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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

a place of grace Luke 10 38-42

Luke's story about Mary, Martha, and Jesus challenges me in a way that's uncomfortable. The story is short and sweet. Jesus is traveling and he comes to a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

Martha got busy. She perceived “obligations” to her guests. She believed she had a duty to serve. She grew frustrated as she worked and her sister Mary sat with Jesus.

Martha wanted Jesus in the middle. She wanted her sister's hands dirty too. But she didn't talk to Mary in private. She aired her frustration trying make a triangle with Jesus in the middle. Martha assumed Jesus would back her up.

And Jesus responded in a way that surprises me. He didn't take Martha's side. “Mary's chosen the better part.”

I can honestly relate to both Martha and to Mary.

At times in life I can grit my teeth with Martha and look at somebody else who isn't working as “hard” as I am. It's easy to get steamed and sit with Martha.

And I can sit with Mary in grace and know that I could never do enough to make everything workout right.

There's a strong desire among believers to be right with God. There's a desire to be super-Christians. And when I grit my teeth with Martha I need to hear Jesus again. “Mary has chosen the better part.” Trust in God isn't proven by the number of good deeds done or prayers prayed. Trust in God is a matter more of the heart than of the hands and the voice.

Jesus' words about Mary choosing the better part just set me on edge. But in these words I hear the promise of the open place. Jesus was there for Mary. She didn't do anything to earn that love. That space Jesus had for Mary that's Grace. In faith I trust that there's a space—a place for me and for every sinner in the world. Grace isn't something I earned or deserved. It's real and it's free and it comes by faith. And it's for me and for every Mary who just sits with Jesus.
grace and peace to you, and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, June 9, 2016

...who is forgiven Luke 7:36 - 8:3

Luke tells a great story about a Pharisee, Jesus, and a woman. I thought sounds like the great start to a religious joke. But it's really, for me, been an invitation to see the breadth and depth of God's love and mercy.

The pharisee, a devote religious man invited Jesus over for supper. Luke 7:36-38
It was early on in Jesus' ministry, but there was already friction between Jesus and many of the Pharisees. They knew he was a wise teacher but, there was something in Jesus ministry that just went too far. Jesus spoke forgiveness. He declared God's love not just for the holy or the the nearly holy. Jesus dared to speak God's love and forgiveness to real live sinners. And this really got under the skin of the religious elite.

It's been that way from the start. There's been tension between the religious, who believer they are holy and righteous on their own, and the God who sent his son into the world to save sinners by dying and rising. There's tension between self-righteousness and righteousness that can only be received by faith. That friction was there in Jesus' day and it's here in our day too.

So a woman with a bad reputation, the kind that everybody talked about, she stepped into the home of ae Pharisee. Jesus was there as an honored guest reclining at the table. And this woman, the one with the terrible reputation, knelt down behind Jesus. She brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She wept and the tears washed away the dust that covered Jesus feet.

The Pharisee, Simon, looked and thought to himself, this is so sketchy, if Jesus was a real prophet he would really know what kind of woman she is. It's tempting to say we know exactly what her sin really is. It's tempting to say it's some particular sin—but Luke leaves that detail out of the story. What we know is she wept over Jesus feet. Enough tears rolled down her face to wash away the dirt and dust that came from walking in sandals on dusty roads.

But Simon doesn't get it. He looks and he sees this woman and likely says to himself, “She's a lost cause." Maybe he thinks to himself, "not even God can forgive these sins” But Jesus knows exactly what Simon's thinking. Jesus asks a question about two men with forgiven debts. Luke 7:40-43

Simon saw a sinner too far gone. And Jesus saw a person who he loved and forgave. And this woman she showed great love for the one who had forgiven her so so much.

There's no doubt a lot to her story. Maybe you've found that sometimes people's stories have stories and stories. I mean the longer I live—the more complicated I find real living people's stories become. The older I get the harder it is for me to sort people into easy categories. Who is right with God and who is not—only God knows the true faith of our hears. There's depth to each of our stories—depth that we can speak of as joy and pain—and even depth that we don't speak about. And this woman came into the presence of Jesus as one who is already and completely known.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jesus is more powerful Luke 7:1-10

A man of power and prestige, a centurion in the Roman Army, sent elders from the local religious establishment to Jesus asking for help. He was commander of at least 80, more likely 100 or more soldiers. And He was looking for a miracle. He needed healing in his house. Somebdy he cared about, a slave in his home, neared death. He had a problem his power couldn't resolve and he sent people to ask the one man he trusted had power to help heal. He called for Jesus.

The elders in the Jewish community at Capernaum urged Jeus to help him. He is a good man, they pleaded. Help him please. He's worthy. He loves our people. He's the one who built the synagogue. Jesus made way towards the man. I'm guessing the message that Jesus was coming went on ahead of him.

The centurion sent new people to Jesus. They had a message of humility and faith. The words are memorable, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof.” There's no way around this humility. Here's a man of great power—who says please Jesus I'm not good enough to have you come into my home. His word echo's John the Baptist's saying he was unworthy to loosen the latch of Jesus sandals. Luke 3:16

He said, through his messengers to Jesus “All you have to do is speak and my servent will be healed.” Here's a man of earthly power speaking of Jesus' even greater power. Here's faith. Here's a man of great power trusting that Jesus could do even great things.

And Jesus replied amazed at the faith. I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. And the servant was healed.

Faith can come from any corner or any person. Faith is simple trust that God can. AMEN.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jesus Promise-the Holy Spirit Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15

Jesus has made a whole lot of promises. He has promised to come into the lives of his people. And by faith his people know that Jesus keeps on coming into the lives of believers. Jesus told his friends he had much to tell them. But he also said what he had to say was much more than they could bear to hear in that moment John 16:12. He told them the time would come though when they would be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit John 16:13.

Untitled The Holy Spirit is the plan—Jesus' says he comes to speak not on his own but for Jesus. The Spirit comes not looking for glory but rather to make Jesus shine bright. The Holy Spirit comes again and again into the life of God's people—the very breath of God breathing life into us and showing us the very heart of God. The Spirit making clear to us who Jesus is and who we are as people set free by His cross and resurrection.

There are promises in Jesus Words—promises that we will not ever be alone or forsaken. There are promises that God will not remain silent. There are promises Jesus has made not just once but over and over. And he's kept his promise over and over again coming into the lives of the his followers.

The promises remind us of the peace that we have with God through faith in Jesus Romans 5:1. The promises sustain us in every challenge Romans 5:2-3. And here the great gift of faith takes hold. By faith we know a love that doesn't end—that not even death can end. Romans 5:4-5
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Babel’s reflection Genesis 11:1-9

In the ancient book of Genesis there's an account of a city in which everything made sense and then nothing made sense at all Genesis 11:1-9. The city was called Babel.

The human population of the whole earth, it was said, had just one language and the people all understood each other. And they came together in one place on earth. That really sounds good on the outside. Yes we want people to be united, but these people were not united for good purposes. They came together with big plans all their own—not plans that came from God. Now they had their chance. Now they would make a name for themselves. They planned to build a great city. But having a great city wasn't enough. They wanted a great tower to be at the heart of this great city that would reach right up to heaven.

The people believed that they'd be scattered all across the earth if it weren't for this great tower that they were going to build. They had to build it—it became their purpose—their obsession—their very reason for living. They had to build it otherwise they could never be one.

What's funny (to me) is that they missed the fact that they already were one and that they had a great and wonderful purpose from day one. They were God's own and they were made to live in the joy of knowing God's constant presence and abiding love. They were made to live in great joy. But joy wasn't enough for them.

The people of Babel thought that this tower, this man made structure, would unite and unify them as a people. They thought the glory of this tower would make them happy satisfying the deepest needs of their souls.

But in God's great and grand design they already had a common identity and an even greater purpose. In God's great and grand design they already had all that they needed. They were made in the very image and likeness of God. In God's great and grand design was greater joy than could be found in making an even bigger name for themselves on the earth. In God is found our great hope and joy. It's not in the stuff that we can get or the things that we can build. It's in knowing and loving God that we find true joy.

I've watched over the years as people live to acquire more stuff and bigger things. I've watched people in power step on and exploit others for their own selfish gain. And the one thing that surprises me the most is that somehow that identity that stuff that amount of money is never enough. The people of Babel were absolutely convinced that they needed more than just what God had given them. They thought that they needed to prove once and for all that they were great and that they were the ones who made themselves into one great and powerful people.

And God stepped in among the people of Babel. Imagine God coming, maybe in the company of angels and nobody noticed. They were so busy. Their eyes fixed on this project, this tower, and they missed God's presence in their midst. And God brought confusion. The words that once formed their common bond no longer united them. In a moment their common language and earth bound purpose were gone. And they lost any need or ability to keep on building that great tower. They'd forgotten their real treasure is not in what they can build or acquire—their real joy is found in God.

And in the moment of confusion and consternation everything that they thought had mattered just stopped mattering. And in God even after everything has lost meaning we find peace.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John

Monday, May 9, 2016

can you show me God John 14:8-17

There's a beautiful request that people can make, “Can you show me God?” It's a question that can be asked at so many junctures. In the best days and in the deepest pains, “Can you show me God?”

Jesus' friend Philip made this kind of request when we he asked Jesus,

“Lord, show us the Father.”
Jesus responded with surprise.
Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?
Jesus and Philip—and all of his friends had been through so much together. They'd traveled for 3 years together. They'd seen daemon's cast out, Lazarus come out of a tomb and heard Jesus teach with power and wisdom that clearly didn't come from any earthly source. After all they'd seen together Philip still didn't recognize Jesus as one with the Father

So when Philip asked to see the Father Jesus told him plainly
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
For Jesus it's simple as his nature. When a person sees God the Son they are seeing God the Father too. So often humans. like Philip don't see God even when God's at work all around every day. People ask sometimes even out loud, “show yourself God” But so often humans don't see God at all.

And Jesus invited his friends to look through faith and see God at work. Deep down seeing God is a great need of every person. And here's the promise of God's presence. The one who created all thing, the same one who died to redeem still breathes life today. When God's Word is heard or a neighbor is served Jesus comes into our midst. In the bread and wine God's very heart is seen. He is the one who made heaven and earth and died to redeem it. And this same Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit it still coming. An advocate is coming to speak in God's name—on God's behalf to teach and reveal God's promises and to bring us peace. Today we trust that Holy Spirit comes to show us the heart of the Father.

Peace and thanks for reading.