And yet stumble

For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. James 2:10

We are obliged to keep the whole law. And Jesus said the whole law is summed up in the two greatest commandments, namely, ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.

Apart from God’s grace, there is no one who can do this  ‘There is none righteous, no not one’. And so any hope we have of salvation cannot be based on our own manufactured piety, nor can it be based on good deeds done for our neighbor. 

See and believe

The LORD has made known His salvation. His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. Psalm 98;2

Since the two disciples with hearts aflame returned from Emmaus to share what the  Lord Jesus had taught them, the Church has diligently looked for the hidden, yet glorious revelation of Christ in the Old Testament scriptures. The Apostle Paul even declared that Christ was raised from the dead according to the [Old Testament] scriptures.

This verse undoubtedly points to the Cross, as it was there that the righteousness of God was on display, that all the world might see and believe.

Not acceptable per se

May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble….May He remember all your offerings, and accept your burnt sacrifice. Psalm 20:1, 3

In the Old Testament, burnt sacrifices were offered to graphically express one’s total commitment to the LORD God of Israel. Here a prayer is offered that the burnt sacrifice would be acceptable to the LORD.  Not acceptable per se, but acceptable because it was a true expression of one’s total allegiance, or even of one’s desire to be so.

There is this interaction

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. John 4:23

The Father is seeking. God is seeking such [men]. 

There is this interaction, this synergia, that is everywhere alluded to in Scripture. Some will aver that there only seems to be such an interaction; God is sovereign over all things, and therefore everything is from His side, not ours. “You have not chosen Me”, Jesus said, “but I have chosen you”. Still, there seems to be more to it than that.

In a way beyond our understanding, both ideas are true. That is to say, we decide, we seek, we knock, we worship. And yet God is intimately involved in our seeking, in our knocking. He truly seeks such to worship Him, yet we are unable to do it without His help.

I renounce them all

Dearly beloved, you have brought this child here to be baptized; you have prayed that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive him, to release him from sin, to sanctify him with the Holy Spirit, to give him the kingdom of heaven, and everlasting life.

Question. Do you, therefore, in the name of this child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that you will not follow, nor be led by them?

Answer. I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavor not to follow, nor be led by them.

The Ministration of Holy Baptism
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer

And especially because 

I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor. Psalm 140:12

Much more than a nice sentiment, this verse expresses a confidence in the good purposes of God in the lives of His children, even though (and especially because) they may be enduring affliction and poverty. 

For all things—all things—work together for good to those love God (i.e., his beloved children).

A Lutheran lullaby

Now rest beneath night’s shadow
The woodland, field, and meadow,
The world in slumber lies;
But you, my heart, awaking,
And prayer and music making;
Let praise to your Creator rise.
Let praise to your Creator rise.

Lord Jesus, since You love me,
Now spread Your wings above me
And shield me from alarm!
Though Satan would devour me,
Let angel-guards sing o’er me:
This child of God shall meet no harm!
This child of God shall meet no harm!

Paul Gerhardt
17th century

Against the wind

"Renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

A steadfast spirit is one that leans in, that presses on, that is focused on the target, that gives thanks for life's gentle breezes; yet runs against the wind if necessary.

A steadfast spirit, like everything else, is a gift from God, hence we ask Him for it, to renew and strengthen that which He has already given to us.

Songs About Me

“…that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption-that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.'”

About fifteen years ago or so Trace Adkins came out with a song, “Songs About Me”. If you’re into country music, it was a big hit. A stranger, sitting next to Trace on a late-night flight, asks him what he does for a living. “Oh, I’m a country singer”, Trace answers.

“Country?”, the stranger is puzzled. “Why do you sing those hillbilly-type songs anyway?”

“Cause they’re songs about me, and who I am…” My boys loved it; Matt especially.

Well, this sermon, like the verses we just read, like the title of the country song, is about you, and who you are.

Let me begin by asking the question, “Who are you?” Well, you might answer, “I don’t know, I’m a Dad, I’m a Mom, I’m a Grandmother, I’m a steelworker, I’m an accountant, I’m retired, I like to fish, I like to bake, I love a good book.” It is interesting to see that these varied responses, and many more like them, have something in common. I’m a Dad in relation to my children, I’m a husband in relation to my wife, I’m a steelworker, or man—I’m retired—in relation to the work-a-day world. And even, “I like to fish, I love a good book” is a statement that in some way relates to others who may or may not like those things.

Pretty straightforward stuff. But who you are, who I am, is not defined by who we are in relation to one another, but who we are in relation to God. The God revealed to us in the pages of this Book. And it is indeed a revelation. The Bible is not man’s version of God, but rather God’s version of man. “In Thy light we see light.” Ps 36:9. So in a way the Bible is a song about me, and who I am, but it is not very flattering. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Jer 17:9. “There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God.” Romans 3:10

Not very flattering. Is this who I really am, God? But what does this Book reveal about you, God? Let’s read again from 1 Corinthians: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise. And God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. And the base things of the world, and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.” What does that all mean? It seems to me the Apostle Paul is here reflecting on the Cross, upon which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified. What is more foolish, more weak, more base, certainly more despised than a cross or a crucifixion. You know, a few minutes ago we turned and faced the Cross as we sang the Gloria Patri. A very meaningful part of your liturgy. And a time also to humbly reflect, “Lord, what have You done? Lord, what have we done?” Beneath the cross of Jesus…two wonders I confess, as the hymn writer put it, the wonder of your glorious love, and my own sinfulness.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “…that no flesh should glory in His presence”. Talk about perspective. This is heaven’s perspective.

Here’s a funny, but insightful story about perspective?.
Years ago, shortly after Karen and I were married, we visited my parents who were then living in Florida. One afternoon, we took a walk out onto a pier. On the way back we stopped, and I said, “Hey Karen, take a picture of me standing on the pier. I’ll stand in the foreground, the pier in the background. Like that. When the picture was later developed, I was surprised to see that the picture wasn’t centered. I said, “Karen, honey, look. You centered the pier in the picture, I’m standing off to one side. Looks like you didn’t get it quite lined up, huh?” “Oh, no”, she said, “I did. I meant to center the pier, not you!” I naturally thought I was the center. Perspective, men. That’s what a wife gives you. Perspective.

“That no flesh should glory in His presence.” “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:6

But, I thought the gospel was good news. Well, it is. ‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears. ‘Tis life, and health and peace. It’s much more than that.

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.”

As I read over this verse, I am struck by the phrase, ‘He became for us’. He became for us. In the first place, we read in John’s gospel, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us”. This is the Incarnation. This is huge. This is the very foundation of Christian Orthodoxy. So much so that not to affirm this is not to be a Christian at all. The Nicene Creed, which we recite regularly in church: “Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and became man.” During the first few centuries following Jesus’ advent the church fathers met together in great councils to make sure they were all on the same page, so to speak. One of these councils-the fifth one in fact- met in the year 553 in Constantinople, now Istanbul. They concluded their council with a series of statements, the tenth one of which was this, “If anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified in the flesh, is true God, and the Lord of Glory, and one of the Holy Trinity, let him be anathema.” This is the faith once delivered to the saints. Jude 1:3. This Word, this eternally- begotten Son of God, this One by Whom, through Whom and for Whom all things were made and hold together, this Word became for us…

It says “wisdom from God”. Not the wisdom of this world. But wisdom to understand who you really are. Coram Deo. Before God.

“And righteousness.” Christ is our Righteousness. We are justified by faith. By faith alone! Not by our good deeds, be they ever so many. They are but a poor offering to bring to the throne of a holy God.

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

“And sanctification.” Set apart. Christ gives us a whole new identity. “He has put a new song in my mouth.” Ps 40:3 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” Gal 2:20

“And redemption.” “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

The Wisdom of God became foolish, the Righteousness of God became sin, the One set apart in the heavenlies from eternity made Himself of no reputation, the One who owns the cattle in a thousand hills sold all of them, as it were, gave up all of it to ransom us. You and me.

It is no wonder that our text concludes with, “And he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

This song is love unknown. Love divine, all loves excelling. Now all of us have to decide if this is true or not. Not just true for you. This is not subjective, it’s either true or it’s not. We are all going to be judged by our response to this.

‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already.” John 3:16-18

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…” Lam 1:12

What about you? What about your song? And who you are. Someone wrote a hymn 150 years ago now…

“I take Him at His word indeed, Christ died for sinners, this I read, for in my heart, I find a need, for Him to be my Savior.”

May this be the song each of sing-today and everyday.

For you

This wonderful salvation is for you. For you. It is a gift, precisely because we cannot earn it. It is precious, precisely because we cannot do without it. It is to be received, embraced, gripped, because it—and it alone—is life-giving. “I take Him at His word indeed. Christ died for sinners, this I read, for in my heart I find a need for Him to be my Savior.”

Jesus loves me, this—this I know!