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?


Holy Cross Day


The epistle for Holy Cross Day is I Corinthians 1:18-21.  In verse 23 Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”  What kind of god would save people through the cruelty of a crucifixion?

Wouldn’t it have been easier and more popular to have a superhero savior who at the last minute freed himself from the cross, pulled it out of the ground and used it to pulverize his enemies?  Wouldn’t Communion be more appealing with a cup of coffee and a crème filled chocolate covered doughnut?  Wouldn’t it be more appealing to hear that deep down inside we’re all okay after all?

But God has made the cross the thing.  In a display of foolishness and weakness God showed his power and wisdom through Christ crucified.  An instrument of death is become an instrument of life.

The psalm for the Day, Psalm 98, is also a psalm used at Christmas and Easter. “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”

Merciful God, your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, one God, now and forever.


A Couple of Thoughts

If being a career politician is such a bad thing, why are millions being spent on illogical ads by people who want to become career politicians?
There is the matter of the exfootball quarterback and Nike shoes. One person, a former parishioner, was so upset that he said he was getting sick. I find that when I am upset putting on my “Nikes” and going for a half hour walk is calming. My walking takes me through a cemetery where I can remember that we humans aught not to take ourselves so seriously. The cemetery reminds me that one day, as Job said in 17:1, “My days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me.”
Our hope is not in our political stance nor in those who are or would be career politicians, but in Jesus who for us and for our salvation “made his grave with the wicked.” and rose again that we too might rise leaving our sins behind and claiming our full sainthood.

Creation and Our Behavior


The Sunday paper contained an article about a large boom being launched into the Pacific to tackle a trash patch between the West Coast and Hawaii twice the size of Texas.  The OT lesson this week, Isaiah 35:1-7, reinforces the strong connection between human behavior and the land. Not everyone in our society is able to accept that biblical truth.

Israel is experiencing a dire situation of helplessness, hopelessness, quaking fear and racing heart beats.  The text doesn’t attach itself to a specific situation.  We can apply it to ourselves when we face similar conditions.

Suddenly, the prophet promises, the desert and the dry land will rejoice and blossom as bubbling springs, pools and streams break forth.  Animals will also leap for joy and find rest there.  Then people too will have hope in the Lord, they will lift drooping hands, quaking knees with be strengthened, the eyes of the blind will see the glory of the Lord at work, the deaf will hear God’s promises, and those without voice will shout.

When Jesus was on the cross the sky darkened and upon his death the earth quaked as it also did at his resurrection.  Paul promises that nothing in all creation can separate us from Jesus Christ.  Indeed, the whole creation waits for humanity’s redemption.  St. John promises, that we are God’s children now.  What we will be hasn’t been made fully apparent.  But when Christ suddenly appears we shall be like him, we and all creation.

The creation belongs to God as we ourselves do.  Take care of our home.


Merciful Ears


“Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help…Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard my pleas for mercy.”  (Ps. 28:2 & 6)

The Prayer of the Day picks up the theme of hearing and mercy.  “O Lord, let your merciful ears be open to the prayers of your humble servants.”  When we pray for mercy, God hears with merciful ears.

But we have another request.  “Grant that what we ask may be in accord with Your gracious will.” We recognize that “your humble servant” may want the Lord to act according to my will.  Therefore, we not only ask that the Lord listen with merciful ears, but that God would also grant us the gift of praying for what accords with the Lord’s will, lest your humble servant turn out to be not so humble.

With the gift of humble prayer, I can declare, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts and I am helped.”  Then I can exult and with a song in my heart give thanks to the Lord. (Ps. 28:7)

Practicing Radical Ideas


In Deuteronomy 15 we read of radical economics.  “In regard to the poor who live in the land which the Lord has given you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand.  They are your relatives.  And if the debt isn’t repaid in seven years, forgive it. And don’t do it grudgingly.” Nothing is ever said about whether the poor deserve help.  The early church tried to put such radical economics into practice, and it worked.  No one had more or less than they needed; until a married couple said that they had given everything they owned but hadn’t done so.  Greed got in the way.  Then there was division between the Greek speaking believers and Hebrew speaking over food for widows.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, if we look for an ideal church which is perfect, then we are in trouble because we have taken our eyes off Christ.  There is no ideal group, save in the perfection of Jesus Christ.  Whatever good we may try to practice each day, at the end of the day we do well to say, “I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong.”


Stand Firm in the Lord

Pentecost 15, 2018, Ruma/Evansville, Il Ephesians 6:10-20

We have entered that season when wars are being fought on the gridirons across the nation.  The one thing that the offensive line coach and the quarterback wants is for the line to stand firm, and hold their ground against the onslaught of the defensive line and linebackers.

If there is one thing that St. Paul wants the church to do is to stand, stand firm, and withstand the onslaught of schemes launched by our enemy the devil and the powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil.  Our watch word this morning is: Stand firm in the Lord.

We can trace the image of standing firm in the Lord all the way back to the time of Moses when the people of Israel were not standing firm but cowering with their backs to the Red Sea, trapped between the waters and Pharaoh’s army.  The people of Israel lifted their eyes; filled with fear and cried out to Moses, “What have you gotten us into?  We told you it was a bad idea to leave Egypt.”  And Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation, the deliverance, of the Lord which he will work for you today…”  In reality, the Lord was leading the Egyptians into a trap which would finish them off.  The Lord had already beaten them.  It started when the Hebrew women outsmarted the Egyptians order to kill all baby boys and saved them.  It continued with all the plagues he sent, and finally, the death of the firstborn male in every Egyptian family, in the flocks and herds as the angel of death passed over.  Pharaoh’s attacking army was their last gasp effort to keep the Israelites enslaved.  At God’s command, Moses lifted his staff over the waters.  The sea parted, and Israel marched across on dry land. The people joined in singing to the Lord, “For he has triumphed gloriously, the Lord is my strength…He has become my salvation.”

That was all a prelude to Jesus glorious victory over sin, death and the devil.  St. Paul applies the triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ to his church, gathered throughout the world to hear his word and praise him for his deliverance from all the spiritual forces of evil. It all began when Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem.  It continued following his baptism when he was led into the wilderness to take on the devil and his schemes.  This was the pattern for Jesus whole life battling against sin and death and cleansing people of unclean spirits.  All the way to the cross he took on the forces, seen and unseen which keep us out of God’s gracious rule.  Therefore, stand firm in the Lord

Though the devil and forces of evil were defeated in the cross and resurrection, they still can attack us.  Feeble as their strength may be it is still too much for us just as Pharaoh’s army was too much for the Israelites unless the Lord provided the victory.  Until the church is gathered around God’s throne in heaven we are vulnerable to attack by the forces of evil using our weaknesses against us. In a Friday morning Bible Class I teach, we are studying the lives of Jacob and Joseph in Genesis.  These stories portray God’s people who are often deceitful and involved in highly questionable moral behavior.  Bob commented Friday, “It seems the line of people who are Jesus’ ancestors are a bunch of misfits.”  “Yes,” I said.  “And the disciples were misfits,” Bob added. I said, “Yes, and now he’s got us.”  A church goer said after the church one Sunday, “I didn’t like that service.”  Someone replied, “that’s all right if you didn’t like it, we weren’t worshiping you.”   With reason we prayed in our Collect Prayer, that God would “bring to completion every one of our good intents.”  When I scan back over my life I think of all the times I intended to so something and failed to follow through.  Therefore, we asked God to nourish us with his grace that we might, “bring forth the fruit of good works.”

Wisely, St. Paul says to stand firm in the Lord’s territory, that is the territory of the resurrection.  To find our strength not in ourselves, but in the Lord, who is in us and we in him, united with us, battling against the forces of evil until that day he puts them under his feet when he returns in power again.  In the meantime, Paul encourages to put on the armor which we already possess which will enable us to stand firm. He uses the image of a fully equipped Roman soldier.

But when did we the church get these items of protection?  Well, I got mine on a Sunday in June 1941, in a little country church in northwestern Wisconsin, at the same spot where Christ’s people have been given their armor for 2,000 years.  At the baptism font.  Even before we were washed in the water we, answered a series of questions, “Do you renounce the devil…all his works…all his ways?”  When we were baptized we, like Jesus are thrust into battle with the unseen scheming forces seeking to divide us from Christ.

First, put on the belt of truth.  We wrap ourselves in Christ, who is ever faithful to his promises to be with us forever.

Put on the breast plate, the chest protector, of his righteousness.  That is, Christ’s holiness which we received in baptism.  God knows and so do we that we haven’t been holy this past week.  Therefore, in remembrance of our baptism we worship the Lord under the sign of the cross which in baptism was made on our head and our heart to mark us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Now we put on the shoes of the good news of peace in Jesus Christ.  The gospel of peace is for the whole creation, according to God’s plan, peace on earth announced at his birth and peace in heaven proclaimed on Palm Sunday. So, he greeted his disciples with peace in his after-resurrection appearances. And so also, the last words we will hear today before we leave the service are: “The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”

In the shield of faith dipped in the waters of baptism we extinguish the fiery arrows of the evil foe, those doubts. Those why me questions.  Those thoughts of is Jesus really with me in this dark time, in my illness, in the time when life teeters on the edge.

Take the helmet of salvation, which unites us with Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension.

Finally, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.  The sword is the word with which we defend ourselves, as Jesus did when tempted in the wilderness.  For its true heaven and earth may pass away but the word of the Lord will endure forever.  It’s through the word added to the water that gives baptism its power.  It is the word, “this is my body, this is my blood” added to the bread and wine which gives the sacrament its nourishing strength unto eternal life.  It is the word, as Luther wrote in his hymn a Mighty Fortress, the evil foe, is judged, the deed is done one little word can fell him.

As God said to Judah and Jerusalem when all seemed to be lost: “Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. The Lord will be with you.”



Good Intentions


The Prayer of the Day (Collect) for this Sunday begins, “O God of all that is just and good, nourish in us every virtue and bring to completion every good Intent…”  “Bring to completion every good intent.”  When I scan back over my life, I encounter too many times when I had a good intent to do something and then it all evaporated into the ethereal.

True, God is just and good.  But I don’t want his justice against my failed intentions.  I want his justice, In Christ, which comes out of his never-failing goodness.  In Christ and in His goodness, God feeds my intents with the virtue of follow through.  God leads me to “grow in grace and bring forth the fruit of good works.”  Intent maybe the start of a good work, but it is not the same as action.  All this happens “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You, God, and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.”

Listening for the Crunch of Gravel


The man lay beaten, bloody, robbed and left for dead on the Jericho Rd.  Then he heard the crunch of sandal on gravel approaching.  “Would you be my neighbor?” he called to the priest.  Without breaking stride, the priest continued down the 17- mile road from Jerusalem at 2,300 feet above sea level to Jericho, 1,300 feet below sea level. The priest had duties which could not be fulfilled if he became unclean.

Later the man lying crumpled against the wall of rock rising above him, heard the crunch of gravel.  Ah, a Levite, who prepared worship matters for the priest, directed the choir and music.  “Could you be my neighbor?” the mess lying against the rock wall called.  The Levite stopped, but he didn’t have time.  A choir to direct, worship plans to complete.

Now a third crunch of gravel.  The man saw it was a hated and heretical Samaritan, sub human they were.  Any Samaritan felt the same way about a Jew.  But the horrible person stopped, helped, loaded him on his donkey, took him to an inn, stayed the night to care for him, and paid for a month’s stay.

Jesus asked, “Which was the neighbor to the man beaten and robbed?”

Jesus helps us understand who our neighbor is.  He became the hated Samaritan. Our unneighborliness hung him on a cross. He hung beaten and bloody at a crossroad outside Jerusalem where the sandals crunched in the gravel as passersby derided him or ignored him.

Who is our neighbor?  It is not only those who stand alongside and with whom we live, but those who live on the other side of the chasms which we have created.  It may be a political chasm across which we feel free to deride others.  It may be a cultural chasm.  Jesus became our neighbor and now he says, “Go and do likewise.  Love your neighbor as yourself as an expression of the love you profess to have for me.”


Doing Good in the Neighborhood

Luke 10:25-37

10:36-37 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

For years, Mr. Rogers, entered our living rooms via the TV set.  He put on a sweater and sang, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” He invited each child and parent to be his neighbor. “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood extended beyond all boundaries and barriers. The idea for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, could have come from our gospel lesson.

A lawyer asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What must I do?  St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints.”

The Father made us fit inheritors when Jesus rescued us from the power of darkness and moved us into the neighborhood where He is our friend through the forgiveness of sin. What Jesus has done for us is not unlike an athlete who has grown up in a dangerous, poverty-stricken neighborhood. When he signs a professional contract he moves his parents to a safe neighborhood. Jesus has transferred us to the neighborhood where grace and peace light our lives and we live in safety from the perils of God’s judgment upon our sin. Psalm 136 tells us,  “He remembered us when our fortunes were low- for his love endures forever.”

When Jesus asked the expert in the scriptures. “What is written in the Law? How do you recite it?” he was seeking to move the Lawyer to that new neighborhood. The scripture expert knew the catechism by heart, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He had committed himself to total devotion to God, with every ounce of his being. His every inner drive would be devoted to God. With his intelligence he would be thinking of nothing else than loving God. Then, having devoted himself to God completely and totally he would do the same concerning his neighbor. He would do nothing but good in God’s neighborhood.

However, he needs Jesus to clarify something, “Who is my neighbor?” It is hard to do good in God’s neighborhood; if you don’t know the extent of the neighborhood. Then of course, we may know our neighbors, all too well. As a limerick says, “to dwell there above with those we love, oh that will be a glory. To dwell here below with those, we know, well, that’s another story.”

Now Jesus blows our ideas of neighbor and neighborhood all to smithereens. He tells a story of a man who was traveling the notoriously dangerous 17 mile Jericho Road that descended from Jerusalem 2,300 feet above sea level to Jericho, 1,300 feet below sea-level.  A wall of rock on one side and a drop of on the other side. Along the way, some robbers attacked him, beat him, left him bruised and bloodied, stripped naked and stole all he had. They left him for dead.

After a time, he heard the crunch of sandals on gravel. Half opening one swollen eye he saw dimly a priest approaching.  He called out, “Help me. Would you be my neighbor? Won’t you be my neighbor?” However, the priest hardly gave the mess lying by the side of the road a glance.   He went on his way without breaking stride. He didn’t want to risk becoming unclean. After all, he had priestly duties to take care of. The crunch of sandals on gravel receded into the distance.

After a time, the crunching of gravel told of the approach of another man.  Through the slit of what remained of his vision the man saw, a Levite who assisted with all the holy matters happening at the temple and directed the choir and musicians. Through parched lips, the beaten man weakly called, “Would you be mine? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” After stopping to look for a moment, the crunch of gravel receded in the distance.  He was just too busy.

In time, the sound of crunching gravel again caught the man‘s attention a third time. Through his increasingly swollen eye, he saw it was a hated, heretical Samaritan. For a Jew, to interact with a Samaritan was revolting. They were outside the neighborhood in which any God-fearing Jew would ever find himself. They would never live in God’s neighborhood. Still, the Samaritan stopped, came near, tore some of his own clothing into bandages, and poured on soothing oil and cleansing wine. He put him on his donkey. When they came to the inn, he did not just dump the man off and run. He stayed the night caring for him. The next day he paid the Innkeeper a full month’s rent promising that when he passed by again, if there was more expense, he would pay that too.

It’s a wonderful story, one of our favorite parables.  At the end of the story Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”  The problem is, we often don’t.  The lives of others are too messy! Our lives are too busy.  How can we trust those who ask for our help?  Who knows what’s behind their woeful stories?  They may live on the other side of the political chasm that divides us

St. Paul writes of us, “While we were still weak; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies, God made us his friends through the death of Jesus.” He set no limits on his love.

Jesus, is the despised one who has come down the road and spotted us in the wounded nakedness of our need. He took on our wounds.  In the balm of his steadfast love he healed us.  He took on our iniquities.  He himself, received no mercy. He was left to die on the cross, naked, bruised and bloodied at a crossroads outside Jerusalem. “And those who passed by derided him.” Jesus’ crucifixion is in violation of both parts of the commandment. When Christ was hung on the cross we sinned both against God in our failure to love him with our heart, soul and mind, and against our neighbor, Jesus. Christ is the only one who was fully able to love God and neighbor as self. He fulfills the commandment on our behalf. In Christ we find God acting as the true neighbor. Through his love, which knew no bounds, He paid the whole cost of restoring us to life. Now there is nothing more for us re pay save giving thanks to the Lord, for his good and steadfast love that endures forever. There is no one to whom Jesus would not be neighbor. He doesn’t say, “Let’s see if you are the right kind of people.”  He says, “Come unto me all who are loaded down with cares and woes, and I will give you rest.”

But now, Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise.”  We join in Christ’s mission, and serve in his name.  We serve in the messiness and busyness of life.  We serve because he first served. A man once observed Mother Teresa cleaning the wound of a leper.  He turned away in revulsion and said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”  Teresa looked at him and replied, “Neither would I.  But I would do it for Christ.”  Jesus says, “What you do to the least of my brethren you do it to me.” When we answer the call, “Please, won’t you be my neighbor?” Then indeed, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”