The Lord’s Prayer

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March 26, 2017

John 9:1-41

Did you know that you were a priest?

As we continue to look towards the 500th Commemoration of the of the Reformation, it is nice to have a reminder that each and every one of us is a priest within Christ’s church. This doctrine as Martin Luther presented it, is the Priesthood of All Believers. He argued that all who belong to Christ through faith, baptism, and the Gospel shared in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and belonged “truly to the spiritual estate”: “For whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, although of course it is not seemly that just anybody shall exercise such office.” All baptized believers are called to be priests, Luther said, but not all are called to be pastors.[i]

If we are all priests, it would make sense that we can all pray. We do not need a special degree or anything of that matter. We do not have to be perfect, nor do we have to say just the right words. However, we don’t always think like that.

In seminary, while in a group for some reason or another, everyone would be quick to decline to pray. And that is what we were going to seminary for. We would play the game where everyone touches their nose and says, “not it.” Of course, the last one to do so would be the one that was stuck praying.

In my first call, during a meeting with a member of the synod staff with the leaders of my congregation, he asked someone to begin with prayer. Three or four fingers pointed at me as the pastor, and the comment was made, “that is what we called him for.” What is our aversion to prayer?

This morning we venture into The Lord’s Prayer. It is familiar to us. I have experienced it as one thing that people retain, even in the midst of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Timothy Wengert says, “Prayer is faith breathing, and its respiration is measured by the ‘amen,’ which for Luther could only mean, ‘Yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.’”

We pray the same prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples. First in the gospel of Matthew, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. Again, in the gospel of Luke, as one of the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. We too can follow the instructions of Jesus, when we don’t know what else to pray.

While we are convicted in the law of the Ten Commandments, the Creeds and The Lord’s prayer come to our aid. The gospel boldly shines through the words as Jesus teaches them, while still pointing to the fact that we are sinners nonetheless.

Martin Luther divided the Lord’s Prayer into seven petitions, in addition to an introduction and conclusion.

Our Father in heaven

The introduction opens up with who it is we are addressing. Pretty obvious! However, it has been a stumbling block for some people. For those that have issues with the language of Father or the patriarchal image. In The Shack, both the movie and the book, God takes the personification of a black woman, and at another time a man. God is much greater than what we can label. God is the great mystery, yet ever present. In that idea, we pray Our Father…

 

Hallowed be your name.

As we learned a couple of weeks ago, we are to fear and love God, so that we use God’s name in a right manor. In that righteousness, we keep it Holy. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for it to be Holy in and among us as well.

Your Kingdom Come.

Even without our prayer, God’s kingdom is going to come. In our prayer, we ask that it may also come to us, here on earth. In this, we are given God’s Holy Word, and the presence of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. The kingdom, is not something that we have to work for, it is through the grace of God that we will fully be a part of it, here on earth.

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

God’s gracious and good will comes to us as every evil scheme is broken. We have the hope and promise of an eternal life that comes with none of the stressors and evil that we experience in our daily lives today. In the eternal life, we have the promise that all evil will be banished. It is that will of God, that we pray to come and be with us on earth, as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

What can’t we give thanks to God for? Everything comes to us through God, and we should be thankful for everything. From the food on our table, to the roof over our heads, to our families and our neighbors that make living into community a joyous thing. It is in everything we encounter that is made possible through God the creator. We are not to take anything for granted.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

We enter into the final three petitions, after praying for our basic human needs, of the Word of God, faith, and the Holy Spirit. In these final petitions, we see an image of what it means to live into a Christian life. Not only do we seek repentance, especially in this time of Lent, but we also should be forgiving those that have sinned against us. That does not mean we forget, but to fully live into God, we must forgive.

Save us from the time of trial.

God will not, and does not put us to the test. God does not tempt us. That is the evil that resides within our broken world. We pray that God will continue to be with us and preserve us from the evil of the world. Unfortunately, we will encounter it in some way, and it is in our prayer that we ask for protection.

And deliver us from evil.

As we come to the seventh and final petition, Luther believed that this single petition could summarize the entirety of The Lord’s Prayer. It is not just the summary of the entire prayer, it can also be seen as a summary for our entire Christian life. As we journey in our earthly life, we are going to confront evil, and as we choose to follow Jesus and receive the grace of God, it is our hope that we will be delivered from evil.

As we embrace God’s Word in our lives and heed the calling of the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us, we develop our faith in the hope and promise of the life to come. The man born blind exhibits this faith as he proclaims his belief. In his proclamation, “Lord, I believe,” his faith can be witnessed and thus shared with others.  It is in our faith that we conclude, For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

 

[i] The Priesthood of All Believers. First Things. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/10/the-priesthood-of-all-believers

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I Believe that I Cannot Believe

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March 12, 2017

John 3:1-17

Have you ever wondered what it would be like living in a different time and place? Perhaps thinking that you may get away from some of the terror and fear we experience today. In reality though, the sin that occurs today is no greater than the sin that has occurred throughout the history of the world.

Imagine what it would be like living in Germany back in 1529 when Martin Luther published the Small catechism. There was tyranny and discomfort then, just as there is today around the world. We would have had little clue of what was happening within the church because we would not have known Latin. We may have a real basic understanding, but that may even be a stretch. This is what Martin Luther encountered as he visited churches throughout the country. The thing is, it just was not the lay people that had no clue, it was many of the priests and pastors as well. Out of these observations, a desire built within him to teach the faith to the lay people as well as the teachers themselves. The Small Catechism was published to be used in the house for both parents to learn from and to teach their children. The Large Catechism, which goes into greater depth on each chief part, was published to teach pastors.

As we heard last week, the Ten commandments as Moses presents them from God are what points to our sin in the world. As our confession points out, we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. The law points to our sin and the gospel of Jesus Christ is what saves us.

It is in this that we confess our faith. This faith is confessed in a creed that is over eighteen hundred years old. The Apostles Creed as we know it today was first put together in Rome around the year 150. At that time, it was known as the “symbol of faith,” and would be mostly used at the time of baptisms. The Nicene Creed as we recite it was established in the year 325 to help combat heresies that were occurring throughout the church.

Our creeds are the confession of our faith and regardless of which one we speak on Sunday, we join with our sisters and brothers around the world that confess the same faith. This community of believers is what constitutes the Christian church in the world today. The creeds are divided into three parts. Sound a little familiar? Possibly like the Trinity!

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth.

 

In the first article, we declare our faith in God the creator. A God that has made the heaven and the earth. A God that is still creating. In Luther’s response to the first article in the Large Catechism, he writes, “This article would humble and terrify us all, if we believed it!” The realization that we as human beings, are the creatures, and not the creators comes with quite a burden. The spirit-filled grace that God has bestowed upon us is a wonderful and terrifying thing when we take into account the ways that we have harmed creation. In this first article, we should be compelled to care for creation as it has been gifted to us.

Not only has God gifted to us once, God continues to gift us the things that we need on a daily basis. From the Small Catechism, “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property.” God gives freely without any merit or worthiness of our own! Everything that we have comes from the creator God.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

What does it mean to be Lord? Traditionally, a Lord was someone that has authority over the people and land of a given territory either by appointment or inheritance.  Jesus has come to turn that definition on its head. We call Jesus Lord, because he has come to defeat sin and death. In this we are freed and able to experience eternal life. In this we encounter the gospel for the first time in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Timothy Wengert says, “the whole gospel is summarized in the [second article]. For the gospel is nothing other than the preaching of conception, birth, etc. of Christ.” Because of this we learn that Jesus Christ is “Our Lord.”

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

“I believe that I cannot believe!” The third article of the creed reminds us of what we cannot do on our own. Luther’s answer to what does this mean in the third article is, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”

While the liturgy of baptism is familiar to many of us, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Luther turns the order around. We would never come to know God, the Father, if not for Jesus Christ. We could not know Christ if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that leads us to Christ in the first place and it is through Christ that we come to know the Father. While the Holy Spirit is the one part of the Trinity that we seem to talk about least in the Lutheran church, it is the one that leads us to our faith. “I believe that I cannot believe.” Our faith is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the creeds, we confess the faith that was given to us by the Holy Spirit. Without it, the words of John’s gospel would be meaningless. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Amen.

Living in the Mystery

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It has been quite a while since I read The Shack  by Wm. Paul Young. I recall being touched by it when I first read it, and was kind of excited to find out that it was being made into a movie.

I am not going to say that either the movie or the book is the answer to many theological questions. I do believe that it has the power to relate the Trinity to people in a way that they may be able to understand. Quite often we will try to equate the Trinity to different things in our lives that come in threes; such as ice, water, steam. These analogies quite often fall flat. How can we have relationship with ice, water, and steam, or any other analogy that we may make up in our mind.

The personification of the Trinity is wonderful, as God is portrayed as a woman mostly, and a man at one time. Jesus is a relatable loving character, and the Holy Spirit is represented by a woman that seems to radiate God’s love in all she does. Together, the great I Am.

The Shack takes us on a journey of whom God could be. Does it say that this truly is without a doubt who God is? No, it does not. One line in the movie from Papa (God), is “I am who you need me to be right now.” God is present with us in everything, and may just perhaps be with us in the form that we need most at the present time. If we need a little tough love, then God is there to give it. If we need to be loved unconditionally, then God is there with love that overflows.

The question of theodicy (why does God let bad things happen) is discussed, and within a right frame of mind. God does not allow the bad things to happen. We live in a world that is full of sin and evil happens whether we want it to or not. God is present with us and weeping with us the same time that we are.

Forgiveness is a major theme of the movie and book as Mack encounters the evils of his past as well as the evil of his present as he learns to live with the death of his youngest daughter. To forgive is Christian and if more people would learn to do so, the world would be a much better place. If we would not be so quick to react, and more patient to forgive, love would grow and the gospel would be proclaimed.

Be on the lookout for other themes in the movie as well. From resurrection, to baptism, and communion. Who wouldn’t want to sit around the table having a meal with the Trinity?

I believe that it is truly worth the two and a half hours to sit in the theater and watch this incredible movie. Better yet, invite some friends to join you so that you can have a great conversation afterwards.

Sinners in a Broken World

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March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

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

When was the last time that you encountered the devil? When was the last time that you encountered evil? While Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by the devil, putting God to the test, we too could probably reveal times in our lives that we were tested to turn away from God. The temptations that surround us on a daily basis vary. What may be tempting to one of us, is easily avoided by another. Regardless of the temptation, it can lead us astray and separate us from God.

This morning we begin our journey through the Sundays of Lent. For the next five weeks we will be getting to know Martin Luther a little better through the small catechism. For some of you, these questions are familiar:

What is this? or What does this mean?

For those that don’t, these are the questions that Luther asks as he walks through the chief parts of the catechism. Perhaps, he was motivated by his children walking around the house and asking what everything was. He was probably one of the first theologians to have children and help him shape the catechism as we know it today. The catechism, or the idea of it, can go back to the apostle Paul. In Galatians 6:6, he writes, “Those who are taught the word share in all good things with their teacher.” The catechism is simply a Christian instruction on how to live a life of faith. The catechism as we know it has three chief parts: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Within these parts, Luther moves from the law to the gospel, which I will explain shortly. It is in the catechism that sponsors and parents are asked to guide the newly baptized as they grow and Luther meant for this to be a helpful resource to use. If you were not aware, the Small Catechism is printed in the Red ELW in front of you, beginning on page 1160.

As we remember the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year, studying the small catechism is one way to do so. And as we study it, we can think about how we can reclaim the catechism for today.

We begin this morning with the Ten Commandments. The first chief part of the small catechism. The commandments are not anything new, as we first hear of them as they are given to the people of Israel in Exodus. It is in the giving of the commandments that Moses brings the law to the people. As I said earlier, Luther starts with the Law and works his way toward the gospel in the structure of the catechism. The law is simply what it sounds like. The chief function of the law is not to show us how to get into heaven, but to show us our sin. The Ten Commandments represents the law at work in the Old Testament. Rules for the people of Israel. It points towards the sin of humanity and calls it like it is.

Martin Luther viewed all of God’s commandments in light of the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. His explanation, “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things,” points towards a call to faith. It is in this faith that is the heart of the matter for all of the commandments. When we lose our faith, we are more easily tempted into committing sins against God and our fellow humanity.

We easily put other things before God. We put wealth, power, material possessions, and many other things before God at times.

How often do we make wrongful use of the name of the Lord?

Do we truly take time to rest on a Sabbath? A time to be with God, away from all other worries and truly experience the deep caring relationship that God wants with us.

I am sure that we all grew up perfect angels and never despised nor angered our parents. Have we truly honored them and respected them to the best of our ability?

I am going to assume that it is most likely that no one here has committed murder. However, have you wished harm upon someone else? Have you refused help to someone in need?

Have you ever lusted for someone that was not your spouse? Jesus tells us that we can commit sin even just by looking at someone with a deep desire.

Have you ever helped yourself to something that was not yours? Even as simple as an apple on a neighbor’s tree.

Have you ever spoken badly about someone? Have you ever gossiped?

Have you longed for a car as nice as the one your neighbor just got? How about anything else that the neighbor owns?

As you see, The Ten Commandments are the law that shows us our sins. Now that we have been overcome with the law, where are we to find God’s grace? That will not come until next week as we venture into the Creed.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is confronted with temptations that we would at many times have a hard time turning away from. Who doesn’t long to have their deep hunger fulfilled? The thought of being invincible is tempting in more ways than one. The thirst for power is what has driven many of the world’s empires.

While the Ten Commandments certainly show us our sins, the love of God is made abundantly clear in God’s son, Jesus Christ.

When faced with temptation, Jesus is an example for us to follow. It is in his example that we witness the grace of God. God is present in the Word to feed us when we are hungry and to quench our thirst. God is present in our worship and in our service.

As Jesus stood with the Devil in the wilderness and proved that he was stronger than him, we witness the power of God to resist temptation. This is the same Jesus that will be crucified for the sins of the world. The strength that he shows in the wilderness will be reflected upon the cross as he fulfills his purpose. In this we experience the saving grace of God and salvation that comes to us, sinners in a broken world. Amen.

Repent and Return

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March 1, 2017 Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

At one time or another in our lives, we will manage to screw up. We will make mistakes because we are human! We forget to love our neighbors as ourselves because we are human. We sin because we are human. While the gospel lesson is full of great nuggets, I am going to turn to the Psalm. In the Psalm, we encounter the mercy and grace of God.

If you didn’t know, the Psalms are prayers and songs lifted up to God through the various psalmists that they are contributed. In Psalm 51, rather than the author speaking from a point of righteousness, he speaks from a point of repentance. Many of you are familiar with the story of King David and Bathsheba. While we lift up King David as a great example of leadership, he commits adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband Uriah killed. There is at least a couple of commandments that King David has managed to break at this point. It is in this that Psalm 51 is attributed to David in the midst of his sinning.

We enter this season of Lent with much going on in our lives and in the world. We sin daily and the world around us is not any different. We are left wondering how we are to react to those that differ in opinion from us. We are left wondering if we should look beyond ourselves and care for our neighbors because our consumer culture gives us the message that we should focus on our own personal needs. We are still reeling from a contentious election cycle that does not seem to be getting better anytime soon. In the midst, we are left to wonder where God is in everything that is happening.

In the Psalm we pray for Gods presence with us. God is present to witness our sins, as well as the sins of the world. God is present when we fail to reach out to our neighbors with love and compassion. God is present in the midst of turmoil, death, and doubt. The thing is, we cannot fix any of it on our own. We cannot wave a magic wand and making everything better. We cannot say just the right thing to get everyone to be sociable to one another. In this knowledge, we turn to Psalm 51 and pray. It may even sound familiar, as we often sing it when our offerings for God come forward.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

These next forty days are not going to be much different than the last forty days. We will continue to sin. Death and destruction will continue to happen around the world. In the words of Psalm 51, we have a prayer asking for a fresh start. A prayer asking to be made new. A prayer seeking to be washed clean of all our sins. A prayer to remind us of the greatness of God and the glory of Christ to bring salvation to the world.

In the ashes, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. They represent our finiteness in this world. In the meal we share, we are reminded of the grace and love of God that comes to us, as sinners, seeking forgiveness and grace freely given.

While the world around us might not change much in the next forty days, may we be changed in the Word of God and the meal we share together. May we repent and return to the Lord, our God.

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love. Amen