Monday, July 28, 2014

open hands Matthew 14:13-21

Reading the first half of Matthew 14 I find two stories, one I dread and one I love. Up first is John the Baptist's beheading. And next comes a great unplanned banquet for 5000. It strikes me most how this meal that revealed Jesus' power came at the end of an absolutely awful day. Jesus heard the terrible news. His co-worker in the kingdom, his cousin, the man we call John the Baptist, was dead. His head was chopped off at King Herod's order at the end of a great palace banquet Matthew 14:1-12.

Matthew says Jesus went off to solitary place. I assume he went away to grieve and pray alone. And a huge crowd came on foot seeking him out Matthew 14:13. When Jesus saw other hurting people searching for healing he came ashore. Matthew says compassion moved Jesus to come back and heal the hurting.

Jesus' followers came along with the crowd. A troubling "reality" dawned on the disciples. They were in a isolated place. The crowd was huge, hungry, and they needed to be sent away soon. As a sometimes hardened cynic, my perception of "reality" limits me. Perceived "reality" limits me and maybe others from seeing all God could possibly do. Jesus heard the disciple's worries--but he didn't share their limits. He said there was no need for them to leave. He invited his friends to be part of a miracle with the words, "You give them something to eat." Matthew 14:16.

Jesus friend told him what little they had, just five loaves of bread and two fish. And Jesus said, "bring them here..." Jesus didn't see the situation like His friends did. He didn't see the same limits. They brought what little they had with open hands and a miracle began. Jesus invited the crowd to sit down. He blessed and broke the bread. He passed it to his friends to pass on to others. Everyone ate and they were all satisfied. Everyone in that huge crowd and it all started with five loves and two fish.
May we see the potential of what God can do and not just the limits of what we can do. AMEN
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

yoked in Matthew 11?

Jesus offers each individual person a promise of rest and peace. No matter what Jesus offers you rest for your soul in Matthew 11:28-29.

For 2000 years these words of promise have given peace to Jesus friends. Jesus invitation couldn't be simpler. He's speaking to every person who has too much to carry. If we're honest we could all talk about the burdens we have to carry. There are so many burdens people try to shoulder alone:

  • unrealistic religious systems
  • guilt and shame over the past
  • unanswered prayer or unhealed part of your life
  • grief over loss

When Jesus says to come and walk with him he used a very common everyday image that most everyone in Palestine 2000 years ago might understand: a yoke. It was the wood placed across an animal so it could pull. When Jesus says we should take on his yoke everybody knew what he meant. I am a city kid, a graduate of good old South High in Minneapolis. I don't know much about horses. But I have seen two horses yoked together that had amazing power.

When I was first a pastor a member of the church, a retired airline pilot, invited out the kids for wagon rides and slay rides. He had two great big old Belgian horses. I couldn't reach up to the top of their backs they were so big. When these two old horse, both a good 20 years old, were yoked together they had such amazing power. A wagon load of kids or a slay filled with two families was no trouble for these two beautiful animals to pull.

Jesus says, come along side of him and take his yoke on your shoulders. Jesus invitation isn't an invitation to drop everything and run away from the struggle. No he's offering you and me an invitation to enter the journey through our lives starting now with him sharing his yoke.. He says we should take his yoke on your shoulders. Jesus was telling the people a profound truth of a life of faith in a language everybody in his day understood. They all knew the power of two animals who shared a yoke walking side by side. Jesus doesn't say the load will disappear. Instead he spoke of sharing his yoke. Jesus didn't say every trouble will be gone if you just believe. He said come and learn from him. Jesus offers us a very vivid image of the Christian life walking side by side with someone who is gentle and humble in heart. We are meant to walk close to Jesus, shoulder to shoulder close, just like those two old Belgian horses who pulled together. Riding along people could hear their hoofs landing in rhythm with one another. Jesus invites us to that close of a walk with him. Come and learn his gentle and humble pace.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, June 16, 2014

what are humans Psalm 8

The Psalms brim with human attempts to define God. This book has been handed down from generations so long ago, in no small part, because it help us understand who God is, who we are, and what God is up to for real in this world broken by sin and death.   The Psalms often start out with a person speaking at the very end of human language. And other times they start out with the truth of human need and brokenness heard as someone calls out to God.

Psalm 8 starts out with awe,

1 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
It's one thing to consider the wonders of God. But it's completely different to think about that same God coming to die for you and me. We aren't perfect people or ever close to perfect.
For centuries we've look on and wondered why God cares about us. And here's the great mystery of our Faith. This great question shows up in the middle of Psalm 8.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Over the past year I've spent more time in the book of Psalms than any other book. It's there, right about the center of any Bible—this book of 150 prayers and songs. Often when I sit with people in the Hospital who will be there for a while I encourage them to talk to God. If they are struggling to know how to start I point them to the Psalms. It's okay to borrow a language of prayer if you know that it will help you learn how to connect to God. It's okay to start with prayers trusted for generations when you have something big to say and you just don't know where to start.

The way I see it is there are 150 Psalms and not every one is going to fit you right now. Some Psalms are words of praise like Psalm 8 that we read today and others are Psalms of grief and lament like Psalm 88 that call out into darkness wondering out loud if God's real and even cares about our pain. 150 prayers and songs.

The Psalms are inspired and inspiring words. These are 150 prayers and songs written to God. And anytime you don't have a prayer language of your own to speak to God it's okay to turn to the Psalms and borrow somebody else's. These are soul level communication between one person—a human—seeking an encounter with another being who is so wonderfully different than any human being you or I have ever met on this planet.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, June 5, 2014

living rivers John 7:37-39

Jesus made some huge promises to his followers.
Anyone who is thirsty could come to him and drink. (John 7:37)
Out of the hearts of believers would flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

Jesus used everyday images to explain God's activity in our world. And one of the images Jesus chose was water. Everybody in the world knows water. For people in Israel 2000 years ago fresh water was key to survival. For us today knowing Jesus, the source of living water is key to our thriving too.

Jesus talked about people coming and drinking deep from him. He was talking about finding refreshment for tired souls. Probably the biggest single joy Christians know is the peace and freedom that comes from walking with Jesus in all circumstances. As a Christian you walk with him as you hear stories and teachings. You drink in His word and His presence. Walking with Jesus doesn't make your life perfect or make you perfect—rather it means you are walking with the one who can give you peace for your soul.

Jesus says to drink deep and find peace for the deepest places in your soul. Drink deep of the cross. Drink deep of the forgiveness and new life bought for you at the cost of Jesus' death. Drink deep of hope that sets you free to live a new life. Drink deep of the living water and walk with Jesus day after day.

Jesus is making a way for the Holy Spirit to move on the inside. Each time we hear Jesus call us to love one another it's the Holy Spirt who translates that call into action. Each time we hear Jesus tell us to leave our idols behind so that God and our neighbors and our families can be first in our lives it's the Holy Spirt who does the heavy lifting inside of us. Each time you are confront by God in your selfishness or your self-deceit it's the Holy Spirit at work deep inside you.

Jesus echoes Isaiah invitation to hurting people

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
Jesus says a river of living water flows from the heart of believers. Pay especial attention to the distinction that Jesus makes—He's talking about living water flowing from the heart of believers.

May the life giving Word of God flowing into your life and through your heart into the world.  May the Spirit move you into a life of joy and peace.  AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Home, yet? John 14:1-14?

Every Christian's story includes pain, grief, and death. The night before Jesus died he spoke words of comfort to his friends knowing pain would come soon for all of them. What Jesus said that night had such significance that it has been passed down from the apostles to us. These words hold a promises to us, we have a way home (John 14:1-4), a relationship with God the Father (John 14:5-8) and a promise of God's presence in all our days (John 14:9-14).

In Jesus we see our way to the future. In Jesus we see hope for the hour when we will be at home and at peace with God. Luther wisely wrote,

To be sure, this comfort did not help at the moment, nor was it effective until the appearance of the Holy Spirit. No, when Christ was gone, all was lost; they had no heart or courage, and not one of them could stand his ground against a frail maid. In that hour all Christ’s words and works fell by the wayside, and this comfort was entirely forgotten.
Thus Christ admonished and consoled His beloved disciples here as men who sorely needed consolation. But these words were recorded, not for their sakes, but for ours that we might also learn to apply this comfort to both present and future need. Luther's works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 page 10
Don't be mistaken: Jesus words didn't negate the terrors his friends would soon experience. But looking back, after the resurrection, they remembered a promise worth passing on to future believers. They remembered Jesus' promise to guide them and all his people living in dark days. Jesus' words in John 14 were passed on to us because of the power Jesus' friends saw in them after His resurrection. When times are dark we need to know that same power of God. When things are going from bad to even worse we need to know that God is at work. No wonder so many hurting people find sustenance in these words of Jesus about knowing the way home to the father. Luther wrote,
Every Christian, when baptized and dedicated to Christ, may and must accept and expect encounters with terror and anxiety, which will make his heart afraid and dejected, whether these feelings arise from one or from many enemies and adversaries. For a Christian has an exceedingly large number of enemies if he wants to remain loyal to his Lord. The world and the devil daily lie in wait to deprive him of life and limb. Furthermore, his own flesh, reason, and conscience plague him constantly. As a result, his heart trembles with fear. Luther's works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 p 10
Jesus words promise a forever place. This promise is given to us as church together today. We are not meant to not view this world as home. No we are meant to trust in Jesus' person and his promise: he is going to, "prepare a place for you."
Peace, and thanks for reading,

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Identity in John 10:1-10?

if Jesus = Good Shepherd then his followers (aka Christians) = Sheep
Jesus is every Christians' shepherd. In a world full of dangers that promise shines bright. Jesus watches over and protects every believer in the midst of this world's dangers. Jesus guides his followers into abundant life that starts in relationship with him (John 10:10). This promises more than a way to safety. Relationship with Jesus means full life that doesn't end in death. Thieves may come to steal and destroy (John 10:1) and Jesus is the way through all that to abundant everlasting life.  Jesus promise remains even after the world has done the worst to you.  Jesus, the gatekeeper, watches over protecting his own. His simple promise rings out--those who know him follow his voice and find abundant and everlasting life with him (John 10:2-6, John 10:10).

Jesus gives His followers abundant life in a dangerous world. Jesus' promise isn't a guarantee of wealth or comfort on earth.  I don't think Jesus made any promise of earthly prosperity.  Rather Jesus spoke of life that didn't end in this world's struggle.  He promised abundant life knowing the cost he would pay for his sheep (John 10:9, John 10:17).  Jesus offers us an abundant life-giving forever relationship starting now. The world's dangers remain, and so does God's promise. We remain in the Good Shepherd's care forever: and forever started some time ago.  The world's dangers are not eliminated--instead Jesus plants hope in his people to see abundant eternal life with God. Hope takes root in the promises Jesus makes. He will shepherd his followers in all situations even, as Psalm 23:4 says, the valley of shadow and death. Jesus identity as shepherd is his promise and our hope.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Surprised by Jesus Luke 24:13-35

Our Gospel this week is a story that's been told for 2000 years. It's a great old story. Sadly it's often forgotten in the middle of annual Easter celebrations.

Luke wrote how 2 of Jesus' friends, Cleopas and an un-named companion, met the resurrected Jesus but didn't know it was him. I laugh reading this story. Just think, they walked and talked with Jesus for a few miles but they didn't recognize him. The suspense is real. Jesus was just waiting to reveal himself to them. They couldn't even imagine that they were walking and talking with the one who they called Lord. It was too much to even hope for as one of his followers. And this is the mystery Jesus, still unrecognized, unraveled for them Luke 24:27.

This is a genuine Easter day kind of story, you can tell. Uncertainty swirls around everybody in authentic Easter stories, except Jesus. This story is full of all the elements of real Easter stories: doubt, fear, questions, amazement, prophecy fulfilled, and finally joy. I hear this story as a gift. Jesus rising overcomes all and any doubts; Jesus is alive. And no human being started the day expecting to meet him alive and well. And they recognized him finally in the breaking of the bread Luke 24:31-32.

Once he left these traveling companions spoke of how their hearts were on fire. Jesus' explanations moved them and reignited hope in them that God could still do wonderful things even after Jesus' death. Oh the joy to see him face to face. The joy to know that Jesus had come to, once and for all, overcome death. As you read or listen to Luke 24:13-35 I hope you smile along the way. There's joy in these two discovering that Jesus was there all along the way with them. The same joy can be found in our lives when we discover how God has been with us all the way through our lives too. The day Jesus rose was full of surprises, doubts, and joy that overcomes doubts. That morning Jesus' friends heard a report that Jesus was alive or at least that His body was missing from the tomb. And that news of resurrection and power met together with human disbelief that day just like in our day.

May every heart burn bright with the recognition that Jesus is alive and well and ready to transform our lives to reveal His glory to the world.
Peace, John.