Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mountain and Valley Faith Luke 9:28-43

About 8 days later,
this seems like there's a throw away line right at the start of this weeks Gospel. But this little line is really important. 8 days before Jesus transfiguration on the mountain top he had openly talked with is friends about his death and resurrection. He said some would see the kingdom of God before they died.

I don't want to jump past this too fast. Jesus was on a mission. He had a mission to die and to rise. And along the way to the cross and the empty tomb were many stops. Some were so glorious and so wonderful and some so heart breaking. Today we hear the story of Jesus transfiguration followed by a miracle for a desperate father and child

This is exactly what our lives as Jesus followers is like. We have lots of stops along the journey as we walk daily with God. And there's good reason to take stock of the moments when we see God's glory both on the mountaintops and in the valleys. There's good reason to drink deep of those moments when we know God's real and ever present love. There's good reason.

Luke says Jesus took his closest 3 friends, Peter, James, and John and went up a mountain. I'm not sure what happened to the other 9 of the 12—but I know about these 3. And they went up a mountain with Jesus. Jesus was there to pray.

In the middle of praying Jesus changed. His face just shined. God's glory was clearly in him or on him I don't know how to explain it. Two men showed up. Great men from old. Moses the prophet who led the people of Israel from slavery to freedom the one who gave them the law. Elijah the prophet who confronted queen Jezebel the man who stood for God in a season when many said God was gone or just didn't care.

While Jesus was visiting with these two greats of old Peter, James, and John were getting very sleepy.

Luke says Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about His departure. Jesus was on a mission. His friends thought he was here on earth to do many things but I don't know if they understood the part where Jesus was going to die and rise. But Jesus knew the mission lead not to a throne but first to a cross. In their sleepy state Peter, James, and John saw glory. But the conversation in the glory between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah was about death and resurrection.

I imagine Peter thinking for a moment. This is big. Jesus, Moses, Elijah talking all together. This is big. I want to hold onto this moment. Peter turned to Jesus with a plan,

Master it's a good thing that we're here. We can build booths for you. We can an build you, Elijah, and Moses each a shelter—a little tent a tabernacle. You can sit down each of you in your shelter and we can come to visit with you.
In the middle of Peter's planning God spoke clear as day.
This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him!
And Just that fast the glory was gone. Peter, James, and John stood there with Jesus.

Jesus and his 3 friends head down the mountain. He met desperate man who shouted to get his attention. His son was possessed. Jesus followers were unable to caste out this one daemon.

Jesus response to this desperate father sounds harsh. He named the lack of faith and I hear Jesus' deep frustration—but his action show love. He called for the boy and set him free. And all were astounded by the power of God. There in the valley of this families pain, just like on the mountain, God's was there. Even when it's unexpected it's there.

There's such power in seeing God in the glory. But today I give thanks for faith to trust that God can move in the dark times. And this is exactly where we live as God's people today. With fear, love, and trust knowing that God is with us faithful both in the mountains and the valleys all the way to the end.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

best for last John 2:1-12

Sometimes I think there are limits separating possible and impossible, private and public. And when I read this story about Jesus at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) those lines disappear.

John told this story of Jesus' first sign of power. Jesus, his mother Mary, and some friends were in attendance at a wedding feast.

The wine ran out. For the host it was a private personal social catastrophe. But what was it to Jesus?

Mary turned to Jesus to tell him the news. Jesus asked back, “Woman, of what concern is that to us. It's not my time yet.” I've heard these words read over many years now. I've thought sometimes as I listen that Jesus was terse and disrespectful. But Mary wasn't deterred by Jesus' response. She directed the servants to follow her son's instructions.

Some commentators, like Roy Harrisville III, think this was a private miracle. But I'm not so sure Jesus would have cared if it was public or private. Harrisville writes,

This is a private miracle, subdued and quiet. It is not some flashy show of divine power. Only a few people, including the reader, know what actually happened. Jesus was even reluctant to do anything at the event. It was not meant to happen, but the persistence of his mother led him to perform what has become one of the most famous of his miracles.
Harrisville's right, the story changes when Jesus moves. It's the same today. When God moves the lines of possible and impossible disappear. But the lines of private and public vanish too. God took on the problem. It was no longer the hosts problem alone. It happened at Cana and it happens in the lives of God's people far beyond Galilee. When we think we're alone God's movements remind us that we are not alone.

I wonder what God thinks when we say somethings impossible. I also wonder what God thinks when we think we're alone with our troubles and problems. And then I remember that for God all things are possible (Mark 10:27). For Jesus all situations and people are redeemable. This is how God works. This is as David Lose argues how grace works.
...I’m grateful for John to remind us that grace isn’t only about making up for something we lack, but also providing more than we’d ever imagined or deserve. 2
John tells us six stone jars were there. Each jar had a capacity of 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus directed them to be filled. The water was drawn out and tasted by the chief steward. He didn't know where it came from but what he tasted, wow.. What he tasted wasn't water—it was was wine. More than just wine it was the good stuff even better than what was served before. If God hadn't moved the party would have ended. But Jesus stepped in bringing abundant blessing. The host's private disgrace was now a miracle that everyone could savor.

We often think faith is private, between, just” me and God”. But when God moves in our lives the lines of private and public disappear right along side of the limits of possible and impossible. For Jesus there's always power to transform our world and grace that transcends our limitations.

This is how God works. The signs and miracles are God moving revealing himself. Jesus gives not just enough but plenty. Mike Rogness says,
Surprise and shock always accompanied Jesus' signs and miracles. Here he surprises everybody—Mary, who probably wasn't sure what he would do; the servants, who were baffled when Jesus told them to fill the jars with water; the steward, who was taken aback at the excellence of the wine; no doubt the host, who was facing acute embarrassment upon hearing that the wine was running out; and finally the entire assembly, when suddenly their next goblet of wine was far better than anything they had drunk so far.

How often we lifelong Christians lose that sense that Jesus intends to remake us. We have come to expect that being a Christian is a good way to live, a rather acceptable and comfortable brand of vin ordinaire, as the French call their table wine. But just when life is going rather well, Jesus means to shower us with the really good stuff
Rogness, Michael. "'You are my son, the beloved': the Epiphany gospels." Word & World 24, no. 1 (2004 2004): 86-94. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 12, 2016). page 87-88
The steward was surprised the best wine had come out at the end of the feast. He didn't know about the miracle—all he knew was that the best wasn't usually saved for last.

But God often works this way revealing presence and power when we think God is absent or powerless. When God moves we often see the best is saved both for last and for the least. Jesus says
  • the last someday will be first Matthew 20:16
  • the servants among us will be the greatest Matthew 23:11
  • he came among us to servant John 13:12-17
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

God's own Isaiah 42:1-7, Luke 3

There's a word that we all need to hear. We all need to hear God's claim, "You are mine."

This word of belonging is a prophesy spoken on God's behalf by people. It was spoken first on God's behalf to people in exile in Babylon. These words, found in Isaiah, speak to a nation in tough straights. Exile meant loss of land and possibly even identity. These were the chosen people, the people of promise, but their situation looked awful. And it appeared to be getting worse. That's when God called to the people, through prophets, and said, "you are mine." Isaiah 43:1. These words declare once again to all Israel, simply and clearly, you belong.

But, those in exile will rightly say, it doesn't look like we are God's people. Severino Croatto asked a very reasonable question;

How can it be possible, above all, that in the midst of the painful experience of those dispersed among the nations, a project of salvation was announced to those very nations?
THE "NATIONS" IN THE SALVIFIC ORACLES OF ISAIAH by J. SEVERINO CROATTO* Buenos Aires, Argentina © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2005 Vetus Testamentum LV,2 page 143-144
What a great question. When circumstances seem other than blessed how can we claim to be God's. It's seem reasonable to start asking God tough questions, How can we be your chosen God, your beloved, if all this is happening? And here is where the promise meets us. We live in a world broken by sin and death and it's in this world--in this life that God has spoken his claim,, "You are mine." This is a Word of Gospel--this is a gift we don't earn or merit. This is grace spoken by the God who would face the cross for his people,

Jesus heard words from heaven that declared his identity. He heard it first at his baptism Luke 3:22-23 and again at the transfiguration Luke 9:28-26. He is God's beloved. And we hear these words in baptism when we rise from the waters. We belong. Even when the opposite seems to be true God's claim is still valid. Even when we feel unworthy God's love matters all the more. Luther wrote,
It is our glory, therefore, to be worthless in our own eyes and in the view of the world. We must indeed be nothing in our eyes and in those of the whole world. Not speculatively, as the Monastics say, but in reality we must be nothing to the tyrants who are raging against us, so that, though we are unwilling, all our wisdom, strength, and glory before us and the world may perish and we may seem stupid, so that with groaning and overwhelmed by the cross, we may long for liberation. In that extreme despair we hear You are precious in My eyes. “Because you are nothing to yourself, you are glorious to Me.”

I love you. The opposite seems to be true, “I do not love you.” When conscience hears God threaten, it says, “You are God’s foe and enemy.” So the whole world gives expression to the opposite view. Yes, the enemies themselves are the objects of God’s love, not we. Under this cross the flesh cannot believe that it is loved by God. The flesh says, “Love someone else also.” But here the prophet says, “Do not judge yourself according to your feeling but according to the Word...
Luther, M. Luther's Works, vol. 17: Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 Vol 17 Page 88). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

There's something in God's Word we need to hear. From the greatest person to the least we need to know of a love for the unworthy and the unlovable. God has claimed us and keeps on claiming his own not because we are worthy or holy; no God has claimed us because he loves us enough to die for us. The prophetic Words push us forward into this world with a permanent identity as God's people. Real live calamities are named in the prophesy: rising floods, terrible fires, and the promise is clear God is with us Isaiah 43:2. And through the worst this world can bring God's promise, you are mine, is heard again. The God of hope and salvation has spoken for Isael, for all people of faith, even for the worthless and unloveableee. God – the ancient one who made heaven and earth – God the one who set the people free from slavery is still the savior of his people. By the power of God's Word alone you know you belong. Isaiah 43:3.
And for that Good News I give thanks today. Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lost and Found Luke 2:41-52

There's much mystery to Jesus person. Many call it incarnation. He is God and human 100% both all at once. Luke's gospel starts with stories inviting us into the mystery Luke 1:1-2:52. John's gospel starts with a riff on God becoming flesh.

To drink deep of the mystery of the incarnation it's good to consider the story of Jesus as a boy in the temple Luke 2:41-52. It comes after the more familiar Christmas stories about angels, Jesus' virgin birth in a stable, shepherds, and Jesus' dedication in the temple. This is the only story in scripture about Jesus growing up.

The plot's pretty simple
Jesus went missing but he wasn't lost.
He found himself at home in his Father's house.

The longer story is that Jesus went to Jerusalem with his folks, Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:41-42). These 2 were the people he called dad אַבָּא abba and mom אִמָא amma. He was raised in their family with brothers and sisters. And they went to Jerusalem for Passover. Sounds like a great trip. They traveled as part of a large and wonderful group. But Jesus, unknown to them, stayed in Jerusalem. His parents headed home towards Nazareth (Luke 2:43-44). And Jesus stayed at home in the temple. Why wouldn't he? After all He was home. The temple was his Father's house.

I imagine the moment as a dad. Here's the family on the road. Traveling with a group assuming Jesus had journeyed with them in some other part of the group. Panic came at the end of a day's journey. Where's the boy. He wasn't where he should have been. Where was he? Luke 2:45

They hustle back to Jerusalem. They spent a day looking, I'm guessing, in all the places a 12 year old boy could find to get in trouble Luke 2:45. I'm a dad with 2 12 year-olds. Sometimes I think they're grown and responsible; but other times I think of all the trouble they can find in the world. Fear is very real for parents in any day and age. And after searching all the places where a boy could have gotten into trouble Joseph and Mary found him in the temple. Jesus God in flesh was home. Yes he's God but he is also Mary and Josephs' Thing is he was their boy. Sure the teachers were reveling in this moment. Such wisdom and insight came from a boy Luke 2:46-47. Mary got to the point,

Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety
Luke 2:48 NRSV
Yep he was son of God. But he was also their kid, the one they were responsible for and they didn't understand or much appreciate his dawdling. Jesus explained he was only in his Father's house Luke 2:49-50. Joseph and Mary didn't understand and Jesus didn't protest. He went home and honored Joseph and Mary. And Mary tucked away what she heard in her heart Luke 2:51-52. Luke said she did just the same thing with words of the shepherds Luke 2:19.

There's power in this story. It helps us to see the reality of God coming as more than just a consciousness in the person of Jesus. Here were two parents freaking out because this child God/Man was missing. He was not phantom. He was their kid. Here's a great joy and mystery for us. God would come and be one of us. John wrote of the mystery calling Jesus the Word,
and Καὶ
the word ὁ λόγος
flesh σὰρξ
became ἐγένετο
and καὶ
tabernacled/pitched a tent/dwelt ἐσκήνωσεν
among/with ἐν
us ἡμι̂ν,
and καὶ
we looked upon ἐθεασάμεθα
the τὴν
glory δόξαν
of him αὐτου̂,
glory δόξαν
of ὡς
only generated/begotten son μονογενου̂ς
beside παρὰ
the Father πατρός,
full πλήρης
grace χάριτος
and καὶ
truth ἀληθείας.
John 1:14 Greek from The Greek New Testament (electronic ed. of the 3rd ed. (Corrected)). Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies.
And I give thanks that Jesus has come to live, to die, and to rise that we might have life in him. AMEN.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Praising in the Between Time Luke 1:39-55

Mary's words in the Magnificat aren't often part of the Christmas story. But reading them I wish they were more on my mind as Christmas nears. Holiday celebrations can be full of activity and obligation. There are gifts to buy and places to be. But in Mary's words I hear a soul praising God. This year I want to sit back and sing out in praise to God who brings grace, life, light, and healing into the world. Yes my Christmas tree is lit and I am buying a few presents for my girls and close family, but my soul has reason sing praise to God today.

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47      and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Yes there are shopping lists and all sorts of activity in the weeks ahead. And I want my soul, in the middle of it all, to echo Mary's words today and everyday. I know God sees my sin and still blesses me. In Mary's words I hear a great reminder that God can do many great things. Even in the midst of challenge and adversity I look with faith and see the blessings God's provided for me and mine.

It's easy, for a person with a full belly and plenty of things, to forget the risk Mary took carrying Jesus. Still knowing the risk she sang praise to God who has mercy on those who fear him while scattering the proud. I hear a word in Mary about the God who brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. She wasn't just thanking God for what she had. Mary was praising God for the promises and for the future in God's hands for all people. Mary's word are a great song of prayer and praise for every season and every future. I serve a congregation that sings a version of Mary's words almost every week.

In Mary's song of thanks I am reminded again that God isn't Santa Claus and grace isn't karma. In God's mercy and love there's blessing and promise. This year and Christmas I want to sing with Mary about God who does great things.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Then What Fruits of Repentance Luke 3:7-15

Bold preachers sometimes jump into the collective imagination of people in their day. John was that kind of preacher. He could grab attention and people wanted more. His words weren't saccharine sweet, and people still wanted to hear. The truth he spoke often hurt before it healed. He spoke to the soul of his nation. Any person who would listen could hear him speak of the world from heaven's perspective.

John, sometimes called the baptist and sometimes called the forerunner, stepped into the collective imagination of the people of Israel 2000 years ago preaching a dynamic vision of God's kingdom.

John's preaching pulled people in to hear about the kingdom. Crowds came out to the wilderness to hear the news. The kingdom is close. Get ready one greater still is coming. Crowds came to hear and they wouldn't leave the same as they came. Leave the old behind: repent. John's powerful message echos in the church in the weeks before a Christmas celebration. Come welcome the new kingdom and the new king. And that means repenting.

John's words dug in deep and hard ποιήσατε οὐ̂ν καρποὺς ἀξίους τη̂ς μετανοίας
ποιήσατε οὐ̂ν poisate produce/bear
καρποὺς karpous fruit
ἀξίους τη̂ς axeous worthy of
μετανοίας metanoias your turning around/repenting.

John's word were intentional. He's inviting change in direction. Turn towards God, that's John's kind of repentance. John's call for μετάνοια metanoia repentance is a call not just a move in the heart or in the exterior life. John's inviting a 180-degree whole being turn back to God. He calls for lives that bear fruit of the turning back to God. William Willimon wrote wisely

The repentance John calls us to is no mere change of mind and heart. It is a total metanoia, a complete turning around from self to God. More than an emotional "feeling sorry for my sins," repentance is the fitting response to the presence of the Kingdom, the only way left now that our God has come, the necessary choice between self-salvation and God's salvation. Here is a costly Kingdom. John pays for his preaching with his head; we may come to the river singing "Just as I Am," but we will not leave these waters without having participated in a painful, deadly, costly work.
Willimon, William H. "What then shall we do." The Christian Century 99, no. 39 (December 8, 1982): 1246-1247. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2015).
John preached and the crowd asked collectively, Then what??? and the responses he gave were simple and specific. Share clothes and food with those who have none. The tax collectors and soldiers, people everybody else thought were sinners came to hear John too. When they asked, What should we do?, John's words turned very practical. Tax collectors, take no more than ordered. Soldiers don’t extort or lie. John would likely have very practical words for each of us too. Turn to God, care for the poor, live just lives. This year as Christmas nears I hope to remember that God's kingdom is always breaking in among us. And we are blessed to turn towards God and bear fruit in our lives.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

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.