Thursday of Pentecost 3 – 2 Corinthians 5:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:1-17

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

1From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The young pastor had been called to the hospital room of a man whom he did not know. The patient was elderly. He was dying and drawing nearer to his death. He had asked his nurse to speak to a pastor and it was almost an accident that he had been nearby, visiting one of his congregants. The dying man had something to confess. The nurse left the room and the dying man spoke.

The old man confessed to having abused his own children. Right at that moment the words of verse 10 were haunting him. He was about to make that appearance before the judgment seat of God. The young pastor was taken aback. He had eaten breakfast with his wife, son, and infant daughter that morning. He had headed straight to the hospital to see the sweet old woman who was in there after her heart attack. That pastoral call had been so easy. They had prayed together, read the Scripture, and spoke of God’s gift of cardiologists. This was so hard.

Like a whisper in his ear, the Pastor heard the final words of this pericope. “The love of Christ controls us…that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all,…from now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh…if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” He rested in formulae that day. His stomach churned. Christ had died for this sin too.

He went home and held his infant daughter in his arms that night and wept for the pain for other little girls. God’s love is scandalous at times. Jesus prayed for the men who drove the nails into his hands and feet. Paul, taken by that love, cannot but see everyone through the eyes of that Jesus who died for all, even the people we find very, very difficult to love. We do not control the scope of God’s love, God does that. We are witnesses to what he has said. God so loved the world that he gave…

Wednesday of Pentecost 3 – Psalm 1

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

500 years ago, Luther was sitting in a tower in the Wartburg, furiously writing and translating. Many people thought he was dead. Some suspected he was alive. A few knew he was alive. Rumors were. Even fewer knew where he was. He spent about ten months there. Finally coming home to Wittenberg in the following Lent. He would later recount that frequently the Devil tormented him at the Wartburg. We don’t know if he really hurled an inkwell at the wall. What is not in doubt is that Luther regularly said his defense against the devil to was to claim his baptism.

The Psalmist today says that the blessed man meditates upon the Law of God both day and night (vs. 2).  I am not particularly motivated to think about laws myself, but that is alright because the Hebrew word used here is actually Torah, which is perhaps better translated as Teaching. The Torah has rules, to be sure, but it also has the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It tells the thrilling story of the Exodus when Moses lead the people out of Egypt. Even the rules are not so bad. A great number of them in fact detail the proper procedures for sacrifices, just how a person is to be forgiven.

When Luther found himself awake at night, his mind racing, and he heard that voice whisper in his ear that he was not worthy, he turned to what God had taught him. He was baptized, a child of God, wholly forgiven in Christ. His sins were not counted against him. He is an heir of heaven. He was meditating on Torah when he did that.

Blessed is the man who reflects or meditates on the Torah day and night. He is like a tree planted beside a stream. No drought afflicts him. He always has that water to sustain him. When the devil or your conscience whispers to you in the dead of night as you lie awake on your bed, remember the promise of God. In baptism you passed through the sea to stand before him forgiven and redeemed, rescued from sin, death, and devil. That cannot be snatched away. It is in God’s hands.

Tuesday of Pentecost 3 – Ezekiel 17:22-24 

Ezekiel 17:22-24 

2Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

Roger Lovin’s short story “Apostle” imagines a future in which God has brought the world to an end. His instrument for doing so was a terrible race of cruel aliens whose superior technology made short work of humanity and the whole earth. But they did not kill all the humans, not immediately. Being an exceedingly cruel race, they saved some for sport. Lovin’s story focuses on the very last of these people, a wretched man who had been an alcoholic and wastrel before the end. Now he was being hunted on a strange, icy planet. The story opens with him running for his life. Finally, he had had enough. He turned on his pursuers and refused to run any more. They stopped and wondered at this. One of the aliens asked him why he was not afraid to die. He told them the story which he had learned as a child in Sunday School, of Jesus who would raise him to life again. He was not afraid to die.

They killed him after he said that, but some of the aliens heard what he said, believed what he said, and began to tell the story to others. Soon spires rose on other worlds and hymns were sung in languages unimagined on earth.

It is a fiction, an imagined story, but it imagines something of which this text reminds us. The church, all its people, property, traditions, and liturgies, they all belong to God, and they are all the product of God’s gracious work. We sometimes fret when our congregation is shrinking, or when it looks like we won’t meet our budget goals. But the church is a twig which God plucked from the tree of Judaism and planted through the foolishness of a proclaimed Gospel. On one hand, this means that we can take no credit for whatever successes we have seen. It is all God’s doing. On the other hand, however, it also means we always have hope. If I cut a twig from a cedar tree and stick in the ground on top of a mountain, it will not grow. Cedars do not propagate that way. But if God puts that twig in the ground, even something which I know will not work, it works. You might be afraid for your congregation and church today. You might have reason for that fear. The church seems to be in retreat in so many places and hostile forces seem to be gathering on the horizon. Trust God. He started long ago with Abraham, an old childless man, and made a mighty nation of him. He started with a handful of modestly educated disciples and built the church. He is not constrained by our expectations of what will work.

Lessons and Hymns for Pentcost 4 B (Proper 7)

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

Job 38:1-11

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Mark 4:35-41

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

The Word of Christ Bestows Peace on His Creation through His Forgiveness of Sins

In his anguish and affliction, Job must be reminded that, as a finite creature, he is in no position to question the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Job’s “words without knowledge” are unable to penetrate the wisdom of the Lord (Job 38:1–2). For the Lord has “prescribed limits” and “set bars and doors,” so that “here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:9–11). That’s how He humbles us unto repentance. But also by His powerful Word, He calms the “great windstorm” and the waves “breaking into the boat.” He does not permit the chaos of this fallen world to overwhelm us or bring us to despair. By the Word of His Gospel, He speaks “Peace!” to us, which bestows the “great calm” of His new creation (Mark 4:37–39). Therefore, do not be afraid, and do not receive this grace of God in vain. “Now is the favorable time,” and “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1–2).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies (LSB 873)

Eternal Father, Strong to Save (LSB 717)

God Moves in a Mysterious Way (LSB 765)

Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared (LSB 622)

On Eagles’ Wings (LSB 727)

Monday of Pentecost 3 – Prayer of the Day

Prayer of the Day

Blessed Lord, since You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

People, including myself, found him endearing, exasperating, prickly, and sweet. He was a retired pastor in one of the congregations I had served. He now rests in Christ. He had a long ministry in service to our Lord and took that responsibility quite seriously, reading and re-reading his Bible many times. He had memorized a great deal of it and regularly had a Word of God on his tongue ready to share.

It was that Word which was always on his tongue which people sometimes struggled with. It made them uncomfortable. Sometimes it was sweet and easy to hear. Other times it was hard to hear. When I think of someone who has heard, read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested God’s Holy Scriptures, I think of him and of my reaction to him. God’s Word is like that. Just when we imagine that we have God figured out we discover to our horror that the little and tame God who is on our leash is not in fact God at all. The real God is standing behind us, large, dangerous, and utterly beyond either our comprehension or control. The Bible reveals a God who surprises me, shocks me, comforts me, delights me, and so much more.

This is a dangerous prayer in a sense. My friend and colleague was much further down this road than I was or am. Perhaps I will never so inwardly digest God’s Word as he did. The Scriptures are not a means for us to control or fully understand God. But as the prayer notes, they are a Word from God which conveys His eternal life to us. I will keep reading that Bible and pray you do too. I will listen to others speak about it because sometimes the Spirit leads them in ways I would never consider. I pray my hunger is always for its strange and disquieting Word. The Jesus who speaks therein brought my friend to eternal life. He will bring me and you as well.

riday of Pentecost 2 – Mark 3:20-35

Friday of Pentecost 2 – Mark 3:20-35

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

In the first centuries of Christianity, periodic persecutions broke out against Christians. Many modern Christians have inflated these persecutions. There were many decades in which the Church was not persecuted. Often persecutions were very localized and not prosecuted evenly. There were also many Christians who were not brave in the face of persecution. Some, however, were. In the opening years of the third the emperor Septimius Severus began to persecute Christians, Jews, and anyone who would not join in his preferred religion of the unconquered sun (it sounds better in Latin: Sol Invictus). Like many elements of ancient history, this is hotly contested and there are conflicting accounts of whether he or subordinates were behind the persecution.

What is not up for debate is the impact of the martyrdom of several Christians in the arena in Carthage from the first years of the century. The account of the death of Felicitas and Perpetua by wild beasts became a sensation in the ancient world. You can still read it today; it is readily available in an internet search. These two women, one a young noblewoman and the other her servant/slave, came to embody faithful Christian virtue for early Christians. Perpetua rejected her father’s pleas that she should deny Christ. Felicitas, the servant, handed her newborn child through the bars of her cell into the care of a fellow Christian rather than renounce her faith in Jesus.

Jesus’ words today are shocking. Who is closest to him? It is not his biological mother and siblings. The religious leaders of the day certainly did not have that claim. He points to the crowds of people who eagerly listen to his words. Here are his mother and siblings. Those who do the will of God have communion with Him. Even in days of persecution, especially in days of persecution, He is never far from those who believe and act on that faith. Perpetua and her servant Felicitas believed that. Christ’s words remain true today. Trust his promises to you. Live the life to which he calls you today. You are close to Him right now.

Thursday of Pentecost 2 – II Corinthians 4:13-5:1

II Corinthians 4:13-5:1

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

1For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

He had been a logger. A large strapping fellow in his prime, his strength and agility had been prized possessions that earned him a good living. He had come to know when a tree was dangerous or when a contrary wind could push a tree in a direction you did not want it to go. He had operated huge machines and took pride in the fact that his work had provided homes for thousands of people. Only the experience and knowledge were left to him now. Age and years of hard labor had rendered him frail and somewhat crippled. His once mighty arms and hands which had grasped tools and manipulated logs were now arthritic husks. Cancer had reduced him, but it had not conquered him. He looked forward, he told me, to the Day (when he said it, you knew it should be capitalized) when he would stand tall and strong again. God had promised him that. He counted on it.

We spoke of the past but in so doing he was also speaking of the future. He remembered jumping from log to log in the mill pond as a young man, imagining himself to be invincible. He laughed about falling in and being hauled out and dressed down by an older cousin who was the foreman. He could have been crushed. We said that death would be like falling into that pond and being hauled out by Jesus.

We looked around his care facility and the sterile, smooth surfaces, so unlike the woods where he made his living. We made room for the CNA’s and nursing staff to attend to him. We listened to the discouraged physician who gave the grim prognosis. They seemed transient to us. Unseen and eternal things were more real for him that day. The eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, was his destination. These sufferings and indignities were but preparation. He did not lose heart. We grieved and rejoiced at his funeral. He had a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, to replace this tent which we laid to rest.

Wednesday of Pentecost 2 – Psalm 130

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

I lay on the hard ground, not directly, there was a sleeping mat under me and a sleeping bag around me. It was very cold. My son and I were crossing the country to a family event and he wanted to visit some national parks. Unfortunately, all the national parks between my house and that event are located high in the mountains. It gets very cold high in the mountains in late April. The mat itself, while keeping me warm, was not quite the mattress I had grown used to sleeping upon. In fact, it was feeling paper thin that night. This resulted in me tossing and turning in a futile quest for comfort and sleep. I knew immediately if my foot or a leg strayed off that sleeping mat. I could feel the cold creeping into me from the ground.

The psalmist speaks of watchmen waiting for the morning. He repeats it. It is a good line, but he wanted to emphasize it. The small hours of the morning pass by incredibly slowly when you are waiting for the sun to rise. Lying awake, sore, a little cold, staring at the screen of my phone which told me that it was only 2:45 AM, barely ten minutes since the last time had checked, I started to get a sense of what it meant to be a watchman waiting for the morning, waiting for the morning. I think the psalmist must have pulled a little guard duty in his day.

Rendered uncomfortable, even in pain, by sin, we wait for a particular dawn. With the Lord there is steadfast love, that Son shines brightly. He redeems Israel from all iniquity. The psalmist was in the depths, a dark and frightful place, much worse than my warm sleeping bag and a singular uncomfortable night because I was unused to the hard ground. He waited for the dawn of God’s steadfast love and plentiful redemption. What tormented his soul that night? We do not know.

Yet, I know what torments my soul and you know what torments your soul. We can all join him in this prayerful and hopeful expectation. We wait for the dawn.

Tuesday of Pentecost 2 – Genesis 3:8-15

Genesis 3:8-15

8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

My brother and his young family used to clean the church on Saturday afternoons. One day, after they had been cleaning for a while, my brother noticed a small round hole in the drywall in the hallway. He had not seen it earlier. It looked fresh, in fact there was some dust still on the carpet. He assembled his five young children and asked if anyone knew what had happened. He was met with silence. Being a creative and perceptive person, my brother then proposed that each of them make up a story about how this hole had come into the drywall in the hallway.

One child imagined that a small rhinoceros had escaped from the zoo and been chased into church and down the hallway. Its horn had made the hole in the wall. Another imagined a battle in the hallway. Other fanciful suggestions were forthcoming. Finally, his littlest child said that maybe someone had moved the upright vacuum cleaner and the handle had fallen backward and made a hole in the wall.

God walked in the garden and called out, “Where are you?” God knew what had happened and he knew that Adam and Eve were hiding behind the rhododendron bush over there. God was not really interested in bringing them to justice. He was far more interested in them. He drew out of them their confession and he re-established relationship with them, a relationship which sin had curdled with fear and guilt.

My brother and his child worked together to fix that hole in the wall. They laugh about this story now. This fear and guilt which had silenced the sinner was forgiven and rests in the context of loving deeds and kind words. It is done. God had good words which He wanted to speak to Adam and Eve that day, words of a promised seed, a son, who would crush the power of Satan and end all fear and guilt. He wanted to tell them of Jesus. The same Jesus that church my brother’s family cleaned was built to honor and glorify.

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 3 B (Proper 6)

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

Ezekiel 17:22-24

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Mark 4:26-34

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

The Cross of Christ Is the Tree of Life, Which Bears Abundant Fruit after Its Own Kind

The parables of our Lord convey the mysteries of the kingdom of God to those who are “able to hear it,” that is, “to his own disciples,” who are catechized to fear, love and trust in Him by faith (Mark 4:33–34). He scatters “seed on the ground,” which “sprouts and grows” unto life, even as “he sleeps and rises” (Mark 4:26–27). “On the mountain height of Israel,” He plants a young and tender twig, and it becomes “a noble cedar.” Indeed, His own cross becomes the Tree of Life, under which “every kind of bird” will dwell, and in which “birds of every sort will nest” (Ezek. 17:22–25). His cross is our resting place, even while now in mortal bodies, we “groan, being burdened” (2 Cor. 5:1–4). Yet in faith, we live for God in Christ, who for our sake “died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). We know that, in His resurrected body, “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing (LSB 584)

Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid (LSB 500)

Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast (LSB 577)

For the Fruits of His Creation (LSB 894)

On What Has Now Been Sown (LSB 921)

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