Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Blessings of a Father's Faith to His Children

FATHER ABRAHAM


How threadbare is the fabric of human hope!  As long as we pin our confidence on the capabilities and intentions of mankind, we will always be disappointed.  The Psalmist warns us against trusting in princes -- except of course the One Prince.  We can understand that, but is democracy any better? Democracy means rule by the majority.  Since only a minority of people are good, brave, and wise, democracy means being ruled by the evil, the cowardly, and the stupid.  On the other hand, God's Word is forever true, forever good, forever powerful.  The promises God made to us are absolutely trustworthy.

As St. Paul calls us to faith in God's Word, he uses the example of the patriarch, Abraham.  God tried and tested him in more and greater ways than such soft saints as we could ever tolerate.  In the midst of all that, however, God definitely promised Abraham that a Redeemer would one day come from his family.  To human reason that was an unbelievable promise.  Abraham was 100 years old; his wife was 90, but isn't that characteristic of God?  That is so much in keeping with what we know about the first Easter.  We know our God as the God who raises the dead, as St. Paul calls him here.  Now in Abraham's day that hadn't happened yet.  All our father had were the words he heard.  Still, he did not stagger at the promise.  He believed the Word of God, and Isaac was born from God's promise.

Don't say that you can't understand God's promises.  Ask yourself whether you want to understand them, because they make us accountable to Him.  People don't want to believe in God at all.  Even though our bodies are so marvelously designed that every cell contributes its irreplaceable donation for the common good, even though we are aware of organisms so small they have to be magnified 1200 times to be visible at all, still we have a problem saying in our hearts that with God nothing is impossible.  When the creation was still new, the horrible plague of sin infected our world.  God then designed a great salvation.  In His wisdom He chose Abraham to play a key role in it.  That role required him to beget a child long after he was past the age for men to do that.  So the nation God was producing would result from a miracle.  The people of Israel, from whom the Redeemer would come, began with a miracle even as the Redeemer Himself was miraculously conceived.  God intervened constantly along the way, chastising, delivering, preparing for His greatest intervention when His Son would become incarnate.

The fathers we think about today who protected us, provided for us, and eventually helped us find our independence should remind us of a far better Father who is in heaven.  Perhaps in your earthly experience you did not have a father who was there for you, still your heavenly Father has provided for you in other ways.  One task all fathers have to do is correct their children.  This may not be pleasant, but it is necessary.  He was always correcting Abraham, always correcting His people, and He is so concerned that you inherit eternal life that He will do what He must to correct you.  Sometimes it will be difficult.

When we lose our jobs, when we get sued, when we find our children doing shocking things, when friends don't keep their promises, when heart and flesh grow tired and weak, when loved ones pass away, do they drive us to despair?  Where is the God who raises the dead?  Do we so fear the future that we contemplate killing ourselves?  Do we raise a clenched fist to the heavens to express our defiance?  Or do we seek to escape?  Do we lavish ourselves with luxuries, or bend our minds with drugs, or indulge the pleasures of the flesh?  Or do we try to impose our own will on our circumstances by practicing witchery?  How blessed are they who wait for Him.  We can count on the God who raises the dead.  Though His mercy may tarry, it shall surely come!

Will it come quickly enough? For Abraham the supreme test was the sacrifice of Isaac, the son born of the promise.  There was no question in Abraham's mind that God had requested this.  Of course he was upset by it, but he did what he believed he had to do.   God was looking on in tender mercy.  He knew how the story was going to end, just as we hear it year after year on the first Sunday in Lent.  But Abraham only knew the heart-wrenching melancholy of his task.  In the end it would not be Abraham's son who would be sacrificed, but God's.  Isaac's name means "laughter, ." but the Lamb Himself, whose name means "He will deliver" is the One in whom God lifts up His countenance upon the whole world.  The death of Isaac would not have taken away sins; the death of Jesus did.  The Lamb was the Substitute for Isaac and for us.  The God who raises the dead gave Isaac back to Abraham, and also raised the Righteous One.  That event is the center of all history.  Everything up to it was preparing for it.  Everything since has been to spread the grace that flows from it.  So in Jesus not only is God our Father, but so is Abraham, because he was the prime example of faith.

Yes, we believe in God who raises the dead.  We believe in God who elects and corrects.  We wait for Him to act, with prayer, with steadfastness, with patience.  We don't tell Him how to serve us, either by His Providence or by His grace.  We are thankful that His Word has come to us, launching its all-out attack on our sin.  We are thankful that we have heard the Law, condemning us, pointing out our bondage, raising the alarm that all is not well, making us hunger and thirst for righteousness.  And we thank Him for the Gospel where we see our Savior die and overcome death, to redeem us and make us as righteous as He.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The ligating elements of unassailable love


THE UNSTOPPABLE SAVIOR, THE UNSTOPPABLE SACRAMENT


public domain

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here for Herod wants to kill you."  And he said to them, "Go and tell that fox, "Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course." Luke 13:31-33


WHEN Jesus spoke the devils shuddered! They were smart enough to understand that earth's fortunes were radically reversed when Jesus appeared on the scene. They understood that their time was short and that soon their leader, the "prince of this world,"  would be de-throned by Jesus on the cross. They knew he would be deprived of his power to inject his damning poison into the affairs of men any longer. This would effectively put the whole company of hell out of business and give them nothing to look forward to but the certain doom they warranted when they rebelled against their Creator.   Let us be careful not to join them.

Herod, who was bloodier than a fox in a hen house, wasn't that smart.  He was the king, which means he was no fool, but he was also drunk with his own power; so drunk that he forgot that there is one who is called "the King of kings," One to whom all kings of earth are answerable.  He could imprison John the Baptizer, and have his head on a platter with a word. But he could not stop Jesus from marching into hell for a heavenly cause. Jesus was unstoppable, and even killing Him, rather than thrwart God's program of salvation, only furthered it; and in a manner that still shocks our sensibilities, and still baffles our fallen reason, how this one death could remove the sins of all men.

Neither were the Pharisees very shrewd when it came to the truth of God.  They wore their religion on their sleeve, but they were not very perceptive.  That's usually how it is with overly-pious people.  They are so focused on themselves that God rates an "also ran"at best.

