I was in a souvenir shop yesterday and overheard a teenaged sister showing her young brother some polished stones. She was saying that the stones were good for taking negative energy away. I cringe at hearing such New Age ideas, but it was not my place to enter her conversation. In one sense though, she was right about negative energy, only it is really called sin. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature…For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”(Romans 7:18-19) The solution to this problem is not holding some shiny rocks, but in the cleansing grace of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Years ago Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Unfortunately, it has been replaced by humanistic concepts that people believe need only human solutions apart from God. I pray that the teen and her young brother are led to the truth, and one day are able to say with St. Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
A headline in the financial new this morning reads, “The wisdom of Confucius can lead you to financial success.” I didn’t read the article, but it may well have some excellent points. Confucius lived 500 years before Christ. How could 2500 year old wisdom have relevance in our modern world? Ah! But true wisdom has no expiration date. This is a lesson we need to hear, while trying to set aside a bit of the modern arrogance that deems our age the most advanced of all. The Prophet Jeremiah, also many years ago, counseled, “Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls.”(6:16) The wisdom of God is timeless. The One who created us has given us His wisdom as the best guide for life. We face a myriad of challenges and fears in our “highly advanced” world. Maybe it is past time that we looked again to the ancient paths where the good way is.
It is the nature of our world to hide. We are careful to let people see only that which is favorable in us. Much of politics and business runs on impression, images. One must appear prosperous, authoritative, in control, even if that is not the full truth. None of us wants our secret thoughts to be displayed for all to see. We learn from an early age to cover the most uncomfortable truths about ourselves. And, to a degree, it is necessary in our fallen world. There is another important truth – all is completely open before God. The Psalmist has written, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.”(139:1-4) This is a very freeing truth. God knows us to our very depth, and yet loves us with an everlasting love. We can lay all of our life before His forgiving grace. He understands our struggles, and the question that don’t seem to have answers. He works to move us along step by step until the day when there will be no more need to hide from anyone.(Genesis 2:25)
In the last couple of days I’ve use illustrations of a church organ, a July 4th celebration, and a fireworks display. There are many parables in life. It is why Jesus told so many stories of very common things that the people knew well. The point is that many things in life point us to our relationship with the Lord. Paul wrote that what can be know of the Lord is clearly visible in the things He has made. God has revealed Himself in His holy word, and we share His presence in the blessed sacrament. His Spirit seeks to open our hearts to His life and nature in many things we encounter during our days. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it shall be opened to you, Jesus told the people on the mountain side. Let this be the desire of your days, and keep your eyes open. You will learn more of the truth He has for you.
Famine is a serious problem. We know the extreme dangers of famine in Africa, for example. Many are working to alleviate it. But suppose you were told that we have a severe famine in the U.S. You wouldn’t believe it, especially considering the many current campaigns against obesity. It’s true. We are in a severe famine. The prophet Amos wrote, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.'”(8:11) Statistics show that Biblical literacy in the U.S. is at an all time low, even among church goers. Many churches no longer preach from the Scriptures, opting for social causes or life affirming messages. We are the richest, most well fed country in the world, but are starving for the truth of God’s Holy Word. Even further, we don’t recognize it. I can’t really see this condition changing. All I can say is that it must not be so among us. We must feed daily upon God’s Word. It is the only real food for life.
On the wall behind my desk is a saying of Martin Luther. “Truth is mightier than eloquence; the Spirit stronger than genius; faith greater then learning.” I don’t think he meant to say that eloquence, genius, and learning are not important. He was a man gifted in all three, but these are human characteristics. We often admire them in people, but we have also seen where these characteristics alone have lead groups of people and even nations in terrible destructive paths. Truth, Spirit, and faith are of God. This points to another oft quoted saying of Luther that “a peasant with the Scriptures is mightier that the Pope without them.” We look up to many great people, but one who humble, searching out God’s Word in faith, and trusting God’s Spirit for wisdom and direction, is on a far better and surer path than many great and articulate leaders.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” But five short days later many of the same crowd where shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” We are changable creatures, humans! We follow to easily along with the crowd. We give in to pressure or pain. We don’t take enough time to think through our own convictions and stand by them. We are too afraid of the negative opinions of others. And so we change to what is the most comfortable or expedient at the moment. Oh, I know this is not true of all of us in all situations, but this Palm Sunday crowd in Jerusalem reminds us how easy it is to give in to feeling or pressure. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. We seek to stand firm in His truth.
16th century Alchemists worked to transform lead into gold. They used there arts and secret formulas to find a means for producing great riches. The only problem is that lead and gold are both elements. They can be combined with other elements, but they can’t be changes. It just strikes me that in our modern day we have not stopped trying. Gold in the Scriptures is a symbol for the truth of God. It is pure and unchanging. But, rather than taking God’s truth for the beauty that it is, and understanding its good, mankind keeps trying to take lesser things and say that they are equal to God’s truth. The Serpent’s original temptation, “Did God really say …?”(Genesis 3:1) is always with us. Yes, God did say, and His truth can’t be changed. He has given it to us in purity, and for our best good. Let’s keep gold as gold and lead as lead.
There is a British comedy we enjoy watching on Public Television. It is done quite well, and we have been following it for years. There is one aspect that makes it way into almost every episode, that is the lie. The characters will find themselves having to answer a difficult question, or give some reason for something they do or do not want to do, and they make up a lie. It usually gets them in trouble, but it is still the first response they usually make. It is always a temptation. We want to look good. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s so easy to shade the truth in our favor. After all, they are only “little white lies.” Which is a lie itself. Yes, it is hard at time to make truth our rule for everything we say and do, but it is a vital virtue to be cultivated. It is only out of truth that trust comes. God was quite serious when He gave the command not to bear false witness. It is hard at time, but it is the best policy for life.
There is a difference between what we want to know and what we need to know. We have been conditioned by sound bites and short segments. These give us what broadcasters think grab our attention, and keep us entertained. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the difference between the milk and the meet of the word. (Cpt.5) It is the depth, the meat of the word that we really need. This is why Jesus had so many seemingly hard sayings. He wasn’t trying to make people feel good, but to open them to a deep relationship with their Lord. Sometimes that meant speaking the truth, even when the truth was vastly different from what the world assumed to be true. He said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) It is only the depth of God’s truth that is really freeing in life, and that can’t be contained in a sound bit.