923) A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Sermon by Professor John Stensvaag, Luther Seminary Chapel, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 14, 1979

Text: Hebrews 12:1-3  —  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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     The recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews were in need of encouragement.  They had found that discipleship was no path of roses.  Rather than peace, joy, and prosperity, it had brought hardship and hostility, and some of them, it seems, were quite ready to throw in the towel and call it quits.

     To counter this defeatism and to instill in them a new spirit of courage, the author gives example upon example of persons who in times past persevered in the face of great difficulty— Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David and the prophets.  Some, he said were tortured; others suffered mocking and scourging.  But they did not quit!  Why?  Because they believed in God and rested in his promises.  And now, says the author, when you are hard pressed, think of all these who have gone before you.  They are round about you like a cloud, witnesses to God’s faithfulness, cheering you on.

     You and I in our day are not up against the same kind of pressure as were these early Christians.  But we, too, are tempted at times to become discouraged, to wonder if it’s at all worthwhile, this Christian walk.  We don’t seem to be making any headway against evil, either in the world or in ourselves.  And what about all the promises of God?  We don’t see any great evidence of all these good things coming into our lives.  We may well wonder then, is the whole thing a delusion?   Are we on the wrong track?

     In such moments of discouragement, there is great strength in remembering that we are not alone, that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, countless thousands, yes, millions who have gone the way before us.  They, too, had doubts.  They, too, had trials.  Some of them had worse trials than we will ever have; but they persevered in the faith and lived to give thanks to God.

     This passage about the cloud of witnesses came home to me with great force a few years ago when my wife and I visited Gamle Aker, an old stone church in Oslo, built almost 900 years ago.  We came a bit too early for the services and so we walked about the outside, looking at the grave markers, trying to make out the names and dates on these weather-beaten stones.  There, among the others, we came across the grave of Hans Nielsen Hauge, born 1771, died 1824.  As a young man Hauge had a conversion experience while working in a field on his father’s farm; and in the days that followed, God laid on his heart a great burden for his own people.  He traveled up and down the length of Norway preaching the gospel of the grace of God.  In so doing, he called people from dead ‘churchianity’ and empty forms, to a vital life in God.  A remarkable spiritual awakening followed.

     Church historians will tell us that many of the Norwegian emigrants who came to this country in the 19th century had been deeply affected by this awakening, and that this in turn affected the churches that they founded here.  The Haugean awakening, with its call to lay witnessing, to a meaningful life with God, and to earnest and godly living, is a part of our heritage here at Luther— a very good part.  It’s great to know that in that cloud of witnesses that calls to us and cheers on, there is is someone like Hauge, a man who suffered much opposition and many and yet remained faithful to his God.

     But most meaningful to me that day in Oslo was the communion service in the old stone church.  As I knelt at the altar I thought of the countless Christians who had knelt there before me.  Generation after generation, century after century, they had bent their knees and confessed their faith.  It hit me as never before that I was a part of that great family of God, reaching back through all the ages, back to the first disciples in that upper room, yes even back to Abraham himself.  The thought of it gave me both joy and strength.  I am not alone.  I am not a solitary Christian fighting the battle of faith.  I am a part of the communion of saints.  That’s true of me and that’s true of you.  We are a part of a great army on the march, each helping the other.  Rank upon rank have gone before us, rank upon rank will follow after us, yes, on and on until that great day when we shall come from the East and from the West to sit down at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the little people, in the kingdom of God.

     The witnesses are all about us, “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven”– yes, and we might add, all the company on earth, too.  Perhaps some of you are thinking just now of some departed dear ones, a parent, or a grandparent, or a Sunday School teacher or a pastor.  A host of witnesses, and everyone quite different.  Yet they all have one thing in common, they point us not to themselves, but to Jesus Christ.  It is to him we look now in this sacred moment.  He is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith…  For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  He persevered, and because of Him and His unfailing love, we too shall persevere, we too shall be with God forever.

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Gamle Aker Kirke (Old Aker Church), Oslo, Norway

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Almighty God, we pray that,
encouraged by the example of your saints,
we may run with patience the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith;
so that at the last we may join those whom we love
in your presence where there is fullness of joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer

922) Assumptions and Faith (part two of two)

Healing of the Blind Man by Brian Jekel

     (…continued)  The story in the ninth chapter of John is filled with assumptions, and most of them end up being challenged by new information.  Already in second verse people are assuming the worst.  Jesus and the disciples walk past a man who had been blind from birth.  “Rabbi,” said the disciples, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”  This question contains the huge assumption that if there is any suffering anywhere, it is the direct result of a sin, with God in heaven doling out the pain in equal measure to the sin.  The more you sin, the more trouble you’ll get; it’s as simple as that.  But that was a wrong assumption.  Who sinned?  “Neither one,” Jesus said.  Rather, he said, “This man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  And when Jesus did heal the man a few moments later, the work of God was displayed, and to this day the story proclaims the power and goodness of God.

     Then comes another assumption.  The man’s neighbors see that he is no longer blind (verse 8) and say, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” “Yes, it is,” said some, acknowledging the obvious fact.  “No, he isn’t” said others, refusing to question their assumption that blind men cannot have their sight restored.

     I can sympathize with that skepticism.  I am skeptical of many of the claims I hear from Christian healers, and am glad when those claims are investigated.   If the healing is real, praise God, I believe that can happen.  But if it is a fraudulent healing, and I know that also happens, then I am glad to see the con artist exposed.   Their deception only hurts the cause of Christ.  So I might also have been skeptical of Jesus, at least at first.  But Jesus did not do just this one miracle.  He gave many evidences of his miraculous power, and in this story, it soon became clear that this indeed was the man they knew had been blind from birth.  Still, there remained those who were blinded by their assumptions.

     In verse sixteen there is another false assumption.  This is the most outrageous.  Some of the Pharisees say, “This man cannot be from God for he does not keep the Sabbath.”  Talk about missing the point!  Jesus miraculously restored sight to a man born blind, and he was criticized for doing it the wrong day of the week!  But others said, “Nonsense, for how can a man who is not from God do such miracles?”  This reveals another, more solid, assumption.  

     The false assumptions continue as the debate goes on, and Jesus turns this physical restoration of sight to a man born blind into an illustration of the continuing spiritual blindness of those who will not change their assumptions, even when confronted by a miracle.  The blind man, though poor and uneducated, becomes the voice of wisdom and logic and truth, simply by stubbornly stating the facts.   After being hounded by the Pharisees, he finally says (v. 25), “I don’t know if Jesus is a sinner or not, all I know is that I was blind, and now I see.”  And then when he saw Jesus, the healed man said (v. 38), “Lord, I believe.”  Until that day, he was assuming that he would never be able to see.  But when he regained his sight, his beliefs underwent a huge adjustment.

     That is what faith does as it grows.  Faith adjusts.  Faith adjusts to blessings and to afflictions.  The blind man, when he was blind, could have assumed that there was no God, deciding that he would put no trust in a God who allowed people to be born blind and endure that affliction throughout their life.  But while the text says nothing about the man’s religious beliefs before his healing, it is clear that he remained at least open to faith.  Jesus made some mud and put it on his eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam.  That does not sound like an effective prescription, but the man had to act on it if he was to be healed.  And he did so immediately; perhaps out of desperation, but also on faith.  Jesus always showed himself willing to bless even the smallest moves toward faith.

     Faith does not shut God out when things do not go well.  Faith understands that there might be other explanations.  Jesus was asked who sinned that this man was born blind.  No one, said Jesus, and then went on to demonstrated that God had a far higher purpose in that affliction than merely punishing sins.  He wanted everyone, then and now, to see God’s work displayed in this man.

     We ask why bad things happen to good people, how can God allow cancer in a child, why God permits the cruel tyrants of the world to stay in power; and why doesn’t God end disease, bring world peace, and let everyone have enough food?  Is it because God does not care?  Or, as this text teaches us, are there perhaps other explanations that we cannot, in our limited knowledge, begin to see or imagine?

     After many years as an atheist C. S. Lewis, like the blind man in verse 38, said “Lord, I believe.”  He did not reach that conclusion because he finally understood everything.  Rather, Lewis came to believe in Jesus as the way and the truth and the life.   Then, from that foundation of faith in God, he was able to say (paraphrasing), “Now that I have chosen to believe in God, what I do know and do understand about God leads me to TRUST GOD even in those things that I do not understand about the Bible and life in this world.”

     When we believe in Jesus, all our assumptions about God and life and other people will be affected.  Like C. S. Lewis, we will assume not the worst, but the best about God, as we would do in any good relationship.

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John 9:25b  —  (The blind man replied), “One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see!”

II Corinthians 5:7  —  We live by faith, not by sight.

II Corinthians 4:4  —  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

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Open the eyes of my heart Lord.  I want to see you.  Amen.

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To hear Open the Eyes of My Heart by Michael W. Smith:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnqb7Vn4AEE

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For the fun of it, listen to I Can See Clearly Now, by Johnny Nash, #1 hit in 1972; performed by Jimmy Cliff in 1993:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzGV9Bl6CGg

921) Assumptions and Faith (part one of two)

       I like ice cream.  In fact, I like ice cream so much that I never buy it.  If I know there is a pail of ice cream in the house, I will be into it two or three times a day until it is gone.  Therefore, we hardly ever have ice cream in our freezer.

     The problem is the calories.  If I were to eat three bowls of ice cream every day I would put on several pounds each month, and I don’t want to do that.  I worry about the long term consequences of eating too much of it.

     What I don’t worry about with ice cream is the short term consequences, because there have never been any for me.  It just tastes great, and that is all that’s to it.  However, I know someone who no longer likes ice cream because of the short term consequences she had one time.  After a single bowl of ice cream, she became violently ill and was sick for three weeks.  Perhaps you remember several years ago when a Minnesota ice cream company had a problem with some E.coli in a batch of its ice cream, and many people became sick from it.  She was one of them.  The problem was traced to another company that supplied one of the ingredients in the ice cream.  Someone at that other plant had failed to clean the equipment properly one day, and the product became tainted.

     Think about that.  Think of all the steps that are in the process of making ice cream, beginning with getting the milk from the cow, the sugar from the field, the chemicals for the flavoring, and the fruit or nuts to add; along with the machines and the manufacturing, the packaging, and everything else involved.  Think of all the people who have to do their job properly for that ice cream to be safe to eat, and how sick several people got when just one person did it wrong.  But when I sit down ahead of the TV with a big bowl of ice cream, I don’t worry about any of that.  I just assume that the ice cream is going to taste good and not make me sick.  And usually, that is a safe assumption.

     We cannot live without assumptions.  We don’t have the time or the equipment to do a safety check on every bite of food we take.  Stories of E.coli outbreaks because of tainted food are unpleasant to hear about, but we keep buying food at the store and keep assuming it is all right.  We have to.  And most of the time, the food is fine.  There are no 100% guarantees in anything, but we have to go by our assumptions on a lot of things.

     Assumptions are also a necessary part of our relationships.  When my wife tells me something, I can safely assume that she is telling me the truth and I don’t have to check it out.  After many years of always hearing the truth from her, I now assume that I can believe what she says to me; and it is good to be able to make that assumption.

     But the wrong kind of assumptions can be very damaging in a relationship.  In troubled relationships– be it husband and wife, parent and child, owner and employee, or neighbor against neighbor– assumptions often become a huge part of the problem as hostility increases.  Once a relationship begins to deteriorate, the two disputing people always begin to assume the worst of each other, (though even these assumptions can become necessary).  But then, even if someone is trying to be nice, the other person is distrustful, assuming there must be some evil purpose behind the seemingly nice gesture.  In a good relationship, even minor bad behavior will be overlooked and excused.  The overflowing bank of good will between two people in a good relationship provides ready forgiveness and an eagerness to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.  But bad relationships often get on an unstoppable slide toward total breakdown, as everything that is done by one is seen in the worst possible light by the other.  These negative assumptions can kill a relationship. It can be dangerous to assume too much.

     And sometimes even seemingly solid assumptions have to be adjusted because of new information.  For example, when I arrange to meet someone at a certain time and place, I usually assume they will be there.  I don’t hire a detective and have them followed to make sure they arrive on time.  I just assume they will be there.  That is a good and necessary assumption.  If they are not there, I might begin to make some other assumptions about them.

     The other night, someone called to meet me.  I suggested meeting in an hour, and we agreed to call the other if anything changed.  In an hour, I was at the meeting place, but he wasn’t.  I waited and waited.  I then called his cell phone and left a message.  He did not call back.  Finally, I gave up, assuming he was rude and irresponsible, and made up my mind not to do any business with him.

     Four days later he called me back.  “Remember me?,” he said.  “Yes,” I said, “I do remember you.  I was looking for you the other night.”  He apologized, and then told me he had a car accident on the way, totaled his car, and ended up in the hospital.  “Well,” I said, “That’s a good excuse.  I hope you are all right.”  Even such a seemingly solid assumption had to be changed because of new information.

     The story in the ninth chapter of John is filled with assumptions, and most of them end up being challenged by new information…  (continued…)

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JOHN 9 (selected verses):

     As (Jesus) went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

     “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him…  

     After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam.”  …So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

     His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”  Some claimed that he was.

     Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

     But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

     “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

     He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes.  He told me to go to Siloam and wash.  So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

     “Where is this man?” they asked him.

     “I don’t know,” he said.

     They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.  Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.  Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight.  “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

     Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

     But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

     Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him?  It was your eyes he opened.”

     The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

     …A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

     He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

     Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

     He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

     …To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”  And they threw him out.

     Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

     “Who is he, sir?” the man asked.  “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

     Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

     Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him…

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Terrific video of this story from the 1977 TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOjN5FVGHcM

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Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You…

–From the song by Michael W. Smith

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 Healing the Man Born Blind, El Greco, 1570

920) A Challenging Opportunity for Christian Testimony

By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, October 16, 2015, at:  http://www.Christianitytoday.com

‘Justin Bieber of Nepal’ Converts to Christianity

Raju Parivar

     The two men share a last name but otherwise come from different worlds:  Raju Parivar, a popular folk singer in Nepal, and Bishnu Parivar, a Christian pastor who runs a children’s ministry and orphanage in the tourist city of Bharatpur in the Himalayan country.

     They sat next to one another on a flight from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Mumbai, India, in May.  During the two-and-half-hour-long trip Pastor Bishnu told the renowned singer about the God who saved him and his family 20 years ago.

     “I had a great passion to share the gospel, and he showed interest to listen,” Bishnu told Christianity Today by email.  As he spoke to his seatmate, he imagined the impact on Nepal’s music scene if a star like Raju Pariyar came to Christ.  In Nepal, only 1.4 percent of the population identify as Christian.  Eight out of every ten Nepalese are Hindu, while the rest are Buddhist, Muslim, or followers of the indigenous faith Yumaism.

     In early July, about six weeks after the pastor and pop singer met, his prayers were answered.  Raju, along with his wife and two children, made the decision to give their lives to Christ.  They traveled to Bharatpur, about 150 kilometers west of Kathmandu, to make their public proclamation in Pastor Bishnu’s church.

     “Jesus has changed me fully,” Raju said following his conversion.  “I left the previous worldly activities, and I am renewed in the spirit and following Christ as my redeemer.”

     To date the 35-year-old has recorded 1100 folk songs; his singles top the charts in Nepal, and he sells out stadiums for concerts.  The award-winning musician has also toured in South Asia, the Middle East, and Australia.  But despite the widespread adulation, Raju faces a difficult path ahead as a Christian performer in a nation that had been a Hindu kingdom up to 2008.

     Last month, Nepal adopted a new constitution that establishes it as a secular country, but still requires the state to protect Hinduism.  Four centuries after the first known Christian missionary in Nepal, Nepalese Christians remain a persecuted minority.  According to Pastor Bishnu, Nepalese Christians regularly face discrimination.  “We are hated by the people and even by the government,” he said.

     Raju is well aware of the religious climate, but has no plans to hide his conversion.  He wants to shift to performing worship music.  Raju said he wants to be known “as a Christian singer of Nepal, who has decided to become a Christian though we have challenges in Nepal.”

     He asks for the support of the greater church as he begins speaking out for the faith.

     “Please pray so that our faith be strong in the Lord despite the challenges,” he said by email.  “Please pray for my musical career to be smooth and I can make a great change in the lives of the people and my supporters.  Please pray that his will be done in my life and in my family, and my life and career will go well, and I can abide in Christ ever and ever.”

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II Timothy 1:7-8  —  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.  So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.  Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

Mark 8:38  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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 Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you.  
Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Prayer #191, Augsburg, 1978.

919) Courageous Children

St. Agnes of Rome  (291-304)

     In the year 304 AD, two young Christian girls from a wealthy, pagan household in Rome, died a martyr’s death within days of each other.  

     Wealthy families in early Rome often raised their daughters using well educated slaves from Greece.  These ‘nannies’ were often Christian, as was the case in this household.

     The Roman patrician’s daughter Agnes was a beautiful girl.  She grew up alongside the nanny’s daughter, Emerentia.  The girls were like sisters, completely devoted to one another.  When Agnes was 13, her father decided it was time for her to marry, so he encouraged the son of a high-ranking Roman to ask her for her hand in marriage.  Agnes reportedly spurned his advances saying, “I am already the spouse of a Lover much more noble and powerful than you.”  The enraged suitor discovered she was a Christian and reported her to the authorities.  She was sentenced to be executed by the edict of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

     There is enough variety in the description of how Agnes died that some of her story is considered legend.  The consistency behind every account, however, is that Agnes was a very young Christian who sacrificed her life for her faith in Christ.

     Roman law prohibited executing virgins, so the judge gave Agnes a choice– sacrifice to the gods or be violated at a brothel.  Agnes reportedly responded, “Do you believe that I could now bow my head before simple rock idols, mute and lifeless?”  

     According to truth or legend, all the men who approached Agnes in the brothel became blind.  She then prayed for God to restore their sight.  Agnes was eventually killed by the executioner’s sword.

     A few days after Agnes’ death, a young woman was found praying by her tomb.  It was Emerentiana, who admitted to being a Christian.  She admonished the crowd for killing Agnes.  The crowd commanded her to leave the site.  When she refused, they stoned her.

     It is said that the deaths shocked many Romans and helped bring an end to the persecutions.  Some said, “Do young girls constitute such a threat to Rome that it is necessary to kill them?”  Others said, “If this religion can enable a 13-year-old girl to meet death without fear, it is worth looking into.”

     The heroism and death of these young girls inspire us in our own faith and obedience.  There is another, however, whose name we do not know, but whose Christian influence was monumental in the Roman world.  We would do well to remember also the unnamed nanny, whose exceptional teaching and inspired lifestyle enabled two young girls to withstand the test of martyrdom.

–From The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs, by Mark Waters, as told in the Voice of the Martyrs magazine

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The precise details of this story cannot be proven.  Legend is often mixed with history in these very old stories.  But what cannot be denied is that countless martyrs of all ages have faced death with that kind of faith and courage and hope, bearing witness to unbelievers and giving inspiration to fellow Christians.  Already in the second century A. D. Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” implying that the willing sacrifice of their lives led to the conversion of others.

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I Corinthians 1:26-27  —  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Matthew 5:10-12a  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

I Peter 4:12-16  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

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All-powerful and ever-living God, you choose the weak in this world to confound the powerful.  When we celebrate the memory of St. Agnes, may we, like her, remain constant in our faith.  Amen.

–Roman Catholic prayer remembering the life of St. Agnes of Rome

918) The Three Billy Goats Gruff

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  Once upon a time there were three billy goats, and the name of all three was Gruff.  One day the three Billy goats Gruff set off to the hills where the sweet grass grew.
  On the way was a bridge over a stream, and under this bridge there lived a troll.  His eyes were round as saucers, and his nose was long as a poker.
  First of all came the youngest Billy goat Gruff to cross the bridge.
  “Trip trap!  Trip trap!” went the bridge.
  “Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” roared the Troll.
  “Oh, it’s only me, the littlest Billy goat Gruff and I’m going off to the hills to make myself fat,” said the littlest Billy goat Gruff, in a tiny voice.
  “Now I’m coming to gobble you up!” said the Troll.
  “Oh no, please don’t take me.  I’m far too little,” said the billy goat.  “Wait until the second billy goat comes; he’s much bigger.”
  “Very well; be off with you,” said the Troll.
  “TRIP TRAP! TRIP TRAP!” went the bridge.
  “Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” roared the Troll.
  “Oh, it’s only the second Billy goat Gruff, and I’m going off to the hills to make myself fat,” said the second Billy goat Gruff, in a little bit louder voice.
  “Now I’m coming to gobble you up!” said the Troll.
  “Oh no, please don’t do that.  Wait until the next billy goat comes; he’s much bigger.”
  “Very well, be off with you,” said the Troll.
  Just then along came the big Billy goat Gruff.
  “TRIP TRAP! TRIP TRAP!” went the bridge, for the big billy goat was so heavy that the bridge groaned and creaked beneath him.
  “Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” roared the Troll.
  “IT’S ME! THE BIG BILLY GOAT GRUFF!” said the billy goat, who had a great hoarse voice of his own.
  “Now I’m coming to gobble you up!” roared the Troll.
  “Well come along, I’m ready for you!” said the big Billy goat Gruff.  Up climbed the Troll, and the big Billy goat Gruff put down his horns, and tossed the Troll off the bridge into the stream.  Then the big Billy goat Gruff crossed the bridge, and all three goats went up to the hills.

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A story by Lutheran pastor Axel C. Kildegaard from a sermon on his 80th birthday, June 8, 1997:

     Thirty five years ago, Frylla and I and our four children spent fifteen months in Europe, which included a summer holiday in Bavaria.  One day we were hiking on a grassy mountainside in a remote area.  We came across an abandoned trail.  It was very old, but clearly had once been a road.  

     I noticed up ahead what appeared to be an old stone bridge.  I whispered to Frylla to distract Arne, and then I hurried ahead to scramble down the ditch, underneath the bridge.  

     Oblivious to this, Arne, who was three years old, walked out onto the bridge.  Underneath, with a deep threatening voice, I called out: “Who’s that walking on my bridge?”  Arne stopped.  Amazed, he turned around twice.  “Just me, Arne,” he said, “That’s who it is, just me.”

     “Well, this is my bridge, and I am going to eat you!”  I roared.

     “Oh, no, you shouldn’t do that,” Arne replied.  “Wait for my sister Lise, she’s bigger and plumper than me,” and he hurried on to safety.

     Then came Lise, and Siri, and Nils.  They had caught on to the game and we played it to the hilt.  “Oh no, wait for Siri, she’s bigger and plumper than I am.”  “Oh no, wait for Nils, he’s bigger and plumper than I am.”  And Nils, the oldest at nine, had to say, “Well, come up and eat me then.”

     I then crawled out and showed myself.  Arne, amazed once more, said, “Dad, it was you down there all the time!”

     “Well, who did you think it was?” I asked.

     Arne said, “The monster who wanted to eat Billy Goat Gruff.”  That seemed obvious to him.

     So we asked Arne, “Weren’t you frightened when you thought there was a monster under the bridge?’

     “Oh no,” he laughed.  “I know the end of that story.”

     We cannot know what dangers and troubles are ahead for us on our journey through life, but like little Arne, we know how our story will end, and so we can be confident and hopeful.

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HOW OUR STORY ENDS:

Isaiah 51:6  —  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies.  But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.

John 11:25  —  Jesus said…, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

I Thessalonians 4:13-18  —  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Revelation 21:1a…3-5  —  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away...  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

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The last words of the Bible (or, the end of the story) contain a promise, a prayer, and a benediction:

  He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.   The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.  Amen.

–Revelation 22:20-21

917) Worship Music

 

     The father of a man in my previous parish had immigrated to America from Russia in the early 1900’s.  After the Russian Revolution his father lost contact with his brothers that still lived in what had then become the Soviet Union.  In the 1980’s communication with and travel to the Soviet Union became easier.  The father was long dead, but his son, my friend, got back in touch his family and then traveled to the old village.  There he introduced himself to all his Russian cousins.  He was warmly received and spent several wonderful days there.

     It was a remote and primitive village.  They had no electricity and no indoor plumbing and were still farming with horses.  Life was difficult by our standards, but the people had houses and clothing and food; and, my friend said, they were happiest people he had ever seen.  They loved to laugh and loved to sing.  Every evening he was there, villagers of all ages gathered around a big fire to tell old stories and sing old songs.  They said, “We all love to sing, especially the kids.”  Think about that.  The whole village, people of every age, singing and enjoying the same kind of music.

     I was talking to my confirmation class one time about worship.  I said to them, “I hear many complaints from you about the music in our worship services.  Our youth service is coming up, and this year I’m going to let you kids pick all the music.  We’ll do whatever you want, so what kind of music shall we have?”

     “Let’s have country-western music” said one of the boys.  “There are a lot of country western songs that are religious.”

     “Oh no, not country,” said one of the girls.  “Country music is the worst.  Even those old hymns the minister picks out would be better than country.  Let’s not have country, let’s have light rock.  I’m sure we can find some appropriate songs.”

     “Not light rock, hard rock,” said another.

     “If it can be rock music, it has to be from the 60’s,” said another.  “Music has been going downhill ever since.”  (I gave him an ‘A’ for the day for knowing so much about music.)

     “Well how about the 50’s” said another.  “Didn’t Elvis have some nice religious songs?”

     “Let’s have rap music,” said a boy with his cap on backwards, but no one else was in favor of that option.

     The confirmands never did agree on what kind of music to have for the service.

     Consider the vast difference between the two stories.  In the remote Russian village, people of all ages enjoyed the same music that had been enjoyed for generations.  It was all they knew and they all loved it.  But in the confirmation class, kids of the same age living in the same small town, could not agree on a few songs for a one hour worship service.  They all had access to every kind of music ever written, and they all had their preferences.  I do enjoy the wide variety of music that is available, but that variety does pose a challenge for worship.

     When Martin Luther was working to change the worship service, one of his suggestions was to have more music, and, to use the ‘music of the people.’  Luther’s time and place would be similar to that Russian village, where there were songs that all knew and shared.  There was indeed a ‘music of the people,’ and one of the main places people sang together was in the tavern.  Luther was a gifted musician.  He would take these tavern songs, which had words you would not sing in church, and write new words, words that praised God and taught the faith.  It is said that the melody of that most popular of all Luther’s hymns, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, was from an old tavern song.  Some people objected to Luther doing this.  Luther simply replied, “Why should we let the devil have all the best tunes?” and continued to write words to whatever music he could find.

     Today there is no such ‘music of the people.’  Rather, there is an endless array of options, and everyone has their individual favorites.  Did you ever hear of a radio station that promised to play everyone’s favorite music?  Of course not, because trying to please everyone would be a sure recipe for failure.  If your favorite music was jazz, the station might play one jazz tune every two hours, and the rest of the time they would be playing one of everyone else’s favorite tunes.  Before long you would be tuning in to some other station, one that played just what you wanted all the time.  Trying to please everyone pleases no one.

     So what should we do in church?  Some churches, with great success, use a specific style of music to reach out to a specific group of people.  Some, with no success, have tried a little of everything and have merely ended up making everyone mad.  Some large churches are able to offer several different services, each with its own style of music.  Music preferences have caused much conflict in many churches.

     Most of the congregations I served had traditional worship services, and usually sang the old hymns to organ music.  But to be honest, that is not my favorite music.  During the week I listen to the classic rock from the 1960’s– the Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, etc.  If I was like Martin Luther, I might try and write hymns to the tunes of songs like Proud Mary, Me and Bobby McGee, or Good Vibrations.  But even if I could do that, the songs would appeal to only a small percentage of worshipers.

     I do like the music from the 60’s, but I don’t go to church to hear to my favorite music.  I go to church to worship.  And I do prefer the old hymns in church, but I am willing to worship with whatever style of music that community of faith has decided to use for that service.  Worship is not the place to insist on our own personal preferences.  We have all week to listen to whatever kind of music we want.  Worship is the place to sing songs that thank and praise God, using whatever style of music is provided.

     Learning to live with our differences in worship provides a good opportunity to practice Christian charity and good will.  C. S. Lewis disliked organ music; he once described it as “one long roar.”  He was reluctant about even going to church at all.  But he went.  Why?  He went at first because he felt he ought to: the Scriptures that had won his reasoned assent commanded it.  He went later because he learned that it was good for him and necessary for his spiritual growth.  In an essay written many years after his conversion, Lewis recalls both his disgust at the services he attended and the grace that came through them:

When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches…  I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.  I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.  I realized that the hymns (still sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew; and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

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Psalm 59:17  —  You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.

Psalm 96:1-2  —  Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.  Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

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Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!

–Carl Boberg (1859-1940)

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Just for fun:  jazz music works to gather this Wisconsin ‘congregation’:

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/lXKDu6cdXLI?rel=0

916) Thanking God in Difficult Circumstances

     Pastor H.B. Charles tells the following story about a woman he knew who showed up at church and prayed the same simple prayer.  “O Lord, thank you Jesus,” she prayed week after week.  The kids at church would start laughing every time she opened her mouth because they knew it would be the same prayer—”O Lord, thank you Jesus.”  Finally somebody asked her, “Why do you pray the same little prayer?”  She said, “Well, I’m just combining the two prayers that I know.  We live in a bad neighborhood and some nights there are bullets flying and I have to grab my daughter and hide on the floor, and in that desperate state all I know how to cry out is, ‘O Lord.’  But when I wake up in the morning and see that we’re okay I say, ‘Thank you Jesus.’  When I got to take my baby to the bus stop and she gets on that bus and I don’t know what’s going to happen to her while she’s away, I cry, ‘O Lord.’  And then when 3:00 P.M. comes and that bus arrives and my baby is safe, I say, ‘Thank you Jesus.’”  She said, “Those are the only two prayers I know and when I get to church God has been so good I just put my two prayers together, “O Lord, thank you Jesus.”  

–H.B. Charles, “A Psalm for Giving Thanks,” http://www.PreachingToday.com

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Ed Dobson  (1949- )

     In the fall of 2000, former megachurch pastor Ed Dobson was diagnosed with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease), a degenerative disease with no known cause or cure.  In 2012 Dobson shared his ongoing struggle to give thanks while living with an incurable condition.  He writes:

There are many things for which I am not grateful.  I can no longer button the buttons on my shirt.  I can no longer put on a heavy jacket.  I can no longer raise my right hand above my head.  I can no longer write.  I can no longer eat with my right hand.  I eat with my left hand, and now even that is becoming a challenge.  And over time all of these challenges will get worse and worse.  So what in the world do I have to be grateful for?  So much.  Lord, thank you for waking me up this morning.  Lord, thank you that I can turn over in my bed.  Lord, thank you that I can still get out of bed.  Lord, thank you that I can walk to the bathroom …. Lord, thank you that I can still brush my teeth … Lord, thank you that I can still eat breakfast.  Lord, thank you that I can still dress myself.  Lord, thank you that I can still drive my car.  Lord, thank you that I can still walk.  Lord, thank you that I can still talk.  And the list goes on and on.  I have learned in my journey with ALS to focus on what I can do, not on what I can’t do.  I have learned to be grateful for the small things in my life and for the many things I can still do.  

–Ed Dobson, Seeing through the Fog (David C Cook, 2012), pp. 69-70

For more from Ed Dobson see:

http://edsstory.com/

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Psalm 103:1-2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 107:1  —  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

Philippians 4:11b-13  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I Thessalonians 5:18  —  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

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PSALM 86:1-4:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

915) I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends?

 

PSALM 121:1 —  I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

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     “From whence cometh my help?”  That’s a good question.  We all need a little help now and then, and it is good to know where to look when you need it.  But no matter how much is ever done, there is only so much anyone can do for another, and the rest has to be done or endured alone.  Even in the closest of relationships, there are those places in our hearts that remain hidden, those things that will never be understood, those thoughts and emotions just too hard to express or get across.  Not only that, but when your dying day comes, even if you are surrounded by family, friends, doctors, and nurses, it will still be just you there dying, just you that will take that next step into the unknown all alone.  “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends,” says an old song by the Beatles.  That’s a nice thought, and we can and will help each other in all kinds of ways, and that makes life better.  But in all the biggest ways, including the very biggest thing of all, death and what comes next, there is no friend that can help us ‘get by.’

     “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” said the Psalmist.  We don’t know who wrote this Psalm, but David wrote many of the Psalms and he may have written this one.  I can imagine David having these thoughts as a shepherd boy, all alone out in the pasture tending to the flocks day and night, looking off to the hills on the horizon.  It was a dangerous job being a shepherd trying to protect the sheep from wild animals, thieves, and from the sheep’s own stupidity by which they could wander off into all kinds of trouble.  “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help?”  That question has been repeated by millions of people over the years, people who may have had some help, but were still quite alone in their troubles.  If the Psalmist, if we, always had all the help we ever needed, there would be no need to be looking off into the hills for help.  But we know we need more help than anyone can give us, and so we are looking.  We all know the feeling, and for that reason this Psalm has been a favorite of many.

     The Psalmist does not find the help he is looking for in the hills, but he does find help.  “From whence cometh my help?,” he asks, and then says, “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”  The Lord who made me and gave me life, and who can preserve my soul (verse seven).  There is comfort in hearing that our soul can be preserved, because we know what happens to our body.

     But the Bible says that you are more than a body.  You have a soul, and the Psalmist, looking for help, says, “My help cometh from the Lord… he shall preserve thy soul.”  That is getting the help we need.

     The Psalmist concludes by saying, “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.”  Think of it; even for evermore.  For evermore is beyond what any of us can imagine, but one thing we can understand.  The Lord does not mean for death to have the last word.  The Lord does not intend that anything end here, with a body in a casket or ashes in an urn.  That is only the body.  “The Lord shall preserve thy soul,” it says, and then, as we say in the Apostle’s Creed, “We believe in the resurrection of the body to life everlasting.”

     “From whence cometh my help?  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

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WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS, Joseph Scriven, 1855

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
  All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
  Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
  O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
  Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
  Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
  Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
  Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
  Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
  Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
  Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
  Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
  Thou wilt find a solace there.

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O God, you who have prepared a place for my soul, prepare my soul for that place; prepare it with holiness, prepare it with desire; and even while it remains on earth, let it dwell in heaven with you.  Amen.

–Joseph Hall  (1574-1656)

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

–Simeon, in Luke 2:29-30

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Just for the fun of it, here are the Beatles singing “I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” (1967):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onnE7vOIyvs

914) Why Should I Obey (b)

     (…continued)  We like obedience from others, but for ourselves, we might demand good reasons to do what we are told, and thus, be given the proper motivation.  Here are some examples of things that motivate us to obey.

     Example #1.  On the playground, the biggest bully often sets the rules and must be obeyed.  If the big bully says to a little guy, ‘you don’t get to play here,’ the little guy better obey and leave, or risk going home with a black eye.  This is not a good rule and it should not have to be obeyed, but the little guy does not have the power to resist.  On a much larger level, the Nazis got all sorts of good people to do all kinds of terrible things, because the alternative was oftentimes immediate execution.  Many obeyed, even though they did not want to.  Some disobeyed and were executed.  The motivation to obey was fear.

     Example #2.  In the military and many other jobs, there is a chain of command.  The person in charge may or may not be wise or competent, and he or she may or may not be making the right decisions.  But they must be obeyed, or if challenged, that challenge must be done through proper channels.  This never works out perfectly, but in any organization you cannot have everyone just doing whatever they want to do.  The highest ranking officer, or the boss in charge of you, holds all the cards and must be obeyed, whether or not you think it is a good idea.  There are good leaders and bosses and there are those that are not good, and, those in command do make mistakes.  On the other hand, the one in command may indeed know more of the situation than those being led, and be right even when it doesn’t look that way to those under his or her charge.  Either way, there are good reasons to obey, in this case, the primary reason is the need for order.

     Example #3.  Imagine being in a group of soldiers on patrol.  The enemy opens fire and you are wounded while the others are able to seek cover.  Another soldier runs out into the enemy fire to rescue you, but in so doing he also is wounded.  You recover from your injuries; but he was shot in the spine, and though he lives, he is paralyzed for the rest of his life.  While you are both in the hospital you receive a request from him.  He wants to see you; not to ask for anything, but just to see how you are doing.  He can’t come to you, so he is asking that you go to him.  Will you obey that request?  Of course you will.  Why?  There would be many reasons.  We could begin with gratitude, and add indebtedness, and then perhaps even brotherly love.  Fear would not be a required reason in this case.  Every part of you would want to freely obey such a simple request from a man who saved your life.

     Example #4.  Your name is Lazarus and you are dead and buried and unconscious and not aware of anything.  All of a sudden, you are awakened to consciousness by someone calling your name.  It is cold and damp on the stone slab beneath you, but all you can remember is being sick.  You realize you are no longer sick in bed, but dead and in a tomb.  Your name is again called, and now you recognize the voice.  It is your good friend Jesus.  He has awakened you from death and he is commanding you to come out of the tomb.  Now you have a choice.  Will you obey him, or, will you disobey him, shouting back in reply, “No, I don’t want to?”  Of course, you will obey him.  You are dead and he is offering you another chance at life.  Would that not be reason and motivation enough to obey?

     Obedience is a big deal in the Bible.  God expects us to obey him.  Well, we might ask, (and often do in one form or another), why should we?   What reasons are there to motivate us to obey God?  The above examples provide some insight.

     First of all, if we believe in a good God, we must believe that he would command us to do only that which is good for us.  We might not understand all of God’s commands, just like an employee might not understand or agree with all of his bosses orders.  But if God created this world and this life in the first place, it would only make sense to believe that He knows what is best for a well ordered life.  The ten commandments are not given to us as ‘busy work,’ but as a guide to how life is best lived.  It is in our own interests to obey them.

     If that isn’t reason enough, we would still want to obey God out of fear. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” says the Bible.  Fear is not the sum total of wisdom, nor is it the best reason for obedience, but it is a place to begin.  God is the boss, you know, and he is bigger than any of us, and he holds all the cards.  We should want to obey him in every way.  In many Bible stories, when people will obey God for no other reason, they are threatened with punishment.  Fear is an effective motivator, though it is clearly not the one God prefers.

     There are far better reasons to obey God, and these are illustrated in the story of the two soldiers.  The saved man had all sorts of reasons to obey the simple request of the man who saved his life, and all those reasons apply to our relationship with God.  Gratitude was one reason.  If you would be forever grateful to someone who saved your life, wouldn’t you be even more filled with gratitude to the one who gave you life in the first place?  Everything we have and everything we are and our very lives are all gifts from God, and so we have every reason to not only be grateful, but also glad to do whatever God asks of us.  Also, like the saved man, we are indebted to God, and for all of that, we should be obedient to God out of love.

     Finally, like Lazarus in John 11, God calls us out of death into life.  He called us into this life, creating us out of nothing; and promises a resurrection to new life after death for all who believe in him.  When this God calls to us to himself, like Jesus called to Lazarus out of the tomb, are we going to say “Do I have to?”

     When Martin Luther wrote his explanations to the ten commandments in the Catechism, he began by teaching us what should motivate us to obey God.  His explanation to each of the ten commandments begins with these words; “We should FEAR and LOVE God (so that we do or do not do what the commandment says)…”  Obey God because you love God, yes, but if that isn’t reason enough, then obey out of fear.  Either way, it is best to obey God.

     God calls us into a relationship with Himself.  God wants to be our Father.  We like to sing What a Friend We Have in Jesus. “We love God because he first loved us,’ says the Bible.  This is not the language of a contract, or of a good deal, but of a loving relationship.  We know from experience that rebellion and disobedience is hard on a relationship, but obedience strengthens the relationship.  

     Thus, every act of obedience brings us closer to God and every act of disobedience drives a wedge between us, causing us to drift away.  

     Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28)

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Deuteronomy 10:12-13  —  What does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Proverbs 9:10a  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

John 14:15 — (Jesus said), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

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 We most humbly beg you, O Lord, to give us the grace to be not only hearers of the Word, but also doers of that Word; not only to love, but also to live your Gospel; not only to favor, but also to follow your teachings; not only to profess, but also to practice your blessed commandments; all to the honor of your Holy Name, and to the health of our souls.  Amen.

–Thomas Becon (1511-1567), English reformer