You Will Be Free Indeed!

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October 28, 2018 Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36

As many of you know, I grew up in a town that was just a little bigger than Richmond. It lacked diversity, much like Richmond. And honestly, there was little to do in town, so we would quite often drive to Lansing on the weekends to go shopping or see a new movie that our little theater in town would most likely not get.

I don’t think I was much different from most people when I looked forward to getting out of the town to seek my own freedom. As soon as I got my drivers license and my own car I was able to go anywhere that I wanted. My parents even trusted me enough to drive all the way down to Cincinnati without adult supervision. When I decided to attend Central Michigan University, it was an hour and a half from home and it meant I would have the greatest freedom yet!

That freedom also came with responsibility. There were times when I questioned the freedom that I sought when I would have little money and things were just not going the way that I expected them to. The freedom that we often desire when we are younger is a false sense of freedom. It is only in Jesus Christ that we find true freedom that cannot be found elsewhere.

The Israelites think that they have it all made. They believe that everything is alright in their lives and that there is no where else they need to turn. They have not been held captive like their ancestors and all they have seen and encountered is freedom. Yes, their land may be under Roman rule, but they have been given the freedom to worship the way they choose. As long as they do not disturb those in authority. Thus, Jesus coming onto the scene is a big warning sign for them. His actions and words are starting to stir up the people and thus the freedom in which they thought they had. In truth, it is not a freedom that is anchored in the truth of God. Their sense of freedom does not reside in the truth of God, rather it resides in their own personal doing.

This was the same issue that Martin Luther had over 500 years ago now with the leaders of the church. They attempted to control everything and did not leave room for the truth that is Jesus Christ. They attempted to control grace when it was not theirs to control. They began to judge others when it was not in their right to judge.

While we think we may be free today, I am sure that you too at one point or another have been captive by some ill devised thought. We like to test the boundaries of our perceived freedom. We like to think that we are in control when really the only thing that we can control is our own personal actions. We make the decision to follow Christ and in the midst of that, there are always other distractions that attempt to steer us away from Christ. The sin that steers us away from Christ is evil. It distracts us and pulls us away from the word of God. It holds us captive in its grasp and yet, Jesus reminds us that he is present to release us from its grip.

Each and everyone of us are called to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Like our day to day relationships, we sometimes get out of line and make bad decisions. Despite our bad decisions, the word of God never leaves us. It is present for us to turn to in our time of need and be the foundation for us to rest in when our faith is troubled. It is in the power of the word that Martin Luther realized that we are justified by grace in our faith alone. While others may attempt to judge us, it is only in God that we must answer. While others may sometimes look at us differently, it is probably because we are following the word of Jesus Christ and walking in the way as his disciples.

As our faith grows in the word of God, we are led to freedom from the powers of sin and death. While it is in the powers of sin and death that enslave. We must learn to place our trust in our faith and the freedom found in the truth. For when we place our trust in sin, we are not free. Whenever we place our trust in death, we are not free. It is the truth that will set us free. That freedom was found in Jesus Christ for the disciples and is where we find our freedom today. It is not in our ability to move away from home. It is not in being able to decide whatever we want to do. It is in following Jesus and the way in which he is calling us to journey.

It was through Martin Luther’s revelation in the word, that he found a freedom that he had been missing. A freedom that had went on hiatus from the teaching of the church. In this revelation he saw the need to re-form the church. While Luther found this revelation in the letter to the Romans, a movement was started to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people. A gospel message that is full of grace and mercy. A gospel message that gives us freedom like we could never experience in our earthly treasures, but only embrace in a truth that sets us free. The wonderful thing is that this freedom is not just for us. If it is true for us, it is true for all of humanity. Our God welcomes all of creation into relationship and the freedom that comes in knowing the truth found in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us pray. Ever re-forming God, you have created us, yet are far from finished in seeing us grow as disciples called to live out your word. May we be shaped by your truth so that we can embrace the freedom that can only be found in you. Amen.

A Grace Filled Summer

OneDrivea Grace filled

June 18, 2017

Romans 5:1-8

Most of us can probably point to some reading that we have done throughout our lives that have really helped shape us as individuals. It is in these readings that we find direction and even redirection. It may have been a teacher that impacted our life through the encouragement to read. Reading is important. To continue to grow as people, reading is essential. Ask almost any person that has grown significantly in what they do, and they will be able to tell you what is on their reading lists.

Some of the early books that shaped me were The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway. I remember my eighth-grade teacher telling me to revisit it as an adult because it would connect at an even different level. The poetry of Walt Whitman was also one of my favorites. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton was essential as my faith and spiritual life began to take shape.

While the ability and availability to read has increased in humanity over the last several centuries, we must remember that at one time it was only the well-to-do that had access and could afford books. Also, they were the few that were literate.

What is it about Paul’s writing that grasped the attention of the canonical councils to include many of his letters in the New Testament?

Paul had a storied history as a Pharisee. Yet, this meant he was well-trained and very educated. He was a persecutor of those that followed Jesus and did what he thought at the time was necessary to preserve the Jewish faith. However, it was in his conversion that he came to truly know Christ and was able to truly experience the gospel for the first time. He became a teacher for Christ. His letters helped shape the early Christian church.

His letters communicated the gospel to the communities he wrote. This was their first true teaching. The four gospels we are familiar with had not even been written yet. Paul was their connection to the Lord and Messiah, Jesus Christ. His letters brought hope and direction.

Somewhere along the timeline of the Christian church, this message had been lost amidst the hierarchy of the church. That is until Martin Luther recovered it in the early sixteenth century. As we each have our own readings that shape and give us direction in life, Martin Luther recovered something in Paul’s letters, and specifically Romans, that would change the course of Christianity forever.

Reflecting on Romans, Martin Luther wrote that, “this epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel…. It is a bright light, almost efficient to illuminate the entire Holy Scriptures.”

Our four gospels in the Bible help share the story of Jesus Christ from different viewpoints. They share his birth, ministry and miracles, and death and resurrection. In these alone we are given hope for tomorrow. It is in Paul’s letters that we see that gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, at work in the world.

As we enter into Paul’s world this summer, through his letter to the Romans, we encounter the power that is in the Gospel that Jesus lived out for each and every one of us. In his study of the letter to the Romans, Martin Luther uncovered the good news of grace. A grace of God that is unmerited and shows the love of God for all of creation.

This is the foundation of our Lutheran faith. It is in this revelation, that Luther would eventually help be drawn to write his Ninety-Five Thesis. This Word of God was with us all along, yet got buried under the orthodoxy of the church and simple human sinfulness.

The grace of God can be found throughout our Bible. In our gospel lesson, Matthew writes that, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). This is pure grace that is shown through compassion and love for those that would not receive it from anyone else. It is this grace that Paul was given when Christ reached out to him and asked why he was persecuting him.

Prior to our lesson this morning in Romans, Paul has been discerning the righteousness of God for the last couple of chapters. It is a conclusion to his discussion on God’s righteousness that he writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

As Lutherans, we have come to understand that the forgiveness of sins is not on account of our merit, but by the grace of God.

There is a rift between humanity and God because of our sin. It is Christ that brings us peace and in this we are reminded through Luther that we are both saint and sinner. It is not our goodness that merits the grace, but God’s goodness that washed over us. There is nothing that we can do to merit this grace, for what would Christ have accomplished on the cross if we were able to do it all on our own.

Martin Luther was called to ministry and the study of the Bible. In his reading, he found a hope and grace that shapes us today. What have you read or who have you encountered that reflects the grace of God?

The grace of God fills our lives on a daily basis. It is this grace that we will encounter this summer in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is this grace that fills our days and promises us life everlasting in Jesus Christ.

 

Set Within God’s Word

Bread and wine

April 2, 2017

John 11:1-41

I don’t know about you, but there are times throughout the week that I long to gather for worship. Times when I feel drained and know that I need to be fed by God’s Word in community and to be with you as we break the bread and drink the wine. It is in this that my longing, our longing, for God in our lives is fulfilled. We are renewed in the elements at the table, where all are welcome.

The worship planning team chose to have us sing All Are Welcome as a gathering song throughout the entirety of the Lenten season for a reason. Our gospel lessons this season have spoken of inclusion and are an invitation for all people. After Jesus exits the wilderness, he encounters Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and this morning Lazarus. All of them could be thought of as outcasts at one point. Yet, Jesus welcomes them into his flock and reminds them that they are loved. The hymn, All Are Welcome, is a wonderful witness to the love that flows in the community of Christ. In the third verse, we have the promise that comes to us in the sacraments.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat: a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet. Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space; as we share in Christ the feast that frees us: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

We have used four weeks to wind our way through, the briefest understanding of the Small Catechism. If we wanted to, we could have entire sermon series’ that focus on just the Ten Commandments, or the Apostles Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. We have yet to touch upon the sacraments that Luther raises up in the catechism. The sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of the Altar could also have a sermon series devoted to them alone. However, I will try to do justice to them both in this sermon.

When we encounter water, and when we encounter bread and wine, it is simply that. However, when we encounter them within our setting of worship it is not just mere water or mere bread and wine. In the sacraments of Baptism and the Altar, the water, bread, and wine are set within God’s word and are bound to it.

The majority of us, encounter the waters of baptism first. In the water we are reminded of the saving grace of God and are born again into a life with Christ. A baptism that can never be invalidated, regardless of the errors that we make along the way. It is not our faith that makes baptism, rather our faith receives the baptism, and it is in this that we baptize our children when they are yet infants. In this, baptism is built upon God’s word and command. The significance in baptism with water is stated in Luther’s explanation that, “It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

While we only encounter the waters of baptism once in our lives, we can be reminded of it on a daily basis. In the morning as we take a shower and let the water run over our heads, we can be reminded that we too were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can be reminded when we wash our face. We can be reminded when we allow our inner child to come out and play in the rain! These are all reminders of God’s word that works in the baptismal waters.

It is at the altar too, that we encounter the Word of God working in the midst of ordinary elements. In the bread and wine we find that Christ has never abandoned us. He is there present in the bread and the wine as we come forward, even when we don’t feel worthy. As in baptism, all are welcome at the Lord’s table. This was not always the case. In late medieval-time, the Lord’s Supper was a feast for the eyes and a ceremony for the dead around a mass. Luther brought the meal back to the people and insisted that it was a feast for all, meant to be eaten and drunk while hearing the word and Christ’s forgiving presence.

It has been funny to hear of the transition of the Lord’s Supper throughout the history of the Lutheran church. There were times that people would only receive it once a year. There would be times that maybe it was once a quarter, or even a couple of times a month. In Wittenberg, Luther made sure that communion was celebrated on a weekly basis! Why? Because it is needed!!!

While we are saints, we are also sinners. It is in the Lord’s Supper that we are truly able to encounter Christ on a weekly basis. It is “for times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us strength and refreshment.” It is in the words “given for you,” and “shed for you,” that “show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

This journey with the small Catechism during our Lenten days has gave us the opportunity to worship and proclaim God’s Word through the lens of Martin Luther. It is in his questions of “what is this,” and “what does this mean” that we are able to pause and think about our common Christian belief and practices that we may perhaps take for granted. The Catechism became the basis of one’s education in the Christian faith and it would quickly be translated into several different languages with each printer sometimes adding their own personal touch. In 1542, a Liepzig printer included Luther’s “children’s hymn” as a fitting conclusion to the small Catechism:

 

Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;

Curb those who by great craft or sword

Would wrest the kingdom from your Son

And set at naught all he has done.

Lord Jesus Christ, your power make known,

For you are Lord of lords alone.

Defend your lowly church that we

May sing your praise eternally.

O Comforter of priceless worth,

Send peace, send unity on earth.

Support us in our final strife,

And lead us out of death to life. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Praying-Hands-over-Bible

March 26, 2017

John 9:1-41

Did you know that you were a priest?

As we continue to look towards the 500th Commemoration of the of the Reformation, it is nice to have a reminder that each and every one of us is a priest within Christ’s church. This doctrine as Martin Luther presented it, is the Priesthood of All Believers. He argued that all who belong to Christ through faith, baptism, and the Gospel shared in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and belonged “truly to the spiritual estate”: “For whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, although of course it is not seemly that just anybody shall exercise such office.” All baptized believers are called to be priests, Luther said, but not all are called to be pastors.[i]

If we are all priests, it would make sense that we can all pray. We do not need a special degree or anything of that matter. We do not have to be perfect, nor do we have to say just the right words. However, we don’t always think like that.

In seminary, while in a group for some reason or another, everyone would be quick to decline to pray. And that is what we were going to seminary for. We would play the game where everyone touches their nose and says, “not it.” Of course, the last one to do so would be the one that was stuck praying.

In my first call, during a meeting with a member of the synod staff with the leaders of my congregation, he asked someone to begin with prayer. Three or four fingers pointed at me as the pastor, and the comment was made, “that is what we called him for.” What is our aversion to prayer?

This morning we venture into The Lord’s Prayer. It is familiar to us. I have experienced it as one thing that people retain, even in the midst of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Timothy Wengert says, “Prayer is faith breathing, and its respiration is measured by the ‘amen,’ which for Luther could only mean, ‘Yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.’”

We pray the same prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples. First in the gospel of Matthew, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. Again, in the gospel of Luke, as one of the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. We too can follow the instructions of Jesus, when we don’t know what else to pray.

While we are convicted in the law of the Ten Commandments, the Creeds and The Lord’s prayer come to our aid. The gospel boldly shines through the words as Jesus teaches them, while still pointing to the fact that we are sinners nonetheless.

Martin Luther divided the Lord’s Prayer into seven petitions, in addition to an introduction and conclusion.

Our Father in heaven

The introduction opens up with who it is we are addressing. Pretty obvious! However, it has been a stumbling block for some people. For those that have issues with the language of Father or the patriarchal image. In The Shack, both the movie and the book, God takes the personification of a black woman, and at another time a man. God is much greater than what we can label. God is the great mystery, yet ever present. In that idea, we pray Our Father…

 

Hallowed be your name.

As we learned a couple of weeks ago, we are to fear and love God, so that we use God’s name in a right manor. In that righteousness, we keep it Holy. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for it to be Holy in and among us as well.

Your Kingdom Come.

Even without our prayer, God’s kingdom is going to come. In our prayer, we ask that it may also come to us, here on earth. In this, we are given God’s Holy Word, and the presence of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. The kingdom, is not something that we have to work for, it is through the grace of God that we will fully be a part of it, here on earth.

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

God’s gracious and good will comes to us as every evil scheme is broken. We have the hope and promise of an eternal life that comes with none of the stressors and evil that we experience in our daily lives today. In the eternal life, we have the promise that all evil will be banished. It is that will of God, that we pray to come and be with us on earth, as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

What can’t we give thanks to God for? Everything comes to us through God, and we should be thankful for everything. From the food on our table, to the roof over our heads, to our families and our neighbors that make living into community a joyous thing. It is in everything we encounter that is made possible through God the creator. We are not to take anything for granted.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

We enter into the final three petitions, after praying for our basic human needs, of the Word of God, faith, and the Holy Spirit. In these final petitions, we see an image of what it means to live into a Christian life. Not only do we seek repentance, especially in this time of Lent, but we also should be forgiving those that have sinned against us. That does not mean we forget, but to fully live into God, we must forgive.

Save us from the time of trial.

God will not, and does not put us to the test. God does not tempt us. That is the evil that resides within our broken world. We pray that God will continue to be with us and preserve us from the evil of the world. Unfortunately, we will encounter it in some way, and it is in our prayer that we ask for protection.

And deliver us from evil.

As we come to the seventh and final petition, Luther believed that this single petition could summarize the entirety of The Lord’s Prayer. It is not just the summary of the entire prayer, it can also be seen as a summary for our entire Christian life. As we journey in our earthly life, we are going to confront evil, and as we choose to follow Jesus and receive the grace of God, it is our hope that we will be delivered from evil.

As we embrace God’s Word in our lives and heed the calling of the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us, we develop our faith in the hope and promise of the life to come. The man born blind exhibits this faith as he proclaims his belief. In his proclamation, “Lord, I believe,” his faith can be witnessed and thus shared with others.  It is in our faith that we conclude, For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

 

[i] The Priesthood of All Believers. First Things. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/10/the-priesthood-of-all-believers

I Believe that I Cannot Believe

apostles-creed

March 12, 2017

John 3:1-17

Have you ever wondered what it would be like living in a different time and place? Perhaps thinking that you may get away from some of the terror and fear we experience today. In reality though, the sin that occurs today is no greater than the sin that has occurred throughout the history of the world.

Imagine what it would be like living in Germany back in 1529 when Martin Luther published the Small catechism. There was tyranny and discomfort then, just as there is today around the world. We would have had little clue of what was happening within the church because we would not have known Latin. We may have a real basic understanding, but that may even be a stretch. This is what Martin Luther encountered as he visited churches throughout the country. The thing is, it just was not the lay people that had no clue, it was many of the priests and pastors as well. Out of these observations, a desire built within him to teach the faith to the lay people as well as the teachers themselves. The Small Catechism was published to be used in the house for both parents to learn from and to teach their children. The Large Catechism, which goes into greater depth on each chief part, was published to teach pastors.

As we heard last week, the Ten commandments as Moses presents them from God are what points to our sin in the world. As our confession points out, we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. The law points to our sin and the gospel of Jesus Christ is what saves us.

It is in this that we confess our faith. This faith is confessed in a creed that is over eighteen hundred years old. The Apostles Creed as we know it today was first put together in Rome around the year 150. At that time, it was known as the “symbol of faith,” and would be mostly used at the time of baptisms. The Nicene Creed as we recite it was established in the year 325 to help combat heresies that were occurring throughout the church.

Our creeds are the confession of our faith and regardless of which one we speak on Sunday, we join with our sisters and brothers around the world that confess the same faith. This community of believers is what constitutes the Christian church in the world today. The creeds are divided into three parts. Sound a little familiar? Possibly like the Trinity!

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth.

 

In the first article, we declare our faith in God the creator. A God that has made the heaven and the earth. A God that is still creating. In Luther’s response to the first article in the Large Catechism, he writes, “This article would humble and terrify us all, if we believed it!” The realization that we as human beings, are the creatures, and not the creators comes with quite a burden. The spirit-filled grace that God has bestowed upon us is a wonderful and terrifying thing when we take into account the ways that we have harmed creation. In this first article, we should be compelled to care for creation as it has been gifted to us.

Not only has God gifted to us once, God continues to gift us the things that we need on a daily basis. From the Small Catechism, “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property.” God gives freely without any merit or worthiness of our own! Everything that we have comes from the creator God.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

What does it mean to be Lord? Traditionally, a Lord was someone that has authority over the people and land of a given territory either by appointment or inheritance.  Jesus has come to turn that definition on its head. We call Jesus Lord, because he has come to defeat sin and death. In this we are freed and able to experience eternal life. In this we encounter the gospel for the first time in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Timothy Wengert says, “the whole gospel is summarized in the [second article]. For the gospel is nothing other than the preaching of conception, birth, etc. of Christ.” Because of this we learn that Jesus Christ is “Our Lord.”

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

“I believe that I cannot believe!” The third article of the creed reminds us of what we cannot do on our own. Luther’s answer to what does this mean in the third article is, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”

While the liturgy of baptism is familiar to many of us, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Luther turns the order around. We would never come to know God, the Father, if not for Jesus Christ. We could not know Christ if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that leads us to Christ in the first place and it is through Christ that we come to know the Father. While the Holy Spirit is the one part of the Trinity that we seem to talk about least in the Lutheran church, it is the one that leads us to our faith. “I believe that I cannot believe.” Our faith is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the creeds, we confess the faith that was given to us by the Holy Spirit. Without it, the words of John’s gospel would be meaningless. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Amen.

Sinners in a Broken World

broken_world

March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When was the last time that you encountered the devil? When was the last time that you encountered evil? While Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by the devil, putting God to the test, we too could probably reveal times in our lives that we were tested to turn away from God. The temptations that surround us on a daily basis vary. What may be tempting to one of us, is easily avoided by another. Regardless of the temptation, it can lead us astray and separate us from God.

This morning we begin our journey through the Sundays of Lent. For the next five weeks we will be getting to know Martin Luther a little better through the small catechism. For some of you, these questions are familiar:

What is this? or What does this mean?

For those that don’t, these are the questions that Luther asks as he walks through the chief parts of the catechism. Perhaps, he was motivated by his children walking around the house and asking what everything was. He was probably one of the first theologians to have children and help him shape the catechism as we know it today. The catechism, or the idea of it, can go back to the apostle Paul. In Galatians 6:6, he writes, “Those who are taught the word share in all good things with their teacher.” The catechism is simply a Christian instruction on how to live a life of faith. The catechism as we know it has three chief parts: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Within these parts, Luther moves from the law to the gospel, which I will explain shortly. It is in the catechism that sponsors and parents are asked to guide the newly baptized as they grow and Luther meant for this to be a helpful resource to use. If you were not aware, the Small Catechism is printed in the Red ELW in front of you, beginning on page 1160.

As we remember the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year, studying the small catechism is one way to do so. And as we study it, we can think about how we can reclaim the catechism for today.

We begin this morning with the Ten Commandments. The first chief part of the small catechism. The commandments are not anything new, as we first hear of them as they are given to the people of Israel in Exodus. It is in the giving of the commandments that Moses brings the law to the people. As I said earlier, Luther starts with the Law and works his way toward the gospel in the structure of the catechism. The law is simply what it sounds like. The chief function of the law is not to show us how to get into heaven, but to show us our sin. The Ten Commandments represents the law at work in the Old Testament. Rules for the people of Israel. It points towards the sin of humanity and calls it like it is.

Martin Luther viewed all of God’s commandments in light of the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. His explanation, “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things,” points towards a call to faith. It is in this faith that is the heart of the matter for all of the commandments. When we lose our faith, we are more easily tempted into committing sins against God and our fellow humanity.

We easily put other things before God. We put wealth, power, material possessions, and many other things before God at times.

How often do we make wrongful use of the name of the Lord?

Do we truly take time to rest on a Sabbath? A time to be with God, away from all other worries and truly experience the deep caring relationship that God wants with us.

I am sure that we all grew up perfect angels and never despised nor angered our parents. Have we truly honored them and respected them to the best of our ability?

I am going to assume that it is most likely that no one here has committed murder. However, have you wished harm upon someone else? Have you refused help to someone in need?

Have you ever lusted for someone that was not your spouse? Jesus tells us that we can commit sin even just by looking at someone with a deep desire.

Have you ever helped yourself to something that was not yours? Even as simple as an apple on a neighbor’s tree.

Have you ever spoken badly about someone? Have you ever gossiped?

Have you longed for a car as nice as the one your neighbor just got? How about anything else that the neighbor owns?

As you see, The Ten Commandments are the law that shows us our sins. Now that we have been overcome with the law, where are we to find God’s grace? That will not come until next week as we venture into the Creed.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is confronted with temptations that we would at many times have a hard time turning away from. Who doesn’t long to have their deep hunger fulfilled? The thought of being invincible is tempting in more ways than one. The thirst for power is what has driven many of the world’s empires.

While the Ten Commandments certainly show us our sins, the love of God is made abundantly clear in God’s son, Jesus Christ.

When faced with temptation, Jesus is an example for us to follow. It is in his example that we witness the grace of God. God is present in the Word to feed us when we are hungry and to quench our thirst. God is present in our worship and in our service.

As Jesus stood with the Devil in the wilderness and proved that he was stronger than him, we witness the power of God to resist temptation. This is the same Jesus that will be crucified for the sins of the world. The strength that he shows in the wilderness will be reflected upon the cross as he fulfills his purpose. In this we experience the saving grace of God and salvation that comes to us, sinners in a broken world. Amen.

It isn’t Easy to Follow Jesus

teachings-of-jesus-christ

January 29, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

I don’t know about you, but I have always been a little anxious when starting something new. Whether it be a new school year with new teachers, or a new job with several new people to meet. Perhaps, I may have even been a little anxious when receiving a call to Trinity. There is an anticipation of the things to come and a wonder to how everything is going to work out.

I have to imagine that is the feeling that the disciples were having when they followed Jesus up the mountain. They knew there was something different about him, and they were anxious to find out more. I’m sure they had butterflies in their stomachs as they waited for what was going to happen next. As Jesus goes to sit down, the disciples would have known that he was about to teach, as this was the common practice at the time of rabbis and other teachers.

This teaching will continue for the next three chapters of Matthew, although, we will only get through chapter 5 in four weeks. Imagine being able to sit down and take in everything that Jesus has to say.

And so, it begins. Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount, not with a quaint little story, but getting right into the essence of what it means for them to be a disciple. Being a follower of Jesus is not easy.

This lesson on the beatitudes is part of scripture that many of you are probably familiar with. You have probably heard the beatitudes several times and possibly in different variations.  The teaching begins in a way that the disciples were probably not quite expecting. They have not known Jesus very long, and now he sounds kind of like a revolutionary. In all reality, they are living in land occupied by the Roman Empire. The culture in the first century celebrated wealth and military might. Jesus, on the other hand, lifts up those on the other end of the spectrum as blessed.

Have we as a society changed much in the 2000 years since Jesus? The characteristics that Jesus names as blessed are those things that we quite often do not want anything to do with. We steer clear to avoid them in all manners of ways. To be broken or poor in spirit, I don’t think so. We fear those things that bring us to mourn. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is an awful lot of work, can’t you just tell me what to do or think. To be pure in heart is easier said than done, plus doesn’t it take the fun out of things. And, who wants to get in the middle of a conflict and try to keep the peace. If we get this far, you’re telling me that I could get persecuted, reviled, and scorned. Isn’t there an easier way?

There are times throughout history where there is a need for revolutionary people to step up and lead. Jesus was the ultimate revolutionary 2000 years ago, as he brought hope and compassion to his followers and ultimately an unbreaking love that sent him to the cross. Martin Luther was a revolutionary as he started the reformation 500 years ago, steering people back to the grace of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a person that we can feel closer to as far as time in our own country. He was seen as revolutionary to some and sought equality for all and knew what the church was called to. He writes in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning…”

His words may seem harsh to some, but in all honesty, they are not much different than the counter-cultural message that Jesus brought to his disciples and ultimately the world. Karoline Lewis says, “In the Beatitudes, we hear a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus present and visible and manifest when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth.”

So, where are we to go from here? Jesus has shaken our foundation and everything that we have tried to avoid is now what Jesus deems blessed.

We are called to follow him. Follow him up the mountain and sit down and listen to his teaching. For in the learning is our first act of discipleship. We too are blessed when we follow Jesus and proclaim the Good News throughout our community in our words and actions. The Message translation may give us another take on the beatitudes:

 3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘careful,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11 “Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

12 You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

 

It is in the beatitudes that Jesus teaches us that being more is greater than having more. May you learn how to be with Jesus. May he guide you in your prayers and meditations. May he bless you as you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.