Saturday, May 31, 2014

When Doubts, Fears, Worries, and Guilt Plague Your Mind and Your Spirit...,

...confidence, power, trust, and forgiveness are at

THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER


The Apostle's Creed puts it this way: He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The Nicene Creed is briefer in stating: and sitteth at the right hand of the Father. Either way these are strange words for twentieth century people. We do not live in an age of heroes. But the apostles in the fifth chapter of Acts call Jesus the Hero and Savior. The Greek word usually meant the founding father of a city. When the apostles add "and Savior" to it they mean that Jesus is not content to be the past Hero, but would fight for us forever. That's why He needed witnesses to His ascension. He could have just vanished from sight. Instead, He wanted to drive home the fact that He was going to heaven as a man, slowly, visibly, ending forever His work as the Servant. Jesus was not going to heaven to rest. He was going far higher than the angels, going to that mysterious place we call "the right hand of the Father," to assume His proper role as Lord and King of heaven and earth. But what He means to us has not changed in the least. He remains our Prophet, Priest and King.

What would happen to the Church if there were no Prophet? All their days the disciples had left the big decisions to Jesus. So before He left them, He showed them many infallible proofs that He was indeed risen from the dead. He knew people would say that the Ascension was a convenient way of explaining the absence of the supposedly alive Jesus, sSo for forty days He remained visible and tangible among them. Neither was it only for that generation.  Jesus has not left us like sheep without a shepherd.  True, the Church is divided.  True, people do follow false teachers.  That is because they follow their vain imaginations rather than Christ's clear words.  Jesus must always be the sole Teacher of the Church.  Ministers can be His instruments as long as they are willing to bind themselves to the infallible teachings of the Bible.  They must control their desire to speculate, avoid nostrums for social improvement, and forsake bold claims that the Holy Spirit told them some nutty thing or another.  The Bible is the voice of Christ.  Through the preaching of the Divine Word we can hear our Prophet even today.

Nor would Jesus cast us adrift without a Priest.  You can imagine the confusion 2000 years ago when the disciples realized that the time for animal sacrifice had come to an end, but how were they to worship now?  First, the Lord assured them that His sacrifice was all-sufficient, that He had offered it once for all.  Then, He told them to remember it by means of Holy Communion.  Finally, He promised He would intercede for them in heaven.  All priestly functions remain with our ascended Lord.  He fulfilled what Job had said long ago, Even now my witness is in heaven, and He that vouches for me lives on high.

Jesus is unique in that respect.  He alone is truly risen from the dead.  His blood atones for our sins.  We must not pray to the dead for they cannot hear us.  No matter how exemplary the saints might have lived, they have neither the right nor the power to help us now, but Jesus can.  Because of the world we live in, we have to be skeptical about many things, but the intercession of Jesus is not one of them.  No, He doesn't intercede just by giving us a good example.  Hear what St. Paul says in Romans 8:34 It is Christ Jesus who died, yea, who was raised again, who is at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us.  He has all the power and glory of God.  He can and will hear our prayers.  The daughter of Jairus, the widow's son, and Lazarus were all raised from the dead personally by Jesus, but they all died again and are dead now.  Jesus lives on.

Nor would Jesus leave us without a King.  We are surrounded by human enemies too numerous to mention besides the evil angels and powers of darkness who seek to overwhelm us, but our Leader and Deliverer is in complete control of the situation.  A millennium before Jesus David had prophesied: The Lord said to my Lord sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.  The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter:  rule in the midst of your foes.  Yes, in the first instance this is referring to Christ's rule from the cross.  No doubt about it, but that is phase one. There is also a phase two, in which His enemies are held down under His feet.  As St. Paul tells us in the first chapter of Ephesians: He raised Him from the dead and made him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above every principality and power and over every name that is named... and has put all things under His feet, and made Him the Head of all things for the sake of the Church.  There you have it.  From the right hand of God Jesus looks at us and rules in our interest.  No matter what may happen to us, do not be afraid because our Lord is still in power.  He cannot lose His power.  When Stephen, the first of the martyrs, lay dying from the stoning, Jesus strengthened him with a vision.  When he saw that, he knew that all was well, that his death was part of God's plan, so he departed in peace.  Jesus is our King, too.  We must remain confident that He is ruling over all things for the best, no matter how it looks from our earthly perspective.

Dying may be awkward when we look at it from this side, so view it from Christ's eyes, and see it as the entry way to eternal peace.  Jesus may have something for us to do there.  We really know very little about how we will occupy ourselves in the next life.  What He does promise us is no more misery, no more conflict, no more not being able to make ends meet, no more people laughing at us or scolding us.  Perhaps the greatest thing of all, in heaven there will be no guilt, past, present, or future.  Our Lord Jesus is the King of Glory, the Great Physician who will put an end to all disease, the great Counselor who will settle every contention, the Great Teacher who will end all doctrinal controversies, the Architect who will build the heavenly mansions which will never collapse.  He fills heaven and earth from the right hand of the Father.  We will always be in His presence, even in this world, and that constitutes paradise.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Friday, May 30, 2014

Ascension has not changed the eternal nature of God.

HE IS STILL IMMANUEL

The end of all things is near, therefore keep a sound mind and pray soberly. 1 Peter 4:7

St. Peter wants us to remember that the end is near. Don’t ask when because no one knows, nor is it even important.  What we do know, however, is that our Lord’s incarnation marked the “beginning of the end” and that His Second Coming will be the   “end of the end.”  At that time He will appear with great power and glory to pronounce judgment in His church’s favor, and to establish a kingdom of rest and quietness for us.  So rather than waste our time playing theological guessing games, as so many radio preachers like to do, let us consider what is most important: that the end of all bad things, and the beginning of all good things is always near because Jesus is always here.

Jesus came and He’s coming again, but what we need to rivet our attention to above all is that He is with us now, not just in our pious imaginations but in the ways and means which He established, which are certain and reliable, so that no one ever need wonder where divine mercy is to be found.

First He is present with us in the Scriptures, not to state the obvious but when we hear the Word of God we are hearing the Word of God, the Word made flesh, even Jesus our Lord, who dwelt among us full of grace and truth.  The same Christ is still present with us today in the church’s teaching and preaching, still imparting grace and truth to sinners even as He did when He walked the earth.

Secondly He is present in holy baptism.  In this primary Sacrament He makes us one with the Triune God, delivers us from death and gives eternal life to all who believe.

Thirdly He is present in absolution.  Though the pastor says the words it is Jesus Himself granting the pardon, and imparting blood-bought remission so perfect that it can forgive any sin, acquit of any wrong, cleanse any conscience, change any life, expel any sorrow, dissolve any trauma, and banish the fear of death and judgment from every troubled heart.

Fourth in Holy Communion Jesus is also truly present, not only symbolically or in our imaginations, but factually and substantially present to feed us with the food of immortality. In the 81st Psalm Christ our Lord says: Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it, and in the 34th He says:  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  These promises are realized in the eucharist.  Here we possess Jesus as completely as He can be possessed in this life.  From this holy union and communion we obtain pardon for all our sins, comfort for all our troubles, strength for all our weakness and courage to live holy lives in expectation of His coming again in glory.

When Saint Peter writes that the end of all things is near, what is implied is the end of all bad things: the end of sin, because Jesus paid for it on the cross; the end of death, because Jesus won victory over it for us by His resurrection; the conclusion of riotous living, because God’s children are filled with God’s Spirit who gives us the gift of self-control; and the cessation of want and of fear, because if God is for us who can be against us?

Yes, the end of all things is at hand and there is nothing we can do to stop it. The vanity of man is happily driving the bus of history right off a cliff, and singing songs of progress all the way down.   Please don’t worship the false god of human progress.  Though it is preached from every school in the land, every media outlet and every government office this Yojo is a phony and misleading god.  Don’t worship at his altar or share in his unholy communion because there is no such thing as human progress.  Quite the contrary, because of sin all things are rapidly returning to their mean: order to chaos, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

The city of Detroit which was once a barren wilderness went on to become the greatest manufacturing city the world has ever known.  For most of a hundred years it “renewed the face of the earth” with its products, produced the greatest fortunes that ever existed, and was the envy of the entire world.  Today, except for a few skeletal remains, it is once again a barren wilderness of empty lots and abandoned homes haunted by urban jackals.  Last year the once great city tried to auction nine thousand properties beginning at $500, but even at that price more than eighty percent of them never caught a bid.  Yet the end of one thing always means the beginning of another, even in Detroit.  When nothing else could be done barren lots were joined together, turned into small farms, placed under professional management, and their healthy products are sold on site in road side stores.

In the same way, when Jesus is near with His good gifts and Spirit all things are made new for us.  Our minds which were once scattered, unstable, ever-intoxicated and fixed on the desires of the flesh, now feast on the truth of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Hearts which in the past worshiped at the altar of self-pity now pray to the Father in Jesus’ name asking everything they need for themselves, their beleaguered families, their crumbling churches and their failing nation.  Because Christ is near God’s people have fervent love for one another, practice hospitality and each uses the manifold gifts of God, and strength of God, to love and serve their neighbor. Though for now our successes are spotty we know God’s will, we have the power to do it, full remission of sins when we fail, and the promise of our Lord’s final return to encourage us. When He comes again all bad things will be brought to an end, and all good things will be perfected unto the ages of ages. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, who with His love doth befriend thee.  Amen
.


~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Your crushed and humiliated heart is a HOLY PLACE

THE HIGH AND THE HUMBLE

public domain
Does this passage seem like a paradox to you? On the one hand God tells us that He is high over all the world, totally transcendent. On the other hand He asserts His presence with the humble and contrite. Is that a contradiction? If it is, we have a similar one with Jesus. His disciples saw Him ascend, leave the earth, disappear above the clouds. Yet we know He is present in our Holy Communion. How can He be transcendent and at the same time be within you? The answer is not that God can do anything. Even though God is omnipotent, that does not matter for what we're talking about. We want to know how to interact with God. We cannot do that by speculating about His nature.

The greatest distance between God and man is not one of space. It is true that Jesus was physically present with His disciples one minute and physically absent the next, but we have no idea where heaven is, so we have no idea how He traveled once He entered the cloud. He might have traveled through time as well as space. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that a throne was prepared for Him. That sounds like Judgment Day. But the main point is neither time nor space. The greatest distance between God and man is holiness. The quality of holiness is one we acquire by having our sins forgiven, which only comes through interaction with God. If we have nothing to do with Him, we are nothing, and all of our works are vanity. Before the Fall Adam and his wife were holy, but that has been lost because of sin. We are still God's stewards, we are still the crowning point of all creation, but as sinners we can only do evil. Only God can sanctify us, which He does by putting grace into the world.

Holiness -- what an uneasy thought!  A holy building is one where you have to keep quiet. Holy people are famous for their self-denial. We stop swearing when we think the pastor can hear us. Evil might make us disapprove, but at least it's fairly familiar to us. Holiness is strange. Yet holy people are almost always free from anxiety. We come to this holy place to find forgiveness. Holy people are fond of forgiving. The holiest Man who ever lived is Jesus, who was God's bridge over the holiness gap. He became the bridge by becoming incarnate.

Isaiah is telling us this evening that the very holiness, the quality that puts God far above all human ambition and achievement, also brings Him very near the humble and penitent, so near that He actually touches them. Afflictions and frustrations teach us their bitter lessons. But we are not ready to graduate from their school until we let go of our self-reliance, confess our sins, and put away our foolish pride. We want to be ready for what God likes to do best - deliver us. The best way to interact with God is for him to deliver you. If afflictions and frustrations put you in need of deliverance, be sure that the Holy Spirit is very close to you.

It doesn't take much to figure out that being delivered isn't just something you can decide to do. Unless events put you in harm's way, you won't need rescuing. So what can we do? First, let me warn you that religious feelings are no help at all. Jesus never said Blessed are they who feel religious. So where can you start? Should we try various forms of self-denial? Should we begin with volunteering, contributing money, spending more time in prayer, fasting, taking Bible classes, giving to the needy? There is peril in this method. God desires mercy, not sacrifice. The prophets of Israel solemnly warn us , Rend your hearts, not your garments. Sacrifice can lead to holy feelings, and the worst imitation of holiness is holy feelings. That is the trap. If you can avoid it, at least sacrifice is a step away from self-sufficiency, from independence, from the blindness that keeps us from seeing our sins. It can help us see how firmly sin holds the creature called Me. Once we see that, we can turn to the cross. The way to love God is the way of the cross.

When you are crushed and humble, God is very near. Isaiah even says that God revives the humble. Jesus became one of us to heal the sickness of our souls. To the blind man He said, "Receive your sight." To the palsied He said, "Your sins are forgiven." To a crucified thief He said, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Even as He spoke those words, He made the sacrifice. He suffered all the pains human sin had heaped up in this world. His sacrifice cleanses every soul, blesses every contrite heart, makes full atonement with His body, redeems all sinners forever, including you. Talk about self-denial - that was the ultimate self-denial! And talk about holiness - there was nothing artificial about His holiness. On the third day He proved that Satan could not take His holiness from Him. He was stronger than sin and death. He did not keep this holiness to Himself. He used it to deliver us. So in Holy Communion we receive His broken Body and precious Blood. There, under His offered grace, we can become holy. The heart that is broken and contrite, that is not blocked up with the heavy stone of its own importance, can become holy by feeding on grace. The Holy Spirit gladly rolls that stone away.

In the verse right before our text, the prophet uses construction language. He talks about building a road. This particular bit of civil engineering does not involve any concrete, but rather a highway in the soul. Jesus bids us to get rid of the obstacles that get in His way as He comes to abide with us. He needs to raise up the weaknesses with a kind of spiritual landfill. And the high ground has to be leveled, the self-sufficiency and arrogance have to be put down. God's mercy is doing all this. Jesus will not share His throne with you on earth, because He would rather share it with you in heaven.

As once more we remember Christ's Ascension, let us praise the High and the Humble, who is nevertheless very near to the crushed and despairing. May the Sacraments of this holy place continue to build you up by grace, to reinforce you as the people of the Savior, and therefore also the saints of the Most High. With you He deigns to share His cross here, and His crown hereafter. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

There are two versions of the Christian faith, the tidy one and the bloody one

A BLOODY EXCHANGE

Only know for certain that if you put me to death you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and its inhabitants. For in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears. Jeremiah 26:15


There are two versions of the Christian faith, the tidy one and the bloody one.

We like the tidy one best because it is friendly, inoffensive and it makes us feel good. It rarely talks about sin, but if it does it only takes note of social ones, never personal ones. Under its rubrics people are redeemed not by the blood of Christ poured out as the eternal sacrifice for sin, but by having Positive Spiritual Sentiments. The goal of this religion is to make people nice, and its fondest hope is that all men could just learn to get along. But neither Jeremiah, St. Paul nor the Lord Himself would fare very well under this regime.

There is also the bloody version of the Christian religion but it’s one we don’t like very well. It has nothing to do with the religious wars that Christo-phobes obsess about, but with the suffering and death of Jesus. It offends our sensibilities and is so frightening that if it were possible, we would banish it from the face of the earth; but then we would be goners for sure!

What makes it so forbidding? In the first place it addresses real sins. The chief sin of Jeremiah’s audience was idolatry, which is the worship of false gods. Rather than remain faithful to the Lord who had rescued them, and who had become their Husband, they were lured into the worship practices of the culture, practices marked by intoxication and known for their sexual immorality. The female clergy who manned the pagan temples provided “rest” for weary worshippers. They promised that the fertility gods would smile on their fields and their flocks, all for the stipulated donation and a little quality time spent together. How could God’s people resist? It was just good business wasn’t it? And didn’t a man have to take every measure to insure that he could feed his family? It all made perfect sense. But if there were any lingering doubts they were quickly erased after inhaling the temple incense for a few minutes.

Once divorced from their God by such sins the covenant people, on whom the Lord had showered such love, became more treacherous than a Siberian Tiger. They shed innocent blood, lived by deceit and every man coveted his neighbor’s possessions. For all this God made plans to destroy them. But because He is gracious He delayed His action, and sent prophets without number to reason with them, to preach a powerful Word to them so that they might repent, and He might relent from administering the justice which the Covenant clearly stipulated. Jeremiah was one of those prophets who not only predicted the coming of the Messiah but who was in many ways a walking, talking model of Him. Like Jesus, Jeremiah taught undiluted divine truth to people. He urged them to turn from their sins, to wake up from their culturally induced comas, to abandon their vain hopes of man-made salvation and to seek the blessings of God instead. But his message fell on deaf ears. People resisted it, hardened their hearts to it, and when all else failed they seized the messenger, held a sham trial and threatened to kill him -- and they came very close. In the end cooler heads prevailed, and it’s a good thing because had they succeeded they would have silenced the only voice of reason in the land; the only priest who comprehended the coming Sacrifice, the only Prophet who had a clear vision of the New Covenant which the Lord would make with them, and by which He would remember their sins no more. Neither would the blood of Jeremiah have done them any good. He was found innocent in man’s court but in God’s court he too was a sinner, as much in need of the salvation he dispensed as any other man.

No, Jeremiah’s blood could save no one. For this Innocent blood was needed: divine blood; blood provided by God Himself when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins; blood that purifies us from every sin, calms our troubled hearts and redeems us from everlasting death. The bloody version of the Christian faith can be intimidating because it is a vivid reminder of what each of us has merited by his sins. But rather than strike fear into our hearts it is God’s intent that the Cross should fill us with joy, that it should make our sorrowing spirits sing and evoke our never-ending praise, because on the cross Jesus was our substitute in death.  By laying down His life and by taking it up again, our Lord gained Glory for us the likes of which no thought can reach, no tongue declare.

Yes, we need innocent blood and that is what we receive, along with our Lord’s own flesh, in the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion. Is this amazing? Is this hard to fathom? Does this bounce off your reason like a pin ball on steroids? It should come as no surprise. When Jesus expounded these truths to the crowds in John chapter six their reply was: this is a hard saying! Then St. John records the saddest event of all: after this many no longer followed Him. Jesus then asked the disciples: will you also leave me? To which bi-polar, schizophrenic Simon Peter replied with simple faith: Lord, to whom shall we go, for you have the Words of eternal life!

We have them too in the words: given and shed for you for the remission of sins. For far from being a mere mental exercise in which we recall a past event, in the Sacrament we actually and factually encounter the suffering, death and mighty resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Here we receive innocent blood that makes us authentically righteous, innocent and blessed. Here we obtain joy and peace. Here we acquire super-natural strength to defy the many devils which would take up residence in us, make us their home, make us their slaves and drag us down to perdition with them. It is here, and no where else on earth, that we locate the sheer joy of God’s love, to counteract the blitz-kreig of earth’s troubles.

Innocent blood: It is what we need and what we get from Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How are you managing?

CERTAIN PROMISES; CERTAIN TRUST

Try this little exercise.  In your mind, make a line graph, the kind you find in a board of directors' room, only instead of sales or profits, this one charts your life.  Plot the point to show how good life is as you move from the past, the left, to the future, the right.  Connect those dots with a line.  If a company's graph is a straight line, the managers won't be around very long.  The board wants the line to go up.  It may have to dip now and then to get there, but they want the overall motion to be upward.  Yet when we think about our lives, most of us would really like to have a straight line.  When we have those experiences that make the line go up or down, we call that stress.  Fortune, of course, is fickle, so we hold ourselves back.   What are we so afraid of?  Are we so fond of having our sins glossed over that we don't want to really attack them?  Do we like being respectable so much that we never try to be holy?  When you're young you don’t notice the line is straight because you're busy building your nest and anchoring it down.  When you get older you don't notice because things are going so well that you're stiff, but God has His ways of getting your attention.  No matter how close to the chest you hold your cards, you never know when some event will tear away your mask, and cause the line of your life to plummet down off the graph.


I am not talking about death here.  Think of death as where the line goes off to the right.  I'm talking about when the line goes off the bottom.  Some day we will all arrive at that exit point, but before we do, there are many less final times when we have to give account.  Those are the unpleasant times, the times when the line goes off the bottom of the graph.  We ought to think of such times as dress rehearsals for the Judgment, so think - if we tremble at the ups and downs of fortune, how can we face God's final evaluation of our lives?  Do you work a 54 hour week, and get little sleep at night, trying to protect your property?  Do you find it hard to spend a few minutes for the needs of your immortal soul?  Since you came here this morning I assume you do want God's forgiveness, His comfort, His power of renewal, so please don't be afraid when He makes your line go up and down.  He certainly wants you to have forgiveness, comfort, renewal, and eternal life.  May this message remove from your heart any fear about the certain promises of Christ's mercy.


The Gospel promises do not come with question marks.  There is no debate, no contradiction as far as the Gospel is concerned.  St. Paul tells us plainly, God spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all.  Maybe you don't understand international banking, or why marriages fail, or how guided missiles work.  Maybe you can't imagine how the first oyster ever got eaten, or why anyone would listen to rap, but when you gaze on the cross of Jesus you can be certain of His love.  The cross speaks plainly.  There Jesus assures you that God loves you.  Yes, He who made the world, the Holy One whom no sinner can approach and live, the Almighty weeps with pity over the fallen world.  He doesn't just weep.  He delivers His Son to death.  The cross tells you plainly …God loves you… God is merciful to you … God has given you a Savior.


These are not questions.  These are statements of fact, and they are clear, not puzzles or ciphers as if they did not mean what they said.  God gives you a Gospel you can understand. There is a problem in that each of us has something built in that tries to deny it, something that doubts salvation could be so simple.  The good news is, it not only can be, it is.  There are no question marks on the cross, neither does the Gospel come with one.


If your doctor prescribes medicine for your illness, wouldn't you be a fool not to take it?  How much more then should you trust the Great Physician who can heal your soul of its leprosy.  Forgiveness is the necessary therapy for spiritual degeneration.  You can be confident that God has provided an antidote to the Fall!  He has given us the Lamb who takes away our sins.  There are many reasons to be skeptical about life.  We often have to doubt politicians, and opinion polls, and celebrities, and critics, but don't doubt the Gospel. God's certain promises are backed up by His certain faithfulness.  They are sealed by the blood of Jesus, and written in a book that cannot err.  That arrangement calls for trust.


Consider the man who wrote this lesson, the Apostle Paul.  He goes on to say I am persuaded - not a question of probabilities but of certainty - that neither life nor death, nor angels or demons, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Paul knew there was no weak link in the chain of salvation.  We have the same pledge he had.  There is no flaw in the fabric of the Gospel.  As we enter the balance with the mercy of God on our side of the scale, our shame and disgrace on the other, be sure the mercy weighs more.  When your conscience screams in your ear, turn to the 8th chapter of Romans and read If God be for us, who can be against us?


Finally, let us consider what the Apostle means when he says that because of Christ God will freely give us all things.  All things.  What does this mean?  Go back to that line graph, and think about the ups and downs, the times when it isn't a straight line.  God's love explains all those moves.  They have purposes.  The graph dips here and there, but the greatest blessing is that as we get to the far right side, the line goes off the top.  As long as we're certain of that, nothing can make us sad.  The same boundless love that cleanses the soul ministers to the pains and perils of the body.  There can be no doubt, the atonement Christ made is absolutely thorough, absolutely complete.  There is nothing we can do to help.  It's foolish to even try.  Rather, we pray for and expect all good things that come with God's mercy.  Are you searching for peace?  Are you turned around in your tracks because of financial reverses?  Does worry eat away at your heart?  Has grief invaded your life?  Do you think you have stood as much as anyone can?  Turn to the cross of Jesus.  If He could take care of the biggest thing, then we can trust Him for the little things.  Of course it's easier with the ups than with the downs, but the downs really make your faith stronger.

Perhaps you find yourself saying Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.  Very well.  He hears that; He loves you.  You can trust His certain promises.  AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Can We Ever Be Satisfied?

OUR DAILY BREAD


This fifth Sunday after Easter is the traditional day on which the Church asks God's blessings on the land and the crops which are currently being planted. Most of the Sundays after Easter get their Latin names from the Introits but not this one. Rogate means "ask", and it comes from the traditional, not the current but the traditional Gospel lesson for this Sunday, the one indicated in the Lutheran Hymnal, from John 16:23-30 in which Jesus bids His disciples Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be full. Our joy would not be full if we were hungry. In fact, being hungry is such a distraction that it causes us to forget God's other blessings. So this morning, as we contemplate the gift of the produce of the land, we will meditate on another holy saying of our Lord, again on the subject of asking. This time we will examine the fourth petition, Give us this day our daily bread.

On the surface it seems as if this petition were only about food. But stop and think what it takes to get a loaf of bread from the field to the table. First, there must be land that is fertile enough that the seeds can grow. Then, there must be a farmer to do the work. He needs a banker to borrow the seed money. He needs field equipment, which is made in a factory. There has to be friendly weather during the growing season. When he harvests the grain, he needs a truck to get it to the grain elevator. A railroad services the grain elevator, and takes the wheat to a flour mill. The mill has to have land, tools, and workers to grind the grist. Then we have another teamster to take the flour to the baker, who has to have a going business. The baker bakes the bread, then employs yet another teamster to take it to the store. All along the way we are assuming that someone has been selling gasoline to all those people who were driving the various stages of production to its next stop. We have also been assuming that police were protecting the farm, the elevator, the mill, the baker, and all those drivers. We have also been assuming that they had electric power and running water to perform their operations, that they had insurance if anything happened along the way, that the roads were kept in good repair, that somewhere a government issued money that each operator at each step could exchange for his own daily bread, and that the buildings in which they operated were properly maintained. All that to put one loaf of bread on the table. And if it takes that to get a loaf of bread from Holmes County, imagine what it takes to get an orange from California! Martin Luther once said that the nobility were missing the boat by putting all sorts of predators on their coats of arms. They would be more respected if they emblazoned their logos with a loaf of bread, and more acurate. We pray this morning that God would keep this society, so tightly interwoven and interdependent, together and functioning, and that He would keep us healthy in mind and body so that we could earn the right to eat our daily bread.

