15 April 2011

Move on over - to "The RAsburry Patch"

Note to all followers and readers: "RAsburry's Res" is moving. Come and join me over at "The RAsburry Patch"!

Why am I moving (er, changing my blog's name and look)?

  • I just plain want to.
  • It's time for a newer, crisper, cleaner look.
  • I'm ready for a new name that's more easily accessible. 
  • (Yeah, I thought I'd be smart with the Latin word "res" and its alliteration with "RAsburry," but it's time for less explanation and more ease of access.)

All the posts and comments from "RAsburry's Res" can also be found over at "The RAsburry Patch," and that is where my blogging will continue.

So, followers (all 36 of you), please come on over with me and follow my blog there. Other readers, come over too, and please become followers there.

Thank you for your continuing support and readership ... and I look forward to seeing you over at "the Patch."

13 April 2011

Homily for Evening Prayer of Lent 5

Covered by Innocent Death
2 Samuel 11:1-12:14 & Matthew 27:32-66 (Passion Reading V)   

How we love to cover up our sins! David sets the example, and we gladly follow in his footsteps. He was Israel’s greatest king, after all, a man after God’s own heart, a good role model, to be sure. But notice how he, a man who could sing God’s praises like no one else, could also cover up his sins like no one else.

It began before the cover-up, before the murder, before the adultery, even before the coveting of another man’s beautiful bride. It began as David neglected his vocation, his God-given calling. It was “the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle.” It’s what kings do. It’s in their “job description” under the heading “Defend and protect the citizens of your nation.” But that one time David neglected that duty. He presumed he had better things to do, more important things to accomplish – like play peeping tom and ogle the topless beauty next door. “Who is she? Oh, Bathsheba. Bring her to me. But keep it hush, hush. No one needs to know.”

God knew, though.

Then David, the suave, debonair, romantic lover, easily concealed his sin of neglecting his vocation. And one sin led to another quite naturally and all too easily. A little sweet talk. A lot of passion. Don’t worry about the guilt or others finding out. After all, he’s the king. Surely he knows how to keep such things under wraps. They don’t call it “Secret Service” for nothing.

Then the big “Uh-oh!” She’s what? Pregnant? Oh, my! Everyone will know soon enough, especially when she starts showing. Hmm. How to fix this? How to clean up this unfortunate mess? Ah-ha! Bring hubby home. Get him to sleep with his wife. Everyone will think it’s Uriah’s child. No one will be the wiser.

Except God.

It turns out that Uriah the Hittite, the foreigner, the little man from an unbelieving people, had more honor and integrity than powerful, respected King David. Enjoy the comforts of home while his army buddies were still out suffering the heat of battle and the fog of war? Perish the thought! And perish David’s cover-up plan too, as it turned out. Even stone-cold drunk, Uriah had and displayed more honor and integrity than King David, intent on covering up his sins. So when Uriah would not participate and cooperate, David would eliminate, in the battle, where it would be sad, to be sure, but only natural. Who would suspect a thing?

God would. And God did.

Notice the pattern. David’s first unnoticeable sin—neglecting his vocation—led to another—coveting—and then another—adultery—and then another—murder—and all under his man-made cloak of secrecy. But God’s X-ray vision sees right through the sheer and flimsy strategies we use to cover up our many transgressions.

God sent Pastor Nathan to confront and rebuke King David. Not only was he risking his very life—because the King could easily say, “Out of my sight and off with his head”—but he was about to do the more dangerous task of exposing sin. So Nathan shrouds his rebuke in an innocent story: a poor man cheated out of his only lamb by a rich man who should have taken from his own God-given wealth. When David heard the innocent-sounding story, his passion for justice burned hot. You see, covering up your own sins often makes you quite self-righteous, hotly indignant, and overly judgmental about the sins of other people. All of that pent up energy from keeping your own sins under wraps explodes and erupts at the least little transgression … of someone else.

Nathan’s rebuke of David comes in the simplest of words: “You are the man!” He might as well point the finger and say those same words to each of us: “You are the man! You are the woman! You are the boy! You are the girl! Yes, you are the one who has sinned. Cover it up all you like; you cannot hide it from God. Conceal it under your every excuse and rationalization; hide it with deeds that appear honorable and even devout; but you still cannot fool God. As He says elsewhere: “Whoever conceals his transgression will not prosper.” Man-devised cover-ups never work. No way, no how!

But here is where David becomes a salutary role model once again. He simply confessed his sin and sins—no excuses, no justifications, no more covering up. “I have sinned against the LORD.” They are words for you too—and words to utter with no excuses, no justification, no more covering up. “[I] have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what [I] have done and by what [I] have left undone.” “Lord, to You I make confession: / I have sinned and gone astray, / I have multiplied transgression, / Chosen for myself my way. / Led by You to see my errors, / Lord, I tremble at Your terrors” (LSB, 608:1).

Then, for David and for you, God’s words delivered through the pastor’s mouth come rushing in to heal, to restore, and to give life. “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Sins exposed, forgiveness uttered, life bestowed! What a sweet and glorious moment! What a life-changing and liberating message! God’s own forgiveness comes through the voice of a man, a fellow sinner. As God says in the Proverb: “but he who confesses and forsakes [his transgressions] will obtain mercy.”

There’s a curious little conclusion to David’s confession and absolution, however. Yes, David confessed, but that’s not why he was forgiven. Merely confessing and forsaking our transgressions does not earn or achieve God’s life-giving forgiveness. Listen to God’s words uttered through Pastor Nathan’s mouth: “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”

At first we might hear these words as God unfairly withdrawing His absolution, or suddenly hiding His mercy behind a cloak of retribution. But let’s take these words as glorious and comforting Gospel instead! The LORD put away David’s sins; he would not die. But the Child born to David—the Son of David yet to come, ten centuries down the road—He would die, and He would die carrying David’s specific, concrete, and now-exposed sins. The Absolution was certainly free for David, just as it’s free for you and me. But it is very costly for the Child of David named Jesus. No, you will not die for your sins, God says, but the Son of David will. The Son of David has. As we sing: “For Your Son has suffered for me, / Giv’n Himself to rescue me, / Died to save me and restore me. / Reconciled and set me free. / Jesus’ cross alone can vanquish / These dark fears and soothe this anguish” (LSB 608:3)

And we – like role-model David before us – are now covered by an innocent death. Instead of feebly covering our sins, and multiplying them exponentially in the process, we can take comfort in the innocent death of the sinless Son of God and Son of David. When Jesus died on that cross, the centurion marveled saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” He could have said just as truly, “This was the Son of David—the innocent Child whose death covers our sin.” And when the greater Child of David covers the sins that we expose in Confession, they remain truly covered—covered by His innocent blood, covered from God, covered from us, covered and never to be exposed again. The Lord who has suffered and died for you has put away your sin; you shall not die. Amen.

Now this is funny!

Vice-President Joe Biden apparently did not find his boss' recent speech on budgets, debt, and finances (i.e. raising taxes and punishing the wealthy, let the reader understand!) too terribly riveting.

Check it out yourself here.

06 April 2011

Homily for Evening Prayer of Lent 4

No Cover for Cover-ups
Joshua 7:16-26 & Matthew 27:1-31 (Passion Reading IV: The Praetorium)

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Prov. 28:13) Achan sure excelled at concealing his transgressions. Truth is: so do we. But there’s no cover for cover-ups. You see, when we try to cover up our sins, God will make sure that they, and we, are exposed. That’s what we cover-ups have to look forward to on the Last Day.

Achan’s greedy sin and cover up actually began with the Lord’s glorious victory over the city of Jericho. They marched around the city once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. They blew their trumpets, the walls came tumbling down, and Israel rushed in to conquer, just as God had promised. It was a glorious victory and a joyous day. But God had also given two clear mandates—first: “keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction”; and second: “all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.”(Josh. 6:18-19)

Then Israel turned to its next target for conquest, the city of Ai. Things went much differently. Intoxicated by the victory at Jericho, they assumed they would conquer yet again. But no! They received the thumping of a lifetime; they got their clocks royally cleaned; and God Himself made sure of it. Despair descended on all Israel. Joshua tore his clothes in humble lamentation. “What happened, Lord? Have you rescued us from Egypt just to turn us over to the godless pagans of Canaan-land?” And how did God respond to being put on trial by his puny, defeated general? “Come on, Joshua! Get up! Man up! ‘Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.’” (Josh. 7:12)

Can’t you just see Joshua dropping his jaw and scratching his head in confusion? “We, Israel, have sinned? We have taken Your possessions, the spoils from Jericho? No way! We heard Your instruction. We followed Your commands. What on earth is going on?”

The Lord, though, told Joshua how to root out the lone culprit of the people’s demise. The whole people of Israel consecrated themselves and presented themselves before Joshua and before God. Then came the process of elimination: the tribe of Judah was singled out, from them the clan of Zerah, from them the household of Zabdi, and finally Achan, the son of Carmi, the suspect and culprit. The sin of this one man, from this one household in this one clan of the one tribe had spoiled things for all Israel, the whole nation, all the people. Other people died because of Achan’s sin!

“Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” One man’s sin of greed and theft had handicapped the whole people of God. Joshua implored Achan to give glory to God by confessing his specific, concrete sins of greed and theft to him, a fellow sinner.

You see, we all sin because we’re all sinners. And when we sin as individual sinners, we affect and trouble the people around us, especially the whole people of God called the Church. It’s like throwing a single stone into a large pond. It’s only a small piece of rock, but the moment it splashes into the still water, the ripples emanate outward and affect the whole body of water. When one of us commits sin—the single stone tossed into the water—the whole body of Christ is disturbed by the affects that ripple outward. And so, we confess.

“Achan answered Joshua, ‘Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” (Josh. 7:20-21) See how Achan gave glory to God: by getting specific in confessing his sins. Not just: “I coveted and stole something,” but: “I coveted and stole that beautiful cloak, that silver and that gold. And I’ve hidden them in my tent.”

Will we confess our specific sins? In agonizing detail? To a fellow sinner, usually our pastor? Will we confess at the altar rail before the pastor that we get just as greedy as Achan did? Will we expose our sinful stealing such as cheating on those income taxes, or keeping the extra change we mistakenly received, or getting paid for goofing off at work? Will we admit that we actually do steal from God Himself by thinking and claiming that our money and goods belong to us, not to Him, and by living that lie when we give cheaply in the offering or neglect to help our needy neighbor?

I know: Scandalous! But Joshua did call it giving glory to God, even when confessing to a fellow sinner. After all, why should we be nervous about confessing the dirty details of our rotten sins to a fellow sinner who has his own dirty, rotten specific sins? That sinner cannot do anything to us. In fact, he may even be able to relate to us, in that twisted misery-loves-company sort of way. We really should tremble, though, to confess our sins “directly to God,” as we just love to say. Why? Because He can – and He does – do something about them! Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28) Confessing sins to a fellow sinner certainly does not kill the body, but what about the rest of that verse? Well, it still applies. Bury your sin, and God will bury you!

Joshua sent his messengers to find and verify Achan’s stash of stolen goods, and it was there. Then Achan received his just desserts for his sin that troubled all of Israel: he and his family were stoned with stones and burned with fire. What?! No absolution? No forgiveness? No second chance? No…? No. Should we think that Achan’s confession somehow deserved God’s response of absolution? God’s mercy is not founded on Achan’s confession – nor yours, nor mine. No, your confession is where the Achan in you must simply die. No putting the coin of your confession in the heavenly vending machine for absolution to pop out on queue. Just stark, repentant confession that says, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God.” Then leave it there, and realize the Lord can, does, and will have His way. No cover up for us cover-ups, not even in our confessing.

When we confess, we do pray with Psalm 38(:21-22): “Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation.” And with the Lord Jesus who suffered mock trial, unjust verdict, cruel mockery, and torturous crucifixion, our God does hasten to help. No, He did not help Achan, but He does promise to help you, to be your salvation. When you bury your sins, God will bury you. But when you expose your sins in confession, God will bury them with His Son hanging from a cross and buried in a tomb. You see, that’s where His true love for sinners is truly exposed—not in the anguish of confessing, not in suffering the just desserts of our sins, but in the glory of Christ crucified, buried and risen. And when He absolves in His mercy, he does not bring the Achan in you back to life. No, He gives you His life, His contentment, His trust in the God who is your salvation.

So we do not cover up, but we confess. And we sing with the hymn: “O Jesus, let Thy precious blood / Be to my soul a cleansing flood. / Turn not, O Lord, Thy guest away, / But grant that justified I may / Go to my house at peace with Thee: / O God, be merciful to me.” (LSB 613:3) His blood does cover. His peace does go with you. Yes, He is merciful to you. Amen.

05 April 2011

Homily for Lent 4

The fourth Sunday in Lent - Laetare - brings a little rejoicing and refreshment during the long journey of penitent discipline through these 40 days leading up to Easter. The day's Gospel reading, John 6:1-15, certainly strikes this theme as our Lord graciously feeds the 5000. Not only does He provide daily bread for the body, but He also shows Himself to be the true daily Bread of Life for our souls. Thus Sunday's homily found us "Rejoicing in the Lord's Refreshment."

To listen to the audio file of "Rejoicing in the Lord's Refreshment," click here, then download the audio file and then listen.

30 March 2011

Homily for Evening Prayer of Lent 3

Sins Covered: For Even the Worst
2 Chronicles 33:1-13 &
Matthew 26:57-75 (Passion Reading III. Palace of the High Priest) 

Johann Gerhard, the great Lutheran theologian, wrote once that the devil has two trick mirrors.  He uses “the minimizing mirror” when he’s attempting to lure us into sin; to make us think that the sin is “not that big, not that bad.”  Then, after he’s snared us into the sin, he whips out his “maximizing mirror.” With that mirror he makes the sin look magnified in order to make us despair of God ever being able or willing to forgive sinners as terrible and awful as we are. 

No doubt the devil tried that out on Manasseh.  Manasseh’s father was the good king, Hezekiah.  But as so many sadly discover: godly parents are no guarantee of godly children.  As good and wise, as devout and kind as Hezekiah was, Manasseh was as stubborn and wicked – yes, downright evil.  I don’t doubt that it started little by little – toying around with idolatry, moving into the occult and practicing Satanic arts, finally fighting against the true faith and seeking destroy everything that his father had done to restore that faith in Judah.  The writer of 2 Kings even says that Manasseh was so depraved that he ended up burning his own son as an offering to some demon parading as a “god.” Manasseh was responsible for filling Jerusalem with all kinds of blood shed.  You get the picture of this guy?  He was bad news.  Surely, if ever there were a person that God would simply have given up on, washed his hands of, let go straight to hell, it was Manasseh. 

But the Lord’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  As the Psalmist sang:  “The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made” (Ps. 145:9). All?  Yes, all.  In mercy and unspeakable love, the Lord let Manasseh experience some unspeakably hard times.  His enemy at the gates, he was captured and carried away with hooks and shackles into a foreign land, to Babylon. 

And as his own life had come crashing down all around him, a remarkable thing happened to the evil king.  He remembered everything his father had taught him about Yahweh—how He is gracious and merciful, and how He delights in forgiveness and steadfast love.  Did he dare to hope? 

No doubt, Satan pulled out that maximizing mirror and pointed it directly at old Manasseh.  “No way!  There’s no way that someone as evil as you can have hope!  You’ve murdered people left and right.  You’ve been down on our face worshipping other gods. You’ve consulted necromancers and mediums and done every abomination that the Lord says he hates. You’ve even killed your very own child! You’re toast.  You’re going to roast with me forever.  Hang it up!”

But through a miracle of God’s grace, Manasseh didn’t believe Satan’s accusations.  Oh, he knew he was sinful, bad to the bone, evil to the core.  He knew he deserved absolutely nothing.  But in hope against hope, he prayed to the Lord.  His prayer is actually a book of the Apocrypha.  Listen in to part of it: 

“O Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous offspring… your glorious splendor cannot be borne, and the wrath of your threat to sinners is unendurable; yet immeasurable and unsearchable is your promised mercy, for you are the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful, and you relent at human suffering. O Lord, according to your great goodness you have promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in the multitude of your mercies you have appointed repentance for sinners, so that they may be saved.  …You have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner. For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied! I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities. I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offenses. And now I bend the knee of my heart, imploring you for your kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions. I earnestly implore you, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my transgressions! Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me; do not condemn me to the depths of the earth. For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, and in me you will manifest your goodness; for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy, and I will praise you continually all the days of my life. For all the host of heaven sings your praise, and yours is the glory forever. Amen.” (Prayer of Manasseh 1, 5-15)

Now isn’t that an amazing prayer?  We heard in our reading today that Manasseh in his distress humbled himself greatly before the Lord and prayed. We also heard that God was moved, heard his prayer, and restored him. “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”

He experienced first hand that the greatest filth of human wickedness is but a spark that is soon extinguished in the vast ocean of divine mercy and love. Then He knew that the Lord was God. Satan’s mirrors are tricky, but when we lift our eyes from our sin to God’s vast ocean of mercy, we soon see the truth.

I’m sure Peter had his experience with the mirrors too.  No big deal, right.  Just say:  “I don’t know him.”  And then when the rooster crowed, Peter remembered.  He remembered exactly what our Lord had said would happen.  Suddenly Satan was holding up the magnifying mirror:  “You think he could possibly forgive a man who swore that he’d stand by Him even if he had to die with Him, and who then caved at the question of a little servant girl?  Your sin is too big, Peter.  Despair and die.”  Peter’s bitter tears witness how the sight in the mirror terrified and saddened him—just like Manasseh.  But also like Manasseh, Peter would find in the Man whom he denied a forgiveness deeper than all his sin, a love wider than all his denials.

You can find that too.  “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”  Dear friends, the mercy that awaits you in your Lord is simply and unbelievably huge – far bigger than your sin, far mightier than your betrayals and denials of Him – immeasurably and unspeakably firm and steady and unshakable. 

So when Satan would use his “maximizing mirror” on you, when he would suggest to you that YOUR sin is just way too big, too bad, too awful, too ugly, too hopeless, remember Manasseh, remember Peter. Most of all, though, remember Him who came into the world to save precisely such honest-to-God real down-and-dirty sinners:  Jesus Christ, whose blood has indeed blotted out the sin of the whole world.  No sin is the match for His grace.  No sinner is so far gone that His love cannot reclaim and restore.  Confess to Him, and you will see!  Amen.

A Bit More on Complaining

Last Wednesday's homily for Lent Evening Prayer - "Uncovered Cure: Look and Live" - focused on the complaining of the Israelites, which resulted in the fiery serpents as per God's judgment. Mr. Roland Letter, host of "Studio A" on KFUO Radio (kfuo.org), read that homily (posted here on this blog) and decided to discuss the topic a bit more. And so we did on yesterday's edition of "Studio A." Check it out here.

27 March 2011

Homily for Lent 3

Today's homily, "Healing for Houses Divided," drew from the Gospel reading of Luke 11:14-28 (Lutheran Service Book, One-Year Series) in which Jesus heals a man with a mute demon. When He is accused of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, Jesus says, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls." Jesus Himself is the "stronger man" who invades the realm of "strong man" Satan and thus heals us from our "divided houses," our various divisions and separations.

To listen to the audio file of today's homily, click here and then download the audio file.

25 March 2011

"Veteran Broadcaster"?

Yesterday I had the great privilege of being the "Guest Host" with Paul Clayton for his "Morning Essentials" show on KFUO radio (AM 850). Not only that, but I also had the equally great privilege of interviewing Dr. Harold Senkbeil, Executive Director for DOXOLOGY. Talk about a double-treat - getting to join Paul on the air and getting to interview my mentor and friend!  What's even better, though, is that the word of DOXOLOGY - its program and its excellent benefits - is getting out more and more. Here's the audio of that interview segment.

Oh, and notice that it was Paul Clayton - not yours truly! - who used the term "veteran broadcaster" ... and tongue in cheek, I'm sure. (I'm sure my interview technique can stand some work! :-)

23 March 2011

Homily for Evening Prayer of Lent 2

Uncovered Cure: Look and Live

Impatient! The people grew impatient—impatient with the way God was leading them.  If only He would get with the program and do it their way!  And so the response was grumbling, complaining, kvetching.  And it’s actually kind of funny:  “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food!”  Wait, I thought there was no food?  Hmm.  He had indeed faithfully led them…and fed them.

The people had first griped about the water.  They were convinced that God had really screwed up.  He’d led them into a dead-end, out in the howling, barren wilderness where there was not a drop to drink.  And then God told Moses to walk out in front of the people and strike a certain rock.  Strike it he did, and the waters gushed and gushed.  Um, no.  God had not misled them; He had led them directly to gushing, overflowing waters—waters enough for all of them to enjoy.  They just didn’t believe it because they couldn’t see it—at least, not at first.

Have you been there?  Have you been griping to the Lord about the way He’s been leading you?  Have you doubted His loving care for you?  Have you wondered if that verse—“all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28)—is just a nice-sounding fairy tale that only a fool could actually believe?  Have you thought that God has led you into your equivalent of the dead end alley?  And have you insulted and rejected the gifts He has given you because they weren’t exactly the ones you wanted Him to give you?  “Manna?  I’m sick of it. If I can't have a filet mignon, at least give me a cheese burger!”

Their griping did not please the Lord.  He thought they needed something to really complain about.  Enter the fiery serpents.  Their bite wasn’t just an irritation, not just an inconvenience, not even something to gripe about over the back yard fence with your neighbor.  No, the bite brought death.  And suddenly everything is put into perspective.  Death can do that.  It sets things in the harsh light of reality.

Faced with death, the people see their sins and they confess:  “We have sinned for we have spoken against the Lord and against you, Moses.”  Here’s a confession brought by terrified hearts—hearts that realize the cold, hard reality: beyond all the journeying of this life, there comes an end, a time for leaving this pilgrim way, a time for facing the One who sits upon the throne—naked, face to face with Him who knows us from the inside out.  And what hope do we have then?

The people beg Moses to pray for them.  He does, and the Lord who is gracious and merciful beyond any of our deserving, He commands one of the oddest things recorded in all of Scripture:  His mercy, His forgiveness, His amnesty of the people’s rebellion and sin. It isn’t just spoken.  It’s spoken and shown.  A promise is made, but that promise is attached to a very physical thing.  Moses is to make an image of that which is killing them, a fiery serpent. He’s to lift it high on a pole, atop a piece of wood.  The promise is one of sheer grace:  “everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”  Look up, and be healed.  Look up, and then the deadly snake venom is rendered powerless.  That’s it!  Just a look!  The promise of life attached to a visible sign: believe it, and you look up, and you are healed.  Don’t believe it, and you don’t bother to look up, and you die.

Remember John chapter 3. Jesus says that that image of the snake on the pole is just like Him, and He is like that snake on the pole.  HE would be lifted up—raised on a cross, on a pole of wood. He would give the gift of life, real life, eternal life, to those who will only believe, look up at Him, and be healed. 

That is what’s facing Him in tonight’s Gospel.  He’d known all along that this is where He was headed—just like you’ve known since you were a child that you’re going to die.  But it’s entirely different when that moment is facing you down and you realize that it’s not some hypothetical event out there in the distant future; it’s suddenly your here and now reality.  So Jesus sweats and trembles before the cup from His Father reaches Him.  He begs for another way out besides this horror of being left to die alone with the sins of the world upon Him.  And yet unlike us with our grumblings and complaining about the way God leads, our Lord finally and fully submits to His Father’s direction and plan, praying:  “nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.“ He prays it again and again.  And then He goes forth in peace to fulfill it.  He has spoken His firm “yes” to His Father’s great plan—that plan from the foundation of the world that He would be raised on that tree of the cross for us, so that we, who have been stung by the serpent’s deadly bite, might look up and not die—so that we might see and believe and live in Him, with Him forever.

Remember, then, our theme verse for this Lent: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Dear saints, many times God will use disasters in your personal lives, in your community or nation, in the world - remember Japan - to bring you to repentance and confession—just as He did to the Israelites.  He will use heart-wrenching troubles to open your eyes to see your sins, especially the sins you’ve thought of as “no big deal”—such as your sins of grumbling against Him! But in that very moment when you confess your sins, in that very moment, He will invite you to turn your eyes from your wretched condition and look instead—look in wonder and awe—at His free and gracious remedy. He invites you to see and be healed by a love that will take your breath away—to behold your Savior upon the Tree giving to you the promise of a life that never ends.  That’s how He’s loved you, my friends, with a love immeasurable, deep, and divine!  He’s given you an eternal life that is utterly free to you, but quite costly to Him. 

Yes, we who confess our sins have “obtained mercy,” mercy beyond anything we could imagine. And for all that, glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever!  Amen.

22 March 2011

Why People are Forsaking Church in Droves?

HT: to Anastasia over at "Kyrie, Eleison!" for composing and posting this pithy, and accurate, little poem on why people are forsaking church, that is, "neglecting to meet together" (Heb. 10:25) to receive the Lord Jesus and His life and forgiveness of sins in the Divine Service. All I can say is: "Spot on!" Thanks much, Anastasia! (Reprinted here with her permission.)

Why are People Forsaking Church in Droves?

One reason for people’s churchly severance
Is, they miss good old-fashioned reverence,
Which doesn’t fit well at services
With balloons and whirling dervishes.

To fix your soul you must face what’s wrong,
Which is hard to do to a happy-clappy song.
You won’t even see where you’re not so great
If all you do is celebrate, celebrate.

Celebrations will draw them for the short run,
For people love playing and music and fun.
But you need ever more to keep getting those highs,
Inevitably you crash, and what’s left but sighs?

Entertainment grows wearisome, feelings go flat,
You have to give people much more than that.
Sentiment sours and pleasures aren’t joys,
And church-going folk are not all girls and boys.

Adults want substance and not just feeling,
But wisdom and truth and meaning and healing
In short, they’re searching for things profound
That have little to do with clowning around.

Fun is for picnics, church camps, and youth meets,
Ditto, dancing and movies and magical feats.
In church, theoretically, God is right here;
If so, then with love, awe, and reverence draw near.

If not, there’s your trouble; go back to square one.
You’ve but ethics to offer, and feelings and fun,
And people will seek the deep Mystery elsewhere,
Or give up and pretend they no longer care.

The secret attraction is Himself, Jesus Christ,
By Whom, more than anything, folks are enticed.
Dearer than all else, all our Hope, all our Heart,
With decorum receive Him, before more depart!

16 March 2011

Homily for Evening Prayer of Lent 1

This evening's homily, "Covered by Mercy," was the first in this year's series: "Cover Up: A Lenten Series on Confession and Absolution" (co-authored by Pr. Weedon and myself). Tonight we focused on Daniel's prayer of confession for the collective sins of his people, the nation of Israel, in Daniel 9:1-19. What does Daniel's prayer teach and exemplify for us regarding Confession and Absolution, especially corporately for the whole people of God? Read on:

God says: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Prov. 28:13) “Yes, yes,” we say. “Sounds good,” we think. But do we live it? After all, each of us would much rather cover up our sins and hope no one will notice. That way we can appear decent, look honorable, and even seem devout to other people, or at least that person in the mirror. We are like the young boy who took his grape juice into the living room. He knew he shouldn’t, especially on the nice furniture and white carpet. But then he spilled his juice on the white carpet. After sopping it up, he chose to cover it up—move the couch over just a few inches. Better than admitting he had done wrong!

Welcome to “Cover-Up: A Lenten Series on Confession & Absolution.” This Lent we will explore how we sin, how we try to cover up our sins, and how we do better and live longer if only we will uncover our sins, if only we will confess them so that God can cover them with His absolution. You see, if we cover up our sin, it will be exposed in the End. But if we expose our sin and our sins, God graciously covers them up, and in a way that can never be uncovered.

Tonight we begin with Daniel. The people of Israel had gone into exile. For 70 years they lived with the shame of disappointing and disobeying the God who had loved them and saved them. In centuries past, God had called Abraham, had rescued them from Egypt and sent Moses to lead them through the wilderness, had brought them into the Promised Land with General Joshua leading them, and had given them kings such as Saul, David, and Solomon, along with great peace, great prosperity, and great acclaim.

But they thumbed their collective nose at God. Through the centuries they decided they knew best. They decided that they could trust themselves, their prosperity, and their crowd-pleasing worship that appealed to the unbelieving peoples around them. They decided they did not need to listen to God’s prophets calling them to repentance and confession. They thought they could do no wrong. But God sent His own people into exile in Babylon. Imagine Christians trying to live, pray and worship under the watchful eye of a communist nation such as China or the old Soviet Union, and you get the idea.

Along comes Daniel, with his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel and his friends showed their faithfulness to God. They ate their own God-given diet and showed themselves more fit than others in the king’s service. They worshiped the Triune God rather than the golden image of the king. And despite being thrown into a blazing fiery furnace, they were saved by One who “is like a son of the gods”—the Son of God Himself. Daniel interpreted dreams of kings and revealed God’s saving plan for all nations. And when the king’s advisors snuck through a law that said, “Pray only to the king; only he can help and preserve you,” Daniel remained faithful to the true God in his prayer life. He prayed to God and suffered the consequence of being thrown into a lion’s den. Daniel trusted and relied on God’s goodness and mercy; and God rescued him from hungry lions.

In all of this Daniel knew something that we must learn and live: you cannot cover up sin, even the sin of a whole nation. He was stuck in Babylon not because of his sins, but because of the sins of others—sins from times long gone and a land far, far away. Their sin was now his sin, just as his sin was surely their sin.

Dear friends, your sin is my sin, and my sin is your sin. We don’t sin merely as individuals. We sin as a people, as a nation, as the whole people of God. My sins affect you and your sins affect me. When I don’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things, it rubs off on you. When you don’t call upon God’s name, pray, praise, and give thanks, neither do I. When some of us don’t listen to God in His Word, hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it, the rest of us are also hampered in hearing and believing.

So Daniel prayed to the Lord God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but… To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.” Daniel does not try to cover the sins of his leaders or his people. He does not try to explain them away. He simply puts them out for all to see, and he joins himself to them. “Yes, Lord, we – we all – have sinned against You.” It’s the exact opposite of what Peter tried. Jesus said, “You all will fall away.” Peter contradicted Him with a false bravado: “Though they all fall away … I will never fall away.” Let none of us say, “Though they sin, Lord, I will never sin.” Let’s learn from Daniel to confess all together and for our corporate shame.

Daniel continues: “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.”  We also sin against God and the messengers He sends. They tell us we’ve sinned, but we ignore it or rally against that unwelcome news. They show us specific charges and clear evidence, but we deny and obfuscate. We even obfuscate with forgiveness assumed: “Yeah, well, that doesn’t matter. I know God forgives me.”

Daniel keeps praying: “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.” Our Lord does turn His anger and wrath away from His city and His holy hill, but only because He first directed it at His holy Son on that holy cross, perched on that holy hill. Jesus gave His blood “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Not just forgiveness for individual sins, but also corporate forgiveness for corporate sins. And by making His own Son a byword among the nations, our gracious God frees you, His people, to be accepted once again by Him.

Daniel comes to the climax of his prayer for his whole people: “Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.”  Let’s pray the same! Let’s pray and confess not only for our individual selves, but also for our whole congregation, our whole synod, and the whole Church. After all, we don’t pray, we don’t confess, and we’re not forgiven “because of our righteousness, but because of [God’s] great mercy”—mercy in His Son who goes to the cross for us. When we uncover our sins, individually and corporately, God is quick to cover those sins with His blood-bought mercy.

So we pray, with Daniel and with the psalmist: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Dan. 9:19) “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Ps. 130:7)

11 March 2011

Prayer for Those in Japan!

In light of today's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the resulting and massive devastation, we commend all affected to our gracious God:

Lord, have mercy!
Christ, have mercy!
Lord, have mercy!

Almighty God, merciful Father, a very present help in time of trouble, again we are brought to realize that Your thoughts are not our thoughts, Your ways are not our ways.  In Your wisdom You have permitted the disastrous earthquake and tsunami to be visited upon Japan and surrounding nations.  We implore You, let not the hearts of Your people despair, but sustain and comfort them.  Heal the injured, console the bereaved and afflicted, protect the innocent and helpless, and deliver any who are still in danger, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

09 March 2011

Another Quilt Rack Made ... and Sold

Ah, what a joy it is to cut wood, make some sawdust, shape the red oak with decorative details, stain and finish it (and enjoy the smell?), and then do the final assembly. From plain old red oak comes a quilt rack, this time sold to the lady who cuts my hair. Nothing like seeing the fruits of one's labors!

Homily for Ash Wednesday

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning" (Joel 2:12). So our gracious God calls us to come to Him as we begin this Lententide. This evening's homily - "Return to the Lord" - tied this call from God together with Proverbs 28:13: "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." Not only is this call to return to the Lord by confessing our sins the perfect theme for Ash Wednesday all by itself, it also introduces our coming theme for this year's Lenten Evening Prayer services: "Cover Up: A Lenten Series on Confession and Absolution."

Just in case what you hear in the sermons I post here sounds an awful lot like what Pr. Weedon may post on his blog, it's because we developed and wrote the homilies for this series together.

To listen to this evening's homily, click this link, download the audio file, and hear the Lord's call to return to Him by exposing your sins with the promise that He will cover them with His Son's blood-bought forgiveness and righteousness.