Saturday, March 22, 2014

thoughts on John 4

We want God to come big and bold, But often times we meet God in the most mundane circumstances Luther wrote

If someone at that time had announced: “I know of a place in the world where God speaks and anyone can hear God there”; if I had gone there and seen and heard a poor pastor baptizing and preaching, and if I had been assured: “This is the place; here God is speaking through the voice of the preacher who brings God’s Word”—I would have said: “Well, I have been duped! I see only a pastor.” We should like to have God speak to us in His majesty. But I advise you not to run hither and yon for this. I suppose we could learn how people would run if God addressed them in His majesty. This is what happened on Mt. Sinai, where only the angels spoke and yet the mountain was wrapped in smoke and quaked. But you now have the Word of God in church, in books, in your home; and this is God’s Word as surely as if God Himself were speaking to you. Christ says: “You do not know the gift.” We recognize neither the Word nor the Person of Christ, but we take offense at His humble and weak humanity. When God wants to speak and deal with us, He does not avail Himself of an angel but of parents, of the pastor, or of my neighbor. This puzzles and blinds me so that I fail to recognize God, who is conversing with me through the person of the pastor or father. Luther, M. (1999, c1957). Vol. 22: Luther's works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (22:526). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
the mystery of God meeting us in the ordinary should never be overlooked peace to all, John

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No Shortcuts Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus came to die and rise before reigning as Lord of all. The devil invited Jesus to skip straight to reigning over creation. But Jesus wouldn't take the short cut--as a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus who died and rose--I for one am grateful that He didn't take the shortcuts the devil offered.

A quick reading of Matthew 4:1-11 introduces the two main characters. Jesus, the once and future king of the universe who came to earth. And the great accuser who comes at him with 3 tempting offers. Sounds a little like the ring announcer at a fight. "In this corner the once and future king of all creation who exists today as a weak mortal and in this corner the father of all lies the final enemy of all creation."

It is the fight for the ages. Jesus came humble. He put aside His power to live as a man. The Devil came ready with years of experience destroying what God had made good. The enemy could entice mortals--he'd done it countless times before. He never had any power to create--but he's repeatedly convinced creatures to destroy what God has made good. And as he looked at Jesus he saw an opening for temptation and destruction.

Some readers of scripture take this story as a simple moral example. It's easy to miss the point and give direction to other people to "Just be like Jesus when you face temptation." But that interpretation misses the whole cosmic battle that's taking place there in the wilderness right at the start of Jesus ministry.

I sometimes think the Devil understood from day one who Jesus was, is, and will be. That means the day Jesus came to earth the enemy knew clearly who Jesus was and who he was going to ultimately be for all time. I think that they both were looking at the end of all things the whole time. I think that both understood that at the end of all things Jesus will reign over all--even the devil understands that coming reality. And He invited Jesus to skip the pain of the cross and go right to final glory.

The temptation was right in front of Jesus. Right then Jesus, not at some future moment, right at that point in history the Devil invited Jesus to take full advantage of his power. Come on, Jesus if you are king just start to reign. Forget about everything else. If you are king just start to show it right now. But along the way to that final culmination of all time comes a question: If Jesus is king what does He plan to reign over?

  • Does He plan to reign over a creation that's been broken by the fall into sin and death?
  • Does He plan to reign over a creation that's been redeemed finally from the power of sin, death, and the devil?
Paul, quoting a hymn of first century believers eloquently wrote of Jesus real nature in Philipians 2:5-11. Jesus came to redeem the world through his own cross. This story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness is no moral tale. It is an epic even cosmic story in which sinners are redeemed because Jesus chose to offer his blood and his life to make all people right with the Father.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

loving enemies Matthew 5:38-48

"Love your enemies," Jesus said it, and He meant it.
He offers sinners nothing less than His love on the cross. And He invites His followers to walk in similar steps dealing with real people and real conflicts.
What on earth is Jesus speaking about. He was speaking about how God's word—His law and His Gospel—point His followers to live in this world. Jesus is naming the truth about people and about God. Following Jesus is no pie in the sky religion. He gives an invitation to trust God everyday in down to earth face to face challenges. Be honest: loving enemies isn't easy. Dealing with people who greet you with swear words and curses isn't easy. And Jesus words aren't just meant for us with people who are close-by. He's offering this direction to us in every dimension of our lives. This isn't easy; Jesus knows that and He says love your enemies and pray for them. He says that about people close by and about enemies and warring nations.

Maybe you want to say back to Jesus, "Really Jesus, even they deserve Christ like love?" Jesus invites His friends to new life beginning and ending in His cross. He invites those who greet you with anger and wrath to that very same new life. Jesus isn't calling His friends just to show kindness to the kind and pleasant, that's easy. He calls his disciples to love those they are in conflict with today and those they will be in conflict with in the future.

Jesus invitation to new life starts and ends with His cross. He comes to offer new life, period including in person to person relationships. When He says love your enemies He's not talking about warm fuzzy love. He's talking about love that can stand in storms and face evil for what it is. Jesus is calling us even to see those who do us harm as people with basic dignity. Here's really honest territory for believers. Jesus sees the dignity of all people. And He invites his friends to do the same.
Listen close to the Savior's words, your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. Matthew 5:44 NCV
Jesus invites his friends to live honest about everything--joy and pain, relationships and conflict. Following Jesus means freedom to be honest about who God is and who people are and what people do right and wrong. When Jesus calls you to love your enemies not just the loveable. He is calling us to love our neighbors when we look at them not as good and trustworthy but when even we see them as dishonorable. Even then Jesus says love them and pray for them.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jesus knows Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus knows how we tick--especially inside. Jesus' preaching on a Galilean mountaintop in Matthew 5:21-37 reveals just how much he gets us. Listen close to His words. He's talking about "private" thoughts and naming them as sin Matthew 5:21-23, Matthew 5:27-28. He's talking about forgiveness. He's calling his people to step away from the altar to make peace with a neighbor before making an offering Matthew 5:24-26. He speaks about sin and breaking away from it Matthew 5:29-31. He speaks of divorce and vows Matthew 5:31-37.

Jesus boldly points to real sins, murder and adultery, that occur in thoughts as much as actions. He speaks to the harm caused by broken relationship. In short Jesus is showing clear that he knows us. He says there's no difference between the sins present "only" in the space between hearts and heads as in bodily actions.

Jesus leaves no doubt. Anyone who has lusted is guilty of adultery Matthew 5:27-28. Anyone who has raged against another, even without expressing such inner thoughts, is guilty of sin Matthew 5:21-23. There's no medieval quibbling about venial and mortal sin for Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Sin is sin. It breaks relationships and He calls us to repair broken relationships on our way to the altar. Our enraged or lustful thoughts break relationships. It's our thoughts that stop us from seeing our neighbors as equal creatures in God's eyes.

And here Jesus calls us out. He sees the very ones he'd die to save. And he calls out our sin. There's no space for hypocrisy here. All have sinned either through their bodies or in their minds. There's no fake holiness. Just conviction and direction to make right the relationships we've broken.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Monday, February 3, 2014

Salty and Bright Matthew 5:13-20

God shapes and reshapes identities: so when Jesus calls you salt and light he's announcing who you are in him Matthew 5:13-14. Maybe you say no to Jesus, "But I am not very salty or very bright." Remember who's calling you salt and light: the one who made the whole of everything says you are salt and light for the world.

It's possible to mistake Jesus' words for a coach's pep talk. Think of an encouraging half time speech from a great coach. You might know of a coach who calls out the best from within his players natural talents. Jesus is doing something different; He names a new identity and ability that comes from God himself. Salt and light aren't in anybody by nature. Salt and light aren't a byproduct of human efforts at being good. The new identity as salt and light changes believers for the sake of the world.

Luther wrote of preachers as salt and light standing bright for the whole world to see,

It is a hard job to be an apostle or a preacher and carry out this kind of office, yes, an impossible one, judging according to flesh and blood. But they must be people who do it gladly for the sake of God and the Lord Christ. He does not want to compel anyone or drive him with commandments. For the state of being a Christian is one that requires only willing hearts. Anyone who does not heartily want it had better leave it alone. But this is our consolation: When we are in trouble and the world and the devil are glaring at us and acting as cruelly as possible, then He says to us: “You are the salt of the earth.” When the Word shines into a man’s heart so that he can depend on it and lay uncontested claim to the title “God’s salt,” then let anyone who refuses to laugh be as angry and cruel as he pleases. With His single word I can be more defiant and boastful than they with all their power, swords, and guns. Luther's works, vol. 21p 54: The Sermon on the Mount. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount had a bigger audience than the fisherman who would tell the Good News of his death and rising to the world, no, Matthew 5-7 is full of vision and possibility for all who believe.

Some see this sermon as a new law--a new standard for living--new rules to made and enforced most especially for others. Read Jesus' words close. Jesus is speaking of God making his followers salt and light even if they aren't salty or bright on their own.

This sermon reveals Jesus' vision. It's his plan to work through Word and Spirit. Jesus spoke of a present reality in which God is alive and at work. Jesus spoke of his people acting in this world on their redeemer's behalf. Jesus spoke of a world in which the spiritually hungry, the peacemakers and the mourners would see God move to meet the deepest hungers of their souls. In short, Jesus shared his vision. He tells what he's doing for his followers moving and reordering this world from the bottom up .

Right after Jesus shared this vision Matthew tells how He called to all who could hear him, close friends and onlookers in the great crowd, that they had new identities: You are salt Matthew 5:13 and you are light Matthew 5:.14. Jesus assigned these new identity to all who heard him that day: you are salt and light. Let that sink in for a minute. You are salt and light for the sake of the world.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Close to Heaven Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus walked the earth he preached to the people telling them to turn their lives around. He had good reason, God's Kingdom was coming close Matthew 4:17. Somehow I overlap thoughts of God's coming Kingdom with an imaginary picture of heaven. Maybe you imagine God's kingdom as a heavenly place too--you know, filled with

  • puffy clouds to float on
  • angels--who look like chubby babies in flossy diapers
  • harps to strum
  • heavenly choirs praising God
  • you can add to this list
When Jesus said God's kingdom was coming close He stood on earth and spoke to people who daily knew sin, death, and evil. Jesus spoke of a Kingdom that was coming close to people on this earth. This is Good News for hurting people: the King of the Universe's dominion is coming close to us.

Some might say God can't come if things aren't perfect--but Jesus would likely disagree. He called for people to turn away from sin--the kingdom is coming. Even failed preparations won't prevent Jesus' coming. Past sins and shames don't stop him; turn away from the old sins and come to the light. Matthew says Jesus coming fulfilled the promise of an ancient prophet. He pointed to Isaiah wh o spoke on God's behalf when he said light would come for people in darkness Isaiah 9:1-2, Matthew 4:16-17. And He meant it. God's light is meant for those in darkness.

How close is God's Kingdom? If God's coming Kingdom isn't best envisioned as a far way heaven how can it be imagined. In all 4 Gospels Jesus, and the Kingdom of God that came as he came, were close enough to be sensed with eyes, ears, tongues, noses, and skin. This was no head trip--it was a flesh and blood experience of God coming in the middle of every detail of life. When Jesus called two fisherman Simon and Andrew to come and catch people like they'd caught fish He was inviting them to join in as the Kingdom came close by Matthew 4:19-20. Two other fishmen, Zebedee's boys James and John came along too.
That's how it started--so now comes our invitation to go fishing and come close to heaven.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, January 9, 2014

like wet clay Matthew 3:13-17

Christmas reminded me this year that Jesus, the Light of the world, shows bright in the darkness. And now this week in Matthew 3 we hear how Jesus ministry of healing, teaching, dying, and rising began. Remember Jesus ministry brought light to everyone he met. Some embraced him, some fought him openly, some hid not wanting to let the light into the painful dark places of their souls.

At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River and wanted John to baptize him. 14 But John tried to stop him, saying, “Why do you come to me to be baptized? I need to be baptized by you!”
15 Jesus answered, “Let it be this way for now. We should do all things that are God’s will.” So John agreed to baptize Jesus. Matthew 3:13-15 (NCV)
John the Baptist was a great man who knew he had a part of God's plan. He knew wasn't the be all and the end all of God's plan. No believer is. Instead we are the vessels that God shapes and molds to carry his light into the world. Remember he's the potter and we're the clay (See Isaiah 64:8). Jesus had a plan to come and John the Baptist's soft heart was like clay in the Father's hands. He offered everything that Jesus light might be shared with the world.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven opened, and he saw God’s Spirit coming down on him like a dove. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.” Matthew 3:16-17 (NCV)
Jesus pleased God before His ministry had even begun. And I believe that God desires to find great joy in each one of his sons and daughters.

When you hear God's voice do you hear words like Jesus did? If you don't there's good chance that heart is hard. There's a good chance that you need to remember what it means to live wet from baptism. Living wet from baptism doesn't remove your past. Your history is there—but it does mean that your history—either what you've done or what others have done to you—dictates your future in Christ Jesus. Remember we serve a great and creative God. He's the Father who made you and he is the one who seeks to remake you.

Now if you think that you're to hard of a lump for God to work with you I want you to remember your baptism. In Baptism we, like Jesus, come to the water. We like Jesus come to hear God's Word announce who we are and why we matter to our Father in heaven. And if your heart is hard—like a lump of solid dried out clay today is a wonderful day to remember who made you and who has redeemed you.

When a potter has a lump of dried out clay he doesn't have to throw it out. Instead he starts to get it wet. As the edges start to soften he'll start working water inside the clay little by little. A skilled potter pokes small holes into a dry lump as it starts to soften to let even more water in. God does that with each of us and our hearts. He comes to us day after day. He works on us sometimes with great fever and other times slowly bit by bit as the Word and Holy Spirit works first at the edges of our hardened hearts and hardened consciences. And slowly God's Word and Spirit penetrate to the very core of who we are that we can hear again who made us and how much joy he finds in each of us. AMEN.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John