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Message on Sunday, 9 August, (Pent 11)

August 10, 2015 Leave a comment

The audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

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

The sermon today is based on the second reading for today, chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus.

The Christians in Ephesus were primarily Gentile converts. They had lived in the Greco-Roman Med_Aspendos_Turquiaworld and they were shaped by the values of that society, a society that did not understand many of the core values we take as self-evident. That there is an inherent dignity in human life no matter how frail or how robust. The foundational document of our nation, young as it is on the world stage, begins with that very line. We should note how profound the idea behind that line truly is and where it comes from. And before we do that we should also note, that as great as the Roman world was, that idea and anyone who said it, would have been laughed out of town. Paul called it the futility of the mind, a darkness in understanding that came from living alienated from God and the hardness of their hearts. No in these pre-Christian societies, certainly in Ephesus in Paul’s day, all people were not equal, not by a long shot. There were the aristocrats and lesser nobility with connections to Rome. There were the middle class merchants and perhaps the priestly classes. And then there were the hoi polloi, the great teeming masses, peasants even though the feudal system had not yet begun. And none of them were “created equal.” Some were obviously more equal than others. Lower still were women and children. Lower still were the slaves, what Aristotle called “human tools” born into their state. Paul encouraged the Ephesians not to live that way any longer in that greedy, callous, lustful manner.

That is not the way they learned Christ! No! They should put off your old self and to put on the new self. What is that new self? It is none other than the likeness of God. I think it’s right have Genesis 2 here in mind where we learn that God created them male and female and in the image of God He created them. If you want to have a sure foundation under your country’s idea that all people are created equal, it must be built on the idea that all people have an inherent worth, a dignity bestowed on them from outside themselves. It is most certainly the case that our idea of human dignity comes from the Christian doctrine of humans bearing the image of God. Peter Singer, no less than one of the biggest opponents to that idea says that’s the case. He says, the idea of human dignity is a “distinctively Christian attitude rather than a universal ethical value.” And, “Once the religious mumbo jumbo surrounding the term ‘human’ has been stripped away… we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species.”[1] Singer would have felt quite at home in a Roman city in the time of Paul, perhaps almost as much as he does now at a time when the influence of Christian ideas like the dignity of human life are more and more in question.

I have said many times in this pulpit and in the classroom that we are living in a post-Christian age. And there are many people who are very happy about it. We not only live at a time when an unplanned pregnancy can simply be aborted, it seems as if, if these new sting videos of Planned Parenthood are even close to the truth, it seems as if many, many people in our land are quite happy to buy and sell those aborted babies for their tissues. What is this but hardness of heart? Darkness of ignorance. Callous. Greedy. Alienation from God.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that this change to a post-Christian worldview has happened in the last ten years. It goes back at least a century in our land if not further. But back then, only the elites could afford to be godless. Now it’s a perfectly middle class thing to think we don’t need God so much and we certainly don’t need that oppressive morality of the Bible telling us what to do. The truth is, while I might not have the same greedy hardness of heart as what makes a shocking video, it’s in there. It’s in all of us. In fact that’s another one of those pesky doctrines from Christianity that fouls up the enlightened works of our thoughts about ourselves and our place in the world. We’re flawed, fatally so. Every action a mixture of motives and left to ourselves, Paul says, we would be cut off from God.

But Paul also encourages us to encourage one another, to speak truth to one another. Not to just get angry, there’s enough of that on the television, but to the wrong for what it is and do right. To terminate a pregnancy can never be considered a good thing. It might be medically necessary to save the life of the mother, and in that case not illegal, but it’s still not a good thing. To think it a good thing is to be callous. Worse still are the arguments that suggest the child might have lived a terrible life. Economists have actually suggested that the real reason the crime rates in the US dropped in the 1980s and 1990s was because of Roe v. Wade. They say there just weren’t as many troubled kids to get in trouble because they started to get aborted in 1973. It may well be true. But even if it is how far gone are we as a nation, how callous and hard-hearted are we that we would prefer economically disadvantaged moms abort their children? Are we or are we not members of one another?

Politicians and pundits always turn these debates into a fight between “us” and “them.” Christians cannot. For we are all members of one another. It doesn’t work any other way in God’s economy. I’ll say it again. It obviously bears repeating. We are all members of one another. That’s why these videos are so terrible. They are my tiny brothers and sisters caught in a world that does not want them except for their tissues. Lord, have mercy on us.

The earliest Christians were known to fish babies out of the rivers where they’d been thrown into because parents did not want them. Influenced by the teaching of Jesus passed on to them through the apostles, they took care of widows and orphans, the lowest of the low in the social pecking order in the Roman society where Christianity began to grow roots as a counter cultural movement. Soon after, it was the dying and the chronically ill cared for in newly established hospices and hospitals. Why? Why all this effort and energy on people who didn’t really matter, on people who were dying anyway? Why waste such time and resources on such people? Because they were people, each one, a life for whom Christ gave His life to suffer and die on the cross. We can learn much from their example.

I hope a couple things happen as a result of these videos being made public. I hope primarily two things. The first is that I hope all Christians will act, will speak out on behalf of these little ones who cannot speak, and write their elected representatives and say that this abomination must end. And that we get serious again about caring for the least of these as our mothers and fathers in the faith once did. And the second is this, that among all those non-religious people out there, the writing of the law on their heart would burn in reaction against such atrocities and that they see clearly the difference in the kind of world driven by Christian ideas of charity and love and the kind of callousness driven by the Peter Singers of this world and choose to live in a world that sees value in human life.

Paul’s encouragement was clearly based in the sacrificial love of Jesus. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. That’s what we need, more Christians imitating the love of God in Jesus and walking that love. Just do it. My Christian friends, walk in that love. Amen.

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[1] Peter Singer, “Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life?” Pediatrics 72 (July 1983), 129.  As found in Maas, Korey; Francisco, Adam (2014-01-06). Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections (Kindle Locations 3442-3444). Concordia Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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Message for Weds in Pentecost 10, 7 August

August 6, 2015 Leave a comment

I didn’t record the message that night.  But the text is below.

Grace and peace…

The text for our meditation tonight is the first reading, 1 Samuel, chapter 19.

Saul hates David. He hates everything about him. He hates that the Lord favors David. He hates that David is hate-image2so faithful. He hates that his son, Jonathan, is friends with him. He hates that his daughter Michal is so taken with him. Saul hates David so much he is planning to murder him. What we might not understand is that with the beginning of chapter 19, our reading tonight, this is the fifth time Saul talks about or tries to murder David. And there is this and what, six or seven more attempts here in our reading. First he attempts to get his son Jonathan to kill David. Then he tries to do the deed himself with a spear but fails. And then Saul even attempts to conspire with David’s wife, Michal. But she took David’s side even though she worships false gods, she loves her David. And finally, Saul can’t even get David brought to him lying in bed. Saul hates David. Everybody likes David and no one likes Saul even though he’s king. It’s all the more reason for Saul to hate David. He’s almost like a cartoon supervillain and he hates David because he hasn’t been able to kill him yet. Saul himself is the source of his hatred against the Lord’s chosen one.

But then in verse 9, we read “a harmful spirit of the Lord came upon Saul.” This would seem to complicate matters in our mind as to what is the real source of Saul’s hatred for David. This is almost an identical situation as in chapter 16 where we read that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and a harmful spirit of the Lord tormented him. What are we to make of this? I think the best way to look at this is in the same way we look at how the Lord deals with others whose hearts He hardens against Him. Take Pharaoh. It was not until after Pharaoh had hardened his heart against the God of Moses several times, that we learn that the Lord hardened His heart. It’s like dealing with the tantrums of a toddler. After attempting to intervene over and again, finally you just let them throw themselves in the floor and cry it out. We’re not toddlers of course, but finally the Lord says to us in our repeated, willful rebellion, well be that way then. Look at the words from the offertory of the common service, from Psalm 51.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.

And remember where that offertory is sung, immediately following the sermon. Having heard the Law of God and been cut to the heart, and having heard the Gospel in the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, we come to God with repentant hearts and ask for the power to change that comes only from the Spirit of the Lord dwelling with us.

Back to Saul. His murderous hatred stemmed from his jealousy of David, from slowly realizing he wasn’t really king of Israel so much as the Lord was the true king and He would have whom He wanted on Israel’s throne as His man there. David’s very presence was a reminder to him that he wasn’t truly in charge. And finally the Lord confirmed him in his impenitence, in his ultimate rebellion against the Lord. If we were to use New Testament language, we would say that Saul had driven away the Holy Spirit, he had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Typically when Christian people sin, it goes in one of two ways. The first way is that we see our sin in the mirror of God’s Law and we are moved to repent of that sin. We feel badly for having sinned against God. We call that contrition, sorrow over our sin. It leads to repentance, to confession of that sin, forgiveness declared and received and restoration. Like parents with children, we try to get them to understand how they were wrong, how their behavior hurt themselves or another and to show them the way they should go to restore them and enable them to act differently. That’s the way it’s supposed to go and I think for most Christians, it’s the way it typically goes.

But there is another way. Instead of feeling sorrow over sin, we are only sorry we got caught or even completely denying even that we have sinned. Instead of seeing ourselves in the mirror of God’s Law we prefer to distort the Law to our own desire and find justification for ourselves in it. After all, we’re good people, we say. It’s those other people who need to watch their step. Saul was king of Israel, specially selected by the Lord Himself to lead God’s people. Who was this shepherd boy interloper? Didn’t God understand that the throne should be inherited by Saul’s son? David needed to go. And what’s more everyone seemed to be on David’s side, even the one who stood to gain the most by David’s death, Jonathan. Every moment David was alive was a reminder that Saul had failed and was being replaced, his lineage as king was being ended. And he hated God for that.

The order God intended for His creation is readily apparent in natural law. And anything God has to say specifically about how people should live and how He will deal with them is clearly expressed in Scripture. It is a coherent whole. God never just deals with us according to His Law but also by His divine kindness and mercy wanting the very best for us, wanting us to live in His shalom, His divine peace. There are other ways to live, of course, outside of that peace, but God assures us that His intent for us is shalom, is peace, if we would but have it.

That divine assurance is iterated in many and various ways over the centuries by Moses and the prophets, in real events as God dealt with His ancient people, as He provided for Abraham, and his line, as He provided for Israel in rescuing them from slavery, as He provided for them judges in the Land, in sending them a king like David who would rule justly, mostly, as He provided the unruly kings with prophets to call them back to Him. Sometimes that call to repentance worked. Often as not, it fell on deaf ears. But in case there was any doubt, the Lord acted decisively and for all time in sending His own Son to be the way in which people might see the peace He has in store for them. Peace that comes through the end of sin, through the end of sin’s curse, death. He was hated that He might bring an end to all hatred. He was murdered to put an end to all murder. If there is any doubt about where we stand with God, any doubt about whether He extends His shalom, His peace on us, we need look only to Jesus who shows us the complete opposite of human hatred, the love of our heavenly Father. Amen.

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