God had chosen the Hebrews to bring His truth to the world. Jesus was born of the Hebrews in the midst of a Greek culture. That’s was a bit of a problem, and it is for us as well. There is a difference between Hebrew and Greek thinking. We need to approach the Bible as a Hebrew book. I was reading this morning in John 14 where Jesus was telling the disciples He was going to prepare a place for them, and that they knew the way.(vs.3f) Thomas objected, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas was asking a Greek question. He wanted to know the details. He wanted step by step instruction. Jesus gave a Hebrew answer. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, if you know Me, if you walk with Me, if you are willing to trust me, then I will lead you through all the steps you need to take. We so often struggle with the “what ifs” of life, trying to know in advance all that is ahead. Yet Jesus is extending His hand and asking us to walk with Him in trust. No, it’s not always easy. We are Greeks and want the road map. But Jesus is always there, extending His hand, and saying, “Come.”
Reading in the Gospels it will say Jesus did this and His disciples believed in Him. Then a little further on, Jesus did something else and His disciple believed in Him. But then something would happen and Jesus had to chide them on their unbelief. Even after Jesus was raised from the dead, walked with the disciples for forty days, and was ready to be taken up into heaven, Matthew tells us that “some doubted”.(28:17) Believing is difficult. We say we believe in Jesus, and we do. We really do, but we are surrounded by a broken world with its many trials, and things that really don’t make sense. It’s not that we question our salvation, or the love Jesus has for us, or sacrifice He made to redeem us. I think these are firm. But will the Lord work in this particular situation I’m facing? Will He answer this prayer I bring before Him, even as I still see the need before me not seeming to change? Yes, our eyes see the trials, and we are praying to an unseen realm. Even so, we have the evidence of all the Lord has done for us in past years. We know the love He has shown for us by paying the price for all of our sins. And we have His clear promise never to leave or forsake us. Even though we only see through a glass dimly right now, these are the rocks to which we cling. We can believe. The love Jesus has for us is deeper than anything we can imagine. We can trust ourselves, and all we care about, into His hands.
I probably should apologize for some of my comments in my Good Morning message this past Friday. I was talking about the expressions on the faces of soap opera actors, and the people on the fashion runways in New York. I know nothing about the individuals who earn their living in those lines of work. I certainly do not know any of their hearts, and it is not my place to judge any of their motives. But we do see what is portrayed, which in greater or lesser degrees is a reflection of the values of the world in which we live. We must make judgments about those values, and seek to guide our lives by all that God has give us for our best good. Our Lord always wants so much more for us than what can be found in seeking worldly peace and prosperity. He has given the life of His Son so that we could have life to the fullest extent (John 10:10) both now and eternally. That is something the world cannot give.(John 14:27)
I was sitting in a doctors waiting room a while back and the TV was on. It seems that TVs have to be on everywhere. We’ve lost the ability to sit quietly with our own thought – but that is a topic for another time. This particular TV was tuned to one of the afternoon soap operas. Thankfully the sound was turned down. I’ve never watched one of these stories, or know what the plot is, but what struck me just from the images on the screen, no one was happy. Everyone seemed to be in some kind of argument or serious discussion. Now I shift to a different media, internet features on my browser. Last week one was reviewing the fall line on the New York fashion runways. Not one model had any smile on their face. It seems that nothing the beautiful people on TV, or anything in the high end world of fashion, leads to real happiness. Many years ago King Solomon wrote, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, …”(Proverbs 15:13) Happiness is not found by latest expensive clothes, or going with the right crowd. It is in a heart that is at peace with God, and the knowledge that He is the ultimate strength and joy of life.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We who have been baptized in Christ Jesus remind ourselves of these words from St. Paul in Galatians 2:20. The motivating power of our life is not talent, ability, education, or personality. These are only tools given by God’s grace to use for good. Our motivating power, our reason for living, is Jesus. He is the only one who gives true life. With His life at work within, He directs and uses our gifts and talents in ways that are a blessing for others, and for the glory of God. When we try to take off in our own direction things go wrong. Let this be a day where you know even more deeply that it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you.
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.
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)
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.