Monday, February 25, 2008

Wake up people Jesus is at work. Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

Somebody recently said the congregation and denomination I serve as a pastor are, "sinking ships." He points to demographics; it's time to pray. He points to the numerous studies (they can easily be found) to shore up his argument; its time to turn to scripture. He pointed to a lack of people at a particular program; it's time to invite people just as Jesus did, "to come and see." I asked who he invited, sadly I already knew the answer; he'd invited "nobody".

Anxiety and fear are real. They overwhelm and paralyze church workers like the brother who said we're in, "sinking ships"; I say listen to Paul and Jesus. Yes, we are sinking; but Jesus is not. We aren't the only ones with a mission and ministry, Jesus has a mission and ministry in our world.

We need to remember that God's mission is primary to any mission that we might have. He came to heal, preach, forgive, challenge, die, and finally to rise. When we know our part in that mission we catch fire. When we are disconnected from Jesus mission we go dim or worse yet sink in doubt and despair. Paul says that we aren't meant to lament, we are to be light,

"For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:8-10, NRSV)
Jesus came into the world brining a new vision and a new hope. The old order of the world is broken. People live in sickness in spirit and body. We need all things to be made new. We need a savior. We need Jesus.

John 9:1-41 details Jesus ministry to one blind man. He and his disciples saw the man. Jesus' disciples asked him a karmic question, "Who sinned, him or his parents that he was born blind. " There must have been some cause in their minds. Jesus probably shook his head saying, neither one. "He's blind so that God's work's might be revealed in him." Jesus made a paste with spit and dirt and put it on his eyes. Then he told the man to go wash in the pool. He opened the man's eyes.

The neighbors were stunned, he could see. The scribes and Pharisee's expressed their disbelief and even disgust that they hadn't authorized such a healing after all it was the Sabbath. Jesus didn't need their permission and he doesn't need ours either. He came to do ministry. The time is right to jump in with him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Living Water Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42

The power of water.
Everyone needs water to survive. Its no surprise that Moses in Exodus 17:1-17 would have asked God to meet the people's need for water. They believed they needed water to survive. These newly free people of Israel grumbled as they sat out in the desert unsure of how they would survive. They even asked if they came out only to die of thirst. They were tired and thirsty. They had believed in God when they set out, but now they grumbled expressing new found fears in the freedom of the desert.

But the people were very thirsty for water, so they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Was it to kill us, our children, and our farm animals with thirst?” Exodus 17:3 New Century Version Dallas, Word Bibles, 1991.
The people faced real fears out in the freedom of the desert. Death and suffering scared them, just like us. We grow weary and we cry out to God for help. Even in times of plenty we still find reasons to be afraid. We still lose faith and grow hopeless, and still God's provision for our most basic needs is clear even as we doubt and fear.

The power of living water

The Samaritain woman who met Jesus in John 4:5-52 had her own needs and fears when she ventured to the well in the heat of the day. She needed water to survive. Going to the well alone gave her a chance to avoid the people she feared. I believe she feared meeting the other women (and men) of her town. They all needed water from the well; but she didn't want to meet them or be judged by them that day.

Jesus met her and struck up a conversation asking her for water. She was surprised a Jew would have asked her, a Samaritan, for water. Jesus responded by offering her life changing water. She was full of questions about this Living Water. He answered her questions with his own questions. He knew her whole story; he knew her sins and all; and he offered her living water. Maybe this was a chance meeting, maybe it was providence. She left the well that day transformed.

Meeting Jesus is transforming. Meeting Jesus is honest and uncomfortable for us sinners; but in the discomfort of meeting God we find our real hope. He knows us; and he meets us just like the woman at the well. We meet God at an often unexpected hours when we might be most surprised to learn that the maker of heaven and earth is concerned about us. God knows us; and offers us new life not by chance but providentially. Our God is the God of second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and beyond chances. Meeting him like the woman beside the well opens us up to the full power of God to transform our whole lives.

Monday, February 11, 2008

John 3:1-17 Story telling about Nicodemus and Jesus

John 3:16 is a much loved part of scripture. It's known by fans at football games and is often chosen by families I meet preparing for a Funeral. There's good reason to love John 3:16. Martin Luther said,

...we find rich, excellent, and salutary words in this text. They should be diligently heeded.

This Gospel is customarily preached to the congregation every Whitmonday. It is so pregnant with meaning that it can never be exhausted.

Luther's Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann. Luther's Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1957 page 369.

Luther's right, this verse alone can never be exhausted, but there's a great story in John 3 that leads us to this wonderful verse. We're often tempted to jump right to Jesus point about God loving the world; but John doesn't jump ahead. He does his very best to tell the story of what happened one night. There's so much that can be said just about the timing and the darkness people live in who come looking for Jesus.

Jesus was getting famous and people from all over came to meet him and hear him teach. One man called Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people, came out at night to find him. They started talking about faith and all the signs Jesus had performed. Nicodemus said that no one could do such things who wasn't from God. Jesus said that everyone who wants to see God must be born from above. This concept was mind-blowing for Nicodemus and still is for all of us.

Nicodemus listened and asked how he, fully grown, could be born anew. Jesus said, most likely with a smile, that God's Spirit blows free in the world. God is in the business of stirring up faith and moving us into action in the world. Nicodemus was in over his head. Jesus knew he didn't understand, none of us do in this life understand all that God is up to, but we have faith.

Some-days we struggle to believe. Our faith falters. We lose sight of all God’s gifts and all God’s promises. But God remains ever faithful keeping every promise. Nicodemus listened that night. Jesus told him the promise, that God's love is for the whole world in order that everyone who believes might be save. I don't know if Nicodemus believed on the spot or if he wrestled for some time. What I know is that Nicodemus returned again in Jesus life. The last time he he came forward in John was to help bury Jesus.

The heart of the Gospel is here for all to hear. Even if we slip into fear the maker of heaven and earth loves each of us his adopted children so much that he offers his only begotten son to save us. He is doing more than extending a hand to pull us up. He reaches for us through death so that we will not be lost. Faith is God's gift. Sometimes it burns bright and other times it is an ember deep deep within us. But even that ember is enough for God Spirit to stir to life. Even in the moments when we lose our faith God is always faithful. Even if we die Jesus is still going to be the resurrection and the life. Even if we die we will have life in him.

Luther wrote on about this faith being a force that leaves the Devil most uncomfortable. When our faith burns bright it forces him out into the open. We no longer fear his accusations or his torments on earth or in hell. Instead we see Christ and our hope burns bright.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Temptations are oh too real. Matthew 4:1-11

The very first sentence in Matthew 4 has me really troubled. "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." Matthew 4:1 NIV

If you follow Matthew's version of the story along Jesus, fresh from the water of baptism, was sent by the Spirit into the desert to be πειρασθη̂ναι ὑπὸ του̂ διαβόλου (tested/tempted by the Devil). The devil is even given the name πειράζων (tempter) in verse 3.

As a kid I was taught to pray, "lead us not into temptation." Matthew makes it clear that God left the avenue open for the diabolical one to tempt Jesus to take on power. Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism, that God is not the one who tempts us; but Luther leaves out any mention about God stopping or not stopping the Devil.

God tempts no one to sin, but we ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins.

And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory.
The reality of temptation is all too real these days. Watching the Super-Bowl adds this year reminded me that God isn't the one to tempt us; quite the opposite we are the one's who tempt each other. The devil revels in our efforts. He has no trouble finding opportunity to break up more of what we call good and holy. The promise of Christ in the cross isn't that we go through life un-tempted; rather the promise is that we still have the final victory in Christ over all things: sin, death, and the devil.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ash Wednesday Treasures in the Heart Matthew 6:1-6 & 16-21

Ash Wednesday is a solemn day in many churches. The human made traditions of Lent begin with a day of remembrance and awe. We come to church clean and leave smudged with ash. We hear words as the ash is placed on our heads or hands, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Our very public display of piety on Ash Wednesday stands in immediate tension with Jesus own words about prayer, hypocrisy, and our true treasure as God Fearing people not being on this but in heaven.

The traditional Ash Wednesday readings from Matthew's Gospel are two small parts of the sermon on the mount. Jesus was teaching a crowd who came out to hear him. He stood up on top of a high point and spoke to them boldly.

In Matthew 5 Jesus spoke God's blessings in the great reversal of what the world sees. He called for his hearers to be salt and light in the world. He spoke about sin and about the power of love, even love for the enemy.

In Matthew 6 Jesus taught prayer and offered a model of how to pray. He was concerned not only the with words but with nature of our prayer. He said we ought to search for quiet private places to pray and fast instead of making a show through public prayer and fasting as the hypocrites do making a show of their piety. Jesus said that we should pray to our father in secret. He boldly spoke about the difference between treasure that is stored up in heaven and treasure that we have only on this earth.

In Matthew 7 Jesus spoke about wisdom and foolishness. He said that the wise build their lives on what's firm living right with God; but the fool build their lives on what's week living for today as if God and God's word were of no importance. Matthew concludes this sermon telling us that Jesus words were part of sermon that many heard with amazement and awe because he spoke with such clear authority.

The tension of Ash Wednesday is real. We seek to live out our faith in community; yet Jesus reminds us that our motives even in the best community of believers are always suspect. We seek to worship and praise God in the world; yet Jesus reminds us that what is in our hearts always matters more than our actions.