In my thinking and thus in my teaching I work from a perspective of the perfect, the ideal, the best. That is, when I am thinking about marriage, for example, or even our general moral conduct, I see from Scripture how God created us and what He wants for our lives. I also clearly understand that we are not ideal people. We are sinful and living in a sin filled world. It is always necessary to meet people where they are. It is why Jesus spent so much time with the tax collectors and prostitutes. We need to meet people where they are, sharing as much love and grace as God give us the wisdom to do. But at the same time not forgetting the perfect. We are always seeking to move a step at a time toward God’s perfect will, and we rejoice with every forward step. We recognize that we are sinful, but the danger is lowering the standard rather than keeping our eyes on the goal, as St Paul says, “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 3:14) We won’t be perfect in this life, but we continue to look toward the beauty, joy and goodness of all our Lord has for us.
The following is a pray given by the Southeast District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I thought it very helpful and necessary for our times.
In a divine design O God, you created people uniquely, crafted with intricate detail in hues of color and shape of body. When it comes to people however we admit seeing what is different more than what is the same. Without a word being spoken we use color and shape, background and language, economic status and residence to be the narrow lens through which we define who is friend and who is not. Give us then the courage O God, to look in the mirror at our own reflection. Help us to see ourselves as people gifted by your creating hand who live lives filled with both noble intention and failed deceit. Let us honestly realize the sin that is within us and be again grateful for your grace that is around us. Help us even more O God to truly see others around us inside out too, beyond the obvious external differences among us on the outside to the hearts, minds and souls we have in common as people created in your image. Give us the courage O God to know enough to know that we don’t know other people as well as we thought. Give us a double measure of patience and wisdom to work at understanding the people around us for who they really are. Let the first thing we see in people be the love with which you created them, the cross by which you have redeemed them and the spirit by which you mark them as your own. Call us again to build more bridges than walls in a broken and hurting world. Give us courage O God, to face the fears and insecurities with which we build walls between ourselves and others. Give us the wisdom and patience to work at better understanding the people whom you surround us with. Let our words and actions incarnate your love. Amen and amen!
When one reads the Psalms they find them steeped in history. The psalmist recounts events from Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, their wilderness wanderings, and much more. They live in the context of what God did among their people over the hundreds of years past. These are their lessons for life. These provide the guidance, and corrections for life in the present. They recounted both the good and the bad. There is in our country the crusade to remove many of the statues of confederate Civil War figures. These represent an era of racism, slavery, and the domination of one people over another. Of course it was a terrible time, and we never want to see it repeated. But maybe we still need the reminders of what man is capable of, and that we can still commit those evils in small and sometimes large ways. The 18th century British statesman, Edmund Burke, said that “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”. We repeat it because the same sins are in us as they were in others centuries ago. Maybe we need to listen more closely to the lessons of the psalmists.
There is an on going discussion between churches that use the historic liturgy for their worship and those which are more free in form. Sometimes we, and I’m writing from a Lutheran perspective worshiping with a liturgical form, sometimes we are accused of being dead and doing things by rote. But that is not the case at all. Yes, the liturgy takes a little time to learn and get accustomed to, but it provides a beauty and depth not found in other forms of worship. It doesn’t seek to copy the forms and freedom of society, but gives a stability not found in our often chaotic world. There is a bond with all of the saints before us. But more important it exalts the holiness of our God seeking to draw many into a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s holy word and the grace given in the sacraments are central to all we do. It is God who came first to us while we were helpless. He came to draw us into the fullness of His life. That is what we have the privilege of sharing every week in Word and Sacrament.
Having faith is tough! Our Scripture lesson for yesterday was from Matthew 14, Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm. The disciples saw Him and were afraid. Peter said “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come”, and Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. He really walked on the water. That is the power of faith as Jesus always taught His followers, but it’s tough to maintain. Peter looked around, saw the waves, felt the pressure of the wind, saw the blackness of the sky, and began to sink. He cried out to the Lord to save him, and the Lord did.(Mt.14:28-31) Jesus asked, “why did you doubt”. But having faith is tough! We do have faith in our Lord Jesus. We believe He is the Christ, God’s only begotten Son. We believe we have our salvation because of His atoning sacrifice on our behalf. But the storms of life continue to rage. We feel the wind and see the waves. It is not that we doubt our salvation, but the situations of life cause us to cry out “Lord save me”. And in great mercy He does. He will bring us into the boat where the seas will calm.(vs.32) “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. “(Hebrews 4:15-16)
The word praise is used over 300 times in Scripture. God’s people are taught to ” Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,…”(Psalm 149:6) Sometimes it can sound like God is egotistical and needs our continual praise. It is not that God needs it at all, but in His great grace He knows that we need it. It is in praise that we draw closer to Him, and find strength and direction for life. Psalm 22:3 speaks of God being enthroned or inhabiting the praises of Israel. As we offer our praise to God in word and song we humble ourselves before Him, and rejoice in the presence of His love. Our eyes are raised from the trials that surround us to the face of Him who has come and is in the midst of all life. Praise is a love song to our Lord who is the gracious and glorious Bridegroom of us all.
Sometimes it is difficult to know what to say in a very broken world. One looks at the world where sabers are being loudly rattled to the point of serious conflicts. I talked with a policeman from one of our cities who gave a very bad assessment of inner city condition. Many western nations have pushed aside the Christian foundation upon which they were built. And the list goes on. All things out of my control that I can do nothing about. Certainly we pray for our nation and world. Yet, even that can feel like a rather hopeless effort. But I do have a family who depends upon me. I have a neighbor who is having difficulty and needs my support. I do have those close by who need prayer, and encouragement. I have clerks and attendants in places of business I patronize that need a smile and greeting by name. There are lots of things in this world I can do nothing about, but there are also a lot that are much closer at hand where I can provide some positive good. I will pray and weep before the Lord over the bigger things, but I will love and serve those who are close at hand. That will at least mend some of the brokenness.
I had the privilege last evening of talking to a couple about baptizing their child. This is a privilege because it give me the opportunity to share again the Gospel of our Lord, the truth of what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. And further, how He brings us into His new life each day. Baptism is not a magical one time shot, but something that is lived and renewed daily. In Romans chapter six the Apostle Paul speaks of it as our dying and rising with Christ. Many of us who were baptized as children have no memory of the event. Yet, God, the Holy Spirit, has been active in life seeking to draw us ever closer to the Lord. Living in our baptism means that we die a bit more to our old nature, and are raised to a new nature in Christ. What we look forward to sharing with this child in a few weeks, will again be a reminder of what happens in us each day.
Psalm 121 asks and then answers a question. “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”(vss.1-2) This is one of the so called Songs of Ascent. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a high hill, and pilgrims would sing these palms as they were going up to worship at the Temple. It was a rocky path, but their eyes were fixed on the Temple and the Lord they would worship there. There eyes were looking up. They knew their help came from the Lord. Is this not a song for life as we make our ascent through the various paths before us? Our tendency is to keep our eyes down, only seeing the four walls in which we live, or the uncertainties of the days ahead, but God has reached out to us. He has called us to come to His Temple. He has verified His call by many acts of grace. Lift up our eyes. Our help does come from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
There was a bombing at a mosque in Minneapolis this past weekend. They have not yet found the person who did it or the reason. Unfortunately, it is just one more attack on a faith community. You know, if you have read my Good Mornings for any length of time, that I am a conservative Christian. I don’t agree with Islamic theology. I think there is much that is in error. But I also think it is my responsibility to condemn such violent acts in the strongest of terms. I would also condemn those Christians who would take it upon themselves to do physical harm to persons or property at an abortion clinic, even though I am strongly pro life. I would also include acts of harm against those of the LGBT community as wrong even though I believe such lifestyles are contrary to God’s will for mankind. I believe that faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God is superior to all other faiths, and is the way to the life for which we were created. But I am not going to evangelize by seeking to harm anyone else either physically or emotionally. I would hope that all people of sincere faith would condemn such acts. My task is to help other see and want to draw near to the God I serve. And that is not done with animosity.