Monday, December 29, 2008

Rise and Shine it's Epiphany Isaiah 60:1-9

Epiphany is a season of light in the church. Many churches will start this season by hearing Isaiah's 2500 year-old wake up call for the nation of Israel. He told them to rise and shine.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you. Isaiah 60:1-2 NRSV
Isaiah's call is good for our church and all churches this year. In the winter, especially in the cold north, we're tempted just to pull up the covers and hunker down against the dark and cold. We shut out the world as we try to insulate ourselves against the cold and darkness. We hold the light of Christ tight to ourselves. Isaiah's wake up call for us is to rise and shine in God's light. Put the light of Christ up high for all to see. Jesus is the source of our hope and light; but we can never claim that he was sent just for us. Jesus comes to shine in every dark place and onto every broken person not just among those who know him already.

Our world is full of darkness. Jesus comes as light for a world that isn't and will never be ready for him. He comes for a world that is broken and that needs him. Chris­ti­na Ros­set­ti wrote in the hymn In the Bleak Midwinter

Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the light and we bless the world when we give His light away.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Simeon and Anna waiting no more. Luke 2:22-40

Luke's Christmas story ends 8 days after Jesus' birth. His nativity ends with the careful fulfillment of the law by Mary and Joseph and the fulfillment of God's promises for Simeon and Anna. Matthew in contrast finishes his Christmas story with μάγοι magi who came from the east and Joseph's dream that lead to the young families flight from Israel. Luke has none of those stories.

In Luke Joseph and Mary came to Jerusalem offering sacrifices to God in thanks for their new born son. They came to the temple just 8 days after Jesus birth as the law proscribed. These two faithful elders, Simeon and Anna, were waiting in the temple to see God's promises fulfilled. They weren't in the temple accidentally. They lived in prayer staying in the temple day and night waiting on purpose, in faith and hope, to see the promises of God fulfilled. When Jesus arrived in the arms of Joseph and Mary these two elders became witnesses to the light of God that came into their presence.

Simeon understood Jesus significance as a light for the nations of the world. He saw the Messiah and knew Jesus was sent not only for himself and his fellow Israelite's. He met Jesus and guided by God's spirit said,

29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servanth in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 NRSV
Jesus is the light. He is the light Simeon yearned to see. He is the light for the nation of Israel. He is the light for people of all nations. He is the light for those who have been saved through faith and those who still need to be found. Nancy Marshall, a pastor at a deaf church, who blogs at Leaning on the Everlasting Arms has written a great meditation about coming into the light of Christ at Christmas. We live in what many call a dark world. We live in a time of great uncertainty when it becomes too easy to be lost in the dark, Pastor Marshall writes,
...waiting, confused, lost, wanting to see a glimmer of light. If just a little light appeared, people couldn’t help but turn and look at it. “What is that?” they would say. They couldn’t ignore it. It would be a compelling force, because people WANT to see. Most people. Some people who are in the dark don’t even know it. Darkness becomes habitual. It helps to conceal what they are doing. They think they are getting away with something that they couldn’t get away with in the light.

The people of God had lost their way. They had a list of rules. They had some stories that they would tell traditionally every year, but they were still way off the path.
The reality of Spiritual darkness is as ancient as the evil one and as powerful now as it ever has been. Simeon and Anna lived in a world full of darkness. Many around us today, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our children, our dearest friends us live surrounded by the deepest darkness. In faith Simeon and Anna, and all of us believers, cling to the light given by God's promises. We need the light. We need Jesus in every dimension of our lives. And we need prophetic voices like Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist and all the other witnesses of the faith who point us to the light.
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38 NRSV
Anna was a sign, a witness for God. She was there to tell the people that the child who would redeem Jerusalem had come. She was there to tell the Good News to her own.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Unexpect News Luke 1:26-38

Any parent, either an adoptive parent or a birth parent, can tell you that their child's story didn't start the first day they held them. No the story starts for parents starts way before the first day you hold a child in your arms.

Jesus' story started with the surprise visit of an Angel named Gabriel. God's messenger came to this young woman speaking words that she'd never heard before.

Luke's words invite us into a space and time that has never been duplicated. Mary and the Angel meeting was a encounter like no other. Mary was so young; some think that Mary as young as 13 others think maybe as old as 17. The angle was so confident speaking words of promise and authority. Up until that very moment Mary had known her place in life. She had a plan for what was coming next. She was going to get married to Joseph. She was going to be a pretty normal young woman. She was going to do exactly what every other young Jewish girl in Palestine did. She had dreams and hopes like every other young woman her age. And now this angel came and started speaking to her in words and ways that she'd never heard.

The story of parenting sometimes comes as a surprise. Sometimes the surprise comes after years of hope and other times the surprise comes most unexpectedly. Mary had just met this angel and now in the same moment she learned that she was going to have a child.

Every so often my wife and some of my women friends remind me that there are certain experiences in life that I will never get. Pregnancy and childbirth, I have been told, are really quite different for the person giving birth than for the ones watching and hoping to hold the new born child. Today we see what God did through Mary's faith to change the world.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Isaiah 61:1 God keeps promises

The prophet Isaiah came tell us some good news. He came to tell us about one God anointed and sent out. God moved Isaiah to speak boldly,

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners; Isaiah 61:1 NRSV

God keeps his promises. Isaiah's words for the people returning from exile were words meant to renew hope. Hope can be scarce; but God's revelation helps us to see that God is still at work in our world. Advent is about hope. It's about the hope that we discover as we remember the God who keeps promises. God always has and he always will. We forget God; but God hasn't forgotten us. We forget God's promises, but that doesn't mean that God has forgotten them.

The prophet Isaiah announced great news 2500 years ago to the people of Israel. They'd just come home after exile. They found nothing in Israel as they'd hoped to discover it. And the prophet started to announce something huge. God's coming. And in order help us remember that God is in the business of keeping promises God's sending somebody to earth to remind us. Isaiah helps us remember that promises from God matter. As a guarantee that the Word would reach us God promised that he would send somebody to earth as his messenger. Jesus is the guarantee for all of us to see.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Preparing the way Mark 1:1-8

This week we read the start of Mark's Gospel. These words are really the preface to Jesus' story. John Wesley said,

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - The evangelist speaks with strict propriety: for the beginning of the Gospel is in the account of John the Baptist, contained in the first paragraph; the Gospel itself in the rest of the book. www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/notes.i.iii.ii.html
This is Mark's nativity story. No shepherds or angels are in this story like Matthew and Luke tell about. Instead Mark starts with Jesus is ready for ministry at the Jordan River. He came out to the river to meet John, the preacher of baptism and repentance.

Will you know it when Jesus comes?
Jesus coming into view as God incarnate doesn't seem shocking in Mark. The subtle way he arrives is key to this story. Mark is knows that we look for God to arrive in a BIG WAY. And he responds to our expectation, not by spinning a tale that shocks and surprises us, rather he lures us in with story full of unfinished details.
  • Isaiah had told of John and Jesus coming generations before. We are left to wonder if the crowds knew that John was making the way ready for Jesus.
  • Jesus comes to meet John. We are left wondering why Jesus had to meet John.
  • John preached like he knew Messiah was coming and we are left to wonder how John knew he was coming.
  • Jesus comes out of the water and a voice is heard from heaven. We are left to wonder who heard the voice.
Mark's story of Jesus coming starts with the very ordinary circumstances of a baptism at the river side and the words of a preacher. Mark is a story teller's Gospel. We readers and hearers of this Gospel are introduced, through the story, to Jesus. We meet him not in our time and space; rather Mark invites his hearer and readers into a different space, ancient Palestine, and time, the height of Roman Power. We meet him and still have plenty of questions to ask.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rend the Heavens and Come Isaiah 64:1-9

Advent starts this year with the reading of a prophet's prayer,

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! Isaiah 64:1-2 (NRSV)

Isaiah's words reached out towards God with deep desire and passion. He wanted God's presence to be experienced in the world. Isaiah wanted God to send earthquakes shaking the mountains. He asked for fires to make the waters boil so that the Holy Name of God might be realized. Isaiah wasn't asking for God to come sometime in the maybe or could be future. He was asking for God to come manifest in glory right now, in his time and space.

Isaiah prayed for God to come right now. Martin Luther commented in his lectures,

This is a true prayer when the devils and the ungodly enemies have been accused and a strong desire bursts forth into prayer and into a longing for God.Luther's Works, Vol. 17 : Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Page 363

The prophet of God, who spoke God's Word in season and out of season yearned for the world to experience God's presence. As a prophet Isaiah knew God's presence in the Word; but he yearned for something more than words to communicate the power of God to the people of this world.

Isaiah yearned not only for his own experience of God but for others to experience God. He asked God to make himself seen. Isaiah wanted God to be realized by the other people he lived along side of every day. Modern day believers may share this same experience. Many among us to see God be real for the people around us just as he is real, by faith, for believers. We long for God to confront those who are indifferent to Him with his holy presence. But God chose not to come to earth with earthquakes and fire. He chose to come in flesh and blood. We yearn for his glory to be manifest in contrast to the apathy of this world.

7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Isaiah 64:7 (NRSV)

Isaiah may have exaggerated the situation as he wrote, about "...no one who calls on your name," but the experience of isolation in faith that he names is profound. Isaiah's prayer grew from the very heart of faith. He'd been driven to declare the Word in uncomfortable situations where many didn't believe a word that he spoke. Now he wanted God to be real and manifest not only for believers but for the scoffers. Isaiah wanted God to waked up the apathetic who believed God didn't care at all.

God's response to Isaiah was to come. He came to earth not with the fire and the earthquake, rather he came as a baby boy laid in a manger. We yearn for him to come and be real in our day, just like the prophet. We don't see the signs of his presence and miss him all the more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

King Jesus Matthew 25:31-46

Celebrating King Jesus.

I ask my girls the question, "Who is our King?" and I usually know their response will be, "Jesus is the King." This coming weekend is Christ the King Sunday. It's the day set aside in the church year, right before Advent and Christmas, to celebrate Jesus as King and Lord in all His majesty and authority.

Our brave Revised Common Lectionary has wisely chosen Jesus' parable about Judgment for this weeks Gospel reading. It's the very last parable in Matthew. Jesus teaching and preaching ministry are over his crown of thorns is coming quick. Now Matthew invites us, through Jesus' own words, to imagine ourselves in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The place of judgment will be huge. All the nations will stretch out before the King. The sheep and the goats will be sorted out. As you imagine the scene remember that the King has set a standard to select sheep from goats...

...the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)
Those on the right will enter into paradise. The others on the left didn't meet the standard and they will be sent out of paradise, not out into the outer darkness reserved for the unprepared bridesmaids, but into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

The hard part of the story is that both groups seem surprisingly unaware of their own action or inaction on behalf of the King. The King replied to them telling them about the times they did or didn't care for the needs of his family members. Caring for the hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, sick, or imprisoned is caring for the king.

Maybe you'd do anything for your King. Now your king is inviting you to do just that right now in any time or place where you encounter him. There are lots of places where we have and will meet the king and we might be most surprised that it's him we are serving and not just the person in front of us. We remember Jesus as King incarnate and yet hidden to the world. He's the one who comes to judge the living and the dead as declared in the creed. And he's revealed the standard for judgment.

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Maybe some would like to vote for a different king today. Maybe some would like a different standard. Jesus invites us to serve him in all kinds of places and times not always seeing him but serving him in the least of his family. My home state, Minnesota, is beginning a recount of ballots today; but there's no recount for Christ the king. He is the one to judge the living and the dead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Using the Gifts Matthew 25:14-30

Is it possible for humans to underestimate the value of God's gifts? Absolutely; but just how much we undervalue God's gifts to us may be Jesus point in Matthew 25.

Jesus story of the 3 servants each given τάλαντα, commonly transliterated as talents (NIV, KJV and NRSV), but Translated as bags (NCV and NLT), of gold denarii invites us to imagine the generosity of God and the failure of people to appreciate God's gift.

Jesus speaks of a master going on a trip, and he invites us to imagine that very same master giving away his possessions in trust to his servants. The master is very trusting no different than God the Father. He gave away bags of gold to his servants just as God the Father has provided us with everything in creation. Each bag was worth perhaps a 180,000 silver denarrii or 180,000 days wages to his servants (see Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). Some may say these numbers are ridiculous, that was probably Jesus point. He spoke outside the temple walls in the week before he died telling the story of a generous master who trusted his servents to handle vast wealth.

The master gave 10 bags to one servant, 5 to another, and 1 to a third servant. The first two used the bags of money to earn even more money for their master; but the third had no gain to show for the trust he'd been given. Instead he just returned the bag of money entrusted to his master after digging it up from the yard.

The first two servents found approval when they met their master. They'd been shrewd and had great returns to show for their investments. The third was kicked out; not for losing the master's property but for failing to take any risk with it at all. We are risk adverse; but God's gifts are given to us any way. We under estimate the value by us all the time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

the Groom's here there's no time left Matthew 25:1-13

Many fear a day of judgement. Jesus' words scare us in their specificity. We have had and will all again have this kind of experience Not just the day of God's jugement; but days of earthly judgement that we aren't ready to meet.
Our culture lives in fear today of accounting. The experience of being caught unprepared when an accounting has been asked of us is vivid and intesely real for many. Will we be ready? Will our lamps be filled and lit or will they be dark and empty?
The basic symbols in this reading speak of powers less than God that we fear. Darkness, judgement, want, need, and light are all powers that can and do overwhelm us; but the Living God of scripture is not now or ever over come by any of these powers.
The experience of faith is not an exemption from these earthly powers but an invitation from God to walk among them in the sure and certain hope that these lesser powers will not conquer us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy, Blessed, and Beautiful in God's Eyes Matthew 5:1-12

The Gospel, that we read for All Saints, is sometimes called the Beatitudes. It is the greatest description, that I know, of the world as God both wills it to be and as God sees it coming into being through lives of faith.

Jesus spoke these words to a huge crowd. They came searching for him. Some hoped he’d heal their bodies or spirits. Others believed Jesus was the great leader who’d come to set them free from earthly tyranny. People came from all over searching for this great teacher, this great rabbi. And Jesus was ready to teach. He went up to the top of the mountain. He sat down and he began to teach them about what the world looks like to God.

If you read this passage you will see that one phrase is repeated over and over: μακάριοι οἱ this is often translated blessed are those or happy are those. One word μακάριοι is repeated over and over, blessed or happy are those who are:

  • poor in spirit
  • in mourning
  • meek
  • hungering and thirsting for righteousness
  • clean in heart
  • peacemakers
  • persecuted for righteousness sake
The popular definition of happiness or blessing that grows out of material wealth doesn't fit these very real life circumstance that Jesus' followers face every day. Still we call call these the Beatitudes, a word that comes from the Latin beatus for beauty. Maybe another translation is beautiful in the sight of God. Think of the one who follows God and think of that one described as blessed, happy, and beautiful in the site of God.

Blessed, happy, beautiful, in the end each of these translation of the word μακάριοι gives us a different facet of the story. The key here is seeing just how radically Jesus sees the world from us. He's offering a markedly different vision of the world from what we humans see. He sees beauty and joy and blessing in God's people even when we might not see it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Love: the Heart of Christian Life Matthew 22:34-46

In our Gospel reading Jesus replied to a Pharisee's question about the law, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” by pointing to two similar commandments instructing the law's adhrents to love,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NCV)

Jesus' words about love, in reply to the Pharisee's question about law, came straight out of the ancient legal code itself.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”Deuteronomy 6:4-5(NIV)

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”Leviticus 19:18 (NRSV)

Jesus pointed at these invitations to love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) above everything else in the law. It seems so simple and so elegent. If you want to fulfill the law of God love God and others. The hitch is love for others doesn't exist in a vaccum inside of oneself. For 2000 years believers have been invited to live beyond themselves, in relationships, loving God and neighbors. Wise men have observed that no humans have static relationships (thanks Martin Buber). We are in relationship with real beings, God and the people around us, who change and who act entirely on their own. That means we're invited to love a real God and real people.

Jesus invited the Pharisee to fulfill the law by loving (ἀγαπήσεις) the Lord first and next loving (ἀγαπήσεις) your neighbors as yourselves. The invitation is to a life lived in love. For 2000 years Jesus' words have invited us into relationships. Edward Marquardt describes these two verses as hinges,

A door cannot open without two hinges on it. Only when there are two hinges can a door swing in and out. To love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor are the two necessary hinges on which the whole Bible swings. Without the hinges, the Bible/the door is relatively useless. The Bible becomes effective in a person’s life only when the two hinges are in working order.”

The commandments instructed ancient Israel, the Pharisees, and all of us today, to live in love. Jesus is inviting us to live now and in the future loving God and the people around us. It would be much easier to live in love if we could just wait until we get to the here-after to start; but Jesus didn't tell the Pharisees to wait before they started loving in some far away place or some far off time. His direction is to love in a broken world that knows sin, death, and the works of the evil one all to well. This is the same broken world that Jesus came to redeem.

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This week our church will gather 489 years after the Reformation and celebrate our heritage in the Word. We'll give thanks for a bold young priest who challenged the church he loved to be faithful to the Gospel. We'll remember the day when he pounded a 95 Thesis invitation to debate, to the door of Wittenburg University's Chapel.

As we celebrate the Reformation we'll keep our challenging times in mind. Our days, much like Luther's days on earth, were filled with uncertainty. Challenging times call for the church to be at its best and to hold fast to what matters. Our Reformation Heritage includes a call, even in difficult times, to listen to Scripture and to live boldly in the freedom of the Gospel. We can't wait for the perfect conditions in the church or the world before we start living out our faith; instead we need to start now so that we can be salt and light for the world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Who's money is it Matthew 22:15-22

Two political groups came to Jesus with a dangerous political question. The Herodians and the Pharisees were fishing for a way to entrap Jesus. They wanted to ask Jesus about the righteousness of paying taxes.
If he said yes he would have been labeled as a traitor to his own people. The tax collectors were seen as traitors so why not someone who encouraged paying taxes.
If he said no he would have been on the hook for subverting the power of Herod and the Roman occupation.
Jesus responded with a question, "who's pitcture is on the coin?" They said Caesar's. Jesus told them to give the money to the emperor if it was the emperor's, afterall it had Caesar's picture on it and not God's.
Jesus' words about the money's real owner seem very shrewd at first. He jumped out of the trap saying, "Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar." His words even rhymes like a short campaign slogan. But listening these past few weeks, as people have been talking about what happened in the markets, it seems his advice was wise not only 2000 years ago but today too.
People simply can't stop talking about money. We need it to live to (heat our homes to buy food). But we don't need to be ruled by money either. This is Jesus' best advice. Don't be consumed by money. Don't be ruled by money. Live instead by faith giving the things of this world back to this world and giving God what is rightly God's.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ready or Not, You're invited Matthew 22:1-4 Philipians 4:1-9

Jesus parable about a wedding feast that the invited guests chose not to attend is rich with images and power.

The first image in my mind is of invitations being sent out by the King to the Wedding Feast. As pastor I get wedding invitations many times a year. The invitations arrive in special envelopes with beautiful fonts, fancy hand writing, and special inner envelopes and even extra sheets to keep the words clear and un-smudged.

Couples who send invitations out for their weddings expect some of the people they invited to come. But in Jesus' parable no one came when the King invited them. So the servants were sent to remind the guests of the feast. But the servants were received rudely and even brutally mistreated.

The King responded with rage. He sent soldiers in to the city to wipe out the murders. Then he send out the servants into the streets.

Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Matthew 22:9-10 NRSV
Many came but one man wasn't prepared. Part of me asks how could he be ready. He was out on the street and the slaves invited him in. Some will say this is where the story breaks down; but maybe this is the point when the story is most poignant. The King's invitation comes ready or not. Perhaps we assume we'll have time to prepare and get everything in order; but the truth is we don't and we can't.

Context and Time

People are talking about money and finance quite a bit these days. There's deepening anxiety around the coffee tables where seniors, who depend on investments, visit. There's panic in the homes of parent's worried about their mortgages and jobs. We've been caught, as a global consumer culture, unprepared for this moment. We aren't ready. We don't have the right plan or the right garment. People know this experience first hand today. In time some may just view today's struggles as a blip; but for many others this is no blip. Houses are on the line, jobs are on the line. It feels for many like the world they know it is over. They weren't ready for the economy to collapse and now they fear the outer darkness where people gnash their teeth and weep.

This coming Sunday has been set aside, by the Stewardship Team in the congregation I serve, to invite people to make pledges for the next year. Talking with other Lutheran preacher in Minnesota it seems like the October's the month when we Lutheran's talk about money. Part of me says this isn't the time; but part of me says this exactly the moment to talk about money and ministry.

Institutional churches are struggling to stay relevant and in some cases financially viable. This financial crisis will push many of us into uncomfortable situations and challenge us to focus on outward ministry and not just inward maintenance. The Internet Monk has an interesting commentary (written in response to Chris Sander's Life After Church) that seems to fit this week as our congregation discusses budgets and ministry in this unique moment in history.

Some wonder if the church is still relevant; I believe we are, if we meet the world as it is, not as we think it should be. We need to stay focused on mission when everything distracts us from serving Christ. We still need to be..
the church that visits the nursing homes, provides major funding for the community pantry, builds and maintains a youth center, pays a Christian counselor and has its pastors doing a remarkable amount of pastoral care in the community. In other words, the landscape may look bleak as Sanders describes it, but for pastors and area ministers on the ground in the traditional church, there is real ministry happening, and much of it commendable
People who've been caught unprepared need to hear the Good News. Pastors and parishioners both will be hungry no just to hear the CNN, NPR, or FOXNews headlines repeated. Let them know the Good News,
The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philipians 4:5-7 NRSV
Its not time to panic; its time to preach Christ.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sending the Son Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus' parables in Matthew 21-25 will be the Gospel texts for the next few months, right up until Christ the King Sunday (unless you use alternate texts for Reformation Sunday and All Saints). Jesus taught boldly in the temple in Matthew 21-23 and then outside the temple in Matthew 24-25.

Matthew portrays Jesus in Matthew 21-23 as a teacher with a following. His following included both supporters and detractors. The crowd wanted to hear him; but many factions (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Chief Priests) plotted against him.

The plotters had many reasons to be angry with Jesus. He questioned them not through direct challenges but through stories and metaphors. They saw him as a radical and a threat. He saw them as unfaithful and corrupt.

Sending in the Son
The one metaphor that keeps on repeating in my mind is that of father and son. In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus spoke of a Father with two sons. Now in Matthew 28:33-46 he speaks of a land owner who sent his son to seeks payment from unruly tenants. The true nature of the Trinity is on display in this story. God the Father sent many servants to his people. They beat some, stoned some, and killed some. Now in hope that he could ἐντραπήσονται bring shame or cause them to turn face Matthew 21:37 Jesus said the land owner sent his son to seeks payment from unruly tenants.

The son was killed instead of being the one to bring a change in the actions of the tenants. Jesus asked the people in the temple what would happen to the tenants. They replied

He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Matthew 21:41 NRSV.
Jesus didn't answer yes or no to their response. Instead he starting talking about the stone which would be rejected that would become the corner stone. The stone would fall on some and cause others to stumble. Looking at this story I see that the Son is still seeking a change in all of us; many still reject the Son and his messengers; but others will not overlook or ignore them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Jesus who are you talking about? Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus in Matthew 21 is bold.
He arrived in Jerusalem as the crowd cheered, "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." They waved palms and received him as a prophet.
His first stop in Jerusalem: the temple. Jesus walked in not in silence but burning with passion. He drove out the money changers and those who sold doves for sacrifice.
Anger bubbled up among the priests and others responsible for the temple: "Who is Jesus to teach like this?" Jesus boldly challenged the temple culture in Matthew 21. He was pushing, literally driving away the money changers and dove sellers, challenging the whole lot of them to see the temple as God's house and not a market. He left the temple and headed out cursing a fig tree.
Our story picks up when Jesus returned to the temple and started teaching.

...the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23 NRSV
Jesus wouldn't answer their question unless they would answer one of his: who gave John the Baptist's authority. The chief priests and elders couldn't or wouldn't answer. Jesus responded to the silence of the priests and elders with a story about a father and two sons. The father asked his boys to go work in the vineyard. One son said he wouldn't work and later changed his mind and did go out to help. The other agreed but did not go out and work. Jesus asked them,
Which of the two did the will of his father?”They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21:31-32 NRSV
There's no doubting, reading Matthew through to the end, that Jesus faced death for such words. As a person of faith this story speaks volumes. Forget what looks good or sounds good. What matters is what you do not just what you say. Jesus directly challenged everyone in the temple, as Matthew challenges every reader of his Gospel, to not just act faithful but to be faithful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How generous is our God? Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus' story, about the generous vineyard owner and the equally paid workers, gives us a glimpse into God's values and principles.
Listening to the story it becomes clear that there are two different views not just about our actions in our world but what we think we'll earn at the end of the day. On one side is the vineyard owner who pays a full days wage to those who worked a full day and to those who had only worked for the last hour of the day. On the other side are the workers who grumbled that they had only received a fair wage and that those who hadn't worked as hard received the same.
We debate if this is fair or not. The workers who'd finished a whole day in the sun expected something more for their hard efforts after watching those who worked for a fraction of the day get the full wage. When they only received what was promised they grumbled wanting more.
There's no doubt that we humans value fairness. It's a modern virtue that pulls at us and motivates us in our interactions especially in issues of money and employment. But God has a different view. Heaven is God's alone to offer. We look for an angle a way to get aplace of prestigue, but God's offering us something beyond price a place in the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Forgive them? how many times Matthew 18:21-35

Jesus is pushing us in the Gospel reading this week to forgive as we ask God to forgive.

He's pushing us to look at the people who have hurt us with forgiveness in our hearts. Part of me calls this preposterous thinking. There's this part in all of us; the part that bear grudges, keeps track of wrongs and offenses intentional or accidental. This part is the old Adam creeping around in all of us. We know who owes us. The man who had been forgiven so much by the king surely knew who still owed him.

Jesus is pushing us to be resurrection people. He's pushing us and the old Adam resists. The old self is confronted here by a forgiving God who asks us to go and do likewise. Jesus says that we are to go to the ones who are lost. We are to seek to win back those who hurt us (See Matthew 18:15-20) and to offer them forgiveness not one time or 70 times but 7 times 70 times.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gathered in Jesus Name Matthew 18:15-20

Our Gospel reading this week is a great reading for Rally Sunday. In my congregation kids will start a new year of Sunday School and learning together. Whole families will reappear after months of camping and sleeping in. Rally Sunday is a great day to remember that the church, at its core, starts small, with 2 or 3 gathered in Jesus name.

Church life starts with relationships. (Matthew 22:34-40)
In the first commandment God invites us into relationship with himself. Jesus taught that the second most important thing in this life are relationships with other people.

Jesus words in Matthew 18:15-17 are instructions for human beings trying to relate to one another in the church that we see on this earth. Some times we do well listening to one another. We live side by side as brothers and sisters. Other times we do terribly. We all have had times when we had a failure to communicate with one another.

Jesus invites us to meet each other face to face. He calls us to name the times we've been wronged. We are not to seek revenge; rather we should seek the ear of the neighbor who has wronged us. It's a painful time in ministry and fellowship when you turn to a brother or sister and tell them they've hurt you or let you down.

Jesus invites his followers not to seek a way to kick another out of fellowship but to restore them to fellowship first. Some will seek forgiveness. Some will grow enraged that they would be confronted. Some will just walk away facing the painful truth of what they have done. Its deeply painful, if you're the one who has been asked to sit down and listen as another shares their grievance with you. It's hard to listen but it your chance to be restored.

Bound together.
Jesus' words about casting someone out of fellowship are haunting. We are to treat the former member as a tax collector and sinner. We are to bind and lose them as members not only of a local church; but as part of the unseen mystical body of Christ. These words are not only about binding and releasing sin, they are about binding and releasing brothers and sisters.

We underestimate the organic and relational nature of the church. The church is Christ's body made up of living breathing believers called together by the Holy Spirit. We gather around the Word of God, water, bread, and wine. The Holy Spirit, people, and these 4 basic elements make up the true church. The church is not buildings or budgets. Pastors serving in established congregations might have buildings or budgets; but they are not and will never be the truly constitutive elements of the church.

The church will never be constrained by physical or monetary limits. Jesus is present when a few, maybe 2 or 3 people, gather in His name. We need no building or money. We need faith, hope, love: Gifts of the Spirit binding us together around the Word and Sacraments.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Carrying Crosses Matthew 16:21-28

The cross was the meeting point for everything in Jesus life. Everything he'd said and done pointed him to a particular moment in time where earth and eternity met. The cross was his moment.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was trying to tell his friends that he was headed toward the cross. They heard him talk about the suffering and struggles that he would face and they said no. He was looking ahead to the day when he would carry his cross and finally die on it. His friends heard him speak but they cringed at the idea. "No" Peter said, "God forbid..." Jesus looked Peter in the eye and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus knew the cross was coming. He was heading toward Jerusalem telling his friends to pick up their crosses and follow. They heard him; but they didn't understand. It was to great a thought to even consider. Jesus knew it was coming. They might fight it or hide from it; but he knew it was coming for him and he knew that each of them and each of us would face a cross too.

The hard part about crosses is that we don't pick them. We don't pick which temptations, sufferings, or which struggles will stand between us and God. We don't need to choose a cross our crosses find us. What Jesus instructs us to do is pick that cross up and start walking with him. This is not an invitation to earthly glory. Its an invitation into a life on this earth rooted in faith and hope that counts on God even in the struggles.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What do you call me? Matthew 16:13-20

The Gospel for this week struck me in 2 ways as I read it this afternoon.

First: I heard the report about what people in Israel were saying about Jesus. Its the kind of report that journalists, students, and academics give as they try to convey other peoples ideas and observations. The disciples said what they heard; it's easy to answer questions this way. You aren't emotionally invested in these kinds of responses.

Second: I heard Jesus ask a personal question directed at a particular person, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter spoke from the heart. "You are the son of God." This is a confession, a creedal statement of belief.

Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."
One of the real shames of the the last 2000 years the church are the multiple occasions when Christians have forced "Confessions" and "conversions." Jesus speaks honestly about the role that God plays in faith. Over the 2000 years since Christ we've regularly underestimated the Spirit's work in creating faith.

Confessions of faith come not from human strength but from God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Faith can't be forced but it can grow through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jesus sees the unseen Matthew 14:10-28

In Matthew 14 Jesus had encounters with people from 2 very different groups who called Palestine their home. The people Jesus met considered themselves differently in their relationship with God and with their neighbors.

  • The first encounter in Matthew 14:1-20 was with true insiders: the Pharisees.
  • The second encounter in Matthew 14:21-28 was with a true outsider: a Canaanite woman.
Listening to Jesus interaction with the Pharisees and the Canaanite woman allows us, 2000 years later, to hear the presumptions of power or weakness that existed in Jesus' day in Judah.

The Pharisees assumed they held a unique position in Judah. They were close to God because they followed the law completely and dedicated their lives to following God as the law and tradition revealed. They questioned Jesus from this position of power,
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” Matthew 15:2 NRSV
Jesus responded to their questions naming their own broken laws. They assumed they were always faithful to God through but Jesus turned the law toward them...
... God said, 'Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. Matthew 15:4-6 NRSV
Jesus words went to the very center of their lives and faith. Outwardly following the law was everything for them. But Jesus' would hear it. He used a different standard; what's inside the heart to judge a person. And now turning toward the whole crowd he challenged the Pharisees again. His disciples could tell that the Pharisees were offended. Jesus wasn't deterred by their offense. The unseen human heart is what matters. You can see what a person does, but you can never see what's inside of a human heart.

A new world view begins. In the old world view shaped by law ritual purity mattered; for Jesus purity of heart matters. In the old world view the appearances that other humans saw mattered; in Jesus world view the intentions that God sees matter. Jesus did not end the law; rather he put everything into a different perspective.

The Canaanite Woman presumed no position of privilege in her interaction with Jesus. She just believed he could release her daughter from demons; she begged for help. Jesus was silent. The disciples wanted to shoo her away. He answered her requests and not theirs, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 15:24 NRSV The desperate mother kept begging. She was pushing Jesus begging him to reach out.
 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:26-28 NRSV
Jesus words about dogs and the children's food stun us. But she was not about to stop. She believed Jesus could heal her daughter. She was ready to hold on in faith trusting that he had the power to set her, body and soul, free. Martin Luther compared her to Jacob wrestling in the night in Genesis 32.
In this manner God is conquered when faith does not leave off, is not wearied, and does not cease but presses and urges on. So it makes its appearance in the Canaanite woman, with whom Jesus was wrestling when He said: “You are a dog, the bread of the sons does not belong to you” (cf. Matt. 15:26). The woman did not yield here but offered opposition, saying: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” And so she was victorious and heard the excellent word of praise: “O woman, great is your faith!”
Such examples teach us that faith should not yield or cease urging or pressing on even when it is already feeling God’s wrath and not only death and sin. This is the power and strength of the Spirit. Luther's Works, Vol. 6 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37, Vol 6:139 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1970).
Jesus boldly invites us to hold on in faith. Now the outsider is truly the model for all people who are distant from God. She teaches us to hold on.

note to any regular readers: sorry for the delayed posting. I attended the funeral of Christopher Stander in Minneapolis this week and have been a little behind getting ready for preaching this weekend. Please add his mom and dad, Isabel and John, and his brothers, Hans and Eric, their wives, and kids to your prayers. Thanks

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Having No Fear Matthew 14:22-33



Fear is one of our base emotions; it's an involuntary experience that moves within us in response to something happening around us. Jesus told his friends not to fear. They were out on the water of Galilee. They'd just seen him feed 5000 men and even more women and children with a few loaves and fish. He'd sent them away, dismissed the crowd, had a time to pray and now they were surprised in the night to meet Jesus out on the water in the midst of wind and waves.

Jesus' responded to his friends' fear,
εὐθὺς δὲ ἐλάλησεν [ὁ Ἰησου̂ς] αὐτοι̂ς λέγων· θαρσει̂τε, ἐγώ εἰμι· μὴ φοβει̂σθε. Matthew 14:27 Novum Testumentum Graece. "But Jesus quickly spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27 NCV)


Jesus met them in their fear and offered them an an invitation to live in faith. Miracles were happening whether they believed or not. He invited them to step out in faith.

Jesus invitation started with assurance of his place in the universe, ἐγώ εἰμι. It is I. These were the same words Moses heard from the bush. This is "I am" talking. Jesus' friends were starting to glimpse his extraordinary personality. Jesus instruction μὴ φοβει̂σθε in you no fear is personal he's telling his friends, "Right now in yourself have no fear."

Peter asked Jesus to invite him out proving that he was real. Jesus said come. Peter stepped out. The water stayed under his feet . He was walking. Then fear returned; he was sinking. He cried save me, and Jesus lifted him up.
"Jesus said, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?" Matt 14:31 NCV λέγει αὐτῳ̂· ὀλιγόπιστε, εἰς τί ἐδίστασας; Matthew 14:31 Novum Testumentum Graece.

Peter feared and Jesus remained faithful; and those who saw it all happen in the boat believed. We might fear but Jesus can work around fear. We might doubt his power; but that doesn't limit what he can do.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bread to Share Matthew 14:13-21

What do you get when you when Jesus meets a young boy in a crowd with five loaves and two fish? A meal to feed 5,000.

The context of this miracle gives us even more reason for awe and wonder. Things weren't going well for Jesus. He'd been rejected in his hometown (Matthew 13:53-58) His cousin and forerunner John the Baptist was beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). There are plenty of times in the church when we would be wise to remember that Jesus strength was revealed most often when things were going from bad to worse.

Jesus had gone away from the crowds looking for a quiet place, some speculate that Jesus had good reasons to look for a quiet place. McGarvey and Pendleton's THE STANDARD BIBLE COMMENTARY argues,

"[He'd] Heard about John's death. The excitement caused by this event, and the efforts to use Jesus as a leader in revolt, (see Mark 6:29), constituted another reason why Jesus should withdraw from the multitude.
Jesus was looking for quiet; but the crowds came looking for him. Everyone in the crowd had their own reason to come looking for him. Some came believing Jesus would heal, some came wondering what he would teach, some came hoping they could meet him and hear him, some came just because their parents said they should come. Some came seeking revolution and Jesus taught the crowd who'd gathered out in that deserted place for some time. There's no mention in Matthew about what he taught, just that he taught for some time that day.

As the day passed the disciples started worrying about food for the crowd. Jesus replied to their worries, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." (Matthew 14:16 NIV) They were flummoxed naming what little they had. We can say the same things in our daily ministry. We don't have enough money, time, people, knowledge, experience, patience, will, or strength. Jesus replied to the disciples doubts instructing them to go ahead and pass out the food to everyone. Craig S. Keener observed,
God is not intimidated by the magnitude of our problem. The disciples saw the size of the need and the littleness of the human resources available; Jesus saw the size of the need and the greatness of God's resources available. Often God calls us to do tasks for him that are technically impossible-barring a miracle. IVP NT Commentary Series Matthews

Jesus miracle didn't start with human faith. It started with the power of God. Jesus' power alone was enough to feed thousands from the young boys food. That power alone is what keeps the church going and keeps ministry happening even in times of great need and want. The miracle happened not because of human will; but because of God's will that transformed the deserted place into place of feasting.

A warning to preachers: It's tempting to turn this story into a moral tale telling everyone to go and do likewise; but that underestimates the power of God displayed by Jesus. He didn't tell everyone to empty out their bags for their secret snacks; instead he told his friends to keep on passing out the food until everyone was full.

ADDENDUM (July 29, 2008)
Lectionary Singer caught me red handed mixing up miracle stories from one Gospel to the next. I can assure all of you that it will happen again. And here I was trying to keep them all straight for once.

Matthew's story uniquely puts emphasis not on the boy but on the disciples having the food. Now in my third reading this week I think the focus is more on Jesus than anybody else in this story. Jesus told them plainly to bring the food here. He blessed it, he broke it here, and he told them to go ahead and pass it out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Parables of the Kingdom Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In Matthew 13 Jesus revealed glimpses of God's Kingdom in the poetry of metaphors. 2000 years later Jesus' words still start faithful imaginations running, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed..." "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast..."

Matthew 13 is really two different sets of parables. The first set of parables were spoken to a great crowd who came to visit him by the shores of Galilee. The crowd was so great he went out a little way off shore in a boat to speak to them all. Jesus friends ask him why he spoke in parables and he pointed all of them to Isaiah 6:8-9 about stubborn minds who heard but didn't listen. Then he just went on teaching parables. The second part of Matthew 13 were Jesus' explanations for his disciples of the earlier parables and still more parables.

The Revised Common Lectionary has broken up this one chapter into chunks mixing Jesus teachings up and spreading them out over three weeks time. It's tough, out of context to be sure if Jesus is talking to the crowd or the disciples.

Different people came to Jesus with different questions. Some came wondering, "Are you for real?" others came asking, "What are you up to in my life?" Jesus draws believers into the Kingdom of God through parables. Scoffers will listen but not be satisfied. Believers will be drawn into God's infinitely creative imagination. Scoffers will be frustrated because they aren't hearing the mysteries explained away, but believers will rejoice to catch a glimpse of the wonderful mysterious reality of God.

Jesus told his listeners what the kingdom of God is like in his own terms. The crowds glimpsed the kingdom through his word. He didn't tell us the physical dimensions of God's kingdom; he told us it can start small like a mustard seeds. He didn't tell us the reach of God's kingdom he compared it to yeast's ability to transform flour and water from paste into bread.

After leaving the crowd he told the disciples that the kingdom of God was like a treasure, a pearl of great value, and a net that would bring in all the world for sorting.

For 2000 years believers have pondered these stories. We've examined facet after facet of the God's kingdom. We look at these stories with wonder and fear as we glimpse our place in Jesus' kingdom.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

on vacation July 6 to July 20

Dear readers,
There will be no lectionary postings for the next 2 weeks.
We're on vacation!
it comes just when we need it. We might post some from the road on unlikelybanter.blogspot.com

Monday, June 30, 2008

Did they listen... Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

In our Gospel today we see 2 things all at once...
1) the deep relationship between John's ministry and Jesus' ministry.
2) the rejection, by many, of both John's ministry and Jesus' ministry.
The story started back in Matthew 11: 2 when Jesus was visited by some of John's followers. They came for John, who was imprisoned, to see who Jesus was and what he was about. Jesus sent them back to John with these words,

4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepersc are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”Matthew 11:4-7 (NRSV)
John came to earth in preparing the way for the coming Messiah. Now he wanted to know if Jesus was the one. Jesus responded asking John and his friends to look at what he was doing. John and Jesus were visible figures in Palestine. Their followers and other shared stories about these two. As the stories spread people looked at John and Jesus and their ministries with suspicion.

We believers look at John and Jesus with hope and find renewal for our souls. We hear John's call to repent and see our own need to let go and prepare to meet the savior. We believers listen to the Good News about Jesus and rejoice. And yet people rejected both their ministries, 
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Matthew 11:18-19 NRSV
Jesus words in Matthew 11 speak of cities who heard and didn't listen. He speaks council to his friends who faced rejection when the proclaimed the Good News. He speaks council to us when the road is marked with suffering; he offers us a promise in the middle of our labors. The early church knew this kind of experience. Matthew choice to include these teachings of Jesus would have surely brought comfort to a church that faced persecution. I believe these words are good for a church that's facing irrelevance today.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”Matthew11:28-30 NRSV
Following Jesus isn't simple; not everyone will believe. Not everyone will find hope. Still we find the promise of eternal life in leaving our yolks behind and picking his up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Living Hospitality Matthew 10:40-42

In Matthew, following the sermon on the mount, Jesus repeatedly pushed the boundaries of fellowship and service.
He cured a lepor. Matthew 8:2-3
He ate with tax collectors. Matthew 9:9-14
As Jesus sent out his friends (Matthew 10:1-42) he ended his instructions advising his friends to both give and receive hospitality Matthew 10:40-42. These words challenge the church to open the door to those we don't know in Jesus name. Jesus friends sent to reach the lost not just the comfortable. They weren't sent into unknown places and to unknown people; they were sent to the lost who lived close at hand.

I saw this at work on Monday as our congregation welcomed the family and friends of a man I'd never met for a funeral on June 23. He was listed on our roles as a member; but he didn't attend. His brother was once a member here; but he has moved on to another town and another congregation. Other churches may refuse such a funeral; but our team didn't. The servers, ushers, and many more pitched in on two days notice. In the few days following I've had several conversations about faith that I didn't expect with people who'd just come to say good-bye.

Hospitality means opening the door and trusting that the Spirit will work through us in service. Just try it and you'll find out what God can do.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jesus first.. Matthew 10:24-39

What does Jesus ask of us? To be first in our lives. Reading Jesus words in Matthew this week makes it clear that Jesus asks to be first in every part of our lives.

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The Holy Bible : New International Version. , Mattt 10:37-39. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984
God calls us to love himself first. The first commandment is clear; God is to be first. But as we look around its very hard not to see all that God has offered us: family, friends, identity, purpose, have all been offered for us on this earth. And Jesus says that we will only enter the kingdom of God after we've let go of all that we are and have on this earth.

Jesus leaves us no way around the challenge of letting go. When we let go of everything and everyone else we are ready to meet God. I've seen people do it in nursing homes and hospice bed. It's beautiful and sad to watch all at once as they say farewell to those they love and turn their face towards heaven.

Jesus challenges all our allegiances to spouse, parent, child, neighbor, friend, nation and all others we care about. The kingdom of God is waiting for us. Let go of everything and you're there. Don't worry about when the time will come, just know that there will be such a day.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Go to the lost ... Mathew 9:35-10:23

You have been sent.

In our Gospel Jesus sent his friends out to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons. He sent them to the lost of Israel. Today he sends us out to into the world. He sends us first to our own before we go into the world. In the Gospel he told his friends to travel light, “You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.” The Holy Bible NRSV, Matthew 10:8-10. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.

Jesus sends us out much the same. We have doubts and fears. We have limitations and struggles and he tells us to travel light. We might not believe we're ready; but the hurting of this world are ready to meet him. He sends us out to tell the world the Good News: the kingdom of God has come near.

Just as Jesus sent his friends out he welcomed new friends to his company. His circle included sinners who just wanted to be near him (see Matthew 9 and Mark 2). There were many hurting souls who sought out Jesus; and Jesus responded by sending his closest 12 followers out into the nation of Israel to find others who were lost and who he could still reach.

Jesus is with us today when we venture out in his name. This is our time, live in his boundless love not only in the safe places; but in the uncertain places. I take note that Jesus sent his friends first to their own nation before sending them to all nations. Our first calling is to minister in our own homes and families. Our ministry doesn't stop there; but it starts among our own and then we are to go to the hurting at the ends of the earth.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Who needs healing? Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

Jesus had a mission. Matthew makes that abundantly clear; Jesus taught, healed, died, and rose because he was on a mission. Matthew's Gospel concludes as Jesus sent his followers out to all nations with a mission based in his own.

Jesus mission of healing meant calling all people back to God including "those people" who the religious would call "sinners." Jesus' mission lead him beyond preaching to the spiritually healthy. He came to heal broken spirits and broken bodies. Jesus ate with the tax collectors, traitors who would shake down their own people to help out the Romans. Jesus ate with publicly known sinners who couldn't hide their shameful actions any longer. When they asked why he replied,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13.
Jesus mission was to heal. He healed a broken girls body and he healed sick mens' souls. He healed in unexpected places focusing on the health of each person as a whole being. He even healed when a woman suffering from a hemorrhage reached out to touch him. Jesus mission led him to meet the contagious, the long suffering, and outraged those who believed they we healthy enough to judge others.

Mission is a commonly used phrase in churches today. We have missionaries, we are called to mission work, we have home missions and international missions. A friend said that, "Everything is about mission in the church these days." The challenge is to keep our mission, our work, in line with Christ's mission. We cannot force Christ to do what we would like rather we must shape our lives around his ministry and mission.

The Pharisees didn't like Jesus expanding fellowship. But he had a mission independent of their opinions and authorization. We can't stop Jesus mission; but if we jump on board with him we can and will see healing happen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Matthew 7:21-29 words of authority

Jesus preached a sermon on a mountain that, according to Matthew, left the crowds "...amazed/ astounded/ frightened ἐξεπλήσσοντο at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority/ power/ jurisdiction ἐξουσίαν, and not as the scribes." Matthew 7:28-29

Jesus words opened up the kingdom of God for everyone to hear and experience. Even at the very
tail end of this earth re-visioning sermon we hear him speak both law and promise. The crowd who gathered wanted to hear Jesus teach and they heard him declare a vision of God at work in the world like no one else could. He spoke provocatively inviting hearers to imagine the kingdom that was coming into being.

Some of Jesus' words leave me (and I suspect others) unsettled. Jesus named differences between a life built on sand and a life built on rock. The crowd knew what he meant; we know too whether we like it or not. He named the reality that we are free to choose our own destruction and often do. He spoke a word that makes me even more uncomfortable:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ Matthew 7:21-23 NRSV
Jesus spoke the whole Word of God. He spoke the promise of eternal life and still named the reality that we can choose to walk away from God in the same sermon. He wasn't running for election or earthly approval. He didn't need our endorsement to be Son of God and son of man. He spoke directing, challenging, even needling his hearers to examine their lives and their relationship to God and their neighbors.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Live in worry live in trust: Matthew 6:24-34

Its funny to hear people talk about what makes a good sermon and then to read one of Jesus sermons. People talk about how important it is to hear the word of God and to hear about real life. Imagine Jesus' sermons as models for preaching.

Jesus' preaching was never one dimensional: He talked about everyday life, scripture, prayer, theology, heaven, hell, and God's mercy often in just one sermon. The snippet of a sermon we read from this week was given on a Mountain to a crowd who gathered to listen to Jesus teach and who heard him declare a vision of God at work in the world..

Jesus' words challenged his hearers not to worry; but to be open to God's work in the world. He reminded them about God's care for his creatures, especially for us humans who were created in the Father's image. He offered a challenge: not to worry about the things we need in this world . He made a promise that God who cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field would care for us too.

The people who came to listen to Jesus were searching for a leader, a hero, who would set them free. They'd heard about healing, miracles, and daemons who'd been caste out. They didn't want to intellectually understand God's will. They wanted to know their place in the world what God wanted them to know and to experience. They wanted to experience it; and from what they'd heard and some had seen Jesus was the one. They were looking for a deliverer who would set them free from Roman Imperial power to be God's chosen nation. Jesus came to set the world free from sin and death.

Jesus offered his hearers then and today a freedom that this world can't give; a freedom from striving for things and an opportunity to live in the Kingdom of God right now instead.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

what lasts is God Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus sends us out to make disciples in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we do we connect new believers to the one who will remain after every thing else has slipped away.

Everything in this world can turn to dust. Psalm 103 says that we humans are made from dust and like a flower in the field we will just drift away. Things that we count on as hard and permanent drift away, little by little. My 1987 Chrysler LeBaron was well on its way to rusting away when I sold it with 215,000 miles on it. Instead of solid fenders it had swiss cheese fenders, you might know the kind. We could see right through the holes. When I took the confirmation kids from my first church in Minnesota on a service afternoon two of the moms slipped cell phones in their kid’s backpacks just to be on the safe side. They thought the wheels might just fall off at any time. I saw that old Chrysler running every so often a few years after I traded it in, I wonder if the wheels have fallen off, yet.

Scripture teaches us that everything fades away. Instead of staying stable even that old car that never quit running is just drifting away little by little. A little bit more washes away with every sand and salt covered road.

People who live in big central cities and out in the country have experienced this same kind of thing first hand. Something that used to be permanent is now simply disappearing in the rain and the wind. Old houses in forgotten city neighborhoods and old farm places that are falling into the ground have a lot to teach us about our impermanence. Moss replaces shingles, rock solid wall plaster walls just give way over time, and dust remains behind. A few generations ago people came home to what's now pile of rotting wood; it was the safe haven from winter, snow, rain, and winds and now its turning back into the dust and the earth.

Things that we think are permanent aren’t. Things that we can see, things that we count on everyday, turn to dust. And into this world comes something that you can’t even see that will not turn to dust: the Spirit of the living God. Jesus gave the Spirit to all who follow him. It is the Spirit who will help you see God. But you can’t see the Spirit. Just like you can’t see the wind. Billy Graham used to say that you see the effect of the wind just like you can see the effect that God has in our world. He said it’s a mystery. Even worse is that we don’t always see God’s activity either in this world.


Jesus said go and make disciples in the name of the 3 in 1 God who will never fade away. Go and share a promise that in him we have life after everything else has turned to dust.

Monday, May 5, 2008

God gives away the Spirit Acts 2:1-21 John 20:19-23

Jesus is up to something big by passing the Holy Spirit on to us; but there's more to this gift than might be first expected. God's Spirit isn't given in a neatly wrapped package (with gift receipt) at one point or time in history.

Our readings this Sunday tell us two distinct occasions when the Spirit came into believers' lives.

  • The risen Jesus breathed out and told his friends receive the Holy Spirit. They gathered in a locked room fearing the same people who had killed Jesus. They'd heard the first reports of the resurrection and still feared for their lives. Jesus came and stood among them breathing out and telling them "peace be with you" and "receive the holy spirit (John 20).
  • The Spirit was seen as fire in tongues on the Apostles' heads in Jerusalem. The believers gathered together in Jerusalem praying and praising God together. Beyond human explanation they began to speak, each one in their own native tongue, and understand one another regardless of where they came from or what language they spoke (Acts 2).
God's on the loose. We can impose no limits on where the Spirit moves in flame, breath, wind, or whatever other form God might choose. In Religion After 2000 Andrew Greeley offers a helpful challenge to the church asking two questions that are great for Pentecost.

Why, I wonder, are we so afraid of mystery?

Or to put it another way why are so eager to budget the Holy Spirit's time for Her when on the record She is determined to blow whither she will?

The gift of the Spirit is a promise of future relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God comes to this relationship freely and unfettered by our judgments and ideas about what God can or can't do. Jesus' gift of the Spirit is a mystery that we don't solve or resolve; instead the Spirit is the very real presence of God meeting us together with God's Word over and over. The Holy Spirit meets us not as we humans would choose; but as God would choose. The Spirit comes freely to comfort, chastise, enliven, and move us.

A comment from Nancy, in response to last week's post about Jesus' prayer in John 17, has really gotten me thinking about God's gift of the Spirit. What Nancy wrestled with so beautifully is the idea of Jesus giving away a part of the divine in Pentecost. What happens at Pentecost isn't the grand finale; God's promises to be with us from here on into the future; and as we go into whatever future might be in store we know that we don't go alone.