10th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 12) LSB #535 tune 651
Text – Ephesians 3:17-19
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted & grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth & length & height & depth, & to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
ROOTED & GROUNDED
Do you feel that your life is stable & settled with no worries & no concerns? Does anxiety never come knocking at your door? Are you being tossed here & there by the waves & the wind of living in a rapidly changing world?
The root is an essential component of a plant. From studying them we can see that they were created to draw nutrition from the environment in which the plant was designed to grow. Jesus used illustrations from God’s creation to help us understand what it’s like to be part of the kingdom of God. St. Paul does a similar thing in the 3rd chapter of Ephesians.
He emphasizes that being part of God’s kingdom means you are rooted & grounded in the love our heavenly Father displayed in the sacrifice of His Son. Like a plant, human beings also draw nutrition from the environment surrounding them. Paul made that point in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (v. 33 ESV)
The environment you’re in affects you – how you think, how you speak, how you act. If you hang out with bad company, you absorb unhealthy nutrition. On the other hand, Paul encourages children of God to recognize that being rooted & grounded in the love of Christ is what enables you to live a healthy & fulfilling life.
Paul had founded a church in the pagan city of Ephesus, & the members there were torn between their old, unbelieving way of life, & the new way that Paul had shown them. The promise of acceptance, sexual pleasure, power & worldly success was a continual enticement as they watched their friends & neighbors participating in the old ways. The situation is reversed in our culture, largely a Christian one until recent decades. Here, the old ways involved being in church every Sunday, treating others with respect, while being honest & polite. Though it certainly existed, sexual immorality was not openly flaunted & celebrated.
As the people of our nation move further & further away from God, the same temptations are in play. The dusty old words of St. Paul from thousands of years ago are just as relevant to the culture we live in, as they were to the members of the church at Ephesus.
Like the Ephesians, we are living in a battle with foes that are far more powerful than flesh & blood. Yet, the constant message of Paul’s letter to Ephesus is that Jesus Christ has risen & ascended far above any earthly or heavenly powers.
Instead of finding fulfillment in fifty shades of gray, God’s children find it in Christ’s perfect love, which gives to those He loves, rather than takes away. Sexual immorality always revolves around selfishness instead of giving. Likewise the anger becoming so prevalent in our society, it always desires to take away from others & refuses to give.
However, like a plant with no root, which therefore has nothing to give, human beings that are not rooted in Christ also have nothing to give. Like a root is designed to draw nourishment from the soil, human beings are designed to draw nourishment from our Creator. The Fall into sin separated mankind from physical & spiritual nutrition.
Being rooted & grounded in the love of Christ is not the natural state of affairs in this fallen world. Without proper nutrition, it’s no wonder we experience anxiety & feel as if our lives are not stable nor settled. Here’s one of those world of nature illustrations that Jesus used:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me & I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV) Anxiety, selfishness & sexual immorality are signs of someone who is spiritually malnourished at best, & spiritually dead at worst. Sin has corrupted each & every human being that is conceived in this world. Yet, the Lord of heaven & earth has provided an antidote & cure. The prophet Jeremiah didn’t write these words for nothing:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, & does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, & is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” This tree has plenty of fruit to give because it is rooted & grounded in the love of Jesus.
A main function of a plant root is to absorb water & minerals from the soil for the plant to use. Another important function is this, roots anchor a plant into the ground, offering support & keeping it from washing or blowing away. In the chapter after the sermon text St. Paul speaks about the results of being rooted & ground in the love of Christ:
“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here & there by waves & carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 4:14-15 NASB)
Through being rooted & grounded in Christ’s love, we won’t be blown off course by false teaching. The devil constantly works, through believers & unbelievers alike, to convince us that we should finally get to work & do something with our faith. While that is a noble goal, the danger lies farther down the road. It’s a subtle shift & barely noticeable at the beginning.
Satan’s goal is to convince us that Jesus won’t love us if we aren’t striving to serve Him. It’s as if we are supposed to be a root in thin air that’s drawing moisture & nutrients out of nothing. Once we’ve produced fruit, then Jesus will love us. The truth is Jesus has loved us 1st. Jesus has rooted & grounded us in His love 1st, through His death on the cross specifically to take our sins away. At Baptism we are connected to the Vine, by the wisdom & skill of the Vinedresser. Then we can begin to serve Jesus. First we have to be rooted & grounded. Then we bear much fruit. It is never the other way around, “so that no one may boast.”
It is the love of our heavenly Father in Christ that provides the secure basis for all Christian living. As we are connected to Christ in Baptism, at the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Himself comes to root & ground us in His love for us. He joins Himself to us through the eating of His body & blood. He conveys to us all the blessings He earned for us on the cross.
And to what end does our Lord & Savior do this? “…that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV) That is as complete a description of heaven as we can comprehend here on earth. Our mission statement here at St. Matthew, “To Know Jesus & To Let Him Be Known” ties in directly with that verse.
What a glorious day entering the unveiled presence of God & experiencing His perfect glory. That is true life completely free of sin & free of sorrow & free of suffering. No more limitations. No more anxiety. No more instability – safely & perfectly rooted & grounded in the love of Jesus.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)
How wide the love of Christ! It knows not class or race but holds our one humanity within its broad embrace. How long the love of Christ! Its patience will not cease until this broken world is bound in everlasting peace. How high the love of Christ! Beyond all thought it soars, & yet upon our passing lives unmeasured mercy pours. How deep the love of Christ, descending to a cross! He bears within His wounded hands all human pain & loss. All praise to You, O Christ, for love whose depth & height, whose length & breadth fill time & space with endless life & light! Amen. LSB 535:1-5.
 Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV
 Ephesians 2:9 ESV
9th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 11) LSB #644
Text – Jeremiah 23:2
…“You have scattered my flock & have driven them away, & you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds,” declares the Lord.
ATTENDING TO EVIL
For many people Baptism is simply a warm & fuzzy occasion. It’s cute & it’s happy & by all appearances it doesn’t seem as if anything earth-shaking or monumental is going on. So the questions may catch us off guard & be somewhat unnerving! “Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?”
In any serious context, talk of the devil tends to make us uncomfortable. There’s something inherently disturbing about the idea of a creature more powerful than us who is out to destroy us. That’s true whether people say they believe in him or not. Putting ones head in the sand is a typical human response when confronted with matters we cannot control.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Creator of heaven & earth makes clear that He will not stick His head in the sand. We can be tempted to wonder if He is, because evil is at work, & obvious, all around us. That the Lord is patient does not mean He is indifferent to the suffering of His people. Yet, because of our sinful nature, it often takes suffering to turn us back to God.
Those are complicated thoughts to handle because our ways are not God’s ways. This is how St. Peter expressed it:
This is my 2nd letter to you, dear friends, & in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking & refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago & what our Lord & Savior commanded through your apostles.
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth & following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”
They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of His command, & He brought the earth out from the water & surrounded it with water. Then He used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens & earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the Day of Judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.
But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, & a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, & the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, & the earth & everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.
Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy & godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God & hurrying it along. On that day, He will set the heavens on fire, & the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens & new earth He has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.
And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure & blameless in His sight.
And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him – speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, & those who are ignorant & unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.
You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people & lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace & knowledge of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to Him, both now & forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3 NLT)
It’s a long quotation, yet the opening lines of the chapter pretty much describe life in America today. We have plenty of scoffers & mocking going on regarding the Christian faith. Peter also makes a good point concerning people who deny the worldwide flood, or God as Creator. They deliberately forget those teachings. This 2nd letter of Peter was written to describe God’s grace during the trials of false teaching. That’s the same issue Jeremiah was writing about in the sermon text. False teaching & false shepherds harm the flock of God. On the Day of Judgment the ungodly people will be destroyed so they can no longer afflict God’s children.
Then Peter makes the point that most directly ties in with the words of Jeremiah: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief.” (2 Peter 3:9-10a NLT)
A way that sin is so very evident in our lives is the lack of patience we see in the human race. We just do not grasp the concept of eternity nor how to relate to it. Although God’s Word clearly teaches that Baptism saves, human beings can see no instant effect. We cannot see when a person’s heart crosses the line from unbelief to faith.
Every moment of every day, our Father in heaven is attending to evil, but we seldom see instant results & we have no patience for trusting that God’s will is being done. So pastors try to shepherd the flock the way they see fit, thus earning God’s word of judgment: “You have scattered my flock & have driven them away, & you have not attended to them.” (23:2a ESV)
Because they also have no patience for trusting that God’s will is being done, the sheep go astray looking for water & greener pastures without their shepherd. Since sheep & shepherd alike cannot see immediate effects, & once it becomes clear that we have no ultimate control over the events of our lives, we’re tempted to ignore religion altogether – head stuck in the sand.
The teaching of evolution instead God as Creator is nothing more than a vain attempt to wrest control of life from God. Adam & Eve attempted the same by eating the forbidden fruit. Part of the struggle in learning to be patient, especially when others make a mess of things, is learning that God is in control & ultimately He is being patient for our sake. “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9c NLT) Not all shepherds have that goal in mind, & I can testify from experience – it is difficult to be patient with the sheep!
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was sent to save the world, not to condemn it. All the shepherds following in His footsteps have the same mandate: “Shepherd the sheep to safety.” In Jeremiah’s day, the shepherds had not been attending to the salvation of God’s flock, so the Lord declared: “Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds.”
Truth matters! Truth is life because Jesus is the truth! Satan is the father of lies & all of them proceed from him. Salvation proceeds alone from our heavenly Father’s throne. In order to provide eternal safety for His children He must attend to evil. Yet, He also desires that everyone be saved. The tension between those two extremes is beyond what we can fathom.
It should highlight that we need the grace & mercy of God above all things. Renouncing the Devil & all his works & all his ways is impossible for us were it not for the mercy & grace & love of Jesus Christ.
Do you remember this line from the Gospel reading? “When [Jesus] went ashore He saw a great crowd, & He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34 ESV) Sheep get into enough trouble of their own. Pastors who lead their people astray will be held accountable by God.
Yet, in my thinking, I’m tempted to eliminate evil as soon as it causes trouble in my life, or in the lives of those I love. Underlying that line of thinking, however, is the idea that I am good. I won’t be eliminated if God were to instantly destroy evil. That is a classic case of faulty thinking. It is good that God does not instantly eradicate evil or every one of us would be gone.
Instead, God chooses patience as He waits for us to recognize that choice that He made to
save us. Our heavenly Father chooses patience as He waits for us to trust in the choice He made to save us; to trust in the Son He sent to save us. In the days of Jeremiah God was prophesying that He would bring back a remnant of believers from the Babylonian captivity.
Then He would shape the course of history so that it came to pass that Yahweh established His Messianic kingdom on earth. From the root of Jesse’s lineage sprung forth a Branch called Jesus. Evil will finally be dealt with permanently once the time of mercy & grace has run its course. ’Til then, evil will afflict us in this life. Know that God is working through it.
A perfect example of that is the death of someone we love. Death & evil are practically interchangeable effects of sin. Here’s part of a prayer that we use to bring God’s grace into our lives during a funeral service:
“Help us, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe in & find comfort in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, & the life everlasting. We give You thanks that by Christ’s death He destroyed the power of death, & by His resurrection He opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. In the name of our risen Savior we pray. Amen.”
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is His new creation by water & the Word. From heaven He came & sought her to be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, & for her life He died. Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song. Yet she on earth has union with God, the Three in One, & mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O blessed heavenly chorus! Lord, save us by Your grace that we, like saints before us, may see You face to face. Amen. LSB 644:1, 3, 5.
8th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 10) LSB #’s 587, 735, 556:1-4
Text – Ephesians 1:9-10
Making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven & things on earth.
BRINGING ALL THINGS TOGETHER
Growing up, a common summertime event was the butchering of chickens at my Uncle’s farm. Us children had mixed feelings about it, because although we dreaded having to pluck the feathers of the 30 or so chickens, we did get a laugh of out watching the beheaded chickens running around, bumping into things, & then continuing to stumble in a different direction until they collapsed. Death is something you get hardened to on the farm.
The phrase “running around like a chicken with your head cut off,” has always brought to mind, a vivid picture because of those summertime butchering events. So when I attended my 1st Bible study at the Ft. Wayne seminary, the professor easily made his point, when he pictured the world we live in as a chicken running around with its head cut off.
The majority of people in our world don’t seem to know where they’re going either. They’re running around a lot, chasing after one thing & then another. They bump into things, they stumble & fall, but then continue on just as blindly in some other direction. Eventually, they grind to a halt as they, or their own little world, collapse.
Lives come apart at the seams because they lack guidance & direction. Many people are even searching for those, but don’t know where to find the meaning & the purpose in their routine activities. They recognize that they’re lacking something, are not satisfied because of it, but don’t realize that what they’re missing is their head.
In this era of the information revolution – cell phones, Twitter, electronic money, skinny jeans, organic diets & exercise, & the politics of the war against our president, in this age it’s easy to feel very insignificant & unimportant. Whether you are applying for a job, working at a small town business, even watching your grandchildren handle the latest electronic gadgets with ease; in all those situations you can be overwhelmed with feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, or just plain lack of capability.
When you’re off to college, to a world that’s much larger, faster paced & infinitely more complicated, at moments like those, you can wallow in despair & dread climbing out of bed in the morning. Success might appear beyond your abilities. In our sinful human weakness, we can feel utterly inferior to the tasks at hand.
Our guilt makes us feel all-alone. It separates us from those we love, & even from those who love us. Sin rots you & me from the inside out, & in our sins, we recognize that we truly are inferior. In his letter to Ephesus, St. Paul begins his 2nd chapter by painting the dark background of sinful nature, & by verbally picturing the isolating effect it has on mankind.
“You also were dead in your trespasses & sins. You led your life in those sins, following the ways of this present world & the ruler who governs the air, the spirit who is now working in the people who disobey. All of us once lived among them in our lusts, doing what our flesh & mind wanted to do. By nature we deserved God’s anger just like all the others.”
Paul holds up the mirror of the law in order for us to view a bleak self-portrait of death, lawlessness & slavery – both to the lusts of the flesh as well as to the will of Satan. In this bleak picture, death is brought to the forefront. Sin brings death & a dead body can do nothing. It is completely helpless. We are inferior & we are incapable of measuring up.
It’s like standing in the North face of Mt. St. Helens just before that volcano erupted. In the face of God, you & I are completely insignificant & powerless. We’re like a chicken with our head cut off. We’re dead, but we don’t know it yet. We’re still running & thrashing around, trying to make something of our lives in spite of being blind & helpless. As we’re honest about it, we realize that there is an immeasurable gap between God & us. To our sinful eyesight, that gap appears insurmountable.
Some of us, when recognizing that gap, completely surrender & give up all together in trying to appease God. Our inferiority can so overwhelm us that we become convinced it’s useless to remain connected to Him. The gap will never be bridged.
Yet others, in their headless state, are still foolish enough to try & measure up. If only we work hard enough at it, maybe somehow we’ll be able to climb that mountain. If only we’re better than those people, then maybe God will overlook our faults even as He judges theirs. This group tries to minimize their guilt, while highlighting their good deeds.
A 3rd group tries to bridge that gap through minimizing God. They reduce it by making Him into nothing more than a kindly old man. They shrink down His law to human scale where it becomes something we can achieve. Abortion, living together outside of marriage & selfishness are whitewashed into mere choices that we are free to make.
Surely a loving God would not want to restrict our freedom to choose? After all, no one else will be harmed by those choices. Yet, in all three groups, even if no other human beings were harmed, sin by definition is offensive & hurtful to God. His only Son was tortured & killed for our sins. However, NONE of our sins are ever harmless to other people.
All three groups try to minimize the chasm between themselves & their Creator. But the result is – they maintain the gap by disregarding, or running away from, God’s plan. Christ came in order to bridge that gap, & His work is finished.
Yet, as we give up on God, as we attempt to raise ourselves, or as we lower God, our plans interfere with & ruin the work of Christ. At the heart of the matter, people are not only rejecting God’s law, but also the blessings that He attaches to obedience. We look at the commandments as restrictions on our choices. Christ looks at those commandments as safety devices protecting us from ourselves & from the devil. Nevertheless, God knows that we are incapable of keeping those laws.
Our heavenly Father knows all too well, just how inferior we are. But in His love, already from eternity, He had a plan to bridge the gap between sinful mankind & Himself. God has made known to us the mystery of that plan in Jesus Christ. Christ is not only the revelation of the plan. He is the plan.
This revealed mystery is summarized as God’s restoration of creation back to its proper order by placing Christ at its head & subjecting all things to Him. Living without Christ, is like trying to live our lives without our head. When we attempt to go our own way, we disconnect ourselves from the source of our wisdom, our hope & our forgiveness.
At the fall of Adam & Eve, the entire universe was torn in two. God’s creation was divided by sin. He has chosen to bring all things in heaven & on earth together again, under one head, Christ Jesus. And the body for that Head is the Church. Not the church in the sense of any building or denomination, but the Church in the sense of all true believers in Jesus.
Through His birth, His baptism, His death & resurrection, Christ has restored the connection between man & God. And in spite of the disfigured status of this world, He’s still bridging that gap, & He’ll continue doing so until He returns to this earth to judge the world.
For those who believe, the gap will be forever gone. For those who’ve rejected God’s will, God’s love, & God’s grace, the chasm will become infinite as they are forever banished from any remnant even of His presence. They’ll no longer be allowed to spit in His face through rejection of His love. Christ bore, in His own body, all the effects of our sin – the division, the despair, the anarchy, & He restored unity, hope & order. There’s no longer a reason for us to feel to inferior because with Christ as our head we have been made superior. We’ve been given His perfection. In our status as God’s children, we do measure up.
We no longer need to be concerned with self-esteem, or our place & meaning in life, because Christ gives us all of that! We are His. We belong to the very Creator of the universe in which we live, & that universe was created as a gift to you. It’s the home God created for you to live in.
Looking at Mt. St. Helens & everything it destroyed, I sensed how small a piece of the universe man is. The gap between God & man is huge, & by our means – insurmountable. God may still seem beyond everything we experience, beyond our reach, in a different league.
But Christ’s glorious union with His Church stands as a pointed contrast to the dark & foreboding background of man’s hopeless separation from God. Having united Himself to His Church, Jesus has brought her back to life & made her holy according to His purpose.
It is precisely against the dark & ominous backdrop of our sin & our inferiority that the Gospel gloriously breaks forth, illuminating the portrait of Christ bringing all things back together under His head-ship. In a world that has lost its senses, the restored head-ship of Christ orders all things & brings the creation back to its proper relationship with its Father.
That is a mystery indeed, which the Gospel alone can reveal to mankind. The law, given for our protection, can only cause us to despair, or to vehemently reject its voice in our lives.
The law serves its purpose now by showing us our separation from God, in order that we might recognize our lost condition & gladly receive the Gospel.
Included in that Gospel is God’s plan to nourish & strengthen His children through His church, which is Christ’s own body. Apart from Him we are inferior. With Christ, & in Christ, we are already now seated in the heavens at the right hand of our Father, because through our baptism we’ve already been raised from the dead, with Christ.
Until that final day of our physical resurrection, Jesus governs the church in His grace & mercy, not with His law. And it’s through His body, which Christ Himself directs, that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ crucified & risen is proclaimed to the world. This world to which the Gospel is proclaimed is still enslaved to the unholy trinity: sin, death & the Devil.
It’s only through Christ’s body the Church, that men who’ve been blinded by Satan are transported via Baptism & the proclamation of the Gospel, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His glorious Light. It is Jesus who guides & directs the church to do & complete this great work in much the same way that a head directs & guides its own body.
May the Holy Spirit empower each & every one of you, to be ambassadors of the Gospel, as our Heavenly Father brings all things in heaven & on earth together under one head, in Christ. Amen.
Christ came preaching peace to you who were far away, & peace to those who were near. So then you are no longer strangers & aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, & members of God’s family, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles & prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. In Him the whole building is being fitted together & grown into a holy temple in the Lord. Amen. (Ephesians 2:17, 19-21)
7th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 9) LSB #’s 555:1-4, 524, LW #457
Text – Mark 6:2-3
And on the Sabbath [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue, & many who heard Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary & brother of James & Joses & Judas & Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.
ISN’T THIS THE CARPENTER?
Yesterday a child came out to wonder, caught a dragon fly inside a jar. Fearful when the sky was full of thunder & tearful at the falling of a star. Then the child moved ten times round the seasons, skated over ten clear frozen streams. Words like, “When you’re older,” must appease him, & promises of someday make her dreams.
Sixteen springs & sixteen summers gone now, cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town. And they tell him “Take your time, it won’t be long now, till you drag your feet to slow the circles down.”
And the seasons, they go round & round, the painted ponies go up & down. We’re captive on a carousel of time. We can’t return we can only look behind from where we came. And go round & round & round in the circle game. PAUSE
The lyrics were written by Joni Mitchell & some of you who were around in the 1960’s might even remember them. Their message, however, applies to every generation. Children grow up fast, & the point of the song is to highlight that fact so others might not fall into the same trap of taking their children’s early years for granted.
Things like changing a child’s diaper, & many others that are encountered in life, day after day after day, become so ordinary, so normal, expected & tedious, that we take them for granted. In fact, after awhile, we often fail even to notice. Some things become so ordinary that in effect, they cease to exist. And once things start ceasing to exist, once we lose that childlike sense of wonder about life, then we’ve started down the road to resentment. We begin to resent the very presence of those things we take for granted, because of the demands they place upon our time & our energy. We take, what are blessings from God, & turn them into curses because of our own self-centeredness, our own lack of appreciation & gratitude.
The song by Joni Mitchell is an attempt to remedy that. It’s an attempt to help us miss the water even before the well runs dry. Her lyrics are a wake up call to the reality & the blessing of the ordinary.
In reading the Gospel lesson, we find that Jesus has been taken for granted. He had become so common & ordinary to the people of His hometown that they were now resentful of Him. They objected to the miracles He was performing, & the wisdom of His teaching, because they had thought Jesus was just one of them.
“Isn’t this the carpenter?” might well be re-phrased, “Who does He think He is? Where does He get off on performing miracles?” He’s no better than any of us. Look, we have his mother & brothers & sisters right here.
It sounds like they were jealous. They envied the success of Jesus, because it only highlighted their lack of it. Jesus had appeared so ordinary, so much like one of them. They could not possibly accept that He was the Messiah. And no matter how many miracles He performed they were not going to change their opinion.
In fact, they hated Him all the more for having grown up just like one of them, yet succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. They resented the fact that He’d risen above them after having grown up with them, but the heart of the matter is this: they refused to accept the true identity of Jesus as the Chosen One.
In spite of what the people heard & saw from Him, they failed to penetrate the veil of
ordinariness that characterized Jesus. The everyday hum drum routine had dulled their perceptions, & their jealous, sinful nature was working to block any true understanding or appreciation of who this Jesus is. Isn’t this the carpenter?
Likewise today, many who don’t “get” anything out of church because of its ordinariness & routine, are struggling with the same problem. They’re taking for granted the blessings that God gives during worship. Those blessings have become so ordinary that people fail even to notice them. It’s as if the blessings no longer exist.
And when a person no longer recognizes the blessings of worship, then attending church becomes nothing more than a chore. At that point resentment sets in, but whether you are resentful of Jesus, or resentful of keeping the Sabbath holy, the problem is the same, & the problem is not with Jesus nor with church the services. The problem is with the sinner!
Just as sinful parents can take their child’s childhood for granted, & miss all the blessings of those years, people can take worship for granted & miss the blessings given by their Lord & Savior – blessings of life here in this world, & paradise in the next.
Just like it has to be pointed out to some parents not to view the growing up of their children as ordinary, dull or routine, it also has to be pointed out to church members not to view their attendance in the Lord’s house as ordinary, dull or routine.
King David wrote in Psalm 27, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD & to inquire in His temple.”
Those don’t sound like the words of a man who dismisses Sunday morning church as dull, routine or expendable, & Psalm 122 echoes that thought, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” So you might ask, “Why doesn’t God give all of us that gladness to be in His house? Why do I have to suffer with boredom in church or in practicing my faith?” The Apostle Paul gives some guidance in today’s Epistle reading: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9a ESV)
Weakness doesn’t sound like much of an answer to our human ears, does it? Yet, in the Gospel lesson the people were insulting Jesus as being weak, by calling Him a carpenter, & the son of Mary. Carpentry was considered a menial trade in that day, & it was contrary to Jewish custom to describe a man as the son of his mother, except in insulting terms.
Jesus entire life here on earth was one of weakness. He’d voluntarily chosen not to use His godly powers, in order to live His life as a man. The ultimate in weakness is for God to become one of His own creation.
So, if it seems weak for you to attend church every Sunday morning, if it seems weak for you to pray to God for guidance whenever you have a decision to make, think of the carpenter. Think on Jesus. His grace is sufficient for you as well. PAUSE
As it takes an incredible amount of patience to raise children before you see the results of your efforts, it also takes an incredible amount of patience to see the results of the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctifying us & the rest of the whole Christian church on earth.
That incredible amount of patience is something neither you nor I have. Yet, in our weakness, the gift of patience that God gives is revealed as just that, a gift. Neither does God require of us strength or courage, for He gives those as well.
Therefore Paul writes, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b, 10b ESV) Paul understood that it is in our weakness that we finally surrender to God’s will. When we recognize how truly helpless we are, then we realize we have nowhere else to turn; & it is through God’s power & will, that we are made strong for the journey. But, when the journey goes well, how quickly do we again take God’s power for granted & drift away from it? Eventually our strength produces more folly & more failure.
Our lives are an endless cycle just like the Circle Game. Our faith grows & then shrinks; it waxes & then wanes. The seasons go round & round & round. The painted ponies go up & they go down. It is true faith in that Christ carries us through. Faith in Christ is the carousel that takes us through the trials of life & on to our heavenly home.
Take a moment someday & reflect upon your life. Think on the seasons of your time here on earth & the frozen streams of time that you have crossed. Then write down the blessings your heavenly Father has given. Think about which of those blessings you planned out, & think about which of those blessings were a complete surprise.
Maybe your life has not been so ordinary after all. If you step back for a moment & look through the eyes of faith, you may find a new appreciation for your Lord & what He’s done for you. His truest work happened upon the wood of the cross. Isn’t that the carpenter? Amen.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, & drives away our fear. It makes the wounded spirit whole & calms the heart’s unrest; ’Tis manna to the hungry soul & to the weary, rest. Dear name! The rock on which I build, my shield & hiding place; my never failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace. Amen. LSB 524:1-3.
5th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 8) LSB #809
Text – Lamentations 3:27
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
BEARING THE YOKE
“God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” Have you heard that before? It’s a clever way of emphasizing a particular quality of God’s character. In spite of the fact that we often use the word good to refer to various human beings, Jesus teaches that being good is a unique quality of God alone. In Mark 10:18 we read:
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’” (ESV) Jesus said, “No one!” Given that, by Jesus’ definition, ‘being good’ is such a rare quality I have a question for you. I’d like to challenge that saying “God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” Here’s the question: “How do you know that God is good?”
Did you notice how I emphasized the word ‘you?’ I don’t want an answer you might find in the Bible, however sound & theologically correct that may be. What I want to know is: “How do you know that God is good?” Yes, that is a personal question. Maybe it’s too personal for you to willingly answer, but I’m asking it anyway.
God sometimes guides your pastor to probe into your spiritual life to discover if anything is alive in there. It’s similar to a doctor probing a wound, which may cause pain, but he does it for the purpose of diagnosing the illness. Only after determining the problem can the doctor intentionally work to bring healing.
“How do you know that God is good?” All of God’s children should be able to answer that question, & most everyone should have at least a somewhat different answer. Our heavenly Father is not a one size fits all type of God. He knows each of you personally & individually. Yahweh custom designs a plan for every day of your life. For that reason each one of you should have a unique story to tell others which answers the question, “How do you know that God is good?” When the submarine I was on should have been blown to pieces, God rescued me from certain death. As a pastor out in North Dakota, God rescued me from certain burnout & despair.
Those are matters of temporal & temporary existence, but my Lord also rescued me from certain eternal destruction. He suffered in Hell in my place, & that all by itself proves that God is good. I came to know & understand that through my personal experiences during the entire six years I spent serving in the Navy. God’s house has been a precious place to me ever since.
You also have unique, detailed & personal stories of God’s goodness shown to you. Only you, no one else, can tell that story with the power of God behind it. You don’t have to be the prophet Jeremiah in order to let the people in your life know that God is good. The book of Lamentations is part of Jeremiah’s story, & as we study it, it helps us learn to tell our story.
It’s important to note, though we often refer to the events of our lives as ‘our story’ ultimately they are not ours, but the story of God as He works in & through our lives. Yahweh is the author, not just of your life, but of the story of your life. I’m not a fan of the KJV of the Bible, however, one aspect of it that is widely loved is the phrase, “And it came to pass.”
In the 396 verses of the Bible where that appears, it always introduces the reader to a significant event that God wants you to take notice of. Here are a few examples:
Genesis 4:8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, & slew him. (KJV)
Genesis 7:10 And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. (KJV)
Mark 1:9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, & was baptized of John in Jordan. (KJV)
To tell others how you know that God is good, all you have to describe is what has
“come to pass” in the days of your life. You can do it with confidence because God says He orders & directs our days. Telling others what has come to pass is easier if you regularly spend time thanking your Lord for the all the blessings He’s given you from the day of your birth till now. Practice what you’ll tell other people while you’re praying to your heavenly Father.
This is one of the ways Jeremiah said it: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” (3:22-23) Jeremiah is telling you how he knows that God is good. Now, we have to consider the context.
Jan & I used the song based on that text at our wedding, a common day of celebration & joy. Yet, Jeremiah is telling us how God is good on an occasion when few people will celebrate. He wrote as an eyewitness to the divine judgment on Jerusalem. The city has been destroyed, famine is in full swing, & the once great nation is now nothing more than a province of Babylon.
Under those circumstances, how on earth could Jeremiah know that God is good, let alone convince anyone else of it? First, the people of Judah had abandoned God for false idols, despising His love & blessing. Then, God brought judgment on them for their rebellion.
Flanked by 2 chapters on either side the 66 verses of Lamentations chapter 3 rise like cresting wave over a sea of tears. Lamentations is a book of five poems, each one an outburst of grief caused by the destruction of the city & the kingdom. It is a deeply emotional book, openly acknowledging the presence of weeping (1:7), groaning (1:8), & grief (2:11).
The OT is full of national & individual laments, all due to the corrosive effects of sin or the resulting discipline of a loving heavenly Father. The nation of Israel affirmed that suffering is real & significant. Though their language of lament can be shocking, & even offensive, to us (cf. Jer. 13:22-17; Psalm 137), it nevertheless pulsates with authenticity & transparency.
By means of these laments Israel’s public worship provided people with a venue to grieve
their losses. As a direct consequence, they were empowered to face enslavement & national humiliation & then to move on with the lives through which God was still blessing them. First Israel & then the church has placed these Biblical laments into our hands to correct any euphoric notions of faith we may harbor that portray the Christian life as one of only sweetness & light.
The texts are in Scripture so we avoid a one-sided, happiness-only view that fails to deal forthrightly with the harsh realities of life. If we lose these laments – by neglect or ignorance – we will lose Yahweh’s gracious gifts of comfort, guidance & healing. Sadly, Israel’s language of lament is largely absent from life in the middle-class church of the United States.
Worship often construes the Christian faith in the “major key” with melodies that are symmetrical, congruent & primarily geared toward peace & equilibrium. In some corners of the church liturgies & homilies do everything they can to avoid texts of lament.
Broken people who attend such churches arrive at this unavoidable conclusion: sorrow & lament belong somewhere else, anywhere else, but not in the church. By removing Israel’s “off-centered” texts of lament we are in danger of creating an exclusive rather than inclusive church.
We may be nurturing a church for mainstream people who are content & well positioned in the dominant culture of American capitalism. But what about people who live on the economic fringes of society, or whose lives are in emotional chaos? Their cries of pain & loss are not comfortable. Their presence is disturbing & thus unwelcome.
Why? Because their lament does not mesh with our pleasant & comfortable idea of “church.” By divorcing ourselves from Israel’s texts of lament, our worship services may be geared for the well & not the sick, for the whole & not the broken (cf. Matt. 9:12-13). This is strikingly antithetical to the Gospel.
It not only misses opportunities for healing & compassion, but refuses a hand of
solidarity to those experiencing divorce, unemployment, poverty, racism, or death. This disparity – between Israel’s texts of lament & our church culture – could be driving people away from our churches. People are crying out for an expression of the Christian faith that is honest, transparent & real. Whether they know it or not, these people are longing for texts of lament.
Human emotions are like a river flowing out of the heart. This river needs a “bank” so our feelings can take on depth & direction. Apart from Israel’s laments we’re left with our culture’s shallow expressions of loss, & are then stuck in meandering sorrow.
But with the words of Lamentations we have categories & expressions that allow our brokenness to come before Yahweh’s healing throne of grace. Through a renewed appreciation & use of Israel’s laments we become communities where weeping is allowed to endure for the long nights of life, while yet affirming that joy will come in the morning.
That joy which comes in the morning is the joy of the Easter resurrection! Then, our Lord’s own lament was turned into a song of everlasting deliverance (cf. Ps. 22:1, 24). For us who believe in Jesus as Lord & Savior, we will experience that resurrection in our own flesh & blood. But for this life, it is better that we bear the yoke while we are young.
What that means is this – we are far better off learning to submit to the will of the Lord early in life. A repentant heart is a gift from God, but it’s not an easy gift to receive. It runs against every grain of our sinful nature. Bearing the yoke is a figurative way of describing what it is to endure discipline & then to accept submission – submission to God’s infinite wisdom.
The songs of lament, in Holy Scripture, are there for our training & instruction, however bewildering & uncomfortable they may be. They are words of real life in a world where it came to pass that the 1st born son of Adam & Eve murdered the 2nd born. They are words of real life in a world where it came to pass that the people God created murdered the Son He sent to rescue them. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” were words of lament spoken by that Son from the cross. The words we read & heard from Lamentations are words of repentance & submission, but they are also words of great joy & peace. They are the words of a peace that surpasses all human understanding.
“And when [Jesus] had entered, He said to them, ‘Why are you making a commotion & weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at Him. But he put them all outside & took the child’s father & mother & those who were with him & went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand He said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up & began walking…” (Mark 5:39-42 ESV)
You have similar stories, from your own lives, which clearly have taught you that God is good. You have similar stories, from the good old days, of times when you had to bear the yoke & yet received blessings from your heavenly Father, while you were bearing it, & again when He lifted it from your shoulders. There are people in your life dying to hear those stories. Amen.
Pardon for sin & a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer & to guide; strength for today & bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside! Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet