Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thanks Joe Matthew 1:18-25

This year in Advent we are taking in 4 stories of Angel visits. These visits came in the days before Christmas. Last week we took in the story of a man named Zachariah who had a fearful experience of meeting with an angel. This week we hear the story of an angel who came to visit Joseph. Next week we'll listen into Mary's angel moment. And the week before Christmas we'll listen to the words of the Angels for shepherds the night Jesus was born.

There's a part of Joseph's story that I don't want to pass by to quickly. Joseph came from a great family line. He was a descendant—generations back—of the youngest son of Jesse. That youngest son was called David. The people universally regarded David as Israel's greatest king. After all those generations the family line was thought dead. And along the way. In the middle of a dark and fearful time hundreds of years after the great king David and hundreds of years before Jesus a seer, a prophet named Isaiah had words of hope to share.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Isaiah 11:1 NRSV
This word of hope shined bright in the middle of exile and turmoil. A shoot, new life, shall sprout from a stump that was believed dead. Part of walking with Jesus is this deep hope rooted in a promise. That for God new life is always possible. For God no person and no situation is beyond redemption. This is the promise that was about to be fulfilled in Joseph's life.
Joseph thought he knew what was coming:
a marriage
a family
in that order.
When he learned Mary was pregnant he was done. His plan was simple: end it quietly and walk away. Leave Mary to her problems. But Joseph's plans were going to be subsumed by an even bigger plan. The plan of God laid out for him by an angel.
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
Matthew 1:20-24 (NRSV)

This week I pay attention to what the angel had to say to Joseph. Sure it was fearful and confusing. But I give thanks that the angel's words met him right in his confusion and fear. Because the son he raised together with Mary brought salvation to the world.

Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Monday, November 28, 2016

Zechariah's Fear in Luke 1:5-25

This year for Advent we're taking in 4 stories of angel visits and messages they had to share with God's people.

  1. Zechariah Luke 1:5-25
  2. Joseph Matthew 1:18-25
  3. Mary Luke 1:26-38
  4. shepherds Luke 2:18-16
Zechariah's encounter with the angel reveals the power of God. Zechariah was performing a religious duty. Religion looks backward remembering the place where God had come in the past. But God isn't limited to only earlier places where God's been before.

Zechariah had faith. He prayed for his family, for his wife. He prayed in to to someday be a father. But I don't think he expected to meet God's messenger when he went into the heart of the temple. People stood outside praying as he stepped into a sacred space. He was going in to honor the ancient ritual to remember the times when God had come to his people before. And right as he should have been burning incense in this sacred space God's messenger showed up. Right in the middle of a repeated action of devotion the angel Gabriel came with news.
Zechariah, don’t be afraid. God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you will name him John. He will bring you joy and gladness, and many people will be happy because of his birth.  John will be a great man for the Lord. Luke 1:13-15 NCV
Garbriel didn't come by accident. God was on the move. The angel's appearance was terrifying. And the angel spoke to that terror. He had news. Zechariah's family, in particular his son, was going to be part of God's entry into the world.
...even from birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He will help many people of Israel return to the Lord their God.  He will go before the Lord in spirit and power like Elijah. He will make peace between parents and their children and will bring those who are not obeying God back to the right way of thinking, to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord. Luke 1:15-17 NCV
Zechariah's prayers had been heard. But his response wasn't joy. He spoke back to the angel.
“How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Luke 1:18-20 NRSV
Meeting the Angel left Zechariah speechless. And maybe the promise of Christmas should leave us looking for words too.
Peace and thanks for reading. John

Thursday, November 3, 2016

God of the living Luke 20:27-40

Jesus sat openly in the temple in the week before his crucifixion. He spoke his mind. Just a week before his death the conflict between Jesus and many powerful people came out into the open. One after another different people came hoping to trap him in some form of blaspehmy—but they couldn't.

First it was the Pharisees who came scheming, then the Sadducees came looking too entrap him too. But hard as they tried they to catch him openly denying the authority of God, the law, or scripture they just couldn't catch him--because he didn't come to deny God or scripture. But they weren't going to give up power to him. These two groups had significant differences but Jesus was a common problem. The Sadducees didn't see any possibility of life after death and the Pharisees did believe in life after death. The Sadducees were connected to the ancient priestly families who prospered from the operation of the temple. The Pharisees made themselves out to be experts at teaching and keeping the law.

These two groups were both vying for the hearts and minds of the people and then Jesus came along and the whole situation changed. The issues the Pharisees and Sadducees had with each other where significant. But when Jesus came along those issues fell to the side. They wanted to just take him on and expose him for who they really thought he was. They were trolling to catch Jesus all it would take is a word and they could get rid of him. Much like a fisherman throwing bait on a hock behind a drifting boat these men came at Jesus over and over with many questions and stories. They were trolling and Jesus didn't bite.

When the Sadducees came they had a great story. Image a woman who was married. And her husband died—and so like the ancient law of Moses taught she married his younger brother. Imagine he died. They she married the next brother and he died. In keeping with the law, she married 7 brothers in row. She married one brother in succession after the other. Oh boy this story is a doozy. And when she's resurrected who's wife will she be in the end? The question was a total set up. The people who asked him knew it. The Sadducees mocked Jesus and others who think there is life after death. These people didn't believe in resurrection. But they knew Jesus did and they tried to trap him and expose him as a fool or a blasphemer.

And Jesus responded to their doubts and mocking. And he opened up a view of heaven to his hearers that left them speechless. The Sadducees were seeking to mock the idea of life after death and Jesus blew them away. We imagine things from our perspective and Jesus gave them just a glimpse of the life to come. Marriage and relationship, the human body and it's mortality are all going to be transformed by resurrection. The promise underneath it all is simple. God is God not of the dead--but the living.

The Sadducees didn't have anything more to say. But for me the promise of God's power of death matters. Here is hope in the face of death and despair. Here's the promise of new life for all who believe. He is the God of the living.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, October 24, 2016

heartfelt Word Jeremiah 31:31-34

One of the great promises Jeremiah shared was the promise of a new covenant written on the heart of the people. His words were meant for a people who knew what it was like to lose their homes and find themselves in exile. Oh this promise is even bigger than it seems.

They knew why they were in exile—their choices had consequences—and now they had no place and maybe even no hope. And God gave Jeremiah this word of hope to share. A new covenant written inside of each heart.

The situation looked bleak for this people this house of Israel. Their exile meant grief and separation. As God's prophet Jeremiah spoke the hope of a new covenant to this nation who had no more home land.

They'd broken the old covenant. Jeremiah said it was like a marriage covenant broken down. They knew the pain—and rather than leave them lost forever God made a promise not to take away the pain and bring them back. No God made a promise to be with them in the middle of their exile. His word would be inside of them.

God said he was ready to make a new covenant. He was ready to enter into a covenant not with one individual but with everyone who called themselves a part of Israel.

And the Word of the Lord would be written in their hearts. Even miles and years separation from home couldn't keep God out of their lives. And this promise is God news for all people today. AMEN.

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.