Monday, October 7, 2013

St. Michael and all Angels: Revelation 12:7-12

Sept 29, 2013; St. Michael and all Angels; Texts: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 10:17-20; Title: What’s happening in Heaven? Rev. Tim Beck

Our text: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev 12:8-12, ESV)

This scene is from the revelation given the Apostle John when he was in exile on the isle of Patmos. John recorded what was revealed, the book beginning: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to          show his servants the things that must soon take place.”  Note this first. The revelation is of Jesus Christ. He is the star of the show, the bright and morning star. Second, the revelation is also given to show Christ’s servants things to come, things leading to His second coming.
          Today on this commemorative Sunday we acknowledge the angel Michael and all angels, as we peek into what they have done on our behalf, as Christ’s servants. We only know of these actions by our Lord’s revelation. John’s vision takes us to what we cannot see but affects our daily lives. It carries us to realms we do not comprehend, yet experience. For example, angels battle on our behalf. Hearing this, what do you wonder? Do you ask, “How do they fight?”  We like silly questions. So some folks get rich writing Christian-fiction about angels, since we are tempted to specialize on what fascinates our fleshly imaginations. That’s nothing new. Michael and the angels have been depicted in paintings, sculptures, and books for centuries...  for better or worse. Why do we want to know what we are not told, such as how angels fight? Instead, let’s why the Almighty God revealed what He did. That’s what He wants us to know, in this revelation of Jesus Christ.
          Meanwhile (as Scripture tells us), the angels long to look into what we know, that is, Christ’s cross. They want to understand all about God’s Son made man. Remember, John’s revelation is of Jesus Christ. He is the star in the show, the bright and morning star. That doesn’t mean we ask nothing about angelic warfare. We’re told about it. It is revealed for a reason, the Spirit of God showing John. There was war, a war Michael fought against the dragon because of what Christ did, a war which shut heaven to the serpent and a victory that is everything to us.  That’s the point! Miss that, and you’ll fall into the dozens of confusing interpretations about this book. 
          I suspect most misunderstandings come from a single reason. It is the same reason we want to know more about how the angels fought than about whom the revelation is about. It is a revelation from Jesus Christ and a revelation of Jesus Christ, and a revelation of the things that take us to Christ’s return. John’s revelation is not given to fixate us on terrible signs and titanic struggles, so that we can predict the day and the hour. Rather, it assures the faithful of Christ and His victory. The Apocalypse describes that which takes place so that we know all things take place only as God intends…for the kingdom of our God and of His Christ rules! To say it again, don’t focus on angels or the fearful events and be led astray from what we are given: a glorious hope in Jesus Christ, the incarnate God.
          Now for something else: to understand John’s vision one must understand its shape. It begins with a prologue to seven historical churches in Asia Minor (the first 4 chapters).  John encourages these churches to endure persecution, to defend the faith against false doctrine, and to repent from sin, because the Lord is returning soon. After addressing 7 churches, the subject at hand shifts from earth to heaven. John sees a glorious vision of God’s heavenly reign with the Lamb slain, a Lamb that yet stands in the center of the throne. We see who won the battle. Then we begin the 3rd division of the book – after addressing 7 churches, after a vision of the victorious Christ, John describes history from the Ascension to the end of time. He describes this history in 6 portraits of the same set of events, seen from 6 different perspectives. To repeat, first seven letters to seven churches, then a vision of the victorious Lamb, and then 6 portraits of the time between Christ’s ascension and return; and that followed by the grand finale, the return and the kingdom.
          Back to the six portraits: what is the perspective of each? 1) The Seven Seals – suffering caused by mankind; 2) The Seven Trumpets – nature’s plagues; 3) The Church Preserved – note, this includes today’s text; 4) Seven Bowls of Wrath – the call to repentance ending in judgment; 5) Babylon’s Overthrown – the end of the Lord’s enemies; 6) Satan Bound – his demise. These six visions all speak about the same period of time, from Christ’s ascension to the end of the world. The 6 visions are not chronological, but repetitive, thematic. John sees the same period of history from 6 perspectives. And each of these 6 pictures brings us to the end of the present age. Most importantly, each vision declares hope to the earthbound Christian, and a glimpse into the eternal reign of God and His Christ.
          How does this relate to today’s text? Our text describes things from the viewpoint of heaven, describing events on earth. We see angels battle, and why. From heaven we see Christ’s work on earth, so that today’s text is a message of hope, despite the dire warfare. As our text says, there was war in heaven… a war by which God fulfills His plan for a fallen creation. This angel-involving plan was for you. What Jesus Christ revealed is not for the sake of curiosity, but to strengthen your faith, to give hope for battles you face. God chose Michael to cast out the dragon, the serpent of old, called the devil and Satan, the one deceiving the whole inhabited earth. We don’t know how Michael and Satan battled, but we know this: we rejoice on earth because of who is no longer permitted in heaven. Our enemy was cast down: murderous, beastly, cruel, and vicious; strong, crafty, venomous and malignant. Pictured as seven-headed, he is not easily slain. His desire for blood is never satisfied. 
          What did this dragon do while he had access to God in heaven? The serpent of old deceived Eve and tempted Adam to choose evil. And succeeding, He continues to destroy by deception. He tells the nations that violence is good. From his principalities of spiritual wickedness He says goodness is to be destroyed (Eph. 6:12). But what was the fight in heaven about, the fight that is finished? To understand, listen to what that serpent’s name means: Devil means slanderer, an accuser with evil intent. Satan means adversary, whose goal is to lead us into sin. He leads us to sin, then points at us before God and says, guilty! Look at Jill over there. I’m going to tell you a thing or two about her. Look at Jack. Are you going to do what holy-justice demands?  And God listens to accusations, that is, those that are true. God sentenced Adam and Eve… despite who caused the fall of the human race.  Yes, for a time, Satan had access to heaven, accusing us on earth for the results of his temptations. Then something changed the course of heaven’s history, so human history. God the Father no longer listens to the devil’s accusations against us. Why? Michael cast him out so that he can no longer accuse believers before God.
          That’s heaven’s view. And we on earth know when Satan was cast out… when the Christ cried “My God, why have you forsaken me?” He bore all accusations, He suffered the Father’s righteous indignation, He paid the cost, suffered the wounds, absorbed the serpent’s poison. And you are no longer guilty before God, in Christ. Thus the cross on earth armed Michael in heaven.  For unto you the salvation and power and kingdom of our God and the authority of Christ now reigns. For unto you the salvation and power and kingdom of our God and the authority of Christ now reigns.  The kingdom of God is a victorious NOW in you and for you. The devil no longer can claim you as his, you baptized soul.  There was a victory, a victory in heaven when God’s Son suffered on earth. So you are victorious on earth; who in Christ also dwell in heavenly realms. This victory occurred in heaven because of the blood of the Lamb on earth.
          The church follows in that victory by our witness to Christ’s word. We do not love our life unto death, but lose our life in Christ and gain eternal life. In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the theme of the blood of the Lamb circles us back to John’s first glimpse of heaven. Before the throne of God John wept because none was found worthy to open the scroll. Within that scroll were all the events of the revelation, all needing to take place for our redemption. Unless it was opened the saving events could not take place. Our mortal enemy Satan would triumph.  Then one worthy to open the scroll was found. “Thou are worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof; for thou was slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and has made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5: 9, 10)
          The Lamb slain opened it, bringing to pass all that must take place, as seen from the perspective of heaven. How does it look from the perspective of earth? As our Lord said recorded in the gospel of John, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.  And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” This he said, signifying what death he should die. As Paul records in Colossians, And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses. Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”
          Again, why does our Lord reveal to you those events in heaven? The heavenly picture is for confidence on earth. The cosmic battle is won. The dragon was defeated by the Lamb.  Therefore the church stands, because of the Lamb slain who stands. Because of Him we shall be true to the word in our witness. We witness to the forgiveness of sins and therefore, stop the devil’s accusations.  We witness with water and word, and are freed from the deception of sin. We witness to Christ’s death and commune in His very life. We share on earth in heavenly things. Soon we shall reign in heaven when Christ returns on earth.
          That’s the reason the devil has great anger, knowing that he has little time. His goal is to destroy your faith, to destroy the church. Therefore, battle with the word of God, even these: Christ died for sinners, saving us by grace through faith and not by works. We are declared righteous before the Father, adopted as His own. We were joined to Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism. We eat and drink His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  We look to what the angels long to know, that is the mystery of Christ crucified for sinners. We will endure because the Lamb slain lives. Salvation, power, the kingdom of God, and the authority of Christ is established – now, for us and in us. He is the star in the show, the bright and morning star.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus our Lord (Amen).  Come Lord Jesus.

17th Sunday of Trinity: Luke 7:11-17

Sept. 15, 2013; 17th Sunday of Trinity, Texts: Psalm 30; I Kings 17:17-24; Ephesians 3:13-21; Luke 7:11-17; Title: The March from Death to Life; Rev. Tim Beck

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

You’ve seen a parade or two.  People line the street and the show goes by. Perhaps you’ve been in a parade or two, maybe marched in the high school band. I remember those days… gathering away from the crowd, marching to the crowd, marching by the crowd, marching away from the crowd and that was it. After all the excitement, it felt funny to just to pack up and go home. Why didn’t the march go somewhere for a glorious end, more than the director shouting “Way to go, everyone take a drink from the water cooler!”
          Jesus is marching. He appeared away from the crowd. He gathered a great crowd. They follow his parade until he turned off to some lonely place outside Jerusalem. But for now, we’re still with the crowd. They are passing a town called Nain where Jesus paused on his purposeful march toward Jerusalem. On the way into Nain, His huge crowd met a small crowd going out. The crown around Jesus is expectant, eager, and with the twinge of excitement a marching band can produce. The other crowd is downcast and dreary as death; for it is death that Jesus meets on his way into Nain, on his way to Jerusalem.  See the widow who lost her only son, which in that culture means she lost almost every thing: her financial support and retirement account.
          Jesus had compassion on her. Who had compassion on her? Notice that the Evangelist Luke identifies Jesus as “the LORD.” He uses a term for the divine name. Jesus is not only man, but God. When we see Jesus we see God, and we see Divine compassion. What else do we see when God is at work?  This isn’t like the parades of this world, like my high school band marching for a convention at the Denver Hilton. We assembled in a hallway outside the grand auditorium. We were going to march through that crowd. But after folks ate, they pushed their chairs away from the tables into the aisles, aisles that were our highway to the stage.  The band stopped at the door, gawked, said, “Now what?” And the director barked, “Go!” We did. With a great blast we marched in, horns blaring, people scrambling out of the way and Mark Atchison, bright and shy, his flute got stuck on a mile-high coiffure. The woman’s wig flew off and dangled from his flute until the exit on the other side of the stage. The world’s march doesn’t stop for an embarrassed woman. 
          But God stops the parade to care for a widow’s need. He barks, “Stop weeping!” Then He halts the funeral bier and touches the pallet of the dead. From that touch (remember the Mosaic Law) what sticks to Jesus is ritual defilement. He now wears the uncleanness of death.  He absorbs that too for us.  Then of all things, Jesus commands the dead man to rise. He commands the dead to rise and he did.  Jesus returns him to his mother, and everyone shouts a great cheer in glee.  Is that what our text said? What? No shout of glee? No joyous parade?  Our text says, “Fear seized them all.”  Jesus’ parade reversed death, and in place of an anti-climatic finish, new life is given. But the reaction is fear! This is amazing. Why fear such a wonder? Why fear God’s unmerited favor, his grace? Why fear this incredibly good, powerfully kind revelation of God in human flesh?
          Since there is nothing wrong with what Jesus did, what is wrong with our human race in that “all were seized with fear?” Fear is of the law, isn’t it? That’s how the law is supposed to work, creating fear so that it drives us to contrition?   You know what it feels like when suddenly you see whirling red and blue lights, hear a siren blast and “Pull over buddy!”  But our fallen race so often responds in reverse to what the law should do and what grace offers.  In the history of God’s people, how often did fear of God bring them to repentance?  And brought out of Egypt by outstretched hand they despised grace. They grumbled about manna and meat, about water and heat, about Moses and          Aaron, about a land that was barren. And after each sin God let them feel the law. The sons of Korah were swallowed whole. Many munching quail died by plague. Fire from heaven ate up others, etc…  So, why did all who left Egypt of military age die in the wilderness, all but Joshua     and Caleb?  
          And us, do we take the law seriously? For example, Scripture says don’t commune unworthily, so do we examine ourselves? Do we review the 10 commandments asking, “How have I offended thee, O Lord?”  Do we reconcile with those we’ve offended, and test if our doctrine is pure, conforming to Scripture?     That’s why we enter this holy place confessing our sins, letting the law do its work, for the law will have its way. For example, Elijah met a widow, who when her son died …she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”  This widow lived in Zarephath, in Phoenicia.  She was an Israelite who had deserted the land of promise for that pagan city. Her son’s death brings into sharp focus her sins. She thinks, “God has come to punish me.”  In her the law did its proper work. However, she was utterly mistaken about God’s intent.  The LORD sent Elijah not to punish, but to give life. After all, it was grace that sought her while she was outside the land of the promise, living among the lost.
          It was grace hidden behind the law that through her son’s death was ready to pour out forgiveness and life. She failed to discern that the purpose of the law is not to destroy, although that is what it does if we refuse to hear it. The law brings us to contrition as preparation for grace, mercy, and peace. After the cry for mercy, we discover that all along God was visiting us with grace. As He prepared the woman of Zarephath and the widow of Nain for joy, He does for you.  Consider what He did for those fearful people at Nain. In Jesus’ glorious parade he has compassion and stops for a solitary widow in her anti-parade.  Surprised by grace, the people finally leave fear and cry, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”
          Now they recognize the work of the LORD.  Who else can end the fear of the law and replace it with life? Who else can reverse the punishment of the law, namely death?   And that was the purpose of Jesus’ parade, not to run over grief, but to absorb our defilement, to bear our griefs, to drink our cup of guilt. At the end of His earthly parade, at that lonely, solitary hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, he drains the community’s poisoned water cooler into himself.  Then unlike all earthly parades that end in a fizzle, the death that greeted Jesus at the end of his march became for us a glorious fountain of living water. Why did the Lord march to the widow of Nain?  For the same reason Elijah visited the widow of Zarephath in the Lord’s name. He came to take away weeping and replace it with a joyful song. He came that we might sing in confidence, “God has visited His people!”  And He has visited, God made man, He whose parade gloriously revealed grace lifted high.  Because Jesus died and rose your deepest fears caused by your darkest sins are conquered.
          Now we pass through, we march through temporal death and into eternal life. Our dying bodies will become everlasting bodies come that Great Day. That is the finale to the parade of faith. Because of His grace, you pass from ache to joy to exclaim, “God has visited    his people.”            He visited you: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rm. 6:3-5)         
          He visited you: for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:4)
          He visited you: that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17b-19)     He visits you: “This is my body, this is my blood.”      His grace is given you, so that at the end of your earthly parade your joy will be full. He gave and gives you life.  He forgave all your sins to make you children of the heavenly Father.

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

15th Sunday in Trinity: Galatians 5:16-25

Sept 1, 2013; 15th Sunday in Trinity; Texts: Psalm 119:9-16; Proverbs 4:10-23; Galatians 5:16-24; Luke 17:11-19; Title: What Will it Be? Works or Walk? Rev. Tim Beck

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Our passage in Galatians speaks about sanctification, in this letter from the Apostle Paul. Walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh, he says. He is speaking to the baptized, speaking only to Christians. He is speaking to those justified by grace, saved, adopted into the household. He is speaking of what logically follows, of sanctification. He is telling us how to live – but much more than that. He describes the two worlds in which we live, worlds at war.
          All people are born into one world, the world absent the righteousness of Christ. It is the world of Adam’s sin, the inclination away from life, away from good and away from the true God, of the Father, of the Son, of the Spirit, one God. However, the church was re-born into the other world, the world of Christ’s righteousness counted as ours. This is the world of the second Adam’s faithfulness, He justifying sinners. It is also the world of He sanctifying sinners, bringing us into His life, into the good, into a living fellowship with the true God.
          We, the baptized, live in both worlds although not in the same way or at home in both. We flee the world of our origin as we run toward our Saviour. We flee Sodom, as it were, for the mountains of Israel. Do not look back. (Note: the world of Adam’s sin is not at heart physical, what is created… only that which is distorted and ruined by rebellion against the Creator who made all things good.) We flee that ugly world, ever reaching out a bony hand from sin’s prison, beckoning us back behind bars. Let us run toward the freedom of Christ’s feast! It is a battle to the death, or properly understood, a war to the life. That’s what the Apostle describes, commands, and encourages when he tells us to live in the Spirit, in the Holy Spirit.
          Let’s consider the easy part of Paul’s passage first, his description of the battle front. On one hand there is the bad: the works of the flesh are evident. The Apostle says they become visible, manifest, and appear as these: Sexual immorality – briefly defined, all sexual relations outside the marriage bed      of one man to one woman.  Impurity – luxurious, profligate living like the prodigal son, everything about me, a choosing a god by what I want. (This word is also used in Scripture to describe what demons do to a person, to bind us.)  Sensuality – to be lascivious, licentious, shameless, insolent… does this remind you of what passes for comedy on TV? ‘Sensuality’ is not relaxing in a bubble bath or eating a juicy steak, although it could become that without thanks to God. Idolatry is giving priority to, valuing anything, anyone, any idea more than the true God. Sorcery is Harry Potter’s world of manipulating others, by calling upon powers to affect your will rather that God the Father’s will. Enmity is hostility, un-forgiveness. Strife is contention, wrangling, loving a good fight. Jealousy - the rage of desire over something or someone; aiming to control what          is not yours. We also get “zealot” from this word. (Oh, but God is a jealousy God when it comes to you. His is a holy jealousy.)  Fits of anger, wrath, passion, emotional excitement that explodes – what the world sometimes calls the evidence of sincerity and commitment. Rivalries are dissensions that lead to sects, parties, heresies. It includes electioneering or intriguing for office and partisanship (politics anyone?) Divisions, envy and drunkenness hardly need defined. Orgies – (as one commentator put it) nocturnal and riotous processions of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of  Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends[1]and things like these.
          Things that are very normal in our world, or the world into which we were born, the world we are fleeing for a better home. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things (who practice such things) will not inherit the kingdom of God. That is clear enough, a somber warning.
          In contrast, what are the good things?  What is the new world like? But the fruit of the Spirit is… love - the Greek word agape, self-giving for the benefit of another. Joy – thankfulness, gladness in Christ, including a confident hope in the future with present freedom in the gospel. Peace, shalom, well-being and contentment from permanent reconciliation with God. Patience - persevering in the faith for the neighbor’s good. Kindness - the combination of integrity and giving. Goodness - the combination of kindness and uprightness. Faithfulness – firmness, constancy in receiving the grace of God. Gentleness - restrained strength for the good of others, meekness.  Self-control, mastery of one’s passions and desires. Against such things there is no law.
          What law condemns these things, which are in fact, the fulfillment of the law? What freedom when these things are a constant friend and companion. If only we were just one list, never the other! So we just covered the easy part, describing what ought not to be and what ought to be. You know the difficult part, doing what is righteous and good. Are you ready to be only of one world and not the other? Can you do that? By the way, asking “can you do that” is a bit of baiting on my part. Who can fulfill the law? Further, to place the focus on your doing is not correct. Why is that? When it comes to what is good Paul doesn’t say “do” but “fruit.” The source of fruit isn’t you, but the Holy Spirit.
          As for what the struggle against the flesh and for the Spirit is like, a comment by the Rev. Dr. Luther will help: “Therefore let no one despair when he feels his flesh begin another battle against the Sprit, or if he does not succeed immediately in forcing his flesh to be subject to the Spirit. I too wish that I had a firmer and more steadfast spirit… ‘But I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind’ (Rm 7:23). No one should be surprised or frightened when he feels this conflict of the flesh against the Spirit in his body, but he should fortify himself with these words of Paul: ‘The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit’ and ‘These are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.’ With these statements he is comforting those who are undergoing trails, as though he were saying… Your flesh will be an obstacle…(yet do not) lose heart on this account, but by the Spirit he should fight back and say: ‘I am a sinner, and I am aware of my sin; for I have not yet put off my flesh, to which sin will cling as long as it lives. But I will obey the Spirit rather than the flesh. That is, by faith and hope I will take hold of Christ. I will fortify myself with His Word, and thus fortified, I will refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (AE 27:72, Galatians).
          The conflict is in our flesh, inherited in our birth into one world. (Note that in this context this is not your physical being, your body, which is a different Greek word). We were born of the flesh, the old Adam, the old nature, the sinful concupiscence that still dwells in the believer, conquered though it is. On the other hand, you were re-born by water and the Word, the Holy Spirit producing faith in you, faith laying hold of justification; and then the Spirit producing fruit, a sanctified life. So I take hold of Christ through His word and obey the Spirit.
          The war of the worlds is more than doing since the roots run deeper and the cure higher. True, when we give ourselves to the works of the flesh we fall under the condemnation of the law. So we repent our sins and believe the absolution that frees us from the law’s demands. Then we walk in the Spirit because the Spirit dwells in us. As those set free, declared righteous, the Spirit is working the actual righteousness of Christ into our very lives. That’s the walk, the walk of sanctification. Walk by the Spirit… the desires of the Spirit are… if you are led by the Spirit…the fruit of the Spirit is… of those who belong to Christ Jesus...
          The walk isn’t your search for a little voice within, struggling to feel the Spirit, to ask if He wants you to go to the beach or the mountains for your vacation. It isn’t a feeling that says brush your teeth, go here, go there. The Spirit does not come independently of the Word, that is, without Christ.  The Spirit comes to you through the word and sacraments declaring grace, stirring up faith and then growing fruit. That’s how you walk in the Spirit, by walking in the word of God. Luther described well the walk that doesn’t work to obtain love, joy, peace,    and all the rest, although it seems like work. The qualities of paradise are fruit from a tree, from the tree of paradise, from Christ Jesus’ tree, grown by the Spirit in you.
          When did fruit happen? It began when you were baptized into Christ, brought out of darkness and called into His kingdom of light. In baptism, as the Apostle points out in Romans chapter 6, you were crucified, crucified with Christ and raised to new life. Your flesh was nailed to the cross when you were joined to Christ’s death and life, the Spirit given to produce the fruit of Christ’s death and life in you. Now the Spirit leads you to mortify the flesh and to live in fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. For the Spirit testifies of Jesus, taking you to the Word and to the Word’s promises in the Sacraments; pouring out life, strength, grace, mercy and peace. He confirms you were saved by grace, by Christ’s declaration of peace with God, sinner though you are. Then He enters into you for your sanctification, your walk into actual righteousness, since Christ also won that for you. And the Spirit bears fruit. You pray, praise and give thanks just like the one leper who returned to give thanks (Lk 17:19).
          Faith heals us, because it receives the word and by the Spirit, resists the flesh.  Faith makes us whole because Christ reaches out to us, stirring up faith. That summarizes the two worlds in which each Christian lives, simultaneously sinner and saint; sinners since the flesh still dwells in us, and saints by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice.  The sinner must die and the saint, live. It is a challenge, an impossible one apart from Christ, and apart from faith. Therefore our Lord already completed the necessary work when He cried, “it is finished.” Justification saves us. Yet He is now, by the Spirit, working actual righteousness in us, calling us to die to the flesh and live in Christ. Even now the Spirit is working the fruit of faith in us. Even now, though dying, we taste eternal life. Even now we banquet in the feast to come, forgiven and strengthened until that glorious day.
          How then shall we live? Not earning our standing before God by works, by  fulfilling the law, but by believing Christ fulfilled the law in our stead. And believing He declared us righteous, we then walk in the gifts of God. We live in Him who has already joined us to His death and life. We live by faith in the Word of God that proclaims Christ won you. He already won the war.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord (Amen)

[1]Strong, James: The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : electronic ed. Ontario : Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996, S. H0

Thursday, September 26, 2013

18th Sunday of Trinity: Psalm 2

Psalm 2
1      Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
2      The kings of the earth set themselves,
          and the rulers take counsel together,
          against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3       “Let us burst their bonds apart
          and cast away their cords from us.”
4      He who sits in the heavens laughs;
          the Lord holds them in derision.
5      Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
          and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6         “As for me, I have set my King
          on Zion, my holy hill.”
7      I will tell of the decree:
     The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
          today I have begotten you.
8      Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
          and the ends of the earth your possession.
9      You shall break them with a rod of iron
          and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10      Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
          be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11     Serve the Lord with fear,
          and rejoice with trembling.
12     Kiss the Son,
         lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
         for his wrath is quickly kindled.
     Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Sept 22, 2013; 18th Sunday of Trinity; Texts: Psalm 2; Proverbs 25:6-14; Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 14:1-11; Title: This King will Save You; Rev. Tim Beck

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

The Psalms were Israel’s hymnal and the foundation of ours. For example, one old church practice lost, one worthy to restore, was for centuries, at the five cathedral services a day, the Psalms were sung in Gregorian chant. Their melodies echoed in the city’s most beautiful structures, to the glory of God. In a few years of chanting, the entire Psalm book was memorized by the singers. How many of the faithful were sustained by those sacred songs, and how much they still sustain us today! We chant, read and pray their sacred poetry, divinely inspired.
          We rejoice, since Christ is taught, preached, and speaks in the Psalms. We worship using the different kinds of Psalms. We could group them in this way: Messianic Psalms prophesy Christ; teaching Psalms instruct us; comfort Psalms tell the promises of God; supplicatory Psalms beseech; thanksgiving Psalms declare our gratitude that He hears our cry. The Psalms are prayers that confess the faith. Like our hymns, they are no fuzzy ditties, but declare Christ crucified, risen, and coming.
          Today’s appointed Psalm is a Messianic hymn. The word “Messiah” is a Hebrew word translated by the Greek as “Christ.” It means “Anointed.” The Messiah is the anointed one, anointed as king, prophet and priest. Given that anointing, we find comfort in the Psalms, we even hear this as a comfort: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (2:1-3)
          You say that’s a comfort? It doesn’t sound like one! It sounds like the faithful are going to have a rough time. Yes - and yet these verses describe our Messiah. They describe His kingdom come, how He rules, and how His kingdom appears         to human eyes and before God’s eye. There is help here, because the Psalm says that the devil, the world, and the flesh oppose the kingdom of God. So don’t be surprised when the church suffers for good. We hear when God’s kingdom comes it comes with tumult, a violent reaction. It is not the fault of the kingdom of peace, but those who refuse that peace. Look how the enemies of peace treat the gospel, that wonderful word of peace. They say damn to the word of God and then imagine they conquered God. The nations rage, peoples plot, kings and rulers oppose, and ironically, to human eyes it looks like the church is causing trouble again - Christians are the problem - as say those burning churches in Egypt this very hour. But God sees otherwise, for His word brings peace; a peace passing understanding; for when His Word enters our lives, regardless of political strife, His peace rules. So the Holy Spirit teaches us to cling to the Messianic King despite all the raging against His kingdom, all the decrees meant to silence it. The LORD and His anointed have a kingdom, and it shall stand. It stands despite all those who wish to be free of Christ’s peace.
          Perhaps you remember the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who as a good atheist-communist jailed those who said they believed in God. At His overthrow mobs of people stood outside His palace chanting, “There is a God, there is a God!”  And for a time, the most valuable black market item was a Bible. Today’s love for atheism will meet a similar end. There is a God and He has His Christ, His Messiah, His anointed who didn’t come to condemn the ordinary affairs of the world, of good government, civil order, kings, princes, legislatures and unity in a people. But they so often oppose Him. And the church, bearing the cross of Christ, feels the anger of the world. Yet it does not suffer alone… since the rage is against God and His Christ. As said the ascended Jesus to Saul on the road to Damascus (Saul who persecuted the church), Jesus said “Why do you persecute me?” This is a consolation, for what can the world’s raging achieve against the Triune God? What harm shall it really do the church; poor, small, and troubled as she is? The world’s raging is a counsel of foolishness. It is like a fool rushing against a tree to knock it over with his head. It is a fool saying cords bind, these cords constrict, the cords of peace, joy, grace, and its fruit of love. Yes, the church is sorely tried, and we personally are tempted to shrink from the tumult, to deny Christ. Since we are still of the flesh we so easily fear the wrong things, forgetting whom to fear, forgetting whom to trust, drifting from the power of God for salvation. Yet the fact that our foes rage testify that the Word is calling sinners to repentance. That too is a comfort since the gospel gives us the very righteousness of God, His kingdom. While Christ’s foes aim to earn a righteousness of their own, rejecting His righteousness, we receive it as pure gift. We have the righteousness of Christ, the Father’s approval, peace with God.
          So why fear those who call the faithful terrible names? He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (vs 4) That’s another comfort. While governments direct bodily punishments, economic exclusion, second-class citizenship and think since nothing happens God doesn’t know or care… while rulers forbid, the media laughs, people turn away because of the church’s bad reputation and say God is weak, scared by the devil and human shouts… while all this happens, the LORD laughs, he derides them, He is unaffected by rebellion. He is above it all; and laughing now, and will laugh last saying the last word against human rage. He laughs, and turns all things to good for those who love Him, working all things to His purposes.      
          Be comforted, even the persecution which Satan inspires, the Christ works to good, to a good end. He laughs and so will we when our troubles are turned to joy. See what He did in the lives of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the saints before us. No matter what the church bears she shall conquer at the last, for Her Lord cannot be defeated.  As our Lord suffered the rage of nations (Acts 4:21) yet by dying conquered, so too the church. Struggles against sin, the world, and Satan call us to repentance yes, but we have a confident hope because the Father placed His King on Zion, lifted high. The Almighty established a kingship having rule over all the earth, though not yet exercised in glory, visibly, like an iron scepter. The cross atop that high holy hill in the city of peace, the holy city, the city of the promise, shall be manifest in full. While the King did not then establish a physical rule over earthly Jerusalem, He reigns over all the world to bless the church, His bride, His holy people. He dwells in us to manifest Himself on earth, to proclaim His salvation, to reveal His spiritual kingdom and to promise His return in glory, in power.
          Today, the church by faith receives the righteousness given sinners, and at the end, the righteous reign of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords (Phil 2). One day, at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow (Phil 2), even the defiant although to shame. As for the church, Jesus already brought us into His body, into one hope, one faith, one baptism, one Lord.  What is the key to this Psalm? I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
          The first part of that is: “today I have begotten you,” literally, “the day” I have begotten you. This is not an earthly day but is the standpoint of eternity, “the day,” like the “I AM.”  The anointed one, the king, true man is yet true God. He is the very Son of the eternal Father by everlasting decree. So the Apostle Paul says, regarding the eternal manifest in human flesh: God promised beforehand through His Prophets in the Holy Scriptures the Gospel concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead. Rm 1:1-4

          He rules as the eternally begotten who took within His person the nature of a man and humbled Himself to death for sinners. Laying down His life as a ransom, He is now lifted up in His human nature too, and with the divine nature in the one person reigns above every name. This Anointed King is distinct from all other kings, not only in divinity, also in character. His spiritual rule is not by law but by gospel. Thus He asked the Father for his promised heritage, praying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Then given all authority in heaven and in earth He sent the apostles and those that continue in their office to bind and release sinners from guilt. So the church goes forth, baptizing and making disciples, teaching all that He commanded. In this way God’s kingdom comes. While sinful man sees a weak church, a foolish way to rule, God sees things as they are. The kingdom of God is conquering, reigning and shall reign in glory. One day we too shall see exactly as God sees, that is when we see God.
          Take comfort, Oh believers - He absolves, that is, looses us from sin and its penalty. If we, the church, truly believed this we would laugh at death, the devil, the weakness of our flesh and sin. Those are defeated enemies. He, the eternal Son who assumed a human nature, was given Zion, received the Kingdom and dwells there for you and brings you to dwell with Him. The Father gave the kingdom to Jesus the Anointed, the King, the sacrifice, not to be a ruler of this world, just a greater lawgiver, but to receive his inheritance. What is the inheritance that Jesus Christ earned? Haven’t you already heard?  He made the nations His possession when, as Isaiah 53 describes, He became the offering for sin, therefore He shall be satisfied. He shall divide the spoil with the strong. Despite the raging of kings against this kingdom, the kingdom of God comes. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (vs 10-12)
          As the church waits, this too is her comfort. The kingdoms of this world cannot conquer the kingdom of our Lord and God. Kings die, nations fall, empires crumble but the word of the Lord stands forever. And the gospel goes out converting many nations. A review of history tells us that. Seemingly invincible kingdoms fell as prophesied and mighty foes were overcome by the weakness of Christ crucified. This is true, although our King looks weak since He only fights by His Word, without steel sword. Yet His word breaks to pieces the rebellion of Adam’s race.        Then His Word proclaims the love of God. He gives that all might be saved, (Jn 12:47, 48).
          This Word is “the power,” a power rarely visible in earthly life, although there are clues to its fact.  For example, why the rage to destroy the sacred text, to cause doubt in it, to suppress it? How many kings have burnt it, scholars denied it, publishers defaced it, religions twisted it, and yet the church endures? Why the victory of the Word seen in the church born, sustained, and conquering by martyr’s death? Did it not enter into you, changing all things? Therefore, O kings and rulers, be warned! The Word of God cannot fail, it shall not fail, and all powers must bow to it.
          So hear the promise, for all who humble themselves shall be blest by the Christ. That explains the admonition to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.  Fear, since the Anointed One, the King, is the Son who is also Lord. He shares the Divine name. Serve Him, because God is a Holy God. You owe Him obedience. So the church too fears, because we still sin. Yet, knowing His mercy, we      live repentant, absolved lives before Him, and rejoice. The church rejoices, because all believers are received as His children. We are made sons of the Son to inherit the kingdom of heaven. In this way fear and rejoicing are mingled in this life. While still sinners we are saints, justified by the Anointed One’s rule, and given His strength to fight against sin. So kings are advised to kiss the Son, give homage due the King. This kiss is the reverent worship due God alone.   So the Son is worshipped, equal with the Father and the Spirit. Kiss the mediator of our salvation. Adore Him, see Him who rules in heaven and earth. So we are admonished, lest He be angry and we perish. There is no middle ground, no false worship, no rebellion, no state of unbelief that He overlooks. This is the believer’s comfort too. The elect will be vindicated, those who cry to Him day and night (Lk 18:7). He will come soon (Rev 3:11). This Messianic Psalm declares comfort.  Christ’s own shall not be overcome.  Our King, the Anointed, God’s Son, shall rescue us. Despite whatever we face in the kingdom of this world, He who justifies sinners like us will seat us with Him forever on Zion, His holy hill.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord (Amen)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

13th Sunday of Trinity: A Feast for the Hungry

Aug 18, 2013; 13th Sunday of Trinity; Texts: Psalm 146; Isaiah 29:17-24; Romans 10:9-17; Mark 7:31-37; Title: A Feast for the Hungry; Rev. T Beck

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mk 7:31-37). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

The Evangelist Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reports what seems mundane to us. Jesus is coming from the region of Tyre and Sidon and heads to the Decapolis. How many of us can place those spots on a map?  To the Jews of Jesus day, those names meant a lot. They wondered, “Why does Jesus go from one extreme to the other? Why does He just pass through the land of the chosen to visit the dark lands? Those lands deserve the judgment of God.” And the chosen people were right, after a fashion.         
          What does the name “Tyre” suggest to you, and we’re not talking about steel-belted radials. That ancient port, a geographic dividing line between topographies and an easily defended island on the Mediterranean coast, the Phoenicians claimed as theirs. Perhaps before 2000 BC the Philistines settled there, also founding the important sister city-state of Sidon. Around 1400 BC, under General Joshua of the conquest, the tribe of Asher was allotted land up to the fortified city of Tyre (Jos 19:29). By the time of David, Tyre overshadowed Sidon. Tyre’s long-lived King Hiram provided Lebanon’s timber and talent for King Solomon’s temple.  Some generations later, King Ahab made an alliance with Tyre and married the princess Jezebel, who with her hubby forced the Northern Kingdom of Israel to worship Baal (1 Kg 16). For the most part, with a brief exception or two, Tyre and Sidon were trouble for God’s people. Those Philistines almost constantly opposed the True God.  They were ripe for judgment, in part because of their lust for luxury and for          exporting that way-of-life to Israel - see Isaiah 23.
          A little after Isaiah, Joel prophesied …they have scattered (my people) among the nations and have divided up my land, 3 and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it. 4 “What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. 5 For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. 6 You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. 7 Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. 8 I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.” (Joel 3:2f. esv)
          And a couple hundred years later Alexander the Great exacted the Lord’s payment. When Tyre refused to surrender to the Macedonian Greek, he built a mile long causeway into the sea and attacked the island fortress. After a 7 month siege the city fell and 2,000 civil leaders were hanged while 30,000 citizens were sold into slavery. More than once Jesus reminded God’s people why Tyre and Sidon fell, they were ripe for judgment. And yet, He said those cities would have repented if He had come to them. If they had heard, they would have repented. See Matthew 11:21. However, Where Jesus is coming from? The prophets not only spoke of judgment against these lands, but an outpouring of grace. What we read from Isaiah today was fulfilled.
          Look at our gospel reading. What is happening in Tyre, Sidon and the regions of Philistia, which includes the Decapolis? The light shined in the darkness to turn Lebanon into a fruitful field. For example, in the Decapolis the deaf hear God, the Word. The Decapolis, a word meaning 10 cities, is a spiritually lost region of Greeks, Canaanite remnants, and errant Jews. Unclean, like Lebanon’s Sidon, Alexander the Great’s veterans founded several cities in the Decapolis in the mid 4th century BC, marrying into the locals. Rome let that region keep Greek governance and leaders since they promised to defend Rome’s territory. The Decapolis culture was mostly Greek. That means Greek amphitheatres, poets, philosophers, teachers and gods, - just across the Sea of Galilee. Like Tyre and Sidon, what’s the shepherd of the lost sheep doing over there? The Apostle John tells us, he calls other flocks into His fold. He is making children of God out of His enemies. 
          Jesus is doing all things well, proclaiming the gospel and showing mercy to those in darkness, as too does the church that follows Him. At last, people in that true-God-forsaking region hear good news. Sinners are forgiven and repentant sinners receive the promise of eternal life. That’s what the Evangelist Mark records for our joy. We can stop the sermon, sigh in happiness and call it a day.  Only there’s more than everybody buttons on a yellow smiley face. Jesus doesn’t just wave his hands wildly, curing folk right and left, sight unseen and speech unheard. He could have. God in heaven could speak and all things would become new. But our redemption wasn’t so easy. It’s like remodel construction, more expensive and difficult than new. There’s a lot to tear down: our innate rebellion, spiritual blindness, hatred of the true God, love for false gods, self centeredness, lust of luxury, etc… It would have been easier to bring in a D-10 Caterpillar and plow the mess into a ditch. Instead, the Son of God became man, humbling himself even to death on a cross. He was buried, a mess of torn flesh and deep wounds. The Lord is in the business of redemption, a drastic remodel, a restoration costing an unbelievable price to freely and justly make all things new.
          Jacob shall no longer be ashamed, nor the ruthless rule with untrue words. There’s a debt to pay for the old place, mortgaged under every injustice, every gossip, every little white lie, every unholy compromise you and I have done. That’s why the Redeemer went to Tyre and then the Decapolis. He’s shopping at the junk store, paying a great price for stuff fit for the trash, to turn it into works of art. He’s in the business of re-creation by means of redemption, now showing what he’s up to by this miraculous sign. He’s done it before, so the Decapolis folks know about Jesus. They bring a man whom           Scripture describes in the politically incorrect terms of deaf and dumb.  He has a real problem - a real sign of the futility sin brought the world, a wound of decay and death oozing from the creation.  These gentiles, cut off from the Temple, surrounded by useless Greek goddesses and gods so like themselves, beg Jesus, “Lord, have mercy.” Notice that this petition isn’t asking for luxury, the lust that judged Tyre. They bring the devil’s handiwork, the evidence of Adam’s fall. They don’t like it. (Knowledge of our fallen state is particularly important for faith, don’t you think?) Then Jesus takes the man away, and in sign language privately shows him what he shall do. Then the Word of God speaks and it is done.
          Re-creation is a personal matter; a real encounter with God incarnate; and faith is personal, even if in thanksgiving it will publicly shout the praises of Jesus. This healing was not done for the crowd’s curiosity any more than for fame. This healing was not only for healing. It was for faith, and for faith to receive even more. Jesus came not merely to prolong earthly life, but to restore us to heavenly life. He came to give eternal life, so that after the grave even our bodies are restored. Through the redemption He is recreating you. Through joining you to His death in baptism He united you to His life. So too the church goes into the world, proclaiming and bestowing these gifts,           manifest in word, water and word, and upon the altar with the word. That’s the work of the church in the world.  By these means the redemption is applied and recreation begun. That’s the way of evangelism. It’s not about beating a bigger drum to entertain a bigger crowd, but beautiful feet bringing good news. Evangel-ism means sharing the evangel, the good news, the gospel. We are called an Evangelical Lutheran church because the gospel defines everything we say, do and are.
          Of course, speaking some bad news is involved. These Decapolis people already knew the bad news. They set it before Jesus, asking He do something about it. If we don’t believe in the bad news, that we’re born spiritually deaf, dumb, and dead, we’ll have no interest in redemption. When that fact hits home – then the good news of the incarnation, the bitter sufferings of Christ, a bloody cross winning eternal life for you, is good news. Then the joy of the Lord hits home, oh, we want to speak about it! But in this case Jesus says tell no one. We think He wasn’t getting the most mileage from his miracles; like when he fed multitudes with bread, then ran away from fickle adoration. We’re not surprised that the crowds all the more proclaim the deed; and say “Jesus does all things well.” Still he charged them even more, “hush!” That wasn’t a strategic missionary mistake. A theology of glory thinks Jesus should be no more than the divine fix-it man. That’s the spirit of Tyre talking.
          Why was Tyre destroyed? Alexander imagined he had reasons, but we know the bottom line from Joel, God’s reasons. Tyre was destroyed because that city said life is all about “me.”  They didn’t mind trading a boy for a prostitute and a girl for a jug of wine. Need we make contemporary applications?  So Jesus healed the deaf-mute away from the crowd, because the reason for healing was more than to stir up lust for the good life, for an end to pain and a life of pleasure. Apart from receiving the cross, the redemption, the atonement, we won’t benefit   from re-creation. We’d misuse it. That says something about why Jesus visited a humbled Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis where people believed they needed him. There the love of God re-created, healing a man’s ears and tongue. Then he heard           and spoke plainly, saying “Jesus does all things well.”
          Even if the folks didn’t yet realize it, that included Jesus’ death and resurrection. The re-creation is accomplished through Jesus’ suffering and death for sinners. The gospel is not just “enough bread,” “healed bodies,” “social justice,” “equal rights,” “what I need to feel good about myself.” The kingdom of God will indeed restore all things to justice, that is, the Old Testament word, God’s faithful/holy love. Only there’s a way it is done. Re-creation only comes through a death, through Jesus’ death in the stead of sinners. Hence it is received only by faith, by faith that Jesus’ death is our life. The only way the deaf man’s healing is going to last is that he hears Jesus in the most important matters. The healed man was silenced by the grave some years later. However, because Jesus died, that man will rise again to re-creation.
          As Isaiah uses an analogy of a fruitful field and forest to describe the work of the gospel, so Jesus’ miracle is an analogy of what He shall do for the spiritually dead. He re-creates through redemption, and doing this, even our bodies will rise. The Apostle Paul puts it plainly. With the heart one believes and is justified. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Those who are saved spiritually will also be re-created in body. So the church does acts of mercy proceeding from the redemption, from the good news of forgiveness, and faith in the good news receives salvation. So the church goes into the world from the font, pulpit and altar because that’s where re-creation is effected and completed.  The deaf shall hear the words of a book… the book. “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” That is a glorious promise. The people of Tyre and Sidon listened to Jesus. Now in the Decapolis they see a        great light. Those whose ears are opened confess, their mouths declaring His praise. “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” So He sends the church into dark places to proclaim the evangel and manifest the love of God through acts of mercy, and the church sends evangelists into dark places to gather in to the church those who hear. In this way Jesus continues to do all things well.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord (Amen)

Friday, August 30, 2013

14th Sunday of Trinity: Luke 10:23-37

Aug 25, 2013; 14th Sunday of Trinity; Psalm 32; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15; Galatians 3:15-22; Luke 10: 23-37; Title: The Tripped Up Trap; Rev. T Beck

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

You’ve seen it before; someone said something and somebody got upset. What happens next? In this case, instead of a rant and rave the upset guy wanted to find out what the other person really meant, while hedging his bets. Being clever, he set a trap to put the other fellow in his place if what he heard was what that guy named Jesus actually meant.  Jesus upset an attorney, a religious lawyer who interpreted the books, a huge pile of religious and civil laws, that interpreted the Torah. The attorney worked for the temple, which was both church and state in that day (not counting the Roman overlords). He now puts Jesus to the test because something bothered that attorney. 
          The context of today’s reading tells you the problem. Jesus greeted the 72 disciple who just returned from their preaching assignment. They were commissioned to declare that the kingdom of God had come in Jesus, who is the Christ. When they returned Jesus told them: All things were given to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father; and who the Father is except the Son and he to whom the Son may will to reveal him. (10:22)
          That’s a mighty big claim, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only in and from Him is salvation, and only those who believe Him are saved. Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught that salvation is through faith alone, faith in Him. This bothers the attorney on more than one front. That’s why he puts Jesus to the test. He asks, “Did I hear you correctly? Is salvation really God’s doing, and received by faith, really faith alone? Isn’t it at least faith with works?”  Consider that question from a historical point of view. We read in Acts how some in the early church said to be saved you have to do the law. Unless you are circumcised forget about getting into heaven. That claim was soundly rebuked by Peter and Paul, as in today’s Epistle reading.
          Later on some said Jesus’ cross isn’t enough to be completely forgiven. You have to earn some of it by loving God and by doing good works. Now and then somebody stood up and said, it’s not what we do… it is grace through faith alone (as in the Reformation). Nevertheless, our sinful inclination wants to earn something before God. We still want to earn enough frequent flier miles to get the heaven.        So some churches teach that although Jesus saved you, now it’s up to you. Some churches say “Grace? What we need is a social agenda.”  Some churches just toss the revealed God out the window. It’s up to you to create a god or goddess that does the trick. These are all tyrannies. They’re about what you must do. They will, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, point out transgression. The attorney’s test is relevant to today’s mindset: And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”   
          Do you see the trap? The question assumes the answer. In legal terms, the question shows prejudice, that is, pre-justice. He asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  The question requires doing as necessary.  Oh, Jesus died for sinners, but I need to add something. The problem is, either you are saved by faith or works, there’s no middle ground. As in Gal. 3:1-3, O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
          It’s all or nothing. Either saved by faith or saved by works and that’s what disturbed the attorney. He wants to be a good man all by himself. Folks say he’s a good man, and by our common standards no doubt he was. He wants God to agree… by the same standards. Working on call as a mortuary assistant, every service I’ve ushered, someone said the deceased was such a good person. Therefore he’s in heaven, in a better place.  Grace is foreign to our Adamic nature. We want to count on our works. We want to do something to be proud of, even if it mocks Christ’s work for us.
          Two men watch their boys swim in the surf. One gets in real trouble. The other boy, sent by his father, swims to rescue him and does, but drowns. The father of the rescued boy says to the other Father, let me make amends. Would $10 help pay a percentage of the death of your son?        So we ridicule God the Father when we expect to be accepted for something we do. To depend on our works is to reject the Father’s love through Jesus Christ the Son. It’s not that Christians should lack good works, quite the opposite. It is how we value who we are in Christ compared to what we do. Jesus doesn’t fall into the attorney’s trap. Instead, He traps the attorney. He gives the attorney what he wants. “You want to be saved by the law? OK.”  He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength [and with all your mind], and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”          
          Jesus asked “how do you read it?” Literally, “How do you recite it?” “Recite” is the liturgical language of the Synagogue. With this word Jesus leads the attorney to recite the Shema. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” This quotation was recited in the liturgy twice daily by every pious Jew. It is the biblical summary of the law. The thorn in the Shema is simple: Do this and you will live. Even now the attorney fails. When he quotes the Shema he adds a phrase, “with all your mind.” He adds to God’s Word like Eve did when she replied to the tempter, “and do not touch it.”  Maybe he added an extra command thinking his piety would impress Jesus. But by adding to God’s word the lawyer made himself ruler over God’s word. He just broke the first commandment.
          He fails the law and that’s why Jesus said, “Do this.” Jesus said “Do this” because He knows the law will convict us of what we do not do.  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Houston, we’ve got a problem. The rocket we sent into space is about to explode. The attorney agrees God’s law is good and just. But then he is forced to ask himself, have I done all that is good and just? The text says, He desiring to justify himself… the grammar implies the desire to justify oneself is a habitual activity. The attorney has constant need to find a claim on self-righteousness. Are we so different? The child, caught with hand in cookie jar says, “I didn’t eat one,” or when older and the teacher collects homework says, “The dog ate mine!” Do you justify yourself saying “I didn’t mean to,” or “That’s what you think,” or “It was his fault,” or “I did it for you,” etc… And whatever person is peeing on the front door of the church, I’m sure he has a reason why that’s just the right behavior.
          It’s too bad self-righteousness is a lie. It’s more then that, it is a prison. It’s a prison if we must keep telling ourselves we’re OK. Here there is no peace. The law always pushes, pushing for more good deeds than we have at any given time, so we look for excuses. The attorney scrambles for a defense. He needs a loophole and thinks he found it in the word “neighbor.” (He’s an attorney after all!) Loopholes mean he can ignore his failures. Sadly, he will then ignore his need for a Saviour. But Jesus does not let the attorney off the law’s hook. Jesus tells a parable, and it is not a lawyer joke starting out, “there was a priest, a Levite and an attorney.”
          Although Jesus throws the priest and Levite under the wheel too, because they taught the same mix of law and grace, the star of the show is the Samaritan. The wounded traveler expected help from the religious professionals, everyone knows they should help. But they did not. Did they justifying it too? But the Samaritan helped; a person who was considered unclean, and couldn’t enter the temple courts. He medicated the hurt man, pouring out the oil and wine.     That expression is also liturgical language suggestive of God’s gifts. So Jesus         reminds the attorney that love for God and neighbor goes together.  But it is more than helping. The Samaritan took a terrible risk to care for his neighbor.
Remember the severe beating the robbed man got, and the loss of all his goods? Those dirty robbers should eat the same medicine! And there was a medicine to make somebody pay, a legal remedy attorneys knew. By helping, the Samaritan opened himself up to an injury-accident lawsuit. In that day’s Middle Eastern culture the Samaritan opened himself for blood-retaliation.          The principle of retaliation was: if the robbers couldn’t be found the next person who did something to the victim could be, even if he was the one who helped.  It’s irrational, but that’s the way the law worked, and still does in liability suits. How many stories do you know someone helping wasn’t thanked? The trucker who stopped for an accident and pinched the artery to save the man’s life had dirty hands, so got sued for causing an infection.
          Yet a Samaritan helped! If the relatives of the hurt man wanted to get even, a Samaritan would make a satisfying target. Jews hated them. Samaritans were cut off from the people of God, defiled by marrying foreigners, and enemies of the Jews over 600 years. (Our Old Testament text is pre-Samaritan days, but suggests the growing animosity between Judah and the territory of Northern Israel.) In contemporary terms Jesus is telling a member of Hamas about a wonderful Jew, or an Armenian about a wonderful Turk, or a Jew about a wonderful Nazi.  Jesus talked about a Samaritan and the attorney is condemned. Samaritans were not on the Jewish list of neighbors. In short, Jesus says the law says show mercy, no exceptions. Jesus leaves the attorney under the burden of the law. But He leaves open a question about God’s love.
          Remember the context, remember why the attorney put Jesus to the test? Do you really want to be saved by your own works when God has mercy? Don’t you want Him to justify you?  God’s Son bore the cost of the law Himself, and on that basis declares you righteous before Him.  That’s what God did. Jesus had compassion on His enemies. Jesus became the Samaritan. Jesus bore the Middle-Eastern custom of retaliation.  Those he helped did to him what they deserved. He was beaten, whipped, and executed. Yet knowing what would come of mercy, Jesus laid down His life. Did the clever attorney understand the message of this parable?  The point is not “everyone must love his neighbor.” It says that, but that’s not the point. The point is: God so loves the world that He sent His Son to become the Samaritan for our sake, to pay the price of retaliation.
          The point is, although we fail to love our neighbor as the law demands, God’s Son justified sinners. Alleluia! That’s the end of the story. Now what? Shall we love our neighbor?  The law does demand it, although we fall short. But what if we are declared righteous? Jesus justified the ungodly. Obeying the law doesn’t figure even one percent of our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith. You don’t have to do a single good work to pay the Father for sending His Son to His death. What about the wounded traveler though? Shall we pass by? No, those who receive God’s grace discover faith bears fruit. Just as Christ rose from the dead, He gives us His life. His love grows in us as the fruit of justification, for Christ now lives in us.
          We begin to do what is impossible under the law. By the work of the Holy Spirit we love God and neighbor, even if not in order to be saved. None of our love is perfect. It’s a rather soiled thing. Just ask those nearest you. However, because of faith, the Father accepts it and you, for Christ’s sake. Since you are justified, your works are accepted as good. Since you are justified by God through Christ, the Father sees what we do in faith as good, for the sake of His Son. You are freed from the burden of the law, and freed to love your neighbor. Jesus meant what He said, revealing and giving His grace to you for salvation.     

The Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Amen)