Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. Prov. 10:12
Once again we find ourselves beset by ongoing, nagging issues. The election is over, but the wrangling about it lingers. The pandemic won’t go away but seems to be encroaching again. The things that separate people physically and emotionally take center stage. Ongoing, chronic issues like this put relationships to the test.
Hatred stirs up strife. Even without any reason, hateful people will look for a way to antagonize someone. They’ll pick at scabs, pour salt in wounds, delight in another’s misery, and bring up old arguments. They’d rather score points in a bitter argument than let well enough alone. You see someone with a bumper sticker for the other candidate, or not taking the same precautions you take, and it becomes an opportunity to vent.
Love works in the opposite direction. The loving person would rather forget an insult than dwell on it. As St. Paul put it in the beautiful chapter in live, I Cor. 13, love keeps no record of wrongs. There is no score to settle because nobody kept a running tally.
The real test, though, is duration. Anyone can do the right thing for a while. But everyone grows tired eventually. That’s why we constantly return to our God Who Is Love, and His grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. He covers all our offenses. He assures us we need not defend our own pride or get our own way because He has everything in hand. That frees us up not to dwell in arguments, irritations, frictions, frustrations, disappointments, and all things negative. Those things will drive you apart even from the people closest to you. On other hand, returning to Christ and leaving it in his hands will draw you closer even to those who are furthest from you, or at least remove some of the barriers between you.
So as you watch the Covid cases grow and things start to shut down all over again, and as you watch all the goings-on in Washington, don’t aim for strife. That is the Old Adam, the hater in you yearning to vent. Rather, focus on the One Whose problem it is. He will invite you to be part of the solution.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. Matt. 8:8
Veterans’ Day, also called Armistice Day, illustrates two enduring truths. First, it shows that the human condition has not changed. It was at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month that, in 1918, the cease-fire was declared that set in motion the end of The Great War, also known as the “War to End All Wars.” After such unprecedented global bloodshed people naturally thought humanity had learned its lesson. They wanted to the holiday to celebrate peace and good will among nations.
Ironically, however, the Act of Congress that established Nov. 11 as a federal holiday happened in 1938, on the eve of WWII. The “Great War” of 1914-1918 had to be renamed World War I, because the even greater war of 1941-1945 (which really started in 1939 outside the U.S.) put the whole “war to end all wars” slogan into perspective. Peace and good will among nations remains a temporary, isolated, and fragile thing on the globe and the timeline of human history.
The second enduring truth of this day, then, is the need to honor secular vocations that address the negative effects of the fall into sin, especially those which demand that people sacrifice their own lives for other people. There will always be a need for soldiers, and those soldiers will always be deserving of respect. There will always be need for firefighters and police officers, too. Every vocation is a way to serve the Lord, and special consideration it given to those vocations that demand risk of life and limb. But Veterans’ Day is set aside specifically to honor those who have served in the Armed Forces.
Centurions in the Roman military system were, as the name implies, officers in charge of about 100 soldiers (cent, century, centennial, centurion, etc.). That means they answered to superior officers and gave orders to underlings with equal discipline. Jesus has several encounters with centurions in the Gospels, but He never tells them to quit their jobs. He tells them to do their jobs justly and honestly, and most importantly, as in the case of the centurion who speaks the verse quoted above, Jesus commends them based on their faith.
Any of us might learn to speak with the faith of the centurion. We are not worthy to have Jesus come into our lives, but we know that His Word of grace is everything. In the case of the centurion, his faith was such that he recognized Jesus as the rightful Lord of creation. He tells Jesus that just as centurions have to obey generals, and soldiers have to obey centurions, so reality itself, including sickness and death, must obey the voice of Lord. Jesus is amazed that the centurion has such faith and grants his request.
Centurions also, of course, play a key role in the crucifixion. But it is a centurion who finally, when all is said on done on Good Friday, says, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” We, too, are sinners. The only saving grace for us is having a Savior by God’s grace.
This Veterans’ Day we can give thanks that our nation is enjoying a period of relative peace, perhaps not internally as arguments rage about the election, but at least in terms of warfare with other nations. And we can remember that all people including ourselves are fallen people subject to the human condition. We honor those who offer to defend us today, and should remember to honor those who serve in all vocations that help alleviate the effects of the Fall.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph. 4:27
The Bible talks about our enemy the devil prowling around looking for someone to devour. If you’ve ever seen one of those nature documentaries you know exactly what that means. The predators prowl around the perimeters of some flock or herd just looking for opportunities, any slip-up or mistake. The prey are generally safe as long as they make no mistakes. The first hint of a mistake, though, could spell their doom.
Other translations of Ephesians 4:27 talk about not giving the devil a foothold. There is another striking image, that of a mountain climber. The devil is trying to maintain footing to have some kind of ground from which to maneuver. Without a foothold a climber cannot last long. So the idea here is that the devil needs for us to give him something in order for him to be able to work on us. He needs a beachhead, a foothold, an opportunity. He can’t defeat us by force because we belong to Christ. But he can bide his time and wait for us to do something that lets him worm his way into our hearts and minds and from there into our behavior and relationships.
The context of Eph. 4:27 is that of anger. When you stew on anger and hurt it gives a foothold to the devil. But it could just as easily be jealousy, self-pity, lust, pride or any sinful trait. We are all sinners and all experience the effects of other people’s sins. We all have to allow for imperfections in this world. What matters is what we do with our sin and sin of other people. We’re tempted to stew on it, gnaw on it, feed on it, and let it fester in our hearts and minds. This simply invites rottenness to infect everything. Dealing with it quickly and thoroughly via confession and absolution and/or reconciliation makes all the difference. If you don’t, it gives opportunity to the devil.
Think about handwashing during the pandemic. Nobody says you can keep your hands clean. You’re going to get them dirty going about your day. You have to touch stuff. The key is to wash them regularly and thoroughly. Then the dirty stuff or the bacteria can’t get a foothold, so to speak, and has no opportunity to grow. But if you don’t wash your hands over a period of time, something that would have been easily dealt with at first becomes very hard to deal with later on.
How is the stress of the election returns, the pandemic, and other aspects of life tempting you toward giving an opportunity to the devil? Where do you find him seeking a foothold in your life? How is spiritual staleness, which is simply lack of refreshment, festering into a spiritual dirty contagion?
This weekend the readings will focus on remaining vigilant and keeping our lamps burning. Nobody knows the day or the hour. We must heed St. Paul’s admonition not to give the devil a foothold or opportunity. However long the times seem, however old and tedious things feel, come be refreshed by Word and Sacrament. Be reconciled to your neighbor. Be renewed and rededicated. God’s gifts rob the devil of his opportunities in your life.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana