Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Present Matthew 2:13-23

We look for certainty and security, predictability and comfort at Christmas every year. And then we start reading the real story of Christmas in Matthew and find anything but what we were looking for in the story. It isn't what we want to hear; but Jesus came to deal with what we can't--life's complications that require a savior--sin, death, and the devil.

A friend confided that she's always disappointed at Christmas. No one can make it as good as it's supposed to be. I'm dumbfounded and resist the urge to give her the advice I give my daughters, "SNAP OUT OF IT". She has children, a home, family (while imperfect) who love her, a husband who respects her, and her every basic need is met (and then some by global standards); yet she is still yearning for something more--some point of certainty in an uncertain world.

Reading Matthew we find out that Joseph had to be convinced by the angel to accept Jesus as his son. Next we learn that this same Jesus was wanted and hoped for by many. Visitors came bringing him gifts from the East. But then the story turns ugly. Children were killed as King Herod looked for Jesus. Jeremiah is quoted, Rachel is inconsolable. Bethlehem weeped, crying out to God. The prophet told Israel, Jeremiah 31:16-17

This is what the LORD says:
"Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,"
declares the LORD.
"They will return from the land of the enemy.

17 So there is hope for your future,"
declares the LORD.
"Your children will return to their own land.

These words would be unheard through the weeping. But the promise would remain. Jesus came as the child of promise for a broken world. His birth did not redeem the world; that would require his own death.

Our holiday traditions are an attempt to find a fixed point in an uncertain world. We look for safety but there isn't any. We merge Christ's story with family traditions hoping that old stories and songs and rituals will keep us safe from our old enemies; but sin, death, and the devil are always there ready to destroy. Jesus came for this: to be the light house in the storm. His birth did not bring peace; but his death would bring life.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Joseph ... don't be afraid...share God's dream. Matthew 1:18-25

In my first year as a pastor I preached 3 sermons in 3 days at Christmas time. I decided to try different perspectives on Christmas each day. Christmas Eve was for Mary's view. Christmas Day, with the high sounding theology of John 1 was for Jesus' side of the story. Sunday, December 26 1999 was Joseph's story. This week lends itself to that same kind of story telling. My suggestion, start with Joseph's story on December 23; let everything else fall where it well, the story is what matters.

Joseph's story gets time in Matthew's Gospel and Mary's gets its time in Luke. We only know a few details of Joseph's life up to this point in Matthew because Matthew starts with Joseph's genealogy. We know one thing for certain, he was in the line of David, a true member of the nation of Israel. Everything else we know by assumption. He must have been old enough to be married and Mary's family had probably accepted him as a husband for her.

We assume as people listening to this story Joseph had dreams and hopes like every person we've ever met. He was engaged to marry. He most likely dreamed of having children, building a home, and getting on with life. Joseph's dreams took a turn with the news that Mary was pregnant. He knew that the child wasn't his; and he chose to look away from his dreams involving her and start over in a new direction.

Joseph's meeting with an angel in a dream started his life, and the whole world in turn, on a different course than he expected. The angel began with a word of reassurance, "Joseph, fear not..." Sure Joseph had dreams before; but this one dream was different. This one dream wasn't Joseph's own alone; he shared this dream with God. Some read Matthew 1:18-25 and say the angel pointed to a very old dream. Isaiah spoke of God's dream to an obstinate king, Ahaz, when he turned his back on the God of Israel. Isaiah 7:13-15 

13 Then Isaiah said, “Ahaz, descendant of David, listen carefully! Isn’t it bad enough that you wear out the patience of people? Do you also have to wear out the patience of my God? 14 The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating milk curds and honey when he learns to reject what is evil and to choose what is good. NCV (New Century Version)
Joseph and Mary weren't in this alone. God was going with them into history. He was coming, the angels declared his presence to them, now they both were called to live it out. They had different dreams but both pointed them to what God was up to in this one child Jesus. The dreams were one of God's points of contact in their lives. Even before the dreams they had to word of the prophets to reveal the will of God to them. John Chrysostom wrote 1600 years ago,
And the angel proceeds to refer Joseph to Isaiah; in order that even if he should, when awakened, forget his own words, as newly spoken, he might by being reminded of those of the prophet, with which he had been nourished up continually, retain likewise the substance of what he had said. ECF Schaff, Philip. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. X. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies of the Gospel of Saint Matthew Homily 5. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997. (please note Chrysostom's foul antisemitism pervades this homily right along side of his intense sense of the Gospel. Use with caution.)
The point the angel was making to Joseph, and that Matthew is trying to make for us, is that Joseph years later shared in a long standing dream with God. They in that night dreamed together of a child Joseph would call Jesus and who we would call Emmanuel. In Luke Mary had her own dream that she shared with God of a child she would call Jesus.

This wasn't the only time Joseph shared a dream with God. In Matthew 2:13-15 a dream would move him and his whole family into safety in Egypt. Nor is this the only time we share a dream with God. Jesus is God's Word in flesh, he is Emmanuel.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jesus, are you the one? Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist's followers came to Jesus with a question in Matthew 11:3, "Art thou the coming one? or are we to wait for another?" 1890 Darby Bible. It's the question Christians have to ask Jesus. Even John the Baptist had to ask Jesus this question. John's calling was to prepare the way for the one and now in prison John sent out his followers to ask Jesus, "Are you the one?" John's ministry faded away. Herod held him captive loving to hear him speak and fearing his words at the same time.

John's ministry was over as fast at it had begun. In Matthew John the Baptist just appeared as a prophet. In Matthew 3:2 John called out "μετανοει̂τε" change/repent. He just appeared in Mark, and John's Gospels too as the forerunner, the prophet of God calling for repentance before the Christ arrives. Luke tells John's biography. His birth was foretold by an angel to his father while he was serving God as priest at the Temple. (Luke 1:5-25) He lept in the womb when his mother met Mary carrying the infant Jesus. (Luke 1:39-45) But in Matthew he just appeared.

The mystery to John in Matthew shouldn't be overlooked as we hear of his imprisonment and his own questioning of Jesus. John's own calling as a prophet amazes us. He had purpose and vision and he stood out boldly. His call for repentance was heard; but not universally heeded. But that was only part of his ministry; he was to prepare the way. Imprisoned he wondered if Jesus was the one. It didn't start this way, he was the wild one outside of civilization and now civilization held him bound.

Luke and Mark say that John preached a baptism of repentance/change for the forgiveness of sins Luke 3:3 κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιω̂ν Black, Greek New Testament. 3rd ed UBS. Mark 1:4 tells it much the same. The crowds came out to be baptized. The Gospel of John begins with a detailed explanation of John's ministry as the one who came before Jesus. And now reading Matthew 11 we see that this it for John, asking from a cell through emissaries, "are you the one?"

John's ministry as, baptizer and forerunner, brought him into the imagination of the people and into the prison of King Herod. Jesus said that he was more than a prophet, he was the one to prepare the way, but now he was the one in a cell sending out his followers to meet Jesus. His words outside of the walls of society had been heard by those in power inside the walls. Herod chose to have John locked away. An old teacher of mine, Jim Nestingen wrote,

John’s fate is linked to his Lord’s. So, having heard him sounding forth in the desert the radical freedom of detachment, we find him now doubly attached—in prison, yet held even more firmly by the One whom he has proclaimed (Matt 11:2-11).
John's fate was real, just one enticing dance by a young woman was all it cost in the end to see the Baptist's head on a silver platter (Matthew 14:1-12). His days in prison were days to question and to hope. John's ministry would end but Jesus' would grow. And with Jesus ministry came a new hope,
"Go back to John and tell him about what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor." Matthew 11:4-5 New Living Translation
Hope began with John's call for repentance; hope grew as Jesus healed and forgave the hurting; hope died for 3 days as the cross claimed Jesus life; but the love of God did not end. Hope grew fresh from the stump in the resurrection not only that we could have freedom through repentance but that that through Christ crucified and risen we might die to sin, death and the devil. John's message, repent, will forever be linked to Jesus life, dying and rising. He came to prepare the way for hope...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Repent Heaven is Near Matthew 3:1-11

Life with a Lectionary (like the Revised Common Lectionary) gives one the opportunity and the challenge to hear powerful parts of God's word again and again. John the Forerunner's words stop me hard every year. Right about the time my wife is saying, "Have you found any Christmas spirit yet?" John the Baptist, this fiery preacher, comes in calling me to repent. John preached waiting for the altar call, waiting for the moment when people would come out to wilderness to meet him at the river so they could lay down their troubles and be baptized.

Every year we hear John's words; and he comes into our presence this year with his clarion call.

μετανοει̂τε· ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τω̂ν οὐρανω̂ν.
Matthew 3:2 From Black, Matthew, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren. The Greek New Testament. United Bible Societies, 1997, c198
John was the one sent to call the people of Judah to come forward and repent. In Matthew 3:2 John's declares the heart of his message. He was not vague. John spoke a command μετανοει̂τε he wanted action and passion that his hearers might be ready to live in the sovereignty of heaven.
transform yourselves for near to you comes the sovereignty of Heaven
Some say John preached for a change of heart, other for repentance. I say he preached wanting to see us radically transform our lives now for the power of Heaven has come near to us. He preached for the moment of transformation and for the life that life that would come after we turn around in order to be ready for heaven to come near. Jesus arrival in Bethlehem, his ministry, his death, and rising are all what John was called the people to be ready to see. Today is our time to get ready to meet him.

Monday, November 26, 2007

When will the time come? Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus spoke about a deep mystery as he and his friends walked away from the temple: THE END. There are very few topics as steeped in uncertainty in our world as death. Reading Matthew 24 stirs up two very different ways to think about THE END. The End is both our personal death and the collective end of all things.

First: THE END is personal.
There are books and TV shows about the border between this life and the next. Christians should listen very closely to Jesus words on the subject because he spoke knowing inside information about heaven and hell, immortality and mortality. He knew that "THE END" was coming for himself; and he knows that it comes for each of us. He spoke of people at work taken and others left. He told of some who will meet God living as he wished and other's who will meet God oblivious to His presence and will for their lives. Jesus' imagery is vivid because the truth is that clear. The End will come for each of us at unknown hour.
Perhaps you have seen families left behind in the wake of a catastrophic loss of a loved one. The whole world, as they knew it and imagined it, ended. The End came in flash. They are left with memories and unfinished dreams. The End of life as they knew it came in an accident or disease that claimed the life of a key member of the family.

Second: THE END is coming for us all.
Jesus said there is no time line. He said that, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven..." We could argue using the most sophisticated logic trying to unpack Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:36 and completely miss the point. Some say that God's unlimited power allows the Father foreknowledge meaning he knows the time when The End will come. Others say that God all power always has the choice to determine the future at any time. We can argue about these and other logical positions; but Jesus isn't entering into a debate here with logicians; he's offering us an inside view of what will come for each of us in time. Be ready he says. The End will come for all. Live ready to meet him; at any hour.

What does this mean?
THE END is real. It is real because we are mortal. It might come for us all at once or it might come for us one at time. That doesn't matter; what matters is the one who we will meet after either we mortals or heaven and earth have passed away.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christ the King? Luke 23:33-43

Where do you expect to meet your king?
Maybe you think he'll be in a palace. Perhaps you think he'll be riding in triumph in a parade displaying symbols wealth and power. In Luke we meet our King on his way to glory dying on a piece of tree. Two criminals were there with him standing, both were struggling for breath on their own crosses waiting along side of Jesus for death to come. One criminal mocked Jesus. The other believed. One made fun of him as he stood dying, the other asked, "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Is this your k
ing? The crucified one.

Most people in our world don’t know that Jesus is a king, let alone "The King". If you only come to church on Christmas and Easter you wouldn’t even understand what kind of a King he is. Other's say he was only a teacher and a prophet, a model of what it means to follow God. Christians say He is a king, but his kingdom isn’t always visible. He is a king, but his subjects are the citizens of heaven, not just the residents of this earth. Jesus is the king who you meet today hanging on the cross. In Luke’s Gospel he is the one who turns to another dying man saying, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” There is your king, on the cross, his body given for you, his blood shed for you. There is your king. And you are his people not permanent residents of this planet but emissaries of Kingdom of Heaven; in your flesh and blood you carry the Good News that Jesus is King to all the world.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Temple's Coming Down Luke 21:5-19

Reading Luke 21 this week is a reminder that context is everything Luke. Jesus and his friends were walking along side the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the heart of Jerusalem. Jews came from far and near to worship God offering their sacrifices and prayers. Jesus and his disciples were Jews and they had a place in the temple and its worship life. They were welcome in the temple's outer courts to meet with others who came to talk about God's word and their faith. They would have been welcome with the others who came to offer appropriate sacrifices to fulfill the law.

But there is another context to this reading the context of time. This was the week of Jesus death. In one week Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on an ass celebrated by the crowds. In that same week he entered the temple with a whip in hand and on Friday he went to Galgatha carrying the cross where he would die. He was teaching boldly and soon that teaching would lead to his death. The plot to kill him was fast taking shape. Judas would soon betray him.

Reading Luke 21 we listen as Luke retells Jesus teaching outside the temple. Jesus'
friend spoke in admiration of the temple. Jesus responded prophetically with words of discomfort. "Not one stone will remain upon another." And then the prophecy turned darker still. Not only would the temple fall; even these men would be subject to great danger for holding fast to their faith.

The temptation's always present for Jesus' followers to minimize the danger that we may face following him. The temptation is ever present. It tempts us to make Christianity into a religion of public morality rather than a radical belief in the transformative power of God. The temptation is to just be nice and to just get along; but Jesus came not to be nice but to see the world transformed in all places. He came knowing that we would see the temple crumble. He came knowing that everything we hold firm to can crumble and offering us hope in the middle of our fall. He came with a promise that in him all could be brought closer to God.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What were you expecting Luke 20:27-38

A few years ago I shared the Sadducee's story from Luke 20:27-38 with a woman in her early 90's. She listened carefully as we shared coffee and a story at her kitchen table looking over a neatly kept yard in the middle of a once active farm. The building stood as reminders of a once lively farm that was now home only to Alva and a friendly on German Shepherd.

As the line of husbands unfolded in the story she responded almost like this was the juiciest piece of gossip that she'd heard. Her imagination ran with the thought of a woman marrying 7 brothers. "Oh my how can that be.." she asked. That's the point that the Sadducee's wanted to make. Their imaginations had run wild pressing against the idea of eternal life. They came up with a story that was too juicy to be credible; but was just realistic enough to illustrate their belief that there was no eternal life.

Then came their question, "Who's husband would she be after death?"

The Sadducee's were looking to trip Jesus up. They wanted him stumped. He replied with a answer that stretches beyond our imaginations.

36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Luke 20:36-38
Jesus invites us to start thinking beyond today to start realizing that eternity is only glimpsed from here. The Sadducee's questioned what it could be like and Jesus offered a glimpse. They didn't ask what it would be like; only what it could maybe possibly be like. Jesus offered a promise not of what could maybe be but what will really be in the life to come.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Saints and Sinners Luke 6:20-31 and Luke 19:1-10

Jesus, as a person, brought hope and the promise of salvation with him into many lives.
Early on in Jesus' ministry Luke said that Jesus gave sermon on a plain challenging Israel to rethink justice. This sermon given on a plain is God's plan to turn the whole world over for good.
To the poor Jesus promised the kingdom of God. He told the hungry, "you will be filled." He told the weeping that they would laugh. And he offered one final blessing in Luke 6:22-23“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

Jesus sermon on the plain ended with a prophecy of woe to the rich, to those who do not know hunger, those who laugh, and lastly to those who only hear good words about themselves.

Its tempting to sit (if you believe you're entitled to be called a saint) reveling in such words of judgment against the wealthy and the comfortable. Maybe you like the image of wealthy and well praised learning about despair and need. But Jesus salvation wasn't limited by any human standards of worthiness or unworthiness.

Jesus ministry didn't stop with the announcement of woe to the rich and the full. He went to the poor and to the rich. Jesus was repeatedly sought out by the hurting and he dared to seek out a man like Zacchaeus: a tax collector who'd grown rich collecting money for the Romans and extracting a little extra for himself.

Jesus called to Zacchaeus and announced, "I'm coming your house today." We make list of who is a saint and who is a sinner. Jesus has his own standard of righteousness. He comes not for the ones we think deserve heaven; but for those he would die to save. Salvation came to Zacchaeus house in the person of Jesus; just as it comes for all of us who he died to save.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Reformation Required John 8:31-36

My apologies to any non-Lutherans who read this blog. The last Sunday in October is our day to commemorate the reformation and the freedom we have in Christ. If you were looking for thoughts about Pentecost 25c please try

Freedom came to earth in the flesh and blood person of Jesus. He came to give us true freedom to trust both our earthly lives and our eternal lives into God’s hands. True freedom comes from believing in Jesus and nothing we do or say. Our faith holds on to the promise that Jesus is God for us yesterday, today, and always.

Looking back at the Reformation these days day. I see a great chance to celebrate our freedom as Christians. Today we remember a struggle that happened 500 years ago. It was a fight about Christian Freedom. Trouble is most people in the 21st century don’t have a clue what we are talking about when we say Reformation. It's just ancient history. But its effects are still shaking up churches of all denominations across the globe today.

For people on the outside the church looking in the Reformation was a great big bloody church fight. Some look and say that it cost too many lives and caused too much hurt over too many generations. This fight happened between 4 and 500 years ago. There is no one alive today who deserves any shred of blame or bears any responsibility for it. It is as part of our church’s heritage; but it is not our fight.

Today we live with the message of the reformation still in our ears. That freedom in Christ comes from faith. We can’t earn that freedom; only Jesus can offer it to us. As a believer inside the church today I see the Reformation as a struggle about finding freedom for troubled souls. This is not a day to poke holes in other believers or to make their lives miserable. Today we need to remember our freedom in Christ. It was the freedom that Luther and the other reformers gladly risked their lives to preach to the world.

Above all remember that the reform of the church started unexpectedly on October 31, 1517 when a pastor and teacher named, Martin Luther, stood up to call for debate about the way the church in his day worked. Maybe you’ve heard that he went to the chapel door at Wittenberg, the University town where he taught, with a list of 95 Theses. He posted them on the door, right along side of other notices. He left an invitation for other scholars to debate the practice and life of the church. I don’t believe he envisioned the wars and bloodshed that would come because of the reform he sought that All Hallows Eve. I think he only wanted an open honest discussion about God’s Word in his time.

Luther’s intentions were quickly forgotten as the Reformation started to spread faster and farther into society than anyone could have imagined. This was no scholar’s only debate. The debate started first in Saxony and then spread throughout Germany. Shopkeepers, craftsman, farmers, nobleman, princes, soldiers and even the clergy began to debate about God’s Word. News of the debate reached Rome. Soon the pope and his agents became enraged that a German monk would dare challenge their authority. Resentment about the medieval church ran deep in German society. Many latched on to what they heard from Luther. Other’s viewed Luther’s reforms as too limited. They wanted to overthrow everything and level society once and for all. But that wasn’t Luther’s goal. His goal was to help troubled consciences find peace in Jesus.

Luther’s criticism was clear and simple. Men, trying to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, were sent to Germany, and other parts of Europe selling indulgences. They were selling papers promising eternal freedom in exchange for money. Luther argued that the church couldn’t sell such freedom. Faith in Jesus, he argued, was the only thing needed to enter the kingdom of God. The church was broken. Luther believed it needed to be fixed. Luther’s call to reform was so clear that it still rings out all around in the Christian church today.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pestering God: Luke 18:1-8

Prayer is part of walking with Jesus. God receives all kinds prayer: formal and corporate prayer, everyday and conversational. Its our part of communication with God as Father. But its not a one way street. God sometimes starts the conversations and other times replies when we start talking. That's called revelation; and prayer to God can't exist without faith in the God revealed to us and for us in the Word.

Okay, you say prayer keeps you connected to God just as we stay connected when we listen to the Living Word revealed in Jesus. But what if you're desperate. A quick reading of this story lets you see that Jesus isn't talking generally about prayer and our relationship to God when things are okay. The woman, Jesus was talking about, prayed out of desperation. We, as God's people, are invited in Luke 18:1-8 to imagine our relationship with God in very human terms.

The woman needs a judge to move on her case. And he doesn't care. But she pesters and pesters until he finally moves on her case. Jesus tells us to pray like this, day and night, for justice. The issue at hand for the widow is justice. Jesus is inviting us to pray, like this, about what matters.

Parenting two 4 year old girls has given me a little insight into God's communication with us (revelation) and our communication with God (prayer). My daughters have a wonderful ability to ask for all kinds of things and on occasion they have the ability to do more than just ask, sometimes they even say thanks, with out prompting. As a dad I expect to hear, "Daddy, I'm thirsty. Can I have some water please?" and its always wonderful to hear, "Thanks dad." in response. I can imagine that God the Father hears many of these prayers from us.

Parents know there are other pleas that really matter. They come in tears and screams that aren't neat and tidy requests bookended with "please" and "thank you". Some prayers come from deep in the soul and call to heaven for a reply.

I'm learning that there aren't always easy answers to these requests. Sometimes the why or the how questions my daughters ask are way out of my league. Sometimes they pester and push hoping to get what they want, and sometimes they pester to get something they really need. Jesus calls on us to pray without ceasing when it matters trusting that we will be heard.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Foreigner Returned Luke 17:11-19

Ten leper's met Jesus as he entered a village. Luke says the 10 kept their distance; calling out, Ἰησου̂ ἐπιστάτα, ἐλέησον ἡμα̂ς Jesus, master/leader be kind/merciful to us. Jesus saw them and responded. "Go to priest and show him that you are clean."

Luke says that on their way to the priest all ten were made clean. One came back thankful that he was cleansed of his disease. The other 9 moved on back to their lives but this one, a Samaritan, came back to Jesus to offer thanks.

The world is full of hurting people calling out for mercy. As a pastor in a church with a fund to help hurting people we often get calls for a little help with gas, rent, or a utility bill. Some people call repeatedly looking for help thinking that their need is unique. We limit our help to once or twice a year. Our funds can go only so far; and often after saying no to one repeated request we find that we can help many others.

Most people who we help don't ever come back. Some return just to ask for help again (and sometimes again and even again). And every so often some one returns to say thanks.

Jesus knows the hurt and broken parts of each person. We all come to God seeking healing, cleansing, and wholeness. Liturgically our words in the Kyrie plead,

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy
Jesus mercy extends far beyond mine. He reached out to heal and told the hurting to go on with their lives. Some return realizing the mercy/kindness that God has shown and ask for more. Some return to God giving thanks and praise.

It's easy to get caught up in our problems; but in God's mercy, given again and again, we are given new hope and even a reason to give thanks and praise.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Increase our Faith Luke 17:5-10

Jesus' friends asked him to increase their faith. They weren't alone in their request for more faith. I ask God for the same thing. Listen in your prayers, do you find yourself saying, "God give me faith to do..." or "God give me faith for..." Maybe you think that all you need is a little more faith and you'll finally be at peace with God and you'll finally be able to do everything that God asks of you.

Jesus responded to his friends' request for more faith explaining that just a little faith, the size of a mustard seed, would be enough to tell a Mulberry Tree to go and be planted in the sea and see it happen. "How preposterous," we say back to God in our fear and doubt, "faith can move a bush?" Jesus reply is simple. All you need is speck of faith, a mustard seed will do. The mystery here isn't whether Jesus' friends had enough faith; rather the mystery of faith is that it isn't ours at any time and that it moves so quickly in and out of our lives.

Faith is a gift. We try to keep faith, growing, nurturing, and tending it; but the faith that moves mulberry bushes and stone hearted people to love is always a gift. Jesus invites us to meet him and see him and know him and discover daily that little gift of God that can do so much.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Keep Your Eyes Open Luke 16:19-31

Jesus' teachings about wealth and poverty, relationships of all kinds, and religion and love for the neighbor, blossom in Luke 16. It's fascinating to watch Jesus chose stories, rather than lectures, to teach his listeners about the God's vision and justice. The stories have space for each hearer to see them self either in the Kingdom of God or on the outside looking in wishing to be included.

Jesus was speaking to a mixed audience in Luke 16. His disciples were on one side, the Scribes and Pharisees on the other, and the crowd was caught between the two sides. He offered a very different visions of what it means to serve God on earth than the Scribes and the Pharisees.

Jesus' stories were pointed and particular. First in Luke 16 was the story about the unfaithful manager. Next were the questions about divorce and last came the story about the rich-man and poor Lazarus. There are many elements of this story that catch us; no doubt they caught the wealthy 2000 years ago too.

What catches me most is the man walking over and past the poor hurting Lazarus laying at his gates. Growing up in Minneapolis it was possible to look past the poorest places and the hurting people. Now as a pastor in a bedroom town I've realized that freeways and suburbs and subdivisions make it even easier to not see the hurting people who are all around us. Sometimes just looking left or right, instead of straight ahead, is all that it takes to see what God sees as we drive around the poorest places or through them like tunnels.

Jesus taught his disciples that serving God on earth meant serving the neighbor. His challenge then, and now, is real. Care about today's earthly pleasure and wealth, that's all you'll have. Care about somebody who hurts you'll see the face of God both now and in the life to come.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jesus Walk with Us

Kanye West has released a fantastic rap stating the need for Jesus.
It's one of the most profound statements I've seen in some time about the need that we as a culture have to meet him.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Who do you serve? Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:13 is easily used as a maxim for living. Jesus words easily slip out of the context of scripture and into our vocabulary as a proverb. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (KJV) It's the kind of statement we can pull out of scripture and use anytime we see somebody tenuously balancing service to God with service to their wealth. But in context Jesus words aren't a simple formulaic proverb for somebody else; his words meet us in the middle of life.

Jesus' story didn't end with a simple moral formula--in fact the point he was making is only simple if we deny just how deeply we are all caught in sin.

Look at the unjust manager and his compounding problems. His boss found out he was squandering money he was supposed to be managing. He was about to loose his job, and worse yet he didn't want to go out and beg or find whatever work was available digging ditches. So he quickly tried to curry favor with anyone he could turn to--in order to protect himself. He told his bosses debtors to write off some of what they owed hoping they would look out for him in return.

Real life and real economics are always complicated by sin: greed, sloth, envy and all the other deadly sins are part of our real character and our real lives. The temptation in reading this story is to think that Jesus is talking about somebody else. But in truth he's talking about all of us. It's tempting, to point to somebody else's economic wrongs and injustices, but the harder truth is that all of us are caught in a tangled global web of high minded and underhanded finances in which the pursuit of money and wealth has become the highest good.

Jesus' understood just how deeply we are caught in the muck of sin. He knows full well that we are all in far deeper than we're ready to admit even to ourselves. We cannot extricate ourselves from this situation. We are already trying to serve too many different masters. The hope in Luke 16 isn't that we'll all wake up and work for justice and that the situation will get better because we'll all become better people (original sin doesn't go away that easily); rather hope comes from falling into the hands of the living God who was crucified to take away the sins of the whole world.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Joy in Heaven Luke 15:1-10

A wise man once told to a group of Lutheran seminarians that if you really want to squirm when you read the Gospels substitute the word Lutherans in place of the word Pharisees in the Gospels.

The suggestion is good advice for any Christian, regardless of denominational label. Just substitute your beloved group in place of Pharisees and scribes and see just how real and personal Jesus challenge in Luke 15 was and still is for believers.

The religious structure in Jesus day was a clear and he challenged it head on as he moved toward the cross. He'd have no trouble challenging us today to look beyond our definitions of in and out. The Pharisees believed they were in good with God. So do Christians today. The Pharisees had no trouble finding people they believed were out of the kingdom of God. The same goes for us in our denominations and affiliations. We believe, deep down in the hidden parts of our hearts, that we know who is in and out of God's Kingdom. Liberals and conservatives both make judgments about who is in and who is out.

The antidote to our judgments, spoken and unspoken, is Jesus. He met a very diverse crowd in Jerusalem. Luke 14:1 says the tax-collectors and the sinners were coming to sit with him. The scribes and the Pharisees grumbled watching him eat with them (Luke 14:2). Jesus responded to their grumbling, not with anger, but by telling stories about joy in heaven and among the angels.

Jesus stories in Luke 15 are bold. The shepherd who would risk 99 to search for 1 made decisions based not on simple profit and loss but on concern for the one who was lost. Sarah Dylan explores this reach of God for the lost 1 at the sake of the 99 beautifully. But Jesus wasn't done yet. He spoke of the woman who celebrated finding one coin illustrating the reality of God's care for the lost who are found even more.

Walk daily with Jesus and you'll see the expanding reach of God. You'll see the boundaries of God's mercy open beyond your imagination's limits. You might even witness the return of a lost one and know the joy that exist among the angels.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Choosing Life Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Luke 14:25-33

Choices are part of everyday in the world...
Most, we think, are mundane; paper or plastic, cash or charge, white or wheat etc.
Serving God is an everyday choice too ... that happens right in the middle of the mundane.

The past year has taught me that many parents have made no choice for their children about church and about God. Many parents, if not even most parents, function in what George Barna in Revolutionary Parenting described as a default mode in which they expect somebody else to raise their children. Parents look to childcare workers, the media, teachers, coaches, pastors and youth workers, and other "professionals" to raise their children.

The default mode's end result is that many have made no choices and their children grow up not knowing what their parents believe or value. 7th graders come to confirmation not even knowing the Lord's prayer because parents have not consciously chosen to teach it. The effect of making no choice is real.

Moses argues in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Jesus argues in Luke 14:25-33 that our choices do matter. Experience teaches that the biggest choices aren't one time choices; they are everyday choices that appear in middle of the mundane but that effect our relationship to God and the people God has placed in our lives.

The challenge that scripture gives to us today isn't to make one decision for God; rather its to make every decision for God. For Moses their was no wavering in Deuteronomy 30:19. וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים Choose life. Choose וּבָחַרְתָּ coming from the root בָּחַר the same root that was used to describe God's choice of Abraham and Israel and בַּחַיִּים coming fromחַיִּים (see Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon of the Old Testament).

For Jesus the Cross would be all consuming; and for those who choose to follow in his steps the cross will be equally consuming. We'd like to a have faith that fits neatly into a fine space in our lives; but Jesus doesn't offer such a faith. He offers eternity in exchange for surrendering everything today.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Last Friday I joined four other guys from church and headed over to Stockton, MN to help muck out houses. We worked alongside of home owners, their families, and a Mennonite group from Wisconsin ripping out soaked drywall, filling buckets and wheelbarrows with mud and sewage, pulling out ruined carpet, insulation, and furniture. There still much work to be done.

Please keep our neighbors dealing with the ravages of these floods in prayer. If you want to help call ahead and make sure that somebody there knows your coming.


There's a rich unfolding of Jesus' plan for the kingdom of God in Luke 14:1-14. The unfolding work of God comes as Jesus gathers with others in the Pharisee's house to eat on the Sabbath.

He sees the guests come and he sees that someone else has come besides the desired guests. In Luke 14:2 the someone else in the story is a man with ὑδρωπικὸς translated by the NIV and NRSV as dropsy. The man lived with edema, with painful swelling in his body because his lymph system didn't work right. Luke says that Jesus looked at his host and the honorable guests asking them if it is right to θεραπευ̂σαι literally to offer therapy, to cure or treat this man on the Sabbath.

The host and guests gave no answer. Jesus healed the man sending him on his way.

The lectionary has left the story of the hurting man out of the reading for Sunday. Instead we focus in on Jesus' observations of the people and his vision for hospitality; but in this context we can see even better how important care for the hurting is in Jesus vision.

Jesus' parable about the wedding guests who took the higher seat, when it was not theirs to take, was bold. He spoke directly to the people in the room and called for humility. His vision of the kingdom was coming clear. The one who assumes the place of highest honor will be brought down so that the humble will be lifted up. He wasn't ambiguous or vague.

Leaving no room to doubt, Jesus gave the particulars of his vision away as he spoke to everyone there about who to invite to a banquet.

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”Luke 14:12-14 (NIV)

As Jesus moved towards Jerusalem he got bolder. He challenged a legalistic religion with a spirit of mercy. He challenged his hosts to invite those who couldn't pay him back. The same challenge exists for us. He challenges us to look around not for ways to gain advantage; but for ways to help others who are disadvantaged. The reading ends; but Luke's story leads to another parable about a great banquet.
 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Luke 14:15 (NIV).
Jesus next parable of the great banquet invites us to see the generosity of God that is ready and poured out. The invitation to the banquet was rejected by the first guests on the list. They refused their invitations and in the parable the host sends out his servants looking not for the ones who rejected his generosity but for everyone, hurting or not, who hadn't been invited at all.

By only reading Luke 14:1, 7-14 we only hear Jesus' invitation to serve. By reading the whole of Luke 14:1-24 we see the magnitude of God's intended generosity. Jesus' vision of inviting the poor and hurting to a banquet is even more challenging when we think that others had rejected such invitations.

Jesus is calling for hospitality. We aren't called just to run to the poor with food; we're to welcome them in and receive them as guests; Jesus' vision is of a world turned upside down and where those who never expected the place of honor are given the highest honor.

Monday, August 20, 2007

On the Sabbath? Luke 13:10-17

First a prayer request.

Southeastern Minnesota has been deluged with rain over the past 3 days. We've got a trickle of water in our basement; but that's nothing compare to others nearby. Some are missing, some lost their lives as roads and homes were swept away by quiet streams the swelled to raging torrents. Please keep my neighbors an hour to the east, along the Root, White Water, and Zumbro River in prayer.


On the Sabbath?

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, and he saw a woman who was bent over; her back held in place, Luke says, by an evil spirit. Jesus called to her releasing her from her body from whatever caused such pain. She stood straight.

Jesus set her free. But the synagogue leader challenged him.

[He] was angry because Jesus healed on the Sabbath day. He said to the people, “There are six days when one has to work. So come to be healed on one of those days, and not on the Sabbath day.”
Jesus didn't run from the challenge. Instead he responded by challenging the leaders of the synagogue.
“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you untie your work animals and lead them to drink water every day—even on the Sabbath day? This woman that I healed, a daughter of Abraham, has been held by Satan for eighteen years. Surely it is not wrong for her to be freed from her sickness on a Sabbath day!”  Luke 12:14-17 NCV
The outrage of the synagogue leader is foreign to us and our time. We have no holy day or even holy time set aside in our culture. The idea that a time would be sacred or a space reserved for reverence and for God is hard to teach to someone who has never grown up knowing examples of such respect. As parents we wrestle teaching our girls what matters most is love for God and the neighbor. We know that what matters most to us may be of little value to others.

What's the best response to the culture?
We know God's law insists on one day to be kept holy; but our culture ignores this law, or worse yet, has never known it.

A few years ago Marva Dawn and Ray Comfort wrote from very different perspectives about keeping a time for Sabbath. These could prove helpful for discussion; because the both are asking provocative questions about rest and work and faith and God. These questions are easily ignored in the rush to big box store or the football game or the side job or even the main job that we have every Sunday.

The challenge, for us in the church, is not to call for legislation banning work and commerce on Sunday. We could do much better. Sabbath is a gift to discover. There is joy and freedom to be found in a day of rest spent with God and the people we love. Only as we receive it as a gift can we tell others of the same gift.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Learning from Ricky Bobby's view of Jesus

What is your image of Jesus.
Will Ferrel's prayer as Ricky Bobby sure got me thinking.

See what you think; especially compared to the Jesus we meet in Luke 12.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Jesus came to bring fire. Luke 12:49-56

Its tempting to read Luke 12 and do anything but listen to what Jesus says to his hearers. Jesus is bold in Luke 12 and that boldness is down right frightening. Jesus point to the crowd of thousands who came to see him in the marketplace is troubling: he came for a reason, for a "baptism that he had to endure." Its tempting to find some way to avoid Jesus' point, but the growing intensity of Luke pushes us further and further towards the cross.

Jesus seems to have made a judgment about humanity ; he wants to see us on fire for the sake of the kingdom of God. He doesn't speak here about hellfire and damnation; rather he speaks of a consuming fire, a passion that doesn't leave everything settled and neat.

Jesus' bold words in Luke 12:49, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" aren't the words of a weakling. They are the words of a bold man who's mission and a vision would lead to radical transformation.

Fire was, for the ancient Greeks, an important, even basic element of creation (Bauer Greek English Lexicon). Fire was key to clearing out the old and bringing in the new. But fire was and still is beyond simple human control. We still fear it's power and teach our children to keep away from fear that it will harm us.

Jesus' wished that the fire of the Spirit that burns away the old were kindled when he walked the earth. He came, "to bring division, not peace." He came to bring fire that could consume the old and dead and make way for new life. He came not to approve of the way the world works but to see it completely transformed.

Letting the fire of the Holy Spirit loose in the church is risky. God might very well confront our sin. Letting the Word of God lose is equally risky because the God who meets us in scripture, like the fire of the Spirit, is only contained at our own peril.

Jesus came not to lull to sleep but to move us to action to see the kingdom of God not as a fairytale but as promise made by the king of kings who came to reveal it to the world. He came to set the world on fire. I pray to see the fire of the Holy Spirit at work in this age. AMEN

Monday, August 6, 2007

Don't fear--believe Luke 12:32-48

There's a real challenge for believers reading the Gospels. When we meet Jesus in Luke (or any other Gospel) we meet a man and God who acts independently of our values and philosophies.

In our age we like to imagine God as always on our side. One might imagine God as soft and compassionate. He's portrayed by some as a big cosmic Teddy Bear who accepts all. Another might imagine God as angry and vengeful ready to swoop in and spare the chosen few but unleash judgment on the rest of the world.

The real God, revealed in Jesus wasn't always cuddly nor was he always vengeful. He spoke about God's judgment and God's compassion. Jesus, in Luke 12, describes the master beating and cutting away the unfaithful and the unprepared while also speaking of the treasure that we can have stored up in heaven. Jesus spoke a word of warning to his followers that God wants us to be ready to meet him and a promise that this world isn't the end.

As a sinner I want a god who thinks like I do; as a sinner I do not want a God who would challenge me, my actions, and my values. But a living God will do exactly that. In Liberal Protestantism as well as in Fundamentalist Christianity it has become common place to assume that Jesus isn't challenging us or our thoughts. It's tempting to assume that God is always on our side. Many churches and church leaders, both on the liberal and conservative sides of the spectrum, assume that they are right with Jesus and that they are reading scripture properly and that they are right in their actions in the public square. Many, believing they have God's approval, even seek to replace Jesus' challenges to all people with political stands and ethical values as the core of the church's faith. (An interesting view of all this from the conservation side of the spectrum was written by Robert Benne in Word Alone Network News July-August 2007)

The real Jesus won't be pushed over by the right or the left. In Luke I meet Jesus who's not me, and who wants me to stop acting like I'm the one that matters. Jesus wants my ideas and values and judgments to cease. Following him means that Jesus leads so that he can work through me.

In Luke 12:32 Jesus said, "Have no fear little flock." Jesus said it for His own good reason, but it's so much easier said than done. The truth is that all of us believers live with fear and anxiety. But Jesus says don't fear, believer. Jesus' words to his followers don't provide current comfort. He was telling them, and all of us now who hear through Luke's account, about the emerging kingdom of God. Jesus was offering comfort and hope in God's love but no quick fixes to our mortality and all the problems that we have just because we're human.

2000 years ago Jesus prodded his hearers to imagine a God who could care about the whole world, not just the nation of Israel. Today we need to be prodded to see God as someone other than a wish-granting Santa Claus or loving all giving grand-father. As sinners we must repent, over and over, and let Jesus be God instead of trying to replace him with ourselves.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Sermon Pentecost 10 C August 5 2007

I appreciate all that has been said about praying for and caring for the people in Minneapolis. As a native now living 100 miles away I can sense the fear and hope that coexist for so many

this is what I am saying Sunday
where it says slides is just a reference to what is projected while I am speaking



Slide 1: What matters?

I called my folks on Wednesday night and got no answer. I called again and all the circuits into Minneapolis were full. I wasn't the only person just checking up on family and friends that night. I called my sister and told her to turn on the television. She was stunned as I was. What we saw as spectators on our television sets defied explanation. The bridge I crossed every day going to High School was gone. My sister used to cross that same bridge everyday on her way to work for 3 years. As we talked my sister said she was scanning the crowd on screen looking to see if our parents were among the on-lookers. Mom called me back at about 8:30. They were fine. They'd gone to the community council meeting; just like they do on every first Wednesday of the month.

Email's from other friends and family have carried the same news. A few close calls; but everybody is okay. Other people have told me similar stories about calling friends and family in Minneapolis. They were just calling to make sure that things were all-right. For most people everything is all-right. Most of the time, in our lives, a disaster is just somebody else's problem, not our own. We can go back to our lives and families and all our own problems and worries thankful that we weren't one of the unlucky few whose lives have been turned upside. We can do that. We can live and let the problems go by. Or we can live differently, on the edge―with people who know fear and loss and grief. You choose to look the other way and go past the problems, or you choose to step in, off the sidelines. Its easy and safe to be a spectator. But God invites you and me to live like eternity and our neighbors matter. God wants us to prioritize our lives not by an earthly standard of comfort, safety, and provision; but by a heavenly standard in which our lives aren't really our own.

Slide 2: Colossians 3:1-2
Since you were raised from the dead with Christ, aim at what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Think only about the things in heaven, not the things on earth.

Paul wrote to the early church that every believer was a new creation. He believed God is at work in all of our lives because we have died and risen with Jesus. It was that simple for Paul. In Jesus Paul met the one true God and that meeting left him changed. And Paul believed that every Christian was meant to have the same kind of experience. Paul's first hand experience of God's love and correction shook him to the core. He was a new man with a new life. Part of that new life meant putting aside all that he once thought mattered.

It's not easy to lay down the things that we think are important. But part of following Jesus is learning God's perspectives and living out God's values. We have all sorts of important things in our lives. I know that I have all kinds of things that dominate my thoughts. We all worry about money, work, and all sorts everyday stuff. But these earth bound things are not supposed to be the ultimate end for our lives. What Paul wrote to the church in Collasae gets right to the meat of his faith and his life and what he believes all of us as Christians should live like today.

Slide 3: God's calling...

One of the most uncomfortable parts of being a Christian is the way that God works on us 24 hours a day 7 days a week moving within us to get our lives and our priorities to match heaven's priorities. Some people call this experience conviction. Every believer has experiences of God's challenge to them.

Sometimes conviction comes in the confrontation of somebody who loves you enough to tell you that your behavior is simply wrong and that what you are doing needs to change. Sometimes conviction comes in the news that shakes you out of your comfort and moves you to action. Some say that you and I, the church, have been too easy on this culture. Some complain that we have forgotten Jesus' real teachings and the real need that each of us has to be convicted by God of our sin. Jesus taught people and many walked away convicted. The Jesus we meet in the gospels wasn't concerned about the temporary comfort of his hearers. He wasn't purposefully vague like a politician making promises in the year of election. Jesus was bold. He challenged his hearers to see their lives and their neighbors lives through the eyes of heaven.

God doesn't want us to be comfortable in the here and now; not if our neighbors are living with challenges they can't walk away from. God's not offering you paradise on earth; he's offering you a chance to participate in the coming of the kingdom of God. Its easy to find distractions. Its easy to turn on a television or computer. Its easy to walk away from the problems.

Slide 4: Colossians 3:3-4
3 Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. 4 Christ is our life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. NCV Col 3:1-4. Dallas, TX: Word Bibles, 1991.

There are a lot of things that people worship these days. It's a situation similar to Jesus day when the people worshiped many different gods. They and we worship prosperity. They and we worship wealth. They and we put our status on this earth above our status as children of God.

Slide 5: Luke 13:12-14
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 
14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Jesus' meeting with a man who demanded that Jesus mediate a dispute about an inheritance with his brother challenges us to keep our eyes on what matters. I've been amazed by the families that have broken down over issues of money and trust. As pastor in another congregation I was telephoned by a person who wanted to talk about a sibling. One was concerned about what the other was doing with their parent's home and money. The person I spoke with was 50 something and the the other was 60 something. The one I met with wanted me, a 20 something, to tell a 60 something member of my church to, “Grow up.”

Jesus warned his hearers not to obsess about money and possessions. Be on guard against all kinds of greed. And Jesus told them a story about a successful farmer who had been blessed with a great harvest. He had barns but his harvest was so big he needed bigger barns. So he tore the barns down and built even bigger barns for all his grain and goods. The rich man said to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” Luke 12:19

And God met the man that night, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ Luke 12:20 (NRSV). Some people might call this man shrewd or even wise for looking out for himself and for being financially secure. He might be the one selling a wealth building system that will help others be financially secure too. And God called him a fool.

Slide 6: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The Holy Bible : King James Version., Heb 10:31. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

How's that for conviction? How's that for standing right before God and having God see right through all the facades and pleasantries and look right into your very soul. The writer of Hebrews said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” These words are haunting and true. We'd to have a god who approves of what we do and how live. But we a living God. We'd like a god who only smiles down upon us. But we have a living God. We'd like a god who answers our prayers and meets our needs. But we have a living God.

God challenges us to let Christ shape our lives. We can obsess about things. We can pile up more and more stuff; but Jesus calls us to stop stockpiling as a substitute for faith. The rich man believed all was well; but he'd forgotten that everything he viewed as so important was temporary.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

What's important Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-12

Colossians 3:1-2
1 Since you were raised from the dead with Christ, aim at what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Think only about the things in heaven, not the things on earth.

Paul wrote to the early church that every believer was a new creation. He believed that God is at work in all of our lives because we have died and risen with Jesus. It was that simple for Paul. In Jesus Paul met the one true God and that meeting left him changed. And Paul believed that every Christian was meant to have the same kind of experience. Paul's first hand experience of God's love and correction shook him to the core. He was a new man with a new life. Part of that new life meant putting aside all that he once thought mattered.

It's not easy to lay down the things that we think are important. But part of following Christ is learning God's perspectives and God's values. We have all sorts of important things in our lives. I know that I have all kinds of things that dominate my thoughts. We all worry about money, work, and all sorts everyday stuff. But these earth bound things are not supposed to be the ultimate end for our lives. What Paul wrote to the church in Collasae gets right to the meat of his faith and his life and what he believes all of us as Christians should live like today.

Colossians 3:3-4
3 Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. 4 Christ is our life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. NCV Col 3:1-4. Dallas, TX: Word Bibles, 1991.

There are a lot of things that people worship these days. It's a situation similar to Jesus day when the people worshiped many different gods. They and we worship prosperity. They and we worship wealth. They and we put our status on this earth above our status as children of God.

Jesus confrontation with a man who demanded that Jesus mediate a dispute about an inheritance with his brother combined with the story about the rich man who Jesus called a fool in Luke 12:13-21 challenge us to let Christ be our life. We can obsess about things and pile up more and more stuff; but Jesus calls us to stop stockpiling as a substitute for faith in God. The rich man believed all was well; but he'd forgotten that everything he viewed as so important was temporary.

Monday, July 30, 2007

no post today


I'll be done with it Wednesday

no post today


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bold Vision for the church required.

What's your vision of the church:

  • A relevant body boldly proclaiming Christ to a world mired in sin.
  • A refuge from the world where life in the risen one is celebrated even in the face of death.
  • A people on a mission bringing Jesus vision and values with them into all places.
The body of Christ is made up of people; and people come together in the church in surprising and often unexpected ways. One of the boldest statements of vision that I have seen for the future church comes from Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church. Driscoll has offered a vision. I don't agree with him on all counts. I disagree with his view on women in leadership and with his overly harsh reading of statistics. I disagree with his interpretation of how many have portrayed Jesus as to weak. But I can admire his passion and his zeal. He is speaking boldly to a church that needs to focus on mission. See what you think for yourself.

I'd love to see a response to Pastor Driscoll. Is he offering a needed challenge to us in the church who need to see ourselves as fighters and not as soft and easy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Prayer and a relationship with God Luke 11:1-12

Jesus prayed, it happened over and over in the Gospels, most especially in the Gospel of Luke. We can read in Luke of his prayer from the 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry all the way up to his death. It was obvious that communication with the Father mattered for Jesus and that his friends saw how much prayer mattered and wanted to learn how to pray like Jesus.
Luke wrote that Jesus taught them simple words. The Lords' prayer isn't a magic formula for a perfect life; but model of key used to open the door between heaven and earth. Prayer doesn't bring us out of the earth rather it helps us reach to God from this earth so that we can not only hear God but be known by God.
At the heart of the Christian faith is a wonderful relationship between God and each Christian that depends not on our choice of words, as wonderful and beautiful as they might be, but on the simple faith that they are heard.
As a pastor one of my great joys is teaching prayer; but this past few years it has also become a great struggle. The congregation I serve has many young people who come to confirmation not knowing the Lord's Prayer or ever having heard about the love of God for them; their parents and often times Grandparents, believe that a church telling them about God will make them better people; but in truth we only add to the confusion if we don't teach the relationship that lies behind the words of a prayer.

Martin Luther wrote in his small catechism,

“Our Father who art in heaven.” What does this mean?
Answer: Here God would encourage us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children in order that we may approach him boldly and confidently in prayer, even as beloved children approach their dear father.
Tappert, Theodore G. The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959.
The challenge is not to have a 7th grader memorize this prayer enough to parrot it back and spit it out; but to help them glimpse the audacious love of a creator God who wants each of us to return love to him as children return love to their own earthly father.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Something worth laughing about...

Just in case you need a little something to laugh about today I've come across two great items worth watching that will get your attention for certain.
First up: an old favorite: Homer takes on the Apocalypse crowd wonderfully getting to the question of God's absence in our lives.

Second is a great show from Canada. No US Network has had the courage to license it yet for domestic consumption. Little Mosque on the Prairie. It's a great image of Muslims in the modern world as real people.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Just sit in the glory: Collosians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

The Apostle Paul, in a letter to the church in Collosae, wrote boldly about his relationship with God and our relationship with God. Paul said that up until meeting Jesus we are God's enemies (Collosians 1:21). Honestly, even after meeting Jesus, we still kick and scream fighting against God, but that's beside the point. In Jesus we meet God who transcends our fighting so that He can do something completely new with us. God's glory was hidden from most of the world's people before Jesus. Paul word to describe the situation (Collosians 1:26 & 2:2) as μυστηρίου literally God's glory was a mystery or a secret just hidden from view. Some of God's glory was revealed to ancient Israel; but the rest of the world's people knew only God's care for all the world, not God's personal care for each individual creature. But in Jesus the secret is out; God's glory is revealed and its personal. God intends for that very real glory to shine in each of our lives. God's desire is to bring us back into the fold so that he can use us to transform creation.

In Luke 10:38-42 two sisters are bickering about what to do when they Jesus came to visit. One worried about serving the guest, and the other one worried about sitting with Jesus. The serving sister, Martha, complains, “Come on Jesus, make her help.” Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen better. Mary was sitting with Jesus, taking in his glory. Martha was up fussing.

Jesus challenge to us is to always pick one good thing from many. Mary's personality isn't easy to replicate if you've always been concerned about what you're doing its tough to sit down and just listen. Martha was frustrated by the details simply giving and giving but not sitting when she needed too. Jesus glory is the greatest thing. Freedom just to sit in it is here; but we'll often just get lost in all the oughts and shoulds that we think matter.

From Luther's Table Talk No. 274: Dog Provides Example of Concentration
May 18, 1532

When Luther’s puppy116 happened to be at the table, looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes, he [Martin Luther] said, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope.”

Behold, the heart of the pious dog was also lacking in this, that he could not pray without thoughts.117

116 Luther’s dog Tölpel is mentioned again and again in the Table Talk.

117 The last sentence probably represents the writer’s (i.e., Veit Dietrich’s) observation.

Luther, Martin. Vol. 54, Luther's Works, Vol. 54 : Table Talk. No. 274: “Dog Provides Example of Concentration.” Page 37-38 Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann. Luther's Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1967.

Brother Benedict, you are always welcome.

Last week I posted a particularly strong response to the Pope Benedict's definition of churches.

The presiding Bishop of my particular denomination, the ELCA, Mark Hanson, wrote a far more measured and rational response to Pope Benedict's statement. But one thing I felt was lacking. A simple invitation to all our brothers and sisters to come to the table.

Today I'd like to take as stab at making this kind of invitation. I am not retracting what I said only trying to make the real the point that may have gotten lost in my blather clear.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, of all churches regardless of denomination, including our Brother Josef Ratzinger, now called Benedict. I would gladly join you at Christ's table along with millions of others on any Sunday. I would gladly join you as a fellow beggar unworthy of a scrap; yet ready to be healed because Christ's body and blood, given and shed for the sins of the whole world which present in the Eucharist of our churches, is sufficient.

Brother Benedict, and all brothers and sisters in Christ, I would gladly break the bread which is Christ's body with you any Sunday. I would gladly share the cup which is Christ's blood with you any Sunday. I would gladly receive you as a brother or sister in Christ regardless of your denomination or church membership. Please come with there is always room for one more at Christ's table.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Brother Benedict: What are you trying to say?

There's a sad thing about the state of the post-modern church: it's all the divisions. In recent days the Pope simply restated his view, and what he believes is his church's view, of these divisions. Sadly what our errant Brother in Christ, Benedict, restated is a view that many hope will just disappeared. The current pope, our Brother, reminds us, sadly, that the divisions haven't ended and that to him they still matter.

As a cradle Catholic serving today as a Lutheran pastor I must sadly agree with my Brother Benedict on one account. The church is broken. And it is, as evidenced by his writing, beyond the reach of human repairs. Let us not be naive about sin and its power to corrupt all institutions, including the church and its leaders, even the ones who think they've inherited the power to be above debate or error.

Brother Benedict isn't saying anything new. He is simply restating a limited view of the church that is not based beyond one verse in scripture, practical experience, or plain reason; but in a reified ecclesiastical structure. I say this not because I seek to separate myself from the rest of the body of Christ but because we can not be forced into uniformity in order to create unity. The true church, the Body of Christ, can not be created by humans. We can only be brought together by God working creatively as Father, redeeming sinners as son, and binding us together in the Spirit. Christ's blood is the source of our unity, Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Our confession of Jesus Christ alone as savior is enough to make us one.

Brother Benedict, and others like him, are seeking safety from the modern world in ecclesiastical and liturgical fundamentalism. They believe that defining truth in something other than Jesus, like a human made liturgy or a human made curia, can keep them pure in a world in which everything is up for debate. These forms fundamentalism are no different in effect than biblical fundamentalism: they seek a source of certainty in an uncertain world other than Christ; they seek to end debate with a trump card that God never gave them or any human being.

What my brother in Christ, Benedict, who has been redeemed by Christ's blood, has missed, sadly, is that Christ is present in both our churches. Christ is present in the Word of God proclaimed boldly and preached boldly. Christ is present when 2 or 3 gather in his name. Priests are not required for Jesus Christ to be present. Sometimes, errant Brother Benedict, they get in the way of spreading the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near.

Brother Benedict betrays his own inability to discern the Body of Christ. Jesus is present in both our celebrations of the Eucharist as he always has been. Jesus is never present because of a priest's presence. Christ's presence in the Body and Blood that we receive as bread and wine is real and true because he promised to be present in the night of his betrayal. Benedict errs greatly in denying that real presence is based not in Jesus' promises but rather in a human made church.

Brother Benedict I urge you to recant for the sake of the Gospel. I urge you to take off your vestments and to come to Christ's table as I, AND MILLIONS OF OTHER CHRISTIANS DO EVERY SUNDAY, including most Roman Catholic's I know, as a beggar unworthy of a scrap; yet ready to be healed because Christ's body and blood, given and shed for the sins of the whole world, are sufficient. I would gladly break the bread which is Christ's body with you any Sunday. I would gladly share the cup which is Christ's blood with you any Sunday. I would gladly receive you as a brother. Please come there is always room for one more at Christ's table.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Independence Day 2007

231 years ago a great experiment began as one group of men sought to separate themselves from another group of men. Women and minorities weren't invited, yet, but something big was starting.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

231 years later the nation founded with such high ideals is still trying to reach to them. Today we are a nation at war on continents far from home. We Americans are accused by some in the world of oppressing others and celebrated by others in the world as liberators. Today we are a people divided in politics, religion, culture, age, ethnicity, and even language; but we are a people united by the reach for the highest ideals.
As a father of preschool girls I celebrate Independence Day. I tell them about the over throw of a bad king. I tell them that this nation needs no king or queen, no princes or princesses. They looked shocked. They can't imagine anything greater than being a princess; thank goodness that 231 years ago a group of men decided that citizen was the very best title in the world.

So today I declare my independence from princess culture. Today I turn my back on Disney and Mattel and all the multi-national conglomerates who want girls to love princesses but who have forgotten that their customers are future citizens not just consumers spending their parent's money. Today we remember that being a citizen is the highest rank in the land. Down with kings and queens and princes and princesses. Down with the image of aristocracy. Let us celebrate today, and every independence day, that all are created equal, that none has special place above that just by birth.

Monday, July 2, 2007

What Move's you?

There are so many things to get excited about in this life. Everything from a great baseball team to a great job could be the reason that you're moved to celebrate. And there are are plenty of other reasons why we might be moved. Tough, tragic news moves us to action just as much, maybe sometimes even more, than the good news that moves us to rejoice. Our faith is about action and trust, our faith is about being moved by the word of God into the world in love for God and in love for our neighbors. Jesus sent 70 people out to spread the good news. At fist glance sending out 70 (or maybe 72) people looks like a reason to celebrate and to rejoice. 70 people went out to announce the good-news to heal the sick and to caste out daemons. But there was plenty of reason to worry. Jesus said that they would be like lambs among wolves.

The true church, the body of Christ, made up of believers in mission is not guaranteed of a future beyond faith. But by faith we know that something bigger and better is coming for us. Jesus plan for the church isn't that we be secure and certain in this life. His plan is so very different. His plan is eternal. He sent his followers out empty handed with limit instruction and training, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Luke 10:4. NRSV. He told them to go; and when they stopped he told the 70 to announce peace at each house. Where they were not accepted he told them to wipe the dust off of their feet in judgment.

Jesus sends the true church out into the world. He wants us to travel light. We are encumbered by all sorts of things. Jobs, homes, hobbies, toys, recreation, status can all hold us in place. But Jesus wants us to be ready to move in mission. Jesus plan for the church is for us to see incredible things happen. The 70 he sent out witnessed things that they hadn't before imagined. He said to the 70 when they returned, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:18-20 NRSV

We have a home and it isn't on this earth. We have a family and we haven't seen every member of it yet. “...rejoice” Jesus said, “that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 NRSV

In our days we can get caught up in living and in Christ we meet God who calls us to live today not like we are here forever but as if we were each on our way. He calls us to live out his love boldly; not encumbered by this world. He sent the 70 out and he sends us out knowing, as we spread the Good News, that we belonged in the kingdom of God. AMEN.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Look ahead Luke 9:51-62

Jesus and his friends were traveling in Samaritan territory. He sent messengers ahead to the next town to announce his impending arrival. When Jesus arrived he was not accepted. Luke 9:53 says he was unwelcome because, "his face was set toward Jerusalem."

The old feud between Jews and Samaritans was on in Jesus day, same as it had been for centuries. The Jews believed the center of religious life and worship was at the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans believed the center of worship was at Mount Gerizim in Nablus. The dispute between these two groups was generations deep. They both held onto the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, as the Word of God. They even lived next to one another, and yet they refused to make peace because they understood God and worship so very differently. Yet no one else on earth worshiped only one God as these two groups had done for centuries.

Jesus was not wanted in a Samaritan town. And now two of his friends had an idea that would teach them not to disrespect Jesus. They asked for permission to call down fire and brimstone.

"The disciples act from human motives of retaliation. Jesus expects a disciple to act with the same motivation as the Master: forgiveness and mercy, rather than condemnation and destruction." Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux Conference Office
We respond to life's challenges out of our earthly instincts; but Jesus calls us to act for very different reasons. In Luke, following Jesus' bold instructions often moved the people he met in radically different directions than they'd have ever expected to go on their own. For James and John, the Sons of Thunder, it meant putting aside the desire to destroy those who had ignored Jesus' ministry.

Jesus went on down the road and a few others came to join him for some of the journey. He warned one that, "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn't have a place to call his own." (Luke 9:58). Another came and said he would come follow Jesus as soon as he had buried his father. Another said he would come as soon as he said farewell to those at home. Jesus challenged his would be followers not to look back.

Jesus' invitation for us it to look ahead. In our world its easy to get trapped in memory and history. James and John were ready to see a whole town punished because of they didn't "accept Jesus". Jesus had a mission and following him means that we each have a part in that mission.
If your Bible has study notes, you'll see that some ancient manuscripts insert an extra verse in this week's Gospel at Luke 9:56. I think of this extra verse as the most important verse not in the Bible. At Luke 9:56 some Greek manuscripts add a conclusion to the story: "And Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.'" Journey With Jesus
Jesus mission is clear missing verse or not. He came to save and his disciples, both then and now, get caught in the most basic parts of our human nature and miss Jesus mission. For a human its easy to get caught up in the past, both bad and good. We get stuck recycling old hurts or seeking to live in the "good old days." But that's not where God wants us to live. We are called to live in the present and to minister to the people who live around us. Having a mission, like Jesus, demands that we focus on today and keep moving toward the future.