Monday, August 31, 2015

Am I my brother's keeper?

CHRIST IS YOUR BROTHER, YOU ARE SAFE



Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Able, your brother?"  He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"  And the LORD said, "What have you done!  The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.  And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."  Genesis 4:9-11

TODAY'S Old Testament reading teaches us many lessons, but the most important thing we should remember is that all Scripture is about Christ!

Our Lord is Enoch who walked with God and was assumed into heaven.  He is Isaac, who was tethered to the wooden altar of sacrifice.  He is Melchizedek, Elijah, and today we find that He is also Abel whose blood cries out to God, not for vengeance in this case, but as the hymn says, "for our pardon cries."

Yes, we should consider the moral lessons that the account of Cain and Abel teaches, but from there we must go on to grasp what the Spirit wants us to understand from the event, namely that there is one who is Greater than Abel, who was also killed by his brothers, but that His blood purifies us from every sin.

Yes, all Scripture is about Christ.  The historical events of His life, death and resurrection are all true, all important, and everyone who professes the Christian religion must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.  He must be familiar, too, with the Lord's miracles by which He began the process of repairing what sin destroyed, and with His ethical teachings, but we should not just know them; we should believe them and work to conform our lives to them so that the full sanctification that will be ours in heaven should begin in us here and now.

Today's reading from Genesis is one such  lesson.  It teaches us to avoid the sins of Cain who was jealous of his brother Abel.  It was not that Cain's offering was inferior to Abel's, but rather that Abel had faith and Cain did not.  Abel humbled himself before God like the tax collector in today's gospel, but Cain came to do business with God, like the pharisee of the parable did.  Of the two, Abel went home justified, but Cain did not.

Jealousy is a strange and twisted kind of sin.  It is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Under its deadly influence, Cain's brotherly love ran cold and his ability to reason was silenced.  He enticed his own brother with sweet words out to the open field, far away from prying eyes, and there he killed him in cold blood.  Because Abel is a type of Christ, we might imagine that Cain killed him with a knife, so that his blood would be soaked into the ground, as Scripture notes, but that is not the end of the story.  If it were, then we would gain nothing more from the Bible than advice for intelligent living; the stuff of mega-church how-to pep talks, but we don't need scripture for that.  We can learn that from the world's moral philosophers.  No, that is not the end of the story, but only the beginning, because when the LORD said, "The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground," it was nothing less than a full blown prophecy of the blood of Jesus that purifies the world from its sin.

It is a biblical axiom that: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  Much blood was spilled by our Lord in His passion, but when we talk about the shed blood of Christ, the first verse that should come to our minds is John 19:34 where evangelist reports, "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water."

As Abel was killed by his brother, so Christ was killed by His brothers.  As Abel's blood was soaked up by the ground and cried out for vengeance -- the blood from our Lord's side also found its way into the ground where it quenched earth's desperate thirst for righteousness and provided redemption for all, redemption for you:  redemption that is attained by faith in the blood of God's own Son, poured out on Calvary's cross, and fed to us from the "the cup of blessing which we bless" on the Lord's Day.  Thus the church sings, "Abel's blood for vengeance pleadeth to the skies, but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries."

Finally, St. Paul reminds us in today's epistle lesson that salvation comes to us by grace through faith and not by any works that we ourselves accomplish.  Both grace and faith are gifts from God.  Grace is a disposition in the heart of God to be merciful to us in Christ, to give His only Son to shed His blood in substitution for our own.  Faith is the aptitude, upon hearing this message, to trust it, to know that it is true for you, and that by it your sins are pardoned and your redemption sure.

St. Paul further informs us in today's epistle that faith is not an idle past time, but instead that it is always busy doing the good works that God long ago prepared for His good creation to do.  In particular that we should be rid of jealousy and bitterness and replace it with kindness and with brotherly love; also that God most certainly intends for us to be our brother's keeper, not in a smothering way, not by running people's lives or by living their lives for them.  That seems to be the national sport these days and it is cruel, not kind.  Rather we should keep this adage in the wholesome ways dictated by love and guided by the Lord's golden rule:  Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

To do these things is to put your faith into practice and to show gratitude to the Brother who loves you, redeems you and who will never harm you.  Jesus, the Brother who keeps you safe.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preparing for the day of your redemption

IS THE ARK READY?

