Hosanna to the Son of David – Sermon for Palm Sunday 2015

Hosanna to The Son of David

Zechariah 9:9-12

Palm Sunday

March 29, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             King David had a mess on his hands. Not Goliath, for he had dealt with the imposing Philistine in his youth, and now the King was much older. The mess wasn’t the ordeal with Bathsheba and Uriah, although it was connected to that sordid affair. No, King David had a different sort of mess on his hands: the mess of succession. Who would be heir to David’s throne? It might seem like a simple question to those of us who know the answer, but it was not so simple for the Kingdom of Israel as their aging sovereign 2-slice-bannerapproached death. Remember, this was a young monarchy; David was only the second king in the nation’s history. While David had been a successful king, it was not clear who the next king would be. In fact, the kingdom had never faced this problem before.  Even David had been anointed king while Saul was on the throne, but David was not Saul’s own son. The kingship of Israel had not yet passed down from a father to one of his sons. Add to that the understandable fact that because David took the throne after Saul, Saul’s descendants felt cheated. They wanted Saul’s heir on the throne.  Toss Absolom’s rebellion into the mix, a rebellion severe enough that King David was actually forced to flee the palace and royal city of Jerusalem while one of his sons took the throne by force. And although David did finally defeat the uprising, along with the uprising of Sheba that followed closely on its heels, the damage to the King’s reputation had been done.

King David had a mess on his hands. Not Goliath, for he had dealt with the imposing Philistine in his youth, and now the King was much older. The mess wasn’t the ordeal with Bathsheba and Uriah, although it was connected to that sordid affair. No, King David had a different sort of mess on his hands: the mess of succession. Who would be heir to David’s throne? It might seem like a simple question to those of us who know the answer, but it was not so simple for the Kingdom of Israel as their aging sovereign approached death. Remember, this was a young monarchy; David was only the second king in the nation’s history. While David had been a successful king, it was not clear who the next king would be. In fact, the kingdom had never faced this problem before.  Even David had been anointed king while Saul was on the throne, but David was not Saul’s own son. The kingship of Israel had not yet passed down from a father to one of his sons. Add to that the understandable fact that because David took the throne after Saul, Saul’s descendants felt cheated. They wanted Saul’s heir on the throne.  Toss Absolom’s rebellion into the mix, a rebellion severe enough that King David was actually forced to flee the palace and royal city of Jerusalem while one of his sons took the throne by force. And although David did finally defeat the uprising, along with the uprising of Sheba that followed closely on its heels, the damage to the King’s reputation had been done.

wpid-Photo-Aug-29-2008-710-PM           Now, just two or three short years after Absolom’s rebellion, with the King’s health and ability to rule in question, with the descendants of Saul lurking in the shadows, always a threat to rise up in a rebellion of their own, it came time to for David to finally name his successor. Two camps arose in the palace. In one corner was David’s son Adonijah, who teamed up with the captain of the guard, probably promising that he would be general of the entire army if he supported Adonijah. The two of them conspired with Abiathar the High Priest, who, so it seems, saw the writing on the wall that if Solomon was crowned king that he would lose his favored status in the new king’s court. Because all of his older brothers had already died, Adonijah was the oldest living son of David and thus felt that the line of succession should pass through him. After all, that’s the way the other kingdoms of the world operate. That’s just what makes sense.

But God had other plans. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had no interest in simply mimicking the commonly accepted practice of the world’s kings, so he did things his own way. He had earlier promised David that his throne would have no end, a prophecy that applied ultimately to Jesus and his heavenly kingdom, but which far too many Jews understood as a promise that the political nation of Israel would never fall. This promise, given through the prophet Nathan, was subtly connected to Solomon, the son of Bathsheba, for he was not yet born when the promise was made, and the promise of an eternal throne was made concerning a son who would be born to David, not one who had already been born, like Adonijah. Yet for some reason, David had not publically named Solomon as successor to the throne, although most of his inner circle knew that was the plan. When Adonijah proclaimed himself heir to David’s throne, David had to act. So the prophet Nathan came with Bathsheba and reminded David of the promise God had made concerning Solomon, and told David to take action. David needed to do something so that all Israel knew Solomon was his chosen heir to the throne, so he held a parade. Solomon was paraded to a place called Gihon just outside Jerusalem, a place where the Ark of the Covenant was being stored until the Temple was built in Jerusalem. There, where the Ark was, Solomon was anointed with holy oil and proclaimed king. And the people rejoiced. And Solomon was paraded back into Jerusalem, through the streets, right up to the palace and throne to take his seat as the one who would continue the line of David.

And throughout this entire parade, Solomon rode astride a donkey. Not a war horse. Not a camel. Not even an elephant. A donkey. The chosen king, the son of David, the one who did not match the world’s expectations, the one who would continue the line of David’s unending kingdom was paraded through the streets of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey while the crowds rejoiced and celebrated his arrival. The Prophet Zechariah drew upon this imagery over 500 years later when he promised that the Messiah, God’s chosen king, would enter Jerusalem on a donkey. And Jesus fulfilled this prophecy 500 years after that. Separated by 1000 years, the chosen offspring of David paraded through the streets of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

For it is ultimately Jesus who fulfills this prophecy. He is the Son of David who sits upon the throne of the kingdom that has no end. He is the king who defies earthly expectations. As one Christian author puts it:

Both the Jews and Jesus wanted to restore David’s kingdom – but in different senses. To most of the Jews in Jesus’ day, David was great because of his political exploits. To Jesus, David was great because he acknowledged his offenses against God and was enveloped by God’s grace. Yes, Jesus was continuing the kingdom of David, but it was not the kingdom that the politically oriented Jews wanted.

The kingdom God was bringing centered in Jesus and His redemptive work. He became truly God’s king on the cross. The subjects of this kingdom were those who accepted only Jesus but also his work.[1]

This is the kingdom of which we are subjects. Jesus is our indeed king, but he is a king that makes no sense to the world around us. We are citizens of a kingdom that makes no sense to the world around us.  But why would we expect anything different? Why would we expect the world’s understanding? Why would we want it?  We live in a world that turns a blind eye to the murder of an unborn child, declaring that the fetus was palm-sundaynever really a life in the first place.  We live in a world that seeks to muzzle the proclamation of the gospel in the name of tolerance.  We live in a world that seeks out and beheads God’s children for their faith. These are the things that apparently make sense to our world, and yet for some reason, we continue to seek this world’s approval.

