat the wafer, we will be eating the Bread from heaven given for you for life and salvation.

Thus, we come to know God through Jesus Christ, the water of life, the temple of God, the finest wine and filling bread. Now so strengthened, He has put his work in our hands.  We are his presence in the world to do for the world, what He has done for us.  For this is his promise, “They will do even greater things because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus has ascended and next Sunday we celebrate His Holy Spirit who helps us continue his work that we and the world might know, know, know him and have life, life, life in his name.

 

 

Interludes

 

The lessons for Ascension and the 7th Sunday of Easter are about interludes.  In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples and us.  He is at an interlude between the Passover meal and his going to the cross where he will glorify His Heavenly Father by completing his mission of salvation and going back to the Father.  In Acts 1, after he ascends, back to the Father, the disciples stand gawking up into heaven.  Two men tell them that Jesus will return as he came.  They need to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

As I think back fifty years Becky and I were at an interlude in the spring of 1967.  In April I received my assignment to St. Martin’s in Winona, MN.  So, we knew where we would be going, but would have to wait for my graduation on May 26th and ordination in June.  We were also planning to be married the evening after I graduated, yet Becky had finals at Southeast Missouri State the next week.  For the next several weeks we were at interludes.  We wouldn’t be moving to Winona until early July and settling into a home.  We were married, and I had been ordained, but it was only when I was installed that we really started living our life together.

One of the things that the texts for Ascension and the end of the Easter season remind us that God is there in all the interludes of our life.  In fact, we live in the interlude between his ascension and his return.  In a very real sense, all of life is an interlude, waiting for the next chapter to be revealed.

Ascension Day 2017 One morning, on Ascension Day I had chapel for the Day Care children at Immanuel. But what does one do that stays within the attention span of about 45 preschoolers? Ah a balloon might do the trick. Schnucks supermarkets have balloons for parties etc. I didn’t expect to find one for Ascension. At last I noticed one which said, “Welcome home, we missed you.” The woman at the counter blew it up and I had her attach about 15 feet of ribbon. This morning I talked about Christmas and Jesus coming to us as a baby. Then I shifted to Easter and Jesus resurrection A large wood cross stood in the front of the sanctuary draped with a white cloth. Then I went to the balloon. Ascension Day is when Jesus went back to his heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. I slowly let out the ribbon as the balloon rose to the ceiling. I said, I could imagine them saying to Jesus, “Welcome home, we missed you.” In the epistle lesson, we do read, “Seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” One can imagine that Ascension Day must have been a time of great celebration among the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Psalm 110 1 reads, “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the Trumpet. Almighty God, as your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Seeking God

 

When Paul preached in Athens, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers regarded his message of the resurrection as the babbling of one who has picked up seeds of this idea and that and was passing them off as something worth hearing.  To both groups the gods had no interest in human beings.  The idea of a bodily resurrection was utter foolishness.

However, Paul tells them that the God who created the world and everything in it was not far off from anyone.  In fact, God created humans to be seekers of God hoping that they might feel their way toward him and find him.  Paul paraphrases Job, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”  He also refers to a Greek poet quoting, “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Paul continues that since we are God’s flesh and blood offspring it doesn’t make sense that God would be made of metal or stone in an image fashioned by his own offspring.  Rather God is very much involved in the life of the world.  He is calling people to turn away from their own ideas and turn toward him.  God has even sent a man to back up his claims on his offspring.  Though the man died, he also raised him from the dead and in the light of this resurrection God will judge the world in rightness.

The prayer for this week reflects some of Paul’s thinking:

O God, the giver of all that is good, by your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

Babbling the Gospel

 

What first caught my ear in the first reading for yesterday from Acts 17:16 – 23 was the question, “What does this babbler wish to say?”  The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers characterize him as a chattering bird picking up seeds of ideas, slogans, scraps of learning and then espousing half-backed ideas.

The Epicureans believed that happiness was attained by living like the gods who had no concern for humans but lived in a state of blissful tranquility not shaken by poverty, pain, and fear.  At death the soul disintegrated, and that was the end.

The Stoics believed that virtue was the only good and vice the only evil.  Suppress the passions and live by reason, then law that pervades the universe.

Others, thought he was a preacher of two foreign divinities one named Jesus and the other Anastasis (Resurrection).  So, it is today that the preaching of the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection is often heard differently than the preacher intends.  People find reincarnation more appealing than Resurrection.

The entrance verses from Psalm 119 give us guidance and encouragement in the face of society’s doubt and misunderstanding, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”