THE apostle is talking to us this morning about a great calamity. This is a calamity that has not happened yet, but it is definitely on God's "to do list." He shows us a picture of the earth wrapped in sheets of flame so intense that all the elements melt. Even the heavens, which means the sky and all that is in it, will pass away. Thousands of years ago God sent The Great Flood. He ended almost all life on earth. He promised He will never again do it that way. Therefore we must not worry about what our culture calls "global warming."  What is coming, without doubt, is something far hotter than that.


Don't ask for details about when "next time" is going to be. In heaven that day and hour have been ordained since the beginning, and has always been classified information. Many would-be prophets try to guess. With colorful imaginations they look at what is happening around us and try to fit it into the Biblical picture. In the last century the First World War attracted most interest. Some false prophets had predicted that the world would end the year that war began. To those who lived through it, who experienced that particular judgment of God upon the world, it must have seemed as though Satan had been completely unbound, but it definitely was not the final judgment. It turned out to be manageable. More recently, the event that has drawn most predictive attention has been the establishment of the State of Israel. In 1948 the British turned over to some European Jews a strip of land they had taken from the Turks in World War One. It was inhabited by Arabs called Palestinians. There was immediate conflict. The same crowd of prophets who had set the end-time alarm clock for 1914 now all agreed that the world would have to end in 1973. Guess what. It didn't. One more group divided the world into millennia. They had dated the age of the earth at 6000 years. The proposal was that God would allow six millennia for work, then the Sabbath Millennium would begin. The target date for that was 1996. Once again they were mistaken. There were a few apocalyptic predictions about the Y2K, but nothing really important happened then. One would think God would stay away from any date that attracted that much attention.


On the other extreme there are people who don't believe this world is ever going to end. Now everyone can see that the world has been rather resistant to such prophecies. For many centuries, human works have been the only real difference. Still, their unbelief can no more turn away God's judgment than the gullibility of the prophets, or the skepticism that prevailed in Noah's day. The calamity will come in God's time, and in His way. The Church cannot tell you when, but we can assure you that this world will end.


Jesus did give us some signs to think about. In today's Gospel, and in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 we have Jesus' own remarks. He also compared the coming calamity to Noah's flood. Right now the scoffers are scoffing as we build the spiritual ark. We do that by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. We proclaim Him God Incarnate, the Word made flesh to be our Savior and Lord. He is the one true Light in a dark world. There are many around us who consider everything we say nothing but superstitious bugaboo. They blame us for trying to scare people. Frankly, I don't mind being blamed for that. There are many people who do not consider sin a serious problem. They need to be scared. They must show respect for God. We don't have to worry about the environment, because the only environment that counts is the one we enter at death. Some skeptics reject all authority. They do that on the authority of the devil, who is tricky enough to let them think that they're making choices. While material prosperity is a distraction, driving peoples' minds away from the needs of their souls, there is something more sinister in society. As St. Paul tells us in II Timothy 3, in the last days people will be disobedient ,thoughtless, ruthless, lovers of money…in other words, the last generation will be wantonly wicked in every way. Can anyone say we aren't seeing that? While our contemporaries might lose themselves in drugs or drink, while they may have no restraint to bridle their appetites, still they can always conspire against the truth, especially the truth that is in Jesus.


God did not give us the Bible as a toy to speculate about the future. He gave us His Word to make us wise unto salvation. That means to make us thirst for righteousness, then give us a drink from the Fountain of Life. That drink is a comforting cup of forgiveness, which comes by grace. And that is what makes the real difference. Without the cross of Jesus this would not be present among us. He died for us and rose again. So the Word made flesh came into this world and died our death to liberate us from the power of death. Even the wantonly wicked described by Paul are not too evil to be forgiven. Not everyone wants to be forgiven. Just as Noah did not have any takers as he made the ark ready, so we can't see great crowds and masses of people flocking to our church. St. Peter tells us to wait for the end in holiness, that is, standing out in sharp contrast to the culture around us. By doing that we don't make the end come any sooner. That was determined in eternity, but we put ourselves in the position of being rescued. Our God likes to deliver us. We want to be found in need of deliverance; not necessarily some spectacular sacrifice. He might find us up to our necks in paperwork, or giving the baby a bath, or courting a life partner, or sipping a fine Bordeaux. He might even find us sound asleep. That doesn't matter. We can afford to sleep because we are forgiven and redeemed by the Man who is coming to deliver us. We trust His atonement. Because of that, our sins cannot keep us out of heaven. Jesus is truly risen from the dead, and is coming to raise us as well. Perhaps we are too talented, too beautiful, too comfortable, and therefore reluctant to enter the ark. Be patient if the Lord prunes away what the earth offers us. Jesus is Lord. His plans take priority.


Noah was ready when the time came. His ark was built. So is ours. Our ark is the cross of Jesus, a bit of wood that floats over the seas of time. We entered the ark when we were baptized, as Peter tells us in his first letter. We find it amply provisioned with God's Word and Sacraments. We assemble those whom we call in this building, but this building is not the ark. It is a device for communicating with the ark, a place to receive Jesus' forgiveness, life, and power. The cross is the ark. When the world is undone, the cross will still be standing. Those who trust in it are the Bride, whom the Bridegroom will take home, out of the flaming vanities, into the solid joys of His Father's house. Look up, because soon the day will come when we can say with Solomon's Beloved, He leads me to the house of feasting; His banner over me is love. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, August 24, 2015

Are we no longer ashamed of our sin?

DON'T FORGET HOW TO BLUSH

And when Jesus drew near and saw the city He wept over it, saying, "If only you had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Luke 19:41-42

IT seems strange that such a jarring gospel lesson should appear in the middle of the Trinity season:  Jesus weeping over the city He came to save, but that wanted nothing to do with Him!  It is the stuff of holy week, but here it is in the middle of the summer.

So why is it here?  Because tradition tells us that both times the Temple was destroyed it occurred in August:  once by the Babylonians in August 587 BC, and once by the Romans in August 70 AD.

What does that have to do with us?  We are not Jews.  Quite the opposite, we know that Christ is the true temple of God.  He is the one who was "torn down" by crucifixion and raised up again on the third day for our justification.  Further, it is the Christian faith that God now resides in Christ, who resides within the church's worship (the very thing we are engaged in at this time), and that we may peacefully approach there, because that is where He wishes to be found.

Let us ask again:  what does this have to do with us?  Though the reading may be out of season it should never be far from our consciousness because of the lesson it teaches; that God disinherited His chosen people, and that is about as strident a message to a Christian as there ever could be.  It makes us wonder:  if God disinherited them, will He disinherit me?  After baptism, and after a lifetime of His worship, will He disinherit me?  Will He, in the end, remember my sins and judge me for them?

If He did, dear Christians, no one could blame Him.  We admit as much each Lord's Day when we pray that we:  justly deserve God's temporal and eternal punishment.

That statement counts.  It is true and it must stand on its own, at least for a time, if for no other reason than to sober up Old Adam, who would drag us down to the pit of despair with him.  Sinful nature is like an evil Siamese twin who can never be separated from you until the angels of God separate the wheat from the chaff on the last day, and since you must always contend with him, you must always contend with harsh teachings like we hear today.

In today's Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah says of God's Old Testament church that they forgot how to blush!  Their sins had reached such a pitch that their consciences were no longer functional.  They normalized every sexual perversion, every form of idolatry.  Fraud and oppression were the national sport.  Like a band of robbers nothing was out of bounds for them.  Whatever God taught back when now meant nothing.  They tore their rear view mirror off and quivered with the possibilities that lay ahead, with what new and exciting sin they could dream up tomorrow.

How about you?  Have you forgotten how to blush?  Have you normalized your particular sin be it sins of thought, word, deed, attitude or lifestyle?  Do you even bother to hear the word of the Lord anymore?  To whisper a prayer of repentance?  To bow you head in shame, and plead that the merits of the cross would cover your sin?  When it comes to the confession and absolution do you pray it with faith or is it simply a form of negativity to be endured?  And what of the absolution?  Do you think it is but a fellow sinner saying nice things, in a gentle gathering of nice people?  Or do you hear it in the voice of Jesus from the cross saying:  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?

In today's epistle lesson we are confronted with more bad news.  For all of Israel's folly, they were still the people God chose to disseminate His gospel to the whole world, but St. Paul says that they were unable to attain God's righteousness for themselves; and he says why:  because they had no faith; faith specifically in the Christ who God gave to make all men righteous.  Yet the Gentiles, who were not seeking righteousness with God, found it, because when they heard the gospel they believed it.  Do you believe it?  Do you stumble over the cross, over the Jesus who suffers on it, over His word to take up your own cross and follow Him, or over the seemingly humble means He provides to bless you:  water, word, bread, wine, rites and rituals, ceremonies and celebrations.  They are all of a piece.

We see the same theme repeated in today's Gospel lesson:  Jesus has a melt down.  He is overcome by emotion that His people, who had been groomed for millennia to meet Him, rejected Him and sought to destroy Him, and He let them do it because His death was the linchpin of God's plan to cleanse us and make us inheritors of everlasting life.

Not only did the Lord weep and lament.  Even at this very late date when the temple is about to become obsolete, when the glory of the Lord was for the final time about to leave the temple through a torn curtain; even now Jesus still finds it necessary to restore it to its proper usage.  In a fit of anger, He expels all the merchants who reduce religion to a business, and once again sanctifies the temple by His Word:  My house shall be called a house of prayer.

Today the church is God's House of Prayer because our Lord Jesus Christ inhabits it, not just for us, but for all people who long for life everlasting.  It is the place where Jesus still teaches, just like He did back then, and where people who merit"temporal and eternal punishment," find themselves acquitted, drinking the cup  that runs over with life and salvation.  You are those people.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, August 17, 2015

The better gold is the one we didn't earn or even deserve:

GOING FOR THE GOLD

Golden Barley Field
You don't have to be a grownup to understand the story of the treasure in the field. Let's suppose a group of children agreed to share their trick-or-treat profits. They will make the rounds separately, but at the end they will empty their bags and divide the loot. Now let's suppose that one 8-year-old finds a $5 bill in his bag. He knows enough to remove it before the general emptying. He knows the $5 bill is a good thing, that it is beyond the expectation for such an occasion, and certainly would not be overlooked at sharing time, so he puts it in his pocket. That is how we operate. Jesus is not saying that it's bad, nor that it's good. He's saying the kingdom of heaven is like that.

What does that mean? The man in the parable placed a great deal of value on what he found in that field. He did not expect to find it. Suddenly it was there. Jesus says he was delighted with it. He valued it so much he buried it, then went and bought the field. The point of the parable is, what would delight us like that? The answer Jesus expects is eternal life. That's why He says The kingdom of heaven is like this. Nothing makes life quite so sweet as the prospect that death is only the beginning of something better. The sun shines brighter, food tastes better, water is sweeter, sleep is more refreshing when you look forward to a happy eternity. That's the great treasure, not just in Jesus' time but now as well. All of Mammon's goodies can't come close. Our old friend, the planet earth, is marked for destruction, not because of global warming -- after all the sign of the rainbow meant that God would never again use water to destroy all flesh, but the planet is on borrowed time. Spirituality is no help unless it is connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The devil is also a spirit.

Now what did the man in the parable do? He sold everything he had to buy that field. There's the rub, isn't it? We know the cost of the field, therefore we know that we lack sufficient assets to purchase it, or sufficient equity to provide collateral for it. The only acceptable equity is righteousness, and of that commodity we are terribly short. We cannot buy this treasure, but would God be willing to lend it to us? No need for that. He made it a Christmas gift. He arranged for His Son to become incarnate, to fight the battle for our liberation through obedience, temptation, and suffering.

The Gospel assures us that Jesus gives all the benefits of His victory to those who trust Him. We might not be able to own the field, because unlike the man in the parable, we have no assets to convert. We have no control over the world or anything in it. Everything we see is on loan, to be returned at the Owner's demand, but the answer is, God still offers us the treasure. That's the position in which we find ourselves. So is there anything we can do that corresponds to buying the field? God challenges us instead to believe that the most important things are free, not only free but available now. The New Jerusalem is built and ready for permanent habitation. It is beautiful, comfortable, and completely secure. Maybe He isn't ready for us to move there just yet, but He wants us to think of it as home. We are citizens first and foremost of the kingdom of God. We can begin by trusting God for material things, putting away anxiety, withdrawing from the rat race, depending on One who is utterly dependable.

In this sense, trusting in Jesus corresponds to buying the field, even though it is free. Faith in Jesus makes our treasure available to us the way buying the field made the treasure in the parable available. It assures us of peace with God. Furthermore, it is important to nourish and maintain that trust by receiving Absolution for our sins, and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood. We cultivate that faith by daily repentance, hearing the Word of God, reaffirming daily the reality that Jesus died and rose again.

The devil hates this. He tries to convince us that "reality" is the bus on the corner, the smog over the city, the baby crying, the terror stories in the news, whatever will lead us to cynicism and skepticism. Those things are real, to be sure, but they are the smallest part of reality. They're not the most important part. The most important part is that God planned everything to come out right, then carried out the plan, although at great cost to Himself. He is the Owner and the Giver. The Apostle tells us it is more blessed to give than to receive. God is blessed above all, for He gives all, and because His Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of His Son, we can also give. The difference is first we have to receive a lot. We give only what we have been given. By grace, the source of all good is secure, and flows forever, so we can trust Him for it all. AMEN.


~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, August 10, 2015

Our "enlightened" society is darker than the ancient ever was

WE HAVE NEGLECTED THE BIBLE

Josiah had stepped into a dreadful position.   He was eight years old when he became the king.  He had to rule over a kingdom where Manasseh had had things his own way for 55 years.  Manasseh had only been twelve when he began to reign, so he had been King of Judah for the first half of the seventh century, from 697 to 642 BC.  One might summarize those years by looking at chapter 21 verse 9 --he led the people astray so that they became more evil than the original Canaanites.  How could a king lead a whole nation astray like that?  It's easy if you don't have the Word of God.  Judah had neglected the Word for centuries.  In the Lord's temple were shrines to Baal and Astarte, altars to the signs of the Zodiac, and cult prostitutes -- but no Bible.  Josiah was a conscientious young man who loved his people, but he was ignorant of God's Law . He was open to hearing it, so when he had an opportunity he listened.  A wonderful thing happened as a result.  As surely as Manasseh turned Judah away from God, Josiah strove to bring them back.

All around us is a culture as bad as, if not worse than, what Manasseh had bequeathed to Josiah.  Our leadership alliance of the entertainment industry, the publishing industry, and the media, assisted by a willing government, goes out of its way to protect the practice of sodomy, forbids children to be taught the scientific fact of God's existence, supports an educational establishment which is the greatest hindrance to real learning in all history, and ridicules good manners.  The whole culture sneers at traditional values.  Whether we see twelve-year-olds acting from ignorance, because their parents failed to teach them good manners, or forty-year-olds acting from contempt because they rejected the manners their parents taught them, both are equally to blame for what has happened.  Of course everybody watches too much television.  Consider also the increase in vulgar language, or carelessness, or the way people answer phones.  Traditional values are in jeopardy.

It wasn't just the secular society either.  Josiah found the religious establishment catering to impurity and lust.   While all the normal hanky-panky was going on, there was added to it cult prostitution, which was really a form of magic, witchcraft.  There were idolatrous feasts, and I am not exaggerating about this last one, even the sacrifice of human children.  Does that remind you of Planned Parenthood?  How did God's chosen people get so evil?  They were ignorant of the Word.  What's more, Manasseh had made an unholy alliance with the Assyrians, a dominant political power in the Middle East, which committed Judah to paying tribute.  He said it would help the economy, but nobody was any happier for it.  If you get your information from the public media, you are doubtlessly learning how much better off you are with free trade and diversity, even though those are strategic liabilities.  The Assyrians in our world are international banks and corporations who are slowly enslaving everybody else, which raising a second generation in the bliss of being unable to think.  At least the Jews had Josiah.  We have no public figure who will lead people to the Bible as it ought to be interpreted, according to the Rule of Faith.

God had intended for His house to be a house of prayer for the nations.  There He had commanded His musicians to sing and play divinely-inspired Psalms, His elders to read from Moses and the Prophets, His High Priest to perform the atonement of Yom Kippur, and that His people should inquire of the priest who used the urim and thummim.  In that sacred house God had ordained that the blessing of Aaron should dismiss the people on their way.  He wants His houses of worship today to be springhouses of the Fountain of Life.  Here He grants forgiveness, gathers His people to remember the Incarnation of His Son, listens to their praises, and to the petitions they bring to their Father, encourages them by Christian sermons, and offers the Savior's Body and Blood.  How do we know that God wants those things?  Because He tells us in the Bible.  How do we know that He despises preachers who say that all religions are the same, that He frowns on self-help groups and bingo nights, that He grieves over laxness of discipline in His churches?  In Josiah's time false prophets taught all those things.  If our churches are sliding into the super-highway instead of climbing the narrow sheep-path, it's because we have neglected the Bible.  Welcome to Cleveland, where your taxes built a $200,000,000 stadium, your lake front airport spends the 4th of July as the circus maximus, and your neighbors spend far more on videos than on Bibles and things that edify.

Don't say that the Bible doesn't address your needs.  You don't know what your needs are.  The fundamental needs of all men have not changed since Adam.  Our Lord was a True Man, by which we do not mean He was an ignorant pre-modern.  To think of Jesus that way is to hold Him in contempt.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will not.

Josiah was willing to listen to God's Word.  At the age of twenty-six he began a major restoration project for the temple, which by then was 350 years old.  One of the construction crew came up with an old scroll.  God had watched over that scroll all those years, protecting it from Manasseh, until a king could come that God could trust.  The workmen showed the scroll to the high priest, Hilkiah, who immediately consulted with Shaphan, the scholar, who agreed that this was the Law of God.  When the king heard the Law, he used it as a basis for a thorough reformation - getting rid of the idols, turning from the immorality, stopping the child sacrifice, and re-instituting the Passover.  Just as God wants us to remember His saving acts in Christ today, so He wanted the Jews to remember His saving acts during the Exodus.  That is why celebrating Passover was so important.

Like Josiah, today's church needs to listen.  We have more than He had.  We know the fulfillments of the prophecies.  We know the real Passover Lamb who was crucified for us.  We know the real Sabbath, the Lord of the Sabbath who fulfilled its mandatory rest in death, and fulfilled its ending by rising again.  We know the real passage through the water, the passage into the kingdom of God by the washing of regeneration.  We know the real High Priest, who offered His blood to make atonement.  We know the true king, the Messiah whose kingdom will never end. If Josiah could reform Judah armed only with the Law and the Prophets, imagine what we could do when we add to that the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The power of the Bible is its testimony to Jesus Christ.  That is why it has such miraculous power over human souls, and that is why our society needs to hear it, to be brought under its benign influence.  Begin with the smallest society, your family.  Study the Bible and observe its transforming influence.  Then attend the more formal classes your church offers, and volunteer to improve educational programs wherever you are.   Everyone needs the hope we have in Jesus.  We would not have that hope but for the Bible. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, August 3, 2015

God Restores Us to Himself

THREE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES OF GOD



For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness.  He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.  Psalm 33:5-6


TODAY we will learn three qualities about the Lord who loves us gave Himself for us; the God who abides with us now in holy communion and who we will abide with for eternity.  Don't doubt it, dear Christians.  In spite of many transgressions your eternity is sealed by the New Testament made in the blood of your Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

It is good to know all we can about the Living God so that we will not be uninformed worshipers, like Muslims who bend ignorant knee to a false god filled with fear and trembling.  We, too, humbly prostrate ourselves before our God, but with knowledge, because we have learned to know His faithfulness, righteousness and justice.  These are the divine qualities we will consider this morning.

When we say that God is Faithful, we mean that He is true to Himself.  That He is who He is and all His works reflect His essential being.  He is "very good" so the garden He planted is likewise "very good."  The man whom He created from the "very good" dust is likewise "very good," a rational being created by the Living God to dwell in holy communion with Him.

We learn this from today's gospel lesson as well.   Jesus, too, was a man of dust!  "True man born of the Virgin Mary," but conceived by the same Spirit the Lord God infused into Adam's nostrils.  He wasn't created like Adam was but rather "begotten of the Father from eternity," so that true and essential God lived in human flesh in the Person of Jesus.

As such our Lord was faithful to who He is.  He taught heaven's word with such grace that people sat spell-bound for days, forgetting even the  most basic necessities of life because man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  And live they did!  But Jesus did not forget that the thousands who sat before Him were composed of dust, so he provided for the bodily needs.  He will provide for yours as well, so rest calm.  Do the work the Lord puts before you to do each day, whatever it may be, and rely on Him.  Your labor will not be in vain.

However, if we leave this miracle thinking only of bread for the belly, we leave money on the table and that's as bad a policy in religion as it is in business.  The reason that the feeding miracles enjoy such a commanding presence in the gospels is because they teach us not only about the Lord's power and love, but because they instruct us about the Eucharist.  If Jesus can turn "nothing"  into something with more left over than when He started, then He can also turn fear into confidence, weakness into strength and death into life.  The Eucharist does all this for us and more, because God is faithful, true to Himself and always does true works in and among us.

We also learn from the psalm that God loves Righteousness, but that word doesn't mean what you think it means.  In Biblical terminology Righteousness means that all things are working as God created them to work.  It was the default condition of things before sin entered the world.  The good man worked the good ground that sprouted good food.  It was pleasant to behold and provided the kind of satisfaction that pristine man needed.  Because God is faithful, He could do no differently.

In the same way our Lord Jesus Christ is Righteousness personified, who by the blood of His cross makes us righteous as well.  For holy scripture declares that we are "made righteous," restored to the image of God by faith apart from the deeds of the Law, for Christ is the end of the law to all who believe.  This is the holy faith breathed into us by the Holy Spirit in holy baptism;  a faith strengthened and perfected in us as we subsequently commune with God in worship, imbibing His Word with our ears and His sacrament with our tongues.

The Lord loves justice, but again let the buyer beware!  What men call justice is nothing more than common sense, for society cannot hold together if good people are not rewarded and the evil not punished.  The farther society strays from its Christian moorings, a transformation that is now nearly complete, the more unjust society becomes.  Theft is glorified and taught by example from the top down.   It discourages people from working, planning and saving.  It convinces them that gaming others is the best way to make a living, but don't be taken in, dear Christians, because God commands thou shalt not steal, and because St. Paul says, "Let him who stole steal no more, but let him do honest labor so that he might have something to give to those in need."

Because God is faithful, holy scripture says that He loves Justice, but God's justice is always poetic.  Thus we find in Exodus 20 that the penalty matches the crime.  An eye is to be extracted for an eye taken.  A tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot.  This is also why death was necessary to pay for human sin, because the Lord God decreed in the Garden that, "the day you eat of it you will surely die."  Thus, our Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, but by that death He gave us the most merciful gift of all:  eternal life in Him.

That, too, is in keeping with the steadfast love of God that endures forever, so men who died by a tree are revived again by a tree.  Those who died by eating are made alive by eating.  This is why the Holy Spirit called and gathered us together today, to be made alive.  O taste and see that the Lord is Good.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras