Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mark 7:1-14; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; August 26, 2009

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: (Mark 7:1-14, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus is always being confronted by his enemies. They are always looking for ways to accuse him in public. One of the problems we have in understanding this is that we’ve heard these stories so many times we see the title Pharisee and we automatically think “bad guy.” They weren’t the bad guys of the time. They were the good guys. In fact, they were highly respected. The name Pharisee means to be set apart. They were considered folks who lived nearly a perfect life. That’s why we get Mark’s explanation:

For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

Actually you could translate that part about them coming from the market, “they do not eat unless they wash themselves. They considered themselves so close pure and perfect that if they came into contact with regular folks they had to wash the uncleanness off. Now we see this as arrogance. But back then parents wanted there sons to grow up to be Pharisees. People looked at them and thought, “They are really living the way God wants people to live.”

They were only doing what comes naturally to people. God gives his law and we have two possible reactions. First, when we see the demands of God we realize that we can’t keep it. We see our utter hopelessness. If we don’t hear about God’s grace found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we fall into despair. If we never hear the Good News about Jesus coming to keep the law for us, we don’t have anywhere to turn when the law does its full work. There are mountains of people who have been so hurt by law preaching without the Gospel. They are angry with the church over what they think are its demands of perfection. They look at us as hypocrites because they know that no one can keep the demands of the law, and we come across as Pharisees.

The other reaction to the law is that we look at the law and think that we are doing pretty well. This I fear is the most common reaction among us. It is this reaction to the law that pushes us very close to the Pharisees. How often when you hear your preacher talk about the sins of society do you think to yourself, “at least I’m not doing that!” Or “I can’t believe they do that sin.” Dear people of God, it doesn’t matter what sin I speak of, you and I are guilty of it. Jesus always pushes God’s law to our breaking point. He sets the bar so high that no one can reach it. He does this not to push us to despair but to push us to Him as our Savior. It is only in seeing that we are “poor miserable sinners” who “sin in thought word and deed, by what we have done and left undone” that we can see our total need for His work on the cross for us. His death as paying the debt for our sin that we can’t pay. His life lived for us because we cannot live it. The Pharisees had a way around God’s demands in the law. They thought they were protecting God’s laws with extra rules and regulations. They thought they were building a hedge. But instead what they were really doing was making God’s law manageable. It fits Jesus’ example very well. God says, “Honor your father and mother.” The Pharisees allowed a way for you to do that and NOT support them in their old age. “Sorry Pop, I’ve set aside my money for God. I can’t give it to you.” It’s the same thing. “What do you think God thinks of your living together?” “Well Pastor, I think God would want me to be happy.” “I can’t afford to live alone, I’m sure God would want me to be a good manager of my money.” “God forbids divorce.” “But Pastor, God knows what pain I’m in because my spouse doesn’t understand me anymore.” It’s the same thing the Pharisees were doing, and Jesus calls them on it. And Jesus calls you and me on it, too. We make deals with God about our sin. We pretend that we have the exception to the rule because of our situation.

  • · “I can skip church, because I go a lot more that most.”
  • · “It’s not really wrong if I tell that little lie as long as no one is hurt.”
  • · “I can tell the rumor about my friend as long as in the long run they get the help they need.”
  • · “I don’t have time for bible class, I only get so much time of for enjoying the weekend.”
  • “I’m not really cheating. I’d learn the material, I just ran out of time.”
  • · “It’s not really cheating to get the advantage over my competitor by lying about what I can do, after all I have employees to pay.”

You see, our sinful nature is the same as those Pharisees. We do the very same things as they did. We think we are better than others so God will grant us exceptions. We think we keep the law good enough for God to be good to us. And then Jesus words sting us.

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”

A good practice to help you understand God’s law correctly is this. If your first reaction to hearing God’s law is to think of someone else who doesn’t keep it, turn the law back upon yourself. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Instead of pointing your finger at those who miss worship most Sundays; think about how you wanted to stay in bed this morning; or how your mind wanders during the sermon; or how you were distracted from Jesus because the tune of that hymn was just too hard to sing.

The key here in this passage is the washing. Our problem, our sin, is that we try to wash ourselves. That’s what the Pharisees did. They washed themselves, they justified themselves by making exceptions to the rules and making rules to tone down the law.

[If you want a very clear example of this today think of the Purpose Driven Life. God has a purpose for your life. If you live in that purpose you can please God. This idea completely sets aside that fact that you can’t please God with anything you do, unless! You are “in Christ.” Unless you have the forgiveness of sin won by Christ on the cross. That forgiveness washes away this sin of all we do, leaving only good.]

Maybe you missed it in the Epistle reading for today. Most often we hear the “Wives, submit to your own husbands” part and we are so offended that we don’t hear what Paul is really saying. He tells the ideal for marriage; a wife submitting to her husband who does everything purely for her benefit. We get hung up on the words about marriage and miss the words about Christ.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

He finishes it off with these words:

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

When we “submit” to Christ it doesn’t have anything to do with our doing anything. To submit to Christ is to allow Him to wash us clean. To submit to Christ is to see our sin as a spot and stain that we cannot remove. No elbow grease to apply. No extra laws to keep. No exceptions to the rules we can follow. Just Jesus cleansing us, washing us, with water and the Word. Just Jesus shedding his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. Just Jesus presenting us before God clean through His scrubbing, through His perfect life, perfect death and perfect resurrection. Just Jesus making us clean and free from the sin stain.

That is worship for us. Gathering together and submitting to Christ as His bride, to be washed by water and His Word; to be set free from our sin so that we can serve Him in everything that we do. That’s what makes worship what God wants it to be instead of the commandments of men. That’s what makes our hearts “close” to Christ instead of far away. We have a great many traditions in this church. We, as sinful human beings, are always tempted to use traditions to find a way to wash ourselves. You have my permission to ask and question everything we do here in this church. The question you should ask is this: Does this thing that we do point to Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried and raised again for the forgiveness of my sin? Does this tradition point to Jesus washing us clean, and giving himself for us? Does this thing teach me of God’s love for me in Jesus, life, death and resurrection? If the answer is no, we should stop. If the answer is yes, we can rejoice in the gift we’ve been given.

There’s the font, there’s water in there to remind you of Christ your bridegroom washing you clean from your sin through His blood on the cross. There’s the Word that strikes you in your ears and in your heart; the law that softens you by convicting you of your sin; and the Good News of Jesus your Savior taking the curse of sin for you that gives you the joy of being clean. There’s the body and blood of Christ, right from the cross, poured into you to wash you from the inside out. None of these are traditions of men. These are the promises of God for the forgiveness of your sin. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Joshua 24:1-18; Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 16, 2009

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18, ESV)

“When a choice is no choice at all.”

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you've talked to anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country one thing you might hear him or her say about visiting a grocery store overseas is how we have so many choices here. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a country that offers so much choice in simple matters. How many different kinds of bread are there at the grocery store? Flavors of potato chips? Mustard? That’s one of the things that make our country great. But, it’s also one of the things that makes some people hate us so much. We are used to having choices and lots of them: from 31 flavors of ice cream, to hundreds of choice for breakfast cereal.

Of course not all of our “choices” are the kind we really want to revel in too much. Not all the choices that we have legally are really good choices. Every single day thousands of women chose to end the life of their unborn children. And still others long for the choice to end their own life with physician-assisted suicide. “It’s the woman’s choice!” some say, or “It’s my choice. Don’t push your religious values on me! I want to have control over my own choices!” These days I think we could reasonably say that choice has become the national religion.

But, you know, sometimes our choices are easy, but sometimes your choices are downright impossible. It’s happened to you. You have a choice but none of the options are good ones. No matter how you choose it’s going to be painful. No matter what you do the outcomes isn’t going to be ‘all right.’ Those are the times when you wish the choice would go to someone else.

So what about the easy ones? You know about these, too. They’re the choices that aren’t really choices at all. Sometimes on the football field you see the Ref asking the team about the results of accepting the penalty, in one case the touchdown stands and the other it is called back. You say to yourself, “Of course they’ll decline it, that’s not really a choice at all.” There are lots of times in our life when a choice is so obvious that it’s not really a choice at all. And sometimes a choice isn’t a choice because the decision is really made for us or the decision is really outside of our control. You’ve all voted when you felt it really didn’t make any difference. (Which by the way isn’t a reason not to vote!)

But all in all, we like the idea of choice. We like the idea of having control over our lives, and making decisions by having lots and lots of options, lots and lots of choices. It makes us feel in control of our destiny. You know

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost, the Road Not Taken)

Even if we don’t like the outcome, we like having the choice. And that’s why I think when we heard the OT lesson for today, the words “choose for yourselves,” jump right out at us and stick in our minds. “Yea!” We say. “We have choices even when it comes to God. Even in religion we have choices. What a wonderful country we live in!”

You know though, as I look at this passage I’m not sure it says what we’d really like it to say. If we really look at the passage I think we’ll find out really what choices are being offered.

First we should note that in the bulletin a big chunk of the text is missing (namely verses 3-13). And although you can get the gist of what’s going on here you really need to know about those missing verses to really get the whole sense of it. You need to know what Joshua says in that missing text, before he says “choose for yourselves.”

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out. “ ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’ (Joshua 24:2-13, ESV)

Here the people have gathered before Joshua because they are just about to go into the Promised Land. They’re looking for marching orders, instructions on what to do next. But Joshua doesn’t just do that, he recounts with them what God’s been doing in their lives. He recounts the whole history of God working in the lives of His people. He reminds them exactly how they got to where they were right then. But he doesn’t just go back to recent history he goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He reminds the of God’s protection to Abraham in his travels, Isaac during his life, and how Jacobs family was saved from famine by going into Egypt. Then Joshua tells them again about how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. How Moses came and showed God’s mighty hand to Pharaoh and secured their freedom. He reminded them of the scene of God’s protection at the Red Sea. How God parted the waters for them and closed up the waters on the Pharaoh’s army. And how God protected them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and again how He gave them the Promised Land, the land that they were now ready to occupy. It was a history of God’s protection and love.

After all of that then Joshua says, “Now! Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” You see Joshua doesn’t really ask them to make a choice at all. Joshua is really saying, “Remember all that God has done for you. Now respect Him and serve Him! Get rid of those false gods that your relatives worshipped. After all what did they ever do for you? Is there really any comparison between those idols of wood and stone and the living God whose hand you have actually seen in action? Get rid of them and serve the True God!” Notice that in all that Joshua has said, there hasn’t been any choice at all. “Serve God!” He says. You see, it’s and obvious decision. After seeing what God has done of course they’ll serve God. But Joshua does offer the people of God a choice. It may not be the choice you think it is. And it’s important to note what Joshua has just said (all that part that’s cut out of the reading). “If it is evil in your eyes to serve God (this God whose done all these things for you), then choose for yourselves from these other false gods. If you don’t want to serve the True God, then it really doesn’t matter what you choose to do, it doesn’t matter which false god you choose. Serving the True God isn’t a choice, not a decision you can make. After all just look at what He has done for you. God has already chosen you, and serving God is what God’s people do.” It’s a choice that’s no choice at all. “As for me and my house,” Joshua says, “of course! We will serve the Lord.”

So, even in the world we live in, this “choice paradise” I’m not going to tell you that you’d better choose Jesus. After all that’s not what Joshua told God’s people gathered before him that day. You don’t have to choose because the choice has already been made. You really couldn’t choose to believe in Jesus anyway. Even though we’d like to have something to do with our salvation, some little part in it all, the bible makes in abundantly clear that there is nothing that we do. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9, ESV) You don’t decide to receive a gift; you only take it when and if it’s offered. You can’t “make a decision” for Christ. Not just because it’s impossible but, because you don’t have to. Instead of choosing God, God chooses us. "…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Ro 5:8, ESV) "For God so loved the world, that he gave (that is He chose to give) his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (Jn 3:16, ESV) The choice was His, not ours. He chose to act for us. Jesus was born, lived and died on the cross by choice! He made the decision for us. Whenever we are tempted to think that there’s something that we have to do, whenever we think that God did His part now we have to do our part, we put ourselves in that boasting category by saying that my salvation isn’t complete unless I act. “I know what Jesus did but I have to help Him out and make it complete, through my own choice.” Sounds like boasting to me.

Faith in Christ does feel to us like a choice. But that choosing comes from faith that is planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit already. It really is just a reaction to faith. It’s like this. Let’s say you won the lottery. The Lottery winnings are yours weather you believe it or not. If someone tells you you’ve won but you don’t believe them, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve won. You go to get the prize when you believe that you’ve won. No amount of deciding to win the lottery is ever going to get you the money. You can’t decide to win. First you have to win, and then you have to believe that it’s true. Jesus Christ chose you, not randomly like a lottery, but He chose you by His Word, when you heard it or when it was spoken over you at your baptism. It wasn’t chance it was God’s free grace. His choice for you.

Come to think of it you have a story just like the one that Joshua told the people of God in our OT text for today. It’s the story of God’s great love for you; the story of God’s choosing you. For lots of you it begins at a font just like this one, with parents and congregation gathered around. It begins with God’s Word and water poured on your head in the God’s name. That’s God reaching out and choosing you to be His; changing you from His enemy to His child; giving you the salvation won on the cross by Jesus. He has brought you to a land of God’s promises though a wilderness of dangers. You are here completely because of God care and protection. You are here completely because God provides for you every day in every way. Not just in a worldly physical sense either. He provides for your spiritual need, too, in this Promised Land. He gives you His Word full of promises that are true for you right now, and will be even more true in the future, when you and He spend eternity together. And just so you don’t forget He finds lots of ways to remind you. Lot’s of ways to tell you of His great love for you again and again. Just look around in this place, it’s full of those reminders.

So, serve the Lord, Jesus Christ right now. Remember all that He has done for you. When you do that, of course you’ll serve Him. You see, it’s a choice that’s really no choice at all. Amen.

The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Michael Spencer - The Internet Monk; Worship Toolbox.

Rev. Spencer has a nice article in his "Evangelical Liturgy" Series.  "The Toolbox" explores the necessary tools for "giving distinctive evangelical content, flavor and boundaries to the worship service."  Michael's perspective is distinctively "evangelical" and not everything fits our Lutheran perspective, he gives some nice thoughts to contemplate.  Here's his section on "the Hymnal."  (Emphasis mine)

2. The Hymnal. I know, here we go.

The hymnal is a crucially important evangelical worship resource. While it can be supplemented, it should never be replaced. The education of a congregation to use and appreciate the resources in a hymnal will be the single post ecumenically broad, historically deep and theologically enriching experience most church members will have. There is more diversity, tradition, theology, church history and content in a good hymnal than almost any single book that you can put in the hands of a congregation. The hymnal represents and captures the journey of the church throughout history, and joins the worshiping congregation to the church around the world and throughout all time.

We are nothing short of idiots for getting rid of them, and I choose that word carefully. Who in the world decided that we would throw out two thousands years of worship because it didn’t fit in with our current plan to sound like the secular music of the last 40 years? Good grief, what a demolition job this has been. I know a lot of young people “like” the new music, but we have a responsibility to those who came before us, not to prefer or like what they did as much as they did, but to use it with respect and honor for the value that is in it. Handing the entire musical and lyrical heritage of two millenia of Christianity over to a “worship leader” to be eradicated in favor of contemporary music only is insane.

As a child, I spent hours in the hymnal during church. I learned vast amounts. Had the pastors and worship leaders used the resources of the hymnal wisely, it would have been even more enriching for me.

I want to commend the Lutheran Service book for putting the complete hymnal and ALL corporate and individual worship resources together. Having that hymnal in your hands- a tactile experience- is a significant part of worship we’ve underestimated. Use new music. Have the band from time to time. Project away. But the church of the past 2000 years is in that hymanl. In fact, we need more historically and culturally diverse hymnals, not more music for evangelical white people.

Hymnals vary widely in every way. Choose carefully and be forgiving of the inevitable flaws. The current 2008 SBC hymnal is a project involving both book and projection resources coordinated together. This is surely the direction of the future and holds real promise for ending the ridiculous war on hymns that evangelicals have perpetrated. We ought to hang our heads that we have become a generation more concerned that our children know the latest Hillsongs’ piece- which is fine and good- but that they NOT know the top 100 hymns in Christian history! Just reading the lyrics of Christmas carols is a theological feast.

For many evangelicals, the hymnal is the closest thing to a book of common prayer and worship resources they will have. Hymnals should be chosen carefully so they can be used t include calls to worship, litanies, creeds, etc. Keep making great hymnals out there, somebody! We need them.

Look at Bob Kauflin. Look at Indelible Grace. Look at good, blended worship at Piper’s church and conferences. Get a grip evangelicals!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

John.6.41-51; Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 9,2009

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:41-51, ESV )

(Outline from Rev. Francis C. Rossow, professor emeritus, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, Concordia Pulpit Resources, 16, 3)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Bread, it's everywhere in the text this morning.  Jesus calls the salvation he provides "bread" and He calls himself, bread from heaven.  What's it all about?  Why does he use bread?  We could ask that age old "Lutheran" question, "What does this mean?"

I like bread.  It's very common.  In fact, really like those dark breads like pumpernickel and rye, especially a nice ham and Swiss cheese on pumpernickel. I have to buy these kinds of bread in small loaves because my family doesn't share my enthusiasm for dark breads.  They like the white stuff.  Now I can eat it but it's pretty common.  I prefer something a little heavier.  It's not really the issue with Jesus metaphor though.  It's a very heavy teaching.  It's full of meaning and depth.

The really interesting thing about what Jesus is saying here is that it touches our lives in two different ways.  Jesus is talking about physical bread for a physical life.  We are fully aware of this gift of God.  We know exactly what Jesus means when he says that he gives bread that sustains this bodily life.  We gather around our dining room tables and eat meals.  Almost always those meals include bread of some kind.  We eat to continue living the life that God gave us through our parents.  We are born into a physical life.  We breathe, we laugh, we communicate, we cry.  St. Paul quoted one of the Greek poets when he said to the people listening to his sermon in the Areopagus,  "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28 )  We are live, living beings that need daily bread to live.  And God provides it for us.  In a sense it is bread from heaven, even though God uses farmers, bakers, truckers, and grocery store clerks to bring it to us.  We ask God to continue giving us what we need every time we pray the Lord's Prayer.  Martin Luther's words in the Small Catechism say it like this:

Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean?

God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
What is meant by daily bread?

Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

Now we all know all too clearly that this physical life doesn't last forever.  I was recently told that death is something that we all have to face.  And that's true.  The physical life that God gives us is going to come to an end. This end isn’t a natural part of life either. It is imposed on us by the curse of sin.

That's the first part of what Jesus is talking about here in this text.  But he's talking about another kind of life that God give, too.  He gives a spiritual life.  We have to be born into this life also.  Jesus says that this life begins when we are born again.  In fact, he says that begin born again is absolutely necessary for beginning this spiritual life.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5, ESV)

When we come to faith either through the water poured on our heads in Holy Baptism, or when we hear and believe the Good News about Jesus life, death and resurrection for us, we are born again. We have a new spiritual life.  Just like our physical life, our spiritual life has attributes too.  In it we live in holiness and love for all people.  We embrace God's commandments and keep them.  And, spiritual life needs nourishment.  That's the second type of bread that Jesus says he gives.  It's the "bread come down from heaven."  It's Jesus.  He says of himself that he has come to bring life "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10, ESV) The food that he gives is food for eternal life.  In fact the spiritual life that God gives lasts forever.

Now it's interesting that Jesus talks about this bread being His flesh.  "the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."  Right after Jesus says this you get a very logical question from the people standing there and listening.  "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  And the logical answer is "He can't!"  "It's impossible!"  "It's even disgusting!"  But Surprise, Surprise!  That is exactly what Jesus does.  He says "This is my body, this is my blood."  "Take and eat it for the forgiveness of your sins."  In other words, take the bread of his body and the wine of his blood for your spiritual benefit.  Take it and your spiritual life will grow.  In the very special supper that Jesus gives us he does indeed give us his flesh to eat.  It is just like he says in John, the text for next Sunday's Gospel reading,

"For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." (John 6:55, ESV)

This discussion of a "different kind of bread" show us that there is a different kind of life that has been given to us that needs to be sustained.  Our spiritual life needs spiritual bread.

Just as God provides us with our "daily bread" for our physical life, he gives us spiritual bread for our spiritual lives.  There is one important thing to know about that spiritual bread.  God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows that we are physical people and don't always see the reality of our spiritual lives.  So he connects our "daily spiritual bread" with something physical.  We Lutherans call this the Means of Grace.  In other words, the ways and things God uses to bring us spiritual life and cause it to grow.

The Means of Grace do more than just tell us of God's great love for us in Jesus, they actually feed us, too.  To be sure they do give us information; Baptism and The Lord's Supper are great object lessons.  But they are so much more than that. They actually do what they show. We understand exactly what it means that God washes away our sins when we see a baby's head drenched in water.  In the Lord's Supper we have the makings of a meal; ingredients of food and drink.  We know what it means that his body and blood give us what we need to live because every day we have to eat to live.  And even the spoken Word is like food for us.  Physically as the mouth produces sound it travels through the air on sound waves and strikes our eardrums and brings us life.  These great gifts are more like bread than a book.  They are much more like sliding up to the table than walking in the library.

Through these means, these ways, God delivers to us sinners, the forgiveness of sins that we need more than we need even physical bread. All that Jesus did for us in his life, death and resurrection is given directly to us through the Means of Grace. That’s what Jesus is saying. The words that Our Lord uses in this text for today really make a strong connection to how God causes our faith to grow through the Means of Grace.  He uses words like bread, flesh, ate, eat and life.

It is this very physical nature of the Means of Grace that have some of our Christian brothers and sisters confused. They have a problem with God working through physical things. They think that God should work only in spiritual ways, inside of us, instead of outside of us. But our whole salvation is based on the idea that in Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, God became a physical human being. He shed real blood on the cross. His real physical body was spiked to the tree. Jesus saves us through a real, physical, human body. He works faith in us in no other way then by being God’s Word delivered to people through real physical, earthly things; water and bread and wine and the spoken word.

And there's another thing that Jesus does by talking about bread for Spiritual life.  He makes it clear what faith is.  You see, while Christian faith surely includes knowing certain things, like who Jesus is and what he did.  Christian faith is more than just something that resides in your head.  Christian faith is a life!  It lives, it breaths, it involves our whole being; our emotions and our intellect.  Just look at how Jesus puts together the idea of believing an eating.  “He who believes has everlasting life,” and “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” And here in the gospel of John Jesus goes even further "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

So we eat the bread come down from heaven and live.  The Holy Spirit uses Jesus words about Bread to cause our faith, our Spiritual Life to grow.  You can't say it any better than Isaiah:

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  (Isa 55:2-3, ESV)


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Exodus 16:2-15; Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; August 2, 2009

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. (Exodus 16:2-15, ESV)

(from an outline by Rev. Philip Zielinski).

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, do you know why I picked this text to preach on? Because it fits me. God’s people grumbled… That’s me in a nut shell. I grumble. I complain that I have to do two weeks worth of work before I go on vacation for a week and then two more weeks worth of work when I get back. I complain when I had to sleep on the floor at my mom’s house because the beds were all taken. (Mind you I didn’t complain to mom!). I complain about aches and pains that I have because my body doesn’t do what it used to do, but I don’t get enough exercise to keep it in shape. I complain that I’m hungry but I don’t want to cook. I complain about government and… no wait, there’s something worth complaining about. The word Moses uses in this text is grumble. The English word is great isn’t it? It sounds just like what it is. Grumble, grumble, grumble. I grumble! You grumble. The children of Israel grumbled. Well, maybe they had just cause. They left the wealth of Egypt for the dessert. Put it in their words.

“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Maybe they were slaves and had to work hard, but at least they got food right? Actually, they complained about being slaves, too.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. (Exodus 2:23, ESV)

It’s a bit different because this is a cry for help, not groaning. Never the less, they complained then, too. But out there in the desert they couldn’t take it any more. They were without food. Without a place to live. Sure God had delivered them from slavery, but NOW what? Hunger can change a person’s perspective pretty quick. When you’re hungry you’re likely to forget about previous pain. They had forgotten about the whips that drove them to work for no pay.

Actually, we all like to grumble. We complain about work, and school, and yes, we even grumble about church. We grumble when things go right because we think they should have gone better. We grumble when things go wrong because we think they should go right. We like to play arm chair quarterback, as if, if we were in charge everything would automatically go better. We even pretend that our hindsight is what we knew should have been done in the first place. How about this morning? “It’s great that the trustees fixed the leaky basement wall, but are they just going to leave that pile of dirt there!” Those people out in the wilderness grumbling… that’s us grumbling. Rejoicing in what God does one minute and grumbling a moment later. What has God done for me lately?

Well, they were hungry. Hunger isn’t a sin. Asking for food isn’t a sin either. God wants us to call upon him in every trouble. He wants us to ask him for the things we need and want.

Our Father who art in heaven.

What does this mean?

With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. (LSB 323)

Their sin, and ours, is not believing in God’s promises. It ok when things are going well but when things take a sour turn… God had promised the people a land flowing with milk and honey. A land of their own where they wouldn’t be slaves. A land where he would provide them with everything they needed. They were impatient. They were hungry. That’s us too. We are impatient. We think that when things go wrong, when we have to bear crosses we aren’t getting what God has promised us. He is not above using hardships in our lives if it means we’ll be with him for eternity. But for us, as soon as there is trouble, we think God has failed us.

Our sinful nature wants the easy way. We want our best life now. We want to be healthy, wealthy and wise, without the work of being early out of bed. Given the choice we’d take the easy road away from God. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Sometimes that means suffering now for at time and receiving life forever without suffering later. We grumble in our suffering. We reject God’s promise that no matter what happens “all things work together for the good of those who love God.” It’s just like we forget what God has already done for us. We even forget what we really do deserve from God. We deserve nothing but God’s anger and eternal punishment.

But God doesn’t give us what we deserve. Instead he takes our sinful complaints and our sinful grumbling and he hears them as prayers. He heard the grumbling of the people in the desert. He hears the grumbling of his people in Creston, Iowa, too. He speaks not a word of judgment, but a word of promise; a word of mercy; a word of grace.

“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” (Exodus 16:12, ESV)

God richly and daily provides us with all we need to support this body and life. It rains down on us.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. (LSB 322)

Just think of the blessings right here in this place, recently. He used members of this congregation to make our worship richer with new and beautiful music on a new organ. He’s working on solving a water problem so we can continue to receive the gifts of Word and Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins in this place. He has blessed me and my family by bringing me here to serve as your Pastor. He gives wise faithful people here to teach your children the faith. He gives you friends and fellow Christians to encourage each other in faith and life as a Christian. Paul said as much to the Christian congregation at Thessolonica:

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, ESV)

Just so, he provided all the people of Israel needed in the desert and more. Bread from heaven, manna filled their stomachs. Quail flew right into there laps. Water poured out of rocks. And their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out. He gave them clothing and shoes, house and home, and all they had. We can and should give God thanks instead of grumbling for all he does for us as well.

So listen again to God’s promise.

“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know I am the Lord your God.’ ” (Exodus 16:12, ESV)

I am YHWH. YHWH is the name that he gave them to remember what he had done for them by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt. I think it is very interesting that their complaint begins with:

“Would that we had died by the hand of the YHWH in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 16:3, ESV)

It shows just how far they had come, how deep was their sin. But, God turns it around on them again. “You will know that I am YHWH your God!”

We heard words just like that in the Gospel reading today too.

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:32-35, ESV)

Jesus had just fed 5000 people in the desert. He had given them bread to fill their bellies. They grumbled for more. But Jesus uses their words to tell us who he is, and what he gives that we need even more then baked bread.

Our Savior shed his blood on the cross, to deliver us from our slavery to sin. We are on a journey through the wilderness of a sinful world. We are hungry for righteousness. We have come through the Red Sea of Holy Baptism. We have been delivered from sin, death and the power of the devil (who held us as his slaves!). We are tempted again and again to return to our sinful way of life. But God is faithful. He provides us with the bread of life who comes down from heaven. Jesus comes to us in his word. He reminds us of the promises he made to us in our baptism. Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, food for hungry bodies and hungry souls. We will struggle until we reach our promised land, forever with Jesus. But our entrance has been won already. We are given life, by Jesus the bread of life. In his suffering and death on the cross he endured all the wrath of God for our sin. He wandered, hungered, thirsted, suffered and died for us. He rose again from death giving us a new and full and forever life, without sin and death to trouble us. And God gives us all of this even in the face of our grumbling. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ephesians 5:22-33; Wedding Sermon for Eric and Beth; August 1, 2009;

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Eric and Beth this is a profound mystery! How is it that two people come together and promise to love one another for a lifetime? Well, unfortunately these days, although people make the promise they don’t seem to follow it through with the decision to stay married. But, what about you two and the mystery that we see right here between the two of you? Well, today it feels great… all those swirling feelings of joy, and happiness; the tears that always happen as you prepare for this very moment as you stand here together. I’ve heard it said the “Love is a feeling.” We talked about that during your pre-marital counseling. Really we should say that love contains feelings. Love itself is not a feeling. Love is a decision. Today that decision is easy, surrounded by friends and family with all the trappings for royalty. But there will be times when it will be difficult to love each other… even times when you don’t even like each other. But today you are promising that you’ll love each other anyway. And hey, your not promising me, you can fool me… your not promising your families, you can even fool them. You’re promising God, and no matter what you do you can’t fool him.

So just what are you promising anyway… Beth will you submit to him, love honor and keep in sickness and health, as long as you live… That’s a pretty tall order. I wonder how you’re going to actually be able to do that? Eric, love your wife as Christ loved the church… have and hold, sickness, health, till death… again how in the world are you (Eric) and you (Beth) going to be able to do that? The truth of the matter is that you can’t. And it’s not just you it’s all of us. None of us can keep promises like that. And you know why? It’s because of that couple we read about in the first reading. Adam and Eve. You see God had a perfect plan of love for them. A plan was that a man and a woman would be husband and wife. He set it up in the very beginning. He created Adam and Eve to be in a perfect relationship with Him. Everything they did reflected that relationship. They saw God in each other. That’s what it means when the bible says they were in the “image of God.” Not that they looked like him, but that their relationship with God spilled over into their relationship for each other. They had a perfect love for one another.

And we know that perfect love didn’t last. We know all about the tree, the fruit, the serpent, and the sin. Adam and Eve severed their relationship with God and lost the perfect love they had for each other. Now they didn’t see God in each other anymore. They became selfish, instead of loving.

It’d be nice to be able to put all the blame we have for our imperfect relationships on Adam and Eve. But we could just as easily put our names in their place. Our relationships are not the perfect love that God intended for man and wife. That’s difficult for a couple to see or even believe on their wedding day. But it’s true, and you’ll see it soon enough. But, God wasn’t satisfied with that. He did something about our broken relationships.

Eric and Beth, turn around just a moment, and look at your friends and family gathered here. Did you know that these two are a picture of God has done about sin. These two are a picture of Jesus Christ and all of us, who believe in Him? At least that’s what this passage from St. Paul is really all about. He says that husbands should love their wives like Christ loved the church. Here’s Eric, standing in for Jesus, loving Beth giving himself for her. That means that it’s his job to take care of her. Everything he does is to be for her benefit, for her protection and care. That is after all just what Jesus did. He gave himself, completely for us. He lived His life completely for our benefit. He even died for us, to free us from sin death and hell, to restore our broken relationship to God. And just look at Beth standing here in this beautiful white dress. St. Paul says the Jesus presents us to God cleansed and holy, pure and white. It’s the blood of Jesus that makes us clean. His blood shed on the cross cleans us for the sin that permeates all our relationships. His death on the cross brings forgiveness to us by removing the punishment that should be ours. So God no longer considers us guilty. He sees us just as we see Beth today. That’s what makes it possible for us to forgive one another. If Jesus Christ has died to make us pure and holy in God’s sight what right to we have to say that we are not. (you can turn around again).

Eric and Beth you’ve come here today to make your promises to each other in the sight of God and all these witnesses. You asked me to do this wedding because you know that if you make them on your own they really don’t mean very much. You both know that you will fail each other. And every failure will make your marriage more difficult. All of your best intentions won’t solve the problems that you will face as a couple. But again, you know about that and that’s why you are here. You are here to found your marriage on the forgiveness won for you in Jesus Christ. In a way you are really letting Him stand right here between you. So He can take your hands and join them together when you don’t want to. He’s here so you can look for solutions to the problems that come up instead of re-hashing who’s fault it is the bills didn’t get paid. What Jesus Christ gives you is forgiveness. And that forgiveness will spill out into your relationship with each other. Another way to think about it is this: In your marriage, because Jesus Christ is right here, because He has declared that your are forgiven, the most important words you can say to each other won’t really be “I love you” but “I forgive you!”

Eric, God loves you. Beth, God loves you. He wants you to live every day in the forgiveness that He won for you through Jesus Christ on the cross. So every day, remember this image, of Jesus the groom, and us His bride. Remember that your marriage is built on Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.