Tag Archives: Yahweh

Simul Justus et Peccatore 2 Samuel 11:26 Luke 7:36 First St Johns June 12, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the grace and joy of forgiveness and forgiving said … AMEN!

Don’t misunderstand what David did was completely repugnant. There is no acceptable reason for what he did. Bathsheba wasn’t totally innocent either. There are those who like to point out the failings of the Old Testament, the vengeful, angry God stuff. By 21st century American standards there are things that we just would not countenance in this day and age. But there is certainly a good deal of hypocrisy with those who make such judgments, a lot of what the critics do are just not acceptable and certainly not by the standards of Israel in 1,000 BC. Those critics certainly never seem to be concerned with what the peoples around Israel did which were just abhorrent. One big difference was the accountability of their leaders, especially their kings. For the rest of the world at that time, the king was the highest authority and could pretty much do whatever he pleased. Take any woman, put anyone to death, take whatever they wanted and could do it with impunity. As the king of Israel David was responsible, as any other person in Israel was to Yahweh, his position didn’t make any difference, if anything he was held more accountable. When he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, any other king of that period could have just ignored Nathan, put him in prison, executed him and no one would have said boo about it. David was always responsible to Yahweh, he did have multiple wives, wasn’t supposed to and especially not a Gentile wife, Uriah was a Hittite and so presumably was Bathsheba. But David did and was forgiven, along with his adultery with Bathsheba and his treachery toward Uriah. But Yahweh was still faithful to David in his sins and is faithful to us in ours. We, by comparison, are graceless to those who offend us, quick to take anything and everything personally and like the Pharisee in our Gospel reading, quick to reject and condemn those who don’t follow our every whim, right down the line.

In our readings we certainly have a stark contrast. We have David who has committed truly abhorrent sin, he has committed adultery and against a man who was probably a friend, or at least a close associate. Uriah is listed among the renowned mighty men of David’s bodyguards, 37 men in all, a sort of elite military Secret Service, these men were all in close contact with David, so David certainly knew Uriah and had to know Bathsheba. David is certainly taken to task for the absolutely repugnant things that he did. The big surprise? He was still forgiven. Doesn’t mean God was justifying or somehow rationalizing David’s sin and as always, when we commit sin, there are usually consequences. David was made to suffer, although you could certainly wonder why his baby son was the consequence. Nevertheless, David was penalized and he knew it deep in his heart. We even have his repentance look up Psalm 51:  A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN NATHAN THE PROPHET WENT TO HIM, AFTER HE HAD GONE IN TO BATHSHEBA. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” David knew the deal, he also knew he was forgiven. Yahweh had been so gracious to David and David knew that he failed, he knew that he had seriously failed God, who had faithfully stood by him. We have all done this to one degree or another. Served faithfully and also let down someone who had treated us with graciousness and generosity. There are people who I remember through my life who treated me kindly, were selfless in helping me and being there for me, and I was not considerate in return. Certainly I have let God down on many occasions and He has faithfully forgiven me. There were penalties and consequences. Often people have told me that they knew they sinned, that as David put it “have done what is evil in your sight”, but on the flipside, turn around and complain that God treated them badly, they resent the fact that their sin caused them unpleasant consequences. We’re really quick to sin, really quick to accept forgiveness, but equally quick to forget that there are consequences. “I asked forgiveness, God said He forgives, so why did these bad things happen to me after I asked forgiveness.” We are forgiven and should be grateful for God’s forgiveness, but instead of copping an attitude because of the inevitable consequences, we need to remember Psalm 51, be grownups go back to God and acknowledge where we’ve sinned, that we’ve failed God and accept, without bitterness, the consequences of what we’ve done, move on in our life, trust that God is going to provide and get over the attitude. It truly astounds me in ministry, there is no room for disagreement, forgiveness, grace, it’s all or nothing. Yes, that’s the way it’s become in our society, but for a people who are forgiven, we Christians seem to have little idea of how to forgive, of how to be gracious, of how to put the best face on things. We just do not seem to understand that we will not always agree, and instead of taking our ball and bat and going home, understand that the ball game is going to proceed and God expects you to play out the game and not just desert because you didn’t get your way. There is no way you could function in business or the military with that kind of mindset, but that is certainly how people in the church seem to feel.

God graciously forgave David and didn’t break off His relationship with David. Imagine if God had the same attitude we often do, “well Jim, you didn’t do what I wanted you to do, so I’m out of here, see you later, you’re on your own.” We couldn’t function with such a fickle God, we would all be lost and condemned. God doesn’t do that. Just because He gives us consequences doesn’t mean He deserts us and leaves us to go it alone, He sticks with us. That is grace! For those who profess to be Christians, they expect grace, from everyone, but they’re quick to pull the trigger on others and ignore the whole grace thing.  As I said, our readings today are a stark contrast. We have David who just messed up royally, pun intended, was forgiven, suffered the consequences, moved on and remembered that God had been faithful to him and he needed to trust God that David would continue to be faithful in return to God. In our Gospel reading we see a woman who is unquestionably guilty, Jesus never tried to deny her guilt, He admitted she had sinned much, but He treated her with grace when the legalistic Pharisee characterized her faults and by extension Jesus’ faults for allowing her to be so loving toward Him. That’s the love of grace, being so thankful that Jesus would be gracious to her, even in her sin, and essentially offering her worship for Jesus’ grace. The Pharisee sitting in judgment of both of them, devoid of grace and forgiveness and as Anthony Cook describes: “…illustrates the woman’s expression of love was in direct proportion to her cancelled sin. She is forgiven much, loves much and he who is forgiven little, the Pharisee, loves little. She is being hospitable to an extreme, while Simon failed to show Jesus the simplest of common hospitality.”[1] Jesus didn’t cut the woman off because of her lifetime of prostitution, the woman is convicted of her sins, shows her gratitude to Jesus, while Simon the Pharisee, sits in bitterness and judgment on both Jesus and the woman. After Jesus forgives her, her sin, Simon and the rest of the men become more angry and judgmental: “who is this guy who presumes to forgive?” Seems like something we all do, Jesus had more than proven who He is and should have been acknowledged as the Messiah. Instead these men immediately jump to condemn Him, God the Son, again.

It’s so easy to take something personally and decide to just walk away and condemn the one you disagree with. Certainly God didn’t even when He had good reason to with David and the prostitute. Jesus certainly didn’t deserve His treatment, being beaten, tortured, humiliated and crucified, but He did it in love for us, when He could have simply decided that those who are without sin, that’s none of us, they are saved, the rest of us, well too bad, eternal condemnation. By the same token, we need to start acting with more grace and forgiveness, remember what is important, forgive the slights, real and perceived, remember the relationships and vows and move on to the Kingdom of God. Help us Father to put the best face on the things that we find offensive, realize that things are not always going to go our way, that in Your gracious will there are times when we have to deal with the things we don’t like and join together with those who we disagree with and keep Your will and purpose in our lives and move together towards the realization of the Kingdom and the eternal resurrection in Jesus.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Dr Anthony Cook Concordia Journal Spring 2016, volume 42, no 2, p 144

Angry God Leviticus 18-20

One of the main shots at God is that the Old Testament God is so cruel. How could Yahweh send His people into Canaan, the Promised Land and tell them to kill the people who were already there?

The answer is, yes, in Scripture, But hey, we don’t want to read through those first five books. Yea, Genesis, Exodus (thanks to Cecil B DeMille) Exodus is OK, there’s entertainment value there! But Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy? Boring. Telling us all those thing we can’t do, or we have to do.

Despite the perception, there is interesting history in those books and, come on, if God’s telling us something, it’s not  “boring”! But hey, we want to be entertained, “ESV 2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” (BibleWorks)

The attitude is; If I have to read the bible then at least amuse me, you like how you entertain me at church, referring of course to Sunday morning service, what’s supposed to be worship. But the rest of the world sees as “amuse me”.

God intended His people, the Jews, to be His people, a nation of priests. They were supposed to be dedicated to Him, His chosen people and not be influenced by the people who were in Canaan, who were, according to God “detestable” (Lev 20:23).

As it happened despite all His attempts, His people did not follow His directions (of course none of us do, we all being sinners). The Israelites did leave Canaanites alive because it was to their advantage to keep them alive. But they paid the price.

Through its history, Israel turned to these evil ‘gods’, begin to ignore Yahweh, Yahweh would send an enemy as punishment for Israel turning from Yahweh, they would be conquered, suffer, regret what they did to be punished, and the fact they were ruled by an evil people. They would repent, God would restore Israel, things would go well for awhile and then rinse, repeat. From their escape from Egypt until the time that the Rome destroyed the temple, about 2,000 years. Now we can wag our finger but the same thing happens to us. We are certainly becoming more and more evil as a society, more and more it’s about me and very little about God.

You can’t blame God for not telling us. The Books of the Law, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) certainly give us straight forward ground rules, but hey, it’s about us, remember?

Yahweh lists out some of the more heinous things that we don’t do. Leviticus 18-20 are pretty specific, if not a little graphic (have your attention now?): “ESV Leviticus 18:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. 5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” (English Standard Version, BibleWorks)

Right out of the gate, before they’re allowed into the Promised Land, Yahweh is making it very clear, He is not leading them to Canaan to be Canaanites. He has lead them there to be His Chosen People and not to get swept up in the Canaanites sick, twisted depravity. “God detailed the sexual practices He abhors, in order that the Israelites might live before Him in purity, unlike the Egyptians and Canaanites. Because of their sexual practices, Canaan, the land promised to the Israelites, is defiled and their people will soon be ‘vomited out’ of the land as God leads the Israelites in (v 25).” (Lutheran Study Bible p 191)

This is where God lists out the prohibitions against incest, and yea, does go into detail. Let’s face it, if we’re not explicitly told, someone’s going to look for the loophole and decide that somehow he can’t be saddled with the same woman or be denied his “fun”. When I say the laws against incest, every, heterosexual, possibility. Why did God describe every possible situation? Because the Canaanites were doing every possible incestuous situation. Nice, huh? Next, how about a threesome? “ESV Leviticus 18:17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.” Sweet, huh, again, the Canaanites were doing it. How about this: “ESV Leviticus 18:18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.” Nice people, huh? “OK, babe, think I’m going to set up a little competition, let’s see between you and her who can … oh, perform better?” But these are the people that so many “nice” people are outraged at God for killing them off.
Let’s cut away from sex awhile: “ESV Leviticus 18:21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.” It was a regular practice of these nice Canaanite people to sacrifice their first born son to Molech.

MolechSacrificeAltar

The baby would be put in the idol’s arms which were pitched so that the baby would roll down into the furnace in the idol. Yea, nice people. Oh yeah, not specifically delineated, but let’s not forget temple prostitution. The practice where the men, married or not, would have sex with temple “priestesses”, like the baby sacrifice, all so that Molech would bless them with rain, fertility both in terms of crops, animals and babies. Yeah, nice people, they’d make great neighbors, huh? Yahweh restates His position: “ESV Leviticus 20:2 “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.” Not pulling any punches there are we? But really how could anyone roll their baby son into a furnace? And yet those poor put-upon people were.

Here’s the big one: “ESV Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Hey God’s words, not mine. And again: “ESV Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” One has to think if God restates it, He must really mean it.
This next one is classic: “ESV Leviticus 18:23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.” Yup, those nice Canaanites. And just to make sure we know what we’re talking about: “ESV Leviticus 18:24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, ESV Leviticus 18:25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” The Canaanites did all these things and now, God is telling you, do not do them and make sure there are none left in the Promised Land who have been a part of this culture and will be left to corrupt you. You may not like it, of course there will those who will think that this is all so “unfair”, but that’s too bad. It’s not your world, God created it, it is His, and if He will no longer tolerate such decadence then it’s His call. Like it or not He can do what He wants to. Whether you think it’s fair or not, matters not a whit and I think it’s kind of bizarre that your opinion really carries any weight in this to begin with.
Why do Christians have a problem with all the things these Canaanites did? “ESV Leviticus 18:26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you ESV Leviticus 18:27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), ESV Leviticus 18:28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.”

Yea, Christians will be taken and protected by the Father, we have that hope and promise, in Jesus it’s a done deal. But for those who have to tell everyone how unfair it is, how we should be “free”, everyone do their own thing. It’s just not going to be that way and we don’t want to see those we love and care for be swept away. You can live in any delusion you like, but that’s not going to change who God is, what He has done, and what He will do. Whether you think it’s compassionate or not, it is compassionate. Just as you might like taking the medicine to cure you, let your boss tell you what to do, the reality is, that God has said, He has shown that He has meant it and for those who do have the truth, we do have a responsibility to be compassionate and that compassion is shown in how we tell the truth about Christ.

Here’s another one: “ESV Leviticus 19:9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. ESV Leviticus 19:10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” What this means is that the Canaanites did not perform acts of charity. Israel was told in this verse, that the least you can do is not pick up everything when you harvest crops and leave it for those who don’t have anything else. Yea those nice picked on Canaanites wouldn’t even leave a little food for those who were genuinely starving. Needless to say they didn’t do anything else to provide for the poor, it was all about them and what made them happy, hmmm, sound familiar?

Yahweh lists out pretty much the Ten Commandments, meaning? Yes, the Canaanites violated them all, lying, stealing, cheating ya, regular practice.

How about this? “ESV Leviticus 19:13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” People would fail to pay those who performed work for them. They would also not pay them at the end of the day. In this society, there was no refrigeration, it was hot, dirty. When you received your pay at the end of every day, you went out, bought food and ate. If you didn’t have any money, after an entire day of working, you went to bed hungry. But those nice Canaanites, would literally take the bread right of their brother’s mouths after they did a whole day’s worth of work for them. If they couldn’t pay them, why would they hire them at the beginning of the day?

How about government corruption? “ESV Leviticus 19:15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” If you were poor, you got no justice, the highest bidder got their way. Public Defenders? Haaaaa! Ya right!

Verse 19:20, own a slave woman? Canaanite men could do whatever they wanted to do with them. Israelite men? No way! Slaves in general and women slaves in particular, had to be treated humanely. Nice people, huh? All you high-minded people who think that God was so unfair having them wiped out.

“ESV Leviticus 19:29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.” Prostitute your daughter? Hey, ya gotta do, what ya gotta do.

“ESV Leviticus 19:31 “Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.” Ya, I know, today, Ghost Hunters, palm readers, astrologers etc. What’s the harm? God said stay away from it, and I have no doubt there is serious harm involved. In this post-modern era we are seeing more messing with the demonic, and you would have to be clueless to claim otherwise. Yahweh restates His position on mediums and wizards on Lev 20: 6. And in verse 27 adds that a medium or wizard should be put to death.

“ESV Leviticus 19:36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” These were measurements used in commerce, in this context. They were ripping each other off in the marketplace, ya how nice.

“ESV Leviticus 20:9 For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.” Ya, I know, not a big deal in our highly enlightened contemporary world.

Just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding Yahweh restates His opinion of the Canaanites: “ESV Leviticus 20:23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.” Having God detest you is not where you want to be. And He tells Israel: “ESV Leviticus 20:26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”
You can keep living in your state of denial and think it’s all about you and not about God, but in the end God will make the calls. For those who’ve played their whole lives, will be called to account and there will “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, Jesus’s words, six different times in Matthew. For those who are holy to the Father in Jesus, there is salvation, there is the resurrection. God doesn’t tolerate the absolutely detestable life-style of the Canaanites and neither should you. But that is exactly where we are headed to as a culture, frankly we’re pretty much there. You really expect a completely just, completely holy, completely pure and all- powerful God to just sit back? That’s just not reality.

The Lord is always encouraging us 1 Kings 19: 1-8 First St Johns August 9, 2015

[For the audio of this sermon please click on the above link)

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who make a faithful witness to Jesus said … AMEN!

My last sermon I talked about Noah, how God destroyed all the living creatures. Man had become entirely and irredeemably wicked and God had had enough. These people had gone over the top and God, unlike the world that is just in love with “tolerance” which it very loosely applies, God’s tolerance was exhausted. In today’s Old Testament reading we see the same thing on a lesser scale. Quick back story, Jezebel had become Queen of Israel. She was pretty obnoxious and over the top and her husband Ahab, was pretty much of a milk toast, “yes dear, no dear”. In direct defiance of God, Ahab allowed Jezebel to maintain a staff of 450 priests of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. The Jewish Encyclopedia describes some of this “religion”: “there was placed side by side with the Ba’al a corresponding female symbol, the Ashtoreth (Babyl. “Ashtar”) and the relation between the two deities was set forth as the example and the motive of unbridled sensuality. The evil became all the worse when in the popular view Yhwh himself was regarded as one of the Ba’als.”[1] Of course this violates the first two of the ten commandments, you shall worship God and you shall not worship idols. Baal and Asherah are idols, they aren’t “gods”, some evidence would be that no one worships either of them anymore. If they were truly “god” they would certainly be powerful enough to assert their worship. Baal worship is described as: “This pagan nature worship was purposefully described with such graphic sexual language precisely because cult prostitution and sexual mysticism was a big part of the nature worship process. Sexual fertility cults and the desire for a corresponding agricultural fertility were weaved together into a pornographic nature worship scheme that corrupted the entire nation and its people.”[2] Sound familiar? Sound like the world today? It was, straight up, worship that not only allowed, but encouraged any sort of sexual practice. “in addition to sexual abandon, the worship of Baal also incorporated harsh ascetic practices into their nature worship as well. Ecstatic pleasure and bloody pain were used to propitiate the nature gods for the sake of fair weather (1 Kings 18:25-29). Thus, Baal nature worship was completely indulgent with regard to sexual mysticism on the one hand, but overly strict, harsh, and severe on the other hand with regard to ascetic practices, with occasional bouts of human sacrifice along the way (2 Kings 17:28-41).”[3] Obviously this is a violation of the seventh commandment, thou shalt not commit adultery. The commandment is about marital faithfulness and also about fornication, sex between two unmarried people. Obviously in our day and age, there isn’t a “church of Baal”, but the practices of our age are certainly all about what was practiced in Old Testament times by Baal worshippers.

God gave us the ten commandments. He wasn’t mumbling when He put them on stone tablets and gave them to Moses. God, Yahweh, God the Father of Jesus Christ is unequivocally perfect, perfectly holy and will not tolerate sin. We are all sinners, we all have our personal violations of the ten commandments, but we who are in Christ are forgiven, Jesus died for our sins and when we confess and repent of those sins, we are absolved of those sins, we have forgiveness because Jesus died to pay the price for those sins. But while there are those in the world who feel that any and everything should be tolerated, should be allowed, we who are Christians know that while there is sin, and there is forgiveness, that we also offend and fail God the Father when we commit these sins. God will not tolerate anyone who simply flouts His commandments and chooses to do whatever he or she pleases to do. The world around us, tells us that’s silly, but the world has no hope, no promise, no other way to deal with it’s sin and those in the world die to those sins and are eternally condemned.

So we can wag our finger and cluck our tongue and presume to chastise God when He destroys the world because it has become so consumed with its sins, or we can take Him at His word. He gives us the hope and promise of eternal life, the world simply tells us to do what makes us happy and that’s just ok. When you die, you’re dead whatever happens then, well tough luck! A little back story, you might remember, how Elijah set up a challenge with Baal’s prophets? We each sacrifice an ox, I’m sure you’ve seen how huge an ox is, we lay it on the altar and whichever God completely consumes the ox with fire, then that God must truly be God. Well Baal’s priests dance around for hours, finally drop from exhaustion, and nothing, big old bagel, zero, nada. Elijah had a great time just kicking back and telling the priests of Baal how messed up this is. Hey! Baal’s so great, what’s the problem? How come he can’t just burn up an ox? Finally Elijah takes his turn, says a short prayer of about fifty words, then woosh “…Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil and also licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38) Kind of God’s way of putting an exclamation point on the whole event. Then Elijah, following God’s directions, I’m sure with his own men, drives about 990 priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah down the mountain they were on to a creek and kills them all. A little harsh? Not really. These priests along with the queen Jezebel are determined to impose these enormously sinful practices on Yahweh’s people, the people of Israel, essentially condemning them to eternal death and Yahweh will not tolerate it! No more than He tolerates the same behavior today. But, praise God, we have salvation in Jesus, He is our strength, our power, our Elijah who keeps His people away from these grossly immoral practices. He is our redemption, the One who paid the price for our sin. For homework this week, read 1 Kings 18:16-40.

But it does show what a gross biblical ignorance and illiteracy there is today, when you have people, who probably aren’t Christians, making up stereotypes about Christian pastors and Christians in general. Furthermore you see how they are treated by the world in today’s reading. We aren’t to tolerate the gross immorality that we see around us today, we are to speak out. When non-Christians try to stereotype you and basically tell you to shut up, keep it to yourself, they say Christians are supposed to be meek and humble. Well first off they don’t know what they’re talking about. Jesus had no problems holding people accountable for sexual and other sins. John the Baptist called Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife. Heck by today’s standards, that’s a pretty venal sin.  John the Baptist had no problem calling out one of the most powerful men in the country and he lost his head for it. Paul certainly didn’t pull any punches with churches like the Corinthians.

Elijah was faithful to God and His direction, not to the world’s opinion. Elijah was driven out by the world, harassed by the world, and Christians are and will be today. Not because the world is right, but because the world is hateful and ignorant and will do whatever it takes to shut a faithful person up. But God strengthens and encourages us. Can you imagine how Elijah felt? He had been hounded, driven away, threatened with death. He feels abandoned, alone, feels as if he is the only one of Yahweh’s people left. An angel wakes him up, one of Yahweh’s powerful warrior angels, provides him with food and water and rest, and also to remind him that God is watching over him, just as He watches over us when we take an unpopular stand for His Son Jesus and Jesus’ church. The world loves drama, it loves to spite God, it loves to have its own way and it hates anyone who is faithful to the Lord Jesus. We have to accept that, deal with that and trust that God will provide and protect us as He did with Elijah and continue to be a faithful witness to Him in a world that is increasingly hostile to Jesus.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom.

[1] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2236-ba-al-and-ba-al-worship

[2] http://www.theignorantfishermen.com/2010/12/baalisms-suicidal-nature-worship-and.html

[3] Ibid

Do you go to Nineveh or blow off God? Really? Jonah First Saint Johns January 25, 2015

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who follow God’s lead, even to their own Nineveh said … AMEN!

The Ninevites were bad people, to quote Charles Dickens you must remember that or nothing good will come from what I tell you, they were very bad people. Jonah had every reason in the world to avoid going to Nineveh. Side note, up until the 1800’s scholars chocked the entire Jonah story up to fable, one reason being that they felt that Nineveh was a myth, that it had never existed. Well surprise, archeologists found it and it does exist. In fact it was a very important city, to deny it existed, as many skeptics today try to deny many aspects of the Bible, would be to deny a great deal of antiquity.

Nineveh was a great city for it’s time. The writer of Jonah says: “Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.” It’s estimated that it had a population of 120,000 people. By today’s standards, that’s really a small city, York has a population of about 50,000, Boston has about 600,000, New York City over 8 million. But for a time when most people farmed or raised livestock, most people didn’t live in a city, it was pretty huge. We have to remember that cities really didn’t become so massive until the industrial revolution and even then not until the early 1900s, when people went to cities to work in factories. Are there difficulties with the Jonah account? Yes. There are really no whales in the Mediterranean and it’s hard to reconcile what kind of “fish” would have swallowed Jonah. There are accounts of men, in the whaling ship days, who were swallowed by a whale and recovered, but can’t really make that case with Jonah. But when we are talking about God, who made all and sustains all of creation, I think it’s a small thing that He created a fish to turn Jonah around.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and as I said, they were, straight out, bad people. A Wikipedia article quoting King Sennacherib about a recent military victory: “ “Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city.” The Wikipedia article also refers to stone carvings of “many battle scenes, impalings and scenes showing Sennacherib’s men parading the spoils of war before him.”1 These were not nice people. Jonah had every reason in the world not to go there, chief among those reasons was, that he may not come out alive. That was a very real concern. But, as the Chronological Study Bible points out; “Two features stand out in the book’s theology. One is the universal love and compassion of God for all nations. Another is the sovereignty of God.”2

A case could be made that Jonah was written about 700 BC. As I said the Assyrians were widely hated. The Chronological Study Bible states: “Few armies were as hated as the Assyrian army. Even in a time and culture that was not known for respecting human life, Assyrian tactics and policies toward their enemies were notoriously brutal.”3

So when we wonder what the point of this story is about, it certainly has to do with faithfulness and obedience. When God calls us to do something, many times He sets up the circumstances to make sure that His something gets done. If it takes an extraordinary story of a man being thrown into the ocean, swallowed by a big fish, delivered up to the destination that He wants Jonah delivered to, to drive home the point that God’s will is to be done and He can put us where He wants us, then so be it. Even if it’s to a people who are widely hated. You also have to remember that at this point in history, the people of Israel saw God as the universal God, as the creator of all, but still, somehow, thought of Yahweh as their God, exclusively in favor of Israel. Nineveh was the center of worship for the goddess Ishtar, who the Ninevites worshiped. Odd contrast, the Ninevites considered her the goddess of fertility, love, war and sex. I suppose you could reconcile some of those together, but for pagan “gods”, that seems to be a rather wide portfolio. Obviously war, among other things was a priority for the Ninevites/Assyrians. Going to a pagan people to tell them about the real God must have struck Jonah as plain crazy.

Rev Stephen Gaulke writes in Concordia Pulpit: A Sunday school teacher asked her class, ‘What can we learn from Jonah?’ One girl blurted out, ‘When whales swallow people, they get real sick?’”

I was with a group of pastors when I heard that silly Sunday School story. One pastor told the punch line, ‘People make whales really sick.’ Another pastor joked, ‘That’s funny, I always thought the point of Jonah’s story is you can’t keep a good man down!’

Jonah went to Nineveh not because he thought, ‘I’m a good guy.’ He painfully knew, ‘ I was the bad guy, running from God?’ And Jonah joyfully believed, ‘God loves me anyway. The Lord forgives me, gives me new life. He’s the God of second chances!’

What do you think? ‘I’m better than the person God wants me to help? No. The only difference between us and them is that we know who gives life, who forgives!’”4 And I might add that in gratitude, if the Father wants to use me or you, anyone, to see God’s forgiveness and salvation, can I really in good conscience refuse to do what God is guiding me to do? No!

Jonah by his actions said to God; “Forget it, I’m not going to Nineveh. Those people are evil! Go ahead and destroy them! They deserve it! They don’t deserve grace, they deserve to be nuked and I’m not going!” I really can’t say that Jonah was wrong. I can’t say that if God put me on a boat to North Korea or some place in the Middle East, I would certainly have mixed emotions, if not outright rejection of the idea. But God does push on us, if we are a disciple of Christ, if we have received grace and forgiveness from our baptism and from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, if God sustains us and His Son saves us, shouldn’t we follow where He leads us?

Our Gospel reading today is Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John saying: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” Certainly Jonah’s story is a graphic illustration. As it says in your call to worship: “We hear of God’s call to Jonah in the Old Testament and how, after trying to run away, he was given a second chance. Before he became a ‘fisher of men’, he literally became fish bait! God calls us both to salvation for ourselves and to be fellow [fishermen and women] speaking God’s grace to others.” Those ‘others’ may be people who are different, they may be people we think could be violent or hurt us, they could be people that we just don’t personally like. But all people are God’s creation and in His sovereignty He chooses those who will be saved. He may use you or me, in order to save those people. Jesus was tortured and crucified in order to be the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. Jesus’ sacrifice restored our relationship with God, this gives us hope and the promise of eternal, resurrected life. So the question is, if Jesus did all that for us, if we are His, if we are His disciples, do we really have the right to blow Him off and refuse to go to our Nineveh? Jonah did go to Nineveh, he preached what God told him to preach, the Ninevites did repent of their sin and God did not destroy them. Jonah was faithful and used by God to save many people.

For this week’s assignment, read the whole book of Jonah. Get a real feel for how Jonah felt about his calling. Are there things that God calls you to do that you think are unreasonable? They may be unreasonable to you, but if this is in God’s will, the only unreasonable thing is your refusal to follow God’s leading. He will supply you with what you need to follow Him. He will give you the faith to trust that what He’s asking is according to His will. Are you really going to run off to Tarshish and refuse Him?

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

2Chronological Study Bible pp 576-577

3Ibid p 576

4Stephen E Gaulke Concordia Pulpit Volume 25 Part 1 pp 14-15

God uses all creation, because He made all creation. Isaiah 45: 1-7 First St Johns October 19, 2014

Please click on the above link to hear the audio sermon:

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him said … Amen!
“Thus says the LORD to his anointed Cyrus…” That’s rather odd, who is Cyrus?… Why is God telling Isaiah that Cyrus is His anointed? … Isn’t anointing reserved for those who are God’s? Cyrus is a pagan from Persia. Quoting from the Chronological Study Bible; “In 559 BC Cyrus the Great became the ruler and founder of [a dynasty] of Persia which expanded quickly in all directions to become a world empire. … Cyrus ultimately conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire …”1 The writer goes on to point out that those in the ancient world would ask “What God has empowered this Persian king, Cyrus?” Well ancient people had it right in the sense that God does empower us. They had it wrong in the sense of trying to figure out “what ‘god’”. Why … Ya, there’s only one God. Cyrus would have worshiped Marduk, Bel and/or Nebo. Did any of them give Cyrus what it took to conquer most of the known world? No! Why? It says right here in our reading in Isaiah; “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held – to subdue nations before him … For Jacob [when we see that, we know Yahweh is talking about … Israel] My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me… I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45: 1, 4-5, 7 NKJV) So for all those in the world who like to say; “Well my ‘god’”. Well that’s all it is, their ‘god’. Even in writing that’s twenty-five centuries old, I don’t hear any mumbling here, do you? Yahweh is clearly saying … I am the LORD, and there is no other and in the Hebrew I am, there is are all forms of the name that God told Moses what His Name is, what Jesus told the Jews who questioned Him, God’s Name is the great I AM and there is no other.
Sure we can make it up, we can live a life that is deluded and full of lies. We can make these little idols in our lives and call them “god”, rely on them, but as Yahweh speaks to Cyrus, He is telling us; “I am the LORD, and there is no other”. Scripture is God’s word to us and when He tells us who He is and what He does, that’s the way it is and we need to get over anything else we think or do about Him.
There is a cylinder, which is the form of writing that the people in the Middle East used at the time, dated 538 BC that announces that Marduk chose Cyrus to conquer the world.2 Well … NO! Have you seen that cylinder? I haven’t. It is one archaeological artifact that’s certainly interesting, but what writing from that period has survived from then until now that the entire world knows? The Bible, Holy Scripture, which says very clearly, “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” We know that from 2500 years ago until now, I’m pretty sure that what Marduk “says” today, doesn’t matter to anyone.
The Babylonians had originally conquered Israel and Judah. They deported the best and the brightest of Israel to Babylon and they abused the Israelites and had shown them no mercy. Israel may have been conquered by Babylon as a judgment on the Jewish people, but contrary to the thinking of the time, that did not give Babylon the right to abuse God’s chosen people, they were still God’s elect. It’s like with my little brother, I can pick on him, but no one else better try to pick on him. In Isaiah 47 God makes it very clear to the Babylonians what happens when they picked on Yahweh’s people: “I was angry with my people [Yahweh says in chap 47] I have profaned my inheritance, And given them into your hand. You showed them no mercy: For you have trusted in your wickedness; You have said, ‘No one sees me’; Your wisdom and your knowledge have warped you; And you have said in your heart, I am, and there is no one else besides me.’ Therefore evil shall come upon you; You shall not know from where it arises. And trouble shall fall upon you; You will not be able to put it off. And desolation shall come upon you suddenly,”…(Isaiah 47: 6, 10-11 NKJV) God is now going to use Cyrus to bring judgment on the Babylonians who have abused His people. Remember when God says: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom 12:19) He’s making it very clear to the Babylonians that is the case and His vengeance, through Cyrus on behalf of His people, Israel, will not be pretty.
God tells us He’s a jealous God, well this is partly what it means, He can take us out behind the woodshed and let us have what-for, but He’s not going to stand by while we are being abused by the world. We are His, and He expects us to trust in Him, to put our faith in Him, the faith that He give us. When we fail to do that, when we sin, when we make ourselves, our own idol, He is going to discipline us. That’s a good thing, do you really want God to just stand by and watch you sink into sin, to fall away from Him and be swallowed up by the world? Would a Holy, faithful, loving father do that? No! So He will resort to discipline to get our attention, to get our focus back on Him and away from a violent and cursed world. He may use people like Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus to impose that discipline, does that mean He loves us less? No, it means He loves us enough to do what it takes to keep us in His will and not lost in the world’s.
God uses many trials and enemies to focus on Him. In the movie God’s Not Dead there is a twenty-something young lady who is right on the top of her game. She has built a big-media following, she is on the go, interviewing the movers and shakers of entertainment, her boyfriend is a wealthy and powerful financier, the sky’s the limit and then one day she goes in for a medical exam. “You have cancer, the doctor tells her and you may not live.” Her response: “I don’t have time for cancer.” I’m not going to tell you how that plays out, you have to come and see the movie, but she was her own idol, it was all about her and how she had created her own world. God forces His way into that world and tells her, that it’s all about Him, not about her. She may have done all these things in her life, but at some point there will be a day of reckoning and she will have to surrender to the fact that it is all about God. We will all have that time of reckoning. For her that time was when she was told she had cancer. You can be in denial of these things, you can run your own game. But in the end God makes it very clear to all of us, that we will have to turn to Him. We may still resist, but it will be a done deal and God will have His way, just as He did with a king, Cyrus, who did not know Him and a people, Israel, who rejected Him.
Rev Dr Dale Meyer in his “Meyer Minute” for October 17 talks about how God can use the result of our sin to bless and benefit many generations. We certainly watch with concern the events surrounding the Ebola virus. We forget that there have been many serious diseases that have spread through our country. Only about 60 years ago, polio spread through the United States. Dr Meyer writes about a cholera epidemic that swept through St Louis in 1849. “The epidemic was devastating to Johann Friedrich Buenger, an immigrant and Lutheran pastor.” His first wife died in the epidemic and their three sons had died in infancy before the epidemic. He remarried and had four daughters with his second wife, two who died in infancy. He was led by God to establish the Lutheran Hospital in 1853, from which the Lutheran Foundation of St Louis, Lutheran Senior Services and Lutheran Family and Children’s services now serve thousands.3
Ebola is not of God, war and abuse are not of God, cholera is not of God and a king in the Middle East 2,500 years ago may not know God. All the evil in the world is the result of man’s sin, yours, mine, the whole world’s. We certainly don’t like it, we are certainly going to have fear about it, but as those who are saved in Christ, we trust that our fear is rapidly turned into faith. Not because of what we do, but because through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are saved, we know how the story ends, for the world, and for us individually. Remember our reading from a few weeks ago: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 ESV) God will unleash evil on those, like the Babylonians, who were evil, we who are saved in Jesus, who are made holy in His sacrifice, we will also deal with evil, but out of that God will use it according to His purpose. As Dr Meyer notes: “the love of Christ motivates God’s people to meet human need and God multiplies the blessings.” How is that agape love that we have from Jesus motivating you? You trust that God is just and will repay those, like the Babylonians, who abuse His people. Since we are freed from the hate and bitterness of the world, we go on to the things of God. He guides His Israel, us, back to our promised land and by doing so enables us to serve Him and all of His creation. How can you trust that God is protecting you? You don’t have to fuss about the evil that’s going on around you, and because you are free from that, what do you do in order to serve those in the world to the glory of our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.