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.]

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Who's Blessed? (AUDIO)

Here's the audio of this past Sunday's message. I hope you find it helpful.

Living Water!

[Below is the journal entry for my daily quiet time with God for today.]

Look: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)

Earlier in the chapter, John says that in the new Eden God will create after this old creation has died, God and the Lamb will be on their thrones. Flowing from them will be a great river, giving fecundity to the Tree of Life on either side. In this river, in other words, new and everlasting life with God flows.

Then comes the invitation from the Holy Spirit and from the Church, Christ’s bride, mentioned above. Drink of the water, they say, take in “the free gift of the water of life.”

Listen: In reading this, my mind is drawn to the scene of the dead Jesus on the cross. A soldier pierces His side, “bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34).

Jesus’ blood cleanses of sin and the water of life brings us ever-new life with God. This is a free gift, an act of God’s charity, His grace, for all who receive it.

Because it’s free, it’s not something I can earn or of which I’m worthy. It only comes to those who respond to the invitation to come to the cleansing water of new life from God.

Revelation 22 also shows who will not be included in this new creation: “...the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

In other words, those who refuse to be cleansed of their sin, who hang onto it as part of themselves, will die a second and everlasting time.

Respond: On this New Year’s Eve, Lord, help me to let go of the sins that hinder me from following You, that separates me from You and from partaking of the free gift of the water of life.

Today, send Your Holy Spirit to help me to resist temptation and instead, take Your invitation. Then, help me to do it tomorrow and the next day.

Be honored, glorified, and praised. Grant that in all that I say and do and am, people will know Jesus and Your living, saving water. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen

[The artistic representation of the new Jerusalem and its water of life that appears above was done in the tenth-century.]

[The image below comes from this website. If I have violated copyright law, I hope the owners will feel free to take it down. But it seems to me to well illustrate these last chapters of Revelation and I love the picture which comes from Brazil.]

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. I'm also a sinner saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus, a faith that is given by God's Holy Spirit. As someone who is simultaneously saint and sinner, I take all the blame for my deficiencies and give all the credit to God for anything good about me.] 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Being a grown up

Thanks for sharing this over on Facebook, Kathleen.

Please Pray for John Lewis

Who's Blessed?

[This message was shared this morning during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. I found the "pump" for it was primed by a sermon once preached by the late Swedish pastor and novelist, Bo Giertz. The book containing that sermon can be found here.]

Matthew 2:13-23
One of the blessings of the Psalms, the Old Testament songbook, is that God gives us permission to say things to Him that we might think, in our misguided religious piety, we couldn’t possibly say to God. God gives us permission to be honest with Him. That includes the times when we don’t understand what He’s up to.

In Psalm 10, for example, we’re given permission to pray in this way:

Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises...His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, ‘Nothing will ever shake me.’ He swears, ‘No one will ever do me harm.’ His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.” (Psalm 10:1-3, 5-7)
In our gospel lesson for today, Matthew 2:13-23, Joseph, the man chosen by God to be Jesus’ earthly father, would have had every reason to pray this psalm. 

Why was the baby Savior of the world, Jesus, the subject of a manhunt while Herod shed innocent blood to keep hold of his power and wealth? 

And why was it that Mary and Joseph, who welcomed God in the world on the first Christmas, had to leave their native land for fear of Herod, who sat comfortably in his palaces? 

Later, why did the holy family have to go back to Nazareth rather than to Bethlehem, their ancestral village, for fear of Herod’s son and what He might do to the baby?

It’s possible though that Joseph didn’t ask God any of these questions. 

Or, if he did, maybe he later dismissed them as those of a man who, like you and me, didn’t always see the whole picture. 

You see, I suspect that Joseph had an entirely different understanding of what it means to be blessed by God than most people have.

What do you think that it means to be blessed? 

If you were to ask the average person, including me some days, what it means to be blessed by God, we might say things like: having good health, having a loving family, having enough to eat, being spared bad experiences, getting to do the things we want to do. 

Now, all of these things are pleasant

And, as James says in the New Testament, all good and perfect gifts come from God. 

And only a sick person would want ill-health, a rancorous family, hunger, and so on. 

But, as Psalm 10 indicates, there are people who have all of these things and more and never think of themselves as blessed (or at least, never blessed enough) and never think of God. 

Herod, the king when Jesus was born, just as an example, had everything. But he always wanted more. And he lived in constant suspicious fear that someone was going to take away what he had. Despite all his supposed “blessings,” Herod was paranoid for fear of losing everything. 

Was Herod blessed? 

Was Joseph? 

Are you?

Our gospel lesson recounts three incidents that happened after wise men from the East visited the baby Jesus at Bethlehem. 

Incident #1

The first happened immediately after the visitors left. Joseph is visited by an angel of the Lord in a dream. “‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’” (Matthew 2:13) Just as God once led His people out of slavery in Egypt, so now the Savior would come out of Egypt so that He could lead all who follow Him out of slavery to sin and death. But the time wasn’t right yet for God’s plan to unfold. That’s why the family had to flee.

Incident #2

In verse 16, we’re told that Herod realized that he had been “outwitted” by the wise men who had been told by God that Herod wanted to kill this new king. Actually, outwitted doesn’t accurately convey what the word Matthew used when he composed his gospel. My study of Scripture and of history convince me that the most dangerous people to wield earthly power are those who are both shrewd and stupid. Herod fell into this category. The word Matthew uses to describe Herod’s reaction, enepaichthe, means that Herod felt mocked and humiliated. Thug kings don’t like being embarrassed. That’s why Herod murdered the baby boys in Bethlehem. We may rightly wonder why God allowed the death of those babies. But we need to also remember that in allowing Jesus to live and offer His sinless life on the cross, God made it possible for the whole world--including this fallen world’s innocent victims--to have life that never ends with God, a blessing this world can never give.

Incident #3
In verse 19, after learning from an angel of the Lord that Herod is dead, Joseph takes the Child and His mother back to Bethlehem. But while on the way, He learns--again from God--that Herod’s son is king over that portion of Herod’s old territory and that it’s best to go to the place where he and Mary had been living before Jesus’ birth, back to Nazareth.

Joseph’s life, not to mention Mary’s life had been disrupted by God’s plans and the schemes of an evil ruler. Hearing the Word of God, Joseph was called to leave his means of making a livelihood behind. He was chased and terrorized, forced to settle in a foreign country that offered him and his family refuge and asylum. 

But each time the Word of God came to Joseph, God created the faith within him enabling him to respond faithfully. He didn’t abandon the baby and His mother in Nazareth, Bethlehem, or Egypt. 

You see, faith comes from hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17)

The Holy Spirit authors God’s Word and then the Holy Spirit creates faith through that Word in those who are good soil, that is, in those who are receptive to the planting of God’s Word within them. 

Joseph heard the Word of God and Joseph trusted in God

Joseph heard God’s Word of promise and by the power of that Word, Joseph believed.

That’s what God’s Word does in us. The believers in God hears the promise of Isaiah 30:21: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” And they learn that Jesus is that Way. “This is my Son...” the voice of God would cry out to the apostles Peter, James, and John, at the Mount of Transfiguration, “...Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5) Jesus is the Word. The Word Who gives us the faith in Him Who is our peace.

That’s why even in the midst of being torn from all that was familiar to him, in the midst of being chased and terrorized, Joseph was blessed. 

And that’s why even in the midst of all that bedevils, tempts, and tests us in this life, all who hear the Word of God about Jesus and trust in Him as Lord are blessed. 

You are blessed as you hear God tell you, “This is the way; walk in it.”

I mentioned earlier that the Psalms encourage us to say things to God we might not otherwise say. They also remind us of God’s promises to those who follow Christ rather than the world. 

Psalm 73 contains such a reminder:
You guide me with your counsel [that is, with Your Word], and afterward you will take me into glory. (Psalm 73:24). 
Friends: Jesus, the Word made flesh, guides those who turn to Him through His Word in this life. He guides us to trust that God so loved the world--and so loves us--that He gave His one and only Son so that all who believe in Him have life with God forever.

God blesses us in life by being with us even when the evil people of the world seem to have it all. 

And those who trust in Christ will, after all the dead and dying rewards of this world have disappeared forever, live with God in glory. 

Be like Joseph: Hear God’s Word. In the hearing of God’s Word, He will create faith in Christ within you. And, by God's grace through faith in Christ, you will live eternally in the glory of God. This is the blessed life. Amen 

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