Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 4 A (Proper 8)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Romans 7:1-13
Matthew 10:34-42

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

The Lord Jesus Brings Division on Earth for the Sake of Peace with God in Heaven

False prophets preach what their hearers want to hear, promising peace even when the Lord has spoken “war, famine, and pestilence” (Jer. 28:8). But if “the Lord has truly sent the prophet,” he speaks what the Lord has spoken, and “the word of that prophet comes to pass” (Jer. 28:9). The preaching of God’s Law is hard, because it confronts sin, brings it to light and makes it worse, “sinful beyond measure,” thereby “producing death” in the sinner (Rom. 7:13). But through our Baptism into Christ, “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive” (Rom. 7:6). Now we belong “to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4). Belonging to Him puts us at odds with the world and divides us from all earthly ties, not only from our human family, but each person from his own life. For Christ does not come “to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Yet, whoever takes up his cross to follow Christ, and “loses his life” for Christ’s sake, finds new life in Him (Matt. 10:38–39).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Speak, O Lord, Your Servant Listens (LSB 589)
Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus (LSB 685)
Lord Jesus, Think on Me (LSB 610)
Before You, Lord, We Bow (LSB 966)
Eternal Father, Strong to Save (LSB 717)

“Overheard in a smoke-filled room: I want those uncommitted delegates!”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Hosea 5:15-6:6
Romans 4:18-25
Matthew 9:9-13

No one knows for certain the age of the human race, but everyone seems to agree that we’re old enough to know better. America will soon be 223 years old. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress finally approved a motion for independence that had been made and seconded almost a month earlier. The decision would not only bring war at home, but also have a far-reaching effect on the history of the rest of the world. Two days later, that same Congress approved the report of a committee appointed to prepare a statement justifying that decision. The statement is known as the Declaration of Independence. Historians offer several reasons why most of the signatures were affixed a month later and 15 came still later that year.

One of the reasons for the delay is that they had made some minor revisions and a new formal copy had to be prepared. I tend to think that the primary reason for the long delay is revealed at the end of the document. Like our Constitution, this paper was largely the work of Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant and absolutely committed man. His concluding line does not encourage the squeamish and half- hearted to sign. He said, “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

“Feddersen’s Fables” contains the story of a fellow who was joining a service organization. With one hand over his heart and the other raised, he solemnly faced the U.S. Flag and spoke the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, with hands still poised, he turned and read the words of the members’ pledge. He promised to uphold the high principles, causes and purposes of the group without regard to personal risk or expense and with the highest integrity. After the usual uproar of hand clapping and shaking, the treasurer mentioned the $20 per year dues. The fellow responded: “What? Twenty dollars — I’m not gonna pay twenty bucks just to join a club!” Well, so much for life, fortune and sacred honor.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew full well that if the Colonies lost the war, King George would have their 55 names on his most-wanted list. Their decision started with a simple motion and a simple second, followed by a simple statement of rationale concluding with a simple pledge of allegiance. The last step was a simple signature, putting very little ink but everything else in the world on the line.

In Sunday’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus makes a simple request of a fellow sitting at his collection table in a customs house: “Follow me.” The fellow, who happens to be the author of the lesson, made a simple response — he got up and followed Him. He left an unknown quantity of money on that table, but that was the least of his risks. That simple commitment cost him all of life’s usual securities. It eventually cost him all of what we usually call life. Why did he do it? Thomas Jefferson, who had a far greater mastery of our language than I, pledged his “sacred honor.” Matthew made an irrevocable commitment to follow a holy calling.

One author suggests that most people today would not make the far-reaching and risky commitment that Matthew and his eleven friends made. When I first read that, I tended to agree, but the more I thought about it, the more I changed my mind. My observation is that Jesus would have less trouble getting volunteers to walk on water than to mop it up. People who pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor are more reliable than people who pledge 10% to God’s mission or their congregation. Strangely, people who pledge 10% are more reliable than those who pledge 2%.

Perhaps the problem is that we make too many commitments and promises. Your friend says, “Can I borrow 35¢ to make a phone call?” You may or may not say, “Oh, that’s all right; here, forget it.” But, either way, he does. Promises to kids or parents, commitments to causes or congregations, vows of marriage or oaths of office — they all run together. Some years ago a frustrated principal of a parochial school suddenly resigned. When asked why, he responded: “The parents don’t pay their bills and the kids don’t pay attention.” One aspect of this problem is that mixed loyalties bleed the strength out of our commitments. Another question is whether the grandiose, high-risk commitments are the only ones worth keeping.

In the movie, “Butterflies Are Free,” a superficial, scatter-brained girl was portrayed in the act of running away from her blind lover. She attempted to explain and justify her flight by shouting at him: “Because you’re blind, you’re crippled!” In the most profound moment of the movie, the young man replied, “No, I’m not crippled. I’m sightless, but not crippled. You are crippled because you can’t commit yourself to anyone.”

I get the impression that some people never really make a commitment because they are waiting for some sign in the heavens. They go through the rituals of religion without pledging allegiance to God. They accept His piety but not His principles. They have learned, somehow, to bow before the altar without bending to the will of God. They sit at their tax-tables waiting for a group in search of a leader and ignore the Carpenter in search of a follower. The late Bishop Pike once said that many Christians have a “sprinkling relationship” to the church: “They are sprinkled with water at baptism, sprinkled with rice at marriage, and sprinkled with earth at death.” Many people seem to have good intentions, but they wait for some sign in the sky giving them a grand calling. They are fooled by the pernicious belief that popes and pastors have a call but plumbers and potters have a job.

I am convinced that a few Christians, sticking to seemingly trivial commitments, will one day find themselves uniting nations in peace, bridging oceans and enabling whole peoples to see themselves in a new light. I am also convinced that by and large the task of Christianity is to get us to embrace our ordinary humanity with an extraordinary fidelity to God and His mission.

Someone once said that the trouble with Christians is that Nero died. You could go on to say that the trouble with Americans is that King George or Hitler died. As we approach our nation’s birthday, I hope we remember our nation’s heroes for what they accomplished rather than what they opposed. Jefferson’s eloquence is not in his opposition to the king, but his ferocious love of liberty. Lincoln’s greatness lies not in his opposition to slavery – as if it were some hot political issue — but his love of both the slaves and their owners. In the same way, the world is not changed by Jesus’ opposition to sin, but by His love for the sinner. Jesus was not content to renounce bigotry — He died for the bigot. He came to set all captives free — the publicans from their deceit and thievery and the Pharisees from their self-righteousness and legalism, Peter from his weakness and the Scribes from their pride. He came to set us all free from our vain imaginings and lack of real commitment.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Lifestyle of Witnessing

As stewards of God’s grace, we have been called and chosen to be His mouth, feet, and hands to help seek and save the lost (Luke 10:2).  Paul tells us, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Knowing that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), we have a great privilege and responsibility as Christ’s ambassadors“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).  With the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we can faithfully and boldly proclaim the Gospel to those around us.  Paul tells us that we should share our faith so that we “will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philemon 6).

Prayer: Dear Jesus, You have called me and all people to share Your life-changing and life-saving Gospel.  Help me to be bold and intentional about sharing Your Word.  Amen.

 

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 3 A (Proper 7)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Click here to read the lessons and the propers for the day.

Delivered from Sin and Death, You Now Live before God in the Righteousness of Christ

The outcome of sin is death, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). He has set you free from the slavery of sin and has brought you “from death to life” (Rom. 6:13). No longer are you under the condemnation of the Law, but you live “under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Such is your courage in the face of “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). For though “you will be hated by all” and maligned by the world for the name of Christ (Matt. 10:22, 25), you abide in the care of your Father in heaven, who numbers “even the hairs of your head” and values you more “than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:30–31). By the Word of Christ, you have become like Him, your Teacher and Master in whom you endure to the end, and “will be saved” (Matt. 10:22, 25). For He is with you “as a dread warrior,” who has overcome your enemies (Jer. 20:11). By the righteousness of faith, He delivers your heart, mind, body and life “from the hand of evildoers,” and He brings you into the land of the living (Jer. 20:12–13).

These are the hymns we will sing:

The Church’s One Foundation (LSB 644)
All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596)
Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared (LSB 622)
Just As I Am (LSB 570)
Jesus Shall Reign (LSB 832)

“The Righteous Dude”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Romans 3:21-25, 27-28
Matthew 7:15-29

With apologies to all the female types, I don’t know the current colloquial counterpart to “Dude.” Is she a “Dudess?” I hear the word “Chick” in similar connotations. The interesting part is that the word “righteous” has recently made a comeback in everyday language. It has been the parlance of religion forever.

In the jargon of youth, the word “dude” has retained few of its original connotations. It seems to mean little more than “guy.” On the other hand, if the dude is “righteous,” he has met certain group criteria qualifying him as a good guy. In Texas, I heard the phrase “Good Old Boy” from a slightly older crowd, and I suppose the meaning was similar. However, I’m sure you realize that a “Righteous Dude” among a group of punk rockers does not qualify as a “Good Old Boy” among a bunch of rednecks. The idea is that if something is “righteous” it has met the accepted standards of the person or group that is using the word. Unlike the current use of “Dude,” this use can be supported from the dictionary and from ancient usage.

The word causes trouble, in some ways, because the group defines it. For example, a righteous dude among a group of criminals is a person who holds to whatever code of honor exists among thieves. For the Pharisees, a righteous person was one who upheld the 613 commandments of the Talmud, plus the rather exacting interpretations of the group. The common or ordinary Jews of their day had much lower qualifications for righteousness. These would be inadequate when compared to the righteousness of the Pharisees. The “righteousness” of a clique of youth, a group of thieves, the punk rockers, the good old boys, the ordinary Jew, the Pharisees and the typical American Christian are all different — so is the righteousness of God.

Matthew does not mention it, but I would guess that a shudder or groan shot through the crowd when Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Actually there are several ways to look at the statement. On the one hand, Jesus was very critical of the superficial righteousness of the Pharisees. It was hardly something that came from the goodness of the heart. Many of them were selfishly motivated. They put on a show in order to gain public approval or acclaim. Matters of love, peace, justice, goodwill, and mercy were not as important as following the rules.

The Pharisees were satisfied to meet the requirements of the law, without a second thought for the spirit or intent of the law. In other words, they didn’t mind being guilty as long as their law found them “not guilty” (like criminals in our present legal system who get off because they were not given their rights properly or against whom evidence was gained improperly). As with so many situations, some things were against the law — except under certain rules and conditions, so a good Pharisee would always make sure he followed the rules while breaking the law. It is safe to say that Jesus would want our righteousness to be better than that.

On the other hand, the righteousness of God is, as one of my friends likes to say, a whole nother ball game. More accurately, it is the Holy Other’s ball game. God makes the rules and the standard is perfection. He is not satisfied with our getting away with “not guilty by reason of….” He demands innocence. God is holy and expects nothing less from the citizens of His kingdom. His righteousness not only exceeds that of the Pharisees, it exceeds the wildest of human expectations. You cannot avoid the word “sinless.”

While discussing the matter, in Sunday’s lesson from Romans, St. Paul notes that we humans have a little problem living up to this righteousness. A Pharisee may have thought that he was a “Righteous Dude” and his wife a “Righteous Chick” in God’s sight, because he assumed God had the same standard as he. I have no doubt that at another time in his life, back when his name was still Saul — Paul would have thought he was righteous before God. Paul the Christian recognized that the righteousness of God requires us to be sinless, and therein is the problem. To make it clear, Paul wrote, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Feddersen’s Fables has the story of “The Next King.” The king’s soldiers played a jumping game with a gold ring. In the courtyard stood a very tall pole that was notched from top to bottom. A crossbeam could be moved up or down and secured at each notch. At the end of one side of the crossbeam was a clip that held the gold ring. If a soldier could jump high enough to grasp it firmly, it would come free from the clip. The object of the game was to start at a level that could be reached by everyone, and then move it up one notch at a time. Each soldier only had one jump at each level. Once he missed, he was eliminated from the competition. You see, it was not just how high a person jumped, but being able to grasp the ring when you got there that would eventually determine the winner.

One day, the king announced that the next king would be determined by a game of “Gold Ring.” He also announced that the rules would be different. First of all, anyone could compete. Secondly, the beam would start at the top, and competitors could make as many attempts as they wanted. The edict of the king was that the first one to snatch the ring from its highest point would be declared the next king. He also added that the official copy of the rules was at the kingdom treasury for anyone to see.

When the day came, people gathered from all over the kingdom, both as spectators and participants. The king went out into the courtyard with a ladder, moved the beam to its highest notch, and placed a brand-new solid gold ring into the clip. Then he went back into the palace. The top of the pole was five or six feet higher than any soldier had ever jumped. Even though they and the other participants fell way short every time, they kept getting back in line again and again. It was near the end of the day before everyone finally gave up. They called out for the king to come and lower the beam to its next notch. He came, set up the ladder, picked up his young son, and climbed to the top. There, from the king’s arms, the young lad reached out and took the ring. Some of the participants began immediately to complain. The king replied that the rules were clear enough. The people had assumed it was a jumping game, but it was not. The rules had not suggested that the beam would ever be lowered, nor had they prevented anyone from climbing the pole or a ladder. The declaration was that the first one to snatch the ring from its highest point would be the next king. Since his son was the first and only one to snatch it, the kingdom would belong to his son.

We humans have a habit of assuming that God plays by our rules — that if we are righteous enough in our own eyes, we will be righteous in His. St. Paul points out that in human circles there is only one Righteous Dude, God’s Son. The Kingdom belongs to His Son. The only way in is His righteousness.

The most righteous of all of us falls way short of that. Paul quotes the Old Testament regarding all the rest of us: “There is no one righteous, no not one.” Yet, religions and philosophies have been urging people to count on their own righteousness ever since the first sinners realized there was such a thing.

To borrow Jesus’ illustration from the Gospel lesson, relying on our own righteousness is like building a house on sand. It looks just fine until the storm comes! It is like an alcoholic relying solely on his or her own self-control — that also looks fine until the storms of life hit.

Paul’s point is that the righteousness of God is not just His standard, but is also, through faith in Christ, His free gift to us. It is not something we can attain. It is a gift we receive by faith! God’s righteousness is ours apart from the law altogether. It is His free gift to us along with the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is a pardon in spite of the evidence. God declares us not guilty! The righteousness of God declares us innocent, because it replaces the evidence and the defendant — with the innocent life and death of Christ. The Judge looks at us and sees the one and only “Righteous Dude.”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Devotion to God

Our careers, hobbies, and money are important but not worthy of our devotion.  God alone deserves our whole-hearted devotion.  David exhorted his son Solomon to “serve [the Lord] with wholehearted devotion” (1 Chronicles 28:9); we are to have that same devotion.  Our devotion to God is illustrated by the lifestyles that we lead as we live our days as faithful stewards to Him.

Devotion can be expressed at every level and in every activity of life.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  As God’s stewards, we can rejoice that even our most mundane tasks can be dedicated to God.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for your faithfulness and devotion to me.  May all that I do reflect my devotion and may my thoughts and deeds give You glory.  Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 2 A (Proper 6)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Exodus 19:2-8
Romans 5:6-15
Matthew 9:35–10:8

Click here to read the above readings and the propers for the day.

The Lord Our God Saves Us in Love and Cares for Us by the Ministry of His Gospel

The holy Triune God “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners,” ungodly and at enmity with Him, “Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The incarnate Son has justified us by His blood and reconciled us to His God and Father (Rom. 5:9–10). Whereas sin and death originated with Adam, forgiveness and life abound for all his children “through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:12–17). As the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, so does He bring us to Himself by the Gospel and make of us “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6) by our Baptism into Christ. For “all that the Lord has spoken” (Ex. 19:8), Christ has done for us. As He has gone up to God by His cross and resurrection, so does He bring us to the Father in Himself (Ex. 19:3–4). Nor does He leave us “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36), but He sends men with authority “to heal every disease and every affliction” by His forgiveness of sins (Matt. 10:1). In their proclamation, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:7).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Sing to the Lord of Harvest (LSB 893)
O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth (LSB 834)
Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior (LSB 627)
Hark, the Voice of Jesus Crying (LSB 826)