O.K. Pastor, I know we need all those things, but isn't God giving all that right now to millions of people who didn't ask for it? He certainly is. Prayers are not magic. They never were and never will be. We do not pray for our daily bread because we think God will cut us off if we don't. Just as parents will feed their children whether they are good or bad, so God will feed us whether we like it or not. Why, then, do we bother praying for it? For three important reasons. First, we acknowledge the gift - a sort of thank you note. Secondly, we hallow God's name, praising Him for His kindness. And thirdly, we seek the Holy Spirit to direct our stewardship of this society, this land, buildings, raw materials, tools, and works. God is the Owner. That's fine. Let Him be the Capitalist. We are the management, responsible to Him for the profitability of all His blessings.

When the Lord first set up His people in the holy land He commanded them to let the land rest every seven years. Jesus ended that, as He ended the whole Law, by fulfilling it. He became the Sabbath for us. We are free from the commandments, but we have no mandate to be materialistic, to be moved by greed to gobble up whatever we can get our hands on. A half century ago rebellious man thought he could use technology to service his greed forever. Today we are paying the price for that greed, as technology has fallen into disfavor, and good people are not studying their science. But how can we be otherwise? Isn't greed an essential part of human nature? It is if you take as the standard what is left after the Fall. Ever since then the devil has involved himself in all of our affairs, worming his way into every step of bread production, from the farm house to the White House, interfering with God's wonderful bounty. He sees to it that no human decision on any level of society - from what to plant to whether or not we will have a war - is ever free from sin. Jesus told us not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, but the devil won't let us undertake anything without a little something in it for ourselves. If we ask God for daily bread, but after we say Amen we go out and sell our merchandise a little too high, or plant more than is good for the environment, or advertise something we don't really deliver, the devil laughs for he has made us all hypocrites.

How can we be otherwise? There is only one true answer, and that is regeneration. God took pity on us, and gave His only Son to be one of us, to be tempted as we are, to fulfill God's will where we failed. God broke the devil's power by the death of Jesus on the cross. God held the devil down as Jesus rose again from the grave. Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers who administer Satan's syndicate. How can we be otherwise? Through Jesus of Nazareth, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In the last book of the Bible, St. John saw a vision of the end of time. He heard the heavenly choir singing The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever. How can we be otherwise? By belonging to the kingdom of Christ instead of the kingdom of the devil. Those are the only alternatives. We need to repent. If you have never been baptized, you need to be baptized. If you are baptized, you need to be sorry for your sins and confess them so they can be forgiven. And you must trust what God has said about His Son that He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then as Peter told the Jews on that first Pentecost, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He will give you a new heart, conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Unless you have the Holy Spirit you cannot be otherwise. But by His power, you can be like Jesus.

In the Gospels Jesus promised us that all things are ours. If we turn them over to the devil, nothing but harm will follow. But the Holy Spirit sets us free from the will to abuse, free from the greed to control and conquer, free from the illusions of progress based on technology, but also free from the despair that seeks to be primitive or to hide in ignorance. We receive our daily bread as Christians, happy to be managers while God is the Owner, eager to use it all wisely in His service. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Friday, May 23, 2014

Chances are that if you can read this you are a person and not an animal

CONTROL YOURSELF
There was a cartoon several years ago of a man dressed in animal skins, holding up a perfect model of a large, stone wheel, showing it to other men in animal skins. The caption was, "I call it fire." Shouldn't that make everyone wonder? What would we do without fire? Having wheels would not give us cars, unless we had fire to make them go. But we have to keep fire within limits, otherwise it becomes very destructive. The same could be said for mankind. Our bodies are noble instruments, intended to be under the orders of the soul. So if the body rebels against the authority of the soul, it subverts the order of creation. The classical pagans knew this. They wrote many volumes on how to discipline the body, hoping to keep it in honorable service. But within the soul is something called the flesh. Let's repeat that. The flesh is part of the soul, not the body. It is a treacherous part of the soul, that allies itself with the body to overturn the order. It upsets lawful relationships while gratifying animal desires. Peter is warning against this when he speaks of the desires of the flesh that make war on your soul. The body is not the bad guy. It merely serves as an occasion for the bad desires. If you wait a few minutes with nothing to do, those desires appear in the soul.

We live in a culture that has put terrible pressure on young men. On the one hand it tries to convince them that they aren't needed, on the other it makes them think that their great purpose in life is to be driven to unchastity. But he must not think he is driven. He must pretend to be the Playboy, to be in control of the situation, even as he is throwing all control away, permitting himself to be dragged to whatever trough is being slopped at the moment. You would think that would make him ashamed. If it did, there might be some value to it. But after an episode of self-indulgence the young man is more inclined to brag than to confess. He blames his appetites, as if his will were not involved as well.

What can we do? Perhaps we can count on the girls to keep them in line? Think again. There was a time when virginity was prized above all. Today, at countless schools across the country, big children parade like prostitutes down the halls, throwing more and more modesty away. These children are so intensely thirsty for popularity that they allow themselves to be used by the lascivious, then boast about it. Why? What is the big attraction? Both boys and girls alike will give the same answer: we want to be cool. What does that mean? If you look at the fruits of their actions it seems to mean they want to be degenerate. There are books that say they have been victimized by society. That's silly. They are the only society they care about. They are their own victims, which means they are to blame. At home, at school, and in church they were taught right from wrong, but that did not become part of their lives. Instead the pop culture message has become imbedded in their souls, the pop culture message that says If it feels good, do it.

Chastity does not mean that you put the fire out, but that you define its limits, that you use it correctly. To be male, or to be female, is a great gift. There are a few people who have been given a different gift, a natural continence. But the largest part of mankind has the gift of sexuality, which gets led astray by another law in their members. The soul should be in charge, but the flesh is lodged in the soul, corrupting our judgment, allowing the fire to run wilder and wilder. So we indulge ourselves to the point of nausea, devour everyone and everything. The soul would limit it except for the flesh, waging war against it from within. It is a traitor. Thus promiscuity can ruin many a home. It doesn't have to be physical. The way we talk can pour oil on the fire, not to mention the way we dress, or the entertainment we select. And the sexual sins are just the tip of the iceberg. Gluttony, drunkenness, obsessions, yes, even pre-occupation with personal health are all sins of the flesh. Each such sin has its own proper misery designed to follow it. One may stop before it gets to that point, but still be harmed by a warped imagination, or strained relations with others, or a serious lack of good judgment. And if you resist well enough to overcome, pride is waiting to attack you from the rear.

My friends, we are people. We are not pigs, we are people. We show true humanity when we control ourselves. We are less human when we let ourselves be driven. It isn't enough to keep away from what Paul calls "carousing," to be free of liquor and drugs, to avoid friends who tell dirty stories, to dress modestly. All of that is a place to start. But don't think you aren't playing with fire anyway, because there is a fire inside. You can't avoid sin by just avoiding things. So we must acknowledge that we have sinned, seek God's forgiveness and reconciliation. These keep coming no matter what. If you don't feel like a sinner, consider why you laugh at a dirty joke. It is because we put human pretension side by side with our rather bestial reality. We get embarrassed. It's good to be embarrassed. That's a wake-up call. It lets us know the flesh is winning the war. Then, under God's leadership, we can prepare a counter-attack.

Look to our Commander, to Jesus. From Him forgiveness is free, and forgiveness is the ammunition we need to take the war to the enemy. He says Go, and sin no more. He really wants us to sin no more, but He forgives us first. As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. His blood blots out the record book of our sins. Whether weakness, presumption, lust, or sloth, whatever plagues us daily has been nailed to the cross of Jesus. God's Word calls us to look to the cross with repentance, to ask for mercy, and by faith to understand that God has really set us free. If you have never been baptized, seek it, you need that washing of regeneration. If you are baptized, confess your sins to God, or better yet to the pastor. The words of Absolution are real, objective, certain.

Memorize this passage: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Both the Law and the Gospel are there as simply as possible. If the flesh makes war on your soul, the Word is your best defense. After that, come to Christ's table, partake of His sacrifice, for here we have nothing less than the Body and Blood of the Passover Lamb. These are the tools of spiritual repair. And when we say "spiritual," we mean the Holy Spirit Himself is involved. If His tools are in our box, we can control ourselves, for He gives us whatever we need to keep the flesh in check. What happens then to the fire? Instead of devouring us, it warms us, and gives us energy in God's orderly way. AMEN

~Reverend Lloyd E. Gross

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Do you have the faith and fear to wait on the Lord's power?

HAVE COURAGE

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. Exodus 14:30

Only God has power over water.

At creation He separated the water from the dry land.  Without such a distinction the world would be nothing more than a large aquarium, but fish are not the crown of creation.  In Noah’s day He separated water from His people by means of an ark, a boat made out of wood, which should always remind us of the cross on which our Lord died to pay the price of the world’s sin.  By it He saved the last eight people on earth who worshiped Him from the cleansing He was about to perform.  At the Red Sea He separated water from water.  He made a path of dry ground through the Red Sea so that His people might escape the fierce Egyptian army which meant to do them great bodily harm.

Jesus did water miracles too.  He changed water into the finest wine, walked on water and slept through a storm that scared experienced sailors out of their skin.  Why?  Because a storm was nothing to Jesus.  They were afraid; He was not.  But to teach us that there is never a reason to fear when Jesus is with you He spoke a divine word and all was well again.  As Jesus was with them then He is with us now.  Not just in our sweet imaginations but in our hearts by faith, our ears by His Word and our tongues by the Holy Sacrament so that it can truly be said: we are in Him, and He is in us.

Our Lord did another water miracle when He established baptism as a sacrament and gave it to the church to convert the world.  Baptismal water is different from all other, not due to its substance but because it is combined with God’s Word and included in God’s command.  As such it has great power!  By it we are crucified with Christ, our sins are drowned and we emerge from the water a new man, with new understanding, new abilities and a new future to serve God in righteousness and purity forever.  This is why St. Peter boldly states in his epistle that “baptism now saves us,” and why Moses says, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.”

What do we learn from these inspired words?  Two things:  First that God delivers us from our enemies, and second, that He takes revenge on them so that like Israel of old we too might learn to fear and believe.  Let us remember once again that it is God who saves us from all of our enemies, but this distresses us because He never does it how we expect or when we expect.  Instead, just when we think that all is lost, when there is no way out, when every hope is exhausted and our doom certain, that is when God “wakes up,” stills the storms of our lives, and does greater things for us than we could ask or even imagine. (Eph. 3:20)

Why does God work this way?  Does He like to toy with us, to play cat and mouse, or to test us to the limits of our existence?  Not at all, dear Christians.  Our heavenly Father is never malicious but He does know what it takes to tame our pride, and soften our hard hearts.  He knows what is needed to disabuse our sinful minds of the notion that we can save ourselves, and what it takes for us to attain mature manhood and reach the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ. (Eph. 4:13)  Though God’s ways distresses us, rest assured that Christ will never let us perish but will save us from all our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. (Luke 1:71)

There is another facet to the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15), namely that God will settle all scores, and pay back in full all the forces of evil, all the people and all the things that have injured the people He loves, and this gives us hope.  It assures us that the evil which dogs us without ceasing, which makes us sick, which tempts us to sin, which degrades us, which robs us of peace, divides our families, makes our children go astray and causes poverty, robbery, assault, addiction and all manner of despair…this evil will not go on forever.  It is not infinite!  It is not eternal!  It has its limits and it has an end!  But the Word of the Lord, and the promise of His love endures forever, so however bad things might look at any given moment rest assured that we, like Israel of old, will see our enemies drowned in God’s wrath, and scattered on the shores of His vengeance, and this fills us with joy.

Indeed, there is no sweeter joy in life than when a long standing evil comes to a miserable end, and is soundly defeated.  When that happens the ensuing delight is not equal to the loss endured, but many, many times greater.  Does this mean that we should avenge our enemies?  Not at all.  Jesus teaches us to pray for them and St. Paul to feed them if they are hungry, but to leave the vengeance to God who knows how to repay in full.  Instead of revenge we should follow the example of Israel who, seeing God’s awesome power, feared the Lord and trusted in Him, and though this is a hard thing to do, and goes against our grain, it is made easier if we follow the good counsel of David in the 37th Psalm where he says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evil.  For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.  A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.  But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, May 18, 2014

When God gives us over to the sin we really want

WILLFUL BLINDNESS

Therefore, behold, I will again do marvelous things with this people, wonderful and marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid. Isaiah 29:14


For the world Easter is a short-lived affair.  For those who do not celebrate the resurrection of Christ it is little more than a time to relax, eat good food and look forward to summer fun, but not so for us, dear Christians.  If we spent forty days preparing for the Lamb’s High Feast, we will spend just as many rejoicing in its wonders, and recounting its jubilant themes one by one.

Today is called Cantate which means sing.  It is the traditional name for the fourth Sunday after Easter and is taken from Psalm 98 which enjoins us to “sing a new song unto the Lord;” and sing we do, not just today but every day because God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and has given us every reason to sing very loudly, and to sing very long, to intone jubilant melodies, to chant hymns of praise to our God, to compose songs replete with God’s glorious Word which are able to give us victory over all that sin, death and the devil can throw our way.

Now on the surface the Old Testament lesson for Cantate hardly sounds like anything to sing about.  In it God gives His people exactly what they want.  They wanted to be blind so He confirms them in their blindness.  They wanted their prophets to stop interrupting their fun so that they could spend their days in one, long, endless party, but in the ancient near east parties were not innocent affairs.  They always involved worship of the fertility goddesses, which in turn involved every form of sexual promiscuity and deviation that one can imagine, and which in turn meant intoxication in the extreme, and sometimes human sacrifice as well.  This is what they wanted so this is what God gave them.  He sent a spirit of deep sleep over them so that the prophets could no longer preach and the people could no longer listen.  They were the walking dead!

Now during normal times, a people might just get away with it for a long time.  Consider America and Europe as modern-day examples -- not just the state, but the church as well.  The wisdom of the wise has vanished and the discernment of the prudent is no where to be found.  Our world at every level today is a case study of the blind leading the blind, but as it is not normal times for us, neither was it for God’s holy nation . There were wars and rumors of war all about.  The mighty Assyrians were dismantling the world one nation at time and now they were at Judah’s door.

Now when God’s nation needed courageous leaders, sober thinkers, and clergy worthy of the name they had none of the above.  No one knew the way forward because the Lord blinded them all, so in order to save his nation and his skin, King Ahaz made a treaty with Assyria, but this was like a mouse asking the cat to defend him against other mice.  The cat happily agreed and King Ahaz, this distant ancestor of the incarnate Christ, agreed to pay tribute to Assyria and to enshrine their gods in the Lord’s Temple to worship them.

Was all this bad?  On one level nothing could be more deplorable.  Judah had piled sin upon sin and offense upon offense against her Lord, against the God who saved and sustained her with every good and perfect gift, but on another level it was good because now Judah had hit bottom; not the contrived bottom that people hit when they have used up their entire family, and run through all their friends.  There was no getting up from this bottom.  It could not be solved by 30 days of detox or 40 days of purpose.  God put them into a deep spiritual slumber, but when the kids are asleep, that is when the parents get their best work done.  Like Adam, Abram and Jacob, who the Lord also put into a deep sleep and woke to a new dawn, God’s people would be put to sleep in sorrow and weakness only to be raised up again by the glory and power of Christ.  Not only was this not bad, but in the divine scheme of things, the travails that God’s Old Testament church suffered for its sins were prophetic of the things Christ would suffer for the sins of the world: for our refusal to hear, our intoxication, our idolatry, adultery and willful blindness.  As the Assyrians crushed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, even so Jesus was handed over for our transgressions.  He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He too was silenced, put to sleep in the sleep of death, and laid in the tomb.  Satan’s domain shouted and jeered, and as far as the world was concerned this was the end of the Troubler of Israel!  Christ is dead, He is dead indeed, Hallelujah!  That’s what they thought.  That’s what they said.  That is what they hoped, but it was not true, nor is that the church’s joyous refrain in this holy season!  Instead our chant, our song and our glorious confession is this:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  allelujah!  Or in the words of the Eastern Orthodox church, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.”  We are those people, dear Christians.  We are the ones who are crucified, dead and buried with Christ in holy baptism, only to be born again by the Word of Truth, and raised to newness of life.


Jesus did not only die and rise again.   He also ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, to inspire and lead His church in administering His Word:  the Law to condemn our blindness and our disbelief, and the Gospel to heal us, console us and to wake us up from our sin-induced slumber.  These are the very promises we are now engaged in, now receiving and now enjoying, therefore we have good reason to sing new songs on this Cantate Sunday to Christ our risen Lord who God made to be our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption!  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, May 16, 2014

When the fear and uncertainty of change grips you

GOD IS FAITHFUL

This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries
 with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Cor. 1:4-9

Everything changes over time but there are two that always remain the same:  the sins of men and the grace of God.  The only difference between the church of Corinth and the church of Cleveland is time and location, but in every other respect they are the same:  always going astray like sheep; always in need of the inspired word to restore them to right faith, right praise and to righteousness of life in Christ.

Before Paul gets down to business in this epistle he remembers to give thanks for the grace of God which the Corinthian church had received in Christ Jesus.  We should do the same because we, too, are saved by grace, and such mercy must never go without thanksgiving and praise of the highest magnitude.  This is why the church sings and why theology is always accompanied by music, because speech alone is inadequate for the job.  The grace Paul praises here so highly is the kindness that God manifested by sending His Son to die for the life of the world, and by which He reconciles us to Himself.

Paul also reminds the Corinthians that they were enriched by God in all speech and knowledge.  Like theology and music these two items are also inseparable.  As there can be no confession without faith, nor can there be faith without confession.  In the Greek world, and especially in a cosmopolitan city like Corinth, eloquent speech was highly prized.  As people today flock to movie theaters to catch the latest flick every weekend, people at that time would gather to hear eloquent rhetoric; oratory that would make them laugh or make them cry, it did not matter which, so the Corinthian church, influenced by the practices of the culture around her, was not always faithful in her doctrine, but often she was more interested in orchestrating emotions like the world around her did.  In this respect the Corinthian Christians were like many churches today where any theological content there might be getting lost among the projectors, performers and pastors who are wired up like rock stars.   Now as then people fall into the trap of worshiping the worship more than the Lord who is the true object of our praise.  This is why sound Christian doctrine must always be the subject of the church’s speech and of every Christian’s confession.  In the church only the testimony about Christ matters:  the blameless life He lived for us, and which is credited to our account in heaven’s eyes, the innocent death He died in order to right all of our wrongs and His glorious resurrection from the dead which promises eternal life to all who believe and are baptized.

We cannot turn back the hands of time and stand before the cross on which Jesus paid the wages of our sins, nor is that the plan.  Instead we obtain all the benefits of Messiah’s sacrifice from the church as she baptizes, teaches, absolves and feeds us with His own Body and His blood.  We are further confirmed in our salvation by the church’s repetitious liturgy, which we need to pray over and over again because there is no other way for hapless human beings, who suffer from “spiritual ADD” as we do, to retain the hope of the Gospel in their daily struggles with sin, death and the Evil One.