Nor are we so terribly keen.  We are more like dull knives with blunt edges when it comes to dissecting spiritual matters.  Our minds are focused on our bellies.   It isn't only a matter of the sins we perpetrate, but of those that are done against us.  They weigh us down and cause us to drown in the soup of our own sorrow and in self pity.   Like rainmakers, they cast clouds in the sky that block the sunshine of God's love from our eyes, and His warmth from our shivering skin, but don't be afraid, because even when clouds fill the sky the Sun of Righteousness has not gone away.  He still comes to church bringing grace, mercy and peace with Him.

Jesus would not be deterred.  The time reference he makes: today, tomorrow and third day are allusions to his death and resurrection.

"Today" He is the innocent man Jeremiah prefigures in our Old Testament lesson, who stood trial in our place.  He is the holy one who was pronounced guilty so that we, like so many Barabbas' might be set free.  On the cross our Christ endured the consequences that attach to our crimes, to our rebellion against the Holy One, and to our blatant violations against other persons, each who is a treasured darling of God.  That is the gospel in a nutshell that He suffered for us, He died for us, and that by his purity we are made fresh!

On the "day after" our Lord took sin to the grave, He hurled it into the depths of hell where it belongs, and on the "third day" He finished his course.   He emerged unsoiled, unstained and victorious from the bitter affair.  That is the reason that his loved ones did not recognize him.  The last they had seen him he was a disaster, a bloody mess.  The most tragic miscarriage of justice in history, but now that was gone.  Now they beheld a Beautiful Savior, and so do we.

Jesus could not be deterred, not by scare tactics, not by Herod, not by the devil.  His love is too great.  His joy in redeeming fallen creation and making her His bride, too large.

It is no surprise that this particular reading would find its way into the church for the holy Lenton season.   Lent was originally a time of preparation for baptism which took place once a year on Holy Saturday.  Normally the catechumens were baptized, confirmed and received their first holy communion all at once, just like the Eastern Orthodox church still does today for its infants, a practice that merits further investigation.

As Jesus could not be deterred from fulfilling the holy and magnificent mission of our salvation, the same can be said of our baptism: nothing can overcome it, nothing can stop it from doing its wonderful work in our lives, for nothing is stronger than the vows that God makes to us here.  Baptism is not a once off affair, but like a vaccine it is alive and active in our lives.   It forces the devil out of our being and transfuses the cure for sin, the blood of Jesus, into us.

As Jesus disarmed the devil by virtue of His death and resurrection, in the same way by baptism the Spirit outsts the devil, with all of his wicked works and all of his wicked ways, from us.  He removes his brand of Original Sin; and He puts His title of ownership, his own holy name on us.  There was a time in church history when this was vividly demonstrated by baptismal candidates.  They would turn and face the west, the direction of fading light, and spit at the devil to show their rejection of him and that he was expelled from their being in this sacrament.

We do well this Lenten season to recall that we too have been gathered under the wings of Christ, and into the fold of Holy Mother Church, in our baptism; and to put that blessing to work each day, to follow the example of the venerable Martin whenever the weight of sin or sorrow, trials or temptation, or the sting of death lies heavy upon us.  We can say with him, and joyfully confess with him, "but I am baptized," and then let the sure and certain knowledge of this truth soothe us.  Such faith is the victory that overcomes the World.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, February 20, 2015

Do You Have the Idea That All of Your Talents and Virtues are Being Wasted?

THE THREE GREATEST VIRTUES

In today's Gospel, Jesus invited us to follow Him up to Jerusalem.  He was well aware of the difficulties that lay ahead.  He warned us to expect hard times, bade us to deny ourselves and carry the cross, to put away as much as we can the vices of the flesh, and learn those virtues which He practiced so perfectly. He is our standard.  Without a standard no one would know how he is progressing.  For example, I cannot tell you that a song is bad unless I know what a good song is.  I cannot tell you this is a cold winter unless I have seen a range of winters, some colder, some warmer.  The Commandments are some help, but they are mostly expressed in the negative, telling us what to avoid.  The best blueprint for Christian virtue is I Corinthians 13, where Paul tells us what love is.

I am assuming we are God's children here, born of water and the Spirit, having renounced the devil and his works.  Therefore I assume nobody here wants to be evil.  Of course we have temptations.  Even the sinless Christ had those, but because we are God's children, when we fall into sin it is because of weakness, not because we think we are doing right, or because we don't care.  During Lent Mother Church gathers her children to help us grow stronger, to plug the holes in our defenses against the devil, the world, and the flesh.  She serves us first with spiritual healing by the Great Physician Himself.  We hear of His atoning death and resurrection, whereby He reconciles us to the Father.  Then comes the convalescent period, when Mother Church serves us with education, training us in the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.  All the while she pictures before us the Perfect Warrior, who was equipped with faith, hope, and love, all of which He can teach us.

Do not think of these virtues as works. They are dispositions of the soul. They can be learned, but only from the Church, through divine revelation. You could have the body of an athlete, an IQ of 180, be as attractive as Helen of Troy; you might have the best parents and teachers, a taste for learning, the mental breadth of an Aristotle and the perspective of Leonardo da Vinci, but without the Word of God, all that excellence serves the Prince of this World.  He consumes you, leaving nothing but bitterness.

Has that been happening to you?  Do you have the idea that all of your talents and virtues are being wasted?  Has your Creator had any thanks from you?  Ah, but sin got in the way.  So, the first step is to admit that you have it.  Then you are ready for the breakthrough that God makes for you.  All of your sinfulness has never wearied His love.  God's mercy is the sun around which everything else revolves.  We come and go, but He is constant.

You have heard of the seven cardinal virtues.  What are the other four?  Those are the natural man's virtues, the Classical Virtues, which Cicero listed as wisdom, honesty, courage, and moderation.  The Bible encourages these, while condemning their opposite faults, but these natural virtues can only give glory to God if Jesus has forgiven your sins.  But the three virtues of I Corinthians 13 come from the Holy Spirit to children of God in Christ.  Faith needs promises to believe.  Hope needs the revelation of heaven as its resting place, and love can only be born of love.  The Holy Spirit alone can give us new and contrite hearts - that comes from the collect for Wednesday night.  Genuine love requires a new heart.  Classical virtues are temporary, but these three abide.  Once your sins are forgiven, these virtues are yours, and the other four work for good.

By faith we mean far more than just saying the Creed.  The devil knows the Creed. T he object of our faith is not words, but The Word, the living Word.  Faith means confidence that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and that He carries you to the eternal sheepfold.  Keep that Shepherd picture in mind, and you will have a standard for the virtue of faith.  By hope we do not mean wishing.  We mean the earnest expectation that God will bring our lives to their proper fulfillment.  We do not hope for what we see, but for God Himself, His gifts, His fellowship, His blessing presence.  That is the standard for hope.

Then there is love.  Love is always active.  It cannot be reduced to words.  We speak of erotic love, which is part of God's Providence, but is corrupted by our self-love.  The love of a friend is also a blessing, based on common interests, but that is short of what St. Paul is describing.  He is calling us to supernatural love, completely self-giving love.  The King James Version calls it charity, translating the Greek word agaph.  It is the desire to bless others, regardless of the cost to one's self.  It is not a feeling, nor an emotion, but neither is it an act of the will, for no one can choose it except by grace.  This kind of love hates evil, but loves all creatures great and small.  It does not judge people - its expression in "tough love" notwithstanding - it just helps.  By that standard we need to examine our love.

The highest good is the cross of Jesus.  There will always be a temptation to set ourselves up as the highest good instead.  That is a sin against the First Commandment, having yourself as your god.  The flesh doesn't want to hear this, but doesn't it come up all too often?  Will I pray for so-and-so today?  Shall I make the dinner I like or the one my children need?  Shall I give my firstfruits to the church?  Pride must always be overcome.  Genuine love grows. Hard as it comes at first, as we journey with the Lord it gets easier to be loving.  As we learn what His cross means, as we can say Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows!  what he once did for us He now does in us.  May our Lenten journey to Jerusalem this year help us to adorn our new and contrite hearts with spiritual virtues.  If He loved us far more than we could ever imagine, then we can love more than we ever thought we could. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why go to Church every week when it is the same old thing?

MERCY TO LOOK UP AND SEE AGAIN



THE clamorous cry of the blind man is the cry of the Christian Church at the entrance to Lenten-tide.  Not even the stern rebuke of other people is able to silence his screaming:  "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  [vs.39]

Every week the Christian faithful sing out the blind man's plea.  The Kyrie is the first prayer of the Divine Service.  It is the oldest prayer of the faithful.  Kyrie, eleison, "Lord, have mercy."  It is the most basic, simple, and clear form of prayer.  Not even the rude censure of government and unbelievers is able to silence our cry.  Jesus is present; He has promised to hear our prayer and intercede on our behalf before our heavenly Father [Jn. 16:23], therefore, by faith in Jesus, God's people are compelled to cry out for mercy.

You see this before your eyes every week when we stand before the altar together (as pastors and people) we cry out for mercy.  Jesus' promise is fulfilled when His absolution is proclaimed, when his Word is read, when His baptismal word and waters are applied, and when His Body and Blood are administered.  All these, always and only for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation.  No one should stand in the way of the free, full pardon of God in our Savior Jesus Christ.

Sadly, people do stand in the way.  Sometimes we stand in our own way as well.   Consider Lententide, when an extra opportunity for public worship is offered with mid-week prayers at Vespers.  Yes, our lives are busy.  Yes, there are demands for our time after work or school.  Yes, we have various vocations that need our time, but let us not try to soothe ourselves by thinking that the Passion of Jesus Christ is something old and long familiar.  You really do not need to hear the Passion account again, right?  After all, it rambles on and on for five weeks; a slow, agonizing account that we've heard year after year.  You've seen the movie.  That's good enough for you.

We could say the same thing about the weekly Divine Service.  Once we've seen the Body and Blood of Christ distributed, is not every week a repeat performance?  You know the sermon will feature Jesus.  There will be Law and Gospel, sin and grace.  Isn't once a week enough?  I have my Bible.  I have my prayer book.  I'll give it a look-see at home when I find time.

We rob ourselves of inexpressible blessings when we despise "preaching and His Word."  [Luther's Small Catechism, Third 3rd Commandment]  God's Law exposes our guilt when we act with sinful contempt for God's Word.  In John chapter eight, Jesus is confronted by detractors of God's Word while He was teaching in the Temple.  Jesus says to them, who had believed Him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,"  [Jn. 8:47 ESV]  Notice, Jesus does not suggest another source for true disciples other than the Word of God.  The true disciple "hears" the Word with others in the Lord's House.  Furthermore, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, "[let us] not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." [Heb. 10:25]

Judgment Day is one day closer than it was yesterday.  That's one day less to contemplate the suffering and death of Christ, which is, the Word of the cross that Saint Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians and Galatians.  We cannot hear and contemplate the suffering of Christ enough.  We cannot allow others, even our own selves, to stop crying out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Jesus drew the blind man to Himself and asked, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  The man said, "Lord, let me recover my sight."  [vs.41]  A more expansive translation of the Greek text is, "Lord, that I might look up and see again."

Like this man, we were spiritually blind, spiritually dead, and unable to convert ourselves.  Like Adam and Even in Eden after they had sinned, we know God is there, but our sin blinds us from seeing the Lord, let alone know where to turn to see Him.  However, Jesus stands still long enough to hear our cries for mercy and He answers them according to His good and gracious will.  Jesus says to the blind man and to us, "Recover your sight; your faith has made you well."  [vs.42]  In the Greek text, Jesus speaks back to the blind man what He first spoke to Jesus, "Look up, see again; your faith has saved you." 

Though blind, the man "sees" something more profound.  He calls Jesus, "Son of David." .  This is no ordinary term.  "Son of David" is a Messianic title.  King David writes in Psalm 110:  The LORD says to my Lord;  "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."  This Psalm celebrates the exaltation of Jesus to a Kingship that surpasses David's.  Jesus asks the Pharisees in Matthew [22:45]:  "If then David calls Him Lord, how is He His son?"  The Pharisees wouldn't answer.  Any answer would incriminate them.  This Jesus on the road to Jerusalem is indeed the Son of David.  He is Mary's Son, the only begotten Word.  The prophet Isaiah writes "Behold; your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." [Is. 35:4-6]

Look up; see again Jesus Christ's passion.  See again Jesus Christ stricken, smitten, and afflicted, lying on the throne of the cross as King of the Jews and the hope of the Gentiles.  See again the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, the love that Saint Paul writes about in today's Epistle.  This love of God in Christ Jesus is the love that we are to show in our daily lives.  It is more than love between a man and a woman that is often portrayed as a theme of 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  Instead, Paul speaks about a love that transcends marriage, prophecies, speaking in tongues, and other spiritual gifts.

