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Grace Worship

Tuesday of Pentecost 6 – Isaiah 55:10-13

Isaiah 55:10-13

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 “For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the LORD,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Isaiah 55 is one of the great treasuries of good news in the Bible. If you have the time, you should read the whole chapter. These are the final verses, so it is relatively short.

I think those of us who have spent our whole lives in the embrace of Jesus often forget just how much he has done for us. Isaiah references the steadfast and sure love God had for David earlier in this chapter. One of my friends and colleagues served the Hispanic population in a massive federal penitentiary in Colorado. These men lamented to my friend that they had never heard this Good News until they were in prison. They felt that had they heard it sooner they might have lived a different life which had not ended with them incarcerated for their crimes. They could see what Christ’s Word could have done for them in what they had lost.

God’s Word bears fruit. It does not return to him empty. In the countless lives which are lived in simple, humble decency and honesty, God’s Word bears its fruit. It also bears its fruit in the lives transformed in that prison, lives which had been filled with self-interest, violence, and hurt. God’s Word does its work in all sorts of situations, even this situation. The pandemic has laid bare some ugly realities of our culture. The love which God’s Word engenders within God’s people empowers us to acts of penitence, reflection, love, and service which go far beyond what the laws and dictates of the government demand of us. Secure in what God has said to us, we go out in joy and peace for we are the people of God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, fed by the very hand of God.

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Grace Worship

Monday of Pentecost 6 – Prayer of the Week

Devotions from Dr. Phil Brandt, Portland OR

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.

Many years ago, a pastor with the unlikely name of Abatte Castelini de Castello cast a worried gaze over his flock. Many of them were taking up strange new ideas which concerned him. But the people of his parish were vulnerable to these ideas because they had never really been taught the faith. He decided to do something about it. He started teaching children. This might seem obvious to us today, but pastor Castelini was the first person we know of to land on the idea of religious education directed at children outside of a formal school. At the time, very few children attended school. You might call this the first Sunday School, and, in fact, Pastor Castelini’s work is one of the important roots of what you and I call Sunday School today. The other roots are found in literacy programs for slum-dwelling children in Victorian England. Pastor Castelini was an acute observer of human nature. He bribed children to come to class with an apple.

Most of us have memories of attending Sunday School as a child. I have a distinct memory of my mother pointing to the words of a song hand-printed on a large sheet of paper as we all sang songs along with her and the other members of Trinity Lutheran Church near Ft. Dodge, Iowa. Our parents wanted us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. It has been a treasure which has blessed me throughout my life.

There is an irony, here, however. Pastor Castelini lived in Milan in the 16th century. The ideas which bothered him were streaming over the Alps from Switzerland and Germany, ideas which came from the pen of Martin Luther. Luther also quickly realized the need to educate children and soon competing Sunday Schools were building up the youth of Germany and Italy. Shamefully, it took such a crisis before the leaders of various Christian areas realized the need to educate children. I am wondering what God will have us see in these current days of crises. The Sunday School movement seems all but spent in North America. Yet, we still need to read, mark, learn, and digest this Word. As you pray this prayer, also pray for discernment. How shall we do this? The pandemic has familiarized so many with distance learning. Has a door opened for us? Do we need to walk through it?

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Grace Worship

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 6 A

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

Isaiah 55:10-13
Romans 8:12-17
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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

The Preaching of the Word of Christ Bears the Good Fruits of Faith and Love

As “the rain and the snow come down from heaven” and “water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout” (Is. 55:10), so the Word of God accomplishes the purpose for which He speaks it, granting joy and peace through the forgiveness of sins and producing the fruits of faith and love in those who are called by His name. Christ Jesus, the incarnate Word, has established the name of the Lord as “an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Is. 55:13). He opens our ears to hear, our minds to understand and our hearts to believe His Word, lest the evil one come and snatch it away. He thus transforms our rocky hearts into good soil, which clings to the Gospel and “indeed bears fruit” (Matt. 13:23). He is Himself the firstfruits of all who “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons” (Rom. 8:15). Thus being “led by the Spirit of God,” we are not afraid, but we cry out in faith to our Father in heaven (Rom. 8:14–15). For as we suffer with Christ, the beloved Son, so shall we “also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17).

These are the hymns we will sing:

O Sing to the Lord (LSB808)
Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast (LSB 577)
Word of God, Come Down on Earth (LSB 545)
Preach You the Word (LSB 586)
Almighty Father, Bless the Word (LSB 923)

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Grace Worship

Friday of Pentecost 5 – Matthew 11:25-30

Matthew 11:25-30

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

When we dig about in the ancient Mediterranean world, we find that the bones of most people reflect a serious protein deficiency. They ate a lot of bread, but not much meat. By some estimates they had such proteins about once per month. It is no wonder that Jesus’ words are filled with eating metaphors. The people to whom he spoke were often hungry and their bodies craved more. Jesus understood his audience.

Jesus also understood that his words would be read by people in other times and places. Our refrigerators are full. Indeed, our physicians are usually recommending less not more intake. But Jesus knew us and spoke these words for us. Come to me all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. Had Jesus wandered the modern equivalent of our Galilee, I think he would have preached this sermon often. Like many of you, my family includes essential and non-essential workers. The essential workers have labored under both the burden of work and the anxiety of a pandemic. Will I get sick at work? The non-essential workers, furloughed, laid-off, or simply left in a limbo of wondering what will happen, have the burden of seeking work in an uncertain economy which no one understands. It is a labor of another kind.

To all of us, Jesus promises rest. There are problems and questions which no longer burden us. God’s love and life itself are given, not earned. Jesus is that gift to us. There is no labor which will make us more or less a child of God and an heir of heaven. You can rest in that today. There is more. He who stumbled and fell under the burden of a cross, who had callouses on his hands from days spent in his father’s carpentry business, whose friends were fishermen who fished all night, this Jesus speaks also to your contemporary weariness. He has worked and sanctified your work. He knows your weariness and lends you his strength. He promises you his presence and blessing, no matter where this strange time may take you. Rest in this too.

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Grace Worship

Thursday of Pentecost 5 – Romans 7:13-25

Romans 7:13-25

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

She lay in a hospital bed, small and frail. She had been fighting the good fight of late. After her surgery of several years ago she had become addicted to prescription opiates. The pain had necessitated them at first, but not so much anymore. She thought she had it under control, down to one small pill per day, weaning herself off the drugs. It was such a small pill and she hated it and yearned for it at the same time. She was ready to take the final step. She would take it no more. But her body was not ready. Withdrawal fell hard upon her and landed her in that hospital bed. She watched the IV dripping into her arm and had to resign herself to the fact that the battle would go on.

Paul speaks today of our broken reality. Intentions are just not enough. I am not a mind with a body which that mind controls but a human being, comprised of body and mind and spirit and soul, however we would define those terms. Since we all fell into sin in a garden long ago, we have been enslaved to a reality which manifests in suffering. Who will free us from this body of death? Paul asks the question and provides the answer. Thanks be to God. Christ Jesus is our savior in body and mind and soul and spirit – the whole of me. I will not win this fight by dint of my will and discipline. But I will fight. For the victory is mine.

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Grace Worship

Wednesday of Pentecost 5 – Psalm 145:1-14

Psalm 145:1-14

For this devotion, I want simply to read this psalm with you, slowly. I want to break up its words, so we digest them carefully. Do not rush this. Slow down, read each couplet or verse and think about what it says. I will intersperse a few reflections.

1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.

Forever and ever? My life seems to have an end-date. COVID has reminded me of that. But Jesus’ resurrection reminds me of another truth. I have conquered death in Christ. I will extol God forever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.

God’s greatness is unsearchable. You will not ever find the bottom of God’s greatness, not with 10,000 years of searching. But you can swim deeply today.

4 One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.

Generations shall do this to one another. Have you listened to a child? Have you spoken to one? Notice the psalm does presume that it is always the elder who speaks to the younger.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

Go out on a clear starry night, get comfortable, and gaze into the universe. Hold a flower or just a leaf in your hand and look closely at the perfection of its folds and the intricacies of its lacey design. Hold an infant and simply stare in his or her face for a while. We do not do this sort of thing enough. We are too much in a hurry to get something done. Take a moment to meditate on what God has done. Praise him for it.

6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

Thanksgiving is done in the second person – spoken to the one who has done something good for you. Praise is normally done in the third person – spoken to someone else. What would you tell someone about God today? What goodness has he done which you can sing?

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.

Our COVID spring and summer have tested this assertion about God’s goodness to all the mercy which is over all that he has made. But as I have witnessed his grace and mercy take shape in the lives of the people whom I serve and love, I have been given opportunity to see his handiwork. Think about how you have seen that grace and mercy at work.

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your saints shall bless you!

The mountains surrendered the ore and material which became the steel, concrete, and brick. The forests provided the wood. The fields of flax gave us the linen. Our forced seclusion has given us occasion to remember and value that in our church buildings the whole of creation joins us in the praise of God.

11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Have you ever noticed how churches are tall, with spires and steeples? Even modest buildings will have a cross on top, something which directs our eye up and out. My prior parish was dwarfed by a massive redwood tree, a steeple which grew a little bit every year. We point outside ourselves and our problems to God.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

“As a called and ordained servant of Christ…” You know the rest of that sentence. These are kingdom words. They speak of authority exercised. Christ reigns through those words. His kingdom comes to sinners and his dominion is expressed in lives re-oriented to his love.

The LORD is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.
14 The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.

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Grace Stewardship

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Under New Management

When a business such as a restaurant changes ownership, we may see a sign that reads, “Under New Management.” The restaurant will often change the menu, the service, and even the décor. The old restaurant is hardly recognizable. So it is with our lives in Christ. St. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). In essence, we live under new management. The old godless person is hardly recognizable as the new person in Jesus is created. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). God is now in control of our lives. We have a new master and a new purpose: to live for Christ.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for changing my heart to be more like You. Keep me strong so I can continue to resist the temptations of Satan, the world, and my flesh. Thank You for forgiving and loving me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

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Grace Worship

Tuesday of Pentecost 5 – Zechariah 9:9-12

Zechariah 9:9-12

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Look at verse 12 again and notice what Zechariah calls you: A Prisoner of Hope. I think we have seriously misunderstood “hope.” We tend to see it as a futile desire, a long shot, a thing which we would like to happen, but it probably will not happen. The Bible has a very different way of using this word. It is much more akin to “expectation.” It might be better to say that we are prisoners of expectation.

Zechariah’s words in this passage are probably familiar to you as a reading from Palm Sunday when the people of Jerusalem greeted Jesus with palm fronds as he rode in on a donkey. You may not realize that Zechariah also has another event in mind: A city capitulating to a conquering general. We saw this happen not long after Zechariah’s own time in the days of Alexander the Great. Having seen Alexander smash the great armies of Persia, many cities in this part of the world put up no resistance to the mighty conqueror. They sent men to Alexander and offered to open the city gates to him if he would not destroy them and their city. There was also an expectation. The conquering general often made gifts to the people and freed their political prisoners. It was a gesture designed to win their support and encourage the next city to do the same.

To show good faith, the people would stream out of the city’s walls when Alexander drew near on Bucephalus, his great Thessalian stallion. They would have palm fronds in hand to demonstrate that they were not hostile. And they would have their children go before them as a sort of hostage. If they had tried to mount a sneak attack, their own children would be the first slain. This puts a different spin on the exhortation of Zechariah to the daughter of Jerusalem to get out there and rejoice.

But the king whom we welcome is humble and does not ride a mighty Thessalian stallion. He rides a donkey. And he says to the prisoners of expectation, the children who stand vulnerable in front of their parents, “Go back to the safety of your walls. I will do more than set things right, I will restore double.” The gift of our King is more than we expected. Prisoners of Hope – we are vulnerable and exposed to danger on every side. He who has conquered smiles upon us. We are safe in his hands.

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Grace Worship

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 5 A

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

Zechariah 9:9-12
Romans 7:14-25a
Matthew 11:25-30

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

Jesus Christ, Our Savior, Is Our True Peace and Sabbath Rest

Though we have died with Christ in Holy Baptism, and we are raised to new life in Him, we find “another law waging war” in our body and life, that is, between our old Adam and the new man (Rom. 7:23). By the Spirit of Christ, we “desire to do what is right,” but we are not able to do so because “nothing good” dwells in our sinful flesh (Rom. 7:18). “Thanks be to God,” therefore, “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” who delivers us from “this body of death” (Rom. 7:24–25). We rejoice in Him, our gentle King, who comes “righteous and having salvation” (Zech. 9:9). He speaks peace to our embattled hearts, and by His blood of the New Testament He sets us “free from the waterless pit,” and He returns us to the stronghold of our Baptism (Zech. 9:10–12). Though we “labor and are heavy laden,” He calls us to Himself and gives rest to our souls through His free and full forgiveness (Matt. 11:28), not because we are “wise and understanding,” but by the “gracious will” of God the Father, whom “the Son chooses to reveal” in love (Matt. 11:25–27).

These are the hymns we will sing:

God of Our Fathers (Red Songbook 4)
Come Unto Me, Ye Weary (LSB 684)
Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared (LSB 622)
O Living Bread from Heaven (LSB 642)
Eternal Father, Strong to Save (LSB 717)

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Grace Worship

Monday of Pentecost 5 – Prayer of the Week

Gracious God, our Heavenly Father, Your mercy attends us all our days. Be our strength and support amid the wearisome changes of this world, and at life’s end grant us Your promised rest and full joys of Your salvation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

He had been a strapping fellow in his youth, now still hale but somewhat diminished by age. He was showing the new pastor around the house that he and his wife had built for their retirement. It was a lovely home with a beautiful view. They had done well. He credited his wife with most of the design and features of the house. But there had been one thing he had insisted on in this house. Just off the kitchen he opened a door to a very large pantry. “You see, Pastor, during WWII my bomber ‘failed to remain airborne.’ I spent years in a POW camp in Germany and I vowed that I would never be hungry again.”

I can only imagine what an active young man felt like confined to a POW camp without enough to eat. It defined the rest of his life in a way and it defined what he meant by “rest and full joy.” For him rest and joy was sleeping in a house that had a large and fully stocked pantry. He had vanquished that gnawing hunger which had defined his youth. As you pray this prayer and meditate upon it, consider what rest and fully joy looks like to you. We have had our fair share of “wearisome changes” in these past couple of months. Does rest look like a COVID-free life?

My parishioner got to see something of his idea of rest and joy. But it was not long and soon health began to fail and life came to an end. But then he got to see what Jesus had in mind as He granted him His promised rest and full joy in His salvation. I think Jesus’ promise made a large pantry look small. I am tired of lockdowns and social distancing. I am weary of the distortions which this virus has brought to my life and world. But Jesus has in mind a rest and joy which transcend my and your expectations.