Hanging On For Dear Life
Tuesday of Epiphany 4
30 January 2018
We see wreckage all around us. Desperation fueled by spiritual emptiness is constantly exploding. People are blasted from one diversion to another, seeking to silence the echoing guilt in their heads. They are trying to bury their self-hatred and their doubt of God in the roiling busy-ness of this age. Such people think that if only they could get what they want: the right car, job, house, spouse, child, or whatever, they would be happy and the guilt would be silenced. They demand that other persons entertain, satisfy, and serve them. If they are displeased by you, they will cast you off. If they are unhappy with their spouse, another will do better. It never occurs to them that they are the problem.
But let's be honest. If I am unhappy, then it is my problem. If I am displeased with others, I own the problem. If I feel empty, it is because I am empty. Eve demanded fulfillment from the things around her, seeking to be something more through the fruit forbidden by God. Her problem was already in her heart where she desperately desired to possess what was not hers to possess and where she doubted God's ability to give all that He had promised to her and Adam (Gn 3).
God does not want people to remain in that wreckage. He does not desire for us to be destroyed in our emptiness. He does not want us to be dashed to pieces on the sea littered with the flotsam and jetsam of a grasping, venal life. There must be so much more to life than this! There is. Our Lord Jesus Christ promises that there is so much more, "The Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Mt 6:32-33). Christ has come among us bringing His righteousness that we might not be lost by seeking meaning where there is none. He seeks us not for His benefit, but for ours. He turns the tables on us by grasping not for control of us, but to set us free. He serves those who have demanded service. He gives Himself freely to us, that He might cling to us. While we flounder about seeking now this and now that solution to our problems, He has embraced us as a life preserver enfolds, refusing to let us go, no matter how much we might struggle to be free to die. He has brought us into the kingdom of His Father. Now as we look back we know and confess that He has set us on the rock of His truth. All the time that we thought He had abandoned us, He was hanging on to us for dear life.
His teaching and truth have brought us from the empty focus on things, money, success, spouse, or whatever else we have turned into our spiritual surrogate. We need to reach out to those who just need the plain truth, that they will not find true joy in the things of this world. Only Christ's righteousness will do. Amid the wreckage this is a powerful message that the floundering world needs to hear. We have been set upon the Rock of the church, with her divine teachings and words. By reaching down into the wreckage with those teachings and words, we will offer the world the only message that saves. Only Christ's righteousness will do. You don't get any richer than that.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"Among us some do not even understand [that riches are no great thing], but they have their very judgment corrupted. And this while the Scripture is ever and again sounding in our ears, and saying, 'in [His] eyes a vile person is despised, but He honors those who fear the LORD' (Ps 15:4). The fear of the Lord is more important than anything: 'Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man' (Eccl 12:13). 'Be not afraid when a man becomes rich;' (Ps 49:16); for 'all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field' (Is 40:6). For these and similar things though we hear every day, we are yet nailed to earth.
"You act like ignorant children, who learn their letters continuously, and who if they are examined concerning their order when they are scrambled, naming one instead of another, make much laughter. So also you, when here we recount them in order, follow us in a manner. But when we ask you out of doors and in no set order, what we ought to place first and what next among things, and which after which; when you do not know how to answer, you become ridiculous. Is it not a matter of great laughter, that they who expect immortality and the good that 'no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined' (1Co 2:9) should strive after things which linger here and count them enviable? For if you need yet to learn that riches are no great thing, that present things are a shadow and a dream, that like smoke they dissolve and fly away, stand for now outside the sanctuary, stay in the entryway, since you are not yet worthy to enter the palace-courts on high. For if you cannot discern the nature of those things which are unstable and continually passing away, when will you be able to despise them?
"But if you say you know, then stop busily inquiring, why this one is rich and that one poor. For when you ask these questions you are doing the same, as if you went around inquiring why one is fair and another dark, or one hook-nosed and another flat-nosed. Since these things make no difference to us, whether it be this way or that; so neither poverty nor riches make any difference, and much less than they. But everything depends on the way in which we use them. If you are poor, live cheerfully in self-denial. If you are rich, you will be the most miserable of all men if you flee from virtue. For the things of virtue are what really concern us. If these things are not added, the rest are useless.
"These are continual questions among us, because most people think that indifferent things are of importance to them, but about the important things they do not care, since that which is of importance to us is virtue and love of wisdom. Because I do not know where you stand, even at some far distance from wisdom, there is confusion of thoughts, many waves, and the tempest. For when men have fallen from heavenly glory and the love of heaven, they desire present glory and become slaves and captives.
"That this therefore may not always be so, and lest wave after wave receiving us should carry us out into the deep where miseries will drown and completely destroy us and while there is time, let us bear up and stand upon the rock, and let us look down upon the surge of this present life. This rock is the divine teachings and words. In this way we will ourselves escape, and having drawn up others who are making shipwreck of faith, shall obtain the blessings that are to come, through grace and mercy."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 29.9
1 Timothy 4:1-16

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Lord Jesus, You have freed us from slavery to things that we might serve others in all we do, giving ourselves freely. Keep us in Your righteousness, so that what is most important might ever be first of all. Save us from the ridiculous striving after what does not save. Amen.
For Martha Mahlberg, who has Dengue fever, that the Lord Jesus would grant her strength and healing
For all those who are slaves to things, that they might be rescued from the drowning waves of a false god
For all the members of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they might continue to reach into the wreckage of the world to share their faith
Art: DAVID, Gerard  Triptych of Jean Des Trompes (1505)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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