Friday, August 28, 2015

They Go Their Way


18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.(Romans 1:18-23 (ESV)
The wrath of God is revealed. It’s a strange thing, this wrath of God. When we think of the wrath of God we often think of catastrophe’s pain and suffering. But these things are just as likely to happen to his saints as it is to those who have no fear of God. Here Paul says that the wrath of God is revealed in that he lets people continue in their sin, he gives them over to their sin.

At first blush, it doesn’t seem at all as if this is punishment or wrath. God simply lets them be. But that is the worst of it. To have nothing to do with God, for God to have nothing to do with you… There is no comfort in that. God is a jealous God, he loves us Christians and sometimes that love comes in the form of warning and chastisement that seems like punishment, we see others who seem to get what they want without any repercussions. This in turn can have the effect of making us jealous. It should be pause for thought, that we would covet another person’s sin. That we would be mad that they can do what it is that they do and receive no chastisement. But then when the rod is spared the child is spoiled. This is true of God’s children too, no matter what their age. Why should we covet that others can seem to get away with sins without being called to repentance. They do not know the love of God that we do. Perhaps then we should be all the more thankful that God sees fit to call us to repentance that we would be able to know his love and forgiveness, to stay in a right relationship with him and continue in his love. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Power of Salvation

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, [5] as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”(Romans 1:16-17 (ESV)
Not ashamed of the gospel.
Are you? There isn’t anything to be embarrassed about when it comes to the gospel. It is as Paul says the power of salvation to everyone who believes.
But not all believe. And those who don’t believe come up with many reasons to excuse their unbelief. Sometimes these excuses come in the form of mocking. Often believers aren’t knowledgeable enough to know what to do with the mocking of Jesus Christ and Christians. And then perhaps we don’t become embarrassed for the gospel but for our own lack of knowledge, our own lack of learning.
Of course, a person can always learn more concerning the gospel and the Christian faith. Apologetics can be extremely useful on occasion. Ultimately a person needs the gospel itself. When we know it ourselves it is then we can reveal it to others when they are ready to hear, use it to build one another up when we need building up. For when God reveals the gospel, it is not without effect. It is the power of salvation itself. A contagious power.
  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Obligation to Preach

 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers, [3] that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, [4] both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:8-15 (ESV)
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
Here we perceive the psychology of Paul. Preaching the gospel isn’t something he is indifferent too. He feels indebted to the gospel, it is an obligation he has to preach it.
Paul was a persecutor of the faith. His sole purpose was to get people to deny faith in Christ. Now he himself believes and his guilt drives him to preach to others.
I don’t know. We all know that guy who just quit smoking. Annoying as all get out isn’t he? Especially if you are a smoker. All he can do is try to get you to quit. Well meaning, but half the time he all he succeeds in doing is getting you to want to smoke. He feels an obligation, though.

This is often the way a Christian feels when it comes to the gospel. When we realize the depth of our forgiveness, the amount of sin forgiven by Christ, we can’t help but want to preach this gospel to others. Or course, the others may feel like they just want to smoke a cigarette. Many don’t come to believe. They resist. We can’t help that. All we ca do is proclaim the gospel.  We know our obligation. To be sure we can tailor it to our audience. We can put it in foolish terms for the foolish, we can dress it in the robes of philosophy for the wise. But when we know how great our forgiveness is, we can’t help but let others know the joy. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Romans Called to Be Saints


1:1 Paul, a servant [1] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David [2] according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 1:1-7 (ESV)
“You who are called to belong to Jesus Christ… loved by God and called to be saints.”
Paul writes his opus magnum to the Romans. It is perhaps his most important book. The entire Pauline Corpus is categorized by size starting with the longest book, Romans and ending with Philemon which would have covered two sheets of papyrus in a scroll. Yet it is good that Romans maintains priority ahead of the rest of the letters, in many ways it provides the key to understanding the rest of his letters, and is the most important of them all.
The Pauline Corpus was largely written in reaction to controversy. This is not true of Romans. Often when reading Paul’s letters to Corinthians or to the Ephesians it is necessary to read between the lines and behind the text to piece together the situation he is addressing, and only then can you really get an accurate understanding of what he means by what he writes. But in Romans Paul writes to people who he doesn’t know. He isn’t writing to any particular situation of which he has any personal familiarity. This gives him occasion to lay out Christian doctrine and his theology in as straightforward a manner as possible. So a thorough understanding of Paul’s letter to Romans becomes a great asset to understanding the resto of Paul’s letters. This is the sort of hermeneutical perspective that is behind the reformation contention that scripture interprets scripture. Sure there are areas that on their own can be hard to understand, and twisted to mean things that are at odds with Christian doctrine as a whole, but when illuminated by clear scripture they too become clear, or at least can no longer be used to put forth unchristian doctrine. It is for this reason that Romans has always been a favorite for Lutherans.

Paul writes to the Romans who he says are called to belong to Christ and called to be saints. The phrase to be can be read in a couple different ways. In one way it could be that they do not yet belong to Christ and are not yet saints. In this sort of reading Romans becomes a road map to heaven, rather than a proclamation of the gospel. But in a practical exercise in Scripture interpreting scripture we read that Paul is called to be an apostle. And here we find a key to the proper understanding of this phrase. Paul is called to be and so he is. It is a present reality for him. It is also a present reality for the Romans that he is writing to that they are what they are called to be, saints. Those who are called to belong to Christ belong to Christ who is God of God and King of kings. It is an inescapable reality. It is this for you too. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Back to Work

Summer is over. The break was a little more of a break than I meant it to be but I had a good time with my son this summer, as disappointing as the contamination of his favorite water ride was. I'm talking about the EPA disaster on the Animas. That is a fun river to float. It's also kind of amazing how many people grow up here in Farmington and never do it. John and I managed a couple times but he had to go home the day the river reopened.  Well I'm glad to be back. I've been working on Bo Giertz's commentary on Romans as well as working through Grothe's exceptional volume on Romans for Bible Study at church and that happens to be the book we will be ploughing through here.

Pulling the Wool Over


7:1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash [1] their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. [2] And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches. [3]) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
 7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.
’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) [4]— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Mark 7:1-13 (ESV)
In vain to they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.  “you leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.
It is too often a trap for us. That traditions of men begin to replace the word of God. Today for example we might think of modern notions of egality, equality and tolerance that have infiltrated many areas of the church so that the LCMS is depicted as ugly for not ordaining women when God’s word is fairly clear that women should not be ordained, that is made to be pastors. The blessing of homosexual relationship is another area where one might see the commandments of men being taught as doctrines. But then looking on the inside we might notice other things in relation to our own piety. It is often the case that in order to look morally upright we replace God’s law with our own. We might think a person to be a good influence for instance if they don’t drink, smoke or cuss, regardless of the fact that they are prone to gossiping, fornication, and slander, when scripture says nothing in particular about drinking, smoking or cussing, but has a lot to say about gossiping, fornication and slander. These days you can get away with saying whatever you want if you don’t use the seven forbidden words from George Carlin’s skit. Truth be told the case could be made that to translate scripture accurately you would need to use many of those words too. The tendency is to sort of water down God’s law, from which we aren’t to part from to the left or to the right, to say Lord this is too hard. I can’t possibly keep my mouth shut concerning so and so, but hey, at least I don’t cuss. God’s law is hard so we replace it with things we can do. This is what the Pharisees had done. We think if we can pull the wool over our neighbors eyes we can pull it over God eyes. We can’t. No, we can’t do it, but Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world does, when he clothes us in his righteousness washing us with his blood to make us white as snow through baptism.
See this is what the Pharisees are doing. In essence they replace God’s word with their own. In the Old Testament it was about being clean and unclean. There were all sorts of things that could make a person unclean and therefore unworthy to approach God in the temple. Touching a corpse for instance, which is why the priest passes by the man beaten robbed and left for dead on the road to Jericho when the good Samaritan stops. Being with unclean people could make you unclean which is why priests needed to have their wives separated from them for once a month when they were unclean do to the menstrual cycle. Which is why the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years was so afraid to admit that she was the one who touched the robe of Jesus. It was considered in poor taste for someone in her condition to be out in public contaminating others, definitely she should not be touching them. But Jesus has mercy. His cleanliness is not his concern, he comes to make you clean. In the O.T. it was of paramount importance that the priests keep themselves clean. They were the ones who had to work in the temple. God prescribed all sorts of ways for them to make themselves clean. Much of it had to do with ceremonial washings, often referred to as baptisms in the Greek. For instance here in our text where it talks of washing couches, the word is actually baptism. It had that is to say not always the meaning of immersion as many who today would replace the commandment of God with the traditions of men would have you believe. But the Pharisees who could not uphold God’s law in the first place sought to go an extra mile and uphold the priestly rights of purity even when they would not be going to the Temple or even the synagogue. They would part from God’s law by taking the right fork rather than the left. Making it “stricter” rather than “looser.” But as so often, this sort of thing was really just a snow job for doing that which God’s law forbade, or for ignoring God’s law altogether. Jesus points this out with Korban.
A person was called to honor his mother and father. This meant taking care of them in their old age in a society that new nothing of retirement plans or social security. The retirement plan was your children, especially your sons since they were the only ones who could really manage to work and make money. It was the kind of society where Grandma and Grandpa were in the home with their grandchildren. They would even raise the grand children in effect because the parents were too busy trying to support the family. But as is often the case, children and parents don’t often get along. Sometimes a child would for whatever reason not want to support his parents. He could do this by just giving what would prophet the parents, what it would take to support the parents, to the temple. In reality he could live on that while he was alive, off the interest of it, and the capital would go to the temple when he died. It was an investment scheme. And his parents would have to fend for themselves. But honoring your mother and father isn’t something you are supposed to do only if your parents are the greatest on earth. It is something you are supposed to do. We think of this often as something that is more or less done with when you are 18 and out of the house. In the old testament, in Jesus day, and in ours too for that matter, it has much more to do with when you are 18 and older than it does with you cleaning your room. But these are the games we play with God’s law. Giving it lip service, saying the Bible is our favorite book, when as Kierkegaard notes, it would horrify us if we actually read it. It would challenge our sensitivities and our morality, our sense of self-worth and righteousness.
Many such things you do Jesus says. Do we honor God with our lips, though our hearts are far from him? He knows it. We make ourselves unclean as we try to justify ourselves before man and God in vain attempts at worship. And it would all be vain if not for Christ. But Christ introduces a new baptism, Christ sanctifies and washes us clean with the water and the word showering us with his love. No, not the ritual washings of vain attempts, but the Baptism of Christ through which we are raised to the newness of life that walking in the resurrection we might bless others rather than ourselves.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Like A Mustard Seed

