Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pentecost 8

Today's readings were Psalm 136, Genesis 9:8-17, Ephesians 3:14-21 (sermon text), and Mark 6:45-56.

The preaching theme for the upcoming church year [at my home church] is spiritual exercises (a.k.a. piety). Today's Epistle reading sums up three components: physical gestures (bowing the knee before God), growing in the knowledge of the love of God, and growing in general spiritual discipline. Start with verse 14: bowing the knees (an example of a physical action accepted during worship) - we sing about it plenty, but tend to practice it only rarely, this expression of the faith. Later we'll learn other Scripture-based, physical gestures of piety.

What sort of piety should we have? Paul explains first the reason behind ours: the infinite nature of the glory of God. We seek to grow in the knowledge of Christ. However, the practice of spiritual exercises is alien or even "wrong" to members of the Baby Boomers. The culture is changing, though - piety is making a comeback. Now to answer the question: There exist good (Biblical) and bad (non-Biblical) forms of piety. Examples of Biblical piety are reading the Bible, growing in the knowledge of God, and expressing and applying that knowledge. The Small Catechism can be a starting point: daily (habitual) prayers, making the sign of the Cross (while kneeling or standing), etc. Get into these habits.

Christian piety always begins with God's glory, for we have been made in His image. All too often, we glory at most in the creation, rarely the Creator. His glory drives us to our knees, for "we daily sin much." So daily kneel before the Lord, whether physically or inwardly. Christian piety continues with growing in the knowledge of the love of Christ. This helps us deal with the tribulations we face daily. Why? Christ is in you! As a result of spiritual growth, grow also in spiritual discipline.

As the pastor told us, today's sermon is only a taste of the year to come. Unfortunately, I'll be gone at the unnamed institution of higher learning for much of it, though practicing these exercises is much more encouraged at that school.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pentecost 7 (Too much good stuff)

Today's readings: Psalm 23, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:11-22, and Mark 6:30-44 (sermon text).

The way of Jesus: too much good stuff, more than we expect, more than we deserve. This is one of the few events common to all four Gospels, so it's very important. Here, in Mark's book, normally fast-paced, he takes time to tell of this miracle.

If Jesus gives us any good stuff, it's far more than what we deserve from the Creator whom we have disobeyed. We deserve not even one breath of oxygen, but grace comes in! Solely because of His own decision, we receive our Lord Himself under the bread and wine, earthly blessings, and the indwelling Word.

Jesus, although exhausted, had compassion on the people who had no true shepherd. "The Lord is my Shepherd," the true Son of David, our true Leader. So the first "good stuff" was His presence with the people. Next: the meal procured by faith and thanksgiving of God the Son to the Father. Seating in 50s and 100s parallels the OT Exodus; twice God fed His people in the wilderness. Both these events also prefigure Christ's orderly feeding of today's flock in the Eucharist.

Too much good stuff. Another detail: His disciples distributed the meal and collected generous leftovers. Pastors distribute His gifts today, abundant gifts we need and are given by grace. We hardly notice it sometimes, but we need this nourishment daily. Cherish it.

Amen. Soli Deo gloria.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oy

Just a comment thread I find interesting to follow. Abortion vs. capital punishment, anyone?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pentecost 6

Today's readings: Psalm 85, Amos 7:7-15, Ephesians 1:3-14, and Mark 6:14-29 (sermon text).

John the Baptist lost his head to slake a woman's grudge. Thank God that this gruesome story isn't sugarcoated; God takes evil head-on, and here's a good example. The Bible is about Jesus Christ coming to us in our sinfulness, then forgiving our sins. Have a look.

Even Herod had heard of Jesus' name and wondered about the rumors. The earlier miracles had served to draw attention to His purpose; later they would diminish. Beginning at verse 16 is the connection: Jesus' fame made Herod think that John was resurrected. Verse 17 delves into the history of the incident; but first, let's deal with Herod. This man was one of the four sons of Herod the Great; he received Galilee as his jurisdiction. Then John came along, criticizing the wrongful marriage of Herodias (Philip's divorcee) and Herod. This caused a grudge. Oddly, Herod was protecting John - never converted, but liked to listen.

Next came the banquet. Intoxicated, Herod was recklessly generous. Herodias' daughter, faithful to her mother to a fault, returned to demand the Baptist's head. Now suddenly sobered, Herod fearfully complied, placating the mother by getting the law of God out of the way. There's a lesson to us in our culture: DO NOT compromise God's Word, putting your self-trust ahead of God-trust. In the end, our earthly bodies are just bones. The one thing needful is Christ. We need nothing else; He must increase as we must decrease.

Trust in God alone, not in your stuff. After all, He's indestructible.

VBS is this coming week, with a special visitor. Please pray for the kids.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Pentecost 5

Today's readings were Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 33, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (sermon text), and Mark 6:1-13.

The Bible contains many stories of deliverance - Lazarus and Bartimaeus, to name only two. But our lives seem often to be deliverance-free. Paul, in the text, had a thorny situation like this - Christ did not grant his prayer's request. Let's look deeper - no shortcuts here! - to see how today's lesson applies to our lives. To do this, study the entire context.

2 Corinthians 12 (chapter context): the end of Paul's fourth (two were lost) letter to the Corinthian church. Book context: false preachers, looking for personal gain, were preaching that Christianity necessarily leads to monetary and worldly success. Paul rebutted this notion with the exact opposite, that his (Christ's) message is true. To cap it off, he boasted in his sufferings, his weakness. This segues into his thorn account.

The thorn was given him because he had seen infinitely wondrous things in visions. But what did he boast in? His thorn! A humble preacher of the Cross is weak to keep him, as with Paul, reliant on God's grace. Keep in mind that God is not the author of evil. Does He stop all evil and disease, then? No. It's a fallen world, which He allows to run its course.

Three times Paul pleaded for a miracle. His motives (unlike most of ours) are good - surely the thorn's removal would improve his proclamation of the Gospel! But Christ chose that Paul would remain weak in the body in order to point continually to Jesus Christ and His cross. Therefore he takes the lesson to heart: "For when I am weak, then I am strong." So God answers prayer in many ways, but very often calls for us just to rely on Him. Deliverance may be long in coming or even absent, but through all suffering we are to praise and trust in God as your God.

Soli Deo gloria. Amen.