GLC in Lent

GLC in Lent

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

2017_07_09 Pentecost 5 Sing Praise to the LORD!


Sermon 5th Sunday of Pentecost, NL3, 9 July 2017

The First Reading for 5th Sunday of Pentecost is from Psalm 150.

NRS  Psalm 150:1 Praise the LORD!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

praise him in his mighty firmament!

 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;

praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

 3 Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

 5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

 6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

P:  How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.

C:  Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your Word.

The Gospel Reading for the 5th Sunday of Pentecost is from the Gospel of John the 4th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

 25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."

 26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

You've sung this song before I assume?


Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise him all creatures here below.

Praise him above ye heavenly hosts.

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

The song is called the doxology which, roughly translated, means "Word of Praise."  In it we hear the call for all people, those here on earth below and those who have gone before and even all inhabitants of heaven above, to praise God.  Why?  because all blessing flow from him who is known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In the doxology we detect the song of praise rooted in Psalm 150 that we read earlier.  Praise God!  Praise the LORD! they both cry out. 

Psalm 150 is a doxology.  It is the high note of praise that ends the book of Psalms.  It is the finale, the crescendo of the whole book.  "Praise the LORD" it declares at the top of its lungs.  If we did a word study we would find that "Praise the LORD" or phrases similar to that appear 7 times in the first book of the Psalms, twice in the second book, only once in the third book, 9 times in the fourth book and 32 times in the last book, three times in Psalm 150 alone.  The last five Psalms all begin and end with "Praise the LORD.".  The word "praise" appears thirteen times in the six verses of Psalm 150 alone.  The message of the Psalms is that all of life leads to this doxology of praise to the LORD.

The Psalm tells us to Praise the LORD before we even know why should give praise.  It tells us where to praise the LORD - in the sanctuary here on earth and in the mighty heavens above.  His praise is to be everywhere.  There is no place that should be without praises to the LORD.

The Psalm calls us to praise the LORD for what he does - for his mighty deeds and for who he is - the one who is surpassingly great.  All of the previous psalms have filled in the details of who God is and what he does.  Psalm 150 doesn't feel the need to repeat any of it, we should know by now. 

The Psalm tells us how the LORD should be praised - with the ram's horn trumpet of the priests, with the lute and harp of the Levites, with the human movement in tambourine and dance, with all other instruments of music and percussion - the strings, the pipes, the cymbals and not just cymbals but loud crashing ones!  No one is left out, no method of making music is beyond giving praise.  If you have the breath of life, given to you by God the creator whose breath is life, then you Praise the LORD! What is needed and what is most important is that everyone, in every place and with everything Praise the LORD.

Psalm 150 begins with "Praise the LORD" and it ends with "Praise the LORD".  All of life is encapsulated in praise to the LORD and creator of all.  Which may sound strange, but the Psalms are a book of life.  The psalms give you words to speak for every happening in life.  There are psalms of wonder and joy, of sorrow and lament, of trust and faith, of song and prayer, and of God's word in creation, life, death and law. 

As we review the Psalms that we have focused on in the last four weeks we remember a Psalm of praise, of making a joyful noise to the LORD all the earth, of singing, thanksgiving, and gladness for the LORD's steadfast love and faithfulness.

We also remember a Psalm of lament that gives us words to cry out in near despair "How long O LORD?" and words that plea for the LORD to consider and hear our complaint.  In the midst of anguish, with no one else to turn to, the Psalmist turns in trust to the LORD, even with singing and rejoicing.

We remember Psalms acknowledging the LORD's presence beside green pastures and still waters as well as on paths of deep darkness that feel like the shadow of death.  It was the LORD who provided overflowing cups of goodness and mercy all of the days of life.  After a night of weeping the LORD brought joy in the morning.  Grief was turned into dancing, coverings of sackcloth became clothes of joy.  Praise and thanksgiving were given for all that the LORD has done.

The experience of the Psalms is that through the ups and downs of life the LORD is present.  He hears and shares life with us.  Fundamentally, the Psalms find it astounding that the LORD, God of all creation, is with us and permits us to speak in all honesty about every facet of life.  We can talk to him about our kids when they...  About our parents when they...  About brothers and sisters when they ...  About work and school when it...  About untamed nature that at times seems to go crazy.  We can talk about what's fair and unfair, about things the way they should be and about when they aren't.  We can talk about what makes us cry, whether in joy or in sadness.  We can talk of gain or loss, of new life and of the passing away of life.  There is nothing beyond the realm of conversation with our LORD.

The Psalms are about praying, speaking and listening to the LORD.  A life of honest and truthful prayer and conversation with God takes us ultimately to words and tunes and songs of praise.  Praise is the ultimate expression of faith.  In faith, we praise God when things are going well and when they aren't.  We praise the LORD for what he has done, for what he is doing and continues to do and for all that he will do even though we cannot see or imagine what that may be.  In faith and in all things, seen and unseen, known and unknown, the Psalms call us to praise the LORD.

Praise of the LORD is the essence of worship.  In our Gospel reading Jesus told the woman at the well that the future is not about worship on one mountain or another but about worship in spirit and in truth.  I think he was talking of the worship in the spirit of praise and in the truth of praising the LORD.  The Spirit of worship is praise.  The truth of worship is that all praise is to the LORD.  The LORD does the work of worship in calling us together, of hearing our confession and forgiving, of speaking his Word, serving us his meal and sending us out.  Our response is praise for all that he has done.  We are to praise in singing, in praying, in greeting, in giving, and in going.  It is all "Praise the LORD".

I think my favorite song of praise is one I learned in Sunday School as a youngster.  It's called Hallelu, which is the Hebrew word for praise.  Hallelu becomes Hallelujah which is the Hebrew for Praise the LORD.  So we sing in both ancient Hebrew and modern English "Praise the LORD".  It is a song that is sung with joy and it can't be sung sitting still.  It requires us to move with joy.  It is a responsive song where one side calls the other to praise the LORD.  So when it is your turn to sing you have to sing and move.  Movement can be standing up and sitting down or waving your hands up and down or whatever you can think of.  The left side sings Hallelu and Hallelujah to the right side and the right side sings Praise ye the LORD to the left.  In the end we all join together to sing Praise ye the LORD!  Ready?

Hallelu-

Hallelu-

Hallelu-

Hallelujah!     Praise ye the LORD!

Hallelu-

Hallelu-

Hallelu-

Hallelujah!     Praise ye the LORD!

                        Praise ye the LORD!

Hallelujah!    

                        Praise ye the LORD!

Hallelujah!    

                        Praise ye the LORD!

Hallelujah!

(all) Praise ye the LORD!



Amen.

Monday, June 26, 2017

2017_06_25 Pentecost 3 Been Up the Creek Over the Hill and Back


Sermon 3rd Sunday of Pentecost, NL3, 25 June 2017

The First Reading for 3rd Sunday of Pentecost is from Psalm 23.

NRS  Psalm 23:1 <A Psalm of David.> The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.

 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

P:  O LORD, How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.

C:  Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your Word.

The Gospel Reading for the 3rd Sunday of Pentecost is from the Gospel of John the 10th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  John 10:1 "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of the blessings of living here in the desert, besides the heat, is the night sky.  I had Psalm 23 on my mind the other night looking at the sky when it occurred to me that perhaps the psalm was composed at night while on watch over the flock.  The psalm could have been written by an older shepherd as he shared his night watch with a younger shepherd.

As a shepherd watches the flock for any signs of unrest or danger there is a sense of satisfaction when all is quiet.  When sheep of your flock are not distressed by fear of predators, pesky insects, disease and when they are not hungry they can rest quietly.  It means the shepherd has done his job well. 

A thoughtful shepherd might make the comparison of people to sheep and that people are like sheep in many ways.  They have needs; to be free from fear and disease and irritations and not to feel hunger.  People sleep better when these needs are met.  The perceptive shepherd would draw a similar conclusion that the people's shepherd had done his job well and feel satisfied when all is well with his human flock.

With thoughts like these the words of Psalm 23 flow freely.  The shepherd who has been up the creek and returned, the one who has been over the mountain and back could easily write for a young shepherd on his first watches, "The LORD is MY shepherd." and perhaps add with a little pride, "And I shall not be in want, I lack nothing, I have everything I need because he is my shepherd and he is a good shepherd."

This shepherd knows about the dark valleys, the evil, the difficult paths of righteousness.  He's been there and back.  He appreciates how the LORD, his shepherd, skillfully guided him by rod and staff through many dangers, toils, and snares and brought him home to green pastures and still waters that refresh his weary soul. 

The young shepherd doesn't know about these dangers yet.  He doesn't know about the terrors of solitude, fear and evil and so also cannot know about the comforting presence of the LORD his shepherd.  As the older shepherd relates his history to the younger one he starts by telling about how HE, the good shepherd, makes me lie down in green pasture.  HE leads me beside the still waters.  HE restores my soul by his tireless good care.  HE leads me in the path of righteousness.  And then as he relives the journey through the darkest valley, seemingly in the shadow of death the older shepherd no longer addresses the young shepherd, he speaks to the LORD his own shepherd and says, "I fear no evil, because YOU are with me.  YOUR rod and staff give me comfort.  Through them I knew YOU were there and I felt YOUR guidance along the path avoiding the dangers.  When my enemies were present, YOU set the table for me, YOU anointed my head with oil as a sign of honor and YOU overflowed my cup showing your abundant provision for all that I need."

Surely the younger shepherd would wonder, "Who are you talking too?"  Returning to address the young shepherd the elder informed him, "Surely, ... of a certainty, goodness and mercy shall follow, even pursue me all the days of my life.  It will not be the enemies who pursue me but goodness and mercy from my shepherd.  These will come after me if not even be left behind in my wake.  I know I shall return to the house of the LORD, my shepherd, forever.

The message of this psalm is one of trust, based upon the experience of spending terrifying nights in the dark valley and fearful days off the right paths but also of being sought out, rescued and led by the good shepherd back to the place of comfort and rest, food and water and safe dwelling.  The LORD is at the beginning, the end and in the center of all that is needed.  He is the theological and the literal center of the Psalm as he is in life.  He provides it all even when the sheep wander and stray.  No wonder the old shepherd knows about goodness, mercy and steadfast love.

Some 1200 years later, Jesus added additional meaning to what it means to be a good shepherd.  The shepherd knows his sheep and calls them by name.  The sheep know their shepherd.  They know his presence, his voice and they follow him.  They will not follow anyone else but their own shepherd.  They know their shepherd works hard for them as he cares for them.  He locates green pastures for food and comfort.  He finds and leads them to still waters for refreshment.  They are free of all distress so they can rest.  He walks with them and even more he lays his life down for them.  With this shepherd life for this flock is abundant.

So we have in the Psalms, songs of praise that call for us to make a joyful noise to the LORD all the earth.  But the Psalms also give voice to the realities of life that we experience.  We have permission to cry out in lament, "How long, O LORD, how long?" as we seek to understand why the LORD seems so remote when we experience pain and sorrow in our hearts in the presence of gloating enemies.  Psalm 23 adds the dimension of trust in the LORD.  As we learn from our trials and tribulations that the LORD is indeed with us during our transit through those dark valleys.  Evil  and enemies are present but they are not to be feared because the LORD is indeed with us. 

His presence brings peace, honor and abundance.  Our only desire is to be with him always.  We can be confident that our future is assured.  His goodness and mercy are with us.  His home is where we will dwell.  It is the place we most want to return.  We now tell others about our good shepherd and all that he does.  We can speak confidently of what we know to those who do not know.  We can speak of our personal trust based upon our personal experience.  Our shepherd is faithful.  He is good.  We lack noting that we need in this life.  Our future under his care is assured.  We have no fear.  We experience his overflowing goodness and mercy.

Perhaps it is little wonder that want to hear these words of comfort when we are about to face the greatest unknown.  We want to hear reassuring words of fulfilled promise and confidence in our savior shepherd in spite of the dark valley and the presence of evil and enemies who seek our demise.  We crave our shepherd's presence and this psalm speaks to his constant presence and guidance during our difficult times.  Words of faith and trust inspire faith and trust as we go towards the unknown.  As we hear these words we are comforted and restored.  The house of the LORD awaits.

Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

2017_06_18 Pentecost 2 From a Joyful Noise to How Long O LORD?


Sermon 2nd Sunday of Pentecost, NL3, 18 June 2017

The First Reading for 2nd Sunday of Pentecost is from Psalm the 13.

NRS  Psalm 13:1 <To the leader. A Psalm of David.> How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

 4 and my enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

 5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

P:  How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.

C:  Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your Word.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Last week we took a look at Psalm 100, a psalm of thanksgiving.  Did anyone take the challenge to memorize it?

NRS  Psalm 100:1 <A Psalm of thanksgiving.> Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.

 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

The Psalm welcomes us into the presence of the LORD and calls us to worship with praise and thanksgiving, with a joyful noise and blessing because the LORD is God and the LORD is good and his steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever.

But...do we always feel like doing that?  Is real life a continuous song of praise and thanksgiving?  Is it even realistic to expect that?  I think not.  Stuff happens and instead of making a joyful noise we cry out in anguish, pain and sorrow.  Can we, should we voice those complaints to the LORD God?  Does it seem like a lack of faith to speak plainly to the LORD that all is not well here and now?  Can we wear our real face as we speak to the LORD what is truly on our hearts - words that aren't at all praise and thanksgiving?

Psalm 13, that was read this morning, does give us faithful words of complaint to the LORD our God.  Five times the Psalmist cries out, "How long?"  He's not asking for the LORD to give him a timeframe - 3:05 pm tomorrow afternoon, or June 22, 2022 at the stroke of midnight.  The main issue is that the Psalmist feels abandoned by God.  He feels all alone and that is more serious than the pain in his soul and the sorrow in his heart.  Abandonment is scarier than the enemy exalting over him.  Being without the LORD, my God is terrifying.  I can deal with the pain and sorrow and the enemy but not without the LORD my God.  So where are you LORD?  Have you turned your face away forever?

Think back on your times of asking "How long?"  I thought the 7th and 8th grades would never end.  College felt like a godless time.  How long will I be unemployed O Lord?  How long must she suffer with cancer?  How long will he be immobilized by the stroke?  How long O LORD, how long?  Will it be forever that your face is hidden and I can't feel the blessing of your presence? 

Psalm 13 is not specific about what the pain and sorrow is and that allows us to speak about our own pain.  The Psalm gives us permission to honestly call out in complaint and distress to our God.  We can lift up the situations with parents, kids, marriage, addictions, mental illness, threats, or other wounds to body and soul that feel like the onset of death.

After calling out "How long?" the Psalmist makes an urgent request, a demand actually.  Consider me!  Answer me!  Listen to me, Hear me O LORD!  Give life to my eyes.  They are going dark.  I fear the sleep of death if you aren't here.  If you don't listen and answer me O LORD then I will surely die.  My enemies will have prevailed and they will rejoice over my downfall.  What difference will it make if I make it to the 9th grade?  Who cares if I am unemployed for the rest of my life, if relationship issues aren't resolved?  If sickness and disease continue and I am always being threatened? 

The demand is made for the LORD to consider our situation and answer us.  But we don't make that demand without somehow knowing, hoping that our complaint is being heard.  One commentator said it like this, "At the same time Hope despairs and Despair hopes." 

Hope despairs and Despair hopes.  The situation depends upon the groaning of the Holy Spirit to hear us and speak for us to our God who is seemingly absent.  Alone, on my bed in the darkness, I cry out "If you are there LORD I need to know...now"  The hope I had is gone and I am in despair, yet in that despair I cry out into the darkness in hope.  Hope despairs and Despair hopes.  "Come Lord Jesus."

Sometime during the Psalmist's complaint, he thinks about the past and recalls a different time, the way it was before, the time of knowing God's steadfast love, the songs of praise and rejoicing.  This time of complaint is not that time of rejoicing, but that time was real also.  God was present then and just perhaps the steadfastness love that we sang about then means that he is present here and now.  Is it true?

Almost by an act of will the Psalmist decides, "I trusted in your steadfast love then and so my heart shall rejoice in your salvation when it comes.  I will sing to the Lord.  He dealt bountifully with me in the past, so in the future I will sing to the LORD again.  My experience of the past leads me to trust and have faith in an unknown future.

The blessing of age is being able to look back and know that after the 8th grade there was high school.  After college there was the love of my life.  After unemployment there was good work.  After cancer and a stroke came peace.  A voice in the night said, "I have always been with you."  The LORD dealt bountifully with us in the past, so we can trust Him during the pain in our souls and the sorrow in my hearts now.

Despite what it feels like the LORD will not forget you forever.  Regarding feelings, this Psalm cautions us to distrust our feelings in things spiritual.  We are called to faithful trust regardless of how it feels.  He will not hide his face from you for long.  Your enemy will not exalt over you forever, nor forever prevail or rejoice over your situation.  Light will indeed return to your eyes because the LORD considers and answers, he hears and he helps.  This is the meaning of steadfast love and faithfulness to all generations.  Generations later Jesus assures us of the eternal quality of the LORD's promise.  As we heard in the Gospel from John, " 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."  This salvation known by the Psalmist and promised again by our Savior we receive as undeserved grace.  It is ours to have confidence in, to sing and rejoice about even when we don't necessarily feel it.

We can ask, "How Long O LORD, how long?"  We can demand, "Consider and answer me O LORD, my God!"  But we can also declare with confidence.

 5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

In our lament, let us grasp hold of the words of promise and assurance and keep them close even on our worst days.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

2017_06_11 Pentecost 1 Make a Happy Racket Everybody!


Sermon 1st Sunday of Pentecost, NL3, 11 June 2017
The First Reading for 1st Sunday of Pentecost is from 100th Psalm.
NRS  Psalm 100:1 <A Psalm of thanksgiving.> Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
 2 Worship (Serve) the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.
Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
When I was very young, younger than seven, every Sunday was an adventure going to church.  I'm pretty sure our church clothes included a white shirt, bowtie and vest.  On the way we went through a tunnel under the runways of Sea-Tac airport and we always implored Dad to "Beet the horn Dad, beet the horn."  If there were no cars in the tunnel he generally would, to our great delight.  Then began the search for the cross on the top of the steeple of our church.  The first one to sight it was obliged to shout out, "I see the cross.  I see the cross!"  Then each kid would join in the chorus of seeing the cross.
In some respects we weren't too different than the ancient Israelites who lived out in the country and only came to Jerusalem a couple of times a year for the high festivals and at the first sighting of the temple from far away sang out, "I see the temple.  I see the temple." and all would join in chorus.  As they approached the entrance to the temple they may have heard and chorused Psalm 100.  The temple priests may have sung out inviting the pilgrims to enter " 1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.  2 Serve the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing. 3a Know that the LORD is God." 
The people may have replied, " 3a It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."
Then priest may have then sung out again, " 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name."
With the people responding back, " 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations."
There is such a wealth and depth of unspoken understanding in this simple Psalm of Thanksgiving.
Notice how it begins, with the call for everyone in the whole earth to make a joyful noise, to serve with gladness, come with singing to the LORD!  Even before there is a stated reason to do these things we are called to do them.  Just as we teach our children the right way to do things before they can understand why.  We are instructed to enter the presence of the LORD joyfully, noisily, with gladness and singing!  It is wonderful to enter God's presence and this place of worship.  Rejoice in it!
The Psalm is ready for our question though.  Why should we do that?  Why should we go to church and sing and be glad and joyful?  Mom, Why do we do that?  Dad?
Because the Lord is God.  YHWH is God.  He himself alone is God.  There is no other.  Not Moses or King David, not Alexander the Great or Caesar, not any human leader, dictator or ruler, no one of terror, no bully, not anyone.  This is treasonous talk in some places in the world today as it was in the first century.  But this is our confession, the LORD alone is God.  That, in itself, is reason enough to enter joyfully.  He is God and he made us.  Not only created us and breathed life into us, but made us ancestors of Abraham and gave us the covenantal promise, brought us out of slavery, established our homeland, returned us from exile, and made us who we are.  For us today we are the spiritual ancestors of Abraham and of God's promise.  We and the whole earth are his too.  That's why we should sing gladly.
But, not only did this sovereign God make us, but he claims us as his own.  We are his.  He didn't turn us loose to be on our own.  We are his beloved people.  He is our shepherd, we are his sheep and he leads us to his pasture where we have all that we need.  That's who this God is.  That's why we should sing and be joyful.
Then we are invited to enter through his gates and into his courts with thanksgiving, praise and blessing.  It is an invitation to enter the throne room of the King.  It is an awesome and astounding invitation.  Us with the king?!  Again we are not told why just yet.  We are just to do it.  Give thanks to God.  Praise him.  Bless his name.  Do that first before we even know why.
The Psalm again gives us the reason for giving thanks and praise.  Because the LORD God is good.  Good.  What he made is good, very good.  All that he is, is good.  there is no bad in him.  That goodness is meant for you because you are his.
And what is good?  His steadfastness is good.  His love is good.  His faithfulness to all generations is good.  And "Behold I am with you always to the end of the age" is good.  The LORD is good.  That he invites you to enter his gates is good.  That he calls you to join him in his courts is good.  Not just in the good times.  Nor only in the bad times.  But for all time he is good.  Not just for this generation but for all generations, those who came before and those yet to come.  His faithfulness to all people of all generations is forever.  That is good.
This really is a fine Psalm to begin our immersion in the Psalms for the next several weeks.  The key verses are verse 3 "Know that the LORD is God." and verse 5, "For the Lord is good."  That should be easy to remember. The LORD is God.  The LORD is good.  They are the key thoughts of the whole book of Psalms.  The LORD is God.  He is king.  He is creator.  He hears our cries and feels our pain.  He is God with us, Emmanuel.  He is good.
The Psalms give us words to speak in every aspect of our lives.  The Psalms are the Bible's prayer book and song book.  In it we can voice our experiences in life, from the highest joy to the depths of despair.  We bring them all to the LORD.  And in the end we bring our praise.
The Psalms are a crescendo of praise.  There are five books within the Psalms.  The books of the psalms are not grouped by subject like the hymns in our hymnals are.  Each book is its own narrative containing all types of Psalms.  The Psalms are the words of human voices speaking to God about the experiences of their lives, both good and bad.  One Psalm often introduces the next.  But each book ends in a Psalm of praise.  The last book expresses the highest of praise of all.  It's all praise by all possible means.  But we will talk about that in a few Sundays from now.
For now:
 1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
 2 Worship (Serve) the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
What if we kept this Psalm on our minds this week?  What if we made joyful noises and served the LORD gladly in all that we do?  What if we kept in mind that the LORD is God, he alone, there is no other in spite of what the world would have us believe?  What if we caught sight of this church and sang out "I see the church.  I see the church!" and gave thanks and praise and blessed God's holy name?  In our singing, what if we reminded ourselves that God is good, his steadfast love does endure forever, and his faithfulness to all generations"?  Would that be a bad thing?  No, it would be good.  The LORD is good.  Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

2017_05_28 Easter 7 WOW, Paul is Really Mad!!!


Sermon 7th Sunday of Easter, NL3, 28 May 2017

The First Reading for 7th Sunday of Easter is from Galatians the 3rd chapter.

NRS  Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified!

 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?

 3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?

 4 Did you experience so much for nothing?-- if it really was for nothing.

 5 Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

 6 Just as Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,"

 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.

 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you."

 9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.



 23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.

 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.

 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,

 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wouldn't it be a little confusing to be a Gentile Galatian believer when this letter from Paul arrived?  They thought they were doing all of the right things in their new faith in Jesus. 

Imagine how life has gone for them.  Before Paul arrived, life was all about getting to the top, about getting as much personal power as possible.  There were well defined divisions among people and there were laws applicable to each group.  There were divisions based upon nationality and faith (Jews and Greeks).  There were divisions based upon gender and divisions based upon relative freedom whether slave or free.  Even among divisions there was a hierarchy based upon who you worked for, who you were married to, how much money or land you had and so on.  The people worshipped a bevy of Greek gods who were really not very nice at all.  They were petty.  They used their power against humans or for their own whims however they felt that day.  The people sacrificed to them in hopes of gaining their favor so there would be a good harvest or they would have a good year or they would be protected from the bad guys, or whatever you needed.  But there was no assurance the gods would listen let alone answer your prayers.

Then this dynamic preacher named Paul arrived.  He went to the synagogues and told the Jews that the expected Messiah, the one predicted in the torah, the law, the prophets, and the psalms, had come.  His name was Jesus and he was from Nazareth.  He was truly the Messiah because after being publicly crucified, dead, and buried he became alive again on the third day after he was killed.  After he rose from the dead many people saw him, ate with him, walked and talked with him.  There were many witnesses who had been with him and seen him.  He was undoubtedly the beginning of the expected general resurrection at the end of the age.  He was the first to be resurrected.

Then this fellow Paul began talking with the Gentile Greeks and told them about the creator God who was very different from the gods they knew.  This God cared for the people he created.  He desired to reconcile the people to himself.  He even sent his Son Jesus to live with and among humanity speaking with great wisdom and performing miracles of healing, casting out demons, raising the dead, giving sight, hearing and speech to those who needed it.  And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit who came even to the Galatian gentiles with signs and miracles.  Many people came to faith in Jesus.  Paul organized churches that included both Jew and Gentile believers based on their faith in Jesus.  He travelled from town to town telling more people about Jesus, the Messiah.

For these gentile believers, faith in Christ resulted in a freedom that was unknown before.  In Christ there was no hierarchy, no divisions.  Greek or Jew didn't matter, male or female didn't matter, even slave or free was immaterial.  Through baptism all were equal based upon faith.  It was an entirely new way of life, not envisioned previously.  Without the former divisions Christians saw people in a new light.  They saw each other as brothers and sisters, as people who could help and be helped, people with burdens to be shared, and loads to be carried.  This is very good news especially for the Greek, the slave, and the female.  God cares even for them - how unlike the gods they knew in their life before Christ.

But then some Jewish believers in Christ came from Jerusalem and made the point that Jesus was a Jew.  All of his first followers, now called apostles, were Jews and therefore all Gentile believers should become Jews also, which meant following all of the Jewish laws including having the men circumcised.  The Galatians thought they were doing the right thing by obeying these laws until someone told Paul and he wrote this scathing letter back.  "I'm astonished at you!" he wrote.  "You foolish Galatians!  What have you done?  Are you bewitched?  What are you thinking?  Did your faith come by following the law or by hearing and believing, and having faith in the message we gave you?  Of course it wasn't by the law, it was through faith given to you by the Holy Spirit!!!  So why are you changing and creating new divisions among yourselves that do not belong in the One Body of Christ??  ARRRGGG!!!!"

Paul then went on to explain how faith came before the law and was God's intent from the beginning and also that the law was a temporary thing until Christ came.  Paul referenced the law in the torah to prove that it was through faith only that people became righteous before God.  It was a lesson that needed to be taught and re-taught over the centuries.  Paul's arguments in his letter to the Galatians became Martin Luther's arguments during the Reformation against the laws and traditions practiced by the medieval church.  Galatians is a letter that continually reminds us that it is faith coming through the Holy Spirit, not the actions of the law that save us.  Even though the law is given by God and is good, the law cannot save us, only faith in Jesus Christ.  In that sense we are called to be continually alert and reformation minded to build faith in Christ and reject traditions, laws, and customs that create and promote hierarchy and reliance on laws.

Faith comes by hearing.  As the Good News of Christ's life, death and resurrection is spoken the Holy Spirit works and grows faith just like he did for the Galatians and for believers ever since.

What about today though?  Who are today's equivalent of Greeks, slaves or women that especially need to know the Good News?  Who are we keeping out because of hierarchical laws or rules?  Foreigners?  Immigrants?  Is it based on language, looks, economic status, health habits, life choices?  What do we use to "vote people off the island" so to speak?  Or to put them in their place?  What hierarchical structures are we constructing that don't belong among us?

There are many people who have been driven away from a community of faith because of rules of churches that are not based on faith in Christ.  Perhaps we are demanding things like the Jews from Jerusalem did that are signs of faith but not faith itself and we don't recognize it.  Father show us our sin that we may repent.

Therefore we need a community well versed in scripture that can recognize and point out errors and call for reformation back to the scripture when needed.  It was this need for a biblically educated community of faith that lead Martin Luther to translate the Bible into German and to encourage universal education for all youth.  All people need to be able to read, all people need to be able to read the Bible, all people need to in fact read the Bible so that we can depend upon faith only, in Christ only, by grace only.

So let us hear again Paul's words to the Galatian churches, "26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

This is the good news of faith that Paul brought to the Greek Gentiles and was eventually brought to each one of us.  You may have noted verse 27 in what I just read, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ."  Baptism is a sign of faith given to us and commanded by Jesus that we may know for certain that Christ has claimed us.  So I'm going to ask something I have never heard asked in any church that I have ever attended.  Is there any one here who believes in Jesus Christ, is not baptized and would like to be baptized?  If there is, we can baptize you right here and right now if you like.  Or we can do it at another day when you could bring others with you to share in the day.  You will be clothed in Christ as Paul wrote and claimed by him forever.  You will be an heir according to the promise of God given to Abraham long ago.  You will be blessed to be a blessing to others.  You will be recognized as righteous in God's eyes because of faith.  Anyone?

Bless us Father to be a people of faith, a people who tear down barriers and build bridges to faith in you.  Lord in your mercy...hear out prayer.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.