My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”--
my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.
The beginning of every school year brings with is the standard warnings about the power of peer pressure. Sometimes we get swept up in something or carried away by the encouragement of others. When you do something you wouldn’t normally do because seeing enough other people doing it helps you overcome your inhibitions and fears, you are likely falling prey to what Solomon calls “the enticement of sinners.”
One grownup manifestation of the power of peer pressure (not the only one, but an obvious one) is the mob. People in mobs do things that they would never do all alone. And they rarely do anything wise. We all know this, yet we still find the encouragement of peer pressure to be almost overwhelmingly enticing. That’s because we crave approval and fear rejection. Standing up to peer pressure on the playground or to a mob on the street is a socially, emotionally, psychologically, and in some cases physically dangerous thing to do. Yet the ability to resist such enticements is right there in the first chapter of Proverbs as a prerequisite for growing in wisdom.
Last night a mob looted stores on Michigan Avenue and elsewhere in downtown Chicago, and exchanged gunfire with police. What a tragedy! The whole idea of that happening seems like something from a novel or movie. But it illustrates Solomon’s words in action. “Come…we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse.”
Wisdom always looks to God rather than leaning on its own understanding. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. One of the great benefits of being part of a congregation is that there, and only there, the power of the group works with wisdom rather than like a mob against wisdom. We are all somewhat weak in isolation. But the temptation to find safety in numbers often brings out the worst in us. However, at church we seek to bring out the best in each other by mutually focusing on Christ and His gifts.
In this time of ongoing difficulty getting together and sadly being socially distanced even while worshipping together, with no end in sight yet, we need to be reminded again and again that Christianity is not an individualistic religion and that our corporate membership in the Body of Christ and in a local congregation sustains us even when we are apart. We need the power of togetherness to combat the enticement of false group mentalities that appeal to the worst in us. We will continue to gather around the gifts of Word and Sacrament, remotely or in person, and trust in His providence to make sure we make it through anything that comes our way.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matt. 7:24
You probably noticed that Pastor Stock was doing the church service by himself this past weekend. I was up in Northern Wisconsin for our annual “work weekend” at my uncle’s island, now inherited by my cousins. It is an old fisherman’s retreat (really old—the one log cabin dates to the late 19th Century) with a lodge and cabins on it. We take a family vacation there every year in July, but it takes a tremendous amount of upkeep to make those vacations possible. Maintaining buildings in the harsh weather of the North Woods, and doing so without any road access makes for a constant challenge. Therefore, many years ago we added the mid-June, pre-vacation season work weekend to keep the island available for all the people whose memories and traditions depend on being able to visit each year.
The buildings are beautiful, and two of them in particular, the rec house (dock house) and the boat house have become iconic landmarks of the scenery for people out on the big lake. The problem is that they are in a literal sense partially built on sand. The islands and shorelines up there are mostly made out of Great Lakes fieldstones, some clay, and sand with a stringy web of stubborn tree roots holding it all together. The lake level goes up and down, the piling posts rot, the ice pushes against the shore and into every crevice, the tree roots force their way in every direction, rocks shift, and the old buildings settle in ever more catawampus positions, with window and doorframes groaning futilely to keep their corners square. Our strategies for keeping walls up up involve an endless array of jacks, cinderblocks, fieldstones, lumber shims, and hope.
The yearly effort is a great object lesson about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount because we actually get to observe the futility of building on sand. But we love those buildings. We try to keep them up, but we know we are working against time and the elements, which are both relentless adversaries. In a deeper sense we also see how so often some of the major building blocks of our own lives lack solid foundations. What we think we know—about ourselves, our past, our relationships, our future—can turn out to be tentative at best when our hopes are in this world. It is okay to love the things of this world as long as we’re willing to let go of them. Your body, your loved ones, your house—they can all be a labor of love as long as you remember that love is about letting go, too. None of them can bear up under being the foundation of your life.
The only Rock that never shifts is Christ. God’s love for us in Him, the forgiveness we have, the place in His family, the assurance of His presence, are all things no health situation, job situation, or relationship situation can take away. At St. Paul’s we build everything we are and do as the family of God in this place on that solid rock. For that reason, we never fear the vagaries of time and the changeable cultural moods that beat against our faith in Christ. We know nothing can do anything to Him, and He is faithful.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Titus 1:12
This is any interesting verse on the topic of stereotypes. Paul is instructing Titus on how to establish Christian congregations among the Cretans. He quotes a famous saying by the great Cretan prophet/wise man Epimenides (c. 600 B.C.). Yet St. Paul quotes this famous pagan about the terrible general character of Cretans in the midst of instructing Titus to appoint elders throughout Crete. He is to appoint men who are trustworthy, sober, upright, and disciplined. Where would Titus find such men in Crete if the Cretan saying were true?
Every pagan culture, in Crete or anywhere else, produced general behavior at odds with sound Christian living. Yet Christ died for the Cretans and everyone else, and the Christian Church is/was to go throughout the entire world. Every Christian comes from and lives in a particular culture. That means we must live with the tension of competing loyalties. One didn’t cease being Cretan by becoming Christian, but Cretan Christians had to buck their own culture in some ways, just like Christians from other parts of the world had to overcome other cultural roadblocks. Our earthly culture—national, regional, ethnic, familial, whatever—can only ever demand our penultimate (second from the highest) loyalty.
... read Pastor Speckhard's full message
Christians must never let any group-identity become their identity, and they must never force other people to fit into the box of a group-identity. But given how difficult a topic this is, I ask the members of St. Paul’s to watch the video linked below. It is an interview presentation by Rev. Dr. John Nunes, who has visited us here at St. Paul’s and who is now president of Concordia-Bronxville. The introduction lasts about four minutes before the real presentation starts: Interview with Rev. Dr. John Nunes
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts. Prov. 17:3
This proverb of Solomon was part of the devotion today for those who use the Treasury of Daily Prayer. It is an amazing thing, and a fearful thing, to ponder.
A crucible is a sort of pot in which you heat up metal or some other chemical compound. You may have used on a chemistry lab. You can use on to purify silver, but gold is a heavier metal. We think of a furnace as something that heats the house, but in this case it refines gold. To purify gold, you have to heat it up to such high temperatures that the impurities, the dross, everything that clings to it that isn’t gold, burns away in the smoke. What remains is purer gold.
The prophets talk about the Lord coming as a refiner’s fire. You put a little chunk of silver over a Bunsen burner, you put a gold ring in a blacksmith’s or a forger’s furnace. The presence of God does to your heart what that furnace does to the gold.
The thing to remember is that God tests hearts because they are precious to Him. He doesn’t do it to cause pain, though the process is painful. Precisely because your heart is precious to Him, He hates the sin that clings to closely. He wants it gone.
When we come into the presence of the Lord, we repent of our sins and submit to the painful process of turning away from them. The sins we love are the hardest to let burn away. Confession of sin that is painless probably isn’t very honest.
Christ redeems us sinners not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood. When the Lord tests hearts, He looks for the blood of Christ, more precious than silver, and finds it in the faithful. Therefore we stand in the judgment.
The Judge still hates the dross. The great blessing of ongoing confession/absolution, ongoing Holy Communion, daily remembrance of Baptism, is that is lets you participate, not in your salvation, but in your purifying. It will never happen completely in this life; it will remain a work in progress. But entering into the presence of God and staying there when the knowledge of sin starts to bubble up and the defense mechanisms kick in is a painful but glorious opportunity we all have as members of the Body of Christ.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana