Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Gen. 10:8-9
If you are ever in the upper peninsula of Michigan you can go to the town of Watersmeet and get your picture taken in front of a high school gym with the words “Home of the Nimrods” painted on the side. I’ve done it with my kids. It makes for a funny picture. No, it isn’t graffiti; that actually is their nickname. Upper Michigan, of course, is an area where hunting is major part of the culture, so it makes sense.
Our picture is ironic and funny, of course, because we know the term nimrod to mean a silly dunce or oafish buffoon. The reason the word has come to mean that is because Bugs Bunny sarcastically referred to Elmer Fudd as a “nimrod” (a mighty hunter) after making a fool of him. So in modern parlance, which takes its cues from pop culture more than Genesis, the word nimrod refers almost exclusively to being a doofus, not a mighty hunter. The new meaning still makes sense Biblically, since Nimrod is usually credited with starting the Tower of Babel, which also ended badly. So should Watersmeet change their nickname? Tough question. History and tradition on one side, the inevitable ravages of time, change, and potential misunderstanding on the other.
What about our nickname here at St. Paul’s. When we have games in the gym with fans (those were the days!) the cheerleaders always say, “Stand up! Be proud! Say your name! Out loud!” and everyone in the stands responds “WE ARE THE SPARTANS!” Of course, the Spartans were pagans and were known as the anti-intellectual enemies of the more enlightened Athenians. What’s more, they lost to their main rival. So it is a tad ironic that a Christian school playing sports against rival schools would want to be the Spartans.
But to a great degree such criticism misses the point. Spartans are a part of the history of Western Civilization and their reputation was for fearsome athletic prowess. So it is a good name for a team. We shouldn’t change it just because there are objectionable things about it.
My alma mater, Valparaiso University is considering a name change. They are the Crusaders. But many of the students nowadays come from Muslim countries, and of course the whole point of the crusades was to take back the Holy Land from Muslim conquerors. So the crusades are still a sore spot almost a thousand years later.
I think Crusaders is a perfectly good nickname and mascot. We aren’t claiming the crusaders were morally pure and spotless as a wind-driven snow (they weren’t by any telling of the story). We aren’t even claiming that they won. Like the Spartans, they put up a good fight but eventually lost.
We might think we’re being humble by eliminating the people and events in our history that were very flawed and even in some cases just plain bad. But really it is an act of arrogance. We stand in judgment over those (admittedly bad) people through whom God bequeathed to us our place in His story. We ought not put ourselves in the place of judge over the people of the distant past.
This is especially true for Christians. God only works through flawed sinners. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob weren’t such moral pillars. But they are our patriarchs in the faith. Who are we to be ashamed of them? St. Paul called himself chief of sinners, Martin Luther said some really vicious things about Jews, and church history is full of great people who weren’t so great except for how God used them. We should be very careful about disregarding the accomplishments of such people because we think ourselves morally superior to them. Whoever you are, whatever your history, you can be grateful that God condescended to work through flawed people and institutions to spread the Word and bring it even to us. To be ashamed of the name God gave you is sinful pride at work. The right kind of pride is the pride that says we are who we are because of the working of God through sinners like us in history. Stand up! Be proud! Say your name! Out loud!
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Gen. 11:9
Living in tents vs. being rooted in a particular place. That tension dominates the history of God’s people. Temporary vs. permanent, portable vs. fixed—Abraham dwelt in tents and moved around. The people groaned as sojourners in Egypt. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. In fulfillment of all of it, Jesus said the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
There is a famous second century document called the Letter to Diognetes, which contains a lengthy description of Christians. A famous quote from that letter says, “Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.” Our true citizenship is in heaven, which means we can be at home anywhere in this world, even when far from home. But it also means we can’t really be at home anywhere in this world, even in our own house.
This strange tension hit home to me this morning. As you know from the announcements this past Sunday, my phone died recently and I was cut off from my normal means of communicating with people. The broken phone ended up being unsalvageable, so I got a new one a few days ago. But the flaws of the old one were such that my saved contacts reverted to the beginning of 2014. That means precious few people here in Munster were in my list of contacts, but all kinds of people were in there with whom I hadn’t communicated in years. So I’ve been going through and trying to rebuild a functional contact list, which involves deleting a lot of dated contacts and trying to find good numbers for the current contacts.
But here is the rub; when you decide to clean up the rolls, the phone double-checks by asking you, “Delete contact?” That’s a harsh way to think about it. Do I really want to cut myself off from someone? It seems weird to still have all these old contacts from a place where I wasn’t born but lived for 14 years, but where I no longer live. But it seems even weirder just to delete people from my contacts. At issue is where do you live? Where are your roots? What do you consider home? Is it really wise to delete old contacts? Is it really wise not to?
The same sort of feeling comes when you consider where you will be buried. In your hometown as in where you grew up? Where you retired? Where you spent the bulk of your career? People are mobile. Contacts come and go. Rootedness is the exception. If Heidi and I bought cemetery plots today, where would we buy them? At Concordia in Hammond? It is a hard question.
Learning to live as though at home is wherever you are, while also learning that you will never really be at home in this world—that is one of the hardest lessons of the Christian life. It is a lesson you can ponder as you visit a loved one in the cemetery, as you go through the contact list in your phone, as you look at your Christmas card list, or ponder where you will retire, or where your children and grandchildren will think of as “home.”
I’m deleting old contacts and re-entering updated ones. But we all have the same citizenship, we all have the same home. We’re all sojourners in this life. And by an added gift of grace, we get to share it with other people on our respective journeys home.
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.
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; Acts 20:29
Seems like a strange verse for a daily update or devotion. It comes as St. Paul is getting ready to leave after spending a long time teaching the faith to a group of people. The parting of ways is an emotional one for Paul because he knows he won’t see them again and desperately wants them to remain strong in the Gospel after he is no longer there to help them. And he knows it won’t be easy for them. The thought of what false teaching will try to do to them makes him want to go over everything again one last time. But eventually you have to let go.
I think in some ways on a smaller scale we experience that emotional parting every year at graduation. Young men and women to whom we’ve taught the Gospel for years depart into the next stage of life. Granted, we aren’t physically parted from them and we hope to continue in ministry together, so that isn’t the same as in Acts. But we have to acknowledge losing hold of them in a way and letting go the way St. Paul had to let go. We know what we’ve taught them and how important it is. But we also know from our own personal experience and from many years of watching our graduates head through high school and beyond that the fierce wolves of life and the falseness of the Zeitgeist are not likely to spare them.
I once adapted the lyrics of the table blessing song from Fiddler on the Roof for Christian use, and I always think of that song at confirmations and graduations. “May the Lord protect and defend you. May He always shield you from shame…” At our graduation service the fierce wolves were on my mind, and how desperately I wanted these kids to stand firm in the Gospel. Our principal Barb Mertens even started crying (or at least got something in her eye and needed to clear her throat) in speaking about the class, and I suspect that emotion only increases year by year through any person’s ministry.
But at the end of the day, you have to let go. They aren’t babies or kids anymore, and yes, it is a spiritually dangerous world. We can’t put our confidence in how well we’ve taught them or how well they’ve learned it. We have to model the faith for them by letting go with confidence that God never forgets His promises and that His plans for us are always good. The wolves and this world’s prince may still scowl fierce as they will; they can harm them none…one little word can fell them.
We pray that our graduates and their parents do not suddenly become strangers to St. Paul’s but continue to be nurtured and fed as part of our Christ-centered community. And we wait upon the Lord who answers prayer.
[Jesus said to His disciples], “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Ever since the first Pentecost fulfilled this promise to the disciples, the Gospel has spread. C.S. Lewis called it something like a good virus. It spread via contact from person to person as people told the good news and exemplified Christian living for each other. Jesus’ words picture Jerusalem as the epicenter and beginning of this good virus, which quickly spreads to the surrounding region of Judea (Judah), then Samaria (the old northern kingdom when Israel was dividing into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel) and gradually beyond that to the Gentiles all over the globe. And His words have been largely fulfilled in our day, though missionaries constantly seek out people who have had no exposure to the Good News.
Modern technology has accelerated the process by bypassing some of the person-to-person that made evangelism depend upon location and geography and spread like a good virus. Beginning especially with radio and then television but now going pedal to the metal with live-streaming, people proclaiming the Gospel can be talking to people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth all at the same time without even knowing it. I know some people have participated in our services here at St. Paul’s from many states and even foreign countries. What a strange and wonderful tool for the Word! Not since the invention of the printing press has there been such an explosion of new opportunities for people to receive the Gospel.
One effect of St. Paul’s begin able to share our services with the entire globe is that any particular member of St. Paul’s has literally tens of thousands of services and sermons available to them at the push of a button every Sunday. Without leaving their homes, people can listen to the preaching of pastors, ministers, and priests of every denomination. Handy, convenient, amazing, and wonderful as that situation is for the propagation of the faith, it is also perplexing and in some cases dangerous. There can be too many voices contradicting each other, and some can be wolves in sheep’s clothing with spiritually poisonous teachings. After all, anyone can say anything in cyberspace. If we can make good use of live-streaming, we can bet Satan is also fully in tune with the possibilities of the internet.
While we praise and thank God that we can preach and teach online during this pandemic, we also have to be aware of the downside to every home having instant access to a veritable Babel of preaching and teaching. So next week we’re going to start a new Wednesday evening Bible study looking at the various teachings of different denominations and how they are similar or different from what we preach and teach here. Everyone is welcome to participate, and the Zoom info will come out on Monday.
We hope to continue the Wednesday evening Bible study even after things return to some semblance of normal, as we had been doing last fall and earlier in the winter. But for now we’ll do it online. Look for info in Monday’s update. Also, bear in mind that everyone is welcome to “attend” via zoom the Thursday morning Bible study, which is beginning the book of Hebrews this week, and the Sunday morning Bible study, which is doing Colossians. Please join us as you’re able, and offer to help those you may know who aren’t able to join us on their own.
“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.” Ps. 139:1
Yesterday morning we were talking in the office about how the sudden surge in online services for schools, churches, businesses, meetings, and taxes (and stimulus checks) has also caused an explosion of online identity theft. Unscrupulous opportunists prey on people who need to have their personal information online. Sure enough, yesterday afternoon I heard that many people got an email seemingly from me asking for an urgent favor. It wasn’t from me, though. It was spam from an identity thief. I hope it did no harm, but my apologies (along with my thanks for your concern) to those who opened it.
The idea of someone else stealing our identity can infuriate us. It declares the real you to be nobody, while a thief, a fake you, calmly and in broad daylight takes away whatever goods and good will you might have earned. Trying to prove who you are to someone who doesn’t know you can be almost impossible.
In one of the most under-appreciated episodes in the Bible, a woman whose baby has died tries to steal the identity, in a way, of another young mother by claiming the other woman’s child as her own. Thus, two women come before King Solomon claiming to be the mother of the baby. Without any DNA tests or fingerprinting or anything, what would you do if someone simply claimed to be you? How was Solomon supposed to know who was who or what to do about the baby? Surprisingly, he ordered the baby cut in half so each woman could have a share. One woman said fine. The other offered to give up her share to save the baby’s life. Then Solomon ordered the live baby given to the second woman. Her self-sacrificial love proved her identity as the real mother. What wonderful wisdom! But imagine if instead of some secret list of usernames and passwords, your only way to prove who you were was to show self-sacrificial love.
The amazing thing about all of salvation history is how much of it, in story after story, is based on mistaken identity, fake identity, hidden identity, and even stolen identity. How did Israel inherit the covenant in the first place? Israel (at the time called Jacob) fooled his father Isaac into thinking he was his brother Esau. With his wily mother’s help, he used hairy goat skin and tasty meat from the kitchen like a stolen password.
In the New Covenant, we trust utterly that God never forgets who we are. We have not earned our place in His family at His table. For Christ’s sake God has issued us an identity as His children. We might forget who we are, but He never will. Never. We don’t have to prove who we are to God anymore. He is the only one who knows.
One of my biggest concerns during this lockdown, apart from the obvious health threat to those who have contracted or been exposed to CoVid-19, has been the intense isolation for people who already may be living in a borderland of confusion due to memory loss. In even on a good day you have a hard time remembering who you are, who loves you, and how you relate to the world around you, and then suddenly (and inexplicably if you can’t remember it) you find yourself alone all day every day, it would be hard not to feel like nobody at all. We might lose our sense of identity, but God never will.
When we place our trust in the promises God makes to us, we put the burden on Him to remember who we are. We can’t guarantee we’ll remember. Even as Christians we can’t reliably produce credentials of our own self-sacrificial love. But we have the credentials of Christ’s self-sacrificial love for us. The identity the world gives you, comprised of taxpayer ID #’s, SSN#’s, DL #’s, Passport #’s, etc., is part of your treasure on earth, where thieves break in and steal. The identity God gives you in Christ is treasure in heaven and can never be ruined, lost, or stolen. God has searched you and known you. You never have to prove it to Him. He will always know you as His beloved child.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana