Forgiveness

Posted: 6 September 2016 in Ramblings

A meditation on Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 6:37-38 & Matthew 18:15-17

Forgiveness is something which is not easy to do for we ‘poor miserable sinners’.  The concept has been completely forgotten by our post-modern culture.  As disagreeing sides in the political, business, family, and yes, faith environments face off, it seems that no one forgives the sin which they have perceived has been committed against them.

 Even if Christians do not daily pray the prayer our Lord taught us to pray as they should, most churches pray that prayer in the exercise of their Sunday services.  Each time we pray that prayer, we ask our Heavenly Father:

 Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. [Matthew 6:12]

 Do we mean those words when they are verbally, or at least mentally spoken to our Heavenly Father?  These words don’t say, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who apologize to us’, they don’t say, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those things which we get over’, and they don’t say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who agree with us.”  No, we say “those who sin against us.”  There is no exception, nor are there rules to follow to ensure we do it correctly.    We are simply meant to forgive.  Period.

 If we take our Divinely taught prayer-lesson to heart and walk through Scripture, it is found that there are warnings given us by our Savior that underline the importance of heeding the words which He has given us.  For example:  Matthew 6, Luke 6 and Matthew 18. Now, scholars have historically taught that the Matthew 6 and Luke 6 passages are actually the same lesson written, through the leadings of the Holy Spirit, by two different authors.  Yet, Matthew 18 is the traditional lesson taught regarding how one must deal with that sin which has been perceived from a brother or sister-in-Christ.

 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [Matthew 6 (ESV)]

 A first glance should cause the fact to be noticed that this reference immediately follows the prayer which our Lord has given us.  In other words, this is not a ‘separate’ lesson, but rather a continuation of the explanation of how to pray.

 37 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. [Luke 6 (ESV)]

 This Luke passage is part of that which is called the beatitudes and, for some, takes more effort to see the lesson of forgiveness, since our Lord does not instruct in 21st century sentence structure.  To clarify, we will not be judged/condemned [only] if we do not judge/condemn.  If we forgive, [only] then will we be forgiven.  If we withhold a measure of forgiveness from someone (anyone!), that lack of forgiveness will be measured back to us.  In simpler terms, ‘if you withhold forgiveness, then it will be withheld from you.’

 And how is this forgiveness to be sought and given, especially among brothers and sisters-in-Christ?  For that, we walk back to Matthew immediately after our Lord teaches the parable of the lost sheep which is an illustration of what He (& we should) do as someone wanders away from their loving Good Shepherd.

 15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [Matthew 18 (ESV)]

 Simply stated, we should not go to anyone else when we are offended before we speak to the offender in private.  That conversation should happen in love, not in anger.  The idea is not to put a chip on our shoulder, march up to the one who we believe has offended, draw a line in the sand, and demand an apology.  All this does is set up the conversation for failure in the eyes of our Lord.  Only after an attempt (or several?) should we approach one or two others with the problem, and then as a last resort the entire congregation should be involved.  And yes, it does say “the church”.  After all we are all one in the Body of Christ, and He has instructed us to remove unrepentant sinners from our midst which greatly pains Him.  Yet, it is His instruction.

 We have recognized here from Holy Scripture that forgiveness is to be given to people for anything they have done.  Although the Matthew 18 passage speaks of how to indicate to a brother or sister-in-Christ that a sin has been perceived, there is really no indication of how to give it.  For that, let’s consider the example of Peter repenting of his denial of Christ to his resurrected Lord in John 21.

 If anyone believes or has been informed that someone has felt offended, every effort should be made to seek that person’s forgiveness.  Although our sinful pride may try to validate our sin, efforts should be taken to not do so.  When we approach those who have felt the offense, we should also endeavor to use the words “apologize” or “sorry” AND “forgive”.  Simply stated as example, “I believe I have sinned against you and truly apologize for it.  Do you forgive me?”

 Of course, it is best if the offended reciprocates explicitly with the words “I forgive you.”  Statements like “that’s okay” or “sure”, or “just forget it” do not communicate forgiveness.  Conversation immediately following should not rehash the disagreement, nor should it dwell on the repentance and forgiveness recently offered and given.  Just as in the liturgy, repentance and confession is offered, forgiveness is specifically given, then the glory of God is recognized. For, as Matthew continues in chapter 18:

 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 

 As we forgive one another’s sins, so does our Heavenly Father forgive us.

God’s Service to Us

Posted: 28 August 2016 in Sermons

The Chaplain delivered a message to the congregation of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Galt, CA.  The message was developed from the Year C Gospel text for August 28, 2016.  Luke 14:1-14 is read within the sermon in context.

May God bless you in the hearing of His Word.

My Refuge, My Portion

Posted: 31 March 2016 in Ramblings

A Meditation on Psalm 142 [ESV]

We all have those days, weeks, or months, don’t we?  Those times when we throw our hands up and say, “What else can happen?” or “I can’t handle one more thing!”  Those times when we feel alone in a crowded room, surrounded by those who care for us, yet we seemingly have no one who can truly identify with our troubles, since they are – after all – our troubles.  Unique to our situation or so it seems.  We step into those traps that grab us during our moments of self-centered worry, when there seems to be no respite, no relief, and no refuge during those times of increasing difficulty, illness, or private guilt.

With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!
In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;  no one cares for my soul.

 These words of the psalmist, given to us by the Holy Spirit, offer reason for us to reflect on those times when we are trying to “do it” ourselves.  When we are standing up and shaking our fist at the sky in tearful anger, perhaps we should remember that our Heavenly Father is with us.  When we cry out to Him, He hears our plea.  When we look to Calvary, to the cross atop that mountain, we realize that our hill isn’t nearly as insurmountable as we might have thought.  Although it seems to us that no one notices or cares, He cares.

 I cry to you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!

 Our Heavenly Father is listening when we cry out.   He offers that much needed refuge.  All we need do is recognize that through Him the mountains of difficulty in front of us are made into foothills, perhaps even meadows.  They are not insurmountable in His eyes.  He will give us a portion of His strength necessary to confront the plans of the evil one who seeks to devour us.  He will grant us the perseverance to get through the darkened places which we walk, seeking only His light and comfort.

Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.

 

As we reach the open meadow prepared for us by His Holy Spirit, it is like stepping out of a prison which the sin of the world has constructed around us.  As we return to the light of our Risen Lord, we give thanks for the gift of forgiveness which Christ has provided for us on the Cross.  It is then we realize that God has provided not only that forgiveness for our sin, but a blessed righteousness promised to us without measure.  For we know that when our days in this world of tears end, He will call each of us to Himself promising a resurrection as beautiful and bountiful as that of His beloved Son.

 

  Published in the Shepherd’s Staff newsletter

of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church

April 2016 Edition

Wait (Psalm 130)

Posted: 4 April 2014 in Ramblings

Predawn-water

1Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

How many times have I held this passage close? How many times in the last decade have I quietly cried out to God, pleading that the wait be over? Every time the dawn was approaching; the dawn that I thought would bring good news to my ears, there was silence. Seemingly an answer of “no.” Or maybe just “not yet” ? My first, southern-raised response is “what have I done to cause you, O God, to turn away?” Yet, my training, Scripture and the ever present Holy Spirit remind me that He has not forsaken me. He only asks me to wait. Longer.

3If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I am a worm. An undeserving sinner who has struggled with anger and angst regarding those who seemingly want only to thwart the path which was laid out before me what seems now so long ago. Thanks be to God, I have been given the strength to overcome those sins of anger, yet there are other sins which just won’t go away. If it were up to me….I would surely die a miserable death…over and over and over again. Yet, just as I have forgiven the sins which have been [unwittingly?] committed against me, my sins have been forgiven me by my Lord Jesus Christ. I know this because that voice which speaks from the Word reassures me. He reassures me not only of the forgiveness of my sins, but that my wait is almost over. Almost.

5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

As a military man, I know what it feels like to wait for the morning. During that wait, the watchman quietly thinks of events of the previous day and night. And he anticipates the future in the pre-dawn haze. Think on your life for a moment. Think of those events which mark what has made you who you are. Especially those which you were required to wait for. Even those events that would have the length of the wait determined by others. You knew what the result was going to be not by intellectual thought, not by educated reasoning and not because science explained when the wait would be over. You just knew. And you anticipated the end of the wait so much that you related every thought to what would happen after the wait was over. Yet…you were still waiting for the dawn. As do I.

7O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Israel of old were the people of God. Just like each and every congregation of the Church are exactly that. God’s people. Many struggle with things which cause them to wait. Sometimes it’s internal finances. Sometimes administrative actions of their local leaders. Sometimes it is the decisions of people whom they don’t even know. Still …. they wait. During this wait their anticipation, their collective anger and angst can become unbearable. Yet, I would suggest they hold these words of the psalmist close. Pray on them at every opportunity. The love which God has for you is immeasurable. His promised redemption, o congregation, is just over the horizon. He has and will continue to pronounce your absolution at every dawn. Not only has He redeemed you from your iniquities with the blood of the Lamb, He has also given you an ever present Shepherd. Eventually…soon…the one whom He has called into your midst as His under shepherd will be given the opportunity to respond. Your wait will be over. And so will mine. Thanks be to God the Father, who with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit hear our cries for mercy…and answers them.

In Jesus most Holy Name.
Amen +

BeStill2

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
although the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
[Psalm 46:1-3, 8-11 ESV]

As particularly unfavorable news comes from family, our doctors or from those who represent us in certain matters, our situation seems to darken.  We recognize that in our human state, we are helpless regardless of the situation.

As we look into that dark valley of Psalm 23, the valley spoke of seems much more concrete.  The writer of Psalm 46; however, points out who can help us now.  God.  “God is our refuge and strength.”  Any negative experience inflicted on us now is a glimpse ahead to the calamity that will come at the end of the world.  The effects of sin are so great in this world.  Those effects remind us that the end is coming although when we do not know.  It is a warning to us not to put our complete trust in anyone except God Himself.

God says to His people, “Do not fear.”  Though  the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the depths of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake – as the medical news isn’t good, as evil manifests down upon us…the Lord continues to say to us,

Be Still !

And know that I am God.”

Evil may have its little day, but God has met it at the Cross, where our Savior Jesus Christ confronted the enemy…and defeated him.  Evil forces in our world have met their defeat.  They threaten and try to terrify us, but God has conquered them and His kingdom has come and will remain forever.  What Are We to Do ?
Trust in God.  Do not give in to fear.  Keep up our daily routines.  Devote ourselves to Scripture, to prayer and to joining together in worship  Remember our leaders and pray for them.  Reach out to the suffering and to those who mourn.  Pray for those who are experiencing our dark valley and even those who have valleys of their own.  Ask the Lord to enable His Church to speak the comforting Word of peace in Christ Jesus, so that in the midst of the suffering in the world, we may know that Jesus is the true source of peace in all trials and dangers.
Our world is not a safe place.  Yet, God would have us trust in Him to keep us safe for this He will do.

+ in nomine jesu +

Amen.

Image  —  Posted: 11 March 2014 in Ramblings

God Meant it for Good

Posted: 20 October 2013 in Ramblings

Coat-ManyColorsSitting here watching a wonderful teaching video by Rev. Ernie Lassman (Messiah-Seattle, WA). Pastor Lassman is giving a correct, yet paraphrased story of Joseph as a means to illustrate the Genesis 50:20 textual quote of Joseph to his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Tears in my eyes as I hear this lesson as parallel to my situation as well as that of my ordained brothers’ who are awaiting their return into a parish call. My goal of entering into the OHM was not my idea or any others’ who presently walk this planet, but rather that of the One whom I have been called to follow. St Paul tells me in Romans 5:3-5: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Therefore, I struggle to live by St Paul’s words of Colossians 4:2-4: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

I pray that one day soon, those who lord it over decisions I am not privy to would see themselves as they read the words of our Savior recorded in Mark 10:42: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them…” as well as Father Luther’s words in Part III-Article X of the Smalcald Articles. Perhaps they too might be brought to tears and see their proper role of ‘enabling’ those of us who seek only the Holy Will of the One whom has called us all into His Grace and service.

Lord, have mercy. Amen

NOTE: Oddly, I  posted this to  FB on 20 October before I considered posting it here.  Unfortunately, I  have not  been able to post any of this year’s sermons, perhaps that will change in the  not  too distant future.  God’s peace to everyone.

In the Correct Order?
^ Audio/Slideshow Link Above ^

23 Oct 2011
Trinity-Sturgis

Grace, Mercy, Peace – text from Holy Spirit – Apostle Matthew [22:34-46 (37-40 spec.)]

   I.            Intro

In 1537, while preaching on today’s text, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther asked:

What, then, are we to do when the Law constantly demands and drives us on, and, after all, we cannot keep it?  For my conscience is ever judging me (I tell myself):  Because I should love God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself, and, after all, I cannot do so, I must be damned; and God says yes and confirms the judgment.  Who will help me in this predicament?  Says the Law:  I know of no way to help you.  The Law simply desires and requires you to be obedient.  (WLS#2362 preached by ML 30 Sept 1537 against Agricola & antinomians)

Father Luther was preaching against the attitudes of his day that were prevalent among many of the non-Lutheran reformers of his day, those which he called ‘antinomians’.  To that matter, non-Lutheran protestants of today and sadly some who call themselves Lutheran, believe that because of our being saved by faith alone, there is no need to be obedient to any religious code…or law…INCLUDING that which God has given His children in the Old Testament.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had just the opposite problem.  They believed and taught that strict adherence to the Law was all they NEEDED to do to obtain God’s favor. This can be understood from our Gospel lesson today…

II.            The Law

(Matthew 22, ESV) 34 But when the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

As I stated, the Pharisees knew that, because they followed ALL of the Law, they were not really concerned with how Jesus answer would affect them.  No – they were rather prideful of how they followed the Torah and rabbinical law.  They knew in their hearts that anything Jesus could say would not convict them.

The Pharisees were very much like many self-professed Christian believers of today.  They knew in their self-proclaimed intellect that God is the Creator of all things and they loved Him so much they lived according to the Commandments (1st Commandment).  They attended worship each weekend (2nd Commandment).  They had always respected the elders of their family (4th Commandment).  They had never stolen, murdered or committed adultery (5th, 6th & 7th Commandments).  They had never lied about their neighbor nor did they want anything from their neighbors’ possessions (8th, 9th, 10th Commandments). As a matter of fact their neighbors weren’t as well off as they were, so why WOULD they want anything of theirs? (4’)

So they sent one of their best Law interpreters…a lawyer, to trip Jesus up with a very provocative question.  And how did our Lord answer him?  We read in…

(Matthew 22:37-40, ESV)  “And [Jesus] said to [the Lawyer],‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Now, at first glance, we may not recognize our Lord’s restatement of Deuteronomy 6:5 nor the implication that I believe God had when these words were recorded, not only by Moses, but by Matthew and Luke.  For God underlines where the primary place is for this love in Deuteronomy 6:6:  “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (emp. added)

The Pharisees of Jesus day….the non-Lutheran church reformers of Brother Martin’s day AND many Christian believers today all suffer from the very same problem.  It is common to attempt to use one’s intellect to determine if we are pleasing God.  To rationalize how well we are following the Law.  Perhaps to justify, to ourselves and others, that even what MIGHT be seen as a sin is really spiritual discernment and love.

The Pharisees thought they would send a scholar, one who ‘thought he knew’ what God’s Law said.  They would do this, in their minds, to protect God’s people from a man with delusions of grandeur.  After all, in their own minds, the Pharisees were intellectually superior to this…this…carpenter’s son from Galilee.  And they had followed ‘to the letter’ the Law as given to Moses.

Today, there are many who think that they know how to please God.  Thus they will come up with new a better ways to prove so.  If they give more time and talent, if they spend more time at church, if they tell the public how good they are, if they vastly expand the roles of their churches, then…THEN God will truly be pleased with them.  AND if God is pleased with them…their devotion to Christ will be recognized by not only those around them, but by GOD Himself.  Yet, [NOTABLE PAUSE] God tells us through Moses, through Luke and through Matthew here that, our minds are the last place we should be concerned with loving Him.

First, we should love our God “with all our hearts”…..”and with all our souls.”  But, WAIT!  If we love Him first THERE, how will anyone ELSE know of our devotion!?

[PAUSE] That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is EXACTLY the point!  It does not matter what others know or see.  It most assuredly matters what our Father in Heaven sees when He looks upon us.  Unfortunately, we know from Scripture that, if left to our OWN intellect and our OWN methods, when God looks upon us He sees our poor, miserable, sinful selves.  He sees the heart that would spend time at the lake rather than attend worship.   He sees the heart that is angry and spiteful when someone cuts it off in traffic.  He sees the anger and verbal abuse which is cast at our government leaders.  He sees the financial, property and other lusts which are felt when watching the successes of neighbors. Yes, although our neighbors may not ‘know’ of our inabilities to follow God’s Law…our Father in Heaven most assuredly knows.  And He knows our inability to intellectually explain why we don’t follow His Law for He tells us through St Paul in Romans 7:(:15-21 ESV)

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.[ 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.] 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. [For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.] 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.[ 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

III.            The Gospel

Yes, our Heavenly Father knows all too well of our physical and mental failings.  He is fully aware of our inability to keep His Law in our own actions, on our own accord.  Thus, He sent His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born, by the power of the Holy Spirit, of the Virgin Mary.  He was made Man.  Jesus was wholly Man and wholly God.  He came to teach us of the Father’s love for us.  Yet, unlike you and me, Jesus could physically demonstrate His Love.  Not only His Love for His Father in Heaven, but His Love for you and me.  Jesus did this with clear demonstration through His betrayal, through the punishment which Man placed upon Him during His trial before Pilot and…Jesus demonstrated His love for you and me by giving up His very Body and Blood on the Cross of Calvary.  He was nailed to that cross because of your sins and mine, because we CAN NOT, on our accord, do anything which is pleasing to God.  ONLY due to the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, are we found pleasing to God.  ONLY due to the power of the Holy Spirit calling out to Him is the Father able to hear and heed our prayers.  ONLY due to the faith granted us by the Holy Spirit can you and I be called “the children of God”.  And that we are….Children of the Most High God.

IV.            Conclusion

So…when the time is right, when all is accomplished in God’s eyes, Jesus will come again.  Jesus will come and all will look to Him and know in their hearts, their souls and their minds that Jesus is Lord.  Those who have attempted to intellectually explain their faith may look upon Him in absolute fear and horror, for it will be clear to THEM at that moment that their hearts had not been first in loving God.  However, for you and me, as well as for all the saints gone before, WE will look upon our descending Lord with thankfulness and faith.  You and I will, in our hearts, in our souls and in our minds know that we will join with all the saints, with all the angels and archangels of Heaven giving all the glory to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Giving all praise and honor to our Triune God while living in His peace and confidence for ever.

+ in nomino jesu +
Amen.

May the Peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen