Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Waiting in Hope Psalm 25:1-10 Jeremiah 33:14-16

If I could offer someone in difficult circumstances any two gifts I'd give them hope and joy.

And as Christmas comes this year the two gifts I would like to give any and everyone are hope and joy. I haven't seen these gifts on sale in any local stores or online--but I understand God gives these gifts away freely along with the promise of new life in Jesus.

Hope is at the very heart of following Jesus. The simple truth is we live--on this side of eternity--in hope of seeing God's kingdom come. And we live with joy knowing someway and somehow that is with us. Hope is a gift for us while we pray and live, not just watching time pass, but yearning for signs and glimpses of God moving--of God's will being done among us. Psalm 25:3 speaks of this kind of hopeful waiting. Rolf Jacobson writes

The term “wait” here translates the Hebrew word qawah, which means both to “wait” and to “hope.” The waiting described here isn’t just waiting, like one waits for a meeting to start. It means more to wait and hope, like the sort of waiting one does in a hospital waiting room while a loved one is undergoing surgery, or perhaps the sort of waiting one does while waiting for a verdict to be handed down, or again, perhaps the kind of waiting one does after one has put in an offer to buy a home.
Hoping and waiting is part of daily walking with Jesus and living into our identity as his followers. Sometimes it's uncomfortable--but here's where the promise of hope is like a spring of joy in our lives. Hope look even at an apparently dead branch and sees something new. Jeremiah said as much to the people in Jeremiah 33:14-16. He looked ahead and saw the promise of new life for an ancient line. Joy is found in our identity as God's people. The circumstances might look dire--but the identity as God's people, as people of promise and hope--that's the source of joy.

May the promise of God's kingdom and the hope to see His salvation fill us with joy. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hope-Giving Joel 2:21-27

I've been contemplating thanksgiving and what I want to say this year as a preacher. Over the years I've encouraged people to look backwards in November and remember the blessings they've seen over the past year. But then I started to read Psalm 126 and the first few chapters of Joel.  Psalm 126 speaks of people going out in hope to plant a new crop even with tears in their eyes. And this year at thanksgiving I want to give thanks not only for the past but for the future too.

I want to start with an ancient prayer song asking God to move in the future,

4 Restore our fortunes (Or Bring back our captives), O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:4-6 NIV
Even with tears over our current circumstances we, as people of faith, can go out with hope at planting time. Maybe I think of thanksgiving as a harvest festival because it comes at fall. And maybe I miss gift of God that comes at planting time--every seed has a plant hidden inside. Every oak tree was once an acorn--every field corn ready for harvest was once just seed in the hopper. Saying thanks to God for the future--for the gift of hope--for the year to come--that's a blessing for me this year. Saying thanks for the hope of a better day even when times are tough--that's a blessing for me today.

The prophet Joel spoke words of great hope to the people--he promised them vindication. But before the promise of restoration there's a word about all the tough times. Joel names some of tough times out-loud. His early words are cold and chilling.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten. Joel 1:4 NRSV
It just sounds awful. Everything eaten away--nothing left. It honestly sounds like a hopeless situation illness, divorce, jobloss, crime, terrorism, war--we know loss and grief. My temptation, in the face of painful reality, is to deny it is there. I don't want to grieve or face what hurts. I want to skip past it just as fast as I possibly can--the grief is too real and the pain unfortunately is too real. And I don't think I'm alone. God's people have long known the pains of this world. The ancient people Israel knew what grief was like because they knew first hand what exile was like. The people knew the pain. And Joel doesn't let up. He names the loss and the pain boldly...
The fields are devastated,
the ground mourns;
for the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil fails. Joel 1:10 NRSV
After a few years of life we can find out, very often the hard way, about the pain and the struggle of life. And the promise of scripture isn't that we will have no pain or grief--quite the opposite. The promise is that God will meet us in this world--in this life with all of our struggles and pains, with joy and with hope. The promise is that God will be with us at every step. This is where I find hope this year--not in looking back--rather I see hope when I look ahead. It takes hope to plant and think ahead. This year I give thanks not only for the year gone by--but for the blessed year to come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What are you asking for? Mark 10:35-45 Hebrews 5:1-10

Two brothers, James and John, came to Jesus with a request,

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.
(Mark 10:37 NRSV)
As a kid I remember learning about saints. And many consider these two sons of Zebedee to be saints. They were among the very first to follow Jesus, after all, they must be saints. But after reading the story it's clear that saints are very human. Jesus' first disciples, just like his current followers, are imperfect humans. God calls people to walk in the light of his love but that doesn't mean Jesus' followers don't still wrestle with temptation and misunderstand their place in God's kingdom. The people Jesus chose as the first building blocks of the church weren't exempt from surprisingly ordinary temptations--from the lust for power or the greed for prestige. So when they asked Jesus for the place of honor. He responded so clearly,
You do not know what you are asking.
Mark 10:38 NRSV
They really didn't have a clue. They could see that Jesus would be lifted up--but they couldn't foresee that Jesus would be lifted up on the cross and not on a throne. And Jesus pushed them to consider their words. He knew a cross was coming before the glory of resurrection.
Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
Mark 10:38 NRSV
They replied confident they could face whatever Jesus could. They had no clue about his suffering, death, and rising. They called him Rabbi, teacher. But he is more than a great teacher. He is the way into God's presence. He didn't tell these first followers to make themselves holy or worthy--no instead Jesus invited them to serve. From the earliest days Christians have understood Jesus as the first and greatest servant as the high priest who gave his life. The writer of Hebrews explained it this way,
Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”
Hebrews 5:5 NRSV
Jesus is the way. He is the one who gave his life for his followers.
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 NRSV
Jesus suffering, cross and empty tomb, this is what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God. Suffering, serving, giving his life made Jesus the great high priest. And we in turn are invited in our lives not to seek for greatness but to find it while we serve.

Human beings search for greatness. We want to be significant. James and John were no different. But somehow we recoil when we see people so clearly search out for a place of prestige. Jesus' other disciple balked at the the thought that these two would go ahead the kingdom. And it was clear that Jesus offering all his followers a very different definition of greatness: service.
whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many
Mark 10:44 NRSV
Service is not the way to heaven or to holiness--rather it's meant to be our way of life--and along the way, as we serve, we'll see our place in God's kingdom.
Peace, and thanks for reading,

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Like God John 6:35-51 Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Jesus first followers didn't call themselves Christians. That word came along a good generation later in the city of Antioch, today part of Syria (Acts 11). Instead of calling themselves Christians Jesus' first followers knew themselves as disciples. They were followers of a great teacher. But Jesus was up to more that just teaching. Instead of just passing out lists of Christian like behaviors and instructions Jesus came to heal, teach, die, and rise. And He invited his first followers, and all who have believed after them, into a day in day out relationship of trust in the God the Father who they know through the life and ministry of Jesus, God own son (John 6:44-45).

Discipleship begins with God and what God has done. It grows as we trust in God knowing we belong to the one who created and redeemed us. But discipleship doesn't end either belonging to God or believing in God. Believers are invited to be imitators of God revealed in Jesus who offered himself for the world Ephesians 5:1-2.

Discipleship is not just about Christian like behavior. Wise people have said they wished Jesus would have given us a clear set of directions rather than stories to understand how God work's in our world and how we are to live in the world. We as Christians, have been blessed with human crafted—God inspired stories—that invite us to contemplate who we are and who God is. The Apostle Paul gave advice that seems easy at first glance, “ imitators of God...” Ephesians 5:1 But the more I understand the cross as full expression of Jesus love the more weight I see in Paul's calling to “imitate God.”

The plain truth is the deeper I get into Jesus story the harder I find it to live like Jesus, to truly imitate him. All four Gospels speak of the great crowds who came for the miracles and wonderful signs of Jesus. But they also speak of the consternation in the crowd when Jesus spoke of how tough it is to follow. They struggled to understand how Jesus could be the bread of life offered for the sake of the world John 6:41-42. And I struggle too and think many others wrestle with the calling to imitate God--to live and die--like Jesus.

Paul invites Jesus followers into the full depth of their calling saying, “ in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us...” It's easy to be “all in with Jesus” if love is thought of as just a weak emotion. It's so much harder to be, “all in” if loving like Jesus means both living and dying like he did.

Today I give thanks that I belong to the one who gave himself away as bread for the world. Today I give thanks for the gift of faith to say, "I believe." And I give thanks for the calling, that I will work on everyday until I die, to imitate God and live like Jesus who gave himself away.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Whad'ya Expect John 6:24-35

Jesus was a miracle worker. 5000 fed from a few loaves and fish proved that Jesus was the one people needed on their side. Crowds followed Jesus expecting more (John 6:24). More miracles, more teaching, more healing--they wanted him to do more. Truth is we all need bread and Jesus feeding 5000 revealed power beyond anyone else's. They knew he was their Messiah and they could see the signs. But they wanted more.

So why is it that we want more from Jesus. Those already miraculously fed, they wanted more bread. And Jesus called them out. He said they came looking for another fill of bread John 6:26-27—-he came not to feed them once but to offer himself as the bread of life John 6:35. People who come to Jesus seeking only material blessings miss the greater blessing he wants to give—-relationship with him and his followers that doesn't end on this side of eternity (Ephesians 4:14-16). People who came only wanting another meal miss the blessing who stood right in front of them offering himself as their way to life everlasting (John 6:35).

Jesus taught his friends to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” Luther wrote in his Small Catechism

...God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this pray that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.
It's easy, as a person with a full belly, to miss all the blessings I've received. It's too easy for me to call the crowd who came looking for more lazy. I sit full and comfortable and can accuse the crowd of missing the point of Jesus ministry when they came back asking for more bread. If I consider my own prayers I see the crowd and I have a lot in common. I give God lists of needs and wants all the time. And I easily miss the greater gift, God's own self given for the sake of the world, that's already present in my life in Jesus. It's so easy to miss what God gives if I don't see beyond my daily needs and wants. Jesus comes to meet our every need, he comes to be our all in all. If we only think about today's necessities we miss the promise of eternity with Jesus.

We come to God asking for more and Jesus points to more than material gifts--Jesus offers his very self. (John 6:35). Preaching on John 6 Oscar Romero wisely said,
Christ can do that which people are unable to do. Christ can raise us up to God.
Here's the promise of Christ's Incarnation. Jesus came to be God with us and for us. He came to give his very self away. He is the bread of life. He came to offer bread that will never be taken away or lost to decay (John 6.27) And Paul invites us to be part of his body Ephesians 4:15-16. We come to Christ not just looking for bread but for life and in sharing our gifts, whatever they might be, we find new life too. Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What God's already done Ephesians 1:3-14

I read Ephesians 1:3-14. What a great blessing for me this week. I'm reminded of all God has done. The reality of God's grace and what God already did through the cross of Jesus just overwhelms. Many say it's too good to be true--they look for something to do to earn more of God's grace and more of God's love. But Paul says God's grace and love have already been revealed fully and completely in Jesus cross and rising. Human religion says do this and you will earn God's love or merit more grace--Paul invites our attention to what God's already done.

Grace as a gift unearned and undeserved. Wow. In the middle of this week's joys and struggles, hopes and frustrations comes word from Paul of God's grace for us--and more personally for me a sinner. Grace for a real sinner like me is always undeserved. For a righteous person God's favor makes sense--but for a sinner struggling daily with sin in every dimensions of my life it's way beyond comprehension. I've heard many qualify or limit the reach and power of God's grace. But Paul declares what God has already done for those who believe. God's grace in Jesus just stands out as the greatest gift of all time. Listening to Paul's words is like salve for my soul. Paul declares the news of what God's ongoing activity is on behalf of believers.

Paul isn't making a list of requirements to earn grace. Instead he's declaring what God has already done. Just listen to all that Paul says God's already done and is still doing...

  • God blessed us: God gives us spiritual blessings in heavenly places Ephesians 1:3
  • God chose us: God chooses to see us holy and blameless Ephesians 1:4
  • God destined us: God made us his children through adoption Ephesians 1:5
  • God bestowed on us: God in his glorious grace has freely done all this Ephesians 1:6
  • God lavished on us: God forgives our sins, a lavish gift, bought at the cost of his Son's death and rising Ephesians 1:8
  • God has made known to us: God revealed this mystery of his will to us Ephesians 1:9
The things God has done through Jesus Cross and resurrection: wonderful. The gift is free but the price was everything. For God's grace undeserved and unearned this sinner gives thanks.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

seeds and faith Mark 4:26-34

Jesus compared God's kingdom to seed. First seed simply scattered (Mark 4:26-29) and next a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32). In Southern Minnesota's prairie, where I live, people think about seeds in spring. My girls and I planted vegetable seeds in the garden a few weeks back. After planting comes waiting.

Jesus compared the kingdom of God to seeds scattered. But, as Jesus says, we don't know how the seed grows. Even in a "scientific age" with so many mysteries explained mysteries still remain. As a person of faith I often see God's hand at work in the mysteries of life in creation and in the re-creation of believers. Science explains how things grown but not necessarily why. Faith says look to God, the creator who made it just so. Jesus wasn't talking about seeds thou to give a lesson on gardening. He's using seeds to get us to consider the mystery of God's coming kingdom.

Jesus taught powerful truths through seemingly simple stories. He told parables about seeds that invite us into the joy and the wonder of God's work in creation, redemption, and renewal. Jesus told a story of seed scattered. In some ways I can see what he's saying as I look at our garden. The first plants: beans (both wax and green), sugar snap peas, spinach, zucchini, corn, and carrots sprouted quickly. The tomatoes and peppers, started in advance, have taken their place next to the onions that over wintered. Our planting time passed a few weeks ago--but the power in each little seed comes clear right now. It amazes me watching as seeds, no more than a fraction of an inch in size, grow into plants. First green shoots pop with a few embryonic leaves. More substances comes for each plant, many more leaves, branches, flowers, and hopefully fruit will grow from those seeds.

Jesus wants us to see how his kingdom grows. Someone, who Jesus doesn't name, scatters seed, maybe God or maybe a person of faith. And without our knowledge how or permission God's kingdom sprouts and takes root in our lives and our world. He compared the kingdom with a mustard seed--so tiny--but as a plant prolific in all that comes from one seed. Jesus' stories about the scattered seed and the mustard seed are rich in imagery encouraging thought and imagination. What is God up to today. Look at the seeds sprouting to life and you'll see something akin to the inner workings of God's kingdom in his time, our time, and in the world to come.
Peace, and thanks for reading