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READINGS: Isaiah 58:3-9a  1 Corinthians 2:1–2 (13–16)  Psalm 112: 1-9  Matthew 5:13-20

Today’s Epistle reading is about spirituality.  Spirituality has been a hot topic now for several years, as in, I’m not religious, I’m spiritual. It used to be, “I don’t believe in organized religion”.  A friend of mine, a pastor like to quip, They haven’t seen us.  Either the upshot is when spirituality is so talked about it’s about “doing my own thing” and thinking it is God’s thing.  This is fleshly spirituality.  True spirituality is not about the self, but God.  The self is a pretty nasty place apart from God.  Going my own way and saying oh, It’s the Lord’s way. As the Apostle taught, true spirituality is about the Lord, the Holy Spirit.  True spirituality is Holy Spirit-uality.  I was asked once What is the work of the Holy Spirit?   I gave the correct answer from the Bible:  to preach and teach Christ, as our Lord said, from John 14: 26

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

My questioner’s response was a resounding: Oh.  She was obviously disappointed with the answer and went on to describe a healing service in a Pentecostal congregation in which the pastor laid hands on her, and she told me she felt an electric charge go through her body.  But the Bible, God’s Word never says if you lay on hands for healing, you will feel an electric charge in y our body.  When we go against God’s Word then we will be forever seeking the next electric charge.

There is a difference between fleshly spirituality and true spirituality. Here are some comparisons:

  • Fleshly spirituality is me shaped, me formed, me centered, that is spiritual experience shaped, formed and centered; whereas Christian spirituality is cross-shaped, cross-formed, cross-centered, that is, Christ shaped, Christ formed, Christ centered.

  • Fleshly spirituality is by aspiration, what I can do for a spiritual high. Christian spirituality is by revelation through the Word of God, preached, taught, administered in the Sacraments. It is not by aspiration but inspiration

  • Fleshly spirituality is ever looking for the next spiritual experience, whereas true spirituality is ever looking to the Lord in the depths of sin, death, and power of the devil, where and when He has done battle and won. It seeks the Kingdom of God.

  • Fleshly spirituality boasts in one’s spiritual accomplishments, whereas true spirituality boasts in the Lord.

  • Fleshly spirituality is the spirituality of the selfie, always looking at the self, inward, but true spirituality is about looking outward to the Lord and looking out for our neighbors.

  • Fleshly spirituality is always about getting something from the Lord to further the spiritual buzz: “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers”, whereas true spirituality seeks to hear the Word of God and does it to serve and love our neighbor. 

  • Fleshly spirituality is all about one being rich in the spirit, whereas true spirituality confesses we are poor in spirit and seeks only to learn Christ in the Holy Spirit.

So many folks really believe in themselves.  Now, we are to give thanks to the Lord for all His gifts and talents for us but the center of belief is not me.  One time we were properly taught to doubt ourselves in that regard, and believe in God.  Now we are taught to doubt God and believe in ourselves. And as G.K. Chesterton said,  “The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” 

It’s been my observation over the years now of being a pastor, a person who has a fleshly spirituality, he or she will go on and on about their spirituality.  I have heard stories about so many spiritual jolts and fantasies and sadly, it is all self-justifying because looking inward they no longer look to the One who has justified us on the Cross, received as sheer gift, grace. I just heard a very intelligent man in hospice tell me all about his spirituality for a hour and a half.  I barely got a word in edgewise, let alone the Word.

This leads us to a fairly obvious physical aspect of both salt and light is they are silent.  They work and do their thing without a word of their own. Later in the Sermon on the Mountain, Our Lord teaches about fasting, praying and alms-giving: St. Matthew 6: 1-21 (This is the Gospel Reading for Ash Wednesday).  He repeats the same critique  about these spiritual disciplines for His comparison to the hypocrites who by their ‘spirituality’ want to draw attention to themselves, make a splash, be heard (see St. Matthew 6: 2, 5   and 16).  Fasting, praying and alms-giving are kind of silent in the world yet they do their thing and work.

Funny thing about salt and light:  we take them for granted and yet without them life would cease.  For instance, light is literally food for everything that is green. Plants feed animals and men. Without light, we die.  Even if a person is blind, she still needs light.  Salt is a necessary nutrient, without it we could not live.  . Yet, we usually do not give thanks to the Lord  for these His gifts.  We, the Church, are just that:   salt and light. The Church, His disciples work and do their thing without a word of their own, but God’s Word alone.  They are life for the world.  They are to be taken for granted and yet without this salt and light, there is death. 

 I find this troubling and humbling:   I know I do not want to be taken from granted.   I expect to get something out of this religion deal.  I want to be known for my words, my brilliance.  I/we think that by our liveliness in worship, life, etc. we can make for life but that life is  finally just made-up. With that tirade of Adamic sin, I/we forget:  we need salt and light as well, especially the apostles and the apostolic Church.  The salt and light we need is His Word, the Word made flesh, the One who said on that mountain, “You are…”,  not “Be all that you CAN be”, but You are

Jesus makes it plain in the beatitudes:  it’s not about your best life now, but your blest life now and forever. We are blessing of the salt and light of His Word for the world. In His Word of Law and Gospel,  we realize that you and  I  are not  the life, the life of  and for the world. When we sin, the Law of God is real spiritual buzz kill. This is reason in all those me centered ‘spiritualities’ the Law of God is not taught and so sadly they are least in the kingdom of heaven.   

We are Lord’s “thing” in the world without a  word of our own, and our words are to  reflect His Word.  After all we will not be heard for our many words (see  Matthew 6:7) His Word is food. (see Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4)  We are not self-made men and women.  We are not self-redeemed.  Without His Word we die and the world is dying to hear His Word.  Many do not want to hear.  They will despise it. It does not matter.  Will the light be blown out?  We do not know.  But we are to let it shine.  If we get away from His Word, we become tasteless and are to be thrown out and trampled upon. (Matthew 5:13)  Lord, without You we can do nothing.  Keep us steadfast in Your Word.  Be Thou our help to speak Your Word at the right time. In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

 

Today’s Daily Lectionary New Testament Reading is St. John 1: 19-34.  This quote is from Luther’s Sermon on these text and in particular, verse 29:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

John declares that it is solely the Lamb that bears the sin of the whole world; otherwise it would surely not be done at all. I, too, will find refuge in Him. You may do whatever you please!

The Law, to be sure, can command to do this and that; it can also prescribe rules of conduct for life. It says: “Do not covet your neighbors wife, his goods, his honor; do not kill; do not commit adultery, etc.; give alms.” And it is laudable and good to comply with these Commandments. By doing so we abstain from outward sin in the world. But it is futile to try to expunge sin before God through the Law. The one thing that is effective in this respect is spoken of here: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And in Is. 53:6 we read: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” And again (Is. 53:8): “The Lord will strike Him for the transgression of my people.” Everything centers in Christ. Therefore a Christian must adhere to this verse with simplicity of heart and not let anyone rob him of it. Then he will be aware of the blindness of all heathen, of the papists, and of the godless, who themselves want to render satisfaction with pilgrimages and with good works. They make much of these and console themselves with purgatory. But they are blind. For Holy Scripture declares that the sin of the world does not lie on the world, or St. John’s sin on St. John, or St. Peter’s on Peter; for they are unable to bear it. The sin of the world lies on Christ, the Lamb of God. He steps forth and becomes a vile sinner, yea, sin itself (2 Cor. 5:21), just as if He Himself had committed all the sin of the world from its beginning to its end. This is to be the Lamb’s office, mission, and function…

These are clear, plain, and powerful words, strengthened by that splendid and beautiful portrait of St. John pointing to the Lamb with his finger. I was always fond of such pictures; for instance, the one on which the Paschal Lamb is depicted carrying a little banner, or the picture of the crucifixion. But in the papacy we never understood their true significance. This is the message they really wanted to convey: “Behold, man! According to Law and justice, your sins should rest on you. But the Lamb which I exhibit here bears your sins by grace. This sin has been placed on the Lamb. Now you are holy, righteous, and free of sin; you have been saved for the sake of the Lamb. Therefore you have to know that you are not bearing your own sin. For then you would be lost; the Law would condemn and execute you. But behold, God has delivered you from your sins and has placed them on the Lamb. And thus you are saved, not for your own sake but for His.”

 

Bio:  Jacob, the third of the three Hebrew patriarchs, was the younger of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. After wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob, whose name means “deceiver,” was renamed “Israel,” which means “he strives with God” (Gen. 25:26; 32:28). His family life was filled with trouble, caused by his acts of deception toward his father and his brother Esau and his parental favoritism toward his son Joseph (March 31). Much of his adult life was spent grieving over the death of his beloved wife Rachel and the presumed death of Joseph, who had been appointed by the Egyptian Pharaoh to be in charge of food distribution during a time of famine in the land. Prior to Jacob’s death during the blessing of his sons, God gave the promise that the Messiah would come through the line of Jacob’s fourth son, Judah  Genesis 49).

Reflection:

“The great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was once approached by a woman distressed from her recent reading of Romans 9:13. “I cannot understand,” she said, “why God should say that He hated Esau.” “That is not my problem, madam,” Spurgeon replied, “My difficulty is to understand how God could love Jacob.”–Fr. Reardon, Touchstone.

The Lord’s favor is on those who are repentant. Esau was not repentant. Jacob knew he was a “deceiver”!  As Luther commented that Esau was contrite because of punishment not because of the sin against God.  Esau sold his birthright and was only sorry for losing it, not for the sin of doing so.  God could wrestle with Jacob because Jacob knew his sin…Esau was on the sidelines waiting his due.

The Lord can work with sinners as they know their sin, He changes them by His grace and providence…and with Jacob it took time…with us as well. Sinners are such unlikely saints!

Sin is a tangled web, as we see in Jacob’s family of origin and in his own family with his two wives, Rachel and Leah and his two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah.  Eleven of his 12 sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt and then told their Father, Jacob, Joseph had been killed by a lion.  Families have problems, many times grievous and perplexing beyond therapeutic help, yet God’s promise is for sinners and the Lord works through what we have called in our day, “dysfunctional families”. He would be born of a family for the love of all families.

Jacob spent most of his life grieving for the death of his favorite wife Rachel and thinking his son Joseph dead.  Eventually, the 11 brothers repented.  As someone has commented:  it took the Lord only 6 days to create the heavens and the earth but 33 years to redeem us…and when we factor in the great history of Israel:  a lot longer, but He did so at the right time and He would do so again through Jacob’s son Joseph. And in the Son of Joseph, centuries, later, the Christ, the Son of God redeemed the world.

Let us pray:  Lord Jesus, scepter that rises out of Jacob, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, rule our hearts through Your suffering cross and forgive us our sins, that we may become partakers of Your divine life;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

The following quote is from Walther’s  The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel (originally published 1897;  1928 Edition), pages 326-327.  His comments are on St. Matthew 5: 18-19 which are part of the Gospel reading in the three year lectionary for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, year A: 

Matthew 5:18-19 King James Version (KJV)

18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The connection in which the Lord uttered these words is worthy of note. In the words preceding them He states that He is come to fulfil the Law. Now, inasmuch as the Lord had to fulfil every law and every commandment in our stead, it is shocking in any man, poor, sinful worm that he is, to want to dispense with a single law of God and to treat it as a matter of no importance. Those who entertain notions of this kind are no Christians. If any man has manufactured for himself some secret comfort from this notion, he has miserably belied and cheated himself. Also in this matter a true Christian manifests himself as a person who fears to commit a single sin.

The Lord also speaks of a person “who shall teach men so.” It is bad enough when a person for his own part disregards some law and leads a careless life; but it is much worse when he preaches his lax views and leads men to perdition by his preaching. He will have to render an account to God of his preaching, and on that day he may not excuse himself by claiming that it was only trifling matters which he had represented as so unimportant that no one need grieve over them. A Christian grieves even over trifles, but unchristians imagine that they can “escape by iniquities,” Ps. 56: 7… That is the slogan of the wicked, just as it is the easy-going way of unconverted people to speak of their iniquities thus: “Well, I can easily make amends, and grass will soon grow over it.” No grass will ever grow over anything for which forgiveness has not been asked of God.

The Lessons:

1 Samuel 1: 21-28    Psalm 84   Hebrews 2: 14-18     St. Luke 2: 22-32

Let us pray:  

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

The Mother of Our Lord: St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, with nearly a dozen specific incidents in her life being recorded: her betrothal to Joseph; the annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Messiah; her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer; the nativity of our Lord; the visits of the shepherds and the Wise Men; the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple; the flight into Egypt; the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve; the wedding at Cana in Galilee; her presence at the crucifixion, when her Son commended her to the care of His disciple John; and her gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room after the ascension, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Thus she is present at most of the important events in her Son’s life. She is especially remembered and honored for her unconditional obedience to the will of God (“Let it be to me according to Your word” [Luke 1:38]); for her loyalty to her Son even when she did not understand Him (“Do whatever He tells you” [John 2:1-11]); and above all for the highest honor that heaven bestowed on her of being the mother of our Lord (“Blessed are you among women” [Luke 1:42]). According to tradition, Mary went with the apostle John to Ephesus, where she died. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  One Lutheran theologian pointed out that the observance of August 15th, Mary, Mother of Our Lord disappeared from Lutheran Churches though retained on the church calendars, and he commented that the other days associated with her such as  The Annunciation (St. Luke 1: 26-38), The Presentation (Luke 2: 22-38, and The Visitation (Luke 1: 39-56, associated with Mary, “…all in reality festivals of Jesus Christ.”  And that’s the point! Mary is associated with them and she did magnify the Lord.  She never sought  attention for herself.   She knew she would be blessed (Luke 1: 48) but she did not seek adoration but adored Him born of her virgin womb. He was her Son and her Lord!  She was humble:  at Cana, she simply told the servants, do what He tells you.  This is not the stance of the neo-feminist woman of our day.   Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox professor (1921-1983) pointedly reflected,

“In (Mary’s) humility and silence, she can hardly serve as patron for the noisy and arrogant feminism of our time.”

The sundry revolutions of the ’60s brought new vocabulary  such as counterculture, and from it, counter-cultural.  But that counter-culture was mainly an excuse of condoning immorality. Fr. Schmemann points out that Mary is understood in her instrumentality  (“Let it be according to Your Word…”) in the Lord’s plan of salvation that the Word became flesh for her, you and I. She was obedient in true faith. Mary, Mother of our Lord, stands today as a true counter-cultural icon.  Fr. Schmemann tellingly points out that her obedience as a woman, 

“…is one of the main reasons for Mary’s “rejection” by many “modern” Christians:  she can hardly be construed as the symbol of that ‘liberation’ which stresses the absolute ‘right’ of man to dispose of his life and of his body in a manner which he himself chooses, to a ‘self-fulfillment’ which he himself determines.”  

This self-determination has culminated in licit  abortion on demand as deadly self-fulfillment.  And Mary brought the Life of the world into the world.  Men have sold women on the supposed virtue of expediency:  if a child is not wanted, destroy it. The Virgin Mary is a Sabbath of grace and faith in this “hopelessly male world” (Fr. Schmemann).  Mary by God’s grace and favor to her is Theotokos, God Bearer.  Eve ate death, Mary brought eternal life into the dead world.  Mary’s anti-icon is probably Planned Parenthood.   Mary is the model of the godly life in Christ Jesus for women…and men! In the Orthodox Church, today is called The Meeting.  In the Child of Mary, God has met us.  Just as she told the servants at the Cana wedding, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2: 5), goes for us servants as well.

Lord, still our hearts and minds in the Sabbath of Your forgiveness by which You have redeemed us from the old way of death to live and breath in Your life, Your life which You first gave to Your Mother, that this dark world know You have come into our world for us and for our salvation. Amen.

Image may contain: text The word compassion’s word origin is literally “to suffer with”.  Why is it we do not want to be compassionate?  Fr. Nouwen, in this quote at least, does gives what sounds like a  reason:  we do not have the “inner disposition”. But why do we not have that inner disposition?  

In Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans wrote about the summation of the 2nd Table of the Law:  “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  Luther basically says this is a very hard commandment to keep.  Luther’s explanation includes a chart to describe the hardness of keeping the commandment.  Paraphrasing, he points out that it is easy to love my neighbor when he is whole, healthy, wealthy, wise, caring, and in good spirits.  But when I am “weak, vulnerable, lonely, broken”, down and out, and so suffering, I still want to be loved.  So love your neighbor as yourself. It is hard to do so.  This is why we do not have the inner disposition.  We do not love our neighbor as we ought and that sentence is used in the confession of sin.

Some of the fleeing is due to love, in that I hate to see my family member  or friend suffering…so I flee or offer a quick fix.  It is harder to be still with my neighbor and just be there.  Sometimes that is enough and it can be the start of prayer.  I think there is only one way to be with our friend or family member in the  struggle of suffering: the only Way is Jesus Christ.  He went to the places where we are weak, vulnerable, broken and lonely…when we were sinners and enemies of God.  He has been and still is to find us, bear us, heal us.  Our motives do not come from my best intentions and inner dispositions but Christ:  

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2: 20)

Christ Jesus took 33 years of His life on earth to bear our sin and be our Savior.  He long suffered with us, for us and this means we do so with our neighbor.  It is only in the confession that we do not love as ought and Christ loves us as He does.  In Him, we can and be honest about the desire to flee or offer mere advice…and go the places where my neighbor suffers as I have been consoled…every step with prayer.

When I read blogs, tweets and Facebook threads, it seem the righteous anger of men and women have no end, or is it self-righteous anger?   I think  this anger without end has another name:  hell.  Hell with be the result of such anger.  As the Lord Jesus solemnly warned against anger, see St. Matthew 5: 21-22).  This self-righteous anger results in quarreling. Quarreling is the stuff of so much ‘discussion’on the internet.  From today’s Epistle reading, 2 Timothy 2:  from the daily lectionary (LCMS) and the emphasis is my own:

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

As Pastor Andrew Preus  wrote in his article “Learning to Pray from the Imprecatory Psalms”

The devil would love to make us cry out curses with our own words and our own thoughts out of our own pride. James and John asked Jesus concerning the Samaritans who did not receive him, “Lord, should we tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them (Luke 9:54)?” But the imprecatory psalms don’t have us call the fire down. They have us rather call God down. God is the one who brings vengeance (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19). And he does this in his own time and wisdom as he reveals his own patience toward us and all sinners (2 Pet 3:9). Therefore Jesus rebuked his overzealous disciples. What begins with anger against injustice can, if the devil and the flesh are given opportunity, turn into prideful curses that reflect the will of the beast (Rev. 13:13) rather than the will of God.

We must pray for the Lord to act in the face of evils He deplores,  but not to rely on our unending activism which just fuels the hell fire of anger and hate:  see St. Matthew 5: 22. As it is written in The Epistle of James, chapter 1:

 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

My anger (and  I am guilty of such) does not produce the righteousness of God only faith in Christ by the grace of His forgiveness produces God’s righteousness which is peace.  If man’s anger produced the righteousness of God we would have the most peaceful society in the history of mankind!  Yes, we are to correct our opponents as it is clear in Scripture but in “gentleness”.  If I can not respond in gentleness, and always with an eye towards the Lord’s work of changing the heart, on a blog posting or in a face-to-face conversation, then maybe I should fast from writing or speaking.  I should at those times be praying,

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

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