Sunday, January 29, 2023

1 Corinthians 1:26-31; The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany; January 29, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

President Lincoln once said Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. He’s reflecting the idea that nobody really wants to be called a fool. Nobody wants to be thought of as foolish. But there was a time when he was called a fool, and he didn’t mind. During the Civil War Lincoln visited one of the forts north of Washington during the heat of battle. While inspecting the front lines he asked to be shown where the enemy was. When they were pointed out Lincoln stood to get a better view, thus making his tall frame, beard, and black hat the perfect recognizable target. Under a hale of bullets, a junior officer grabbed his arm and pulled him from harms way, shouting “Get down, you fool!” The president was reported to have replied. “I’m glad to see you know how talk to a civilian.” It was the president’s first and last visit to an active battle front.

In not so many words, Paul calls the Christians who are members of the small Corinthian church, foolish. But like President Lincoln, they probably weren’t upset. Paul was clarifying the way that God works. He wanted the Corinthians to recognize that God does things differently than people would do them. He especially wanted them to recognize God’s work in their midst. He begins by reminding them who they were before God called them to faith. He wanted them to remember where they came from. It was not uncommon for Christians those days to be primarily from the lower classes. Many were former slaves and even current slaves. Many were poor and un-influential. It’s not the kind of group you would gather to be a major force of influence in any town. Paul’s words tell the story: …not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth… and still there were wealthy people who were part of God’s family at Corinth. Note that Paul says, “not many”; not “not any.” He includes them with an “m.” And yet, Paul reminds them that God doesn’t recognize social status. He calls all people into his family, regardless of their standing. Those who become a part, realize that all the things that people boast in, wealth, education, prestige, and moral standing don’t count for anything in God’s sight. Instead of boasting in those things that Paul calls them “rubbish” (Phil 3:4-10), Christians boast in Jesus (1 Cor 1:31). Christians know that nothing they have done can ever make them right with God. That’s what Paul means when he calls the Corinthians foolish. He means foolish in the eyes of everyone else.

God chose the foolish things to shame the wise, Paul says. Paul is emphasizing that God doesn’t consider human merit or human ideas in his calculations of what is important and how he is going to work. And you can see it easily with a quick look at the people Jesus hung out with. His followers came from tax-collectors, prostitutes, the sick and the poor. One of the Pharisee’s primary complaints against Jesus was that he received sinners, and not only that, but he had the gall to eat with them. (Luke 15:2) It went against the way they thought God worked. It went against their belief that people got connected with God by working to clean up their life first. Jesus shamed them by loving the people they deemed unlovable and, in fact, doing what they should have been doing. The very

thought of helping those people was foolish to them. But Jesus didn’t just start doing things like that out of the blue. The history of God working in the world is full if foolish examples. There are two good examples mentioned in the Old Testament lesson for today. (Micah 6:1-8) God is reminding his people, the Israelites, about what he had done for them. For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:4, ESV) Egypt was a superpower. But the God, the God of slaves showed that he was The True God. He used foolish slaves to show his true nature to save. You and I would have chosen the grandeur and prestige of the King of Egypt to show God’s power.

And then there’s the reference to Balaam the son of Beor. (Micah 6:5) I don’t know if you remember this story but it’s a good one: (See Numbers 22) after the freed slaves, the Children of Israel, had wandered in the desert for a while and were finally ready to occupy the land that God had promised them, they needed to cross the land of Moab. The King of Moab wasn’t very happy to oblige. He called a wise man to help him, a general prophet called Balaam. “Curse these Israelites for me, so I can defeat them.” But Balaam was told by God in a dream not to do it. But because he stood to become very wealthy from the deal, Balaam took two of his servants and began the journey on his donkey. God made the donkey see what Balaam couldn’t. God had set and angel in the road to kill them. So, the donkey stopped and refused to go on. Balaam beat the donkey in anger. But the donkey only trapped Balaam’s foot between himself and a rock on the narrow road. Balaam beat him again, but the donkey still refused to move and lay down on the road. Balaam beat him all the more. After the third beating the donkey spoke up. “What have I ever done to you that you beat me in this way?” Balaam seeming to not be the least surprised at a talking donkey, replied, “You’ve made a fool of me! If I had a sword, you’d be dead.” And the donkey answered back. “I’ve been your donkey all your life. Have I ever acted this way before? Don’t you think I have a good reason?” And at that moment God allowed Balaam to see the angel with the drawn sword in his hand. (Num 22:31) He repented immediately and promised to do whatever God wanted. There’s a song by Christian Song Writer, Don Francisco that’s all about this account. In the song He talks about the foolishness of God and how he chooses what he will to do his work. The song ends with the line:
The Lord's the one who makes the choice of the instrument He's usin' We don't know the reasons and the plans behind His choosin' So when the Lord starts usin' you don't you pay it any mind He 'could have used the dog next door if He'd been so inclined (Copyright Don Francisco; This song appears on the albums: Beautiful to Me Got to Tell Somebody)
And of course, nothing screams foolishness, in human eyes, more than God becoming man, for the specific purpose of dying the death of a common criminal. But Paul wants the Corinthians to remember it is the message of that foolishness that has made all the difference for them.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

God’s purpose in choosing the poor in spirit (Matt 5:3), like the Corinthian Christians is, as Paul says, “so that none may boast.” (See also; Eph 2:8-9; Rom 3:27-28) There is no room for boasting in human achievement in light of what God has done through Jesus Christ. All the Corinthian Christians had to do was remember who they were and where they came from and they knew they had no room for boasting, they were saved because of Jesus and only Jesus.

This is where Paul’s words should strike us right between the eyes. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1:27b, ESV) Paul’s words to us are like the soldier’s words to Lincoln. “Get down you fools!” Because of whom we are and where we come from it is very easy for us to lose sight of Jesus and begin to boast in our own accomplishments. Like those Pharisees we forget what God has given us to do and look down our noses at the people in this community that God has given for us to serve. It’s easy for us to tell ourselves that we’re better than the people who don’t get to church much and pat ourselves on the back for being the financial backbone of the church. Or even more to the point, looking back at the way we used to do church and the way the things used to be and forgetting that this church is here not because of anything our parents did, and not because of anything we have done, but because of the foolishness of God. This church’s future isn’t in us and our ability to make it work, or build a nice new (and needed) building, but in the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified for the sins of the whole world. We are here to boast in Jesus Christ, not in this church.

That’s the foolishness of God again, isn’t it? We want to think that it’s what we do. God wants us to remember that it’s what he does. Through Baptism God has called you to be part of his body. Consider your calling… who were you without Jesus? A lost and condemned person; a sinful person deserving God’s anger and punishment. Yet through the “weak” and “foolish” acts of God in Jesus Christ you have been saved from that. Jesus’ death on the cross is even enough to forgive the sin of boasting that we so easily fall into. He forgives the sin of feeling superior and forgetting why we are here. Paul says [God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV) Just as God saved the Israelites from slavery and death in Egypt he saved you from slavery to sin, and the punishment that results. He does it through his sacrifice that is enough to forgive the sins of the whole world.

I think of the story of a family house that caught in a fire. The two children were saved from death by a stranger who risked his life and suffered serious burns on his hands. The parents didn’t escape. When it came time to adopt the children their savior stated his case without words by showing the scares, he received by saving them. Some people might think it was foolish of the man to risk his life for two children he didn’t know, but not the children he saved.

Jesus does more than risk his life for us. He gives it. His bleeding body on the cross saves us from our own foolishness. His blood washes away all our sin. His death wins for us eternal life. His resurrection promises that life to us. What is there left for us to boast in? Only Jesus; only his cross; only his resurrection; only his choosing foolish things like you and me to be his own. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV)

We boast in the Lord when we remember that it is God’s work through His Word and Sacraments and the foolishness of preaching the Good News about Jesus, that God uses to call people into his kingdom. We boast in the Lord when we point people to Jesus as their only Savior from sin, even when they think it’s foolish. Amen.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Psalm 27:14; The Third Sunday after Epiphany;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wait for the Lord. I struggle a great deal with exactly what that means. Wait for the Lord. We don’t like to wait for anything. Now that I live alone, I don’t have to wait for my family to get ready to leave the house, there was always one more thing to do, one more trip back for something forgotten, one more trip to the bathroom. I was ready to go and there I stood waiting. I knew better than to go out to the car, I’ll be sitting and waiting twice as long. Waiting isn’t something I do very well. Aren’t we all conditioned by that light emitting box in our living rooms? Rarely do we ever have to wait more than an hour (or even a half) for any story to unfold. Oh, I know that lots of the programs now have story lines that continue from week to week. The networks have figured out that you’ll come back if they drag you along with a continuing story. But that story line is always a part of a complete story for today’s episode. And now you can view a whole season of your favorite shows, a whole year. Binge watching until you have a headache. You don’t have to wait for next week for the new episode. How many of you have a bottle of wine sitting at home you are letting age to the appropriate age? Probably not many. In America, the wine experts complain, the typical aging of wine takes place on the car seat home from the store. Well, that’s typical of our waiting.

We don’t wait for anything. We don’t wait for marriage to have sex. We don’t wait 10 min for a hamburger (We should put salt and pepper shakers in the steering wheel.) We don’t want to wait for the traffic light to change, or for our tax refund. How long can you wait? Everything in our life is designed to minimize the wait. Losing “wait” isn’t just talking about getting lighter on the bathroom scale. And here in this little text, at the tail end of a rather short Psalm, King David tells us to “Wait for the Lord.” Now of all the things we must wait for, most of all we don’t want to wait on God.

“I’ve been that route,” you say. “I waited for God and my mother died anyway. I waited for God and the promotion I wanted passed me by. I waited for God and my girl friend started dating someone else. I waited for God and the pain in my body turned into chemotherapy. Waiting for God doesn’t mean that I’ll get what I want.” And that’s true. God never promises that he’ll give us whatever we want and waiting on him doesn’t mean we’ll get what we want just because we wait.

We’ve all been taught that God answers our prayers with three different ways: “Yes, no, and wait.” I think we’d rather have “no” then “wait.” In fact, I think when the answer is “wait,” we most often go out and find our own answer. We lie ourselves into believing that if it makes me happy it must be God’s answer to my prayers. “After all,” we lie, “what God wants most is for me is to be happy.” The god that tells you that you can have it all, without waiting, is Satan. The god that tells you that what you want right now is what’s best for you is the world. The god that gives you whatever you want right now, despite the consequences, is yourself. Not wanting to wait on God is really all about rejecting him. It’s about refusing to let him be in control of our life. Wanting to be our own god.

Jesus told a parable about waiting. There was a man who had two sons. The younger one told him he wished he were dead. Give me the money that is mine when you die, I can’t wait for that day. The father divided his property between the sons. The younger son couldn’t wait to get out from under the thumb of his old man. Within a few days he had gathered up all that was now his and went as far away as he could go. He partied. He laughed. He loved. He spent it all, every single dime. And when it was gone, every single dime, a famine came over the land, and since he had nothing left, he was trouble. He found a menial and degrading job, where he worked just to have a little bit to eat. And even that wasn’t worth anything. No one there offered to help him in any way. When he was at his lowest point he came to his senses. He knew he didn’t deserve anything from his father, but he thought to himself, “Even the workers on my father’s farm are treated better than this. Maybe I can talk my father into letting me work for him. I’ll go back to him and tell him, “Dad, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I can’t be your son anymore, but could I work for you as a hired hand?” So, he set out on his way home.

Since the day the son had left the father had been looking out and waiting with eager expectation for his son to come home. Every day he would stand looking out on the road for the first glimpse of his son. So, when the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and ran out to meet him. He had been waiting. He ran to meet him with open arms to welcome him home again.

“Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I’m not worthy to be a member of this family anymore…” but the father, who had been waiting, didn’t allow him to finish. He called to the hired hands and told them to do everything necessary to welcome the son back into the family. He put the best robe upon him. He forgave him for all that he had done. The days of waiting were over. His lost son had come home again.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound,

That waited for a wretch like me,

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.
That’s looking and waiting with eager expectation. The father stood at the road, looking out, waiting to forgive.

God, the Father, has already forgiven you. You have already been restored to the family. He was waiting for you with eager expectation at the baptismal font. There he embraced you and kissed you. He put on you the best robe, the robe of the perfect life of Jesus. It isn’t what you should receive from God. Instead, you should be turned away. That’s what happens on the cross of Jesus. Jesus is turned away. He receives the punishment for your sins, and you receive the life that he lived perfectly. It is God’s love for you that he sent Jesus to die in your place. There is no waiting for forgiveness for you. It is done even before you ask. “O almighty God, merciful father, I a poor miserable sinner, confess unto you…” and he interrupts and says, “I forgive you because of Jesus.” He forgives even your sin of not wanting to wait. He forgives even the sin of worshipping your own desires. It is all forgiven for the sake of Jesus.
Where guilt is great and sin abounds,

There God’s great grace is poured,

And fervent prayer form saints resounds:

“I wait for you, O Lord”
“I wait for you, O Lord.” It seems impossible. We hate to wait. But we do wait on the Lord. We do it because we know he has our best interest at heart. It’s not like waiting for a hamburger at the drive through. We don’t have a relationship with the server. We have a relationship with God. Our relationship is based on what he has done for us. Through baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are a part of God’s family. That is sure, not because of anything we have done but because of everything He has done. He has shown us that he is faithful. Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t end in his death. He defeated death by rising from the grave alive again. That’s why the psalmist can say, “be strong, and let your heart take courage.” We are connected to Jesus’ resurrection through faith in him and Holy Baptism. What is his is ours, his robe of perfection, his living again. Our sin is paid for, and our death isn’t the end. We will live forever with the Lord.
By grace we’re saved, through faith alone;

That mercy contemplate.

Bring all your needs before his throne

As for the Lord you wait.
The God who sacrificed his only son to make us his sons and daughters sometimes asks us to wait. We have God’s promises that no matter what happens it all happens for our good. (Ro 8:28)
31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
And that’s God’s promise, too.

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord.


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

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Matthew 2:13-18; Holy Innocents; January 1, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”” (Matthew 2:13–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is an interesting, deadly, horrible story. A king so paranoid that he would kill innocent children rather than face the possible threat of being dethroned. He doesn’t understand Jesus at all. He fears for his throne, but Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It isn’t out of character for this king, who had his children, wives, friends, not to mention his enemies, killed, to give the order to have a few dozen children slaughtered. It is also reported that Herod gave another order, that upon his death, that thousands of city officials were to be escorted into the arena to be killed. The king wanted to be sure that on his death there would be mourning. In his fear, he conspires with the Magi to find Jesus, and kill him. When that fails, he kills the babies two years and younger to prevent Jesus’ reign.

Given the population of Bethlehem it was probably under twenty infants. The early church exaggerated the account for emphasis on the evil nature of it. But numbers hardly make it more or less evil. But given the numbers, it is no wander that no historian records the event. It would have hardly shown up in the news. It is difficult for us to understand why God would allow such evil. We call this event the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Very young children killed for no reason. We’d like to know why. But God doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know. In his Word he only tells us what we need to know. It is one question you may be anxious to get an answer for when you stand before Jesus.

So, Herod wants to prevent Jesus from becoming king. He does his worst. But the angel warns Joseph. The baby and his mother are spirited away to Egypt in the cover of darkness. Jesus is safe from Herod.

It isn’t Jesus’ time to be killed. So, Herod’s plots will necessarily fail. That’s how God’s plans work. People can do their best (or worst) to prevent them. But God is in control, and we see it plainly here.

They must seem dark days for Joseph and Mary. A king out to destroy them. Uprooted from home and family and work. Spending time in a foreign country. It wasn’t part of their plans for their family. How upsetting, unsettling it must have been. But did you notice how faithful Joseph is? (Who among us has been confronted by angels telling us what to do?). From being told to marry Mary, to sneaking away to Egypt, to returning. It seems it was difficult for him to get a good night’s sleep. Still, he does exactly what God asks. This is why we celebrate Joseph as Jesus’ protector. He faithfully does what he is given to do. And then having done what God gave him to do, he disappears from the scene.

Of course, evil people can’t thwart God’s plans. What kind of a God would he be if they could? Jesus came as a human being, God with Us to save us from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. His time to do that wasn’t in a house in Bethlehem. It was many years later, on the cross. He had much to do to make himself known. Miracles to perform. People to teach. Establish his church and sacraments. It was all God’s plan for saving people from the second death in hell. The bible tells us as much when it says things like, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken.” And “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled.” Strong reminders that God’s will is always done. All that Jesus did is described by the prophets. It is all done in order that you could be redeemed. It is all done in order that you could spend eternity with Jesus forever. Salvation is God’s primary plan for the world. It can’t be stopped. His love for your is such that he is willing for his only son to die a horrible death on the cross, to assure it.

Well, that’s the big stuff, isn’t it? What about your life and mine. Does God make plans for you and me that can’t be stopped by evil people? It is what he told the prophet Jerimiah in his darkest days. And just look at what he suffered in his life. His “friends” plotted to kill him. He was thrown into a cistern to die. He struggled with kings and false prophets that always seemed to have the upper hand. And yet God said to him:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11–13, ESV)
It is a very personal promise to Jeremiah. He is promised to have “a future and a hope”. In other words, God’s plans for Jeremiah couldn’t be stopped. In his darkest days, I think it was quite a comfort to him to have such an unstoppable destiny in God’s love.

And just think how absurd it sounds to the world’s ears, that God cares enough about you that he wants to make sure you get enough sleep. That is what he did for Elijah in his darkest days. After he had killed the 300 prophets of Baal and was running for his life. He was complaining that he was the only faithful person left in the world. God said something like, “I see you are grouchy, eat and take a nap.”

After Jesus survived Herod’s attempts on his life, he says things like that to you.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–31, ESV)
If God’s attention to the details of life are such that he even knows when a single sparrow dies, just think about what that means for your life. If he numbers the hairs of your head (easier on some than others), what does that say about the plans he has for you? Will the “keeper of sparrows” and the “numberer of hairs” let anything stop them? Of course not. He plans “a future and a hope” for you. And it all begins with his having done everything necessary to save you. It is the most important thing that he does through Jesus. Canceling your debt of sin, and along with the Holy Spirit he (according to Martin Luther) keeping you in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
And how about this list:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)
You can expand that list and add cancer, pandemics, government persecution, wokism, trouble at work and in your family, and even snowstorms and mostly even you. Such is God’s great love for you that even these can’t separate you from it. Such is God’s great love for you that even these can’t stop his plans for you.

I don’t know the details of God’s plan for your life. You don’t know the details of God’s plan for your life. What I do know is this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
“All things”, St. Paul says, not just the things that we think are good, but all of them. The things we see as good, bad, and ugly. God promises they are all “for good”.

Someday, you and I will die (unless Jesus comes first). We will pass through death and stand before Jesus our Savior. Then all that happened to us, everything, will be seen clearly. We will understand fully how it all worked out for good. We will see our problems, troubles, joys, all of them, in light of the salvation he promises. There will be no doubt about it. We will see how everything in our life is connected to that moment. And then, with our resurrection on the last day, we will live in the sublime joy of it all. All our troubles will be behind us. All our cares will be behind us. All that will be left is joy. Joy in what Jesus has done for you. Amen.

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

Sunday, December 11, 2022

James 5:7-11; The Third Sunday in Advent; December 11, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:7–11, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is very hard to be patient. With all that is going on in the world that stand directly against God’s Word. One of the primary examples is the “Respect for Marriage Act” that was passed by the Senate and House just recently. Our president will sign it soon. It codifies same sex marriage in law. 12 Republican senators and 39 House members voted for the legislation, that puts the Church in the cross hairs. It is evidence that “Government is not the solution to a problem; it is the problem.” And Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. (Psalm 146:3, ESV) At times like these it is good to remember God is in control, he calls us to remain faithful to what he teaches, and he calls for patience. Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it. There is a lot that we are troubled by in the world. There is a lot we would like God to fix right now. But God says, “Be patient.”

My other churches were primarily rural farming communities. Those communities understand patients. It is the example that James gives. Patients is required to put a seed into the ground and then wait… wait for it to sprout, break the surface of the ground, grow to its full height and bear fruit. There is very little for the farmer to do. Oh sure, he can weed the field, and fertilize it. He can fret over the growth. But none of that will make it sprout and grow. That is in the hands of the Creator. It is the spark of life created in all living things that makes them reproduce. Plants bear seeds that will grow. Humans have children that have other children. Dogs have puppies, cats have little monsters. It is creation, and God himself that put it into action, and he continues to cause it to happen. Planting season is busy for farmers, harvest is busy for farmers, in between there is lots of waiting and patience. God says, “Be patient, like the farmer.” It isn’t easy for the farmer. You should not expect it to be easy for you either.

James goes on to say, “Establish your hearts.” Another way to say that is “Strengthen your hearts or fortify your hearts.” It is confidence in Jesus, your Lord. Trust that what he says is true, beyond all that you see. James tells us why, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Jesus coming in judgement of the world is closer today than yesterday, closer than when James penned these words. Trust in his Word from Revelation:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV)
What Jesus says is a warning and a comfort. When he comes, he comes in judgment. The whole world will stand before him. He will show each one every sin that they have done. And as the Athanasian Creed confesses:
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
Evil here being defined as “all that is against God’s Word and will.” Those who reject it, will suffer punishment forever in hell. It is a terrifying thing for sinners to be placed “in the hands of an angry God.” God’s judgment is far worse than “throw the bums out!” or “Wait for your father to get home.” Those who go against God’s Word face eternal punishment. Hell was created for Satan and his angels, but sinners who reject God, will be placed there forever. It is just punishment. To reject the creator is to want to be away from him. Hell is the only place that can happen. We should not be so quick to say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” when we find people fighting against the church. We would not wish hell on anyone.

James continues,
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” (James 5:9, ESV)
Also, it is terrifying that it could (and should) be you and me, simply because we grumble. We so often go against God’s Word and will. Will we be judged and condemned with the rest of the world? Will the good we do be good enough to save us? If we put our “good works” on a scale with our “evil works” the scale will break by pounding down on the evil side. It is very common for people to say, “I hope I’ve done enough good to outweigh the evil.” But it is a pipe dream. It only takes a bit of inner search to see that that is true. And Jesus confirms it:
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, ESV)
He echoes Isaiah:
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)
Just to be clear, that’s the good things we’ve done, “our righteous deeds”. It is true because God judges the heart, not the actions.
And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:20–22, ESV)
The Judge is at the door, ready to enter the courtroom. When we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are praying for all human hearts to be opened and judged. It is a terrifying thought.

And yet, the church has always prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus.” How can it when it knows, above everyone else, what the world faces when he comes?

It’s what James finishes with in the text,
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10–11, ESV)
It’s that last phrase, “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” That’s the God we know, and the world does not. It is the God we confess. He is compassionate and merciful. He does not desire the death and punishment of sinners. It is what his righteous judgment demands. But he has done what is necessary to save sinners.

So, why here in Advent to we say so fervently, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Well, it is all about Jesus coming. Both times. First, when he came to save sinners. When he took on human flesh and was born in a stable. Fully human, he did everything humans should do. As a squirming baby he was unlike any baby before. He cried when he was hungry, he needed his diapers changed, he cooed at his mother. The difference is he did it all without sin. When he as found in the temple by his parents, talking to the priests, that too was without sin. When he was baptized in the Jordan river and preached repentance saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” When he healed myriad of sick that came to him. When he raised dead Lazarus. When he confronted the Pharisees and the Sadducees calling them “You brood of vipers”; When he drove the money changers out of the temple. When he stood before Pilate as “the Man”. When he was fastened to the cross. When he spoke words of comfort to his mother as he died. When he gave up his spirit. All was without sin. It was confirmed when he walked out of death to life. His resurrection is proof that God, the Father, the judge of all humankind, judged this single person righteous.

Most importantly, for his first coming, he showed God’s compassion and mercy. Because all that he did, without sin, was done for everyone, even those who hate him and disregard his Word. He sacrificed himself, in the place of sinners. He “became sin”, our sin. Taking punishment to the cross and death, and suffering hell.

So, when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is a prayer for our judgment to be place on Jesus. All that we have done outwardly, and even inwardly in our hearts, we pray is given to Jesus. “Come to me Lord Jesus! Take my sin. Take my guilt. Take my imperfect life as yours.” And in faith, God, the Judge does just that.
For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
We are not/will not be finally judged by our works or accomplishments. Be we become the righteousness of God. We are/will be judged on Jesus works and accomplishments. This transaction of the cross is based on faith. Sinners cling to Jesus for it, and only sinners. Our faith in all of this is faith in the promise of God, given in Jesus. If we find him to be faithful to his promise, compassionate and merciful.

Will you stand before the creator of the universe on the last day in judgement? It must be so. Because then, and only then, when you see the shambles you have made of your life, standing there in your filthy rags; your sin; your selfishness; your failure to heed God’s Word; your failure to help those in need; the sins you know, and those you don’t; your laziness; your lack of action for those who can’t protect themselves; and the total depravity of your sin; only then when you are declared guilty deserving eternal hell; and Jesus says to the Judge, “This one is mine, he has been gifted faith in all that I have done.” And he says to you,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
Only then will you understand what it fully means to be saved by grace. Only then will you be able to have full joy at what God has done for you. Only then will you revel in the presence of Christ, your savior, forever. “Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Matthew 3:1-11; Second Sunday in Advent; December 4, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:1–11, ESV)
Listen to the voice in the wilderness

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

He wasn’t what you’d expect in a voice of authority. His clergy vestments weren’t elaborate. Instead of a long flowing white gown he wore camels’ hair and as simple leather belt. His baptismal font wasn’t gold incrusted, or even wood, like ours. It was the muddy Jordan River, a shallow spot close to the main crossing place between the east and west sides. His church wasn’t a beautiful man-made building, lined with stained glass, and beautiful decorations. His was a place, outdoors, near a major thoroughfare. The rocky, un-cultivated area around the river. Because of his setting he was called the “voice in the wilderness.”

But, despite the setting, in spite of his appearance, his message was one of critical importance to the kingdom of God. So important, in fact, is John’s message, that the Gospel lesson for today and next Sunday are about him. Two out of the four Gospel lessons in Advent are about John. I think that means we should pay attention to what he is saying, if we want to prepare for the coming of the baby Jesus. So, the question for us is this: What does John have to say to us, today, here in Grand Marais, MN, the second year in a century 20 centuries removed from the sound of his voice? Why should we “Listen to the Voice in the Wilderness?”

John the Baptist was a fearless preacher. He didn’t hesitate to confront people with their sin. He didn’t mince words. Can you imagine walking up to a group of people today and calling them, “You brood of Vipers!” That is just what John did. He screamed it at the Pharisees. They were hypocritical, meaning they acted one way but underneath they were quite different. They had turned the religion of the Jews away from true worship of God, the one who had delivered them from Egypt to a meaningless performance of rituals, and countless rules and regulations. And he shouted at the Sadducees that denied the words of God himself by saying that there would be no resurrection of the dead. In today’s climate it isn’t considered proper to tell other people they’re wrong. But John the Baptist didn’t pull any punches. The sins that he pointed out were worthy of such warning from this voice in the wilderness.

But sin, of course, isn’t limited to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. If it where we wouldn’t need to gather here today. Sin is a fact of our everyday lives. We encounter it in others, and we see it in ourselves. But all too often we want to block out the voice in the wilderness when it speaks about sin, especially when it strikes a little too close to home. We would rather concentrate on the little baby to come. But God speaks to us in warning whenever we would turn away from his declaration of our sin. “The axe is laid at the root of the tree,” he says. Judgment is due, sin has its consequences, and you cannot go on sinning forever. Sin is serious business. Without a recognition of that, a right relationship with God can never begin. Listen to the warning of the voice in the wilderness.

John’s voice was more than just a voice crying out a warning. He had a very special role in God’s plan of salvation. He was the great prophet who was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, the promised Savior. He was the final voice in a long line of voices beginning with God himself, who spoke of the one who would crush the serpent’s head. John’s voice was also a prophetic voice. He was preparing the way for Jesus to come. He was preparing for the baby that would lie in swaddling clothes, and sleep in Mary’s loving arms. But John’s words don’t quite seem to fit that little baby.

“He is coming,” said John, “don’t be caught un-repentant! When the Messiah comes, he will come as a judge and separate the wheat from the chaff. Just like a man harvesting grain, the chaff must be burned. To be un-repentant is to be destined for the fire.” John’s message carried with it strong judgment. We have a difficult time seeing the little baby as bringing with him strong judgment. But that little baby is the same one who used John’s words to speak out against those who didn’t repent. As surly as Jesus was born in the quiet darkness of Bethlehem, he also brought God’s judgment to the world.

But judgment and destruction aren’t God’s delight. John also said the coming Savior would gather his own wheat into his barn. There they would be safe and protected for all eternity. And Jesus does gather his own, “My sheep hear my voice, and they know me,” he said. “I am the Good Shepherd, I will do what is necessary for my sheep, even though it means my own death.” Like wheat gathered in the barn, Jesus will gather his own. These are the words that John gives for the comfort of those who belong to the Savior. These are the words of peace and hope from the voice in the wilderness.

And there is even more in John’s message to listen to. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” St. Paul would say it like this, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) John’s says that Jesus brings with him the Holy Spirit and fire. Just as fire refines, so does the Holy Spirit. When he comes into our lives, he continually points us to Jesus. He continually reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that that Savior is Jesus Christ. When he does faith in Jesus grows, and we draw closer and closer to Him. John speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit… Listen to the voice of promise in the wilderness.

And John’s voice, that voice in the wilderness, is a voice of invitation. You see, his message centers on Christ. Wherever Christ Jesus is proclaimed there is always and invitation, a very gracious invitation from God himself. Maybe we hear it more clearly when John calls out to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” “Look,” he says, “Here he is. The promised one from God, who will make everything that has been wrong since Adam and Eve right again. Believe in Him!” In this message today, the invitation sound like this; “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Maybe we don’t quite see it because maybe we don’t quite understand what John means by the word ‘repent’. We know that ‘repent’ means to be sorry for our sins, but it doesn’t just mean that. That is a part of it, a very important initial part. But true repentance doesn’t stop there. In its fullest sense it includes being turning around. It means to reach out and grasp a hold with the hand of faith the healing for sin that God offers through Jesus Christ. It involves a new attitude of the heart, a new outlook on life. For sinners who repent, they have a new Lord and Master. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, they are ruled by Jesus Christ, the newborn King. That’s us, we have been declared members of the Kingdom of God, in Holy Baptism, the kingdom has come to us. By faith, through the Holy Spirit, God lives in us making us a new creation. Wherever God is in Jesus Christ there is the kingdom of heaven.

There is a lot to listen to in this voice in the wilderness. It cries out a warning to us. “Repent! Turn from your sin. Get right with God.” It’s a warning all of us should listen to. It also cries out to us with a promise. “Jesus is coming! He is the promised one who makes all things right with God again.” And that voice in the wilderness invites. “Look here at Jesus. He is the King. He comes to bring the kingdom of God to you.” Amen.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Psalm 46; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 20, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1, ESV)
Herb had never felt this kind of fear before… He had walked this way home a thousand times, but this time was different… this time he was afraid. Maybe it was because his hip hurt more than ever… maybe it was because his cane felt heavier than usual… or that the ally was darker, there was surely someone there waiting to jump out and hurt him like before. Everything tonight reminded him of the night when someone did jump out at him, and knock him down and hurt him. That was the night he wanted to forget, but it was too much like tonight. “Give me your money, Old Man!” said the young man towering over him as Herb lay in pain on the ground. “I know you’ve got it…” Herb obeyed without a word. When he gave it to him the mugger just looked at it in disgust… “Is that all you got, you stupid old man?” he said kicking him in the hip for emphasis. Then he was gone, and Herb was left lying there on the sidewalk, alone. Now tonight, he passed by the very spot where it had happened. Herb walked as quickly as possible, whatever his hip would take. He looked down the street, he could see his own front door, the light there above it was on for him. That was where he wanted to be, that was where he was safe… that was his refuge.
Psalm 46:1–3 (ESV) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Like Herb, we need a refuge, because the world is a dangerous place. There is trouble out there. The Psalm paints a picture of violence, the earth falling apart, mountains crumbling and oceans coming out of their banks sweep over everything in their path. It shows us dangers we can’t avoid… dangers that are too big to run away from. God is our refuge, it says, even in the face of these kinds of dangers.

God is our refuge… our safe place… when I was younger, I remember walking through our neighborhood and seeing a sign on some house, “Block Home.”

“Dad, what’s a block home?” I asked. I sure I had in mind the block heads that some of you might remember on the Gumby television show, the one’s that troubled him all the time, or maybe a place where you go and play with blocks…

“That’s a place you can go if you are in trouble.” He said, “It’s a safe place to run if someone is chasing you.”

In some places fire stations have signs up that say… “Safe Place” It is a refuge. Somewhere to go in time of trouble.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when we are threatened by sickness, that lurks in the darkness to catch us when we least expect it. …threatens to jump out and knock us down… to take away our ability to take care of ourselves, our independence, and self-reliance. But, in sickness we turn to God, who is our refuge. Like the woman who came to Jesus crying, “heal my daughter!” Just like her we come to our Refuge for healing. We come to this altar in prayer.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when other people threaten us. People we don’t understand… people who don’t understand us. It isn’t just thieves and muggers… People who are willing to kill to satisfy their own ideals. People who have very different ideologies… very different theologies that threaten us. Herb was beaten on a dark street; Christians are often ridiculed on primetime. Positive portrayals of people of faith are hard to come by on television. And it’s getting worse. People of faith are under attack in the legal system… and the school system. And when it happens, we run to our Refuge. “Help us, Father!” we cry.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. The ultimate trouble that faces us, the one that has been pushed into the forefront of our minds this week… is death. The old hymn “I walk in trouble all the way,” speaks of death ‘pursuing us.’
Death doth pursue me all the way Nowhere I rest securely He comes by night- he comes by day, And takes his prey most surely A failing breath, and I I death’s strong grasp may lie To face eternity for aye. Death doth pursue me all the way. (LSB 716)
Only a breath lies between life and death. A misstep… a mistake… during a trip to the grocery store, or home from work. Death walks along with us down the dark street… but God is our refuge, we turn to him when death threatens. “I walk with Jesus all the way,” the Hymn comforts. In Him we find refuge.

Martin Luther understood what it meant for God to be our Refuge. The hymn we will sing as our communion hymn is based on our text for today, Psalm 46. Luther saw God as a “Mighty Fortress,” a place to run in danger, a place to be safe. Just like the “block home,” or the “blue star,” or the fire station.

God is our fortress where evil things that are pursuing us can’t reach us. God was a refuge for Luther. God is our refuge… we have run to him today… right here in this place. This is one of my favorite passages in scripture. It echoes Psalm 46 and Luther.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10, ESV)
It uses God’s name that he gave to the people in the Exodus. “LORD” in all caps is “YHWH” God’s name given as a protection in the time of their danger. Even though this church might seem like a tiny speck of pepper in a vast ocean… whose waves threaten to drown it… we have come here to seek refuge. We come here because this is the place that God tells us about his greatest rescue. Here is the place where we hear how he saved us from our great enemies. How he sent his own Son… how He endured pain and death. “Crucified dead and buried,” we say every Sunday. Jesus Christ died, but just when death seemed to have its victory, God reached out a saving hand and raised him from death. Rescued him from the grave…

But we couldn’t turn to God as our refuge if Jesus’ rescue was only for Jesus himself. The rescue of Jesus is our rescue, too. His death is ours; his resurrection is ours. It becomes our when God poured water on us… and “baptized us into Christ.” The promises are for you and your children, the baptismal liturgy says, and “baptism now saves you.” Because of Jesus rescue and God’s promises found in His word and given to us through Baptism, we have a refuge in God.

Primary in those promises is your resurrection from death. When Jesus comes again, your body will rise and be perfect. All the dangers of the world will be gone forever. It is the ultimate rescue for you and me, to live in glory with Christ forever, away from danger, hardship, and trouble. With that in your future, what can the dangerous world do to you.
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:13–15, ESV)
The hope that is in you, is the hope of the resurrection. It isn’t a hope like the hope of the world, hoping it will happen, but a sure hope. Based on God’s promises of rescue. God’s promises are sure. It is his nature to keep his promises.

The world is a dangerous place, but we have a Refuge, God is our Refuge, through Jesus Christ. So even if illness overtakes us, he is our refuge… we look to him for healing, but even if the illness ends in death we find refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. Even though there are people out there who hate us and threaten us, we turn to God for refuge. Even if they kill us, we find our refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. And when death does finally catch us, when the pursuit is over, when darkness is closing in on us… we look to God, our refuge and remember the rescue, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in him we find refuge. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Psalm.149; All Saints Day; November 6, 2022

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a | new song,*
his praise in the assembly of the | godly!
Let Israel be glad in his | Maker;*
let the children of Zion rejoice | in their King!
Let them praise his name with | dancing,*
making melody to him with tambou- | rine and lyre!
For the LORD takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.
Let the godly exult in | glory;*
let them sing for joy | on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the | nations*
and punishments on the | peoples,
to bind their | kings with chains*
and their nobles with fet- | ters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment | written!*
This is honor for all his godly ones. |
Praise the LORD!
Glory be to the Father and | to the Son*
and to the Holy | Spirit;
as it was in the be- | ginning,*
is now, and will be forever. | Amen.

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

Now let's be honest. This psalm makes you a bit uncomfortable, doesn't it? I mean, you agree with it at first, then toward the middle it gets a bit rough. I mean praising God with a two-edged sword isn't quite the image we have of church. I forgot my saber at home, what about you? And that "executing vengeance" and “punishments on the peoples" is a bit strong. Does God really mean to slap kings in irons? All of that just doesn't seem to fit with "Sing to the LORD a new song". Well, at the very least it's not a NEW song. It sounds like this is one of those things in the bible that's just a bit outdated, one of those embarrassing things we push under the carpet with a broom when no one is looking. I guess pastor wasn't paying attention when this one was picked for today’s sermon... maybe we should have stopped it with "Let the godly exult in glory let them sing for joy on their beds."

There are lots of ways to understand this psalm. First, in its historical context it made perfect sense for God's people to rejoice in God doing just what the psalm is talking about. They had enemies all around them that we bent on their destruction. God's promise of a Savior extended to his protection of the people from where the Savior would come. They rejoiced in God's protection. And it was right for them to do so. But why in the world do WE read and sing this psalm? Maybe it would be better just to cut it off in the middle.

Well before we get to that point, I think it’s a good time to review a bit about the Book of Psalms. First, I want you to remember that the Psalms are the prayer book of the church for all time. In them you'll find every aspect of Christian life described, every emotion, every evil called out, every claim and promise of God. Martin Luther thought very highly of them and used them every day in his daily devotions. The Psalter is a book of poetry. But it is much more than that. It is a prayer book, the prayer book of the church. It you want ample proof that it's ok to pray pre-written prayers you have an example here of 150 of them. The way to understand what the psalms are saying is to understand two things about them. First, they are poetry, Hebrew poetry. They have a specific structure. Each verse (usually) contains one thought. The thought is expressed in the first half of the verse (called a strophe, marked by the *). Then in the second half the thought is repeated and expanded or explained. And so, the psalms are written to sing antiphonally. That is, back and forth, person to person. Each thought is sung and then repeated by the other person. That's why we speak / chant them the way we do on Sunday morning.

Hebrew poetry is also known for its compactness. In Hebrew the psalms don't often rhyme, but they do have a meter, and lots of alliteration (that is words that have complementary sounds). It's like a conversation about God, from God. It's confessing (same saying) what God tells us about himself.

But the important thing to remember about the Psalms, and the best way to get meaning out of them is to read them as World War II Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:
“the Psalter is the prayer of Christ for his church in which he stands in for us and prays in our behalf…In the Psalter we learn to pray on the basis of Christ’s own prayer [and] as such is the great school of prayer.”
“In the first place, we learn here what it means to pray on the basis of the word of God, to pray on the basis of promises…In the second place, we learn by praying the Psalter what we should pray for just as surely as the range of the prayers of the Psalms goes far beyond the experience of any individual, we still pray the whole prayer of Christ in faith, the prayer of the one who was the truly human being and who alone has taken into his life the full range of the experiences of this prayer…In the third place, praying the psalms teaches us to pray as a community…the deeper we penetrate into the Psalms and the more often we ourselves have prayed them, the simpler and richer our own prayer will become.”
Jesus Christ has brought every need, every joy, every gratitude, every hope of men before God. In his mouth the word of man becomes the Word of God, and if we pray this prayer with him, the Word of God becomes once again the word of man. (The Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

A simple way to remember it is to "put the psalms on the lips of Jesus." He did that all the time in his ministry. He quoted them. He prayed them. All at the most important times in his ministry. The psalms are Jesus’ prayer book.

The best example is Jesus on the cross quoting Psalm 22. It tells us exactly what's going on in Jesus, as he hangs there.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1–2 (ESV)

Jesus means for us to see him speaking the whole Psalm there. And there He wants us to understand that there on the cross he is suffering the eternal punishment of our sin. That is, he was abandoned by God. He suffered the eternal punishment of hell. Eternal separation from God. It is what you and I earn for our lives of sin. It is what you and I could not avoid because we are "by nature sinful and unclean." Had it not been for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross there; all we could look forward to is dying in our sin and eternity separated from God, in the eternal punishment of hell. You see, if it were not for Jesus, there would indeed be no "new song" to sing. There would be no reason for "dancing" and "melody" to God. In Jesus this psalm rings out in praise to God for saving us from our enemies, from sin, death, and hell.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

So, the Old Testament saints sang this psalm in praise for God's deliverance from their enemies, and in light of the Savior who would do the same. And so, we sing it, too, because we have been delivered from our enemies.

And what about those saints whose names we'll read in a moment? Well, they are singing this psalm right now. For them the words of salvation are most poignant. They have passed through death to life.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.
Let it be so also for us!

And... there's always one more thing. It's that sword thing:
Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't make the connection here to Jesus himself.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, ESV)

Our message is this Word of God, and it does just what the psalm says. It executes judgment, it binds kings (and all people) to their sin. And that is our proclamation of the Law. Remember the S O S? The Law shows us our sin. It is a necessary part of our message to ourselves and the whole world. So that people see their true place before a holy God, deserving only God's wrath and punishment. Without the proclamation of the Law no one would see their need for Jesus on the cross. But the Sword of Word is also the S O S of the Gospel. It shows us our Savior. Jesus saves us by his life, death and resurrection. The Book of Hebrews continues:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

This is our two-edged sword. The Good News of a Savior from sin. And is it ours to wield in the world. Amen.

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