Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The epic battle for your life


Public Domain
At that time Michael shall arise, the great prince who has charge of your people.  And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.  But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.  Daniel 12:1

People are fascinated by the mysterious!  They love the occult.  They want seers to interpret their dreams and psychics to unlock the secrets of the future.  To be sure, superstition and blind faith are the marks of the world today, but Christians have their mysteries too.  Often they are mishandled by fringe denominations who torture the book of Revelation until it yields up fantastic stories.  In spite of the abuse, there are true Christian mysteries; a whole spiritual world going on around us that we cannot see except through a glass darkly, but it is not completely shrouded.  Scripture has clear truths to reveal to us, such as the ones we hear in today's Scripture lessons.

We learn today that our Lord Jesus Christ, along with the holy angels and the holy church, delivered his beloved creation from the tyranny of Satan.  We find that by His death He accomplished what the world's schemers are forever promising, that He purged the world of evil and restored that which is truly Good to us, and us to it.  When the prophet Daniel writes, "and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been..." he is not talking about the dreams of a Pentecostal preacher, but about all that our Lord would suffer to balance the cosmic scales, to remove the sting of our sins, to render Satan powerless to harm us.  Up until the time of our Lord's ascension into heaven, "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion..." (Eph.1:21), up until that time, Satan's power was great indeed!

It is the job of a prosecutor in a courtroom to show the defendant in the worst possible light, to question every motive, criticize every action, disparage every twitch.  In the same way Satan, whose name means "the Accuser," stood before the council of the Almighty accusing God's people of their sins day and night.  We learn this in the Book of Job, the Book of Zechariah and in today's epistle reading.  Now it is true that the devil is the "father of lies," but in the matter of our violations no fabrications are needed.  Every accusation he ever made against us was true.  If we open our catechisms to the Commandments, with their Christian explanation, we will find all that the accuser says to be accurate, and we will find something even more amazing, that St. Paul agrees with him!  He writes in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."  And again, "There is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Rom. 3:10)  However the long night of sin ended when Jesus was crucified for our sins.  It is not only the things that He suffered, ghastly as they were, that gained salvation for us, but the fact that these things were done to the One Who is holy, the One Who is without sin.  That is what made the difference.  That is  how "the obedience of One Man" is able to make "many righteous."  St. Paul writes that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures," and now, "it is finished!"  Sin is atoned for, all charges are dropped.  Our Lord was taken up into heaven, and this is where St. John takes the baton from Daniel.

St. John informs us that when Jesus ascended into heaven, a great battle took place.  Michael and his mighty angels drove Satan from the presence of God, which caused all of heaven to rejoice.  Now the accuser is gone from God's presence, and Jesus is seated at His right hand, not to charge us or to indict us, but as scripture states, to intercede for us, to plead His blood, the eternal sacrifice for us, to cover our sins and to grant us a constant flow of the pardon that He merited for us on the cross.

Yet there is more to the story.  Satan was ejected from the presence of God, but not to his final destination, which is the Lake of Fire.  According to St. John's visions he was cast down to the earth.  It is this fact that prompts the evangelist to write, "But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!"  We learn here that the Great War was moved from the precincts of heaven to the precincts of earth and the "great wrath" of the fiery dragon is everywhere evident.  As terrible as it is to live in the middle of a spiritual war zone, we need not be afraid.  The dragon is on tilt to be sure, for he knows that his time is short, and misery loves company, but he cannot snatch us from the Father's hand, of that we can be sure!

The angels who once routed the forces of evil still defend us today.  The Gospel of the Kingdom which was once preached by the seventy-two is still heralded today at Christ Lutheran Church, and has been for 124 years.  As a result, Satan further loses his grip.  He "falls like lightning" to use our Lord's words, and the world comes ever closer to the final consummation, to a true Golden Age; not one constructed by men and their futile efforts, but a new creation framed by the Almighty.  That is the Christian hope, that is the goal of our faith.  So today let us rejoice with the heavens and all that dwell therein.  Let us render praise and thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father, who has written our names in the Lamb's Book of Life, and who sends His Holy Angel to defend us.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

There is a reason why God repeats over and over

Copyright:  V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers
And he said, "Don't be afraid! For greater are those who are with us, than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed, "Oh LORD please open his eyes that he may see." And so the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 8:16-17

SCRIPTURE encourages us many times with the words, “don’t be afraid.” It tells us that the only thing we should fear is God Himself, but for Christians who have conquered the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb it is a holy fear; one that attracts rather than repels, one that leads us to love and to trust God above all things and to rest peacefully knowing that He will deliver us. This is the faith that Elisha possessed.

But if Scripture admonishes us so often not to be afraid there must be a reason. There must be many things that make us anxious. For Elisha’s servant it was a battalion of Syrian soldiers armed to the teeth. They wanted Elisha dead or alive because he had such a powerful gift of prophecy that he perceived even the Syrian battle plan in advance and told it to the king of Israel. When they discovered that he was in the city of Dothan they sent their best troops to surround the city. When Elisha’s servant saw the hoard of enemy troops he trembled with fear, but Elisha was worried not at all.

We, too, are surrounded by the ever present threats of sin, death and the devil. We know that to be the case, but we aren’t always aware of the different forms they take. Satan, for example, rarely shows up in a devil costume, and according to St. Paul can appear as an angel of light, when it suits his purposes.

Many of the threats come from the church, from the “false sons within her pale.” Rather than preach Christ crucified; rather than exalt the Word and the Sacraments which transmit salvation to us, these “synagogues of satan” justify sin. They discount Christ until He is nothing more than a nice person who teaches others how to be nice, but Jesus did not bless little children, or warn away any who would harm them, or provide Celestial Warriors to watch over them because He is nice, b
ut because He is God! because He is love! and because He is, as we sing in hymn 351, “all compassion!” The devil has his people outside the church too. On the street they deal drugs, on the internet they dispense pornography, in finance they advocate greed, in political office they promote worship of the state, and in entertainment they advance godlessness. Sin is also our constant enemy. Though our slate is clean before God by faith in Christ, we still have Flesh which produces a never-ending stream of malicious thoughts, words and deeds. These are as offensive to God as they are harmful to our neighbor, and so we must never cease to struggle against them. However, because we have this millstone hanging around our necks we should be all the more scrupulous, even fanatical, about our attendance at God’s House where our vices are absolved by absolution, and dissolved by the Sacrament. Death, too, makes us afraid; not only the final nail in the coffin, but all the tacks along the way: illness, aging, depression, addiction, poverty, crime, continual wars, endless disputes and the like.

What could Elisha possibly have known when he says to his young aid, and to all of us: don’t be afraid? Through the eyes of faith he saw what his servant could not, and what we cannot: a vast army of horses with chariots of fire greater in number and superior in power than the army that surrounded him. It was no mortal army that God sent to protect his prophet, or to protect us, dear Christians. Quite the contrary, the Lord of Armies sends warrior angels who are all-business, and who never fail to protect us from the otherwise unbeatable foe. It is by their tireless aid that God fulfills His promise to, “defend us against all danger and guard and protect us from all evil.”

Now chances are slim that we will ever see them with our own eyes, but what our eyes don’t see our hearts are taught to believe, so that under all circumstances we too can confess: greater are those who are with us, than those who are with them; or in the immortal words of St. Paul: if God be for us, who can be against us?

Consider too the many potent weapons God has graciously put at our disposal for the conduct of spiritual warfare. First we have Jesus who died and rose again in order to destroy the works of the devil and to defeat death, which Scripture calls “the final enemy”. We have the Sword of the Spirit which can fell the devil with one little word. We have one hundred and twenty three years of continual mercy poured out on Christ Lutheran Church which, since 1889, has provided new birth to the Lord’s little ones by the washing of regeneration; pardoned the sins of the penitent; filled the hungry with Good Things and conveyed to us every spiritual blessing in Christ. We have pastors and fellow Christians, singers and musicians, feasts and holy days, a rich fare of lessons, numerous prayers and hundreds of hymns to bless us and keep us at all times. And as if all this were not enough every Christian, adult and child alike, has his own personal guardian angel who is fully-prepared to visit the wrath of God on any who would harm us, mislead us or tempt us, the Lord’s little ones, into sin. Without doubt temptation must come, and there are many enemies who surround us, but whatever the opponent we can always rest confident in these words: don’t be afraid for greater are those who are with us than those who are with them. Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, September 28, 2015

Those little distractions


REMEMBER when you were young, and your Mom sent you on an errand?  What did she always say?  Go straight there and come straight home again.  Wasn't it easy to get sidetracked?  Tommy's mother told him to get the shoes fixed.  She put them in a bag and sent Tommy to the cobbler's shop.  Tommy had every intention of going there, but there were side streets to cross and as he looked down one he saw the ice cream truck.  That was one of his favorite things.  He ran over to it and excitement began to take over.  To get his money out he had to put the shoes down.  The line was short, so Tommy soon had his treat which he ate with great thanksgiving.  Then he went home, leaving the shoes in a bag on the curb.  You don't have to be a child to get sidetracked.  God has His own errand for every one of us.  He wants us in His home for all eternity.  That is the Pearl of Great Price for which we must be willing to give up everything else.  He wants us to be single-minded in carrying it out.  Every school, every family, every congregation has an errand from God to make certain that all the children and the adults belong to their heavenly Father.

You and I are not wandering strays.  We are the sheep of Jesus Christ, the people of God.  We know the voice of the Good shepherd.  We call Him Lord.  The staff that He holds up before us is the cross.  He has washed us all in Holy Baptism, the washing of regeneration, and rescued us from the power of Satan.  As you can imagine, that made Satan very angry, so he is now dedicated to luring us away from the Good Shepherd.  Here in God's house we can see things clearly.  That means we can see Satan for the ugly devil he is, but during the week, things look different and Satan comes by with his ice cream truck.  We don't want to stray.  We have every intention of going just a few steps down the side street, then coming right back, but we are flesh and blood.  Those are pretty big dogs to walk on leashes.  Give the flesh an inch and the next thing you know it' s twenty yards away.  Let's examine the figure St. Paul uses here when he speaks of "sowing to the flesh."  That is "sowing" with an "o."  In St. Paul's figure there are two fields side by side.  One is God's, the other belongs to our human nature.  What we plant in that second field gets rotten rather quickly and makes us rotten when we eat it.  What we plant in God's field gives a harvest of life and salvation.  It's a man-sized job to keep sowing in God's field.  There's always another ice cream truck calling us to a bit of self-indulgence, a bit of doubt, a bit of anxiety -- which Jesus in the Gospel lesson says makes us like grass in the field.  We intend to come back, but before we know it we're deep in the devil's field, and are not really sure how to get out.

Jesus will not leave us there.  He comes to get us armed with the cross, but that is a problem for the flesh.  The way of the cross is humiliating.  We must depend on Bleeding Charity.  Humility is excellent soil for the seed of faith, but it has to comfort for the flesh.  We have to forsake our treasured independence, and trust in the blood that Jesus shed for us.  In today's collect we ask God that His "continual pity cleanse and defend His Church."  It's not easy to ask for continual pity.  It takes humility to say have pity on me, Jesus, but everything else is a dead end.  Use your common sense.  It's dumb to stay at a dead end and not move.  You have to turn around.  Even if you don't like that direction, you have to turn around.  Now none of us meant to go to the dead end, but we followed some ice cream truck and that's where we landed.  We didn't mean to turn away from God.  We didn't mean to stray away from His supervision, but alas!  No one can have it both ways, so for 114 years God has placed His Word right here, where we are sure to find it, and has invited us to hear and learn it.  The Good Shepherd's voice has been sounding here, and the cleansing blood of Jesus has been our Fountain of Life.

Maybe we can make a deal, a compromise.  Could we contract with God for part of our allegiance?  That's why tithing is so popular.  Instead of seeking first the kingdom of God, we serve Him with 10% and Mammon with 90%.  We sow 10% in God's field then 90% to the flesh.  My friends, did Jesus teach us to pray 10% of Thy will be done?

Do we think Jesus is harsh because He wants our complete allegiance?  If we took a vote, I'm sure the majority would say that, but since Jesus makes the rules, what we think really doesn't matter.  Listen to the apostle's warning:  Do not be deceived; God will not be mocked.  Jesus will return, and when He does He will impose His values on everyone.  Of course you didn't set out to mock God, but we must be ever vigilant when it comes to Mammon.  Jesus calls us to the cross.  That will not make us popular.  It will not make us rich.  It will not give us thrills, but it will draw us to Jesus.  We can't help looking down the side streets, but the cross is the ramp that gets us back on God's road.

Will that escape always be there?  Here we come to an even worse anxiety.  Look in the mirror and what do you see?  Someone who isn't getting any younger.  Even school children have anxiety about that.  We have to admit that we have been trifling with God's grace and that we're going to be called to account for those millions of "just this onces."  But then, God never tires of forgiving.  Jesus will always by the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  His death never ceases to be the sacrifice for our sins.  His rising to life again shows us once more that we are saved, and Christ Church, standing here in the middle of the West Side, assures us that God's voice is still calling.  We need to repent for it to do us any good.  Beware the repentance that is incomplete, that plans another "just this once" for which it will repent again.  If we want to tithe our allegiance, we will find only anxiety, but if we really want forgiveness, the empty tomb of Jesus can dispel all anxiety as the morning sun burns way the fog.  He is our peace! 

Are you irritated because you can't have it both ways?  Stop and think about what "both ways" means.  Would you like to have 10% heaven and 90% hell for all eternity?  Even if heaven were the larger part, who wants any hell at all?  No, we want it one way, and that way is with all of our sins at the cross of Jesus.  At the end of that road are the open arms of a waiting Father.  His continual pity never stops.  The Holy Spirit pulls us straight.  He urges us to keep away from the side streets.  Focus on Jesus, on the cross to which you are called.  If you fall off, that's the way back on.  AMEN

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Friday, September 25, 2015

When we see that there is not enough to go around


For thus says the LORD the God of Israel, ‘The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” 1 Kings 17:14

ECONOMICS is nothing more than the study of how to allocate scarce resources most efficiently, or in plain English, how to get the most bang for our buck; and whether we realize it or not we make economic decisions all day long. Like so many Robinson Crusoes we all have a priority list for maintaining and improving our circumstances, and we spend our days allocating our limited resources to fulfilling it. At the top of the list are food, shelter and clothing. Once those are satisfied our list expands and we use up our remaining time and energy in getting the most for the least.

Of necessity we are all economists, but God is not, He does not have to be. He can waste all the time He likes because He is eternal, and all the resources He likes because he is almighty, so nothing is scarce to Him. With a word He can bring vast universes to life, and with nothing more than some sticks and water, flour and oil He can feed His children even in the middle of a famine. This is the comforting lesson we learn in today’s Old Testament text.

It was a bad time for Israel when Elijah lived, about 850 years before the birth of Christ. Under the influence of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel Israel left her First Love, the dear Husband who rescued her from slavery and made her His own radiant bride. She broke her holy communion with the Lord and whored after as many gods as Jezebel could supply, and there seemed to be no bottom to her infidelity! Even so we learn from the sacred record that God was patient with her in the extreme, that he forgave her transgressions and over-looked her sins far beyond the bounds that reason would dictate, but finally the time came to act, to get her attention before it was too late, before she passed the point of no return, and He sent Elijah to do the job. We don’t know much about this mighty prophet, but like Christ whom he foreshadowed, he suddenly appears in the fullness of time to speak God’s Word and to do battle with the forces of evil, before ascending into heaven alive.

His first official act was to declare a drought in the land. He told King Ahab that there would be no more rain until the people repented of their sins and proved the sincerity of their faith by living lives of humble service to God and man. It took three and a half years, but if something good came out this train wreck it was that the LORD sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath, to a helpless widow who was in the act of exhausting her last morsel before she and her son would lie down and die in sorrow. That was her fate except for one intervening factor: the word of the LORD that Elijah spoke. Though there was a drought in the land the first thing he did was to ask her for some water; and then as if to make the difficult impossible he presses her for a bite to eat as well. He did not do it to drive her over the edge, however, but to teach her a great lesson, that with God there is no scarcity – and what was true then is still so today, that even in a famine God will always feed His people.

We should remember this well because by all appearances the world is sinking into depression, and famine may soon be coming to a town near you. And the only way tiny faiths such as ours can bear up is by leaning on the promises of God, such as the ones we learn here, and in today’s gospel lesson as well where Jesus assures us that if God feeds the birds of the air, who neither plant, nor reap nor store in barns, He will all the more care for us whatever the challenge may be, but there’s another reason this lesson is so important: because God still uses these same elements – sticks, flour, water and oil – to feed the souls of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

In today’s Old Testament lesson we perceive a prophecy of the coming Christ and the salvation that He obtained for us by His suffering and death. The sticks correspond to the cross on which our Lord died in order to atone for the sins of the world. Like Israel of old we too have a roaming eye, a penchant for other gods. We too spend our lives like anxious gentiles, seeking the maximum pleasure for the least amount of trouble; so more than any other thing we need to have our sins continually washed away.

The water is baptism which binds us to Christ, and makes us heirs of every blessing.

The flour is the bread that Jesus blessed, broke and gave to His disciples with the words: take eat this is my body which is given for you for the forgiveness of sins. By His command the church repeats that blessing even today so that otherwise dying sinners might eat it and live.

The oil is faith. Without it no man can please God, but with it every promise God ever spoke becomes ours. We were given faith in baptism and it is strengthened in us whenever we receive the gifts of God in Christian worship.

And finally there is the Word of God and the sacraments which our Lord instituted. Without these the Lord’s Sacrifice would do us no good because we would have no way to know it or believe it, but as it is, these divinely appointed means transmit the full benefits of our Lord’s life, death and resurrection to us, and they will never run dry until the last sinner is safely on heaven’s shore.

One of the objections that scoffers over the centuries have raised against the Holy Eucharist is that if it truly were the body of Christ that it would long ago have been exhausted and Christ would no longer exist, but these are people who have never read today’s Old Testament lesson in which Elijah says, “the jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail," and who have never sung the words of today’s communion hymn which says in verse six, “Human reason though it ponder, cannot fathom this great wonder: that Christ’s body e’er remaineth, though it countless souls sustaineth.”

Yes, our needs are great for both body and soul, and our resources few, so let us join our hearts and voices in great thanksgiving today that: with God there is no scarcity; and that He feeds His people with food for the body and food for the soul and will never cease to do so. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Are you being led to believe that God loves you so much that you don't have to turn away from your sin?


DO you remember when people filled Cleveland Stadium - the one that closed in 1993 - to hear someone preach about Jesus? It happened when Billy Graham was here well over two decades ago now. That stadium seated more than 80,000 people. Such support for God's Word is hard to comprehend. How the prophet Jeremiah wished he had had an audience like that, but in his day nobody wanted to hear the Law or the Gospel. No one wanted to turn from his evil. I'm not saying that Billy Graham taught what we teach. He never did. He taught Evangelicalism, a message fraught with deficiencies. Nevertheless, God can use that message to bring some people to Jesus, which is not so easy when the surrounding culture has become a culture of unbridled hedonism. No such crowds came to hear Jeremiah. His was a lonely voice of truth against a whole society of lies and delusions. The royal prophets, hired by the king, shared the paganism, the wickedness, and the immorality of the people of Judah. They told their society that all would be well.

Just because we don't have kings doesn't mean we won't have pandering prophets. Today they are supported by the general public. Now before we go any further, let me say that today's sermon is not directed against Evangelicals. For the most part they name Jesus as the Messiah, and agree that He has come in the flesh. They are Trinitarian, and confess the Incarnation of the Son of God. We can only be glad about that. While they reject the Biblical teaching of Baptismal regeneration, and deny the need for absolution, for the most part they do condemn sin and proclaim God's mercy and grace. There are far worse false prophets about. We see them in the newspapers, on television, in our entertainment, and especially in the world of advertising for commercial purposes. They tell people that all will be well, without any need for repentance. They constantly call for peace when there is no peace. They want to build self-esteem in people, to re-image God so that He is no longer a Jealous God, to let the lost wander around in their inescapable darkness, to affirm everyone in his rebellion and sinfulness, to tolerate - you name it. What abomination do these people not call us to tolerate? They even ask us to tolerate sodomy. They chatter away their vain delusions, their faith anchored in the quicksand of humanity. Some say God is too good and kind to punish anyone forever. Do they not understand the wrath of love that is spurned? Anyone who does not call people to repentance glorifies sin. They condemn the holy Church because it is not jumping on their secular bandwagon supporting the cause of the day.

A true prophet condemns sin. He does not lead people to some misguided hope for a demythologized secular heaven where everybody is educated, has indoor plumbing, and doesn't need to fight for anything. Such a world is a vicious caricature of the kingdom of God. A true prophet has nothing but doom to offer those who refuse to repent.

Many years ago the Holy Spirit showed the prophets of Israel how the godless world powers of their day would meet their appointed doom. Consider Nahum, one of the Minor Prophets. His book is all of 47 verses, yet in 1923 archaeologists startled the world when their discoveries affirmed the accuracy of Nahum's predictions of Nineveh. His predictions were affirmed in 19 particular incidents of the siege. He had said that part of the city would be destroyed by water and part by fire. That was true. He predicted it would never be rebuilt. It has not been, yet all this accuracy only preached God's Law. Remember that beginning with Moses, all the prophets predict in great detail the story of Jesus. He would be of the Seed of Abraham, He would redeem us by His blood, He would begin His ministry in northern Israel, among the people who walked in darkness. The 16th Psalm predicted that He would not be dead long enough to decay.

Jesus of Nazareth, who fulfilled all this, was a Prophet in His own right. Did He ever tell anybody that all would be well? Yes, He pronounced beatitudes, but never did He say blessed are those who feel good, or blessed are the liars. Jesus called everyone to repentance. He called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He promised to feed us His very flesh, which He ultimately laid on the altar of the cross. He told His disciples He would be crucified and rise again. If ever there was a prophecy that was hard to fulfill it was that one, yet Jesus did it. The Gospel of Jesus that offers you the forgiveness He purchased can indeed turn you from your wickedness and bring you to faith in Him. Jeremiah was a type of Jesus in his rejection. Jesus was rejected and despised by those He came to save. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern, Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb. Jeremiah was delivered from the cistern, and Jesus rose from His tomb. Jeremiah was a true prophet because he pointed to Jesus. All the other prophets of Judah served Zedekiah, the evil king. So today, the church of Jesus Christ points to Him. All the other prophets point to the world and humanity, which are altogether vanity.

The Word of God brings the atonement Jesus earned to you, to me, to all who listen to it, and the Sacraments are part of that Word, the visible part, for Baptism gives sinners the Holy Spirit, while Holy Communion helps those who are already Christians to grow in holiness. The sheep and lambs of Christ have so much to feed on, such wholesome pasture in His promises and in the actions He ordained to accompany them. Let the false prophets remake God into man's pitiful image. Genuine prophecy points to Jesus, not to Jesus the Teacher, but to Jesus the Sacrifice, crucified and risen to redeem us from sin and death. The heaven He promises us will never end. Because of the cross your sins are forgiven. Under that cross death and the devil lie conquered. With the sign of the cross imprinted on your heart you have peace with God, and assurance that yours is the kingdom of God. True prophecy today is the Christian preaching that calls you to repentance and leads you to the cross. True prophecy is parents who read the Bible to their children, bring them to Holy Baptism, sit with them in God's house, and set an example of holy living. True prophecy is a church that brings the comfort of redemption to all the troubles of life, that sets the love of God before everybody. The true prophet does not ask you to sacrifice your personality like a cult leader would. He seeks to make the most of your personality by bringing you to your King. AMEN.

Rev Lloyd E. Gross

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Our attitudes may not hurt only hurt ourselves but others as well.


Everyone with an arrogant attitude is a disgusting thing to the LORD. Be sure of this: that person will not go unpunished. Through steadfast love and faithfulness, iniquity is atoned for, and through the fear of the LORD a person turns away from evil. Proverbs 16:5-6

IF we ever think that we are pretty good people and that God is our peer or good buddy, we need to read the Book of Proverbs, which names the sins of men in plain terms, and follows the thread of iniquity that runs through even our best plans.

In his book Solomon catalogues the spectrum of sinful attitudes that infect us all. At the low end of the range there is the gullible person. He is untaught and ignorant of the things of God so he bumbles through life making one mistake after another, unable to serve God or man. Though he is not innocent in the sight of God as people sometimes suppose, he is the least harmful. Next is the lazy person, the one who thinks that the world owes him a living and expects other people to do his work for him. Solomon predicts that this person will suffer poverty and starvation and come to no better an end than the gullible man. There are other categories that the son of David indexes in his book as well: there is the fool, the stubborn fool, the complete fool and finally the arrogant person. He is the one who, by sinful blindness, places himself above God like Lucifer did and will receive the same judgment.

Which one of these people are you? Save the answer for private confession, but know this: that while we are all fools to one degree or another (depending on the day), there is only One who is wise, One who is merciful and faithful, the One who is greater than Solomon; Jesus Christ our dear Lord and God who gave His life to atone for the sins of the world.

What sins you may ask? Today’s epistle lesson gives us an example. In it St. Paul makes reference to an episode from Numbers chapter twenty-five in which God’s people were lured into worshipping the fertility gods of the surrounding nations. Their religious rituals consisted of gluttonous, drunken banquets, followed by unbridled orgies in which they gratified every desire of the flesh. For pagans to do such things is one thing, but it was altogether improper for the people of God to do the same: to eat the food that God gives without recognizing its source, giving of thanks, using its blessings to serve Him, and without perceiving the larger sacramental lesson: that every meal is a gift from God that should remind us of the holy communion we have with Christ in the sacrament, and of the everlasting banquet to which we were invited the hour we first believed, that is, the day we were baptized.

But the Old Adam asks: How can faith and baptism do such great things? Is not baptism simply ritualistic water? Is not faith merely a state of mind designed to help us get through the tough times? Not at all! Faith is the means by which we apprehend Christ and make all the benefits of His atonement our own, and faith is given to us as a gift in baptism. Without our Lord and His sacrifice these would be empty things, but they are not with Christ; quite the opposite indeed. The Father, whose love for His fallen creation is steadfast and immovable and whose faithfulness is bigger than our sin and whose “foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men,” gave His Son to be the propitiation of our sins; to do what no man could do, and to go where no other could go. He took onto Himself our sinful pride, our foolishness, laziness, lust and rebellion, and made Himself responsible for all of our debts; a responsibility which led Him to indescribable suffering, shame, humility and death by crucifixion. The price our Lord paid for our sins was so terrifying that in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He prayed, and as He asked His closest friends to stay close by and not to leave Him, Scripture records that He sweat great drops of blood at the thought of the cup He was about to drink. We know that “man’s cruelty to man” produces undreamed of suffering in the world. Maybe you have seen it, experienced it, or been privy to it as part of your vocation, but no man ever suffered more than this Man. Why should the holy and innocent Son of God suffer so intensely, so intolerably? Because He was paying the price of the world’s iniquity, averting our doom, quelling the wrath of the Law and insuring our redemption and our glory.

As we learned about the folly of men in today’s epistle lesson, today’s “Parable of the Unjust Steward” presents with a wise man. Many people are uncomfortable with this parable because it appears as though the Lord is commending his dishonesty, but He is not. What He is praising by this story is a man who thinks ahead and makes intelligent plans to insure his future well-being. He uses an earthly example to teach the heavenly lesson: that we should apply our hearts to the wisdom of holy Scripture which makes us wise unto salvation by faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The business of living consumes us, our sinful desires drive us, and like Israel of old we are easily lured to fall in love with the world, with the moment, with life’s passing pleasures and to believe the world’s propaganda. As one Country Song says: I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time. These so-called “good times” may salve our psyches and dull our pain for a moment, but they cannot satisfy our souls. They cannot give us divine confidence in the face of fear, or joy in the midst of sorrow. Only the Word of God and the wisdom which comes down from above can turn us from evil, teach us to pursue holiness, and finally bring us to a blessed end. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, September 20, 2015

If we already believe, why do we still ask God to save us?


Rescue and preserve us that we may not be lost forever but follow You rejoicing in the way that leads to eternal life. (collect for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost)

THE prayer we pray each Sunday called the Collect, has been with the church for the greatest part of her existence, yet very few people know where it came from or why we pray it.  In brief, the Collect sets the tone for each Sunday of the church year.  It gathers all that God's people hope and pray for this day into one concentrated prayer, so let us take some time to think about the petition we prayed a few minutes ago.

The first thing that jumps out at us and feels like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, are the words, "that we may not be lost forever."  In the Lutheran faith we preach the Law and the Gospel which are the two chief doctrines of scripture, but we major on the Gospel.  It is the prevalent message of our liturgy from invocation to benediction.  It is the glad assurance of God's never-ending love, the good news that keeps us coming back week after week so that wild horses could not keep us away.

But why this jolting prayer then, "that we may not be lost forever?"  Is there any doubt that we will be saved?  Is there any question that we are reconciled to God through Christ our Lord, or that when we close our eyes here on earth that we will open them up in the glory of heaven?  If there is we might just as well fold up our tent and go home now, for uncertainty can be found anywhere, but the assurances we obtain in this holy house, good promises made to us by God who cannot lie, they are precious and rare.  No, there is no question of our salvation.  The Bible reassures us that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, not because we are good or brilliant people, not because we invited Jesus into our hearts or prayed a sinner's prayer, but because God is good and because His mercy endures forever.

Yet, we do have a problem, namely, the Old Adam who is corrupt through and through.  He cannot be reformed or improved, but only put to death by the Law, so the church preaches the Law, even to Christians, not to take away their assurance, but because fear is the only language that the old man understands.  As such, petitions as we hear in today's Collect, while painful to our new nature, serve to beat down the sin that dwells within us; to make Old Adam go back into hiding, to crawl back into the dark hole he came from, so that we might rise up each day to serve God in righteousness and purity forever.

Lest we despair, let us remember the rest of the Collect, "rescue and preserve us."  We learn how this prayer is answered in today's Scripture lessons.  In our Old Testament reading the Lord says, "I, myself, will rescue my sheep...I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them...and I, the LORD, will be their God..."  We know that Ezekiel was not referring to King David here, because in the last verse of his famous 119th Psalm David writes, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments."  No, the Lord was not referring to the historical David but to the Son of David, to our Lord Jesus Christ, the one, true Shepherd of Israel Who shepherds Joseph like a flock.  The one who God raised from the dead, who still finds lost sheep, still carries them on His shoulders, and still leads them to eternal life.

This is what we are doing at this very time, following our Lord and rejoicing in the way that leads to eternal life, but we should remember once again that such "following" and "rejoicing" as we pray for here has two parts to it.  There is the faith of the heart and mind that rejoices in the things that God has prepared for those who love Him, that takes up the cross in hope each day, and single-mindedly follows Jesus.  It is a faith that is with us day and night, in good times and in bad, when we feel it and when we do not.  It is always there upholding us, trusting in God whatever the circumstance, because God Himself put it there and keeps it there. 

However to be a Christian is not only a matter of the heart, but a matter of the body as well.  Like the tax collectors and sinners in today's gospel lesson, we too must draw near to Jesus, to meet Him where He wishes to be found.  It involves doing things that are done in no other venue.  Where else, for example, do we openly confess that we are poor and miserable sinners and acknowledge that we deserve God's present and eternal punishment?  Where else do we allow a fellow sinner to stand before us, absolve us our sins, and dare to believe that what he says on earth is binding in heaven?

Yes, being a Christian involves mind, heart, and body:  good order, and pious motions such as bowing, kneeling, closing our eyes and opening our lips to receive the flesh and blood of the living Lord, so that we who are outwardly wasting away might be inwardly renewed, day by day, and prepared for the life of the world to come.  Though it is incomprehensible to us now, the Lord informs us in today's gospel lesson that there is an innumerable heavenly audience watching the drama of earth unfold; an audience of saints and angels that rejoices as often as we draw near to Jesus, humbly repent our wrongs and receive the good gifts of God with faith.  This is the highest form of worship there is, to trust God and to receive His good gifts in Christ, to rejoice and to follow the Good Shepherd in the way that leads to eternal life.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hard times? Don't look to the government to help. God blesses His people with his WORD


And the Lord said to Moses, "Say to Aaron and to his sons, Thus shall you bless the sons of Israel: you shall say to them, the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you His peace. Thus they shall place my name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them. Numbers 6:22-27

WE are all fortunate to be here this morning. Generally people who come to church come for the right reason. There is no societal expectation as there was at an earlier time in our history. Today if people are here, it is to receive the blessing God’s Word imparts; not just the benediction as we leave, but the Word of God, which from start to finish, constitutes our gathering together. But even if some still come for the wrong reason we are all fortunate to be here because we all need God’s blessing. And wherever the Gospel is preached in its truth and purity, and the sacraments administered in accordance with Christ’s command, God’s blessings for us in Christ abound.

Now it is a fact that we all need what this benediction gives, and it is the apex of arrogance to think that we can cruise through life and conquer every enemy by our own devices. It is a fallacy to think that all power and ability resides within us, that life will be pleasant for as far as the eye can see, and that death is so distant a specter that we need not even think about it, but that’s the way many think today. People – in a giant step back towards the pagan darkness that enveloped this land before the Gospel came – consider that the earth and the environment are the font of every blessing. They look, too, to the endless array of goods and services that the economy produces and rejoice to find a solution to every problem, a joy for every sorrow, a pill to still every ill; and if all else fails people – again taking a giant step backwards, and with complete disregard for history – trust that the government is the problem-solver of last resort.

God’s Old Testament people needed His blessing to get them through a very bad time. Two years before the Lord instituted this blessing, God’s people had escaped the slavery of Egypt. They shuttered at the magnitude of God’s wrath as he visited the 10 plagues on Egypt. They trembled as the angel of death went house to house, field to field, barn to barn, killing the first born son of every man and animal in Egypt, and the howls of despair that spread across the land would not soon leave their ears. Though they were protected by the blood of the Lamb painted on their door, which was a prophecy of the blood of Christ shed on the cross and painted on us in baptism, such wholesale death and despair affected them deeply. They would not soon forget the goodness nor the severity of God; neither should we. (Rom. 11:33)

No sooner had they left the relative security of Egypt than they found themselves in the Arabian wilderness, a place so hostile to life that only the wildest and fiercest of animals dwelled there. There the Lord formally took a census of the people and organized them into military divisions. There He had them build a portable church called the Tent of Meeting, one so theologically elaborate that it would put many modern sanctuaries to shame. He also assigned divisions of labor to each part of the Levites, the priestly family. He gave them laws to follow, set up a judicial system and expected them to live there for the next 38 years trusting that He would provide them with all they needed to thrive in this inhospitable wilderness. We could safely say that God’s people needed every scintilla of grace that God
was willing to give them, and so do we!

While our situation may not be as desperate as those of the church in the wilderness, they are bad enough, and if you are paying attention you know that hard times are coming to the whole world, and to America as well. No longer will this once favored land be exempt from the hopelessness that plagues much of the planet. Poverty, despair and desperation have been growing for a long time on our shores, and now are ripe for the picking. Life will become infinitely more complicated for us all. How all that plays out we shall see. Your pastor has no crystal ball.

But there is one thing that any pastor can promise, namely, that the trials sponsored by the devil, the world and flesh will become more and more difficult to withstand. While a disciplined person can get a world class education for the cost of an internet connection; or a motivated person can use modern technology to carve out a handsome living; a person can also become depraved with internet pornography so that he is a danger to everyone around him, like the crazed demoniac in Mark chapter five, who lived in cemeteries, and who though he was alive, was dead, until Jesus blessed him! Until Jesus restored him to his right mind!

We fall prey to many sins besides. We judge ourselves superior to others; we are busybodies always ready to help others pull the speck from our brother’s eye, while ignoring the beam that is lodged in our own. And even when we come to our senses, confess our sins, receive absolution and resolve to put our hope in God, the wait for His mercy seems too long; and it feels as if nothing that God promises can be compared to the sufferings of this present time, but O, how wrong we are because St. Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us." Jesus is that glory. He is the Word of God made flesh, who blesses us with every spiritual blessing. He is the one who was crucified for our sins, and raised again for our justification. He is the one who blesses the sons of Adam and the sons of Aaron with victory over death and the devil. He is the one who “keeps” us, that is to say protects and defends us against all danger to body and soul.

In Christ we see the face of God smiling upon us, a countenance that like “the light of the sun is sweet and pleasant for the eyes to behold” (Eccles. 11:7); a smiling face, full of grace that in spite of our many sins and failures, still loves us and sends the rays of His mercy into our hearts to cleanse them, calm them and to soothe them with the sure promise of His goodness and mercy.

Yes, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the Word that blesses us, the Word that lifts up His countenance upon us and gives us peace, which is the sum of all good which God sets and prepares and establishes for His people, not just for the hour we spend together here in His House, communing with Him in flesh and blood, but by means of this benediction, all the good we experience here goes with us and accompanies us at all times and in all places. Christ is your brother, you are safe. Amen.

 Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Cross


For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles. 1 Corinthians 1:22

TODAY we celebrate the feast of the Holy Cross and an explanation is in order.  Holy Cross is an ancient festival in the Western church and it comprises a whole season of the church year for the Eastern church, but for Lutherans it is relatively new.

Tradition says that in the year 326 St. Helen, mother of emperor St. Constantine, went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and there discovered the true cross of the Lord.  It further states that she ordered a church to be built, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which still stands today, and on this date, September the 14th, the true cross was enshrined in it to stir up the faith and devotion of  Christ's holy people.

Though Lutherans are late to the party, it is good that we should add such a celebration to our religion's repertoire.  The eternal truths of our faith never change, neither do the promises of God, but the configuration of our religion does morph over time.  It happens at a snail's pace, which is the right pace, but happen it must.  You might think of it as a man progressing through life.  He evolves from infancy to adulthood.  He changes in appearance, knowledge and skills, but he is the same man.  Likewise, the configuration of our faith also evolves, but it is the same faith.

Because of the worship wars that Lutherans suffered in the last 40 years, many people battened down the hatches and refused any change.  It was a counter measure to the sudden and strange practices foist upon them by uninformed, ill-taught and vain-glorious pastors.  It was a strategy, a form of resistance, but after all these years it seems that we live in a new normal: that those who want "the praise of men" (John 12:43) are going to do what they are going to do, and the church is going to do what she does, so that she can again move forward and accept thoughtful change.  Celebrating Holy Cross day is one of those modifications, and a good one.

Now in one sense, every Sunday is a celebration of the Holy Cross because St. Paul writes, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He returns."  That is the chief concern of the Christians:  the divine proclamation that God saved the world from death by death -- the death of our Lord on the cross.

Yes, it is certainly "foolishness" to those who are perishing, and "scandalous" to our frightened flesh, but to those who are saved, who boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in their sacramental connection to it:  Christ!  The power of God and wisdom of God!

It is our faith that the Lord, by His death on the cross, assumed the penalty for the sins of all people great and small, that by the cross He draws mankind away from the sins that condemn them, from ingratitude and self-pity that marked Israel in the wilderness then, and mark us in the wilderness today.  He draws them away from the Fiery Serpent, away from the world's twisted delusions and deadly enticements, away from self-destruction and self-righteousness to Himself, and to the abundant life that He is and gives.

It is our faith that He spares us from future judgment, a benefit of the cross that will loom larger for you as you age and take on greater meaning as you pass through the dangers of life.  What John Newton says in the hymn is correct, "through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; 'tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will bring me home."

It is also our faith that He shields us from sin's debilitation effects each day of our lives by displays of great mercy.  When there are enemies to the left, enemies to the right, no way forward and no way back; He opens the Red Sea and brings you safely through and drowns your foes in the trap they set for you.

The Psalmist is the one who assures that:  He does not punish us as our sins deserve, but rather that as a father pities his children, so the Lord has mercy on those who fear Him.  Indeed the situation is exactly as the catechism states:  that He has given me my body and soul, my eyes, ears and all my members and "still takes care of them."

These and all other blessings spring from the Cross and the Lord who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His holy life as a ransom for many.  You are those many!  At baptism your eternal life, everlasting health and unending joy have already begun.  By the eyes of faith we can descry, and exuberantly embrace that future day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  (Revelation 21:4)

This is why, like St. Paul, we boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is why, though Christian worship features both Law and Gospel, it is the gladness of the gospel that predominates in the Christian congregation, a gladness that resides in the our hearts and minds, but is also discernible to the senses by all that the church is and does:  the sanctuary, the colors, the sounds, the pageantry, the joyful acclamation as God's people sing out their beloved hymns, the water, the word, the bread and wine.  As one young child said to his mother upon leaving the altar:  Mommy, I can smell Jesus' blood on your breath.

This is our heritage, not by decree of the World Bank or the World Health Organization, but because of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which, "I am crucified to the world, and world to me."  (Galatians 6:14)  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sufficient for the Day is it's Own Evil


Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own evil. Matthew 6:34

The world is very evil, and we dare not deny it!  Elijah knew it!  If you think things are bad today in America, or in the LCMS, they were worse in Elijah’s day.  King Ahab had ascended to the throne of Israel and was more evil than all the kings before him.  Not only did he continue in the sins of his father, but he introduced new ones, darker ones and more rebellious ones, which drew the judgment of God as sin always does.  He nationalized the worship of the god Baal because he thought it would be politically expedient for Israel’s relations with her neighbors, but Jesus says,” no man can serve two masters.”  We cannot serve God and Mammon, Jesus and the many cultural idols of the day.  Ahab married Jezebel who was the daughter of the neighboring king of Sidon.  It was a match made in hell, and Jezebel did all in her power to destroy true worship and persecute the LORD’s prophets so that the true Church had to go into hiding to survive.  With Jezebel’s inspiration Ahab normalized the worship of Asherah, the near eastern fertility goddess in which sex was the chief attraction.  Under Ahab and Jezebel Israel became like the modern day Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) which we can no longer call Evangelical, Lutheran or Church.  “Sufficient for the day is it’s own evil.”

But God cannot be mocked.  In retribution He stopped up the skies so that it didn’t rain for three years, which in an agricultural economy meant death.  It would be the equivalent in our day of having no crude oil for the next three years.  Lives were lost and misery was multiplied.

“Sufficient for the day is it’s own evil.”  Elijah knew it, and so did St. Paul.  He wrote a letter to the Galatian church, amazed that she had so quickly abandoned the Gospel of “salvation by grace” for “another gospel,:  (Galatians 1:6) one which glorified men instead of Christ, one which depended on man’s performance for the forgiveness of sins instead of Christ crucified;. (Galatians 6:14) one which cut men off from Christ, and made them fall from grace.  (Galatians 5:4) We have those kinds of “gospels” today as well.  Not only in the ELCA or on television but in LCMS as well.

“Sufficient for the day is it’s own evil.”  Elijah knew it, Paul knew it, and Jesus knew it too.  He didn’t come into a pretty world to congratulate it on a job well done.  He didn’t “deliver us from the present evil age, by the will of God the Father,” (Galatians 1:4) in order to teach us how to make the world more “just.”  These are only socialist dreams which the church must regularly expose because of their strong appeal to our egos; egos which want to deny the reality of sin and its consequences, and have heaven on earth instead, but Jesus tells us that the days are filled with evil.  Elijah knew it, Paul knew it, Jesus said it and we must learn to believe it too.  We often hear the refrain today that things are getting worse.  It’s true that technology has increased our capabilities to do evil.  A single internet porn site can destroy a thousand souls.  A single college can poison the minds, and de-rail the faith of ten-thousand students.  It’s also true that the information super-highway, which delivers a steady stream of bad news to the smart phone in our pockets, could make us think that evil is more prevalent today than in former times, but things are not getting worse.  Things are as they’ve always been, and always will be, until Jesus returns to fully and finally rescue us from this present evil age.  Corrupt political, financial, and yes, ecclesiastical institutions insure it, and so does our own never-ending quest to sow to the flesh.

You can’t fix evil or legislate evil out of existence.  Those who say otherwise are con-artists, who in the name of saving us will destroy us.  Don’t believe the lies, Beloved, instead hear the Word of God and live.

Food, drink and clothing are easier to obtain than the pure Word of God, but the Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ is far from dead!  Far from lost!  Far from finished!  Jezebel couldn’t kill it and neither can the combined forces of evil today.  The Cross of Christ still towers over the wrecks of time, bears the burdens of our sins, and soothes our troubled hearts.

The good news on this 15th Sunday after Trinity is that the Word of God is more than adequate to meet our needs, absolve our transgressions, comfort us in sorrow, strengthen us when tested, and show us the vision of a perfect tomorrow worth waiting for and living for today.   We are concerned about many things, but Jesus says to us: don’t be anxious about tomorrow.  Instead seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.  It’s not a command.  It’s not a positive suggestion meant to trick us into tranquility, nor is it a challenge to live a more sanctified life.  Instead it is a mighty promise of God. Whenever we hear the voice of our Shepherd we receive what can be thought of as a spiritual vaccination, a spiritual flu shot if you like, against all that might harm us, trouble us or disturb the Peace that Christ is within us.  The Word enters our ears, from there it goes into our minds, and lodges in the core of our being to make us “strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10) however evil the days may be.

The Word of reconciliation first came to us in baptism where we are “born again by water and the Holy Spirit.” (John 3:5) It comes to us today as modern day Elijah’s proclaim the Good News of sins forgiven for Christ’s sake.  We receive it when, after confessing our wrongs, the pastor declares:  I forgive you all your sins, go in peace.  We receive it in holy communion in the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  By those words, and by the Lord’s own body and blood, we are as miraculously sustained the same way that Elijah, the widow and her son were twenty eight centuries ago.  The oil and flour of God’s Word never runs out.  No amount of sin can exhaust it, and no quantity of evil can equal it.  “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, purifies us from every sin.” (1 John 1:7)  In all these ways God’s Word, Kingdom and Righteousness come to us, and deliver us from evil, so that we never need to worry or be afraid of tomorrow.  God grant it for Jesus sake, and by His Word. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Every other religion requires that a person does something to earn his salvation; the Christian only believes and leaves the rest to God


So he went and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times in keeping with the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored to the flesh of a little child, and he was made clean. 2 Kings 5:14

DO you wonder why God allows evil to go on and on, things that we would have redressed long ago? It is because He is patient with us; patient in the extreme, because He does not want any person to perish but desires that all should repent and be healed from the leprosy of their sin. This is not just wishful thinking for God so He sent His Son to seek and to save the lost; and gives His Holy Spirit to the church in order to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the foulest sinners that earth can produce.

Naaman was such a man; a proud and powerful man who had attained great heights in his chosen field of military service. He was used to getting his way. When he barked orders things happened or heads rolled. He was not the kind of man you wanted to cross. As for religion, he worshipped Rimmon the Syrian fertility god. As such his piety consisted of satisfying every bodily lust without exception or restraint. There was no such thing as sexual immorality in Syria, nor did the Damascus police department have a “sex crimes unit.”

We are like Naaman. We may not have attained to high worldly office; few ever do, but we are like him in that we all suffer from spiritual leprosy, so no matter how much we accomplish in our lives, or how many thrills we can pack into our days, our sins hang over us like the Sword of Damocles, threatening at any moment to come crashing down on our heads. This makes us afraid and it makes us angry; angry at God.

Like Naaman we are outraged that God dares to impose His Law upon us and threatens to punish all who disobey, so we need to humble ourselves like Naaman finally did and come to repentance. For most of us this took place at baptism. In this primary sacrament we are separated from our sins, united to Christ and given the Holy Spirit to be our constant holy guide. Not everyone is brought to God’s house for baptism. Many have parents who don’t know or don’t care about this wondrous gift. Others bring their children because they perceive that there may be something important here, but sadly never come again. Still others who consider themselves Christians mistakenly think that there is no benefit to baptizing an infant because, they say, a child must decide for himself. Why do they think like this? Because, like Naaman, they want to be dazzled. They have a superstitious expectation of what God should do and how He should do it. But God delights in frustrating such pride and in giving the most extraordinary gifts in the most ordinary packages, and baptism, which imparts the Holy Spirit to us, is as elegant a gift as any sinful mortal could receive. With Him we not only read, but also comprehend and believe God’s word so that it becomes the “lamp for our feet and the light for our path,” (Ps. 119:105) It thus teaches us the best way to live, comforts us when we are sad, strengthens us when we are weak, and give us courage when we are afraid. It speaks the love of God to us which pierces through all of our sin and sorrow, and will give new birth to our dry bones on earth’s last day, when the Son of Man opens all graves. (John 5:28)

We must each learn to attend to the revealed word of God, both the Law and the Gospel. We can learn an important lesson about this from Elisha who did not come out to meet Naaman in person, but merely sent a divine word to him knowing that it would do the job. Why did he do that? Not to be cruel because God is never cruel. Even if it seems that way please know that He has something good in mind for you, and if you look with the eyes of faith you will see it! No, Elisha was not being cruel but rather showing himself to be a type of the coming Christ. Elisha is called “the man of God,” and Jesus who came to redeem us is the God/Man. Elisha’s name means: my God is salvation, and Jesus is God’s salvation for us. Elisha healed lepers and raised the dead, thus pointing us to the Great Physician of body and soul; who Himself submitted to death for our sins, and rose again to insure the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting to all who believe in His name.

Elisha was teaching Naaman what Jesus taught us all, “that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt. 23:12) He was also teaching us the vital lesson that wherever God’s Word is, God is. Hear that again and try to understand it: wherever God’s Word is, God is: truly present, not to destroy us for our transgressions, but to cure us of our leprosy. However, we need more than just to hear God’s Word, not because there is any deficiency in it but because that is the way God designed things. Like Naaman the Syrian commander, and like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter eight, we all need to be instructed. We need loving parents, patient pastors and devoted teachers who will take the time to gently lead us like Naaman’s servants did for him; so that by the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have Hope. (Rom 15:4) Thus the church has never been satisfied only to read the Scriptures verbatim, or to allow only hymns which are direct biblical quotations. Reading Scripture is indispensible, but she does much more. She also teaches it, preaches it, enshrines it into creeds, confessions, prayers, hymns, liturgies and sacraments; and as need arises debates it and defends it against all enemies foreign or domestic. Why? Because it is the very Word and presence of God among us. It is the way God chooses to interface with His people until the end of the age, so nothing is more worthy of praise. Like Naaman, let us all thank God for our baptism, attend to Holy Scriptures, and put our faith in Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh and our Greater Elisha.

Rev. Dean Kavouras