But for all the errors that marked the church then and now we can take special comfort in the last two verses of today’s epistle lesson where Paul affirms that God is faithful!  The faith by which we believe the Gospel, which apprehends the remission of sins and grasps everlasting life is God’s gift from beginning to end.  It is the most precious commodity on earth which we neither obtain by our own reason, nor manage by our own strength.  God gave it to us in baptism and sustains it in us by means of the Word and Sacraments, and we can be certain that He will bring it to its rightful conclusion at the end of our lives when we will no longer need it because we will see Him face to face.  By this faith we are acquitted of all sin and reckoned to be blameless in the sight of God, and this is a good thing.  It means that no guilt of sin, no accusation of the devil, no criticism of the world and no self-condemnation can attach to us. In Romans 8:33 St. Paul asks, “Who shall bring any blame against God’s elect?” and answers his own question with this positive confession:  It is God who justifies!  With all charges against us dropped, and with all fear of punishment for sin off the table, our joy knows no bounds, and the oft repeated phrase of Scripture “fear not” begins to make perfect sense.

Who does all this for us?  No man, no dumb idol, false religion or vain philosophy, but only God who is faithful!  We should keep this gem of theological knowledge fresh in our minds at all times.

When we fall into temptation we should confess:  God is Faithful!

When we suffer the inevitable consequences that sin brings to our corrupted flesh and to our dysfunctional world we should profess:  God is Faithful!

When we are lacking in daily bread, courage, wisdom, strength or comfort we should declare aloud:  God is Faithful!

When we are sick, troubled, paralyzed with fear or tortured in our souls we should sing all the more loudly St. Paul’s great refrain:  God, who called us to be His for eternity in Christ, is Faithful!  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, May 15, 2014

It is discouraging to do good on a large scale; Try it God's way

A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES THROUGH CHRIST

Do you know who should get credit for this picture?
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10

It is impossible to do good to all men, to fix the world, or to effect sweeping changes for the betterment of mankind.  It is impossible to effect lasting peace, enduring freedom or ongoing prosperity.  Such impossible dreams proceed from the very sin that make them unachievable.

It is impossible for us to good to all men, but with God nothing shall be impossible. (Luke 1:37)  He gives sustenance to widows and hope to orphans.  He causes His rain to fall, and His sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike.  He clothes the lilies, feeds the birds, and forgives the sins of all who seek His Kingdom and Righteousness in Christ. (Mt. 6:34)

It is impossible for us to do good to all men, but it is possible to do good to some, and today St. Paul gives us an impressive laundry list of what that well-doing looks like.

It is impossible to do good to all men, but it is possible for those who have been restored by Christ, to restore those who fall into sin.  We learn this from our Lord Himself who became incarnate to restore our lost fortunes, by the giving up of His own:  He became poor, Scripture says, that we might be made rich.  He became sin for us that we might become the Righteousness of God in Him.  He was stricken of God, smitten and afflicted, so that by His wounds we might be healed. (Is. 53)

But we should be careful here because we live in a culture that is obsessed with “saving” everything; one that thinks it can be its own Christ, and thus feels duty-bound to interfere in everyone’s life.  You are not the Christ.  There is only One who was anointed by God to save us, even Jesus the Son of God and Savior of us all.  All Christians have the command to forgive those who sin against them, and restore them if they desire forgiveness, but the chief doers of this work are parents and pastors, whose vocation it is to, “teach, reprove, correct and instruct, : (2 Tim. 3:16) but whoever engages in such work must do so gently, and acutely aware of his own sin, lest he be overtaken with pride, and in the process fall into temptation himself.

We cannot do good to all men but we can bear one another’s burdens.  This too we learn from our Lord who bore the burden of our sin, a load which weighs men down and makes them miserable, hopeless, desperate and deceitful; a yoke which left untreated by the blood of Christ, eventually presses us down to the depths of hell, but Isaiah assures us that Jesus “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” to the cross and there put a definitive end to them. Now He calls every Christian not only to bear his own cross, but to be “Simons of Cyrene” (Mt. 27:32) to one another.

We cannot do good to all men, but with the Spirit’s enlightenment we can honestly assess our own record.  If we do so we will be more tolerant of the weaknesses and failures of others, less critical, more sympathetic and more helpful.  You are not the standard by which every other person must organize his life.  There was only one perfect Man, the Man Christ Jesus, whose sinless life is accounted as Righteousness for all who believe.  You are not the Standard, so please do not think in your heart: I would never do this or I would never do that.  You don’t know what you might do, nor does self-righteousness get us anywhere with God.

We cannot do good to all men, but we can do good to those who preach the Gospel.  Paul admonishes those who learn the Word to share every good thing with those who teach it.  There is “one thing needful” (Luke 10:42) as Jesus told Martha, and contrary to current theory it is not something that we can administer to ourselves.  Instead, God has established the Office of the Holy Ministry for that purpose.  You can have a church without a building, but cannot have a church without a pastor, so God commands that those who learn the Word should support those who teach it so that they can dedicate themselves to it wholly.

We cannot do good to all men, but we are reminded in today’s epistle not to be deceived.  Why the warning?  Because we love lies.  We love to tell them and we love to hear them.  We prefer to live in a fantasy world, far away from the harsh demands of reality, where we can believe anything we want, but God calls us to be “sober and vigilant” at all times.  He warns us that if we sow to the flesh we will reap corruption.  Does that mean Christ’s holy people are going to be condemned because they still sin?  That is what the Law says to the flesh using the only language that flesh understands and we must not ignore it.  Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ who suffered the penalty of our sins, puts them into remission, and renders them harmless.  Thanks be to God that we are dressed in the righteousness of Christ who covers our wrongs with His blood, and pleads for us without ceasing at the right hand of the Father.  Thanks be to God that where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,  (Rom. 5:20) and thanks be to God that though with the flesh we serve the law of sin, with our minds we fulfill the Law of Christ. (Rom. 7:25) So let us always hope for mercy rather than justice, and also for the power to conquer sin, sow to the Spirit, and reap the harvest of eternal life which God gives to all who believe and are baptized. (Mark 16:15)


St. Paul adds one last admonition, that we do not become weary in well-doing.  It is not easy to swim up stream, to keep going with all the traps the devil sets to bring about our ruin, but this word which Paul speaks does not only inform us, it also imparts new power to us to live lives of faith active in love.

It is impossible for us to do good to all men, but with God all things are possible, so we make it our aim to do good to all men, but especially to those of our own household, and to those who are of the household of faith.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras