Skip to content

06.28.20 When God Seduces Us Hosea 2:14-20 Sermon Summary

The last time ancient Israel was in the Wilderness was during the Exodus, thirteen centuries before the birth of Christ, when they were liberated from slavery in Egypt. It was a time of both deliverance and judgment. The prophet Hosea says that God is taking his people back to the Wilderness for a time of judgment and honeymoon. In any case, through hardship and redemption, the Wilderness is a place of transformation.

There are two primary metaphors in Hosea. The first is God as Husband and Israel as spouse. The second is God as Parent with Israel as son. Metaphors are powerful. They are “word pictures” that say “something is something else.” They don’t’ say something is “like” something else, but that it “is” something else. Metaphors are    side-by-side juxtapositions meant to expand understanding.

“Metaphor” is a Greek word that means carry with. Metaphors carry with them non-literal truths (note the plural) which cause us to see something from a different angle. We must avoid identifying or confusing a metaphor’s something with something else, and it helps to know the context of the metaphor, to locate the angle of the metaphor, and only then to take in the view and ponder.

Last week we looked at the metaphor of God as parent. It was Father’s Day so I let the idea that God the Parent was a father stand. But the text is uncommitted. And the descriptions of the parent in Hosea 11 are typical descriptions of caring mothers, not fathers. It is valuable to see God as Mother especially in this instance. It balances the metaphor of sexual identity which is the topic this week, namely, that God is a Husband and thus male. The point is, God is not a husband or a mother, is not a male or a female, and using both metaphors together with Hosea keeps us mindful of this.

This week God is the Husband and Israel is a spouse. She is not a faithful spouse, but rather an adulterous one. She has chased after other lovers. “She went after her lovers and forgot me,” says the Lord. (Hosea 2:13)

Hosea describes the leaders of Israel with these words: “They have dealt faithlessly with the LORD; for they have born illegitimate children.” (5:7) Who are some of these illegitimate children,                “born out of unfaithfulness”? Hosea identifies at least four.

The first child born of unfaithfulness is the economic exploitation of the poor. In Hosea’s time, peasants harvested crops of “grain, wine, and oil.” It was their practice to rotate crops in order to ensure a successful harvest. But the social elites demanded more harvest for lucrative export. They exploited the peasants’ labor, and they exploited the land. Hosea refers to them as, “A trader, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress.” (12:7)

The second illegitimate child is the religious legitimation of the oppressive situation. Quoting the elites, Hosea says, “Ah, I am rich. In all of my gain, no offense has been found in me that would be sin.” (12:8) This came up last week also, but the point is their earnings may be legal, but they are not just. Yet the religious leaders condone this injustice, and so Hosea writes, “As robbers lie in wait for someone, so priests are banded together.” (6:9)

A third child of unfaithfulness is Israel’s reliance on might. They made military alliances with foreign nations when they questioned their own abilities. So Hosea prophecies, “Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed.” (10:13-14)

Finally, the fourth illegitimate child is idolatry. God says, “They keep on sinning by making a cast image for themselves, idols of silver made according to their understanding, all of them the work of artisans. ‘Sacrifice to these,’ they say.” (13:2) Today these idols look like new cars, or bigger houses, or fancier vacations, or exotic hobbies, or the latest technology, or the cheapest prices.

How many of us are “sacrificing to these”? Sacrificing our health? Sacrificing our families? Sacrificing our integrity? Sacrificing our time? From God’s perspective, these are all idols. They are our adulterous lovers.

Despite these four illegitimate children, born of God’s people from adulterous relationships, Hosea reveals God’s strategy for redeeming us. It is basically to strip away all our idols. God will take away our fine things and our productivity. “I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season; and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.” (2:9)

At least God takes away our satisfaction. “She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them.” (2:7) “As they go, I will cast my net over them; I will bring them down like birds of the air.” (7:12) We may fly after our idols, but God brings us back down.

Have you ever become dissatisfied? Have you had the experience that things which have always worked no longer do? So you try harder but to no avail? Hosea might say we are chasing an idol.

Hosea’s metaphor goes even further. God creates dissatisfaction not only for one generation, but for generations to follow. “Upon her children also I will have no pity.” (2:4) “Her glory shall fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!” (9:11) “I will give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.” (9:14) “Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will kill the cherished offspring of their womb.” (9:16) God’s judgment upon idolatry is severe.

As a summary of God’s strategy Hosea writes, “They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall have the sex, but not multiply.” (4:10)

What is God’s goal in stripping away our idols? It is first to counteract our forgetfulness. It is to cause us to remember God and to be grateful. Second, it is for us to live faithfully—faithful to our communion with God and also with one another. It is that we will live with relationships built on faithful promises.

And so after stripping away our idols, after forcing us back into the Wilderness, God says through Hosea: “I will now allure you, seduce you, speak tenderly to you, in the wilderness. You will not call me ‘Master’ or ‘Lord’ as you did the Baals, but you will call me ‘Husband.’ I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy, and in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”

This vision of Hosea inspired another prophet to speak of the same love. Isaiah 54:5-8 says, “Your Maker is your husband, the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit. ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. For a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you.’”

Pastor and Professor Christine and James Ward write, “God’s renewed covenant with Israel is based on God’s unfailing love, and it requires Israel’s love in return, love expressed in faith in God and in works of love and justice.” (Ward and Ward, Preaching from the Prophets, p. 112)

God’s people are not faithful spouses when we fail to love God and one another. We are not faithful spouses when we fail to uphold justice for all God’s children.

Hosea must have inspired Jesus in John 8. There a woman is caught in adultery. She is brought by the religious leaders, the Pharisees, to Jesus. They remind Jesus that the Law says she shall be stoned to death. So what does Jesus say?

Here is this woman, standing naked before Jesus, just like Hosea said Israel would stand before her lovers. I wonder, was her husband in the crowd? Was her lover in the crowd?

Jesus bends down and writes in the sand. Suddenly everyone is looking at him and not at her. It is an act of grace. Jesus stands and responds to the question, “Shall we stone her?” “Let you who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus responds. Then he bends down and continues writing.

Brennan Manning comments: “The god of the Pharisees is interested in the contract, in [law-keeping] first and foremost. Let us kill the woman for the contract. The person is expendable. But in the Man, Jesus, we see the human face of God, one in keeping with the . . . revelation [in Hosea]. He is interested in the woman. His love moves beyond [law-keeping] and proves more salvific than spelling out the ground rules all over again.” (Brennan Manning, Dear Abba, p. 96)

Jesus, like God in Hosea, knows that we all are adulterous spouses. We all are Hosea’s Israel. We all are this woman in the story and the wife in the metaphor. True religious faithfulness is NOT sexual purity but relationships built on faithful promises. It is to belong to God in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness. (2:19-20)

This is God’s faithful promise to us, and the same is God’s hoped-for response from us. And in our hearts, it is our intended response to God. Righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness. Hosea urges, “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” (10:12)

No matter how unfaithful a spouse we may have been, let us remember that God seduces us yet again. And may we render to God the fruits of God’s Spirit in our lives, and be a faithful spouse to our God. Amen.

 

06.21.20 Out and Back to Egypt, Hosea 11, 8, 12 Selections, Sermon Summary

The warning of Hosea the prophet was relatively simple: God took you out of Egypt, but God is about to send you back.

You probably remember the Exodus—with Moses and the plagues, the first Passover and the journey through the Wilderness. That occurred some 1200 years before Christ. The ancient Israelites had spent somewhere between 210 and 430 years in Egypt, the latter part as slaves.

The Exodus was the defining moment of the nation, with the dramatic parting of the Sea of Reeds and the giving of the Ten Commandments. As the story goes, the people would spend forty years in the Wilderness. After only forty-five DAYS, they complained. They said to Moses, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3)

Things were bad for ancient Israel in the Wilderness. But they forgot how bad it was in Egypt.

After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom of David was divided in 922. Ten tribes went with the Northern Kingdom of Israel (AKA Ephraim) and two went to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC. Judah was ultimately conquered by Babylon in 587 BC. Hosea was written for Israel before the Assyrian invasion. It was later adapted for Judah.

In his generation Hosea saw that things were bad. But they forgot how good God is.

There’s a part of us that doesn’t want to forget. Remembering disappointment or trauma is protective against future pain. Even deeper there’s a part of us that won’t forget. We have wounds that need healing or a ruptured relationship that can be repaired.

But usually most people want to forget. Pain is unpleasant. We don’t talk about it. We want to replace bad memories with good memories. We try to substitute with busyness, or we work for a brighter future.

But forgetting is spiritual poison. If we forget, we die spiritually. The reason is that to remember is divine.

In Hosea, God remembers fondly: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” This is a reference to the Exodus of the 13th century. “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

Presbyterian biblical scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier comments, “Nowhere in the Scriptures is there a more poignant portrayal of God. ‘It was I who taught Ephraim to walk.’ . . . All of God’s patient, tender, forgiving, guiding fatherhood is revealed in that portrayal.” (Preaching from the Minor Prophets, p. 25)

God has a long memory, like parents’ first memories of children. Hosea’s generation had forgotten. Instead of trusting God their liberator, they turned to more conventional means of security: Political manipulation, military power, unjust distribution of resources, and unholy alliances.

With regards to political manipulation, God complains through Hosea: “They made kings, but not through me; they set up princes, but without my knowledge.”

Regarding military power: “Judah has multiplied fortified cities.”

Commenting on the unjust distribution of resources: “Israel has forgotten his Maker, and built palaces. Ephraim says of herself: ‘Ah, I am rich, I have gained wealth for myself; in all of my gain no offense has been found in me that would be sin.’” In other words, what they did was legal, but it was not just.

And related to unholy alliances God says, “Ephraim has become silly and without sense; they call upon Egypt, they go to Assyria.” (7:11) Why does Israel do this? To battle Judah!

What is this called when a country turns to these alternatives for security? Hosea calls it “unfaithfulness.” He calls it “idolatry.” Instead of turning to God, we turn to political manipulation, military power, unjust distribution of resources, and unholy alliances.

The road to idolatry is paved with privilege. “With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.” It is paved with privilege followed by forgetfulness. “When I fed them, they were satisfied; they were satisfied, and their heart was proud; therefore they forgot me.” (13:6)

Hosea’s generation had long forgotten God. “The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.”

Hosea saw in his time, as prophets since have seen, God’s fond memory and a nation’s privileged forgetfulness. He saw that these lead to exile and judgment. “They shall not remain in the land of the Lord; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and in Assyria they shall eat unclean food.” (9:3)

God’s people had come out of Egypt and now they’re about to go back—all because in their privilege they forgot God, became unfaithful, trusted in idols, and didn’t listen to the prophets.

God’s memory is long. God remembers when we were faithful, even if it was just our wonder in childhood (which is why we baptize children). God remembers picking us up, teaching us to walk, calling our names, even when we stopped listening. “I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.” (13:4)

God remembers that he created us in love, adopted us as his own, freed us from slavery to sin, and saved us in Christ.

So when our idolatry leads us back to Egypt and back into sin and its painful consequences, God has a conversation within himself. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (11:8-9)

When things are bad we sometimes forget that they’ve been worse. We sometimes forget how good God is. We sometimes forget to trust God, and the spiritual poison enters our lives.

But thanks be to God, that God never forgets. When you were just a child, God loved you. And out of Egypt God calls his children. Again and again and again.

06.14.20 Giving to Jesus John 6:32-40 Communion Homily

Most preacher approach Year B in the lectionary with a sense of dread come the summer months. The lectionary takes us to John chapter 6 which begins with Jesus feeding the 5000. Then there follows a search for Jesus which is somewhat humorous. The bulk of the chapter is the “Bread of life Discourse.”

Jesus’ audience is pressing him for a sign, for something to believe in. He tries to redirect them to God but they are slow to arrive. Finally Jesus concedes with four points. The people can 1. See Jesus, 2. Believe, 3. Have eternal life, and 4. Be raised on the last day.

The chapter continues with some back and forth between Jesus and the audience until finally Peter confesses that Jesus has the words of life. This takes us all the way back to the first chapter where John writes that, “In the beginning was the Word which was the life of the world.” It’s a lot for one summer.

John has no “bread and cup” Last Supper, but nonetheless has the most developed Eucharistic theology. It is found in this chapter. What is being taught here?

First we are told to “see Jesus.” In its setting this means simply seeing Jesus with the eyes. This the crowd of 5000 did. But there are some who also “believe.” These people see Jesus, but they also see more. These two points combine in John’s telling to teach us about the bread of Communion. At the table we see bread with our eyes, but we believe there is more there.

In Jesus, what people may see and experience is “eternal life.” According to Jesus, it is a life that is lived for the life of the world. It is doing the will of God. Eternal life is not a reference to our lives after death, for that is the fourth thing Jesus promises: Being raised from the dead.

But this brings us back again to “seeing Jesus.” For we can see Jesus when we see people who live their lives for the life of the world. When we see anyone doing the will of God, we are seeing Jesus. This is what Christians believe: God is always doing more than it appears.

There are two more things I want to point out from this passage. Those who come to him Jesus never drives away. And those who come to him Jesus never loses.

So will you come? For Jesus is calling. Will you see and believe? For here is bread and cup, but more than that also. Will you have eternal life? Will you live according to God’s will? Will you live for the life of the world? In your life, will people see Jesus this week?

Eucharistic Prayer: We give you thanks and praise, almighty Father of Jesus and life giving-Mother of all, for you sent Jesus to reveal yourself to the world. He came teaching grace and truth, eating with the hungry, sharing and giving his life for the life of the world.  He took bread and blessed it, broke it and gave it to those in need. Some ate and were satisfied, some ate and believed. Send your Spirit we pray, that at this table we may eat and believe, and find our satisfaction in receiving Christ, that we may be born from above, live out of love, and be raised on the last day.

06.14.20 While we Wait Habakkuk 1-3 Selections Sermon Summary

It feels like Advent in June: We’re doing a lot of waiting. Waiting time can be productive or a waste. But it can also be very discouraging. Today we turn to some ways Habakkuk dealt with the long time of waiting for justice and deliverance. Six strategies emerge.

  1. Be honest about the discouragement. Habakkuk begins with the words, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” (1:2) We’ve already looked at the value of being so honest in the Sundays in May 2020, so I encourage you to review those sermons.
  2. Appeal to God’s character. Habakkuk reminds God, “Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” (1:13) How can you know God’s Character?

The first place to seek God’s character is in the person of Jesus Christ. After that, we look to the Bible “as it bears witness to Christ” (Confession of 1967). Finally, we know God’s character by remembering God’s deliverance in past, whether from the scripture, tradition, or in our own lives. God is a saving God.

  1. Remain watchful. Habakkuk writes, “ will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.” (2:1) The monastic hour of prayer called “vigils” now begins in the darkness of pre-dawn. It originally referred to an all-night time of prayer. This is what Habakkuk is talking about—watching and waiting for God’s response.
  2. Call out idols. Habakkuk utters a woe against the unrighteous in Jerusalem and the unrighteous Babylonians: “What use is an idol? For its maker trusts in what has been made . . . But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” (2:18-20) He is appealing to one of the central points in the doctrine of creation. It is that no matter how much of God may be revealed in the creation, there is still the truth that God is Creator. Nothing in creation can save us—our salvation must come from outside creation. We need a savior. We have a creator. We look to our Creator for a Savior.
  3. Be defiant in faith. Habakkuk ends with this strong affirmation: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.” (3:17-19)

In each of our lives, we have a sentence that can begin with “Though”. Though my childhood included trauma. Though my marriage didn’t work out. Though I can no longer work. Though I am injured. Though . . . However your sentence begins, Habakkuk reminds us to turn it around another word: “Yet.” Yet will I praise God. Yet will I seek the Lord. Yet will I love others. Habakkuk is defiant in faith.

  1. Keep vision in view. The waiting Habakkuk did report this response from God: “Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” (2:2-3)

The instructions God gives the prophet is to make the vision so large that even a passerby running could see it and be encouraged. It would be like a billboard on the side of a road announcing how far the nearest fueling station is.

What Habakkuk doesn’t give us is the content of that vision. Some have suggested the entire third chapter contains the vision. But if we look at the other prophets writing at the time of Habakkuk, we might get a better sense of God’s inspiring vision.

Here are some examples of what God’s vision for Habakkuk’s audience is:

The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7)

Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon. (Jeremiah 50:34)

The days are surely coming, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jeremiah 23:5)

If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, then I will dwell with you in this place forever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. (Zephaniah 3:16-18)

For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, and gather you from all the places where I have driven you, and bring you back from exile. (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

The days are surely coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. But this is the covenant that I will make: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They shall all know me for I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

While we wait for God’s vision to become manifest, Habakkuk has shown us six steps for making our wait a productive, faithful time.

06.07.20 Law and Justice Habakkuk 1-3 selections Sermon Summary

The prophecy of Habakkuk begins with the same words as Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord?” The psalmist hopes someday to rejoice in the salvation of God. Habakkuk finds peace in continuing to wait. What can we learn from Habakkuk about dealing with delayed answer to prayer?

Habakkuk began writing around 600 B.C. The ancient Israelite kingdom of Judah was on the brink of a catastrophe called the Babylonian Exile which began in 587 B.C. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already been decimated by the Assyrians over 100 years earlier. Habakkuk hopes Judah can avoid that same fate.

Judah had not maintained righteousness. They had not heeded the warning from Israel’s fate. They committed idolatry, and tolerated corrupt courts and dishonest business which led to an uneven execution of justice. Judah deserved God’s judgment of unrighteousness, and Habakkuk knew it.

But Habakkuk was alarmed that God’s judgment might come by the Babylonians, whom he calls Chaldeans. Their theology was deficient. “Their own might is their god,” he tells us. Instead of following God, they held to a might-makes-right philosophy. In the same vein, “justice and dignity proceed from themselves.” They were their own law.

Babylon boasted military supremacy, with “horses swifter than leopards.” They were “more menacing than wolves . . . fearsome and impetuous . . . dreadful and fierce.” Because they were invincible, they “gathered captives like sand.”

And so Habakkuk laments that as Babylonian approaches Jerusalem, “the law becomes slack, and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous, therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”

The late Presbyterian biblical scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier writes, “The key word in Habakkuk 1:1-4 is mishpat, justice, which here refers not simply to judicial justice [courtroom justice] but to God’s whole order for society’s life.” (Preaching from the Minor Prophets, p. 89) Biblical justice, what Habakkuk laments is being perverted in Judah, refers to social righteousness, to “shalom,” the Old Testament vision of a society in which every life flourishes.

And God agrees with Habukkuk. The Babylonians are “proud.” They are condemned for their abuse of their wealth and their “arrogance.” We’re told they are “insatiable” like Death, never being satisfied, slaves to the Deadly Sin of Greed. Babylon colonizes other nations, “collecting peoples as their own.”

Later in the second chapter Habakkuk utters five “woes” against Babylonians. We attend to two. First: They practice segregation. God judges them for “setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm.” Using their wealth, they live in what we might see as gated communities. While less privileged people perform dangerous jobs below them, the privileged remain quarantined on high. And even “the very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork”; their own houses, built by oppressed people, will testify against them.

The second woe reveals that the Babylonians use their privilege to take advantage of others. “You make your neighbors drunk to gaze on their nakedness.” We see the exact replication of this on college campuses—just ask Chanel Miller.

But we see it also in society’s quick-fix public programs and lavish initial responses to disasters and tragedies. These work only so long. Temporary solutions to injustice eventually lead to violence, “in cities and all who live in them,” Habakkuk observes.

So Habakkuk laments two instances of injustice: (1) Judah’s unfaithfulness and (2) the “even worse Babylon” as God’s instrument. In both cases, he remembers and prays in chapter three: “I have heard of your renown, O God, and of your work. Revive it in our own time.”

More specifically, Habakkuk remembers God the Lawgiver. When he remembers that “God came from Teman, from Mount Paran,” he sees God rising from the region of Mt. Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law. Habakkuk suggests that the solution to both injustices—Judah’s unfaithfulness and the “even worse Babylon” as God’s instrument—is the law.

Habakkuk longs for the law. Through a return to the law mishpat, justice, will be restored. God’s desire for society will be realized. All lives will flourish.

Jesus was asked about the law, about which commandment is most important. His answer is well-known: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second is like it: Lover your neighbor as yourself.” How simply stated.

Love, Jesus taught, is the essence of the law. And Habakkuk would agree. This explains his observation that when the law has gone slack, injustice results. Without the law of love, injustice is inevitable.

In 1967 Martin Luther King answered white citizens who wanted to help bring about civil rights. He called them to a just love: “Love that does not satisfy justice is no love at all. It is merely a sentimental affection . . . Love at its best is justice concretized.” (Where do We Go from Here, 1967, p. 95) What does it look like when love is made real? When it is not just rhetoric on our lips but actions in our lifestyles?

Habakkuk provides some answers as he understood the relationship between law, love, and justice: If in Judah they worshiped God and not idols; if in Judah the courts treated all people the same; if in Judah everyone had the same opportunity to advance economically—then judgment might be averted. If in Babylon they didn’t segregate themselves; if in Babylon they didn’t take advantage of others; if in Babylon they didn’t use their military to suppress—then judgment might be averted.

Habakkuk saw the need to return to the law, to mishpat, to social righteousness, to the standard of every life flourishing, to the law of love as Jesus taught. Until there is law applied through love, Judah and Babylon—and nations like them—will experience divine judgment.

Thus what Habakkuk and Jesus appear to be saying is that there can be no law and order until there is law and justice.

Thanks be to God that through the power of the Spirit, the baptized in Christ may bear witness in the nation and in the world of the love and justice of the Kingdom of God.

05.24.20 Morning is Coming Psalm 30 and 1 Peter 1 Sermon Summary

Psalm 30 comes to us as a song from the other side. The occasion for the author’s lament has past and he is being restored to a joyful community of worship. Our national anthem is another song from the other side. The dark night of war, punctuated only by the glare of rockets and bursting bombs, yields to dawn’s early light to reveal the stars and stripes of our banner. Songs from the other side encourage and give hope. They are honest about our laments and hopeful of God’s deliverance.

The author of Psalm 30 is one who has lamented, who peered into the “Pit” of death and survived, and is now returning to congregational worship. His cause for lament is given in one compact sentence: “You hid your face, I was dismayed.”

Psalm 104 uses the same language. “When you hide your face, creatures are dismayed; you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” Our psalmist was brought to the point of death where the dark Pit of Sheol is visible. But he survives and returns from the other side to say, “Sing praises to the Lord, and give thanks to God’s holy name.” (verse 4)

The heart of the psalm is verse 5: “God’s anger is but for a moment, God’s favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

We’re told that the psalmist was healthy and wealthy. He was “established as a strong mountain” and enjoyed “prosperity.” But then the fortunes were reversed. He uses a lot of metaphorical language: “strong mountain,” the “Pit,” God’s “face,” sickness as “foes.”

This brings us to the first point about lament psalms: They invite personalization. What is your “strong mountain?” What are your “foes?” What losses cause such grief that your own life seems in jeopardy? Psalm 30 speaks to you from the other side.

How did this psalmist survive?

One thing he did was to cry out to God for help. So often we don’t do this, perhaps because we feel guilty for our own suffering, as if it is our own fault. And there may be some truth to that.

But God is a savior. It’s God’s nature to save. God doesn’t care who’s to blame. God doesn’t care how long it takes us. We can always ask for help.

A second strategy for survival is based on this. A saving God wants to be praised and thanked, so the psalmist argues, “The dead don’t praise you—they’re dead! If I die, I can’t praise you.” This is the perspective of the psalmist. “Save me from dying, so I can praise you.”

God’s answer to the author of this psalm was to save from dying. But what about when that isn’t God’s answer? Is the psalmist’s faith voided by death? Is psalmist’s hope vain in death? What about the death of our loved ones? What about our own death? What about when God’s answer is not to save from dying? Does God just not answer? And if God does not answer, should we continue in prayer? Continue in faith? Continue in hope?

First Peter was written to answer these kinds of questions. This is evident early on in the letter. The resurrection of Christ is God’s answer to the psalmist’s charge, “If I die, it’s too late to save me, and I can’t praise you.”

The resurrection of Christ removes the foundation of the argument. After the resurrection death is not final. It is not the end. God’s ability to save is not extinguished by death. In fact, it is enhanced by it. Jesus’ foes thought they had won: “He claimed to be God’s Son, let God rescue him now.” Jesus even cried in the words of the psalmist, “My God, why have your forsaken me?”

Then he breathed his last, and died. Jesus went down to the Pit. He entered Sheol where God’s praise cannot be uttered.

“But,” Peter proclaims, “God raised Jesus from the dead,” and now we have a “new birth” into a “living hope.” What is more, “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” is secured for us. This is a salvation in the future, necessarily in the future, because it is beyond death.

In the meantime Peter acknowledges we will suffer, we will lament, and we will die. But the “genuineness” of our faith—the “truth” of our faith—will be proven like gold refined by fire.

And the result is exactly what God desires: “praise and glory and honor when Christ is revealed.”

God the savior will save. Death cannot hold us captive. The resurrected Christ liberates us from the grave. Our mourning is turned into dancing. We replace our sackcloth with garments of joy. The weeping of the night gives way to joy in the morning. And we will praise God. Morning is coming. Thanks be to God.

05.17.20 Gathering in a Deserted Place Mark 6.31-42 Sermon Summary

The Twelve primary disciples of Jesus had just come back from their first solo ministry flight. They had gone about teaching and healing in Jesus’ name. They were excited but exhausted.

Jesus brought them into a boat with the destination at a deserted place to rest. But it only appeared to be deserted. In actuality there was a crowd needing to be taught (which in Mark’s Gospel includes healing). So Jesus, out of compassion, does this. He teaches (and heals) for the rest of the day until it was “very late.”

Balancing word and deed as Jesus always does, he next wants to feed the crowd. But the Twelve protest.

Disciples of Jesus often don’t recognize God’s movement so they don’t realize God’s mission. These disciples were already tired. They were focused too much on reality. Now while God recognizes reality also, God never limits himself to reality because “reality” can be deceiving.

What makes Jesus both divine and human is his ability to see reality and beyond. And he calls his disciples to do the same thing.

“We don’t have enough food,” the Twelve say. “Well, what do you have?” Jesus responds. And this is what he asks us also. “We have five loaves of bread and two fish” they reply. And you know with their eyes they say to one another, “But we can’t feed everyone with these!”

So Jesus says, “What can you do?” And this is what he asks us also. “We can group people,” they reply.

Then Jesus takes what is, looks to heaven, blesses it, which just means he receives it as a gift and thanks God, and begins breaking it. The Twelve and everyone else see him do this: Take what is, look to God, receive as a gift from God with thanksgiving, and share it.

And wouldn’t you know, “all ate and were filled.”

This evening we’ve come to an apparently deserted place. It was ten weeks ago that we were last together at this place! But it only appears deserted. Our neighbors across the street may say, “Where is the church? It’s been deserted!”

Now our building may be empty, but the church is alive and well! We are still following Jesus. We are still (1) studying the Bible. We are still (2) praying for the world, (3) maintaining our spiritual friendships, (4) loving God in worship, and (5) serving our neighbors in love. These are our five practices of faith. We are still the church, just not in this apparently deserted place.

And this brings us to the boat. In early Christian art, the boat was used to symbolize the church. You might remember Noah’s Ark that saved God’s people. You might remember Peter’s fishing boat which was a pulpit from which Christ spoke to the crowds.

In this story, the boat is the vehicle that delivers Jesus to the sheep without a shepherd. In this story, the boat is the vehicle that delivers the bread of life to the hungry masses.

And this is what the church does. We bring the Shepherd to the lost sheep. We bring the Bread of Life to the hungry. And that is one meaning of this story in Mark. “Get in your boat, Church, and serve the people.”

But remember how the story begins: “Get in your boat, Church, and rest a while.” Our shepherd has gathered us to a deserted place, he has led us to a green pasture covered with blacktop, and has sat us down according to cars, in order to feed us.

Let us rest a moment, Church. Let us receive the grace of God in these gifts of bread and cup. Let us rest in the presence of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Eucharistic Prayer

God of creation, you have given us this time and this place to gather as a community of faith. We thank you. We are assembled here next to our church building, deserted in this time of quarantine. But wherever we are brought together, around your Word and Sacrament, “there it is not to be doubted a church of God exists.” (John Calvin)

And so we have parked here as the Body of Christ. We remember that Jesus took bread and blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples with the assurance of his presence: Here is my body, here is my blood. Grant us your Spirit, we pray, that in seeing and serving one another, we the Body of Christ your church, may be strengthened and edified. May each one of us, members of Christ’s Body the church, receive in the bread and the cup the grace of Communion, and discern what you are calling and equipping us to do in fulfillment of Christ’s desire to show compassion to all people.

This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

05.17.20 When the Road is Long Psalm 13 and Philippians 1 Sermon Summary

The road was long for Abraham and Sarah as they travelled to Canaan and waited for a child. The road was long for Joseph when he was sold as a slave to Egypt and waited for the fulfilment of his dreams. The road was long for Moses when he hid as a fugitive and later when he crossed the desert. The road was long for Anna the widow of eighty-four who was one of first people to recognize the redemption that came in Jesus.

The road was long for the Samaritan Woman who was passed around in marriage and now finds herself walking back and forth to the water well. The road was long for Paul from his baptism in Damascus to his martyrdom in Rome. The road was long for Jesus as he went healing and teaching through Galilee then taught in Jerusalem on his way to the Cross.

And the road is long for us today. Where is this all leading? And how long will it take? “How long, O Lord?”

“How long, O Lord” is a four- word summary of faith. It is honest about our experience. It looks to God for deliverance. “How long, O Lord” is the shortest form of lament. But is lament faithful? The answer is yes.

Lament is faithful because it is trusting and true. Lament (1) trusts that God sees us and is listening. It (2) trusts that God cares and is loving. Lament (3) trusts that God is just, and it (4) tells the truth about suffering—either our own or that of others. And lament (5) remembers that God is all compassion because God’s suffering is exhaustive.

In all these ways, lament is faithful, and we need look no further than a passage like Psalm 13 to verify that it is. “How long, O Lord” is the shortest form of lament. Lament is faithful. So “How long, O Lord” is a four-word summary of faith.

But how do we go from Psalm 13:1-4 which states, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” to verses 5-6 which say, “My heart shall rejoice in your salvation, I will sing to the LORD”? How do we deal with our impatience?

For many of us, there are two primary areas of impatience. The first is highly personal. We’ve been at this Christian thing for a while, and yet we are still struggling with temptation.  (The theological technical term for this is “sanctification.”) Then there is our impatience with regards to society. We see injustice and societal tribulations—the ways our societies fall short of the Kingdom ideals—and we grow impatient.

The Apostle Paul, usually writing from prison, often faced an uncertain future. He was one who may have asked, “How long, O Lord?” Consider the opening verses of Philippians.

There are two strategies Paul uses to combat his impatience. One is looking ahead to the harvest. The other results from the Philippians’ “sharing in the Gospel.”

First, what does it mean to look ahead to the harvest? Reaping a harvest comes only after a long process. It actually begins when one keeps the seeds from the last harvest. Then one has to prepare the ground for planting. After one plants the seeds of the new season, one endures watering, weeding, and waiting.

Harvesting fruit takes time. But it is the promise of the final outcome, what Paul refers to as “a coming day of Christ,” that gives the Christian hope. Paul’s confidence in this promise is certain, because “God is faithful to complete the work that God has begun”—no matter how long it takes.

Pauls’ second strategy for dealing with impatience is the “sharing in the Gospel.” He gives thanks for the Philippians’ sharing “from the first day until now.” (1:5) This sharing is not just “belief” or “accepting Christ.” In the third chapter Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things in order that I may gain Christ . . . Join in imitating me.”

For Paul, “sharing in the Gospel” means solidarity in suffering. Paul doesn’t know the outcome of this imprisonment. Will he be released? Will he be punished then released? Will he be martyred? And how long will the imprisonment last? Paul does not know, but he knows he’s not alone. The Philippians share in the Gospel with him.

With this in mind, we see that what Paul writes to the Philippians he is writing to himself. He is assuring himself and them. And it applies also to us today. “[Christians are] a people of future glory and at the same time, of present suffering. We are simultaneously a people of the cross and of the resurrection. We have already within us the firstfruits of eternity, yet we bear in our bodies the marks of suffering.” (Villanueva, Federico G. It’s OK to Be Not OK p. 74).

As in the Psalm, Paul asks the question, “How long, O Lord?” And so do we. We await the day of Christ, when we will see growth in our personal spiritual lives, when we will see our societies better resemble the Kingdom of God. But any day could be day of Christ, and so God must be working every day.

And since God always working, we have to remain open, flexible, and teachable. And we also have to be constantly discerning. Paul prays that we will, “grow in love, knowledge, insight, and discernment” of what is best.

This is how we get to Psalm 13:5-6 from verses 1-4. We (1) keep the Kingdom promise in view. In the meantime, we (2) “share in the Gospel” with others. We (3) practice discernment. And we (4) trust God’s timing and God’s hidden work.

With time we will arrive at Psalm 13:5-6, which says, “I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” These verses remind us—and they remind God—that until it is answered, our question remains: “How long, O Lord?”

05.10.20 Unnatural Enemies Psalm 55.1-8, 12-14, 16-22 and Romans 8.18-19, 22-25, 38-39 Sermon Summary

Everyone whose faith is sincere will be tested in that faith. We refer to these tests as “temptations” or “trials.” Some trials have a sudden onset and a quick resolution, like the temptation to be dishonest. Other trials build over time, like chronic pain. And some trials are both, like the death of a loved one which causes shock followed by waves of grief.

In Psalm 55 some event has shaken the faithful. There is a superscript related to David as the supposed author. The superscripts of surrounding psalms indicate a set of catastrophic times in David’s life. Whether or not David is the author we do not know, but at least according to the compilers these psalms offer powerful help in trying times.

This message does not directly address two aspects of Psalm 55. In the first, the author witnesses the city besieged with violence, iniquity, and economic injustice. In the second, the author prays for vengeance, specifically for the sudden and early death of the attackers.

Other psalms bemoan social unrighteousness and pray for vengeance. What makes Psalm 55 unique is the part included in this message. Psalm 55 lifts up the double wound of betrayal—not only the pain of the city being under attack, but that the attacker is a friend.

Betrayal causes unique and deep pain. It comes as a surprise, by someone close. It is unique because WE let that person become close. So there is the wound, there is the loss of friendship, AND there is a feeling that it’s our fault.

This is what makes betrayal so hard. “It is not enemies or adversaries,” the psalmist laments. “I could bear that. I could turn away. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.” No wonder the double wound of betrayal leads the author to desire death for the betrayer.

In Psalm 55, the double wound leads to another negative place. This terrible trial of faith leads to fear and the desire for flight. “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”

We might not recognize fear. We are conditioned to deny fear. But behaviors of flight are harder to ignore. Such behaviors of flight often take the form of a pursuit of something else. Perhaps the pursuit of fancy, like binge watching TV. Or the pursuit of satisfaction, like eating bad carbs. It may be the pursuit of numbing by drinking too much. Or the pursuit of distraction through over exercising. Maybe for you it is the pursuit of unconsciousness by sleeping all day, or the pursuit of control by organizing and planning.

All behaviors of flight are generated out of an experience of fear—because we see the city being attacked and because we feel betrayed. We feel betrayed: This is NOT how it is supposed to be. We have believed. We have prayed. We have studied the Bible. We have worked hard. We have been generous.

And yet, our city is under attack. Our nation is under attack. Our world is under attack. We feel betrayed. We feel betrayed by the religious formula. We feel betrayed by God. And we feel betrayed by nature itself.

On one level, the faith of Psalm 55 looks to justice, to a balancing of the scales, to retribution against the betrayers. On another level, the faith of Psalm 55 simply trusts: “I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. . . Cast your burdens on the Lord, and God will sustain you.”

Here, ultimately, lies the peace we desire: To trust in God’s judgment, and to trust in God’s power to sustain. And so we turn to Paul’s vision in Romans.

This is a passage of “reframing,” of seeing reality through another lens, of viewing our situation from another camera angle. There are three reframings in this passage.

The first comes with the words, “the present sufferings are not worth comparing to the coming glory.” We are suffering, yes. This will always be true. “Life IS suffering,” says the Buddha. “Life is contaminated by sin,” says Christianity. While this is true, still a glorious conclusion awaits us.

The second comes with the words, “All creation groans, and we also.” We humans are not the only ones who suffer. Humanity and Creation are inextricably linked. The suffering of one relates to the suffering of the other. It isn’t always a 1:1 “direct correlation”: “We suffer, so creation suffers.” Sometimes it is an “indirect correlation”: “We suffer, and creation thrives.”

We humans are suffering through restricted travel, but creation is recovering during our reduced carbon footprint. Our present suffering alleviates the suffering of creation. The point is: We are related. Our suffering is not in a vacuum. There is redemption in our suffering.

And the third reframing occurs with the words, “We wait with creation for the final outcome.” Redemption out of suffering is universal. Jesus’ resurrection foreshadows our redemption, but God’s commitment to us is same to all creation. Creation awaits OUR redemption because it represents the redemption of all God’s creation.

So here is the good news of Christ for today: The corona virus is an aberration of creation. The disease it causes is part of sin. But God has overcome sin through Christ. Creation is not our enemy. Nature is not our adversary. In Christ God is reconciling all things.

COVID-19 may attack our cities. It may betray us as part of a DISTORTED creation. We may feel betrayed by the world in which we live. But this world is God’s world. No matter how distorted it becomes, God is determined to redeem this world and all its inhabitants.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. No attack on the city. No betrayal by a friend. No virus. Not even COVID-19.

And the best news of the good news is that no sin can separate us from the love of God.

05.03.20 Together in Spirit Psalm 42-3, Ephesians 3.16-21 Sermon Summary

Some people come to the church expecting it to be uplifting all the time. They say the rest of the week and the real world is already too discouraging. The church is about “good news,” right? But how can we understand “good” unless we acknowledge “bad”?

Jesus came to proclaim “good news to the poor,” and taught that, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” It is where we are poor that the good news is good, and it is in our poverty that we experience the blessing of God.

Psalm 42-43 (originally one psalm) speaks of being “downcast.” Here is a person in touch with his poverty of soul. He is like Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah—heroes of the faith who all experienced being downcast. Jesus himself tells his disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38)

Being downcast in soul is like watching a deer desperately searching for water in the desert. “My soul thirsts for God,” reports the psalmist. This burning awareness is more obvious after a long absence, after an extended deprivation. “Day and night,” we’re told the psalmist waits. It is long enough to draw the attention of his neighbors who ask, “Where is your god?”

Such extended seasons may not happen often. Last year a friend said to me, “I’m concerned for you, and I have been for a while.” “When did you start,” I asked. “A couple of years ago.”

How long would it take for you? How many “days and nights” would pass? How long before you couldn’t fake it anymore? How long before it becomes obvious to your friends that your soul is cast down?

Many of us feeling cast down right now. We are experiencing deprivation on several fronts. Social distancing keeps us from our friends and families. Limits to our physical activities deprive us of health. And spiritually we have given up corporate worship in our sanctuaries.

In these circumstances we remember better times. Like the psalmist, we remember worship together. “As I pour out my soul, I remember going to the house of the Lord, with songs of thanksgiving.” We used to have our Sunday routines. I would see you situating yourself in the sanctuary, greeting people, reading the bulletin, maybe marking the hymnal. We would hear the organ and watch choir and instrumentalists. Together we would sit and stand. And we would share communion.

These deprivations have made us thirsty. It has been “days and nights.” It has been long enough for people to notice. I hear it in your voices. I see it in your faces. I read it in your emails. Remote worship doesn’t really satisfy. We can’t look into each other’s eyes. We can’t hear the richness of the music. We can’t give and receive.

Our souls have been cast down. Other deprivations have cast our souls down also. At the end of the day you may ask yourself, “Why am I so easily frustrated? Why do I feel unsettled? Why have I been so impatient?” The reason is that our souls are downcast. We are experiencing an impoverishment. And then it becomes real: Christ came to preach good news to the impoverished.

In Federico Villanueva’s book It’s OK to Be Not OK he writes, “The good news is that you don’t have to pretend you are not [OK]. Like the psalmist, you can actually say, ‘My soul is downcast.’ It’s OK to be down. It’s OK to admit we are down. Most importantly, it’s OK to come to God when we are down – especially when we are down.” (p. 21)

How do we come to God when our souls are downcast? There are commonalities, of course, but for everyone it’s a little different. For me, I return to liturgical prayer. I find in the liturgy reliable words from the church’s past to help me in the present.

During this down time I have included the words of Martin Luther who lived through plagues, societal upheaval, and church transformation. In Jesus, Remember Me I read these words of Luther: “When a heart is in doubt, it may very quickly be driven to blasphemy and despair. This is why St. Paul so frequently exhorts us to have full assurance, that is a firm and immovable recognition of God’s will towards us, which gives us assurance to our consciences and steels them against doubt and unbelief.” (p. 17)

And so alongside Psalm 42-43 I read Ephesians 3:16-21. And I make four observations that help me during this time when my soul is downcast. First, it is out of God’s fullness, Spirit, and “glory” that God responds to us. There is an abundance in God that cannot be exhausted by our need.

Second, God’s response to us strengthens and indwells us. And the substance of God’s response is that we are loved. Third, this is a mystery. It is beyond head-knowledge. This comfort is God-given. It may be prayer-sought, but it must be believed. It can’t be known by conventional means but by faith alone.

Finally, the hope we receive from God is church-wide and multi-generational. So often our troubles focus our attention on ourselves. Ephesians reminds us that life includes struggles and it is not just about us. There is hope in other places. There is hope in other times.

If your soul is downcast you are not alone. You are in good company. Be honest about it. Ask why. Tell God about it. Be not ashamed of your poverty, for it is in deprivation that God’s Word comes to us. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. Hope in God, for we shall again praise him.