We are too often eager to let the world or our own sinful flesh set the standard by which our king or his kingdom is judged. We are told that the church is dying, that if we don’t change our ways we have no hope for the future. We are left grasping at shadows, told that if we don’t accept the world’s philosophies, if we don’t embrace the world’s sexual ethics, if we don’t fit ourselves into the world’s mold that we no chance to survive. Too often we allow the world to set the parameters of the conversation, and we are quick to run for cover when we hear that the sky is falling and the church is dying. But this is not our world’s church, so why should we let our world tell us if it is dying or not? This is our Lord’s church, and our Lord doesn’t operate according to the world’s standards. When the world wants a king to ride in on a majestic animal like a Roman Emperor would, our Lord chooses a donkey. When the world wants us to get swept up in the ever-changing winds of public opinion, our Lord gives us the firm foundation of his word, and his word stands forever.

His kingdom stands forever.  That’s the point of what we will be celebrating and observing over the next eight days.  Our Lord has established for himself a kingdom of the redeemed. He established it through the new testament in his blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He established it by allowing himself to be betrayed into the hands of sinful men with a kiss, by standing silently before his accusers, refusing to capitulate to their demands where we would have caved in. He established it by remaining being obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. And he demonstrated his kingship by bursting forth from the tomb, for the world’s sepulcher of death cannot hold the Lord of life.  And now we are being shaped in his image. We are standing before the Pilates of our own. We are now asked, “What is truth?” We are now being tried and tested in our confession. We are being told to simply reject our confession so that we can go free.

JesusOnCross_01 But freedom in the world is captivity to death. We rejoice in the freedom of knowing that our Lord has already won the victory.  The dying world cannot overcome our Lord’s kingdom of life. It may not be much to look at compared with the world’s estimation, but I suppose a donkey wasn’t much to look at either. Yet the humble means of a donkey delivered David’s heir to the throne of his kingdom that would have no end. The humble means of bread and wine, of water and word deliver David’s Son to us today. It may not follow the world’s pattern of how things ought to go, but I suppose young Solomon being anointed over David’s eldest son Adonijah didn’t fit the world’s pattern either. And neither does a God who dies, a God who wins victory by subjecting himself to defeat, to weakness, to humiliation. But that’s what this week is all about: the God of the unexpected. The God of humiliation and rejection coming to us in unexpected ways to claim us as citizens of his heavenly kingdom which has no end.

So ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die. O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin over captive death and conquered sin. Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die. Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain. Then take, O God, Thy power and reign. Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, for he is David’s Son and David’s Lord. He is our King, and His kingdom has no end.

[1] Scaer, David What Do You Think of Jesus? p. 77

Life in the Fray: Pride (Midweek Service – March 18, 2015)

Life in the Fray: Pride
 Kings 20:12-21
Midweek Lenten Service
March 18, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             King Ahaz of Judah was a wicked king.  The kings of God’s people were supposed to rule in such a way that the people remembered that Yahweh was the true sovereign over the land, but Ahaz treated Judah as if it was any other earthly kingdom.  When King Ahaz was faced with the threat of invasion, he chose not to trust in God’s promise to keep Jerusalem safe. The prophet Isaiah explicitly told King Ahaz to trust God to defend Judah, but Ahaz did not listen. Instead, he sought protection at the hands of the Assyrians.  That’s like a mouse enlisting a cat to help him solve a dispute with another mouse. Assyria agreed to help Ahaz defend his throne from invasion, but only if Ahaz willingly agreed to make Judah an Assyrian province. That meant not only paying taxes to the Assyrian King, but also paying tribute to the Assyrian gods, setting up high places to sacrifice to the Assyrian deities, even performing such sacrifices on the Alter of Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem. King Ahaz wanted to do things himself. Too proud to trust God’s deliverance, Ahaz wanted to do things his way. He trusted earthly politics more than divine protection. He turned his back on the help that God offered and instead sought help from an earthly power, a power which quickly enslaved Ahaz and Judah. Ahaz was a bad king.

But King Ahaz did not live forever. After Ahaz died, Hezekiah took the throne. And according to the book of 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah was a good king. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, much like King David had done. In the first month of the first year of his reign, he repairedhezekiahsmall the Temple doors. He restored proper Temple worship and destroyed the altars used for false worship that Ahaz had scattered throughout the land. He sent an invitation to the northern tribes of Israel to join Judah in celebration of the Passover, to return once again to the proper worship of Yahweh and to live as his people. But Judah was still supposed to be an Assyrian province as negotiated by King Ahaz.  When the King of Assyria heard that the new King of Judah was destroying the altars of the Assyrian gods and that he was not paying tribute as a province should, he sent an army to put Hezekiah back in his place. But Hezekiah and his kingdom had nothing to fear, for they were living in the proper place as the people of God. With the imposing Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem, and with no hope for escape, Hezekiah did what a godly King of Judah should do: he prayed. He did not trust his own powers and abilities; he did not trust the strength of his army or the strategies of his military mind. He turned the problem over to the Lord, and the Lord answered. That night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. The Assyrians left Jerusalem alone because they were afraid of Hezekiah’s God. Judah was a free people again.

Hezekiah’s humility had given Judah what Ahaz’s pride couldn’t: deliverance from the Assyrians. But after that deliverance Hezekiah grew deathly ill, so ill, in fact, that the prophet Isaiah returned to tell the king to put his affairs in order, for his death was imminent. In the face of his own death, Hezekiah once again humbly appealed to the Lord’s mercy to deliver him, and once again, the Lord obliged. Hezekiah was miraculously healed from the illness that threatened his life, and he was returned to the throne of Jerusalem to continue leading God’s people.

But pride is like a weed. As the snow melts and you look out on your lawn today, you probably don’t see any dandelions yet.  But just give it a few weeks.  Soon enough, those bright yellow parasites will be everywhere.  Pride works the same way.  While you Dandelion-emoedgars-sxc.jpg2_may not see evidence of it on the surface, you can rest assured that it is hiding just out of sight, waiting for the right moment to poke through. In the first case, Hezekiah remained humble and trusted God to deliver Judah from the Assyrians. In the second case, Hezekiah remained humble and trusted God to deliver him from his illness. But for pride’s assaults on Hezekiah, the third time’s the charm. In the third case, Hezekiah fell victim to the same pride that was Ahaz’s undoing. After being miraculously restored to health, Hezekiah was paid a visit by a special envoy from the King of Babylon. The king heard of Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery, and he also heard of Jerusalem’s miraculous deliverance from the Assyrians. He heard of the two great things God had done for Hezekiah. It is very likely that the reason the Babylonian king sent these messengers to visit Hezekiah was not simply to congratulate him on being restored to health, but to enlist him as an ally against Assyria. It was a political move, much like Ahaz had been faced with many years earlier. And like Ahaz before him, Hezekiah fell victim to his pride. He may have looked to the Lord for deliverance in times of need, but in times of peace he trusted the kings of the earth. He trusted the things of the earth. He took pride in the freedom and strength of his kingdom, so much so that he opened up his entire palace to the Babylonians, bragging about all his treasures and weapons and medicines. Rather than trusting that the same God who had granted freedom to Judah would keep Judah free, Hezekiah pursued a political solution to the problem at hand, a solution of his own devising. And that pride cost him. That pride cost Judah. That pride was the last straw, and God would put up with no more. So the prophet Isaiah was sent to inform Judah that the wealth of their palace would be carried off into Babylon, as would the sons of Judah. Pride goes before the fall, and the fall was coming.

These two kings of Judah demonstrate the danger that pride poses in the lives of God’s children, the way that pride poisons our actions. Sometimes, like Ahaz, pride shows itself in a brazen rejection of God’s will in favor of a different way of doing things. Sometimes, like Hezekiah, a person who has been faithful to God in times of distress falls victim to pride when the going gets easier. In either case, pride is idolatry of the self. That’s why C.S. Lewis called pride “the great sin,” because pride can lead to any other sin. Sinful pride is the poisonous belief that I know better than God, that my way is better than his. Sinful pride believes I deserve the best, better than anyone else. Or, to quote Lewis once more, “Pride takes no pleasure in having something, only in having more than the next person.”

The poison of pride will corrupt our every thought, word, and deed, but it is not without antidote.  The antidote to pride has several elements, starting with an honest confession of who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus, who though he was by nature God was not so proud that he would refuse to submit to his Father’s will, took on human flesh.  He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the painful and humiliating death of crucifixion. He remained silent before Pilate, humbly abiding by his jesusandpilateFather’s will rather than defending himself or setting himself free. It was not pride that put Jesus on the cross, but humility. As Jesus prayed in the garden his refrain was, “Father, not my will but yours be done.” He humbly submitted to the Father’s will. He humbly washed the disciples’ feet. He humbly travelled the countryside without a place to lay his head. He lived his entire earthly life in humility, not letting pride lead him to demand that he get his way. Remembering how the Son of God lived when he was on earth is a powerful antidote to pride in our lives.

But an even more powerful element in pride’s antidote is remembering why the Son of God came to earth in the first place. He came to earth because of my sin. The wall of pride breaks down when we make honest confession of the reality that it is my sinful thoughts, my lies, my lust, my greed, my envy, my hatred that brought Jesus out of heaven and nailed him to a cross. Pride seeks to make excuses for sinful actions. Hezekiah and Ahaz both forgot that their time as king was a gift from God, and because they forgot this, they acted in prideful ways. So often we forget that each day of our lives is a gift from God. We forget that we don’t sustain our own life, and that without our Lord causing our hearts to beat and our lungs to work we wouldn’t have today, much less tomorrow. Yet in our pride we treat each day as if it’s ours by right, as if we deserve it.  We ignore our sin or excuse it away.  It’s easy to do because we live in a world so proud that all sin is simply explained away. Almost any behavior is treated as normal, and those that aren’t normal still aren’t your fault, they are the result of your upbringing or other social influences. But they certainly aren’t regarded as sin, and you certainly don’t need to confess them, not to in the eyes of the world at least. That is fertile ground for pride to fester.  But an honest estimation of ourselves based on the standard of God’s word tells us otherwise. There we see that we are by nature sinful and unclean. There we see the depths of our sin – so deep that pride cannot stand.

Remembering who Jesus was and how he lived is a powerful antidote to pride. So also is remembering that the reason he came to earth was to undo the evil that I have done. And yet another element in the antidote to pride is the means by which this forgiveness is brought into our lives. A splash of water. A small piece of bread. A sip of wine. A simple word. These simple gifts shatter my pride because while they do such great things, they are so common. They are available to everyone.  They are not so expensive that only the wealthy could be saved.  They do not give me access to a super-Word-and-Sacramentsecret club that exists solely to exclude others.  They are for everyone, rich or poor, smart or not, skilled or clumsy.  They are not so obscure that only those who live in the right region of the globe would have easy access to them. They are common, universal elements. Bread, water, wine, words. These common things crush my sinful pride, for if God chooses such simple means to accomplish such great things, why do I assume I must be something great before God will to give them to me? These are not prizes given out to the top one percent; these are God’s gifts for anyone and everyone who wants them. In humility, we recognize that though we are weak and helpless, our Lord is not. He is the one who accomplishes anything in our lives. And such a realization leaves no room for pride.

And ultimately, when our pride is knocked down, a true sense of self-worth can be built up. Pride is dangerous because it is idolatry of the self. But that doesn’t mean we have to hate ourselves. What it means is that the worth we see in ourselves doesn’t come from us – it comes from Christ who lives in us.  My sin was so great the Jesus left heaven and died for it – that reality crushes my pride. But the fact that Jesus loves me so much that he was willing to undergo such torture shows my true worth in God’s eyes. It is not a value I create for myself by the successes or accomplishments in my life. It comes entirely from being a baptized child of God.  Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. Ahaz wanted his value to come from political savviness, so he ignored the identity God gave him and set out to make his own. Hezekiah, though he had been faithful in times of distress, still craved acceptance from the world so much that when he was finally approached by the cool kids, when he was invited to sit at the table with the global power Babylon, he turned his back on who God has created him to be.  Such is the danger of pride: it puts the self in the seat of God. May our Lord grant us repentant eyes and hearts of faith this Lenten season, that we might not fall victim to pride as these kings of Judah did, but that we would rather find our worth always in what Christ has done for us, and in who he has created us to be.

Daily Dedication – Sermon for March 15/16, 2015

Daily Dedication

Acts 2:42

Laetare Sunday

March 15th/16th, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             It takes dedication to accomplish great things in life. It takes dedication to run a marathon. You don’t just wake up one day and run the 26.2 miles, you train first. You train for months, running each day, eating properly, stretching, disciplining your body so that when marathonthe day of the race arrives you are prepared. Such training takes dedication.  We hear all the time about the dedication it takes to become a professional athlete, musician, or artist. You have to hone your skills and to develop your talent. Most of all, you have to be willing to get back up when you’ve been knocked down, to edit and resubmit that rejected manuscript, to audition again, to sculpt or paint again in the hopes that this time someone notices your work and sets you on the road to stardom. Celebrities often speak about the dedication and commitment it took to get where they are, and it would take such dedication for any of us in this room to reach that level of fame and fortune.

But that is not the commitment and dedication that I want to talk about today. In fact, I would say that is not the truest form of commitment and dedication. I think the more challenging, yet ultimately more rewarding, form of dedication is dedication to the details of everyday life. Yes, it takes dedication to train yourself to run a marathon, but it also takes dedication to do the laundry each day, to wash the same dishes over and over, to change diapers, to shuttle kids back and forth to their various after school activities. It takes dedication to wake up next to the same person every day and live a life of loving sacrifice to them, to remain faithful to your vows even when times are tough, to remain supportive even when you would rather be left alone. It takes dedication and commitment simply to make dinner each day, to come home after a long day at work only to be confronted with even more work in parenting, housekeeping, and the many other responsibilities that fall upon adult shoulders. The responsibilities and demands of everyday life take tremendous commitment, yet so often we bristle at that commitment. So often we are tempted to treat such commitment as if it is a second class commitment or somehow beneath us or not worth our precious time, to ignore those things and try to find something bigger and supposedly more important to commit ourselves to, even choosing to leave the basic necessities of everyday life unattended while we dedicate ourselves to something else.

And as powerful a temptation as this is in our personal lives, the temptation is even stronger when it comes to the everyday things of God. We are a fickle people, and we so quickly get sick of the same old thing. We are accustomed to the regular routine of the Christian life – we have heard sermons many times, we have knelt in confession, we have mr-bean-asleepheard the words of absolution, we have tasted the bread and wine of communion. But familiarity breeds contempt, and often we are tempted to despise the gifts of God and pursue something that suits our fancy just a little better. Perhaps we expected that once we became Christian all our problems would go away, that our kids would behave perfectly, that our finances would balance out, that the disease or depression that haunts us would miraculously disappear. But when our daily life in the faith doesn’t look all that different from those outside, when our struggles seem to be the exact same struggles as unbelievers, or even worse, when we see other Christians enjoying the good things in life, the blessings and comforts we want for ourselves, then we begin to wonder whether this Christianity thing is worth the hassle. When such temptation surfaces, we remember the example of the earliest Christians, those we just heard about in the reading from Acts. In that reading we hear of their dedication to the everyday things of the Christian life, of their devotion to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. We have these same gifts among us today, and part of our lives as the baptized children of God is commitment and dedication to these things.

We are called to be dedicated to the apostles’ teaching. This is not a burden, it is a gift. We have the teaching of the apostles themselves recorded for us in the pages of Scripture. Rather than smugness toward the study God’s Word, the new man receives this teaching joyfully and dedicates himself to it.  In a world filled with differing voices, it can be easy to fall into the trap of ignoring God’s Word. We spend several hours each week listening to the voices of the world, in the television shows we watch, in the music we listen to, in the books we read, even in the casual conversations we have with a coworker. The slow drip of the world’s opinions will break through our Christian minds if we are not intentionally fortifying our position. But our Lord has not left us helpless. Rather, he has given us the means to strengthen the defenses of our faith, and those means are Open-Bible-with-Penfound in the apostles’ teaching. So we dedicate ourselves in study of the apostles’ teaching. We don’t assume that because we’ve heard it once we’ve heard it enough. We don’t assume that we are so strong in our faith and understanding of God’s Word that we would never fall prey to the vain philosophies of our world. Rather, we take seriously the threats of the world’s sinful philosophies and we joyfully sit at the feet of the apostles, learning from them each week in bible studies, personal devotions and bible readings, and in the services of the church.

We are also called to be dedicated to the fellowship. No Christian is an island entire unto himself. We are baptized into the body of Christ, a body with many members. Sometimes we would rather stay home and read the bible by ourselves or find some devotional material on the internet, but to do so would cut us off from the fellowship. We are called to be committed to this fellowship, to this gathering together of God’s people, for through it we are uplifted and encouraged in our faith. If you have read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies, you might remember that in the 5th one there is a conversation between Harry and Luna Lovegood. She reminds Harry not to ignore his friends, she isolation-2reminds him that he is not alone in his struggle. She says that she imagines that the Dark Lord wants Harry to feel all alone, because if Harry feels all alone then he is weak. So she reminds Harry to find strength in the people who are fighting with him, those who are supporting him. That is the joy of fellowship. Our Lord has not left us to struggle through this world alone, but has surrounded us with other believers who know our pain and can encourage us in our time of need with the same encouragement that they received from someone else when they were in need. Satan would have us let disagreements or hurt feelings drive us into isolation, so we are called to dedicate ourselves to the fellowship of believers.

It takes dedication because there is a certain comfort found in remaining unknown. It would be easier to sneak into church, hear the word, and sneak out the back without having to talk to anyone, without having to answer questions about how it’s going at work or at home. There is a draw to the anonymity of the shadows. We are tempted to believe that church would be better if people just left me alone and let me keep my private life to myself. But the community of believers is not a burden, it is a gift. It is the gift of knowing that others are praying for me in my time of need. It is the gift of knowing that when I am struggling with temptation that there is a group of people to encourage me. It is a group of people to help me continue in my life of faith, challenging me in my study of God’s Word, confessing their sin right next to me as I confess mine, and receiving the same forgiveness I receive. Such experiences build bonds, and such bonds are truly a gift from God. We find great strength in the fellowship of God’s church.

In this fellowship as the body of Christ, we are dedicated to the breaking of bread, which means we are dedicated to faithfully and regularly receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. In this sacrament we have the forgiveness of sins. We have a restored relationship with God and with each other. We have heaven itself brought down to earth and placed on our tongues. What a tremendous gift this is. Familiarity might tempt us to grumble about the 15 minutes it adds to the service. But we are dedicated to receiving this gift; we will notholy-communion give it up. There are churches who never celebrate communion in regularly scheduled services. While their reasons may differ, the result remains a tragic rejection of one of the greatest gifts God has given us. So we are dedicated to the breaking of bread for it is nothing short of Christ among us today, the body of Christ that unites us as the body of Christ. It puts at peace with God and strengthens us for the challenges we face in life outside these walls.

When you put these things together, the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, and the breaking of bread, it becomes clear why we are called to be dedicated to the prayers. This is not dedication to prayer, although that is important too. No, this is dedication to the prayers, which are the services of God’s house. We are called to dedicate ourselves to regular worship. Such worship embraces all the other aspects of the Christian life already discussed. It is one place where we intentionally hear the teaching of the apostles as their Scriptures are read and as pastors preach on them. Worship also includes fellowship because the public worship of the Church is an opportunity to surround ourselves with other believers, to have our faith uplifted and strengthened before facing yet another week in an unbelieving world. Public worship is also the places where we break bread together, the place where we feast on the body and blood of our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins. The teaching, fellowship, and bread all come together in the liturgies of the church, which Luke here calls the prayers.

This is the shape of the Christian life – dedication to the gifts of God, for these are the very things that sustain and nurture us in our faith. Often we are tempted to ignore these basic things in favor of greater and grander aspirations, looking for something more noteworthy to devote ourselves to. And sometimes, bigger projects do demand our attention. But those are always short lived. Like training for a marathon, there comes a D-300x300point when the race is complete and the training done. It is the dedication to daily life, to the challenges we face each day, the ones that never go away, that is true dedication. And this is the dedication the Holy Spirit works in the heart of the baptized. This is the dedication he works in each of our hearts – dedication to the gifts of God: to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Through these things our Lord is living and active among us, strengthening our faith in him. Through these things we are equipped to face both the challenges of daily life as well as the larger tasks that we must dedicate ourselves to. But left to our own strength, we cannot accomplish anything spiritually. So we rejoice in the gifts of God and dedicate ourselves to them first, for it is only through them that we can accomplish anything else our Lord has prepared for us to do. May God grant this congregation and each person here such commitment and dedication, that the world may be blessed through us.

Thou Shalt Not: God’s Law in the Life of the Baptized (2nd Commandment)

Thou Shalt Not…

God’s Law in the Life of the Baptized

The Second Commandment

the-name-of-the-lord-proverbs-18-10

 A name is a valuable thing. I remember when I first started teaching at the high school from which I had graduated. Several of my former teachers were now my colleagues, which was an awkward transition for me. I found it difficult to move from addressing these people as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so to addressing them by their first names. I had spent so many years as their student that it took time before I was comfortable addressing them in any other way. But with the new relationship as colleagues instead of teacher/student came a new form of address. Titles are formal, names are personal. When you give someone your name, you are establishing a more personal relationship with that person than if you ask them to address you by a title.

It is helpful to remember that distinction when considering the place of the Second Commandment in the life of the baptized. The Second Commandment addresses the proper use of God’s name among his people. What a tremendous blessing it is to have this name among us! When Moses asked God what to say when the Israelites asked who sent him into Egypt to deliver them, God’s response was to have Moses tell the Israelites that Yahweh sent them [Exodus 3:13-15]. He did not have Moses tell the Israelites that the Sovereign Lord or the Almighty Creator of the Universe had sent him. Rather, he gave the Israelites his personal name, establishing a personal relationship with them.

He gives us this same relationship when we are baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a tremendous blessing to have this name, for with this name comes God himself. If I am in a crowded room and I hear someone call out, “Aaron,” I turn and look. They have gotten my attention. Our Lord has given us his name in order that we can call it out, praying confident that he hears us. We call out his name to get his attention in order that we might pray, praise, and give thanks. That is the godly use of God’s name.

Unfortunately, there was a time where God’s people treated his name as if the only reason God had given it to them was in order that he might punish them for abusing it. In an effort to avoid misusing God’s name, the Israelites of the Old Testament stopped using it entirely. They replaced the personal name of God with titles, referring to him as God or Lord or by some other term of reverence. Modern Judaism has adopted the same practice. These titles are by no means wrong or sinful, and there are times where they are even more appropriate than the personal name of God. Yet we would do well to remember that in baptism our Lord has made us his children and established a personal relationship with each of us. He has given us his name in order that we use it, not live in fear of it. In one popular book/movie series, the main villain creates an aura of fear by casting off his birth name and instead giving himself a more ominous sounding moniker. He then curses this new name so that anyone who uses it will be killed. The result is that people live in fear of his name and begin to speak of him as “You know who” and “He who must not be named.” The terror associated with his name led people to avoid using it altogether.

Our Lord is different. He has given us his name not so that we might fear it, but precisely so that we might use it. He tells us to call upon him in the day of trouble [Psalm 50:15]. He promises that where he has caused his name to be remembered he will bless us [Exodus 20:24]. In the incarnation of Jesus we are given the one name under heaven through which we can have salvation [Acts 4:12]. While it is certainly important for us as the baptized people of God to be careful not to use God’s name carelessly or in anger, such as deceitfully swearing an oath by God’s name when we have no intention of keeping it or by calling down the eternal fires of damnation upon the hammer with which we have just pounded our thumb, it is equally important for us to use his name in a godly manner. That is why he has given it to us.

Thus, the second commandment reminds us of the blessing we have in God’s name. It is indeed a powerful name, one which we should not use lightly, but which we should use nonetheless. As the baptized children of God, the power of his name is ours, so we call upon him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

Life in the Fray: Greed (Midweek Lenten Service – March 4, 2015)

Life in the Fray: Greed

Joshua 6:16-19; 7:1-8:2a

Midweek Lenten Service

March 4, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

I think it’s fair to assume that almost every Christian has heard the story of Jericho. It is a staple of Sunday School curriculums and Vacation Bible Schools, and has been for generations. But it is the events surrounding the fall of Jericho that have truly JerichoWalls7Priestsgrabbed my attention in the years since I became a pastor. As a child I regularly heard about the trumpets and marching and the walls that were a-tumblin down, but it was not until I studied the whole book of Joshua in some depth that I learned the importance of the bookends surrounding the fall of Jericho.

The events that lead up to Jericho are worth a sermon all their own, but a summary will have to suffice for today. After the Ark of the Covenant led the Israelites miraculously across the dry ground of the Jordan River, the Israelites set up camp outside the city of Jericho. They did not attack right away, even though Rahab told the Israelites spies that the people of Jericho were so afraid of Israel’s God that they had basically conceded defeat before the battle even began. Instead of marching straight into battle, however, God had the Israelites drop everything. He reestablished his covenant with them. The Israelites born during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness had not been circumcised, which meant they had no claim on the promises God made to Abraham. Translation: the Promised Land of Canaan was not promised to them. Before receiving the land, they had to be brought into the covenant through circumcision, so every uncircumcised male in Israel, including basically the entire army, was circumcised on the plains of Gilgal, leaving Israel’s army vulnerable and weak in the sight of their enemies. Yet they did not need to fear, for through this circumcision they were brought into the covenant of God and were assured victory in the Promised Land.

Well, assured victory if they did things God’s way. If not? If they chose to do things their own way? That’s where the other book end comes in, the story of what happened after Jericho, the story of Achan. Before God gave Jericho into the hands of Israel, he told them not to collect plunder from the city. The saying is true: to the victor go the spoils, and this was nothing if not God’s victory. Israel did little else other than walk around and blow some trumpets – God did the rest. This was his victory, therefore the wealth of Jericho belonged to him. All the luxuries of Jericho were to be destroyed except for the precious metals, which were to be put into the treasury of the Lord. Israel was warned that anyone who ignored this command and kept some of the wealth of Jericho would bring death upon God’s people, which is exactly what happened. After defeating Jericho in such convincing fashion, Israel’s next opponent seemed like a sure thing. Joshua even sent fewer troops because he expected to win quickly and handily. Except that when the Israelite warriors returned to camp, it was not a victory parade. It was instead the solemn march of those who had been embarrassed, injured, and some even killed at the hands of an inferior enemy.

greed-money The cause was Achan’s greed. The cause was one member of Israel trying to do things his way instead of living according to God’s design. There are many layers to peel back from this situation. Take, for example, Achan’s lack of trust in the clear and direct command from the God who had acted so visibly for so long among his people. This is a people who have lived on miraculous bread from heaven for so long that some of them know no other food. These are a people who have seen the flood waters of the Jordan dry up so that they could walk across safely on dry ground. These are people who either crossed the Red Sea as children or heard their parents speak of it. The same is true of the events of Mount Sinai. These are people who watched as the walls of Jericho toppled at the sound of mere trumpets. These are people for whom God has acted openly and miraculously. And yet it was not enough for Achan. He wanted more. As if God had not already provided so much, as if God had given him any reason to doubt whether or not he would provide for his future, Achan stole from those things that rightly belonged to the Lord. Such is the greed that continues to tempt us as God’s children today.

This story also illustrates that neither Achan’s greed nor ours is a victimless crime. Greed is a sin against both God and our neighbor. But as in the case of a drunk driver who walks away from an accident while the coroner collects corpses from the car he struck, in cases of greed it is often other people who suffer the consequences for our sin. In the case of Achan, the consequences suffered by his neighbors became evident almost immediately; just ask the 36 widows whose husbands did not return from the village of Ai. The consequences of our greed, on the other hand, are usually harder to recognize. That’s partly because greed so often hides behind masks of apparent virtue. We call it hard work or dedication. We call it ingenuity or capitalism. We call it saving for the future and planning ahead. And while hard work and dedication and planning for the future are indeed godly, so often what we are up to under these names is really just greed made up with the cheap lipstick of a churchly facade. The question that exposes our greed is, “Am I motivated by love of others or by love for myself?” Yes, it is good to work hard and use my God-given gifts to the best of my ability, but am I working hard so that my neighbor might benefit, or is this ultimately all for me, so that I can have the life I want for me, the house I want, the car I want, the vacation I want, the retirement I want.  Yes, it is good to plan for my future so that loved ones might be provided for, but what am I sacrificing today in the name of saving for my future? Am I allowing the work of God to go undone so that I can take an extra cruise in my retirement? Am I ignoring the call God has given me to support the ministry of his church so that I can drive a nicer car or buy a bigger house?

Acahn’s greed had an immediate negative impact on the lives of his fellow Israelites. Our greed has a negative impact on the lives of the people of God too. What are the hidden consequences of the fact that a church of our membership and worship attendance struggles to make a minimal budget work, much less explore the possibility of adding church staff and programs to maximize the ministry possibilities here. How many families, how many children, how many young single adults, how many married adults, how many empty nesters, how many people of any age or station in life all across the globe are robbed of opportunities to hear God’s Word and experience the ministry of God’s church because God’s people won’t support God’s word? How many people who walk through ignoring-wisdomour facility choose to go somewhere else because our building is outdated and in need of repair? How much potential goes untapped around here? How many souls across the world are not being reached with the gospel because we as God’s people can’t see past our own noses? How many people might be classified as victims of our greed? Achan had 36 victims. How many more do we have?

Not only is greed a sin against our neighbors, it is a sin against God. Greed is unbelief in action. The Bible is not clear whether Achan thought God wouldn’t notice or whether he thought God wouldn’t do anything about his theft. The Bible doesn’t tell us what Achan was thinking. What is clear, though, is that Achan did not trust God’s Word concerning the wealth of Jericho, nor did he take the many opportunities he had to come clean and repent. The Lord has Joshua go through a weeding out process before revealing Achan as the culprit. We are not told exactly what the process was, but for the sake of argument we can imagine it went something like this: All the people of the United States are gathered into one place and told that God knows one of us is guilty. First, God says that everyone who is not from Michigan can go home, they are innocent. Then, God says that everyone who is not from Macomb County can go home, they are innocent. Then, God says that everyone who lives north of Hall Road can go home, they are innocent. Then, God says that everyone who lives outside of Fraser can go home, they are innocent. With each group sent home, with each tribe and family cleared, Achan had the opportunity to call off the search process and turn himself in. Yet he stubbornly refused. Achan’s greed is symptomatic of a deeper struggle with unbelief.

The same is true for us. We too struggle with greed because money is the most common idol to attempt to unseat the Lord from his rightful place in our lives. As Luther said, your God is that thing to which you look in times of need, that which you trust to deliver you when you need deliverance the most.[1] So often we struggle to believe that God will continue to provide for us, so we fall prey to the greed of our hearts. We tell ourselves we can’t simply give our money to the work of God because we might need it later if something goes wrong. Yet so often we end up spending that money anyway on things of this world, things that will decay and break and fall apart in the end. Our Lord would have us use our money his ways, in service to others through his church. That is one of the ways he challenges us and strengthens us in our faith.  In theory, God could miraculously provide all the money this church needs to do ministry. But would that be good for us? Think of all the spoiled heiresses in the news who flit around on their parents’ dime without a care in the world. Does excessive money in their pocket make them happy? Does having everything provided without having to work for it help them mature into adulthood? Or does it stunt their growth? So also, the sacrifice of faithful giving is good for us, for it teaches us to rely on God to continue to provide for us. The sacrifice of faithful giving is good for us, for it teaches us to look beyond the desires of our own flesh to the wellbeing of the people of God who surround us, and the people of God who are not yet born who might one day reap the benefits of our sacrifice in the same way that we reap the benefits of those who have gone before us, those who founded this church, those who built this church, those who worked hard to sustain this church through the Great Depression and other times of economic turmoil. Because of their sacrifice we have a place to worship and learn and gather today. So also we are called to provide these things for the generations to come after us. Such is the perspective of mature faith.

And that is what Achan didn’t understand. He was overwhelmed with greed for what amounts to $30,000. While that’s no small sum of money, God had so much more in mind. short_sighted_decisionsHe intended to give all the cities of Canaan to the Israelites, not just Jericho. He intended to establish the Promised Land as the headquarters for his Gospel proclamation, for the promise of the Messiah and the eventual work he would do. God was going to save the world from the Promised Land, and Achan’s short-sighted greed couldn’t see that. God’s plans for the Promised Land extended far beyond Achan’s lifespan, into the days of Christ, who would win salvation for all people. The benefits of what God was up to in the Promised Land are enjoyed by you and me and all God’s people today, and all those yet to come.  But Achan couldn’t see that. He was too focused on himself. So often that is our problem, but therein lies the solution. We are called to stop looking at ourselves and rejoice in God’s larger plan.

As Paul wrote, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Cheerfulness comes from looking at the big picture. When it comes to greed and generosity, “the freedom and authenticity of generous giving are marked by the symptom of cheerfulness.”[2] That cheerfulness comes from seeing the work of God in the big picture, from seeing Christ in our neighbor, as Jesus said, “when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was naked you clothed me.”[3] The forgiveness and love of Christ burst like the sun on the horizon at dawn and warm our cold, lifeless, greedy, Ebenezer Scrooge-like hearts into joyous, generous, giving hearts like little Zaccheus who returned what he had taken and then some.[4] As one pastor put it, “God makes his [abundant] grace [abound] – grace in the word of forgiveness, grace in Holy Baptism, grace in the Sacrament, grace in the consolation of a brother or sister in Christ. Grace breaks the fetters because it cannot be contained, it cannot be controlled. It’s stronger than all sin, all death, and all the power of the devil. Good cheer and generosity are the products of a heart set free from its gods.”[5]

Achan saw only himself, and blind to God’s larger plan of salvation, he was enslaved to his greed. We were created for more. We were created for self-sacrifice and community. We were redeemed, washed, and renewed so that this life of self-sacrifice could be ours.  We are new creations through the water of baptism, and while it may be hard to see it sometimes, God has greater things in store for us than the treasures of this world – he has the joy of the world to come. May God grant us repentant hearts this Lententide, that we might not be blinded by our own greed and selfish desires, but rather rejoicing in the gift of our forgiveness, we might cheerfully embrace the ministry he has given us in this place both for the benefit of those he blesses through us today, as well as those yet to come.

CHquarter

[1] LC.I.2

[2] TDNT

[3] Mathew 25

[4] Luke 19

[5] Harrison, A Little Book on Joy p. 130

Cleansing Scraps (Sermon for March 1/2, 2015)

Cleansing Scraps

Matthew 15:21-28

2nd Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)

March 1st/2nd, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The Atkins Diet. The South Beach Diet. The 17 Day Diet. The Flexitarian Diet. Cleanses and Detox Regimens. There is no shortage of information and suggestion out there about the best way to lose weight, eat healthy, and feel better. Stores like Whole Foods exist solely so that people can have a place to buy all natural, non-processed foods. The dangerous effects of pesticides and preservatives fill blogs and discussion boards across the internet. School lunch programs are being redesigned to require Healthy-Eatinghealthier meals for the students. There seems to be more discussion than ever about the different ways that the food we put into our bodies affects us, either positively or negatively.

Jesus had a similar discussion with the Pharisees regarding what type of food was good for you and what wasn’t. Except they weren’t discussing the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners, they were discussing the levitical codes of the Mosaic Covenant handed down on Mount Sinai.  In fact, this section of Matthew seems to focus on food. Chapter 14 records Jesus feeding well over 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two small fish. From such meager supplies Jesus produces an abundance of food that filled the hungry Israelite bellies along with 12 baskets of scraps that were left over. Shortly thereafter, in the beginning of Chapter 15, Matthew records a complaint from the Pharisees that Jesus’s disciples did not wash according to the laws of Moses, and therefore were defiling the food they were eating, which would in turn make them unclean. Jesus responds saying that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of it. Later in Chapter 15, Matthew records the time Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of over 4000 by turning seven loaves of bread and two small fish into enough food to satisfy the crowd and fill seven baskets with left over scraps.  The point is, the events read today are part of a larger section of Matthew which deals quite a bit with food, with what goes into our bodies.

0e1140933_blog-jesus-calls-a-canaanite-woman-a-dogThat might help us make some sense of this otherwise uncomfortable exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Having just challenged the Pharisees concerning clean and unclean foods, Jesus leaves what is generally considered Israelite territory and heads instead to Tyre and Sidon, regions that have been pagan lands for centuries.  While there, a woman relentlessly follows him and his disciples, nipping at their heels, pestering and badgering him to heal her demon possessed daughter. Unlike the Pharisees of Israel, she has not come to challenge or test Jesus, but simply to receive healing from him. When she won’t leave him alone, the disciples ask him to just give her what she wants so that she will go away and they can have some peace. But Jesus says that he is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham. He is the promised Messiah of Israel, not of the Canaanites. He then speaks of food again, saying that he has come to bring the bread of life to the children of Israel, and that it would not be right to take that bread and give it to others. After all, God’s covenant was with Abraham and was passed down through circumcision to Abraham’s descendants. It was not a covenant with the whole world. It was a covenant with Israel. The Israelites were the ones who were expected to keep the civil and ceremonial laws, and they, not the Gentiles, were the ones who face penalties for breaking them. The Israelites were the ones who were entrusted with guarding and protecting the scriptures and the promises of the Messiah, and they, not the Gentiles, faced the wrath of the Prophets if they failed. Now that Israel’s Messiah was here, why should he take the Israelites’ reward and give it to someone to whom it is not promised, and to whom it does not belong, especially an unclean Canaanite?

Jesus’ words are as blunt as they are jarring. Yet they are also true.  He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. That’s why he was born in Bethlehem, an Israelite village. That’s why he was crucified outside Jerusalem, the center of the Israelite world. Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures.  And as unnatural as this may sound to our New Testament ears, and as uncomfortable as it may make us in our age of cultural diversity and tolerance, somehow it all made perfect sense to this Canaanite woman.  She doesn’t get angry with Jesus. She doesn’t get offended at being called a dog. She doesn’t leave in a huff and accuse him of racial bigotry. She agrees with him! “Yes, Lord, you’re right,” she says. “It would be inappropriate to take the food from the children and give it to the dogs. I7404 know I’m not one of your people. I know I’m unclean, no better than a dog who scavenges through the garbage for food to survive.  Give the food to your people as you were sent to do, and I’ll be the dog, for I know that when the children eat there are always scraps that fall to the dogs, and the scraps are good enough for me. I just want something.”

What a tremendous statement of faith! What a model of faith for us to emulate! For while we may not often give it much thought, the reality remains that we too are not the lost sheep of the nation of Israel. I would be genuinely surprised if anyone here could trace his or her family tree back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Rather, everyone in this room today almost certainly falls into the category of Gentile. Not only are we Gentiles by birth, we are unclean by the way we live. No one here today deserves to be fed the food from the Master’s table. We are each of us unclean, and the things that come out of our mouths prove it. We speak the pride of our hearts every time we ridicule those we deem idiotic. We speak the hatred of our hearts every time we insult the appearance of another person. We speak the lust of our hearts with each dirty joke or crass comment. We speak the greed of our hearts when we tell ourselves that we need our disposable income for the latest iPhone or the newest car more than the church needs our money to support the work of God in this place. Not only are we Gentile by birth, we are unclean, and our thoughts, words, and deeds make that so abundantly clear each and every day we walk this earth.  The things coming out of our mouths prove it.

But let us not forget the larger narrative, for this section is about food, about the things that go into our mouths.  Don’t forget that the conversation about the scraps of food that fall from the Master’s table is sandwiched between two different miraculous feedings. In each case, Jesus fed the Israelites who had gathered to hear him speak. In each case, the Israelites ate their fill. And in each case, there was an abundance left over. In the first case, there were twelve baskets left, in the second case seven. In either case, God’s provision was so abundant that there was too much for just the Israelites. In both cases, there was an abundance of scraps left over. The faith of the Canaanite woman rejoiced in those scraps; our faith does the same.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, salvation came first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.[1] We, like the Canaanite woman, are those Gentiles, and while we may have been saved second, we are still saved. Salvation has come to us in the scraps provided by the abundance with which God blessed Israel, and through them the whole world.

Word-and-Sacrament            We are blessed today to gather together around these scraps. In a few moments we will feast on these scraps, a morsel of bread so small that it would hardly fill the belly of a goldfish, much less a grown adult. We will drink a sip of wine so small that it almost evaporates off the tongue before it can be swallowed. Like a dog under the chair of a toddler, faith eagerly devours whatever scraps it can.  And the great gift of faith is that through these scraps Christ now lives in us. Through these scraps of bread and wine, through the small splash baptismal water, through the seemingly innocuous proclamation of God’s Word, we are now adopted into the family of God. We who are Gentiles by birth are now fellow heirs to the promise of God.[2] We who were once far off have been brought near,[3] all because we ate the scraps that fell from the Masters table.  Now that we have been brought into God’s family through these scraps, we await with joy our seat at the Master’s table at the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom that has no end.

Until that day, we rejoice that Israel’s Messiah came with such abundance that there is now more than enough for all who believe. Let us, with the Canaanite woman, devour the scraps that fall from the Master’s table, for these are the scraps that make us clean.

[1] Romans 1:17

[2] Ephesians 3:6

[3] Ephesians 2:11-13