Devotion of the Day

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4 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,     who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,     who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’ The Lord God has sworn by his holiness     that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks,     even the last of you with fishhooks. And you shall go out through the breaches,     each one straight ahead;     and you shall be cast out into Harmon,” declares the Lord.

“Come to Bethel, and transgress;     to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning,     your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,     and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;     for so you love to do, O people of Israel!” declares the Lord God.

Israel Has Not Returned to the Lord

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,     and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you     when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city,     and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain,     and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city     to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew;     your many gardens and your vineyards,     your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;     I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses,[a]     and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

11 “I overthrew some of you,     as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,     and you were as a brand[b] plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;     because I will do this to you,     prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,     and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness,     and treads on the heights of the earth—     the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

–Devotion–

Did I say yesterday that Amos is starting to wear on me?  Yes, and it has not changed in chapter four.  God is very upset with Israel.  He is so upset in-fact that he is treating Israel as if they were Egypt.  He is sending “plagues” upon them (pestilence and the death of young men) as he did to heard hearted Pharaoh and his people.  Verse twelve seems to sum up nicely what God is doing; “prepare to meet your God.”  Yikes.  These are the sorts of texts that should shake our ideas that God is some grandfather in the sky validating all our decisions as cute and nice and sweet.  His desire is righteousness among his people–righteousness from faith.  You want to know what it is going to be like on earth when Jesus and his Father show back up on the last day?  Prepare to meet your God.  While it will be good, in a sense, for those who are with God, it will also be terrifying I imagine.  Just like for those people in Israel who were faithful back then.  They still endured all of what Amos is saying here, even though they were faithful.  So will it be for us who are faithful these days.  As we are looking for that day then, let us not get caught up in the things of this age: the buying and selling, the perpetual business that the Evil One places before us to draw us away from the one thing that is necessary. 

Pastor Beltz

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Sermon for July 14, Proper 10

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The activities of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Last week I mentioned a few activities of the Kingdom, this week it is Jesus’ turn to mention another.  But, first, we need to clear up this whole Kingdom thing. 

The Kingdom of the Heavens is not Heaven.  Jesus is not really concerned with us humans getting up to Heaven.  That is not why he was sent down to Earth.  He came down to Earth to bring what is in the heavens down—namely the Reign of God. 

God tried this once through a group of people he named Israel.  God gave his people Moses to lead and His law (small “l” law).  That law was a marker of their identity.  It was given to set this people of Israel apart from the heathen and pagan nations around them.  Part of that identity was the virtue of neighborliness.  That is what our reading from Leviticus makes clear.  However, Israel failed to bring the reign of God to earth, which included neighborliness.  And because Israel failed, God failed.  That sounds strange to say, but it is true.  Israel failed in their calling to be the people of God and embody God’s kingdom on earth.  What did God do?  Did he mope around?  Did he pack up his bag and leave?  Off to another world leaving this blue planet cosmically cut-off and forsaken?  Nope.  He sent his Son into the midst of this Earth.  He sent his Son from his place in the Heavens down to the Earth to Bring the Kingdom. 

The Mission of Jesus was to bring the Kingdom.  And he brought it; so-much-so that the people of this earth, particularly the Israelites, had enough of Jesus.  By this time in the Gospel according the Luke the Pharisees and Sadducees, the chief priests and elders of the people are ready to kill Jesus.  Why are they ready to kill him?  He is bringing the Kingdom.  It is not because Jesus has some Anselmian death wish.  No, Israel wants to kill Jesus because he is bringing the Kingdom of God.  And, when the Kingdom of God is brought all other Kingdoms fade away. 

So it is to be with all of you.  I am standing here to tell you, you are in the Kingdom.  All other Kingdoms need to vanish in your life.  That does not mean you are on your way to heaven. That means you believe God through this Earth and all of you precious enough to send his Son down here.  That means you believe the Kingdom got dropped on people in Jesus.  It means you believe that Kingdom got dropped on your in Baptism.  That water hits HARD!!  You are called to be the holy ones of the Creator God.  What does the Kingdom of Heaven look like in action?  It looks like a group of people putting away racial boundaries, class boundaries, status boundaries, for the sake of caring for their neighbor and faithfulness to their Lord.  So, are you ready?  Are you ready to be people of the Kingdom?  Are you ready to start acting like you believe the Reign of God began in Jesus has now fallen on all of you?  Then you too, go and do as this Samaritan.  Amen. 

Devotion of the Day

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Judgment on Israel

6 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7 those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
8 they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
the wine of those who have been fined.

9 “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
whose height was like the height of the cedars
and who was as strong as the oaks;
I destroyed his fruit above
and his roots beneath.
10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt
and led you forty years in the wilderness,
to possess the land of the Amorite.
11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets,
and some of your young men for Nazirites.
Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”
declares the Lord.

12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
and commanded the prophets,
saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’

13 “Behold, I will press you down in your place,
as a cart full of sheaves presses down.
14 Flight shall perish from the swift,
and the strong shall not retain his strength,
nor shall the mighty save his life;
15 he who handles the bow shall not stand,
and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself,
nor shall he who rides the horse save his life;
16 and he who is stout of heart among the mighty
shall flee away naked in that day,”
declares the Lord.

–Devotion–

If we thought God was upset with those other places…he is very upset with Israel. Do not forget, Amos is a prophet for Israel. That is most likely why this section concerning Israel is so much longer. Again, God is upset with Israel. And for what? Well, it is rather graphic.

THe first few lines clue us into the fact that Israel has been completely disregarding the Law of Moses. Remember the Leviticus reading from this last Sunday? The Israelites character was to be one of compassion and neighborliness. Apparently that is not happening at all, and worse. “A man and his father go into the same girl,” yikes. This is particularly scandalous. I really dislike Hebrew, but one thing about Hebrew is that for all its barbaric sounds it can be rather precise when it wants to be. There is no mistaking the word “girl” here. We are not talking about a prostitute who has been around for a while, we are talking about a young girl. Bad, really bad. And it does not get any better. The Israelites are also using the Temple as a Brew House! Drinking wine in the house of God, and it is wine that has been taken as a fine for some issue or trespass in accordance with the law. That wine was not to be consumed but offered up to God. They are taking the offerings that are to go to God and his priests AND GETTING DRUNK WITH THEM IN THE TEMPLE!

Needless to say, God is mad at his people for these and other issues. What God also does is remind his people who they are in relation to Him. This is where we get God recalling the mighty deeds he did for this people Israel to bring them to the place they are. He destroyed the Amorites. The Amorites were the main group of people who inhabited the Promised Land before Israel showed up. And before that God brought Israel out of Egypt with power and might and sustained them in the wilderness forty years. But, none of this apparently matters too much to Israel at this point. And because of that, God is getting ready to act. He will punish the nations surrounding Israel, and just as Judah got caught up in that punishment, we now see Israel will be caught up as well (vss. 13-16).

Do not put God to the test. He is loving, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. But, he has his limits apparently. He is jealous. He will not tolerate His name being profaned. This means that whatever his name is attached to he will not tolerate its defilement or any unholiness. You have His name attached to you. Your Body and Soul and Mind! What do you think Baptism did? You were/are baptized into the NAME of God. This is good news. It means life and salvation, as much as it meant to Israel coming out of Egypt and being sustained in the wilderness and being protected from the Amorites. It also means you need to guard yourselves, and be on watch. The Israelites did not go out looking to become an abomination in the eyes of God. They did not go out looking to profane his name. It happened as they cozied up to the things of the world, the activities of societies and kingdoms around them. It happened as they used pious platitudes to justify bad associations, lazy thinking, and unholy practice. We are caught up in much of the same today as I see it. You think you are not affected by communing with people who have bad Theological conclusions (Methodists, ELCA, Reformed)? You think you are not affected by keeping the associations of your rather crass, unholy, worldly friends from youth? You think you are not affected when the pious platitudes “Love the Sinner hate the Sin” drags your family deeper into its acceptance of pure rank evil as it permeates your children’s and grandchildren’s thoughts and practice because you are unable to put the evil one out of your midst (1 Corinthians 5!). You are in the same boat Israel was at one time. And look where all that has got them. Look where they have come. Is it any wonder, then, we are where we are?

Pastor Beltz

P.S. Here is 1 Corinthians 5–

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.[a]

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? 13 God judges[c] those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Devotion of the Day

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Judgment on Israel’s Neighbors

And he said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.”

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,[c]
because they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,[d]
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord.

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Gaza,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they carried into exile a whole people
    to deliver them up to Edom.
So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
    and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
    and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”
says the Lord God.

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Tyre,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they delivered up a whole people to Edom,
    and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.
10 So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.”

11 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Edom,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he pursued his brother with the sword
    and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
    and he kept his wrath forever.
12 So I will send a fire upon Teman,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.”

13 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
    that they might enlarge their border.
14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
    and it shall devour her strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
    with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind;
15 and their king shall go into exile,
    he and his princes[e] together,”
says the Lord.

–Devotion–

Well, it is bad to be Israel’s neighbors.  We gain glimpses of why it will be so bad.  There is internal evidence that clues us in to the issues.  The threshing of Gilead, the delivering of “a people” to Edom, pursuing a brother with the sword, and ripping open pregnant women in Gilead, these are the reasons punishment will fall on the neighbors of Israel.  If I may say, that does not seem to neighborly of the God of Israel.  WHat we have here is the reality that God does punish evil-doers and the un-just at some point.  He does not, will not, hold back his wrath from being active forever.  Perhaps we think that the Wrath of God is still just some idea.  That God stews up int he heavens.  But God’s Wrath spills over.  And here it spills over on the neighbors of Israel because of the way they have treated Israel.  And, did things change in Jesus day?  Yes and No.  Judgment was still brought.  But, rather than Israel’s neighbors being judged because of their unrighteousness, Israel was judged because of its unrighteousness. 

Throughout all four of the Gospel accounts Jesus is clearly at odds with the leaders and people of Israel.  It is finally Israel, in cahoots with Rome, that kill Jesus in the end.  This is bad news for Israel.  Really bad.  They are caught at their worst.  Rejecting their God, and His Son the Christ of Israel, who once defended them from their enemies for millenia.  Yes, bad news for Israel.  Israel has it no better off than any other nation now.  Being a member of Israel is no better than being a person of Afghanistan of America.  That is because it is not worldly lineage or heredity which justifies and saves, but faith in the Son of God–Jesus of Nazareth.

Pastor Beltz

Devotion of the Day

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1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
 
–Devotion–
 
We learn much about Amos in this opening verse of the record of his prophetic work.  He was a shepherd in the region near Tekoa.  Tekoa is a small town a few miles straight south of Bethlehem.  Other than its position near Bethlehem and it being the are Amos was a shepherd, I have not read any other tidbits of information regarding Tekoa.  We also learn that he received his prophetic vision and voice during the days Uzziah was king of Judah and when Jeroboam was king of Israel.  This temporal marker is very helpful in figuring the date when Amos worked and his relation and proximity to other prophets at the time.  From this approximate time period we learn that Amos worked around the same times Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah were all working as well.  
 
What we also learn is that this record of Amos’ words and work was not written down until at least two years later.  That is not to say his words and work were not written down earlier than that, but that the scribe who is writing down the edition that made it into the modern Scriptures adds a note about an earthquake.  This should not scare us as Christians to know that the prophetic works were copied and recopied.  Scrolls wore down, they tore, they got old, and they had to be replaced.  And sometimes, when that happened, the scribe would add historical markers of significance.  Apparently this earthquake was so significant that anyone reading these opening remarks would be able to easily grasp the time reference.  This is very similar to us modern day Americans using 9/11 as an event to reference time.
 
 Overall this helps us situate where Amos is working.  We learn what is going on in Judah and Israel.  We learn with whom Amos is prophesying, and we learn what Amos is preparing the people for.  As we begin to read Amos these questions with their answers will jump out at us, an more.
 
Pastor Beltz

Theology as Habit

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I argued in my last article that Christians have no choice in being “theologians” and doing “theology.” These activities are inseparable from the claim of being a Christian. You have learned to speak TO, FOR, and ABOUT God, perhaps I should say your god, in a certain way. This is the same for many practices of human life, which we call habits. It is a jarring moment, though, when those habits are questioned and called out as possibly being bad.
Remember the time you went to the doctor or dentist and learned of heart disease or gum disease. You were told that your normal habit, a habit you learned from your parents or guardians, was insufficient for a healthy body. So too, I am questioning your current habits of theology. It is important to notice that I do not think theology is in the first place a subject or academic topic of study—even though it is also those things. A subject reserved for a few quirky professors who reside in the darkened back hallways of seminaries and universities who only write and talk to/for each other. No, I submit again that theology is a kind of activity, a certain set of practices through time, a way of life, inseparable from the claim of Christianity. In this way “theology” is not something you talk about but something you do—a habit.
Recently the theological habits of many in Oskaloosa were on display. The issue regarding the Nativity scene in the city square seemed to squeeze theologians out of the woodwork. And as theologians were squeezed out of the woodwork so too were their habits.
How do we speak and act toward a civil government placing a Nativity scene in the city square? How do we respond to the criticism of citizens who are opposed to such a display and apparently lawfully so? These are the types of moments that test our theological disciplines and habits. In these situations how are we going to speak and act as theologians of good habit? We know not all habits are “good” nor are we as individuals powerful enough to claim our personal private habits as being good, they are always subject to another.
In the case of our teeth we submit to our dentists, in the case of our “theology” we submit to the spokesman of God, Jesus of Nazareth, and then those he has commissioned to carry his teaching to all nations namely the Apostles and those who follow after them. We can get a second opinion. Rather than listen to your doctor you can listen to your Son-in-law the mechanic concerning your heart disease. In the same way you can reject the path of Jesus and the Apostles for your own sought after theological habits (Oprah, Montel, Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado all offer alternative theological habits to those given by Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther), but in both cases it is an unwise decision leading to what will no doubt be a “bad” outcome.
The season of Advent is a season, if you do not know, of reflection, refocus, and increased discernment finally leading to or flowing from repentance on account of the announcement that the Lord of the Church and her Christians is preparing to descend and judge. Since we, regardless of denominational division, rather unanimously agree that we know neither the time or place of the Second Advent of our Lord; a different question hangs over our time. We are not occupied with the question of when and how, as the disciples once were (Matt 24.3) because Jesus clearly and firmly directs them, and by extension us, to the more important question: “What type of practices will you do while you wait for my (Jesus’) return (Matt 24.36-25.46)?” Or, as I will reiterate, “will I (Jesus) find your theological habits good or bad?”

Devotion of the Day

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The Day of the Lord

28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.

–Devotion–

“And afterward…”  That is, after the Lord returns his people to their land to them.  What we see is that the Lord fulfills his promises in time.  And, after that promise of restoration in the land is fulfilled the Lord will pour out his Spirit on all people.  This too happened in time as the Apostle says in Acts 2:

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

The Apostles understood Pentecost as the fulfillment of the promise of God in Joel, and so should we.  God has poured out his Spirit upon the earth.  In the Old Testament the Spirit was given to a person here and there.  The Spirit rested on King Saul, but was then taken away, and the it rested on David.  The Spirit would rest upon Prophets.  But in Pentecost the Spirit is poured out on all people.  For Joel the pouring out of the Spirit is yet another marker of the near day of God–that is the final day. 

The completion of the pouring out of the Spirit also means that God is still present on the earth.  The Spirit is here.  That means, God is alive, active, and reigning here and now.  That means the Kingdom of God is present on earth.  Where is that Kingdom present?  It is present where the Spirit is working.  And what is it that the Spirit is working to do?  One of those doings is leading the people of God into all truth, which comes by being reminded and educated in all Jesus said and did and having those things be our only hope and desire.  How do I know this is the case?  Because immediately after the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost all the disciples sold their earthly possessions and devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles.  That is to say, all they did was listen to preaching and go to “bible class,” while taking care of those in need among them. 

Pastor Beltz

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