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:26-34 (ESV)
The Kingdom of God, Jesus compares it to wheat sown in the ground, to mustard seeds that blossom into bushes within which the birds of the air can find home and refuge. But what is this kingdom that he speaks of? Often we think of political realities, places like the United Kingdom, Norway or Sweden places that still have kings, perhaps even if they don’t truly reign over their country anymore and let the people rule for themselves. But what is a kingdom without the reign, the rule of a king? And it is this that Jesus speaks about, and his rule is not that of an earthly king, but he rules through grace, forgiveness, love and mercy in those who believe his word. His reign is faith, his kingdom is grace, for he does not lord it over as the gentiles do, or come to be served, but comes to serve, to bathe us in forgiveness and wash our feet with grace, to adopt as children and parent us with love. It is this that is like a grain of wheat sown in the ground that grows up while one sleeps, a mustard seed that has potential to outgrow the garden.
It can be unpredictable, the word of God, this mustard seed. Farmers plant in the spring, and hope for good weather. It’s out of their control. Oh, there are somethings they can do. Perhaps make sure there is water when it is dry. They can spray for weeds and pests. But an ill-timed hail storm can wipe them out, and what do you do with drought? Well, as Christians we don’t need to worry about that so much, we have the word of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, an inexhaustible reservoir of water  for the mustard plant growing in our souls, if we just find time to make use of it. It is in the word of God, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper that the Holy Spirit is at work planting, watering, pruning and harvesting, and yet though we can be sure he is there and at work, there is often much mystery.
It’s the constant worry of parents, will my children, will my child be a believer? But then they are believers, they have been baptized, they have been given the gift of faith. Will they remain believers is perhaps the more appropriate question.  We plant the seed, we baptize them. We take them to church and Sunday school as often as we can. This is actually an important part of faith formation, here in the divine service gathered with other believers praying the same prayers, being visited by Christ together in his word and in Holy Communion, putting aside the petty squabbles that might be churning the gossip mills at any given moment but forgiving our neighbors at least so much that here in this sanctuary, where we all become one by eating from the same loaf that is Jesus Christ, the bread of life who has come down from heaven, here we forgive on another at least so much as to be able to kneel next to one another not only in the confession of sins, but in in the reception of forgiveness in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And perhaps it doesn’t look like our kids are getting much out of it, though they do enjoy that children’s sermon. But they learn more than you can ever imagine. They may not grasp the sermon, sometimes spoken in innuendo, and figures of speech, parables understood by those who are meant to understand, adults perhaps dealing with harsher realities of life. Yet the Holy Spirit is here also watering the souls of the tender little ones Jesus says believe in him, the little ones he would have suffered, and not forbidden, but be brought on to him and be blessed, and blessed they are. They learn as if by osmosis through the rhythm of the liturgy which has shaped the life of believers from infancy through to life eternal, generation after generation even since the days of Moses.
And no, it doesn’t guarantee that your children are going be perfect little angels avoiding the sins of associated with David, or Samson, Abraham or Solomon. Fact is, your children will more than likely be the spitting image of you yourself when the world looks on. And for as much as you repeat the mantra “do as I say and not as I do” and pray that they listen, they will often be about as helpless as you find yourself when you are doing what you do and not as you say. But then, well then you have raised them in the faith teaching them when they lie down with bed time prayers, teaching them along the way as they sit eating cheerios during the sermon, teaching them when they rise, perhaps nothing more than a Portals of Prayer devotion in the morning. And then when they find themselves in the pits of Sheol, or the local jail, facing the consequences of life in a sinful world amidst a sinful generation, well then they will find there an old friend, a beloved brother lifting upon them his benevolent face and giving them peace as he has given you peace. For it was them, these little one’s baptized into his grace, lifted up into his arms and folded to his breasts even before they could speak, in whom Christ himself has planted the mustard seed of faith to be a place of refuge for them, it was for them he died on the cross, broke his body and shed his blood that they would know the forgiveness of sins and the joy of salvation.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.