Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Feast of St. James the Elder: A Devotional Commentary

Acts 11:27-12:5 Now in these days, prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up, and indicated by the Spirit that there should be a great famine all over the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius. As any of the disciples had plenty, each determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea; which they also did, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly. He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This was during the days of unleavened bread. When he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. Peter therefore was kept in the prison, but constant prayer was made by the assembly to God for him.

Romans 8:28-39 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Whom he predestined, those he also called. Whom he called, those he also justified. Whom he justified, those he also glorified. What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things? Who could bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 20:20-28 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, kneeling and asking a certain thing of him. He said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, command that these, my two sons, may sit, one on your right hand, and one on your left hand, in your Kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard it, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them, and said, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your bondservant, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. That wonderful plan may include being killed with a sword as was the case of St. James the Elder or it could mean dying of cancer or getting alzheimer's. James was know for his zeal and boldness, he was one of the sons of thunder. James was zealous for the kingdom of God but he had complete misunderstanding of what the kingdom of God was all about. With a little help from Mom, James requested a place of honor in the kingdom and James received a place of honor but not in any way that James expected. James wanted to be a great ruler who exercised authority after the Romas were destroyed. Instead, James received his place of honor by being destroyed himself. James received his place of honor by suffering and death because the true Messiah that he was united to conquered by suffering and dying. Jesus drank the cup of suffering and was baptized in His own blood and so would James.

The other disciples were angry with James for requesting this place of honor, but they had thought similar things, they just weren't bold enough to say it out loud. We often think that we will have some special place in the kingdom because of whatever special work or program that we conduct. Maybe we've had a large number of "critical events" or crossed sea and land to reach people for Christ. Surely Christ owes us something for that, doesn't He? But Christ has done it all. We tell our neighbor about Christ because we cannot stop speaking about Him, not to earn some reward.

We cannot earn brownie points with God. Christ has won everything for us. Christ gives Himself. Christ provides the feast. Christ is the feast. Don't worry about the seating arrangements. The meal is what is important. Christ gives you His very body and blood, does it really matter where you are sitting? The world will not provide you with the kind of honor that James was looking for. The world will dishonor you and kill you. But it's all worth it because we conquer by dying. Jesus came for the dead and only the dead can be resurrected.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene: A Devotional Commentary

Proverbs 31:10-31 Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her. He shall have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works eagerly with her hands. She is like the merchant ships. She brings her bread from afar. She rises also while it is yet night, gives food to her household, and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field, and buys it. With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard. She arms her waist with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp doesn’t go out by night. She lays her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her arms to the poor; yes, she extends her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes for herself carpets of tapestry. Her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing. She laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom. Faithful instruction is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and doesn’t eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands! Let her works praise her in the gates!

Luke 7:36-50 One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat at the table. Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that he was reclining in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of ointment. Standing behind at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and she wiped them with the hair of her head, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what kind of woman this is who touches him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” He said, “Teacher, say on.” “A certain lender had two debtors. The one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they couldn’t pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?” Simon answered, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.” He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those who sat at the table with him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Some church traditions teach that the "sinner" in the Gospel passage is Mary Magdalene while others deny it. We know from the Gospel of Luke that Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her and that she faithfully supported the ministry of Jesus. In all four Gospels she is also the first witness to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene was the proverbial "worthy woman" in an unusual way. She was not married to Jesus despite the ridiculous claims of modern authors who have no clue as to how to do historical research. But she did manage to make enough money to support Jesus out of her own means. Perhaps this money came from being a high class prostitute or perhaps she was just wealthy. It doesn't really matter. Her demonic possession would have caused her to engage in spiritual whoredom just like you engage in spiritual whoredom every time that you sin. Mary Magdalene supported the ministry of Jesus out of thankfulness for delivering her from demonic possession. Jesus delivers each one of us from the power of the devil through the waters of holy baptism.

In the Gospel lesson the sinner woman who was a lady of the city and most likely a prostitute is the only one present who has any real idea of who Jesus is. Simon, a religious expert, invited Jesus into his house. Perhaps he invited Jesus in order to try to trap him in some argument about the law or maybe he had some real interest in what this rabbi was teaching. He did not regard Jesus as a superior to himself but as either an equal or inferior. He believed in a God who gave people what they deserved and regarded his sins as being few--few enough to earn him a good seat in the kingdom. But the woman knew herself to well to think such things about herself. The whore knew she was a sinner and proceeds to act as a servant of the only one who can take away her sins. How beautiful are the feet of the One who brings the Gospel! And so she washes His feet with oil. She loves Jesus because He brings her the good news that her many sins are forgiven. She believes the message of Christ. Simon is angry that someone who claims to come in the name of God would receive thanksgiving from a sinner.

We are all both like Simon and the sinner. We have committed all kinds of spiritual whoredom but look down on others who we think are worse. But we have been forgiven by Christ. Christ says to you, "Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trinity 7: A Devotional Commentary

Genesis 2:7-17 Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Yahweh God planted a garden eastward, in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground Yahweh God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became four heads. The name of the first is Pishon: this is the one which flows through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good. There is aromatic resin and the onyx stone. The name of the second river is Gihon: the same river that flows through the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel: this is the one which flows in front of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates. Yahweh God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.”

Romans 6:19-23 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh, for as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to wickedness upon wickedness, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness for sanctification. For when you were servants of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit then did you have at that time in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin, and having become servants of God, you have your fruit of sanctification, and the result of eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Mark 8:1-9 In those days, when there was a very great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to himself, and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. If I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way, for some of them have come a long way.” His disciples answered him, “From where could one satisfy these people with bread here in a deserted place?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves. Having given thanks, he broke them, and gave them to his disciples to serve, and they served the multitude. They had a few small fish. Having blessed them, he said to serve these also. They ate, and were filled. They took up seven baskets of broken pieces that were left over. Those who had eaten were about four thousand. Then he sent them away.

God formed man out of the dust of the ground and provides man with everything that he needs. God gives you all that you need for life. If God stopped providing you with life you would cease to exist. We have grown so accustomed to readily available food and drink and air that we do not recognize them as the miraculous gifts of God that they are.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus does what God has been doing since the time of creation and what He still does for you today. God provides us with food. We don't truly appreciate food until we are deprived of it. We may even complain about the type of food we are given or the type of food we can afford. But it is all given to us by God and should be received with thanksgiving and recognition of the One who provides us with food.

The sacrament of the altar is often neglected and dismissed as a mere symbol. But Jesus says that they are miraculously His very body and blood. Just as Jesus sent His apostles to distribute the food that He provided, He sends forth ministers to distribute His body and blood to the hungry and thirsty. The Lord's Supper is truly a miracle where we receive the very body and blood that was broken and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. God works through human means to deliver this body and blood to us but the body and blood are provided by Jesus and are miraculous. God is not stingy with His good gifts and there is more than enough for everyone. The person who takes the title of "pastor" but is distributing good advice rather than God's good gifts in Word and sacrament is not a pastor at all. He is not carrying out the work of God but the work of man and leading people to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and to death.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Trinity 6: A Devotional Commentary

Exodus 20:1-17 God spoke all these words, saying, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Romans 6:3-11 Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 5:20-26 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever shall murder shall be in danger of the judgment.’ But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna. If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him in the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny.

Unless your righteousness exceeeds that of Mother Theresa, Rick Warren, and Billy Graham combined you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. There is no grading curve. God demands absolute obedience in thought, deed, and deed to gain entrance in the kingdom. It's not enough to smile at your brother on the outside while thinking about how much you hate him inside. All that smile will earn you is a one way ticket to hell. Do you bear some hatred towards your brother over some sin that your brother is committing? Do you look down on those with different political ideas than you have? Do you look down on those who worship differently from you? Do you have "righteous anger" over sinners who don't obey God's laws the way that you do? Do you have "righteous anger" over those who are not as opened minded as you? If you do, the great prosecutor the devil will grab hold of you and bring you before God the judge and you will be judged by God's law. You will be cast into the prison of hell and you won't come out until you have paid the last penny. And you will never pay the last penny. God's law will show that your "righteous anger" is worthy of eternal punishment. This is where all your morality and good works will get you.

Turn away from your good works. Turn away from your law keeping. The only way to have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the the scribes and the Pharisees is to be united to Jesus--the righteous One. Jesus alone is good. Jesus died on the cross for your good works and your morality. Jesus died for your law keeping. Jesus suffered and died for you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Wit of Martin Luther by Eric Gritsch

Augsburg Fortress was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of The Wit of Martin Luther by Eric Gritsch. The book is short, a quick read, and overall it is excellent. The book explores Martin's Luther's use of humor in his theological and polemical writings and how Luther's wit influenced his theology. There are a couple of instances where the author's liberalism shines through. At one point he refers to the superstitious belief in the devil and at another he seems to be trying to subtly make the case that Martin Luther would have had no problem with theistic evolution. These types of statements do nothing to serve the author's overall argument and would have been better left unprinted but they do little damage to the book. In my opinion, the best thing in the book is the Martin Luther quotes and there are plenty. They are ample throughout and there is an appendix in the back with a list of others. The quotes show how human Luther was. He used lots of earthly language and wasn't above the use of potty language to make a point. Luther's language may sound shocking to the modern Christian who thinks politeness trumps the truth but perhaps the modern Christian should rethink his position. Luther was certainly not alone in his use of polemical humor. His opponents used it too. But Luther was the master of polemical humor. He also knew how to make use of humor to be a good pastor and husband. He took Jesus seriously but did not take himself too seriously.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Trinity 5: A Devotional Commentary

1 Kings 19:11-21 He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh.” Behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire passed; but Yahweh was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. It was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. Behold, a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” Yahweh said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. You shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi to be king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah to be prophet in your place. It shall happen, that he who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and he who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet will I leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.” So he departed there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed over to him, and cast his mantle on him. He left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me please kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” He said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and killed them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and served him.

1 Peter 3:8-15 Finally, be all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, polite, not giving back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give back blessing, knowing that you are called to do this, so that you may inherit a blessing. For: Whoever would love life, and see good days, should keep his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil, and do good. Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears open to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. Now, who will harm you, if you become imitators of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be troubled.” Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and always be ready to give a verbal defense to everyone who asks you an explanation for the hope that is in you; with humility and fear.

Luke 5:1-11 Now it happened, while the multitude pressed on him and heard the word of God, that he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats standing by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and they were washing their nets. Jesus entered into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered him, “Master, we worked all night and took nothing! But at your word, I will let down the net.” When they had done this, they caught a great multitude of fish, and their net was breaking. They beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord!” He and all who were with him were amazed at their catch of fish; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid! From now on, you will be catching people alive.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Jesus did not send out the church to create clever plans and marketing gimmicks. Jesus sent the church out to preach the Gospel. This is the calling of every pastor. It can seem pointless at times. At times the local church may feel like they are the only one's who believe the Gospel. The church is almost empty and dwindling away. The guys down the block seem to keep growing and growing. The church has been throwing out the net of the Gospel without much of any visible results and decides to pull the net in and clean it out. But it is not the church's job to decide when the Gospel should be preached or how often. The church has no business engaging in strategery. The church is only a tool of God and his only job is to keep putting the net of the Gospel out regardless of whether or not the fish get caught in it. Exchanging the net for a fishing pole is not acceptable nor is the church permitted to try to find some attractive bait. Substituting the Gospel for something else is not acceptable. Substituting the message of Christ-crucified for the victorious Christian life or self-help or marriage advice or just telling people how excited they should be is a worthless substitute for the net of the Gospel of Christ crucified for you. The church must remember that she was caught by the net of the Gospel. She was caught by Jesus in the net made by Jesus by someone working under the direction of Jesus.

The example given to us in the fish shows us how we have nothing to contribute to our salvation. The fish did not contribute anything but resistance when being caught by Jesus. They did not fill out a card or pray at an altar. They probably tried to bight through the net and get out. But Jesus caught them anyhow through the use of the human instruments of His disciples. Jesus catches us in spite of ourselves. Jesus the master fisherman who gives His own life for the life of the fish drowns us in the waters of holy baptism and feeds us his own body and blood. Jesus does it all!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Grandfather's Memorial Service: A Devotional Commentary

John 5:24-30 Amen, amen, I tell you; the one who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Amen, amen, I tell you; the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will come to life. For as the Father has life in himself, so has he given to the Son to have life in himself. He also gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this, because the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing of myself. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous because I do not seek my own will, but the will of my Father who sent me.”

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

And so it is with Grandpa. You could get all the king's horses and men and surgeons in the world and they wouldn't be able to put Grandpa back together again. But God can. God formed man out of the dust of the ground. God confirmed the teachings of the Old Testament and proved that His testimony was true by dying and rising again. There have been many people with all kinds of religious ideas but none of them have died and risen again. Jesus' resurrected body was seen by many and many of those who saw it were put to death for proclaiming that Jesus was resurrected. If they made the whole thing up, they would have given the story up rather than their lives. We can trust what Jesus says about the resurrection because He is the resurrection. When Jesus returns, all the dead will rise from their tombs. All coffins eventually fail and people are eaten by worms and other animals but God is still more than capable of putting everyone back together again.

Jesus says that those who have done good will go to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. What qualifies as good? From the Scriptures we learn that God requires absolute obedience. Even the smallest sin would disqualify us from being good and we sin every day. Whether it is by not doing what we should do or doing what we shouldn't, we are constantly sinning. We think evil thoughts about others and fail to love our neighbor. A man once asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life and referred to Jesus as "good teacher." Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." So how can you or I have any hope at all? Aren't we all categorized among the evil? Aren't we all doomed to the resurrection of judgment? Yes. Absolutely. We are all evil and doomed to the resurrection of judgment and Jesus wants us to know this. Jesus wants to drive us to absolute despair.

Jesus wants to drive us to despair because Jesus is not interested in implementing a moral improvement program or telling us how to be rich and successful. Jesus did not come to give us some encouragement or a little help. Jesus did not come for the living. Jesus came for the dead and only when we recognize our own deadness, our own utter sinfulness, is there any hope at all. As long as we think we are alive, as long as we think we need no resurrection we are dead. If we think that God loves us based on whether or not we do more good deeds than bad deeds then we will have to live in perpetual doubt of God's love. If we are honest with ourselves we will have to conclude that God couldn't possibly love us. We cannot climb a ladder and ascend to God. We are pinned beneath the ladder and the ladder is choking us.

But if we stop looking within ourselves for our own goodness and instead look to Christ, then we will know with certainty that God loves us. We know that God loves us because God hung dead on a cross for us. He may not behave in certain situations the way that we would like Him to or do what we want but we shouldn't expect Him to. His ways are not our ways. God doesn't behave in a way that any reasonable god would. Rejoice in that! If we were god and had to deal with rotten sinners like us we would just destroy them. Instead God suffers humiliation and dies for us. Because God hangs dead on a cross for us we know that God loves us. God washes us in the waters of holy baptism and unites to the holy Trinity and gives us His name. Christ feeds us with His very body and blood in the Lord's Supper. Because God hung dead on a cross for us we can be certain that God will resurrect us on the Last Day. Look away from yourself and all the problems that surround you and and look to the crucified God and see how bad your sins really are and see God's love and mercy and forgiveness. The good One died for you, the evil one.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Visitation: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 11:1-5 A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. His delight will be in the fear of Yahweh. He will not judge by the sight of his eyes, neither decide by the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with equity for the humble of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. Righteousness will be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his waist. 1 Timothy 3:16 Without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and received up in glory. Luke 1:39-56 Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, that the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy! Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!” Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has looked at the humble state of his handmaid. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is for generations of generations on those who fear him. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty. He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy, As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.” Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her house.

Mary was the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant. Both Mary and the ark made a journey to Judea. When David saw the Ark of the Covenant he said, "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?" When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting she said, "Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" When David came to the ark he leaped in front of it. John the Baptizer leaped for joy.

David wasn't just excited about some fine piece of craftsmanship. God accompanied the Ark of the Covenant with His spiritual presence. But in Mary, something far more amazing happens. God comes with His physical presence. The tiny baby in Mary's womb was God Himself. John the Baptizer did nothing, but exhibited the child-like faith that Jesus said was necessary to enter the kingdom of God. John didn't even come there on his own but was carried in a womb to Jesus and He was filled with the Holy Spirit through the speaking of the Word into his mother's ear. John does not express the doubt that he would later when he became an adult and was thrown into prison. John's cognitive ability did not yet make him too smart to believe.

God showed strength with His arm through the mystery of the incarnation. God's strength is seen in baby Jesus in Mary's womb. He exalted the lowly Mary and showed how great His mercy is by coming as a helpless baby and not just wiping everyone out as any reasonable god would do. The proud are free to go on in their self-righteousness until the day of judgment, they are free to live on in the much more reasonable world of their own imaginations. But to the lowly, hungry sinners, He gives His very own body and blood to us, to feed us.