Saturday, January 25, 2020

For the Feast of Saint Paul's Conversion

Here's a poem, with explanation and audio, from Malcolm Guite.

Friday, January 24, 2020

My Case of the If-Thens

In my quiet time this morning, I read Genesis 28. There, God tells Jacob the schemer in a dream: "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (v.15)

This is an unconditional promise God makes. It's made without respect to Jacob's past unfaithfulness. God announces that He will be faithful to Jacob.

But Jacob's response isn't unconditional trust in God or God's promise. "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God..." (vv.20-21) "IF...THEN..." "If God will do what I want Him to do," Jacob is saying, "then I'll believe in Him and worship Him."

I can be an "if...then" believer. God has claimed me as His own in Holy Baptism, sending His Holy Spirit to enable me to believe and call on Him through Jesus. But when I sense God calling me to have that tough conversation, to do something kind that will be inconvenient, to speak out for justice, to forgive as I've been forgiven, to love as I am loved, to spend time with someone even though I'd rather be doing something else, to reconnect with friends, or to tell people what God has done (and is doing) for me in Jesus, I break out into the "If thens."

If it's on my way.

If I can find the time.

If I see changes in the other person.

If I thought that it would do any good.

If I had any influence.

But I realize that since God doesn't put any strings on His promises to me, I can't put strings on the promises I make to Him. I am to live in response to His grace from moment to moment in all the moments of my life. Even the hard or inconvenient or seemingly futile ones.

God has bought me out of slavery to sin and death through the offering of God the Son, Jesus, on the cross. All who call on Jesus' name are daily being saved from sin, death, and futility.

Because I'm as human, flawed, and sinful as Jacob...and, like him, with a checkered past, I will only ever be able to keep my promises to God (or to others) with the help of God. "Without Me, you can do nothing," Jesus says (John 15:5). I've come to realize how literally true those words are!

And even when Jesus is helping me to do something worthwhile, I--me, my fears, my shortcomings, my imperfections, my selfishness--get in the way. (As Jesse Jackson famously said back in 1984, "Be patient with me; God isn't finished with me yet.") Right now, like the apostle Paul, we only see all that God has in mind for us as in a mirror dimly (or, a glass darkly).

But God's promises are solid. I pray that today, I'll be all-in for Him and not cave in to the temptation to say, "If God gives me what I want, then I'll follow Him or seek to do His will."

Because God has never said, "If you get your act together, Mark, then I will love and forgive you and give you life with Me," with the help of God, I won't tell Him, "If...then" today.

Make it so today, Lord, I pray.

Just a few thoughts.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Seeing, Telling

[This message was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, this past Sunday. I hope you find it helpful.]

John 1:29-42
You all know of my former atheism, which lasted from my mid-teens into my twenties, a period of about ten years. In those days, honestly, I thought that people who believed in God were superstitious, fanatical, and dim-witted. When I heard Christians talk about their faith, I thought that, as someone sufficiently smart and resourceful, I didn’t need the “crutch” of a Savior God. 

But in those ten or so years, there was one Person from Whom I tried to keep my distance. Someone I never wanted to see. That Person was Jesus. 

Occasionally, at a bookstore or a library, I would run across an article about Jesus; I would read with a mixture of interest and revulsion. 

Or a friend would talk to me about Jesus and I would, as a friend, listen dutifully, but disinterestedly. “Well,” I would think, “he or she is a weaker, dimmer person than I realized. They actually believe in Jesus.”

And yet. When I was away from the bookstores, libraries, and friends, when I lay in my bed at night in the darkness, the witness about Jesus I had heard or read or seen from people, movies, books, articles, and the Bible would come to mind. 

I felt two things in those moments. One was terror! A perfect, risen Savior terrified me. The other thing I felt was an attraction to Jesus. 

But I would shake off my thoughts of Jesus and avoid seeing Him as best I could.

Eventually, you know, Ann and I were married and I reluctantly began attending worship with her, then listening to the witness of members of the congregation, and studying the Scriptures with them and on my own. 

For the first time in my life, I began to see Jesus for Who He is. The Holy Spirit started both tearing down my walls of resistance and building faith in Jesus within me. 

The work of the Spirit continues in me. I still sometimes try to avoid seeing Jesus or, more significantly, avoid being seen by Him. 

But as the Word of God and the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are unleashed into my life, I understand the truth of what Peter once told Jesus after Jesus had suggested that the disciples might want to follow some other person or some other way rather than follow Him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? [Peter asked] You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) [emphasis mine]

It was tempting when I first came to see and imperfectly follow Jesus to not say anything about it to people. I wanted to keep Jesus to myself for fear that people would view me in the way I’d once viewed Christians, as weak, dimwitted, fanatical, superstitious, in need of a crutch. 

But I’ve come to learn something. It’s pointless being a witness of what Jesus is--to see Jesus for Who He is and can be for all people--if we won’t testify about what we’ve seen to others who are in as much need of Jesus as we are

If you learned the cure for cancer, heart disease, depression, or AIDs but didn’t share the cure with others, you would be an inhumane monster. Just so, if you have seen Jesus as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world and with it, the death and purposelessness that afflicts the human race without Jesus, it would be inhumane and monstrous

In another part of the Bible, the apostle John writes: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:3-4) 

When you see Jesus--really see Him--your joy in knowing Him is only made complete when you share Him with others

To a great extent then, being a disciple of Jesus is all about seeing and telling.

We see this in today’s Gospel lesson, John 1:29-42. Here, four people see Jesus and at least two of them tell others about Him immediately. They don't wait to take a class or memorize the Old Testament Scripture that points to Jesus or go to seminary. They see Jesus, then tell others about Jesus.

The first person to see Jesus in our lesson is John the Baptist. Verse 29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel. Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’”

In these few verses, John tells us Who he sees Jesus to be: 

  • the Lamb of God Who gives His perfect life in sacrifice for our sin so that all who believe in Him will have eternal life with God; 
  • God the Son, Who lived before anything was created; 
  • the Lord affirmed by the Holy Spirit; 
  • the One Who will give that same Spirit, the very breath and life of the ever-living God to all who follow Jesus. 
Oddly, though John was Jesus’ kinsman, he hadn’t really seen much of the truth about Jesus until that moment on the Jordan when Jesus was baptized. I’ve known many Christians who have been as blind to Jesus--to His lordship and His power over sin and death--as John apparently had apparently been. Pain, adversity, change, temptation, happiness, success, and life generally come to some Christians and they crumble because they’ve never really seen or followed Jesus. They can't handle life. Their so-called faith has been or has become a habit, nothing but happy banter with people they find convivial. I’ve also known Christians who run away from seeing or being seen by Jesus better than any overt atheist. They’re afraid that if they really see Jesus, they might have to come to terms with their own sin and admit that they’re nothing without the grace God gives in Jesus. But John the Baptist saw Jesus and told the world Who and what he saw.

John’s telling engendered the interest of two of his disciples and they went to observe and listen to Jesus. “Where are you staying?” they ask Jesus. He tells them, “Come and you will see.” (John 1:37-38) One of those two disciples--students, followers--of John the Baptist, Andrew, went to his brother. “We have found the Messiah (that is the Christ, [God’s anointed Savior King]),” he tells Peter. Andrew saw Jesus and told his brother what he saw. (John 1:41-42)

During a meeting this past week, a public school teacher spoke to a group of us with passion and tears about the teachers and students she encounters each day who don’t know Jesus. They’ve never seen that He is God, that He can free them from the power of sin and death, from slavery to the condemnations and harsh of a dog-eat-dog world, from despair and hopelessness. This teacher prays and she shares Jesus when she can. But still, she cries for those who don’t yet see or know the real Jesus.

Do you understand her tears? 

If you don’t, maybe you need to begin looking at Jesus again. Read and study and pray over His Word in Scripture and ask Him, “Jesus, help me to see you clearly as Savior, God, and Friend not only of me but of my neighbors, all of my neighbors the world over whatever their backgrounds, skin colors, nationalities, or present religion.” 

I guarantee that the more you see of Jesus, the more you will, like that teacher, seek to share Him with others. Jesus will fill you with the same passion for those who don’t know Him as He had for you when He went to the cross to take “away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Friends: Don’t avoid Jesus. Don’t forget about Him when you leave here this morning. 

See Him. Every day. 

Know Him. Every day. Let His life fill you. 

Then make your joy complete: Share Him. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

[Above is a drawing of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as "the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world." The artist is Cerezo Barredo, priest, painter, artist. He created drawings like these while living in Panama. Like the painters of the Renaissance, he contextualized Jesus to the time and place in which he was living, in this case among the poor of Latin America.]

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Impolite Savior

[This message was shared earlier today during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Matthew 3:13-17

In today’s gospel lesson, Matthew 3:13-17, Jesus travels from His home region, the Galilee, to the Judean wilderness for the express purpose of being baptized by His kinsman, John the Baptist. John is horrified at the whole idea: “I need to be baptized by you [John says], and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14]

John’s objections make sense. John’s baptism was all about repentance, for sinners who wanted to renounce their sin. Jesus was sinless. He had nothing for which to repent. 

But one thing is clear about Jesus from the gospels: Whenever people stood between Him and doing the will of God, He wasn’t polite. He did the will of the Father no matter what objections and obstacles people tried to place before Him.

When the apostle Peter tried to stop Jesus from talking about going to a cross to die for our sins, Jesus turned on the apostle, telling him that his desire to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion would also keep life with God coming to those who repent and believe in a crucified and risen Savior. “Get behind me, Satan! [Jesus said] You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." (Matthew 16:23)

When emissaries from Herod, the Judean king, tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling the mission given to Him by God the Father of dying and rising to make God’s everlasting kingdom available to all who believe in Jesus, Jesus' response shows that He would be at home on Twitter today: “Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'” (Luke 13:32)

And we all remember that day when Jesus went to the temple and, angry that God’s house of prayer had been turned into a place where wolves in sheep’s clothing fleeced God’s people, turned over the tables of the money-changing extortionists.

So, when John the Baptist objects to baptizing Jesus, Jesus is insistent. He tells John, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” “Baptize me,” Jesus tells John, “It’s the right thing to do.”

But why is Jesus undergoing a baptism of repentance the right thing exactly?

Here’s why. When Jesus underwent a baptism of repentance He didn’t need, He was cementing His connection to us

We are sinners unworthy of God’s forgiveness or citizenship in His kingdom. 

That’s why we need to daily repent, of course. 

That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray, “...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and, because we are so prone to wander away from God’s will for our lives, why He also teaches us to pray, “lead us not into temptation.” 

In absorbing our need for repentance within Himself, Jesus establishes His connection to us at our deepest point of need. Even before going to the cross, Jesus is absorbing our sin and our death into His body so that when He offers His sinless life on the cross, His death there will bring the end of our sin and the death of our death.

It’s no coincidence that immediately after He was baptized, Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil

The New Testament book of Hebrews underscores the importance of God becoming one of us when it says that in Jesus, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” 

And, considering Jesus on the cross, the apostle Paul says, “God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

For Jesus, as He tells John the Baptist in today’s lesson, to “fulfill all righteousness” means to be both our almighty King and our suffering servant. Jesus makes us subjects of His kingdom of grace by taking the poisons of sin and death from us into Himself, then, as we trust in Him, filling us with His righteous, eternal life, an exchange that saves us for life with God forever

We can take comfort from the fact that in Jesus Christ, we belong to a God Who understands what it’s like to be tempted by sin and to be tested by adversity. 

I was teaching a class on prayer in my former parish. After class one night, a man who had sat in silence most of the evening approached me. “I have a problem with prayer,” he told me. “What is it?” I asked. “I just don’t feel that I should bother God,” he said. “I mean, I feel okay about thanking God for things. But I don’t feel that I have the right to ask God for anything.”

I tried to reassure the man, reminding him that Jesus actually instructs us to pray. That’s because God wants to be in our lives so that He can transform our lives forever

No matter what test you’re facing in your life today, no matter what pain you're experiencing, no matter what sins you have committed, no matter what sin tempts you, you have an advocate and a friend in the God Who went to the Jordan River to undergo a baptism He didn’t need, then went to a cross to take your burdens on His shoulders. 

Whatever your burden, Jesus Christ can bear it with you. 

He can bear it for you.

The good news of Jesus insisting that John baptize Him that day on the Jordan is summarized well by Pastor John Jewell: “He came down to lift you up! He took your place so you could take his place! He lost his life so you could find your life! He came to be with you so you could be with him!”

And Jesus, it turns out is totally impolite and utterly tenacious in reaching out to you. He's willing to overrule prophets like John the Baptist, apostles like Peter, rulers like Herod (and Pilate), and religious leaders like the high priests in Israel, to come into your life and call you to receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Him.

That’s good news! That’s our good news through Jesus Christ. 

Because He is so impolite and perseverant in reaching into your life, only you can keep Jesus out of your life. But, I hope that instead, you’ll take your cue from John the Baptist in today's Gospel lesson. After Jesus set John straight, he trusted that Jesus knew what He was doing.

Believe that whatever you face in life today or tomorrow, God will get you through. Trust that He will free you from guilt for your sin, that He will empower you to resist temptation., that He will give you life with God! These are the things that Jesus wanted you and me to know and experience when He went to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Free to Take a Different Way

[This message was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Matthew 2:1-12

On this Sunday when we celebrate the Epiphany, I want to focus on a single verse from our gospel lesson, Matthew 2:12. It tells us: “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

The ones warned here, of course, are the magi from the East. We have no idea how many of them came to worship the Christ child, just that they brought three gifts. But we do know that when God’s Word came to them after they had seen Jesus the Christ--the Messiah, they didn’t go back to Herod to tell him the identity or whereabouts of the Child as Herod had told them to do. Instead, “they returned to their country by another route.” 

The magi obeyed the Word of God, not the orders of Herod

They surrendered to the will of God, not to the ways of the world.

As foreigners from Persia or Babylon, the magi would have understood that nobody could intervene to help them if they were caught deliberately disobeying Herod’s order to them. Before seeing Jesus, they had naively gone to Herod and Jerusalem, thinking that the king and the people there would be as excited about the birth of the Christ as they were. 
Now, God told them that they needed to protect Jesus from Herod. 

It would have been less risky for them to do what Herod wanted, telling him where Jesus could be found. The pathway of convenience, of going along to get along is still the popular one in our world. But as Jesus would later warn, “...wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) 

That way really is narrow, comprised of Jesus alone, Who tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) 

In traveling “to their country by another route,” the magi were taking the narrow, eternal way, rather than the wide, easy ways of our corrupt and dying world.

But what incited the magi's faith? What caused them to become subversives who rebelled against and disobeyed an earthly government? 

It was the Word of God. 

The magi lived in places where God’s ancient people, the Jews, had lived in exile as slaves of nations that had conquered them. Exiles like Daniel and Esther shared the Word of God with their Gentile conquerors in places like Persia, Babylon, Assyria, and elsewhere. The magi then would have likely known about the Old Testament prophecies of a Jewish Messiah Who would come to save the whole world from sin and death. They also would have known enough about the skies to notice a star they'd never seen before. Through the Scriptures and this strange sign, God spoke His Word to them: The Savior Messiah had been born!

You know, we Lutheran believe and teach that when we are exposed to God’s Word, it comes to us as either Law or Gospel, as threat or promise. When the magi considered that God’s promise of a Savior was being fulfilled, they saw it as pure Gospel. They understood that the birth of Jesus was good news for the whole human race. When they saw the star leading them to the house where the baby Jesus was in Bethlehem, Matthew tells us in today’s lesson, “they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:10) (Actually, in the Greek in which Matthew originally wrote his gospel, he literally says, "they rejoiced with great joy exceedingly." The magi were stoked!) 

And they had good reason for their excitement. The world, long weighed down by human sin and death, was now to be liberated from those curses by the King of kings they now met. God’s Word had come to the magi, causing them to bear any burden or sacrifice, face any danger for the mere pleasure of seeing and following Jesus. Is that how you view the gospel Word about everlasting life through repentance and faith in Jesus this morning?

I ask that because it’s possible to hear the story of the Messiah’s birth among us not as Gospel, but as Law; not as promise, but as threat

In fact, our gospel lesson for this morning makes it clear that Herod and the religious leaders and all of Jerusalem heard the Word of Jesus’ birth as Law and threat. “When King Herod heard…,” Matthew says, “he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3) Herod saw Jesus as a threat to his continued corrupt and sinful rule. 

All Jerusalem feared this Messiah too because they were happy to keep on with their religious charades--like modern-day politicians who end every speech with a disingenuine, “God bless America”--while living as though God didn’t exist. A Messiah from God might confront them for not loving God and not loving their neighbor, then call them to repentance for their sin, call them to change the way they lived, call them to provide for the poor, welcome the stranger, forgive those who sinned against them, call them to trust in God more than they trusted in their money, position, comfort, or bigotries. Jesus threatened everything they wanted or really believed in. For them, the Word of Jesus’ birth was God’s Law and they did not want to hear it! They wanted to kill off Jesus before He had the chance to do His saving work on the cross. That’s why God told the magi to save the child from Herod by returning to their homeland by a different route. Do we sometimes drown out the Word of God so that we can pursue our ambitions to “be like God”?

The fact is that we need desperately to hear God’s Word, both as Law and as Gospel

We need to hear God’s Law so that He can confront us for our sin--our failure to love God and love neighbor, to honor God as God over every part of our lives. 

But once the Law has done its work of leading us to confess our sins and, like the magi, to seek Jesus, our encounters with Jesus and His Word, are pure gospel. As we meet Jesus in His Word, He gives us faith. And Jesus tells us that we are free from sin and death, free to live with the faith and courage God gave to the magi. 

This Word that emboldened the magi also sets us free to take a different route, one not dictated by the demands of earthly rulers or the world’s petty expectations, but the way of Jesus that leads to life with God that never ends. God’s Word tells us that we are free to follow Jesus, where we are enveloped by God’s forgiveness, grace, and love, by God’s peace, now and always.

Jesus tells us elsewhere, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29) When the Word of God came to the magi and set faith in Christ alight within them. They were set free by God to live for Christ alone. 

Don’t run from the Word of God, friends! Take advantage of every opportunity to be in communion with Jesus--through daily quiet time and prayer built around Scripture reading, time with small groups discussing the Bible, regular worship and receiving the sacrament. These are the means by which God slips past our inborn sinful resistance to His rule of love over our lives, the means by which we hear the Word of Law that confronts us and the Word of Gospel that comforts us. As we encounter Jesus in God’s Word each day, may God create deep faith in Christ within us. 

And may we, like the magi, travel by a different route, the narrow way, the way of everlasting life with Jesus. Amen

[The painter of the piece seen above was Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo, known as il Sassetta, who lived from 1392-1450, in Siena, Italy.]
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Noah: Sinner...and Saint (Like Me)

[This is the journal entry from my quiet time with God today.]

Look: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Genesis 6:9)

This description of Noah is bracketed between two brutal assessments of the whole human race’s sinfulness, a condition so disturbing to God that He resolves to destroy the earth in a flood. (1) In verse 5, we’re told, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (2) In verses 11 and 12, we read, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.”

Humanity’s sinful condition is strikingly inclusive in these two places: “the wickedness of the human race,” “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time,” and “all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” Every. All. The human race. These are inclusive terms.

What this tells me that every human being was a sinner. (This remained the case after the flood, too: Genesis 8:21.) Given how inclusive God’s characterization of humanity’s sinfulness is, we must conclude that Noah also was a sinner.

And yet, Genesis 6:9 describes Noah as “righteous.” What gives?

Listen: Noah demonstrates a basic Biblical truth. Even those made righteous by their faith in God, a faith that God strengthens as we walk with Him, remain sinners while walking on this earth. Martin Luther said that believers in the God revealed to the whole world--including Gentiles like me--in Jesus are both saints (the righteous) and sinners. To “walk faithfully with God” as Noah did is the lifestyle of a believer who recognizes that they are born hopelessly entrapped by their sinful human nature and that it’s only the God revealed in Jesus Who, as an act of divine charity, God saves us from our sin and makes us righteous.

That we inherit the condition of sin at birth was something that King David affirmed: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This underscored elsewhere, including Psalm 51:5, cf., Ephesians 2:1-3; Proverbs 22:15; Psalm 14:2-3.

But God gives His righteousness to those who, daily, repent and believe in His Son:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,] just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (This is Romans 1:16-17, where Paul, once complicit in murdering Jewish Christians, himself a Jew, at the end quotes Habukkuk 2:4 from what Christians know as the Old Testament.)

Noah was saint and sinner. That’s true of me too. I have been made righteous and am daily being made righteous by faith in Christ, daily walking with Him and He creates faith in Him within me (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:3). But I also sin daily.

This is true of every believer in the God revealed in Jesus.

There are a number of implications that arise from this:

1. My individual sins which I commit each day, do not intrinsically sever me from the gift of righteousness nor the salvation given to me by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus, God enfleshed, didn’t die and rise for perfect people; He died for sinners like me. “I have not come to call the righteous,” Jesus says, meaning that He didn’t come into the world to save those who don’t think they need saving, “but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) Jesus saves those who are sinners and are honest enough to admit it. The apostle John wrote to first-century Christians: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

2. My sinfulness can only block God’s gift of righteousness to me if I insist on walking away from God when He confronts me with my sin, calling me to turn from sin and trust in Christ’s righteousness to bring forgiveness and renewed relationship with Him. Noah walked with God. We are called to walk with God, into the unfolding of a righteous life He gives to those who believe in Him: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, RSV) As we walk with Christ, He transforms us. As we walk away from Christ, His Word that gifts us with repentance and the faith that saves us from ourselves is lost to us.

3. There are grave consequences to tuning God out, ignoring His call to repentance and faith. Jesus says: “...every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31) Our sinful nature and our individual sins can be forgiven. Jesus, His death, and His resurrection all demonstrate the truth underscored in Psalm 145:8 and many other places in the Old Testament, that God is compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and willing to forgive. But when we refuse to let the Holy Spirit convict us of sin, we erect a barrier between God and us. If we refuse to be convicted of our sin, we cannot be convinced of the power of God’s saving grace.

4. I need to be compassionate toward others. Like the apostle Paul, I could readily confess to being the worst of sinners. (I do confess that because I know myself well. I know all about the sins I conceive in my mind and commit with my life. My sinfulness gets expressed in more than just my deeds, but also in my thoughts and my words.) I know that others are weighed down by sin, whether they understand that or not. Sin causes us all to do crazy, hurtful stuff. If God can compassionately remember that I am dust in need of His forgiveness and forbearance, who am I to withhold the same things from others? While that doesn’t mean that we should allow others to habitually walk all over us and others with their sins, even ending our relationships with them if they are insusceptible to appropriate change, it does mean that we should pay attention to how Jesus has taught us to pray: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Luther saw the positive application to which the Eighth Commandment--”You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”--calls us when, in The Small Catechism, he explains: “We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.”

Respond: This day, Lord, help me to hear Your Word as You give me forgiveness and faith. Help me to be quick to share with others the hope that is in me because as our loving God, You sent Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for my sins. You conquer my sin in Christ. While I walk in this world as both sinner and saint, teach me to walk closely with You. In His name I pray. Amen

[The Latin phrase above means, Justified (or counted righteous) AND a Sinner Simultaneously. This describes the condition of every person in this life who is saved by grace through faith in Christ before we die and are raised to eternal life with God. We are saints and sinners in whose lives God's Holy Spirit is at work. Our call is to daily turn back to God and be made new by His Word, Jesus.]