Saturday, September 1, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 15, Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-9, James 1.17-27, Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23, Perfect Gifts

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
I splurged this last week.
As you know, I work as a cabinet maker and am constantly around machinery and unhealthy amounts of noise.
I have significant hearing loss, and it’s not getting better, but rather continues to get worse.
A compressor, a dust collection system, and various power tools all add to a deafening din of noise that, in addition to causing hearing loss also simply makes for an unpleasant working environment.
It doesn’t have to be this way.  That was my conviction.
Over the years I’ve tried various methods to protect my hearing.
You can put foam plugs in your ears.
I have often worn ear muffs to lessen the sound.
And, in a rather bizarre move, used ear phones to play music and drowned out the sound, which means just covering up the objectionable noise with music, which just makes matters even worse because the music has to be uncomfortably loud to drown out the sound of the machinery.
But thank God for new technology that is available to us today.
I decided to invest in that in the hope it would help.
I purchase a set of Bose Quiet Comfort 35II noise cancellation head phones.
I have never been so impressed.
It’s just amazing.
These work by actually cancelling out the noise.  They don’t muffle it, or cover it up, they eliminate the noise itself.
Noise, you see, is actually sound waves that strike your ear drums, causing them to vibrate and send signals to your brain.
The way the Bose headphones work is that they have microphones that pick up the noise in the room, and then speakers which emit the opposite noise on the sound spectrum which then cancels out the original sound. 
It’s hard to imagine.
But it works.
For every sound, there is an opposite sound, and by emitting the opposite sound to what’s in the environment, the headphones simply cancel out the noise around you producing, not more sound, but quiet.
And then, as an added bonus, you can listen to music or audio books, take phone calls through the headphones.
Amazing, but it’s all possible simply by following the laws of physics.
If an objectionable noise is counter acted by an equal and opposite noise, the result is peace and quiet.  It’s one of nature’s balancing acts.
Last week our lessons focused on the presence of evil in our world and our battle against it.
Paul wrote in Ephesians:
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Cosmic powers of this present darkness.
Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
These are powerful statements.
We have struggled over the years to deal with evil.
How do we respond to the evil in the world?
In 1 Peter, the third chapter, it is written:
Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.
10 For "Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
In Romans Paul writes:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In our lessons for today, we hear about Moses encouraging the people to keep the law of the Lord.
We hear James’ statement that “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above”
And “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
And in the Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks about the right use of the Law, to counter the evil tendencies of the human heart.
When we hear the Law of God spoken, it works in us in various ways.
Jesus says:
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Traditionally, Lutherans have spoken about the two ways the Law works.
The first is as a guide and instruction for living.  Love the Lord.  Love your neighbor.  Do these things and life will go better for you.
The second is as a measure by which we are judged.  We have not loved the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, and so we stand condemned in the face of the Law, and dependent upon God’s grace and mercy that we might be forgiven.
But there is yet another way that God’s Law governs the world in which we live – and that is as a response to the evil in the world.
Imagine with me that evil is like the harsh noise in my woodworking shop. 
God’s Law and our obedience to that Law, functions like my new Bose headphones:  It responds to evil with and equal and opposing force of good, and thereby cancels out the evil.
In short, how do we respond to the hatred that is far too often evident in our world?
We do so by offering an equal and opposite response of goodness and love—by loving God with our entire being and our neighbor as ourselves.
We counter evil with goodness, and so restore the balance of life.
One of the ways we do this is by making amends for the wrongs which we have done.
This is one of the most important things that we learn in Alcoholics Anonymous.  We learn to face the wrongs that we have done to those we love, and then to make amends, to counter the wrong, with a good.
Another way we counter evil with goodness is to respond to the evil that others have perpetrated in the world, by doing right.
There is hatred and prejudice all around us.
We offer love and mercy.
Every act of kindness, every act of mercy, every time justice prevails over injustice, good is served and evil is countered.
I go back to my experience with the harmful noises that I must deal with.
One response was to try and muffle the noise with ear protection.  This works somewhat, but it a bit like denial.  If we cover our ears, we simply insolate ourselves from the noise, but it remains.
If I simply don’t listen to the news, I can muffle all the noise about evil in the world, and I feel better, but the world remains filled with the evil.
Another way is to seek to drown out the noise with other sounds.
We do a lot of this in our world.  People respond to what they perceive as evil by shouting out and seeking to drown out the evil they oppose.  But it just adds more noise.  And all too often what happens is that one evil is responded to with yet another evil.
What we need, is not insulating ourselves from evil, or simply trying to drown out evil of one type, with another type, but to cancel out evil with good, like my headphones cancel out the noise in my shop.
God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.
We welcome others, when often they are rejected.
We love, when too often people experience hate.
We serve, when so often people are oppressed.

If we do those things we will have done our part to overcome evil with goodness and to restore peace to the world.
We cannot do this alone, but by God’s grace “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above. . .”
It’s easy for me, at times, to get depressed when I see what is happening in the world around us.  So much evil, how can we ever overcome it?
But then, at other times I realize that every act of love and mercy does overcome evil.
The promise for our lives is simply this:  That we can make a difference.
That’s why God has gathered us together as his people and called us into his service.
We’re not a large congregation by any means, but nevertheless, every act of goodness we do contributes to the redemption of this world.
That’s why God has so blessed us with gifts we have to do his will.

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