"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church in Vero Beach, FL
1God is our ref- | uge and strength,
a very present | help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the | earth be moved,
and though the mountains shake in the depths | of the sea;
3though its waters | rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble | with its tumult.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the cit- | y of God,
the holy habitation of | the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall | not be shaken;
God shall help it at the | break of day.
6The nations rage, and the | kingdoms shake;
God speaks, and the earth | melts away.
7The Lord of | hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob | is our stronghold.
8Come now, regard the works | of the Lord,
what desolations God has brought up- | on the earth;
9behold the one who makes war to cease in | all the world;
who breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the | shields with fire.
10“Be still, then, and know that | I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted | in the earth.”
11The Lord of | hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob | is our stronghold.
Jesus speaks of truth and freedom as spiritual realities known through his word. He reveals the truth that sets people free from sin. 31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
"A for the Course"
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ.
Before I begin, I included the Psalm for Sunday this morning for two (2) reasons. First of all, it being Reformation Sunday and all, what's a Lutheran Reformation Sunday without "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", right? Well, Luther wrote AMFIOG based on the text from Psalm 96. Read the Psalm carefully, and you'll see where he got the idea from. Waters rage and foam; mountains are shaken to the depths of the sea; the earth is moved, and more. But still, Luther writes in the song, though all of this happens, or seems to be happening all around us, God is our refuge. Our strength. Our fortress, if you will.
And the second reason I included the Psalm in this post, is because it in some way reflects what's going on in our world today. Horrible tragedy unfolding in the Middle East, and we're all frightened, angered, and fearful of tensions escalating. Another mass murder - this time in Maine. And more. Our world, it seems, is being rocked in ways that seem unfamiliar to us, even in a very violent world to which we're becoming more and more desensitized. We're scared of what lay ahead.
But take comfort in the Psalmist's words, "God is in the midst of the city and it shall not be shaken." And there's more, "God speaks and the earth melts away." And that verse we all know so well, "Be still then and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations." One wonders what exactly must have been going on back when the Psalmist wrote these words. No doubt, events similar to what we're seeing today. Violence, bloodshed, wars, poverty. And more. But through it all, he (or she) knew that God was present in all of it. God was close to the suffering, to the danger, to the horrible things going on then. And now. So, as you're able, take comfort in these words from the Psalmist today, because despite all evidence to the contrary, God is still in charge. God is still "in the city". And God will deliver.
But, back to the "A for the Course" thing. Imagine a time when you were going to (or back to) school for the very first day, after summer vacation. You're on edge; you're nervous about what lay ahead academically. How will you do in your classes? What kinds of grades will you get in Trigonometry, PE, history, social studies, and more? With all of the pressure to perform then, and now, it's tough. We need good grades to get into college; to get ahead in life.
And then, your teacher/professor/other, after welcoming you to the class, and going over the syllabus for the course, starts off with this statement, "Everyone here gets an 'A' for the course." And you look around to make sure others heard what you though you heard. Everyone is looking around, doing the same thing. "Wait, I'm getting an 'A' in this course, and we haven't even started? What did we do to deserve that!?"
Think of how freeing that would have made you. You're just getting started in the class, and already the teacher has told the class that everyone gets an "A". How would you respond? Would you coast for the rest of the semester, knowing that you're getting an "A"? Or, would you work extra hard, knowing that the pressure's off, and that you can dive into the course with more energy and enthusiasm? Well, no doubt, some slackers would try to take advantage of the generous offer. But I think most would say "thank you" under their breath, and study the course materials, knowing they now have the freedom to enjoy the learning experience for that class.
That's the backdrop for my message for Sunday. Freedom. Jesus says in our gospel for Sunday, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free", paraphrasing here. The point is, there is freedom for us Christians. Freedom from the worry about our salvation, since it's all been worked out for us in what Jesus did on the cross. And freedom to more fully and energetically engage in the world, serving both God and neighbor.
Our baptism is just like this. Gathered around the font, at the edge of the river, or wherever the baptism took place, you, your family, the gathered assembly, watched as the minister baptizes you/yours in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And in that instant, it's like the teacher on the first day of class telling everyone that they're getting an "A" for the course. Baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus himself, the newly baptized emerges from that water, free from sin, from death, and free to live into a life of service to God and to humankind. An "A" for the course, if you will. No need to strive to please God. No need to worry about your salvation. No need to fear anything, because in Christ, your salvation has been worked out for you. You are free, indeed!
So, my fellow confessors of the faith, think on that today, and tomorrow, and always. Amen? Amen.
"A Mighty Fortress is Our God"
"Christ is Made the Sure Foundation"