Friday, January 23, 2015

The Outcry Heard

Genesis 18-19

It has come up several times in Genesis that God hears. He heard Able’s blood calling out to Him. He heard Hagar’s weeping and came to her aid. In this reading we learn that He heard the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. Not only that, but He heard, and listened to Abraham, as he interceded for the righteous that might be there.

This outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is an important thing to understand. The word ze’aquh means a plaintive cry, or a call for help. It is the cry of the oppressed and the violated. It is the call that goes out when someone has nowhere else to turn and they cry for relief.

People assume that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because they were practicing homosexual sex. This was only one aspect of their sin. They were perverted in their sexual appetites reveling in violence, rape, and pain. Other sections of the scriptures describe different aspects of their sin: murder, exploitation, injustice, arrogance, heartlessness, and idolatry.

What we need to understand is that Sodom and Gomorrah reveal the absolute worst in humanity. This is what it means to be totally depraved. This is mankind without the curbs of God’s law and love.

How then are we to respond to this? Are we to pray for the God to rain fire on the wicked? Are we to pretend that their wickedness doesn’t matter; like it is not my business?

There is a time and a place for praying for God to bring His judgment and vengeance on the world. The Psalms sometimes have this kind of language, and the reality is that God will bring that end in His time as He hears the outcry against the sins of the world. However, Abraham gives us a better model to follow. He interceded for the Sodom and Gomorrah.

Intercession is also Jesus’ choice when confronted with the sins of the world. His intercession is not just prayer, however. He stood in the place of every sinner and died for every sin – even sins like those of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our cry for relief in this world is one that is always tempered by mercy because mercy is what Jesus has shown and given to us.


Look to the cross and see how God responds to sinners. Cry out to him on behalf of the oppressed and violated. Trust Him to bring vengeance. But more than vengeance, ask God to turn the hearts of the wicked that they too may have life and forgiveness. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Covenant

Genesis 16-17

A covenant is an agreement between people. It was sometimes made (the Hebrew word for this is “cutting” a covenant) between equals in which case the covenant would speak of how they would live in peace together. Sometimes they were made between one who is more powerful and one who is weaker. In this case it would spell out what the weaker would do so that the more powerful one would not destroy him (or his country).

So how would a covenant with God work?

On the surface one would think that there would be all kinds of stipulations and orders that, if broken would lead to God smiting the offender. That is not at all the language of God’s covenant with Abram. Instead we find God saying, I’ll be your God. You’ll be my people. I’m going to bless you. I’m going to give you the land. This covenant focuses almost exclusively on what God will do. That is because the heart of this covenant is God’s mercy and love.

Even the sign of the covenant – which is no joking matter for a 99 year old man, his 13 year old son, and all the men attached to them! – is meant, first and foremost, as a sign; a reminder of what God had promised them. And it is no accident that the sign that promises offspring and blessing to the world through that offspring is placed on his sexual organ. This is the heart of the matter – God will bring the covenant to fulfillment through Abram’s – Abraham’s – children, and particularly a son, THE Son, who would be born centuries later.

Jesus, too, makes a covenant with us as His people. Again, it is a covenant where the stronger gives Himself for the weaker. Again it is one where He blesses us, makes us His people, and focuses on what HE will do – chiefly, forgive us and restore us.


So, what does this leave for us to do and people in covenant with God, and redeemed by Him? How about starting with saying, “Thanks!” And then be who you are: a forgiven child of God. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Completed Iniquity

Genesis 14-15

Genesis 15:16 contains an interesting (and awful) phrase. God promised Abram that his offspring would be enslaved for four hundred years, but that He would rescue them and bring them into the land He had promised to Abram. And God says, “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Emphasis mine.)

“The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” This little phrase tells us a couple things. First, God allowed the Amorites to live in their sin and rebellion against him. In essence, He let them have what they wanted: their own way. He was patient with them, giving them every opportunity to turn from their sin and return to Him (for all people come from God and will return to Him one way or another). Second, the time would come when God would say, “Enough is enough.” He would bring them to an end and punish them for their evil deeds.

God rules the nations, and when a nation turns against God there are consequences and judgment will follow. The Amorites faced this doom. The Israelites did too, although God saved a remnant of those chosen people. All through history, nations have risen and fallen under God’s blessing and judgment; each according to His purpose. And even today, God blesses and judges the nations, and they ascend or crumble at His will.

In the United States we should beware of the sins of our nation. In our nation of liberty and individuality we often see the sins of others and say, “It’s not my business.” Much like Cain asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” we pretend we have no responsibility for others. God consistently calls His people to speak out for the poor, the hungry, the needy, and the weak – who were often widows and orphans. In our society some of the greatest evils are still committed against the weak. There are many examples of this, but here are two. Abortion robs a child of her life. Yet at the same time, the woman who seeks abortion is often a victim of poverty and sometimes violence herself. God’s justice demands better for both.

God told Cain that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. It was the cry that goes to God for vindication. How much more blood have we shed or allowed to be shed? How many more people are oppressed and calling to God for vindication and rescue from injustice? Make no mistake. God hears it. He will answer it. Even our great nation will fall under His wrath for the many injustices that take place here.

Yet there is hope. As we wait for the time when the iniquity of the United States will be complete, there are those God has left behind to testify to His love and a way of rescue from our iniquity. In the midst of all the blood that has been shed in this nation (actually and metaphorically), one perfect victim willingly allowed His blood to be shed to redeem the rest of us. Jesus, God’s own Son, suffered oppression and died to provide forgiveness for us.

Notice that this is God’s first response to our sin: salvation. His desire is that we hear of what He has done for us, that we would believe His promise. He credits that belief to those who believe as righteousness. That’s how we are saved from His ultimate judgment. God wants to give us mercy, and He acted on that desire by providing salvation and life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That mercy, then, moves us turn away from our iniquity, to hate evil, to turn from it, and to oppose it.

God’s second response is to punish sinners directly. He sweeps away the nations, and a day will come when even our beloved United States will topple because of its iniquity. And ultimately this whole world will be judged and destroyed because of our sin.


Until that day we must endure its wickedness – to suffer its oppression as the Israelites did in Egypt. But we do not endure silently. We join the blood of this world’s victims crying out to God for salvation, and we call the world to repentance. We are God’s voice in this world to speak His Word to tell all people that there is hope in the Cross of Christ. Beneath the cross all who trust in Christ will find protection, peace, hope, and life when the iniquity of this world is completed. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Calling on God’s Name

When we pray we participate in an activity that is ancient and contemporary, natural and learned, instinctive and counter intuitive.

I don’t know what it was about Abram’s life that led him to think that it was good to build an altar and call on the name of the Lord, but that he was moved to do so is evident in the text. It seems that God designed us to worship Him. Part of our makeup leads us to call out to God. In our sin we place our worship in other things – pleasure, intellect, science, spirits, etc. We worship created things in the place of the Creator as it says in Romans 1. Sometimes today people even call on God’s name without knowing Him. A lyric is a recent pop song states, “I just prayed to a god I don’t believe in.”

We see in the Bible that prayer – talking to God – is an ancient practice. The saints long ago, all the way back to the beginning, called on God’s name, spoke to Him, worshiped Him, and asked of Him. They probably prayed about things that aren’t on our daily prayer lists, but there were likely great similarities, too: protection for our families, to have a baby, for sick loved ones, and the like. They also praised God in prayer and rejoiced in His creation, forgiveness, mercy, and love. Our contemporary prayers can gain much by imitating their ancient ones.

Prayer is natural. At least it is natural in that people seem to do it all over the world and in every culture. It is simply the response to God speaking to us – which He does in a variety of ways in creation, giving evidence of His power, glory, judgment, providence, and mercy, but does primarily and most reliably through His Word. To that point, prayer is learned. We learn from God’s Word that He invites us to pray, calling upon His name. Not only that we can make altars – which are places of worship, and not bloodletting and atonement since Christ was crucified for us. The Lord’s Prayer gives us vocabulary and priorities for prayer – God’s priorities – as we pray in Christ.

And here is where prayer is counter intuitive. We think our needs are the main focus of prayer. We are invited to pray about these things, but now we can prioritize prayers for people to know God, enter His kingdom, and be saved from sin so that they too may call on His name and worship.

Lord, teach me to pray and worship rightly, according to Your Word. Amen. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Scattering and Blessing

Genesis 11-12:9

When Noah and his family left the ark they were given a command, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Apparently they were fruitful, but they did not want to fill the earth. The events that took place at Babel were in direct contradiction to living with God and serving Him. Their desire instead was to, “make a name for ourselves,” that is, to make themselves great so that they bear glory and honor to themselves. Ultimately they wanted to worship themselves. We still do this in some ways. Wanting to be glorious we make ourselves to be masters of our own lives (and the lives of others sometimes if we can), and ultimately place ourselves above God deciding which of His commands we will follow and which we won’t.

In addition to this arrogance, the people of Babel determined to build a tower to prevent being dispersed over the face of the whole earth. That would be the earth that God wanted them to fill. They decided that their plan to stick together was better than God’s plan to go out into the world.

God’s response is one of punishment tempered with mercy. He confused their speech. They could no longer understand each other, foiling their plan to make themselves great and to avoid God’s will for them. However harsh that might seem, it ultimately accomplished God’s will to fill the earth and they scattered – probably by language group – and began to form the ethnic groups as we know them today.

It should be noted that the Bible is pretty clear that there is only one race – the human race. Within that race there is a lot of variety, even beyond language, but ultimately we are all one kind. We were made in the image of God, fell into sin, and are now redeemed and reconciled to God in Christ.

There is a promise that points ahead to the coming of Christ in this reading. God called Abraham to be the foundation of His nation, a nation that would show His ethics and His mercy. More than that, they would be the family that brought the savior into the world. The world was blessed by the birth of Jesus, Abraham’s descendent whose death and resurrection blesses us with salvation and everlasting life for all people – no matter their ethnicity.

Lord, help me see people as people. Help me to display Your love and compassion to all people by sharing Jesus with them. Amen. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Remember

Genesis 9-10

Is God so forgetful that He needs to surround himself with reminders? Is He so busy that, like so many of us, He has to put things in a celestial day planner to help him remember? Is that why He places His bow in the skies?

It is not so much that God needs reminders, but He places reminders around us to let us know that He remembers. He does not forget His promises and His faithfulness never falls short, but in this world our perception might lead us to think we are forgotten. Indeed, in Psalm 13 the psalmist asks, “How long O LORD?” begging to know how long his plight will be forgotten by God, but clinging to God’s steadfast love – a love that will not forget us.

God uses reminders to place His promises before us so that when life gets difficult – which it is bound to do because of sin and its consequences – we are guided back to His promises to us. So the rainbow, which we can understand simply as refracted light which occurs quite naturally, is filled with spiritual significance. It mutely points the viewer back to God’s Word: God has established His covenant with us and all the earth.

We have reminders of God’s covenant of salvation through faith in Jesus which use very normal, even natural, materials to declare God’s promises to us. In Holy Baptism we see God using water – simple-everyday-found-everywhere-on-earth water – in forming His covenant with us. Water serves as a reminder of the washing of regeneration that Baptism is, and how God delivered salvation to us by water connected to and combined with His Word. In the Lord’s Supper God uses bread and wine – comestibles found in every culture – to deliver the life, forgiveness, communion, and Christ’s very body and blood for us. The taste of bread and wine are the flavor of forgiveness! “O, taste and see that the Lord is good!”

Does God do this to help Him remember? No, although He loves the reminder. It is for us that He gives these signs to show that His salvation is sure and real for all who trust His Word and Promise.


Lord, help me trust You in all things and receive Your reminders in Word and Sacrament as marks that deliver your grace to me. Amen.  

Friday, January 09, 2015

While the Earth Remains

Genesis 6-9-8:22

The earth will not last forever. We don’t like to think about that. We worry about climate change, storms on the sun, the currents in the ocean, and when we see the potential danger these might bring to people we ask, “What can we do to stop this?” What seems to be lost in the conversation is that this world is destined for destruction and then re-creation. Even more ignored is that the reason for this destruction is not pollution, a carbon footprint, or any physical cause. The earth will be destroyed because of our sin, because, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

Sin always brings destruction. We can see the ramifications of our sins in our lives through the consequences they bring to us. Things like broken relationships, callousness, judgmental attitudes, and holding un-Biblical worldviews are consequences of sin. They are marks of the damage sin does to us, and they bring even more damage.

In Genesis we read of the destruction sin brought on a global scale. The wickedness, violence, and evil of the time was so great that God decided that the appropriate consequence was to start over. The Lord chose to send a flood and wipe out all life on Earth, except for the few that He chose to restart with.

People often balk at this claiming that God was unjust in this action. (Or they deny it happened at all.) Noah’s account teaches a very hard truth: that all have sinned and that the wages of sin is death. Our concept of innocence is invalid in God’s courtroom, and God’s wrath at sin is fearsome. Yet God is also merciful. He saved faithful Noah and his family. He saved a remnant with which to begin again. Moreover, He promised to never destroy the earth by flood again, and He preserves the seasons until the end.

But He will destroy the earth again, and for the same reason. Mankind is still evil at heart. But again He has provided a way of salvation. A better way. Through the cross Jesus took the brunt of God’s wrath, and all who trust in Him will find the Last Day a day of salvation, when all wickedness, violence, sin, and evil will cease forever, and we live forever with God in peace.

Lord, Your wrath at sin is just, and our destruction is deserved. Thank You for Your mercy. Help me share it with others. Amen.