May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)
Ambrose on John the Baptist – the voice of one crying in the wilderness
“Voice and crying go together: the voice preaches faith; the cry calls for repentance; the voice, comfort; the cry, danger; the voice sings mercy; the cry announces judgment.” (Sermon 64)
2017 Holy Cross
Numbers 21:4b-9; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; John 3:13-17
For those of us who still listen to antennae radio and watch antennae TV, we are familiar with the occasional disruption of normally scheduled programming with that dreadful, screeching noise and beeping of the Emergency Broadcasting System that gets our attention that something disastrous is about to happen. We hear that sound, we are on high alert and listen to what comes next because our lives may depend upon the next couple of sentences.
That screeching noise is intended to pull us to the information source regardless of where we are or what state of attention we happen to be in at the moment.
One way of looking at the festival of the Holy Cross is to view it as an alert of the EBS. Something very important is going on and your full attention is needed.
The Apostle Paul makes clear – we are in need of saving. The way of salvation is the cross of Jesus Christ.
The cross is truly an arresting symbol. The cross is a sign of oppression, torture, shame, punishment and a ghastly death. In the first century, seeing a cross on a hill far away is not a comfort, but a terror. Unto this instrument of terror God Incarnate sacrificed himself so that we may be saved.
Saved from what?
God saves us from our delusions of grandeur or who we are in relation to God.
Because we are created in the image of God, there is within us a self-confidence that we can imagine, think, or do something that will get us out of whatever hole we have dug for ourselves.
The first example of this is Adam and Eve in the garden. They became aware that they had an intellectual deficit because they did not know the difference between good and evil. So, they followed the advice of the original self-help guru who presented them with an action plan to reach their fullest self and potential.
Do this; learn this. You will be better. That is the pattern that was set for us. Eat this fruit; you will gain knowledge and that knowledge will be everything you need.
Well, that has not worked out so well for us. Adam and Eve are banished from paradise. And, they go on to produce the very first murderer.
Cain becomes jealous of Abel because God favors Abel’s sacrifice. What’s the solution? In his twisted way of thinking, it is simply, ‘eliminate the competition.’ Cain kills his brother.
Not only do Adam and Eve know good and evil, so does Cain. Knowledge is not enough. Knowledge, self-awareness – all of which are truly important – do not save Cain from his sins. Instead, his sins consume and define him.
We continue to put an enormous amount of energy and money into wisdom and doing. The cost of educating a child from K-12 is America is a considerable chunk of change. If they go on to University, and then to Graduate School – it is even more expensive.
We value education and the acquisition of knowledge. But knowledge does not save us from our sins. Only God can do that. Jesus saved us by his death on the cross. Jesus says in the gospel of John: “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.”
We are asked to put our faith, our trust, our hope, not in our own wisdom and knowledge and efforts, but in the God whose love bears the agony of the cross for us. As Paul says “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
If we have been slipping in our faith; if we have been falling for the whispers of deception about sinful desires and sin-filled culture and been convinced of our own self importance and abilities before God…. then the message of the Holy Cross is a message for us. Loud and clear we need to hear it. We are to have faith in Christ alone. Only Christ, the crucified one can save us!
All God’s people say…Amen.
Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
Anyone who has a supervisory position with groups of people understands how crucial it is to have in place a set of guidelines about how one ought to conduct themselves.
We are at the beginning of the school year. Colleges and universities certainly have stated expectation. First English Lutheran Church has for 30 years now had a preschool and it just finished the first week. That first week is consumed with stating and reiterating to the students what is the proper way to be in school.
Experience and wisdom helps us see the need for standards. People come from a wide mix of family and community settings and experiences. It is necessary to have a standard by which people conduct themselves.
For example, if a child comes from a family where yelling and cussing is the normal means of communication; or, if a child has learnt that “no” really means “yes” when said child cries, pinches, screams, hides, or bites; then, it is important to learn right away that we have a certain way of talking here; no really means no; and, while crying and other behaviors are met with and dealt with compassionately and wisely; we firmly insist on a constructive way to be with peers and teachers.
Companies and communities and nations all have stated expectations of what we may or may not do, usually all for the good of the common life together.
It is no surprise then that when the Apostle Paul is addressing the young church in Rome, he not only communicates faith and doctrine, he also communicates standards of behavior as well. We quickly see that the difference between Paul and civil laws lays in the motivation.
The motivation in the classroom and society is to promote order, safety, and productive learning and commerce. But, for the church the motivation is love.
In the church, our attitude and behavior toward one another reflects the love that brings us together in the first place.
The church in Rome was a wild mix of people. Sitting in the same room, at the same table, will be both slave and free, soldier and citizen, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor.
The experience people have varied wildly. Then and now, we bring our baggage into the church. Takes a long time to be molded into a disciple of Christ.
When Paul says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14) he is not only talking about baptism but about living out our baptism day after day. He is talking about living out our baptism in the context of family, community, and church.
We intentionally live as the baptized because God’s love for us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ has knocked us off our feet. In gratitude for His love, we want to live in a way that reflects his love.
Paul directs us to the second table of the Ten Commandments. Out of love for Christ and the community that loves us, we resist those impulses that are contrary to building up of the body of Christ. As Paul says, “Love does know wrong to the neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Because Paul wants to get our attention and keep it, he reminds us that Jesus is coming back again. Judgment will accompany Jesus when he comes back again. Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit will discern who has truly embraced the love of God and who has not. We do not know when Jesus is coming. We are called to live in a state of readiness.
God’s Word gives a standard by which we are to live. We are given a direction by which we can grow. At the heart of God’s Word is the heart beat of the cross and resurrection – God’s ultimate expression of love.
Our lesson from Romans gives us a direction. He is speaking to the church.
But, how do we address issues and concerns and sin with an individual? Matthew records Jesus’ words of instruction of the proper way to offer a correction.
First, one on one, face to face.
Second, two or three leaders talk with the one who appears to be going astray.
If that does not work, then, and only then, the whole church becomes involved.
All of this is done in love. As Christ Jesus loves us, we love one another.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is not easy. Not easy for all of us, all the time, to love our neighbors, or our fellow church members, with the love of Christ. And, every single one of us has failed at some point to love or be loveable. Together, we return again and again and again to that which brings us together in the first place: Christ’s cross and resurrection. There, we experience God’s love and receive forgiveness and the promise of being a new creation in Christ.
All God’s people say…Amen.
A Prayer for Veterans
Almighty and ever-living God, we give you thanks for the men and women who have served and defended our country and the values of freedom and justice we hold so dear. Help us be mindful of the sacrifices they made and the hardship endured by their families and friends, so that we never take for granted the privileges they have secured for us. Hear us, we pray, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship Prayer Book for the Armed Services
In case you missed it... beginning November 5, First English Lutheran Church, Mishawaka will begin it's Sunday service at 8:45. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, South Bend service begins at 10:45am.
Pentecost 13/Lectionary 22 – Matthew 16:21-28
Looking at the scene presented to us in the Gospel lesson, we perceive a picture of how things are NOT done in 21st Century America.
Well, judging from Peter’s strong reaction, maybe that’s the way it supposed to be in first Century Israel too. Peter did not receive gently the news that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised.
A premature end of the story is NOT what is supposed to happen.
I suspect that Peter represents most of us who do not welcome bad news. Peter also represents us when it becomes clear that Jesus’ entire ministry of teaching and healing has worked up to this point, and Peter missed it. Peter saw and heard what he wanted to see and hear.
Jesus is God Incarnate. Jesus is teaching and showing that God’s ways are not necessarily humanity’s ways. Jesus is teaching what God values. Jesus is bearing the Truth. We will learn soon enough that his suffering, death, and resurrection is the essence of our hope and salvation.
I said a moment ago that Jesus had been building up to this conversation with the disciples. It begins with the first sermon in Matthew.
Jesus bears witness to what he, the Father, and the Holy Spirit value.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven….”
These are what is often called “kingdom values.” This is not, by and large, what the world values, nor are these recipes for success.
Jesus speaks Truth to us. He is prophetic in the sense that he speaks in God’s voice. His Truth bearing will soon go further than words. He will show God’s character and priorities by His actions.
Jesus will demonstrate the heart and compassion of God by His passion, death, and resurrection. The events in Jerusalem will show that God is love.
In Love God created the world.
In Love God established the covenant
In Love God provided the Torah
In Love God becomes Incarnate and takes up the cross.
We, who have been touched by God’s love and claimed as God’s own, are called to bear witness to God’s redemption of the world through Christ’s cross and resurrection.
Sadly, the truth often is not welcomed gladly. In many times in the last 2000 years, the people of God are given a choice: God or the world; God’s values or humanity’s. We have to decide which is more important. By what will we organize our life?
Jesus says that if you treasure the values of humanity over the values of the kingdom, you may save your life, but you will ultimately lose it.
In grace, our heavenly Father forgives our sins; through Jesus we have hope that will not die; through the Spirit we have faith; faith that Christ conquers the ancient foes of sin, death, and the devil. We pledge our lives to Christ and nothing else. AMEN.
Not long ago I read Kevin DeYoung's Crazy Busy where he talks about how busyness, especially excessive busyness hampers productivity and creativity as well as raising anxiety. DeYoung referenced William Powers' book Hamlet's Blackberry. Then, there is this article by Marshall King in today's South Bend Tribune about how he decided to turn off the phone and computers for his vacation on an island with friends.
One of the things that all three sources have in common is they recognize the creep of the usage of "screens." All three recognize how important "screens" are for communication and information gathering these days. However, there has to be distance. The ancient word "sabbath" continues to be used.
The Sabbath is given by God as a command because we have to be told, ordered really, to stop and rest. It is within our nature to keep going until we burn ourselves out. Back in the day it was through physical labor. Now, the new danger is through constant use of our screens. This "FOMO" or Fear of missing out does nothing but wear us out and heighten our anxiety.
DeYoung is a Christian. I don't know about Powers or King. But, what all three (and lots of others) alert us to is that we need to observe that third commandment for our own sakes. If we don't we die.