Thursday, November 21, 2019

What kind of King comes at Christmas? Luke 23:33-43

Is this a good time to start talking about Christmas?
I know Christmas is still 30 something days away--but maybe, as some folks have decorations up, its helpful to hear the Good News that Christmas is a story of God coming to meet us, to love us, to heal us, and above all to be the king who would die for us. It's good to hear the story and know that Jesus comes to meet the deepest longing of our souls. Long before Jesus' birth Jeremiah wrote about a new branch coming from a great old king's family tree. These ancient words of hope were heard by people living in a time, that like ours, can seem empty of good news and hope. Jeremiah wrote,

5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NRSV)
When Jesus was born angels celebrated his birth. Jesus, in his body, brought heaven to earth. Jesus' life, the teaching and the miracles, fulfilled old promises from prophets of long ago. God's kingdom was breaking through.
the story had twists, turns, and a cross. Luke wrote of what looked like Jesus' final day. The story flipped over in one fateful night. Jesus' friends left him as he was arrested. It happened fast. Armed guards bound him. They lead him away. The religious authorities accused Jesus of blasphemy. They punched and slapped him before handing over to the Roman Army who beat him again. Those in power gave orders that he be nailed to a cross.

Hanging on a cross was the opposite of what Jesus' followers had expected. He was their hope--their future king. They wanted him to make things right. A day before they looked at him and saw hope in flesh and blood. And now Jesus, this man of hope, hung on a cross. And in this time and space between death and life old questions about Jesus were spoken out loud. Was Jesus the king they had been waiting for or was he just a fraud?
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke 22:36-43 NRSV
Jesus are you king? So many had hope he would be their king. And as he was dying the two people who were crucified with him started to speak. One man mocked him--but the other had hope--somehow he saw in Jesus the king he was waiting to meet.
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deridingi him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 22:39-43.
His friends were gone--but one man still believed Jesus was a king and that he had a coming kingdom. That man--that criminal turned believer was hanging on a cross. He was dying in the same time and the same place as Jesus and in that moment he said remember me when you come into your kingdom. In that space between his own death and life he called out to Jesus. Jesus doesn't save us from our crosses--he doesn't save us from our deaths. He saves us on our crosses--he saves us in our deaths. Resurrection only happens after the worst has come. New life in Christ isn't about unicorns and rainbows. New life in Christ is about death being broken, it's about sin being conquered, it's about evil in all it's shapes and forms being broken. And the one who will break the power of sin, death, and the devil breaks their power by dying only to rise again.

So as we get ready for Christmas it's a good idea to remember the kind of king who is coming--the kind of king who will die to set us free. AMEN.
and thanks for reading,

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Traveling light trusting God. Luke 10:1-19

Jesus sent 70 people out on a mission: to share some Good News that God's reign is at hand. As church we share their calling in the world. Jesus called these first 70 followers to pray for the Lord to send workers who would be part of the harvest.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Luke 10:2-4 NRSV
Some might say the world looks so different than it did in Jesus day. But need for people to go out into the world is still the same as it was when Jesus sent these 70 follower into the world. They went out with hope in a world where pain and grief were real for so many. Jesus followers today have this same invitation as church. We are invited to go into the fields like harvesters--we are sent into the world where pain and grief are so real with this promise of new life and new hope.

Sometimes I know that I have forgotten the churches calling to go--but truth is this calling has been here all along. Jesus didn't tell the 70 to build a sanctuary and wait until people came in. He told them to travel light. He asked them to go town by town. When they came to a new town the first thing they were called to do was declare peace. If their offer of peace was received they were to stay and share the news of the kingdom. Jesus told them simply,
Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’Luke 10:8-9 NRSV
They were sent out with Good News for all the world; and they were called to share the news one house and one town at time. The news they had to share was good news then and is so good today. God's kingdom isn't far away--it's near by/right at hand today.

Jesus told his followers to accept any welcome--but he he told them that they weren't just to expect a welcome every where they went. He told his friends to be ready for rejection.
...whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ Luke 10:10-11 NRSV
The part of this story that gives me such hope is knowing the promise that the kingdom is close by right now. The part that frustrates me is knowing that not everyone will want to hear this news. As a pastor I look at this story and I see direction from God for us about how to be church right now. God has called the church, like these 70 early followers, to go into the world and meet people where they are.

We have a message to share that God's kingdom is close to us right now. And this news that God is near is the news our world most needs. Sinners, like me, need to know that God is near both because that means the hurt I cause others is known to God and because the forgiveness found in the death and resurrection of Jesus is near too.

Peace and thanks for reading,

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hope for Babel Genesis 11 and Acts 2

There's a story in the Bible about Babel that's just a few paragraphs long. Modern day folks would call Babel an industrious city. They had a goal, to make their city great. They wanted to claim a name and a place for themselves in all the world. And at first I wondered, What could God have against this city?.

At first glance their goal of greatness and the unity they needed to work together doesn't seem all that bad. Many people aspire, just like the people of Babel, to prestige. The city kept growing with a common purpose and language holding them together. They decided to build a tower to reach up to heaven. Their tower would put them on par with God. Scripture says God watched and decided to bring confusion. A people united with one language and one goal splintered as new languages just appeared.

A whole civilization oriented to it's own greatness came to a stop as God confused the people by bringing in new languages. Many people think the goal of human life is to make a name for yourself. Others think the goal is to be united for common purpose--but it's completely possible to be united for the wrong reason. Babel's quest for greatness was not innocuous. And God stepped in to stop Babel.

Other groups in history found strength in the wrong kind of unity. Germans in the late 1930's were unifying. Slogans spoke to the uniformity the Nazi's aspired to force on others. They aspired to be an empire. Their slogans spoke of uniformity and unity, but to what end?
ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer
one People, one Nation/empire, one Leader
Historic propoganda teaches us that Germany had united. But hind sight clearly teaches that the nation had united for the wrong reason; if we are honest they were united in a quest of greatness at the price both of their national soul and the dignity of other human beings who they relegated to a lesser status. So unity clearly itself isn't always good.

There's another story in the Bible that seems to go in the exact opposite direction of Babel's confusion. It's often called Pentecost. It happened at a festival in Jerusalem. Jesus first followers had gathered together. As the Jesus people gather they mixed in with people from all over the world. Luke, the writer of Acts, names all kinds people from a variety of places, languages, and ethnicities who had gathered together. In one moment they all understood one man, a fisherman from Galilee. They all heard him speaking and they each understood him in their own language. It was the reverse of what happened at Babel. Where confusion had reigned now there was understanding.

The promise of Pentecost is that God is up to something new in our divided world. God is bringing new life and new hope sending God's very real Spirit into our hearts and lives. May we hear the wind of the Spirit blowing in our lives. May the fire of God's love burn in us. May we be part of the kingdom of God breaking in and hope returning to all the world.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Spirit and Peace John 14:23-29

Jesus said a lot the night before he died. What he said has given hope and purpose to his followers ever after. In one evening he called his friends to find greatness in serving. A few moments later Jesus promised to be with his people in the bread and wine of communion. As the evening went on Jesus said he would give his followers a kind of peace that this world can't give. Jesus was naming the deep needs of every human soul—acceptance and companionship—and he promised his friends that they would not be alone. He was promising God's ongoing presence-no matter what. He said that God would be there through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that he goes with his people even though they can't see him face to face or hear his voice like they did at supper that night.

Sometimes it feels like we can get lost in this world. At home we started the week worried about stuff, packing, transporting, unpacking, rearranging. I do feel just a little lost right now. And when I got back into the office, all I can say is wow. There were phone calls for help, concerns about the church, and one of my old roommates from 25 years ago sent a message. His beloved has had heart issues since childhood, and now she's been shifted to hospice care. He's 46 and loosing the woman he wanted to grow old with.

We've had calls at church this week from families in crisis and people dealing with grief and loss. There's so much that people are dealing with and it makes my worries about stuff and where to put it seem really pretty trivial. And it reminds me again of the truth that deep down we are all fragile and deep down we all need God's presence every day.

Walking with Jesus doesn't end our fragility—but he promises to go with us in our weakness. Yes you are fragile, yes you can have struggles in this world with people, and money, and time. Yes you are mortal and your body will not last for ever. And Jesus says he will give you a kind of peace that this world can never give. Jesus promises God's loving presence as the Holy Spirit to go with you through your trials and fears. God doesn't cause the trials or the struggles—but the God of love promises to be with you right in the middle of it all.

Down deep every person needs relationships and Jesus is promising to be in relationship with us even when we can't see him. Jesus spoke to the deep needs that his people had the night before he died. Jesus knew his friends would be plunded into deep grief and loss. And his words still speak today of the hope that every person needs still today.

We aren't meant to be here alone. And Jesus talked, that night after supper, about going away. He talked about the days to come when he wouldn't be seen anymore like they saw him that night. He said that he wouldn't speak with his friends like he was speaking with them that night. Jesus' followers know well what he meant. Believers don't see him face to face over supper. But in faith Jesus' followers somehow know that Jesus is still here present and active. The life of faith is all about living in Jesus' promise. He made it clear that while his friends wouldn't see him they wouldn't be alone either. That night he pledged them that the Spirit would come and that they would find a peace this world can never give.

May the peace of Christ and the hope of the Spirit go with you wherever you go.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What is it good for? Luke 24:1-12

There's a line from a song and if I say it just right some people know exactly what words come next.

What is it good for...
I heard that old song by Edwin Starr called War. He asked out loud,
“War. What is it good for?”
And his response was simple—
absolutely nothin'.
He asked the question again.
War—what is it good for?
And then I started to wonder what people in our world today think about Easter, and I asked that same question about Easter, what is it good for? And the best answer I could find is absolutely everything. Easter is good news if you don't have it all together today. Easter is good news if you have troubles today. See the real story of Easter starts not the world being bright and perfect—no the real story of Easter starts with disappointment and despair. In a world where nothing is right that's when Easter matters.

Luke writes about women who got up early to go grieve at the grave of their beloved Jesus. He was the one who taught them all about the transforming love of God. When they were with him everything made sense—the world was about to turn for the better. And in half a day he was gone. And that morning they were going to go and cry. But God had other plans for them and for all the world. They were about to learn that for God even the grave is not end.

When they got to the tomb the situation was far from what they had expected.
The stone that blocked the tomb had been rolled away. They stepped in and didn't find the body. In their confusion two men dressed in white just showed up and they stood next to them. The women looked down at the ground in terror.
And the men spoke.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen
I love that question that the angels asked as they looked at these women whose heads and hearts were so full of sorrow and confusion.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?.”
There are times when every person I know could be asked this very same question. Why are you looking for life in places of death? And the promise of Easter is that Jesus has risen--and after all our functional saviors have failed to give us peace and joy--that's when the Good News of Easter matters most. After all our attempts to save ourselves have failed we hear this news--in God death doesn't win, despair, sin, shame, evil--it all stops with Easter. And that's when the new life begins.

peace and thanks for reading,

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

doing onto others Luke 6

Jesus spoke out loud about the dark-places that people don't usually talk about in polite conversation. He had the audacity to tell his followers not only how to interact with people who were easy to like. He told his follower how to deal with their enemies. Jesus said,

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Luke 6:27-28 (NRSV)
Jesus didn't say his followers were to hurt their enemies he said love them.
Jesus didn't say hate those who hate. He said do good to them.
Jesus didn't say to pray for hell fire and brimstone to come down on those who curse and abuse. He said to bless them and pray for them.

Now hang on—some people will say, Jesus just meant that for people's private relationships. Some people will say that this kind of advice is only about family, friends, or other members of the church. But Jesus didn't include any such limits in his preaching. Jesus didn't mince words because he understands how deep the need for healing goes into the space of every human soul. He didn't mince words because he understood how human connections can be broken and relationships can be shattered.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Luke 6:29-20 NRSV
I have a hard time understanding these words. It's clear that Jesus is naming the complexity of human relationships out loud. But now he was boldly challenging his followers to give up their rights, their possessions even their own bodies. It's one thing to say that Jesus boldly stepped into the mess of human relationships by telling his friends to love their enemies and to do good for those who hate them.
But this one verse keeps troubling me.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also... Luke 6:29 NRSV
What if this was act of turning the other cheek was an act of defiance or resistance to power as some commentators have suggested. Its been argued that Jesus was speaking here in terms that his audience would have clearly understood. They knew what it meant to live with the violence of Roman oppression and the humiliation they had endured at the hands of such a powerful empire. To turn the other cheek meant to stand with dignity and look in eyes of the person who struck you.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NRSV
Here's the most basic part of Jesus' ethics. He's telling his followers the standard for how they live and work in the world. Treat others the same as you would be treated. Show honor to the person and the dignity of other. In a few words Jesus is flipping everything over and inviting his followers to start with themselves if they want to live in a different world.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Unwelcome Good News Luke 4:14-30

Not every prophet is welcomed—especially when they have to speak to the people who assume they know the prophet already. When Jesus went home—to Nazareth he met rage and the deepest hurt of the people.

Luke tells the story of his moment in Nazareth, his hometown up in the hills. He was maybe a days walk west of Lake Galilee. He went into the synagogue, just like he did every week. Luke says it was his custom. It was a religious act—a ritual that meant something to him and others in his generation in Nazareth. Jesus stood up and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. These words from an ancient prophet proclaimed hope and the coming of God's anointing Spirit. Isaiah promised good news – good news for the poor, release for the captives and sight returning for the blind.

Jesus rolled up the scroll. He handed it back to the person who served as leader in the synagogue. And what he had to say next spoke to the people's deepest hopes and expectations.

σήμερον πεπλήρωται ἡ γραφὴ αὕτη ἐν τοι̂ς ὠσὶν ὑμω̂ν
at this hour these word are fulfilled in your hearing
Luke 4:21
Imagine the smiles and the looks of satisfaction in the eyes of the hometown crowd as Jesus spoke. He was reading some to the sweetest words of a beloved old book. What he read it was like a healing balm for hurting souls. God knows we need to hear these words of hope.

The people had heard about miracles in other cities. And in that moment they waited wondering what Jesus could do in their town. He spoke directly to their expectation. And his words had bite,
λέγω ὑμι̂ν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῃ̂ πατρίδι αὐτο
I say to you that no prophets is acceptable in their parents land/town
Luke 4:24
Quickly he was naming miracles that came for foreigners and even the enemies of his people.

He spoke of help coming for a foreign woman and child while the people of Israel suffered The people knew the story. Elijah, a great man of God, came to this widow in Zarapheth and her to share food with him. She was planning to cook a last meal for her and her son. But the prophet convinced her—a foreigner—to help him. She took her last meal and last oil and cooked him a little cake. And her jug of oil and jar of meal never ran out. It was a miracle but a huge question was left—why would God help her and her son when the people of Israel knew suffering (1 Kings 17).

Now Jesus spoke of even more troublesome miracle. Naaman—the general of the neighboring super power Syria came looking for help and Elisha healed him. Sure there were others in Israel with skin diseases—but God's servant Elisha was the one who gave Naaman directions how he could healed (2 Kings 5).

Jesus named the truth: God had done great things for people beyond one nation. His words pushed his own hometown crowd too far. The truth of his words brought out deep seated anger And the enraged crowd pushed him to the edge of town. They were ready to push him of the brow of hill—and Jesus slipped through the crowd.

Preaching the Good News often means speaking of God's love that is greater than human love. Some will not want to hear that their is good news for all the worlds hurting. Some don't understand the breadth and depth of God's love. Some think God is like them because they are so limited by the sin of racism, classicism, anti-semitism, and all other kinds of hate and ism. To be like Jesus means boldly prolcaiming good news. Preaching the power of God means announcing hope not just for those I like or love—but for all the hurting of the world.

May we have courage to speak so boldly to the world,
Peace and thanks for reading, John.