Jesus heals the blind man because He loves Him.  Jesus heals you from sin with His blood and righteousness because He loves you, His Father's creation.  His harsh, lonely death on your behalf brings you again into communion with your Creator.  Not only do you look up and see again, you also taste again.  The Lord's Supper is eating and drinking the forgiveness of sins won by Christ at Calvary.  As the Psalmist writes:  "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!" [Ps. 34:8]

St. Luke [18:43] concludes the healing of the blind man:  "And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God."  So now we join the pilgrim throng on its way to Jerusalem.  We join them praising God's amazing grace in His means:  Word, water, bread, and wine, which are our sustenance as we walk the road through Lent glorifying God for our sight, our taste, and our redemption.

Jesus has "mercied" us so that we might "look up and see again our salvation drawing nigh."

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Phillippians 4:7  ~Amen~

~ Rev. George Fyler

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Breaking the mindset that yokes us to the earth

WHERE JESUS GOES


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And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:24

We are not like Jesus!

St. Luke teaches us in today's Gospel that the Lord single-mindedly set His face towards Jerusalem knowing what awaited Him there, knowing that He would endure tribulation such the world had never known, nor ever would again.  Jesus was about to face judgment for the sins of the world.  Jesus was about to right all that we had made wrong and to give eternal life to all who believe; but first there was the cross because death must always precede resurrection.

We are not like Jesus.  He was single-minded, dedicated only to God, devoted only to his mission of salvation for the world and nothing else.  We, on the other hand, are of two minds, but that may not be so bad.  Before baptism we are single-minded, but not in a good way.  Our only concern is the flesh with all of its passions and desires.  There is nothing in us that is pure, nothing holy.  We love neither God nor our neighbor, but only ourselves because the mind we are born with is at war with God.  It is neither willing nor able to submit to His will, but leads us, instead, down the broad and easy path to destruction.

The fact that we are of two minds means that, beside the Old Man, we have a New Man in us too.  That man is Christ.  In baptism we are dressed in Him, clothed in His righteousness which means that we can say, along with St. Paul, that we "belong to Christ Jesus," and nothing is better than that.  With such a Lord as this neither the tribulations of life,  nor the pains of death can separate us from the love of God.  Nothing can shake our confidence.

If we were to name a theme for this Sunday, based on the readings, it would be that we should follow Jesus single-mindedly.  When we hear about Elisha who at first held back, and about the people Jesus met on His journey to Jerusalem who had too many agendas, the lesson is not hard to figure out.  So it would seem, but if you were listening to this message on so-called Christian radio, or visiting your local mega-church, neither of which is recommended, things would sound very different.  You would be treated to a gentle scolding because you don't love Jesus as you should, followed by a pep talk so that you would, followed by a newly discovered formula, which if only you will put into practice, then you will become a better Christian starting today!  But such talk would leave you off worse than it found you because we don't need to learn how to follow Jesus, any Sunday School child could tell you that.  What we need is the power to do it, and that comes from the Gospel, not the Law.  The actual message today, then, is not a renewed effort to reform our lives.  That is part of the program since faith without works is dead, being alone, but it is the cart, not the horse, the fruit, not the tree.  The question is not how to follow Jesus, but rather where we follow Him to.

The answer?  To death and resurrection!

This first happens for us in baptism where we sacramentally die and are raised to new life never to die again.  Jesus says:  whoever believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  What happens to us sacramentally in baptism is not a charade.  The fresh life we receive therein is lived out day by day as we struggle to crucify the flesh, as we fight the good fight of faith, but win or lose, because the flesh is so easily influenced by the world, and because even our righteousness is like filthy rags, our standard posture before God must be that of humble repentance.  We should confess our sins to God in private each day and in the church each Sunday, but we do not stop there.  The absolution spoken once in baptism and repeated by the pastor must ring in our ears at all times, for it is none other than the Lord's absolution, His pardon, His amnesty, His exoneration and justification for us in the highest court that there is.

We follow Him in the Eucharist as well.  In it we remember the Lord's death and resurrection, but we do much more than merely recall.  We also participate in them, for we are not receiving the flesh and blood of a dead man in the sacrament, but rather living and life-giving flesh of the resurrected, reigning, returning Lord of Glory, Who lives and reigns for all eternity.  Here He graciously gives us a present taste of the future blessings we will know and possess in heaven.  His indestructible life is factually shared with us under the forms of bread and wine, and though we can surely not comprehend now what we are getting, we can believe and we can still exclaim with the Psalmist:  Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.

Finally we will all follow our Lord into bodily death and bodily resurrection.  Do not ever forget those golden words, dear Christians:  I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, for they are talking about you!  Whether you are young or old, you should always be preparing for that day because you never know when it may come.  As long as you think it is far off, you will not worry about it much, but still you can prepare.  When aging, illness or danger bring it close then you should remember that Jesus never asks you to go where He has not first gone, or to do what He has not first done.  When that day finally arrives, when we close our eyes on earth and open them wide in heaven, then we will be as single-minded as Jesus.  With sinful nature a thing of the past, and nothing but the New Man remaining with his glorified body, we will happily follow Jesus into a world without end.  This is God's gift to us, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras


Monday, February 16, 2015

It is a climb, but it is worth coming out of the valley sometimes

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP


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This was the Baby of Christmas!  A couple of weeks ago we were celebrating His birth.  Now we see Him in far more glorious circumstances.  The angel had told His Mother that He would be called the Son of the Most High.  Now the thundering Voice confirms it.  No crowded inn pushes Him into a barn today.  The Son of God appears amid the lightning and thunder.  We heard the Voice at His Baptism.  Now we hear it again, as if Jesus were being confirmed.  He was gaining additional strength for the journey to Calvary, which He was soon to begin.  As for Peter, James, and John, they would find new respect for this Carpenter.  In Psalm 84 the sons of Korah help us to understand how they must have felt.  All human souls were made for fellowship with God.  Our hearts and our flesh cry out for the living God.  We yearn for His presence.

What is this Psalm about?  The sons of Korah were musicians, singing about the temple Solomon had built.  It was situated on top of Mt. Moriah, very high ground on the east side of Jerusalem, the place where Abraham offered Isaac to God.  Solomon had lavishly decorated his temple with golden cherubim and palm trees in all of its courts.  A great bronze altar stood in the courtyard for the morning and evening sacrifices.  Inside, there was even more beauty.  In the sanctuary one could see the golden altar of incense, the seven-branched candlestick, and the table of the holy bread, twelve loaves representing the firstfruits of the tribes of Israel.  Then, at the very center, was something far less magnificent, but far holier than anything else.  There were the curtains that sealed off the little, windowless room where the Lord dwelt in unapproachable mystery.  Inside of it was the Ark of the Covenant, which Moses had made in the desert.  Solomon, David's son, built the temple to enshrine that Ark.  Korah's sons were the ministers of music.  They thought they were in the center of the universe.  Here was the chosen seat of the Lord in His chosen city.  Here was the goal of all the annual pilgrims who crossed the countryside of Judah to worship in this place.  Here God had blessed David, a leader of a group of desert guerillas, and set him in the place of the Jebusite kings.  Here Solomon was a priest after the Order of Melchizedek.

That temple, which today we call the "first temple," was destroyed in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  A second temple was built on the same spot.  It was still standing during the ministry of Jesus, but forty years later the Romans would not leave one brick on top of another.  It isn't a temple of bricks and mortar that we see on the Mountaintop.  Here we see the Third Temple, the Perfect Temple, the glorified Body of the Son of David.  One could imagine all the angels bursting into song as the Voice thundered out the true identity of this Galilean Carpenter.  How privileged were those who saw it!  But we wonder, why only three?  Where were the other nine?  Certainly the empty seats around us here should remind us of that same question.  After six days we will be here again, to begin our annual journey to Jerusalem.  Will 25% be considered good attendance?  Doesn't everyone want to see the view from the top?

How much we need that vision!  The sons of Korah couldn't have put it better:  My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.  Nothing else can satisfy our deepest longings.  Birds may build their nests anywhere - they were made for this world, but we cannot be at home here in the desert.  We might try the pleasures of the flesh, but they soon grow monotonous.  We turn to wisdom, but worldly wisdom is vain.  Wealth and power look like they can help, but they never turn out right.  God built desire into us, so it will not die.  The Buddhists err when they say it is our problem.  Desire is a sign calling us to God.  The aging king Solomon tried everything and concluded that it was all vanity.  Poor man!  He did not commune regularly with his God.  Not that we could ever rise to God.  That is plain foolishness, but we have His house, His Word, and the blessed Sacraments that He commanded.  These are only an oasis; the world is still a desert, but they call us to our real home, backward to paradise lost, and forward to heaven promised.

Peter, James and John wanted to build sanctuaries on the mountaintop.  We built ours down in the city.  That was good.  We wanted our sanctuary to be a witness to the people of Cleveland.  In its own way, it was a mountaintop for our souls.  The space we rent is sanctuary space, filled with the beauty of the Lord.  The Word calls us to look down at Calvary, and beyond it to the empty tomb with the heavenly messengers at its door.  Our Lord is risen.  He is coming again.  For that reason we made our sanctuary face east, the Savior's return is the dawn of the everlasting day.  Those statues showed Jesus flanked by two evangelists, the two who were also apostles, Matthew to remind us that He is human, John to witness that He is divine.  Soon we will behold another Transfiguration;  Jesus appearing in the elements of the Holy Eucharist.  At such a time we certainly ought to examine ourselves, to approach this place with godly fear, for we are coming to meet the living God.  Be sure He is not here to mark iniquities, but to pardon them, not to claim His rights, but to shower us with grace.  If you have dozed during this sermon, don't feel bad.  Peter, James, and John couldn't stay awake either.  Fortunately they woke up in time or they would have missed that blessed vision.  So we must be alert now as the Church offers us the best things of all: the Body and Blood of Jesus.

It is not Zion that makes us happy, but He that dwells in Zion.  He meets us here, making this place holy.  Without the Savior's presence this would merely be a pile of bricks, but the living God is here, and you take Him with you when you leave.  If you cannot attend the services of His house, He is with you still.  He is with you in the valley of the shadow of death, and when you climb your personal Calvary.  He has made you a stone in His spiritual temple, so you need never depart.

The disciples heard Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus about His death.  That's what we hear in this place, too.  We speak of Jesus crucified and risen, for by that He makes us holy.  By His death Jesus took our sins upon Himself.  To share His cross is the first step in sharing His crown.

So we like the view from the top.  We enjoy this peaceful isolation, and want to stay here forever.  Jesus will not allow that.  The mountaintop is not the promised land.  It is an oasis only.  The way to our permanent home is back down into the world that is waiting to be saved.  May this holy feast strengthen us for the journey ahead, help us follow close order behind our Lord as He sets His face to Jerusalem.  May this brief taste of joy reinforce our faith as we return to a world that is consuming itself with sin.  After six days, we will be ready to come again, to climb to our Lord's place of prayer, and follow Him to His death and resurrection.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What does Jesus Have to Do with Me?

VERY GOD OF VERY GOD

When we want to know what makes life worth living, trouble worth enduring, even death worth dying, we must turn to the one reliable, permanent witness, the Holy Scriptures given to make us wise unto salvation.  That‘s the first step.  Then you have to use the Scriptures properly; you must interpret them according to their heart and center, that is the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth who was God Incarnate.  Two millennia later we look back to His time, we count our years from the time of His birth, we gather every week to attend the history of His life and death, because nothing before or since is so important.  St. John in his First Letter testifies: this is true God and eternal life.  Notice John does not say that Jesus “might be” true God, or that He is “like true God.”  The apostle uses the verb “is.”  Politicians might not know what that word means, but St. John certainly did.  He tells us that Jesus is the one, true God.  In the Nicene Creed we confirm this when we confess him to be very God of very God.

The prophets of Israel proclaimed Him true God with such titles as The Lord, Our Righteousness, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, even as The Lord whom ye seek.  Thomas, once his doubts had been set aside, confessed with heart and soul My Lord and my God.  At His Baptism the Voice called out This is my beloved Son. Neither was it only the good guys who bore such witness.  The spiritual enemies of God and man called Him Jesus, Son of the Most High.  Anyone who denies that Jesus is true God is not a Christian.  Did He claim divinity for Himself?  Every time He used the expression “I am.”  He was referring to what God told Moses at the burning bush.  So Jesus claims before the crowd in Jerusalem, "Before Abraham was I AM."  He was claiming to be the One who brought them out of Egypt and gave them Commandments.  If you call upon His name only to swear, if you try to make Him into a mere human, no matter how good, no matter how wise, if you present Him as anything less than true God you are not preaching the Christian Gospel.  If you hold back from calling Mary the Mother of God, then you are making too little of her Son.  Our Nicene Creed repeats the affirmation three times: God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.  If He is anything less, then all the fuss is about nothing.

Therefore let us humble ourselves with the apostles who were privileged to follow Jesus up the mountain where they saw the reality of the Incarnation.  Behold the shining face and clothes, the cloud, the resurrected prophets, the Voice identifying Jesus as my beloved Son. Ah, but the cynic sees all this and asks, “So what?”  You don’t see what this has to do with you?  Maybe your life has been too good, maybe you can’t see because you haven’t been afflicted enough, maybe you’ve forgotten that you’re mortal.  The same Jesus who was transfigured on the mountain is the One who says, "All authority in heaven and earth is given to me."   Over all things visible and invisible, over all the armies of men and angels, over all the storms and floods, wars and insurrections, droughts and famines, diseases and plagues stands the One with the keys.  What does that have to do with you?  If nothing else, when your life is over you will have to give an account of it to Him.  If that doesn’t get your attention, then you don’t need to listen to me.

The age in which we live is deluded.  It believes that mankind can overcome the troubles that follow from the Fall, that today we are enlightened enough that with ingenuity, planning, and technology we can make the world better.  That is foolishness!  People cannot recover without true liberty, liberty from the passions of the flesh, liberty from the vanities of the world, liberty from the cowardice that keeps us from practicing the virtues which we agree are good.  On that mountaintop is our Liberator.  The Voice urges us to listen to Him.

St. John adds that Jesus is eternal life.  He not only gives life, He is eternal, infinite Being.  Together with the Father and the Holy Spirit He created us.  He came into our own existence because of His great love for us, but there is only one way to the life He would give us.  There is no short-cut.  When the three disciples tried to make the mountaintop experience permanent Jesus told them that was impossible, so we might be tempted to hang onto some symbol that held meaning for us.  Jesus calls instead to follow him down to the valley, knowing that there is trouble there.  Jesus calls us to the cross.  Does that have anything to do with us?  Certainly.  The cure for mortality is the power of the resurrection.  Jesus promises a blessed eternity to those who are His by faith.  The heartache and tears of the funeral parlor, the quiet dust of the cemetery will give way to gladness and rejoicing.  We have only vague images of that existence now.  We know this; the King of Glory is 100% sin free.  That is why there is no short-cut.  Jesus dealt with sin.  One can only get there in the retinue of Him who holds the keys of death and hell, and He had access to those by the cross.

Jesus accepted death without the guilt of sin.  He transferred our guilt to Himself.  He transferred His perfect life and merit, His total righteousness to us.  He suffered our penalty.  We will enjoy His reward.  He was very God Incarnate, in the flesh, accepting our human mortality to taste the death that follows from sin.  In the Creed we say and was made man.  At Christmas we celebrated His birth as a baby. A week later we celebrate His human name, Jesus, or in Hebrew Joshua, “He will deliver.”  During Lent we will celebrate His Passion, which proves the height of His love.  At Easter we will celebrate His coming forth from the grave.

Still, you can’t see what that has to do with you?  Try these on.  Some day you will die.  Your body will be disposed of, it matters not how.  God will watch over it until it is needed again.  You will not remain in death.  He who loved you is eternal life, who will bring you together with your loved ones again.  You will stand in His presence in indescribable glory because you will finally be the creature you were meant to be.  Cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus, you will have nothing to fear.  You are going ahead of those you love to wait for them, and at Jesus’ reappearing, you will be completely redeemed, body and soul, the creature you were meant to be forever and ever.  Does that have anything to do with you? I think so. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What exactly is involved in sin and forgiveness?

EYES WIDE OPEN

And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:31-34

IN the coming season of Lent we will once again have our eyes opened like the blind beggar did, but we might wish that God would mercifully close them like He did the disciples’ when Jesus informed them of all of the things that were about to happen. Why would we wish that? Because during Lent we will once again take a close look at the reality of our sin. As we ponder it in light of our Lord’s passion we will discover how deadly it is and the terrible price that was paid to remove its burden from us.

Even though we are Christians and our wrongs have been pardoned, we can never stop being reminded about sin’s reality. Why not? First, because we all have an Old Adam within and it can produce nothing but evil thoughts, words and deeds. It is blind to the things of God and only serves itself. Unlike the New Man which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, Sinful Nature bears nothing, believes nothing, hopes nothing and endures nothing. It lives for the moment. Its only concern is whatever it can reasonably get away with at the moment; and its only hope is that there are at least a few more thrill’s ahead.

Sinful Nature is the very opposite of love. It’s impatient, unkind, rude and conceited and there is no known cure for it. Why do your pastors remind you of this fact so often? Because there are two competing liturgies we have been taught to pray. We pray the Church’s liturgy each Lord’s Day by choice and by faith. It is powerful, comforting, satisfying and fills us with the truth of the Gospel. It makes the troubles of life tolerable by giving us an eternal perspective and opens our eyes to the glories that await us in Christ; but whether we like it or not we also are forced to attend the world’s liturgy. We have to listen to its corrupt creeds and hear its cacophonous hymns. It competes with God’s Word for our loyalty and promises us all the things we could ever want right now if only we’ll fall down and worship at its altar. The only problem is that the world’s religion cannot deliver what it promises, but leads us down the primrose path to hell instead. You don’t want to go there!

Secondly we need to hear the Law so that we can continually turn away from sin, and that is impossible without the fear that the Law instills in us. The reason Jeremiah’s people were destroyed is not that they sinned -- sin is forgivable-- but that they did not repent or receive absolution, and thus had no strength to stop their downward spiral.

It is not only the Law we are exposed to during Lent, but most especially to the salvation Jesus gained for us by the things he suffered, and by His resurrection from the dead on the third day. During Lent we will carefully examine the things that the disciples could not bear to hear: that the Son of Man would be handed over to His enemies to do with as they wished; that the best thing ever to happen to this world would be mercilessly put to death, so that we might receive mercy. We’ll also learn again that by His death Jesus drove a spike into the devil’s head, just as Jael did to Sisera in the Book of Judges.



It might seem confusing that Jesus told them what was about to happen and then prevented them from understanding it, but these things had to be said, and they had to be said to these men. Why? Because the salvation God had promised for thousands of years was now just days away. Further, these blind and simpering disciples, who in coming days would be scattered like sheep without a shepherd, would not many days after that receive the Holy Spirit who would turn them into powerful preachers of the gladdest tidings that sinful ears ever heard; that by faith in the name of Jesus sinners obtain peace with God and victory over death.

Our eyes will also be opened once again to the inescapable truth that faith must always be active in love. St. Paul reminds us in today’s epistle lesson that if we speak in the tongues of men and of angels, if we have all prophetic powers, if we understand all the mysteries of God, if we have enough faith to move mountains and even offer up our bodies to be burned, but have no love we are nothing and gain nothing.

Finally, during the coming Lenten season we’ll take a closer look at the future things that await us in Christ. Yes suffering and death are in the cards for us all, there is no escaping them, aut as those things were not the final chapter for Jesus neither are they for us. Rather it is as we sang earlier in the hymn, “and the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to heaven, Jesus here I die with thee, there to live eternally.” Trouble and sorrow are also in our future, there’s no escaping them either. But again as the hymn says, “and the fears that now annoy, shall be laughter on the morrow, Christ I suffer here with Thee, there O share Thy joy with me.” But there is something else that awaits us! The complete answer to all of our questions, full knowledge of God, and Holy Communion with Jesus the likes of which we cannot even imagine.

It is true that now our understanding of Divine things is very partial. The things we don’t know could fill volumes while the things we do know a thimble. We have more questions than answers, and more things seem mysterious to us than do not, but it will not always be that way. All of that will be changed in the blink of an eye when the last trumpet sounds. Until then there are three sacred and abiding virtues that will carry us through our lives, and make us adequate to meet every challenge. They are: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How can I be sure that I am receiving the pure Gospel?

THE FATHER GAVE THE SON TO BE OUR SAVIOR

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Luke 12:50

THIS morning we will hear about God the Father and about our Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation they provide for us from sin, death and the devil.  These are the three worst enemies that we have.  Apart from God's Word we don't know who the true enemy is.  We think it is other people:  our children, parents, or in-laws, but they are not the real problem.  Rather sin, death and the devil are, and Jesus endured a bloody baptism in order to bring their dread power to an end.

Now you may believe that your trespasses are not really sins.  You may call them flaws, or weaknesses.  You may have a good reason for your sinful choices, people always do!  Or you may comfort yourself by choosing one of the popular justifications of the day:  no one is perfect.  I'm only human.  I try my best to live a good life; but none of this helps you, not in life and definitely not at the final judgment.

You might object to the notion of a divine law that is binding on all people, those who believe it and those who do not.  You may bristle at the thought of an all-knowing God who sees everything, and who can read your heart as easily as Google can read your email.  You may be distressed by the divine decree that every person will be brought to trial before the bar of divine justice to answer for his life, and that whatever "went around," will finally "come around" to you.

Yes, people have many ways of avoiding repentance, which is the first part of the Christian message, but by so doing a person never gets to the second part: the healing, saving and ever-comforting Gospel that cleanses you from your sins.  That divides you from them and them from you, and that renders you "not guilty" before the bar of divine justice, not by good works, but by faith in the "baptism" that the Lord endured for you.

The solution to our spiritual anguish is one so surprising that the Bible calls it a "mystery kept secret through the ages, but now revealed."  We read of it throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation, but we hear it most clearly and participate in it most fully whenever we receive the holy supper of our Lord.  When we hear the words "on the night in which He was betrayed," our thoughts naturally turn to Judas the Betrayer.  His actions were no small part of our Lord's distress.  He was a dear and personal friend -- a disciple -- one of only twelve men chosen by Jesus to spread salvation's story to the world, one in whom our Lord invested so much love, so much devotion, but who in the end betrayed Him.  However, our focus should not be on Judas alone.  He was the human agent that set the process into motion.  His evil deeds were then taken up by the Jews who handed over the Lord to the Romans so that He might suffer the most horrifying fate possible, death by crucifixion.  No, Judas is not the main actor here, rather God the Father is.  He is the one who, moved by great love, and profound wisdom, "handed over" His Son for our redemption.  St. Peter makes this clear in his Pentecost sermon when he says to the Jews that Jesus was handed over according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23).  And Jesus does the same when He says in John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Yes, it is none other than our gracious God and Father who gave life to the world by giving His Son, the only acceptable sacrifice there is, to answer for our sins on the cross.  St. Paul says it best in Romans 5:19   "For as by the one man's disobedience (Adam's) the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."  Jesus is the One, and we are the many made righteous by faith in Him.

This gospel is the Great Divide between men.  There are those love it and those who hate it, those for whom it is life and breath, and those to whom it is the highest possible offense, but the seeds of the Gospel's destruction do not just come from the outside.  It comes from the inside when the church teaches you to have faith in anything except the Lord's atoning death, anything except the Word of God and the Sacraments our Lord instituted to distribute the saving benefits to us.  Today, as in Jeremiah's day, and as in our Lord's day, it is those on the inside that cause the most trouble:  those false prophets who preach their own dreams instead of the doctrine of God; lying tongues who justify unspeakable sins, bless them, and import them into the church; wolves in sheep's clothing who feign a love for missions, but secretly want to destroy the reverence and practice that are inseparable from the faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

What about us?  Which side of the Great Divide are we on?  Are we thoughtless, hapless Christians led astray by every wind of doctrine?  By every smooth talker?  Every fashion of the world?  By the religious right or religious left?  Or are we intelligent, thoughtful Christians who know our faith and who are dedicated to grow in in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?

By grace we stand with God the Father who gave His Son to be our redeemer from sin, death and the devil, so let us do what we pray for in today's collect: Let us receive the fruits of His redeeming love with thanksgiving, and daily follow in his way.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why Am I Left Here to Hurt?

A TREASURE IN A CLAY POT


Maybe I'm dating myself by talking about crockery.  There are people today who rarely eat meals served in anything but paper, so perhaps I should say that earthenware is very fragile.  When you were a child, did you ever get distracted while you were holding a porcelain pitcher, then suddenly your mother heard you say oops… after which came a crashing sound?  Did you ever think of yourself as being fragile like that?  Now St. Paul was not the sort of man we would usually call a strong man, but he had the strength that endures.  He endured all sorts of misfortunes for the sake of the mission.  Many times he must have been ready to give up, to think this was all he could take.  He knew he was the clay pot, and that the pot was often broken.  Each time there was the chance it would be broken beyond repair, but he lived to have the pot broken again and again. Should we expect better experiences than Paul?

Should we want our lives arranged for the sake of the clay pot?  That's wrong.  God could not let us be indestructible, because we have a treasure inside, a treasure which is not just for us but for everybody.  The treasure we have is the Gospel, the truth of God's salvation which is His gift to us in Christ.  That Gospel is the true treasure of the Church.  Our treasure is not humanity - splendid as man once was, he has become a fallen enemy of goodness and light.  Our treasure is not freedom, wonderful as that may be, we will always abuse it.  Our treasure is life that never ends, that cannot be taken away or destroyed, a life that is fully-redeemed, victorious over death, certain that God loves us and has made us valuable beyond all telling.  God in His Word calls us holy.  That's a good word.  Don't let the fanatics ruin it for you.  It's good to be holy.  We are God's people, chosen before creation to be His own, chosen still today, as indeed God never stops choosing us.  In the fullness of time He made the perfect sacrifice, which He declared to all by raising Jesus from the dead.

How do we know we really have this treasure?  God reached down to tell us.  He has given us the Word.  He has added to it those visible forms which we call the Sacraments.  He has been good to us.  He has loved us.  He has forgiven our sins.  And in His mercy He has not left us in any doubt about His intentions.  In the Bible, the ministry of preaching, in Baptism, in the Holy Supper of Christ, and in the spoken Absolution, He pours out His grace.  In the Church, the seminaries and colleges, in that part of Christian broadcasting which actually cares about divine truth, God informs us of the treasure He has placed within us.  God has not placed this treasure into everyone.  Only those who believe in Jesus have this treasure. No one can ever find it no matter how long he seeks.  No one can create it.  No one can contribute in any way to possessing it.  It is always God's gift.

From what we have said it follows that to have the general public access this treasure it must somehow come out of us.  That is why God made the pots so fragile.  Consider how Jesus was made fragile.  We have to be fragile as well.  We can't let our own ends get in the way.  That hurts.  Yes, that really hurts.  Why does it have to be like that?  Why couldn't God put the treasure into transparent glass?  People could see it then without breaking the vessel. The holy angels are vessels like that.  If God had placed His treasure into them instead of us, people could see it without having to break the angels.  Angels have no sin, and therefore no pain, but we are opaque earthenware.  No one can see through us, so we must conclude, God placed the treasure where it could only shine through by having the containers get hurt.

In the Old Testament we read of the prophet Jeremiah.  He was always complaining, asking God Why me?  Why must I preach this gloomy message that nobody wants to hear?  Jeremiah wasn't kidding.  God had ordained him to preach bad news.  He was to warn Judah that their time was up, exile was just over the horizon.  It was their fault, since they had broken God's Covenant.  I can assure you that hearing God's sentence was not very comforting.  God called Jeremiah to tell people that they had blown it and were about to be zapped.  So do we have to preach that kind of thing?  Yes.  No one will want our treasure unless he thinks he needs it.  To show man that he needs it, we have to preach the Law.  If people hear it and repent, then we have good news to proclaim, God's forgiveness and mercy, but people might instead turn on the messenger.  Irrational as it might seem, people think they can make the message go away by killing the messenger.  If they do that, they never get to hear the good news.

Would God have done better to put this message into the hands of His angels?  Consider this:  if you have been in the dark for a long time, sudden light is hard to take.  You back away.  You shade your eyes.  The darkness is so much more comfortable.  If God revealed this treasure through angels, people would run from it in terror.  God wants people to stop and listen.  Those who need to listen most would be running away fastest, so God gave us the treasure, us men, clay pots to provide some shade, a chance for the sinner's eyes to get used to the light without having it shine full force in their eyes.  How merciful of God!  He put the treasure into breakable pots, to do people some good.  It isn't easy being the pot.  In the first instance it was Jesus, who had the fullness of the treasure in Himself.  He was badly broken. The brightest of all lights shone in the darkness of his own people.  Still, it was mercy that He did not come down in the exalted state.  Yes, He would have been transparent, but He would have been the Lion rather than the Lamb.  Nobody could have heard Him or come to Him, so He came as one of his own creatures, as a clay pot to save the world.

Paul has recorded for us all the bad things that happened to him as a missionary.  Do you think he listed that stuff to depress us?  No, he was being realistic.  It was bad, but it didn't get him down.  Paul knew what the last word was going to be, and that he was going to like it.  He could be broken, knowing that he was imparting a great treasure to the people with whom he dealt.  We can call those troubles crosses, not only because they hurt, but because they are the first step in the resurrection.  Troubles are a sign that God is accomplishing something.  He wants us to pray, to behave, to attend church, to trust Him for material things, but beyond all that He wants to give us hope.  The treasure inside of us is not just for other people, but for ourselves as well.  Jesus is our treasure.  We cannot lose this treasure. Jesus hallows every earthen vessel that contains the treasure, especially those that are clay, as He was.

The devil wants us to think that we're throwing our lives away, being destroyed because the pots are broken.  Don't let him distract you by the pain.  Consider the treasure.  God calls us to bring it to people.  He forgives us.  He breaks us so we can enjoy the treasure ourselves, for only the dead can be resurrected.  May the Holy Spirit move us to endure this process of becoming holier through the cross, at every step cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  To Him be the glory.   AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross