Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 August 2017

 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Hebrews 11, verses 32-34.

Where are there great heroes today?   Gideon, who led when nobody else would.  Barak, the warrior who answered God’s call to rally troops and defeated the Canaanite, Sisera.   Samson, the self-centered leader in the days of the Judges, who rejected his selfishness to rally the power of God in his death and, in doing so. slew the Philistines.   Jephthah, the great Israelite leader who conquered the Ammonites yet made a foolish vow, then considered his word to God to be more important than any other word he had ever spoken.

Here in our day, is President Trump a hero?   Hardly, especially since (as one of my relatives pointed out) so many of our countrymen consider him to be a boor, a scoundrel, and “an incomparable cheat.”  How about his predecessor, President Obama?   Hardly again, especially since so many more of our countrymen consider him to be weak, of poor beliefs, and an enemy of liberty.  The leaders of our major churches live in luxury and opulence.   The gulf between the richest and poorest in our country, in our world, keeps growing ever wider.   We all want to believe we are special in God’s eyes yet we, myself included, look across the room and see people of different beliefs, different colors, different places in this world and we consider them aliens.  How must our God feel about us?

Where are the people whose weakness God turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle through the Lord and routed foreign armies?   Where are the men and women of honor and valor who walk the walk and talk the talk for Jesus today?

You saw a few of them on the news this weekend.   They were friends, relatives, first responders working beyond exhaustion to retrieve strangers from the floodwaters in Houston.   They were the pastors in Africa who walk miles between villages on Sunday afternoon just to share a few minutes of Christian worship with people hungry to know more about Jesus.   They’re people who smile at you when you meet them in the streets, mothers who raise their children (and new puppies) while husbands and fathers are deployed overseas.   They are nurses in hospitals, grandparents raising grand-babies, the people who hold open doors.  Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and, very often, just by doing so are heroic in small ways that matter.

Yesterday in church, the sermon text was on the fruit of the spirit.   From Galatians 5, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   The heroes of the Bible listed above knew these things, knew them centuries before Paul recorded them in his epistle.   The heroes mentioned in our world today know them, too.   Whether any of them, or us, know it or not, they are evidence of God for only from God’s Spirit are these things possible.  Apart from the Savior, they’re just niceties, ways to get along for a short time in a hostile world of hopelessness and futility.  Abiding in the Savior, they’re evidence of His presence.   And they’re the makings of heroes.  When we consider how people of faith live out these good things from God, we can be sure that our God feels only love for us since it is His love that binds all those other things together.

I don’t consider myself a hero.   More often than not, I mess up these words and mess up the message I’m trying to convey.   I offend people who are trying to understand where I’m coming from, and I don’t represent the God of our Fathers in the good way He deserves.   Maybe I’m describing you.  I know I’m describing me.  Yet perhaps there’s someone, somewhere who looks at you differently.   Perhaps there’s someone who see’s through our warts, who looks past our sins and failings, who doesn’t tolerate our cruel words but loves us enough to look past them.  There’s someone like that for all of us; His name is Jesus.   If we see our blessings, we get to see how others live out the fruit of His Spirit and they are heroes whether they do good deeds or not.  A few days ago, I wrote things that offended someone close to me.  For that, I apologize, especially since she’s a hero in my eyes.  I pray that she, and you, would know a hero today.

For further reading:  Galatians 5:22-23, Judges 4-8, 1 Samuel 15:1, 13-20, 2 Samuel 8:1-3, Daniel 6:22, Daniel 3:19-27, Exodus 18:4, 2 Kings 20:7.

Lord, I praise You for the fruit of Your Spirit that lives out in the heroes of today.   They’re my brothers and sisters, and I look up to them because when I see good things they say and do, I’m looking at You in their eyes.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 October 2016

He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” Hebrews 2, verse 12.

Men’s retreats and death:  in them, we do what verse 12, Psalm 22 and Psalm 68 all say we should do.  Verse 12 is a re-telling of these particular psalms, and I find them timely.

This past weekend I went to a Christian men’s retreat here in East Texas.   One of my favorite writers, a man named Chad Bird, was speaking on “life in the blood.”   50-60 of us Lutherans gathered at a lakeshore retreat center to spend a day with Chad learning about how God uses blood to atone for us and our myriad sins.  He described how the ancient Israelites worshipped God through the tabernacle, then tied that to the animal sacrifices there, then went into depth on why the blood of those sacrifices was the most important part of worship for the Israelites; how Israel was forbidden from consuming blood because life is contained in blood (see Leviticus 17: 10-12).   Finally, he tied this to the radical concept of Jesus instituting Holy Communion at the Last Supper and how this turned all he’d previously described upside down.

In all this, my friend and my fellow retreat friends were declaring God’s name to our brothers and singing His praises in our assembly.

Then came yesterday.   My wife and I attended a funeral.   It was a funeral for a man who died unexpectedly last week.   I barely knew him, but he was the husband of a friend for whom I’d worked during much of these last four years.   The man who died was retired and spent most of his time learning Hebrew so that he could learn to read the Torah in the original language.   That’s something even many seminary students don’t do, yet here was this improbable man spending much of his time doing exactly that.  Just so he could know God better.  His funeral service was at a small Episcopal church in south Houston.   I had never been to an Episcopal funeral and they used an Easter liturgy, proclaiming the Resurrection as the method for bidding farewell and committing a soul to God.   There were between 30 and 40 people present, and we all declared God’s name to each other while singing His praises at this assembly to bid farewell to a family member and friend.

Verse 12 paraphrases Psalms 22 and 68.   Psalm 22:22 says “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.”  It was written by King David while he was still a fugitive from King Saul’s jealousy.  It is a prayer of an anguished man, a man unjustly pursued and threatened with death for wrongs he never did.   Yet in his state of terror, David praises God instead of wallowing in fear.

Then, in Psalm 68, David sings “Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.”   This psalm is a hymn, a processional of nine stanzas meant to be sung in masse by worshippers processing to God’s holy presence.  He wrote it as King David, as a hymn for his subjects to sing as they gathered in praise of their Lord.  It’s a far cry from David crying out in pain.   If Psalm 22 is the men’s retreat setting then Psalm 68 took place in the Episcopal church where I sat yesterday.

In both verses, the commonality is praising God.   The ancient Israelites praised God according to His specific instructions which (as they never truly learned) were for their benefit and not His.   King David praised God in the midst of being threatened with death.   He later praised Him as king and the leader of God’s people.   Centuries later, the author of Hebrews reiterates these ancient praises by stating how they praise and reflect Jesus, the true altar sacrifice, who gave his life’s blood for our redemption.   Who was pursued yet never turned from God.  Who praised in assembly the glories of His Father in heaven.  The same Jesus who was present at our retreat this weekend and who welcomed my friend home.

For more reading:   Leviticus 17:10-12, Psalm 22:22, Psalm 68:26.

Lord Jesus, I praise You in the quiet and I praise You in the presence of others.