Thursday, September 29, 2016

What is faith? Luke 17:5-10 Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Jesus friends asked him for faith and more of it. My own prayers echo their words. I can't count all my requests for faith--for help believing. Jesus knew faith mattered more than his followers can imagine. His words must have left their heads spinning.

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:6 NRSV
What Jesus said--about the power of a seed sized faith--reveals the truth of God's kingdom. It's so close to us. With a little faith we can see God moving in our world in many and wonderful ways. With just a little faith Jesus says we will see amazing things happen. There's great power in faith. And Jesus invites us to find the power not with senses--but with faith.

The ancient Prophet Habakkuk groaned in his prayers. He wanted to see God move--He could name all the evil inhe world. He groaned to God about the violence and the danger. And God's response was to tell him boldly -- the rightreous live by faith. We want hard evidence and certainty. And the invitation that we have from God is to step out in faith.

Every August, right before the school year starts, I meet with every 7th grader at Grace. I sit down with each student and a parent to visit about what we do together in confirmation. At the end of our time together I give each of the the kids a mustard seed. I tell them about the three ways Jesus speaks of a mustard seed sized bit of faith:
  • moving bushes (Luke 13:19)
  • moving mountains(Matthew 17:20)
  • as the starting point of God's kingdom (Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:31, Luke 13:19).
Faith is a great mystery for me--but for Jesus it seems so simple: faith sees past the visible into the future that God is preparing. What Jesus has to say about mustard seed sized faith opens up the mystery of faith like a flag unfurling. By faith we trust in the power of God to do even more. Think about how it's best to talk about faith in the light of Jesus' mustard seed parables--
  • is faith action?
  • is faith a thing to hold onto?
  • is faith a gift?
  • is it something that comes from work?
It's, no doubt, a great gift of the Holy Spirit. But when and how the spirit moves--that's the part of faith that's the greatest joy. God's on the move and faith helps me trust even when I can't see God present to know without seeing that God at work.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Cross Carrying Luke 14:25-33

Luke tells a story about great crowds who followed Jesus and his direction to carry the cross. I think of it as a great invitation to think about how we see Jesus and the crosses he calls us to carry.
How do you see Jesus?
This question matters.

There are so many true and faithful images of Jesus.

  • the kindhearted soul man who said let the little children come onto me.
  • the prophet who spoke of justice and called people to repent and turn back to God.
  • the man who spoke of God's judgment speaking of those who cared for the least of these as those who cared for God.
  • Jesus is the same one who died on the cross—for the sake of the world—who called out to God in deepest agony—my God, my God why have you abandoned me. Jesus life on earth was just as varied as any of ours might be. He knew joy and pain—he knew friendship and betrayal.
And how we think of Jesus—which part of the story we tell ourselves and those we love matters.

And today in Luke comes this powerful story about the great crowds who were following Jesus and what he had to tell them. The crowds came to see miracles and hear powerful teaching. They came to see him in the marketplaces and in the synagogues. I think most people in the crowds had one picture of Jesus. And it was true picture. They had this one image of Jesus as the powerful miracle worker. But his words to the great crowds set them and everyone who still heads his words back a step or two.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot be my disciples.
I think the crowd would have gotten really quiet to hear these world. The crowds came expecting to be filled. They wanted to step up and receive many good things—and Jesus spoke to them about picking up their cross. A cross that was coming not just for him but for them. Pick it up he said—pick up your cross and follow me.

We want God to make us prosperous and healthy, happy and care free. And Jesus tells us not to leave our cares behind but to pick up our cross and start to walk with him.

Pick up your cross—oh brother—I don't want my cross. I'd like some other cross—but Jesus doesn't tell me to go pick out my favorite cross. He tells me to pick up mine. If we could pick our crosses they'd be small. Maybe made of gold or platinum and covered with diamonds. But the real cross isn't small. Maybe you'd like a cross made of balsa wood—but we don't get to pick our crosses. They come for us in this life. And to walk with Jesus means carrying our own and walking close with him.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What do the words "Our Father" teach you about prayer?

Jesus friends asked. "Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" Luke 11:1. Seems reasonable. Why not ask the rabbi to show how prayers happens. After all John the Baptist taught his followers how to talk to God and now Jesus friends wanted him to do the same for them. Jesus told his friends how by 1) modeling words for prayer and 2) sharing stories to help imagine prayer in the middle of human life.

Jesus words--what we called the Lord's prayer (Luke 11:1-4) stick deep in the living tradition of many Christian communities today. He taught of prayer not as empty words. For Jesus of prayer reached into the very presence of God. His prayer Words of prayer are short and sweet--but in truth it's many prayers in one. For me the part that matters most is how it starts: Our Father

The way Jesus taught prayer is bold. Start by declaring of relationship of trust: papa--father. Forget all the flowery language of a distant and mighty deity. Start with words that are close at hand. Start by talking to the one who knows you. Jesus says start with Father--familiar and close. These are words of trust and humility.

For me as a pastor serving in Mid-Western Lutheran congregations over the past 17 years I've seen how vital this prayer is for me and many others. I've also been surprised by how many, especially young people, don't know these words. These words are basic. They are part of the foundation of my story as a believer.

Truth is I'm troubled to watch many in my own children's generation who don't have this starting for talking with God. This prayer has shaped my language of prayer. It's the prayer I've heard said at bed time when I was a child. It's the prayer I've heard at the end of AA meetings and church council gatherings. This is a prayer I've shared in with others and said alone. These words are what my old partner in ministry, Pastor Ron Allen, called a perfect prayer, because it touched on most every aspect of life. These words tell me who God is: God is my father and who I am as a child of God.

More that just the words Jesus taught an attitude of persistence in prayer. He told a story of persistent asking Luke 11:5-8 and reminded us that God gives the Holy Spirit to his people Luke 11:13

Jesus has a lot to teach us about prayer. And it's by listening that we open ourselves up to see our place in his kingdom.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

a place of grace Luke 10 38-42

Luke's story about Mary, Martha, and Jesus challenges me in a way that's uncomfortable. The story is short and sweet. Jesus is traveling and he comes to a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

Martha got busy. She perceived “obligations” to her guests. She believed she had a duty to serve. She grew frustrated as she worked and her sister Mary sat with Jesus.

Martha wanted Jesus in the middle. She wanted her sister's hands dirty too. But she didn't talk to Mary in private. She aired her frustration trying make a triangle with Jesus in the middle. Martha assumed Jesus would back her up.

And Jesus responded in a way that surprises me. He didn't take Martha's side. “Mary's chosen the better part.”

I can honestly relate to both Martha and to Mary.

At times in life I can grit my teeth with Martha and look at somebody else who isn't working as “hard” as I am. It's easy to get steamed and sit with Martha.

And I can sit with Mary in grace and know that I could never do enough to make everything workout right.

There's a strong desire among believers to be right with God. There's a desire to be super-Christians. And when I grit my teeth with Martha I need to hear Jesus again. “Mary has chosen the better part.” Trust in God isn't proven by the number of good deeds done or prayers prayed. Trust in God is a matter more of the heart than of the hands and the voice.

Jesus' words about Mary choosing the better part just set me on edge. But in these words I hear the promise of the open place. Jesus was there for Mary. She didn't do anything to earn that love. That space Jesus had for Mary that's Grace. In faith I trust that there's a space—a place for me and for every sinner in the world. Grace isn't something I earned or deserved. It's real and it's free and it comes by faith. And it's for me and for every Mary who just sits with Jesus.
grace and peace to you, and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, June 9, 2016

...who is forgiven Luke 7:36 - 8:3

Luke tells a great story about a Pharisee, Jesus, and a woman. I thought sounds like the great start to a religious joke. But it's really, for me, been an invitation to see the breadth and depth of God's love and mercy.

The pharisee, a devote religious man invited Jesus over for supper. Luke 7:36-38
It was early on in Jesus' ministry, but there was already friction between Jesus and many of the Pharisees. They knew he was a wise teacher but, there was something in Jesus ministry that just went too far. Jesus spoke forgiveness. He declared God's love not just for the holy or the the nearly holy. Jesus dared to speak God's love and forgiveness to real live sinners. And this really got under the skin of the religious elite.

It's been that way from the start. There's been tension between the religious, who believer they are holy and righteous on their own, and the God who sent his son into the world to save sinners by dying and rising. There's tension between self-righteousness and righteousness that can only be received by faith. That friction was there in Jesus' day and it's here in our day too.

So a woman with a bad reputation, the kind that everybody talked about, she stepped into the home of ae Pharisee. Jesus was there as an honored guest reclining at the table. And this woman, the one with the terrible reputation, knelt down behind Jesus. She brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She wept and the tears washed away the dust that covered Jesus feet.

The Pharisee, Simon, looked and thought to himself, this is so sketchy, if Jesus was a real prophet he would really know what kind of woman she is. It's tempting to say we know exactly what her sin really is. It's tempting to say it's some particular sin—but Luke leaves that detail out of the story. What we know is she wept over Jesus feet. Enough tears rolled down her face to wash away the dirt and dust that came from walking in sandals on dusty roads.

But Simon doesn't get it. He looks and he sees this woman and likely says to himself, “She's a lost cause." Maybe he thinks to himself, "not even God can forgive these sins” But Jesus knows exactly what Simon's thinking. Jesus asks a question about two men with forgiven debts. Luke 7:40-43

Simon saw a sinner too far gone. And Jesus saw a person who he loved and forgave. And this woman she showed great love for the one who had forgiven her so so much.

There's no doubt a lot to her story. Maybe you've found that sometimes people's stories have stories and stories. I mean the longer I live—the more complicated I find real living people's stories become. The older I get the harder it is for me to sort people into easy categories. Who is right with God and who is not—only God knows the true faith of our hears. There's depth to each of our stories—depth that we can speak of as joy and pain—and even depth that we don't speak about. And this woman came into the presence of Jesus as one who is already and completely known.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jesus is more powerful Luke 7:1-10

A man of power and prestige, a centurion in the Roman Army, sent elders from the local religious establishment to Jesus asking for help. He was commander of at least 80, more likely 100 or more soldiers. And He was looking for a miracle. He needed healing in his house. Somebdy he cared about, a slave in his home, neared death. He had a problem his power couldn't resolve and he sent people to ask the one man he trusted had power to help heal. He called for Jesus.

The elders in the Jewish community at Capernaum urged Jeus to help him. He is a good man, they pleaded. Help him please. He's worthy. He loves our people. He's the one who built the synagogue. Jesus made way towards the man. I'm guessing the message that Jesus was coming went on ahead of him.

The centurion sent new people to Jesus. They had a message of humility and faith. The words are memorable, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof.” There's no way around this humility. Here's a man of great power—who says please Jesus I'm not good enough to have you come into my home. His word echo's John the Baptist's saying he was unworthy to loosen the latch of Jesus sandals. Luke 3:16

He said, through his messengers to Jesus “All you have to do is speak and my servent will be healed.” Here's a man of earthly power speaking of Jesus' even greater power. Here's faith. Here's a man of great power trusting that Jesus could do even great things.

And Jesus replied amazed at the faith. I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. And the servant was healed.

Faith can come from any corner or any person. Faith is simple trust that God can. AMEN.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jesus Promise-the Holy Spirit Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15

Jesus has made a whole lot of promises. He has promised to come into the lives of his people. And by faith his people know that Jesus keeps on coming into the lives of believers. Jesus told his friends he had much to tell them. But he also said what he had to say was much more than they could bear to hear in that moment John 16:12. He told them the time would come though when they would be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit John 16:13.

Untitled The Holy Spirit is the plan—Jesus' says he comes to speak not on his own but for Jesus. The Spirit comes not looking for glory but rather to make Jesus shine bright. The Holy Spirit comes again and again into the life of God's people—the very breath of God breathing life into us and showing us the very heart of God. The Spirit making clear to us who Jesus is and who we are as people set free by His cross and resurrection.

There are promises in Jesus Words—promises that we will not ever be alone or forsaken. There are promises that God will not remain silent. There are promises Jesus has made not just once but over and over. And he's kept his promise over and over again coming into the lives of the his followers.

The promises remind us of the peace that we have with God through faith in Jesus Romans 5:1. The promises sustain us in every challenge Romans 5:2-3. And here the great gift of faith takes hold. By faith we know a love that doesn't end—that not even death can end. Romans 5:4-5
Peace and thanks for reading, John