Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jesus is Here Luke 2

Jesus is here.

This is our story tonight. This is our story to tell. The first to hear the news were shepherds out at work that night. About 10 months ago we went to Bethlehem, not literally to the city in Pennsylvania or to the city in Judea. Bethlehem for us was in a hospital in Rochester not even 30 minutes drive from our home.

It's amazing to see new life begin. It's a blessing for us to watch and to behold this child who comes to meet us. I started looking at Christmas this year thinking about all the stories we tell at Christmas in our culture that have nothing to do with the coming of our savior.

Twas the night before Christmas

Gene Shepherd's A Christmas Story

Rudolf and Frosty

A Charlie Brown Christmas

We preach about Light and we preach about Hope. But we aren't preaching a vague or metaphoric light and hope either. We are called to preach about the Light that came in a little boy's body to enlighten the whole world. If you need to remember why we must talk about Jesus above all else at Christmas please consider these words from Nancy Marshall.

Darkness. It would be difficult living in darkness, 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.

A new year lays just ahead. It will be filled with new challenges and new joys. Sort of like parenthood. Every year of our kids lives brings new joys and new challenges. If you are a parent today you know that your work isn't done. God's work isn't done yet. So by faith let's open our hands and join in the work. Let's follow in the steps of Mary, Joseph, the shepherd and all the others who have gone before us in awe and wonder. Let's walk on in faith. Let's open our lives up to God's Word to discover His will. Let's trust in His providence to sustain us and all others who place their trust in God in the year ahead.

Let's be bold and tell the best story of all

Twas the night before Christmas, Joseph and Mary found no house
There's no room in the inn, no place for her to give birth;
The found a stable full of animals out in the open air,
And Hope for the whole world would soon be born there;

This child was coming, this was the night, a manger was his first bed,
Meanwhile shepherds in the fields had visions of angles over head;
The angels told men in the field watching their flocks staffs in hand,
He is coming tonight, Glory to God in heaven, he's coming,

The angles sang out in a heavenly chorus,
The shepherds headed to town to meet this little one so Glorious,
They came to the stable and found a young family just like the angles said
They walked in and told Mary all that the angles had said

And Mary treasured their words in her heart.
And up above that cattle shed a from a star shone overhead,
Others came from afar their eye's beheld a great wonder in clothes swaddled tight,
He is true hope, this child came for a world longing to see God's light

He came for every one young and old, well and sick,
He knew us long before his first night in Bethlehem in a bed of straw.
His will and God the Father's are one in the same,
Jesus knows us, even the hairs on our head, and he knows you by name.

Remember Isaiah and Amos and Micah!
Remember these prophets of old who said one would come,
Go tell it on the mountain! and at the city wall!!
Now Jesus come to us, come to us, come to us all!

Let our old sins blow away like leaves in a hurricane fly,
You came to meet us here and not in the sky,
He comes to every house and every lost one he seeks out,
This is God's true heart come to save us and our lives to renew

God comes fast in the twinkling of an eye.
He came to the place where hoofs tread.
Our king is coming, to turn our lives around,
Into our homes and our lives here on this ground.

Years later He was dressed as carpenters son,
His clothes and hands bore the signs of their labor;
He knew the joys of family, friends, and work,
Still in years to come a whip would scourge his back.

His eyes – with them he could see all, this son of Mary!
His cheeks he would not withhold from their slaps
From his mouth came words sharp like sword
And the beard on his face would be plucked before death;

Herod would try to cut him down at the stump,
But God would not give up, this child is our hope.
He had a human face and a truly divine heart,
That heart he revealed in stories and healings,

He was gracious and strong, a man right with God,
And he sees us with love, in spite of our sins,
With his eyes he sees what sins ought to leave us dead,
Still believing now in His love and rising we have nothing to dread;

We cling to his word, we cling to his work,
His birth filled the shepherds with joy, God saving power was at work.
This little one would lay aside all honor and glory
And giving up everything he would be raised up for all history

He went to the grave and 3 days later he rose,
And all that was left in the grave were his clothes.
Let's go with the shepherds to see him. Let's hear the angles tonight.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Glory to God in the Highest, AMEN

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Mighty One has done great things Luke 1:39-55

Thoughts on Luke for Advent 4C

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name. Luke 1:49. NRSV

A young woman was the first to speak these words praising of God. An angle came and told her don't be afraid. The angle came with news. She was going to have a child. Human logic says that things aren't supposed to be this way. She was only engaged and some how now she was pregnant. The angel told her not to be afraid. Mary heard the news and accepted it. She embraced this new child within her as a part of God's plan.

Today we remember, celebrate, and believe because of what God did in Mary's life, what God has done in our lives and because God will do even more in the days to come.

We who have been saved by God's grace through faith have real privileges. We get to praise God in worship and serve him as redeemed people in a broken world. We are privileged because we are free to live and love and we have not earned our salvation and can never hope to earn it. We are saved by faith. Today we raise our voices in thanks and praise with Mary the Mother of Jesus

My partner in Ministry encouraged me to look at Luther some for this 4th week in Advent. Martin Luther wrote at great length about Mary's words in a commentary on the Magnificat he presented to his protector the Duke of Saxony and that he published for all Saxony in 1521. Martin Luther wrote of Mary's words of faith and praise. He wrote,

Now, in all of Scripture I do not know anything that serves such a purpose so well as this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful lords. In it she really sings sweetly about the fear of God, what sort of Lord He is, and especially what His dealings are with those of low and high degree. Let someone else listen to his love singing a worldly ditty; this pure virgin well deserves to be heard by a prince and lord, as she sings him her sacred, chaste, and salutary song. It is a fine custom, too, that this canticle is sung in all the churches daily at vespers, and in a special and appropriate setting that sets it apart from the other chants.1

Luther listened closely. He heard a song of love and worship, hope and trust. Luther heard Mary sing in praise because God has and is:

  1. Showing Mercy

  2. Breaking Spiritual Pride

  3. Putting Down the Mighty

  4. Exalting the Lowly

  5. He has filled the hungry with good things, and

  6. the rich He has sent empty away.

Showing Mercy

Luther wrote:

He is merciful to all who are ready to do without their own opinion, right, wisdom, and all spiritual goods, and willing to be poor in spirit. These are the ones who truly fear God, who count themselves not worthy of anything, be it ever so small, and are glad to be naked and bare before God and man; who ascribe whatever they have to His pure grace, bestowed on the unworthy; who use it with praise and fear and thanksgiving, as though it belonged to another, and who seek not their own will, desire, or honor, but His alone to whom it belongs.2

Breaking Down Spiritual Pride

Luther explained simply,

There is the fullness of God’s power and His outstretched arm. For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins, provided faith is present and waits on Him. And when the oppression comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden underneath the weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there He performed His mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil. Thus all the martyrs were strong and overcame. Thus, too, all who suffer and are oppressed overcome. Therefore it is said in Joel 3:10: “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’ ”—yet in faith, and without feeling it until it is accomplished.

On the other hand, God lets the other half of mankind become great and mightily to exalt themselves. He withdraws His power from them and lets them puff themselves up in their own power alone. For where man’s strength begins, God’s strength ends. When their bubble is fullblown, and everyone supposes them to have won and overcome, and they themselves feel smug in their achievement, then God pricks the bubble, and it is all over. The poor dupes do not know that even while they are puffing themselves up and growing strong they are forsaken by God, and God’s arm is not with them. Therefore their prosperity has its day, disappears like a bubble, and is as if it had never been. 3

Putting Down the Mighty

Luther explained that Mary was seeing the world as it trully is. It is God world and not ours. God is not destroying the world by sending Jesus. God is reordering it.

Mary does not say He breaks the seats, but He casts the mighty from their seats. Nor does she say He leaves those of low degree in their low degree, but He exalts them. For while the world stands, authority, rule, power, and seats must remain. But God will not long permit men to abuse them and turn them against Him, inflict injustice and violence on the godly, and enjoy it, boast of them, and fail to use them in the fear of God, to His praise and in defense of righteousness. We see in all histories and in experience that He puts down one kingdom and exalts another, lifts up one principality and casts down another, increases one people and destroys another; as He did with Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, though they thought they would sit in their seats forever. Nor does He destroy reason, wisdom, and right; for if the world is to go on, these things must remain. But He does destroy pride and the proud, who use these things for selfish ends, enjoy them, do not fear God, but persecute the godly and the divine right by means of them, and thus abuse the fair gifts of God and turn them against Him.4

Exalting the Lowly

Luther looked closely and saw God's mercy again being revealed as the humble are brought up.

Never the less those who are willing to be nothing and lowly of heart, and do not strive to be great, are truly humble. Now, when He exalts them, it does not mean that He will put them in the seats of those He has cast out any more than that when He shows mercy to those who fear Him, He puts them in the place of the learned, that is, the proud. Rather He lets them be exalted spiritually and in God, and be judges over seats and power and all might, here and hereafter; for they have more knowledge than all the learned and the mighty. How this is done was said above under the first work and need not be repeated. All this is said for the comfort of the suffering and for the terror of the tyrants, if we only had faith enough to believe that it is true.5

He has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty

Our faith is built on hope of things we haven't seen. Luther understood that the world isn't always as it seems. He wrote,

...men judge according to the outward appearance; therefore they often err.

These works are done in secret, like those mentioned above, so that no one is aware of them until they have come to an end. A rich man is not aware how really empty and wretched he is until he comes to die or otherwise suffers loss. Then only does he see how all his goods were altogether nothing, as it is said in Psalm 76:5: “They sank into sleep (that is, they died); all the rich men discovered that they had nothing in their hands.” On the other hand, the hungry and thirsty know not how filled with good things they are until they come to the end. Then they find the words of Christ true, in Luke 6:21: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they shall be filled”; and the comforting promise of the Mother of God here: “He has filled the hungry with good things.”6

Mary's hymn is a great way to start the Christmas celebration. Rejoice and give thanks in all the Great things God has done. Merry Christmas.

1Martin Luther, vol. 21, Luther's Works, Vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1956), Lk 1:46. page 298

2 Ibid Luke 1:51 Page 338

3 Ibid Luke 1:52 Page 340

4 Ibid Luke 1:53 Page 344

5 Ibid Luke 1:53 Page 345

6 Ibid Luke 1:54.Page 346

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Untamed and Unbridled: John and Jesus Luke 3:7-18

John the Baptist was never tamed. He was never bridled. He was locked up in a dungeon and eventually beheaded; but he didn't stop speaking the truth while he still had breath. John told the world the Good News: God's kingdom is coming. He told everyone within earshot that it it's time right now to repent and be baptized. John spoke this word boldly to anyone who could listen.

John was created by God on purpose and he came preaching a message that was so radical and so bold that people came out to the wilderness near the river Jordan to hear it. They came from Jerusalem and all over Judea to hear John's bold unrestrained message. It was a message that wasn't meant for somebody else or some other people. It was a message that was meant for the nation of Israel. And it rung in their ears so boldly they couldn't stop listening.

John spoke so boldly to them, the NRSV and NIV said he addressed the people who came out to be baptized by him in Luke 3:7, as "You brood of Vipers" literally calling them the γεννήματα spawn or offspring of ἐχιδνω̂ν poisonous snakes. John understood that God was up to something big. He knew that Kingdom was coming and that the time had come to get ready.

John the Baptist was a dangerous radical. John was the most unrestrained man of his time in all Israel until one even more dangerous came along. Matthew says he made his home out in the desert away from all the constraints of civilization; and then another man came after John who was all the more even more radical and disquieting. And that man would also die because he declared the coming of God's kingdom boldly and radically.

This past week I've been reading Wild at Heart by John Eldridge and seeing in John a true man of God who was really wild and free as God had intended. Eldridge makes a pretty good case in the first chapter that men have been contained and constrained by our civilization and that was never God's design or plan. Adam, Eldridge says was created out in the wilderness, but Eve was created in the Garden.[1] Eldridge even points to Jesus and John the Baptist being lead by the Spirit out to the wilderness.[2]

Who do you imagine as a faithful man of God?

Do you imagine a nice guy, a real push over, a pussy cat or do you imagine someone dangerous an untamed: someone like John. But if your part of my generation of TV watchers you've seen Christian men often portrayed as a sort of Ned Flanders. Nice and restrained.

John wasn't nice or restrained. John was passionate and faithful. He was boldly challenging his own people and all of us today. Repent, a great one is coming. Repent John says, another great radical will follow John.

[1]John Eldredge Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul Thomas Nelson (2006), page 8-9

[2]Ibid page 6

Monday, November 30, 2009

Before Jesus there was a voice Luke 3:1-6

In the book of the prophet Isaiah there are great words of comfort to the lost and hurting in the nation of Israel. The book tells of a day when a voice would cried out in the wilderness (read Isaiah 40 to hear it all).

Prepare the way. Make ready, Prepare ye; prepare ye the way of the Lord.

The writer of these words of comfort in Isaiah wasn't the one to make the promise. He was just a prophet: a messenger on God's behalf. God's intended to keep the promise and made good on it when the time was right. Isaiah wouldn't be the one to anounce the coming of the Lord. When the time was right for the promise to be kept another would come on God's behalf.

Just about 800 years later (give or take, even the best scholars can only guesstimate) a man showed up proclaiming a baptism of repentence all around the region of the Jordan (Read Luke 3:1-6 to hear how his ministry started).

Prepare the way; make it ready and straight.

John was the one who cried out. He announced that the Lord would be coming. He announced this word not in the city of Jerusalem but in the country. People from all Judea and even people from the city came out to hear him, to lay down their burdens, and be baptized in the River Jordan.

Part of the church's proclamation of the Lord's coming is John's message of repentence in preparation for meeting the Lord. No Christian will ever be entirely ready to meet Jesus. There's always something hidden in some back room or attack that we think is out of reach but that is holding us hostage. There's always some burdern that holds us sinners bound. We keep them hidden deep in the basement or the rafters above the garage. John says that the Lord is coming. It's time to let go of the false gods and follow in the way of the Lord.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks for All Matthew 6:25-34 Thankgiving

Jesus' invitation to live in faith and trust is deceptively simple.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" Matthew 6:25

I didn't know just how deceptively simple those words were until I became a parent 7 years ago. It was Thanksgiving weekend when we first found out. It was and still is simply wonderful and intensely frightening to be a dad; to now see the 3 lives that God has put into hands in trust.

I didn't know real worry in my life until that moment. I still know that worry.

The first people to hear these words weren't hearing them in Middle America. Jesus spoke these words to a crowd gathered to hear him teach, see him heal, and hoping to be healed themselves by his touch. Jesus told them,

26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Jesus was boldly speaking about the value of human life in God's eyes in a time when human life was cheap in the eyes of the world. The people of Israel were being played with very cynically by everyone one in power. King Herod, the temple leaders, the scribes and pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the Romans made demands of the people. Petty crimes and great insurrections, they were dealt with quickly. Beatings and death in the most egregious cases were the end for rebels. Life was cheap to the people in power and everyone had seen it. And Jesus announced something different to the crowd.

In God's eyes each person had value. In God's eyes each one of you here today has value and worth. In God's eyes each person on earth regardless of age or size or status or color or ethnicity has immeasurable worth and value. You were made in God's image after all. You were shaped by a creator who is still eager to be part of your life in all dimensions .

For that I give thanks this thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Look: He is coming Revelations 1:4-8

Look: He is coming...

Our reading, from Revelations (in Greek Ἀποκάλυψις meaning the uncovering) this week inspires us to look and see the Glory of God.

Many believe that these words were written by John the apostle. Others, including Luther insist that even the author of this remains shrouded in mystery. What we know plainly is that these words were meant first for the early church and that they give us great encouragement to look and see God at work. The book of Ἀποκάλυψις uncovering begins with words of grace and blessing. These initial words sound very similar to Paul's grace-filled greetings in his letters to the early church. But from this point on we are reading something very different than Paul ever wrote.

There's great mystery to who wrote these words ans why they were written. I imagine them being written by John the Apostle as an old man or by another elderly man who was close to Jesus' first followers. John was a trusted elder in the early church. If he wrote of surprising and awesome visions of God's glory he would be taken seriously. He wrote of being transported in his visions to see great mysteries revealed people who knew him would have still listened. John, according to many authorities, was imprisoned . In our day we might be tempted to brush John aside as a crackpot who saw things that weren't real. But to the early church John was a trusted elder. When he spoke people took him seriously. If he wrote of a vision that testimony would probably be treated with the same respect that John himself was treated.

In Revelation 1:7-8 John invited his readers to open their imaginations and share the vision he had been blessed experience.

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;

every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him;

and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So it is to be. Amen.

8 I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The glory of the Lord shines through in this celebrated snippet of John's Revelation. John envisioned Jesus King of all Kings coming in the clouds. John called to his readers ἰδου look. We don't know of anybody else around John who'd seen these visions but he urged his readers look.

John says this is the risen Jesus who will be seen by all the world. Every eye will see, even those who ἐξεκέντησαν pierced him with nails and swords will see him. God's glory is awesome, frightening, and often shrouded in mystery. And today we are invited to look and see it.

So who wrote Revelations A̓ποκάλυψις

I can't tell if this debate is all that important and I won't mention it in my sermon; but I wanted to put out some interesting perspective from Luther about the book of Revelation and its source to get people thinking.

As a young man Luther struggled to make heads or tails of Revelation and he wrote in a 1522 Preface to the New Testament.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1[:8], “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.1

Later in life Luther found Revelation to be unique in it's propehetic place in Scripture. Luther found this to be unlike many of the other prophetic Words in scripture,

...without either words or interpretations, exclusively with images and figures, like this book of Revelation and like the dreams, visions, and images that many holy people have had from the Holy Spirit—as Peter in Acts 2[:17] preaches from Joel [2:28], “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” So long as this kind of prophecy remains without explanation and gets no sure interpretation, it is a concealed and mute prophecy and has not yet come to the profit and fruit which it is to give to Christendom.

This is the way it has been with this book heretofore. Many have tried their hands at it, but until this very day they have attained no certainty. Some have even brewed it into many stupid things out of their own heads. Because its interpretation is uncertain and its meaning hidden, we have also let it alone until now, especially because some of the ancient fathers held that it was not the work of St. John, the Apostle—as is stated in The Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 25. For our part, we still share this doubt. By that, however, no one should be prevented from regarding this as the work of St. John the Apostle, or of whomever else he chooses. 2

Luther grew to find great hope in Revelation because of its promise of Christ's presence in all things and in all times, even the worst of times.

In a word, our holiness is in heaven, where Christ is; and not in the world, before men’s eyes, like goods in the market place. Therefore let there be offenses, divisions, heresies, and faults; let them do what they can! If only the word of the gospel remains pure among us, and we love and cherish it, we shall not doubt that Christ is with us, even when things are at their worst.3

Revelation is not the unique property of one part of the church. It is a treasure steeped in mystery that reveals God's great glory to all of us. The challenge for the church today is to read it boldly and without fear.

1Martin Luther, “Prefaces to the New Testament” Luther's Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 35, Page 399.

2Martin Luther, vol. 35, Luther's Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 35, Page 400.

3Martin Luther, vol. 35, Luther's Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 35, Page 411.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No stone will be left unturned Mark 13:1-8

There's an apocalyptic tone to Jesus' teachings in the Gospels that's hard to miss. As we read the scriptures it's clear that Jesus didn't come to just rubber stamp the status quo. Jesus' words prophesying disorder and reordering ring out clearly in Mark 13. His friend, looking at the temple, commented on how big the stones were. Jesus responded by predicting that the walls would come down and no stones would be left standing.

  • Some will argue that he was speaking prophetically but that he wasn't speaking about the temple itself; instead he was speaking about himself dying on that coming Friday and rising to life again on Sunday.
  • Other's will point to the seige and fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD saying that Jesus foresaw the destruction of the Herod's Temple and the rest of the city.
Jesus words weren't words of immediate comfort. But as John Petty at Progressive Involvement wisely notes they are Good News. They were prophetic words of destruction that meant something new and better would be coming.
Jesus' words predicted an overturning that should not be overlooked. We need a total overturning by God in order to be made right with God. Jesus didn't come to offer comfort to every person in Judea and accept them as they were; he came to announce that the kingdom of God is coming near. We will obviously find discomfort with the idea of the world being turned over; but it's Good News because in the end Christ will reign over the new creation, but all the things we cling to beyond Jesus will have to fall away like the stones of the temple in order that faith in Christ might lead us to life everlasting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What God sees matters for us Mark 12:38-44; Hebrews 9:24-28

The words that we read, both in Hebrews and Mark, this week let us glimpse things, not as we see them, but as God sees them. The writer of Hebrews shared a vision of what happened when Jesus came into the fullness of his glory,

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 NRSV
Our outlook these days, as people, is shaped by an all to common perception of scarcity and loss. Sure scripture tells us that God's up to something big in our lives. Sure we can hear a hundred times that Jesus has died once and for all. But we still live in fear and loss.

The writer of Hebrews wrote.
...he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:26-28 NRSV
Jesus died and rose and in his dying and resurrection we have hope.

Jesus' blood overcomes all our sins and shames not because of what we've done but because of our faith in what he's done for us. We have a promise that in faith our griefs and losses will not be our end. Even with the promise fresh in our ears its hard not to see the world through our own eyes of personal history and experience. And what we see isn't always encouraging.

We look at our circumstances one way but God sees things in another way. We too often see only the limits of our power and strength. God sees the whole universe, and all of us in it, with heaven's eyes.

We look at our family budgets and our church budgets and boom we hit the limits. The creator of all things sees our place here on this earth; but we aren't all God sees. We look at our troubles and limits; but now we have to ask ourselves a very hopeful question: are these God's limits too?

Jesus and his friends were in the temple watching the people make their offerings.
Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44
Jesus saw the whole world as it really was and he sees it as it is today.

2000 years ago Jesus saw poverty and abundance in the temple. Today, the same Jesus sees us as we really are too. He knows all about those of us who are blessed with over abundance. He knows those of us who face stacks of credit card bills. He's well aware of the guilt that some many of us have because of our overspending. He knows those among us who live with deep fears of scarcity. He knows those among us who spend on things they want but don't need and can't afford.

Jesus, Son of the Living God, knows those who walk right now in faith and hope not knowing when they'll find work again. God knows all of that. And he asks us to trust Him both in our abundance and in our scarcity. He asks us to give from what we have not for our own glory but for the glory of God and for the good of our neighbors. He asks us to do it all in faith.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jesus wept, do you understand? John 11:32-42

Jesus wept: do you understand?

A wise man in our church told me that he's ready to preach a sermon if I ever ask him. He said the text for his sermon would be two words from John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” He said his sermon would be two words long too, “I understand.”

Reading this week's gospel reveals something very human about Jesus meeting with Martha. Jesus' friends knew that he would have had the power to keep Lazarus alive. Still with all that power over death Jesus came to the family of his friend Lazarus he wept.

Maybe there are days when you understand why God in flesh with all power in his hands would weep. Yes Jesus had the ultimate power and as people of faith we know it's true; but death has some power too before Jesus calls for a resurrection to new life. Yes Jesus could overcome it; but he knew the sorrow of the situation just the same. Our faith doesn't take away the grief; but it gives us hope that in Jesus all who believe will rise again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Totally Free John 8:31-36

Reformation Sunday 2009

You're free right now because of all that God has done.

You're free to go right now ... or to stay. I hope you'll stay and keep reading; but if you don't want to you are free to go. You are free because of what Jesus has done for you and me and the whole world by dying and rising.

Jesus came to set us free; radically and totally free. Free from sin, free from death, free from the Devil.

Most people don't believe that they need to be set free. Jesus came and died in order that we might be free, completely and totally free, forever. He didn't come to set you free by giving you a weekend pass. He came to get you and me ought of the jaws of sin, death, and the devil. Many people hear these words about true Christian freedom and they scoff. Its been that way when the truth has been spoken for 2000 years. John writes that,

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

For 2000 years Jesus has been setting people free. In Jesus own day the people who heard him speak told him that they didn't need freedom. In our day its the same. We think we are free and we tell God just as much. God isn't a fool. 2000 years ago Jesus turned to the scoffers,

34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-36 NRSV

Jesus came to set us free from darkness and bring us into the light. What's in the darkness is often hidden and take's the most help from God to overcome
... isolation ... loneliness ... temptation ...
these things often aren't seen, but they are very real and the evil one works in them.

Jesus comes to set you free to live and to have a full life. He comes not because you are perfect but because he is in the process of remaking imperfect people in God's image. Maybe you think that you need to have it all together to be free in Christ. Jesus didn't come for the people who knew everything or who could do everything on their own. He didn't come for the perfect. He came for the imperfect. He came to help and you qualify.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Who did it? He has... Isaiah 53:4-12

"He did it." "Did not, she did it."

Parents witness their shifting blame and passing accountability. One kid blames another. One hits another. The cycle keeps rolling.

Yesterday morning, the children's choir lined up to sing. Right in front of the Altar Rail our twin 6 year old girls started pushing and shoving. I sat 15 feet away (in that uncomfortable cushy throne-like-chair reserved pastors) and watched them tussle. They faught over who could stand next to another girl. Pushing and shoving ensued, one fell to the ground. Whining and crocodile tears flowed. I stepped over, trying to be a dad, and asked them to stop. The choir director chimed in, mom came up with the baby in her arms, and sat down next to me.

The girls wanted us to be referees. The wanted to tell us just who did what to who. Neither one wanted any accountability. We just wanted them to sing about God's love and mercy.

God knows that the real hurts we cause in the world. God knows we shift blame pointing to another's sin and culpability rather our own. Isaiah responded, on God's behalf, to the nation of Israel that in it's troubles started to take account for it's wrongs. He told them of the one to come who would be accountable. Isaiah didn't argue to get out of trouble or get another into trouble. He's told Israel God's plan of one who will come to take on all sin.

We want to justify ourselves. We are still the same kids even as adults. We conservatives act like our belief in God's revelation makes us good enough to earn the price of eternity, Jesus' life poured out. We liberals like to act like our love for our neighbors makes us good enough to earn Jesus' life poured out for our passage into heaven. Read Isaiah 53. Come to terms with who did what for who.

"...he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Who did this? Jesus did. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

For God this is possible Mark 10:17-31

This Sunday's Gospel reading has me wondering about the rich and their place in the Kingdom of God. God's kingdom, Luther says, comes on its own, but we pray "Thy kingdom come" in hopes that it comes into being among us. God alone knows the needs of the world today. God alone sees the desperation

It's been trendy, this past month, to make observations about the super rich and their role in our current culture. Michael Moore released a new film and Ralph Nader published his first novel and each of these two appear to be pointing, in their own way, to the unique place that wealthy individuals have in our economic world.

The rich have been present as long as the church has existed. In Jesus days wealth and poverty coexisted, just the same as they do in our days. Questions of God's blessing, human sin, justice, and fairness have been with us all along. A man with many possessions wanted to get into heaven. He came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to get into the kingdom. Jesus response was deceptively simple. Sell everything, give away all the money to the poor, the come and follow. The man went away devestated. Jesus was simply answering the man's question.
The people were stunned. This "good man" was told he had to be even better. Then Jesus told them that relying on human strength alone won't get this man to heaven. "For mortals this is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." This is the gospel plain as it gets. This is hope for the hopeless. This is where turning to God and God's strength matters.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Where do you see God? Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 Mark 10:2-16

God wants to be seen by us.
The God who made heaven and earth wants to be seen and to be known. In nature God wants to be seen. In the law and the words of believers God wants to be made known.

An old Scholastic Theologian I met (but never took a class from when I was at Saint Mary's)used to tell his students that if they looked at the Book of Nature they could see God at work. Look around, he advised, God wants to be found. When nature alone wasn't enough to show human beings God's will and God's presence the Creator called on prophets. God chose to send witness to tell the world about God's law, God's concern for the earth and humanity, and God's will. God wants to be known and to know us. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews understood God's desire to be known and to be revealed in our lives. He wrote about Jesus as a the culmination of God's desire to be known on earth,

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3 NRSV

Jesus came as the clearest revelation that the world has known of God's love for all of us. He came not as people expected. He came teaching, as we hear in Mark 10, about a kingdom that would grow not through strength but through humulity. Jesus came welcoming all people recieve God's kingdom as children and warning them not to block any child or anyone with a childlike faith from coming into his presence. When we seek evidence of mature faith in people's lives Jesus invites us to see God like a child; with hope and wonder.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Can they do that? Mark 9:38-50

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2009
Proper 21B or Ordinary Time 26B

In today's Gospel story a man, who was not one of the 12 apostles and who wasn't even “Following them” was seen casting out daemons in Jesus name. Jesus friends told him that they tried to stop him from doing it.

I think that Jesus friends were expecting a great reward for their efforts. I think they were expecting Jesus to pat them each on the back and say, “That a boy, way to go stopping someone from misusing my name.” Instead of praising them Jesus told them to leave the man alone.

This story about Jesus is a little tough to take if you are convinced your church and your church alone are the one right way straight to heaven. There's an old story about a man who arrived in heaven after dying. As he was being shown around by Saint Peter and some of the angels he noticed a huge hedge surrounding one part of heaven with a quiet please sign beside the hedge. The man turned to Peter and the Angels and asked, “What's with the big hedge?” Peter turned back to him and smiled, “That's where all the folks from the INSERT YOUR FAVORITE SEPERATIST CHURCH BODY NAME HERE go, they think that they are all alone up here.” I've heard that with so many other denominations in the punch line over the years and I think it really makes the point.

They're on God's side?

Jesus’ power is so big that it can't and won't be contained in the boundaries that we human make for it. Jesus love for God the father and for all of us is so total it won't exist just in the walls of this congregation or in congregations that think and believe exactly like us. Jesus was so passionate about the whole world that he couldn’t stand by and watch his friends try and limit the use of his name or the the power that it had to remake the whole world.

Jesus called them out for their actions saying,

Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

I don't think that John and the rest of Jesus friends got the pats on the back and the hardy handshakes that they were expecting. So what about us. Are we to busy telling God who he can and can't work with and who he can and can't save?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jesus, who's the best? Mark 9:30-37

From the earliest days, even before the cross, Jesus' followers have been trying to out do one another as super-disciples of their Lord. Jesus followers wanted to honor him and in turn the expect to find themselves in a place of greater honor than other believers.

The hard part is that following Jesus is (ultimately speaking) about dying to self and only then rising in Christ. We strive to serve more boldly. We believe we will become better people here and now and that we'll be honored here and now. What we don't realize is that all our striving leads not to immediate glory but to the cross and tomb first. Martin Luther king called it the Drum Major Instinct. We look for the glory here and now; but the glory we are waiting for is unlike any glory ever seen or heard of here on earth. Jesus was bound for the cross before rising and the cross is exactly where we're going to meet him.

In the Words of the 1970's classic Day by Day in the movie Godspell, Jesus friends always seek to be closer. "...to see thee more clearly, follow thee more nearly, and love thee more dearly..day by day." The desire to be close to God is good, but the desire to be the very closest to God is off the mark. Jesus response is simple if you want to be great live like he was living. Love, serve, give, and you will know great joy. Forget being the top servent of God. If you want to be great in the kingdom of God welcome Jesus into your life by welcoming other. The mystery of welcoming Jesus into our lives is that we must receive everyone from the little children to the old, from the poor to the powerful, from the sick to the strong like you are recieving Christ.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

back from vacation no post

Good Evening,
Nancy from Belize just asked where I'd been.
I went fishing for 2 wonderful days.
I have no post for this week about the Lectionary.
If you want some interesting reading I encourage you to look at Rich Melheim's Faith 5. I'll be presenting it in the morning to the families at Grace. I pray that God's Spirit be at work.

thanks Nancy for asking.
Good Night.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Beggars at the table Mark 7:24-37

There's a harsh tone in Jesus' words in Mark 7:24-37. These words are hard to ignore and shouldn't be brushed aside because we are uncomfortable with them. The real Jesus' revealed in scripture won't fit neatly into liberal or conservative conceptions of God and justice. Instead reading Mark 7 gives us a moment of real insight, if we listen to Jesus carefully, into the full breadth and depth of his humanity and divinity.

Reading Mark 7 reminds these past 2 weeks reminds us that human bias and human need are always present in our world. And one person in history had and has power to deal with both: Jesus. And here this very same Jesus says that what was meant for the children should not be given to the dogs. Here He is. He's the one with power to overcome both need and bias; but he wasn't disconnected from the world. Jesus' Incarnation means that He is true God with a full human identity. He was a Jewish man and a woman, foreigner met him begging for help for her child.

Jesus replied that he came to help his own. Jews and foreigners lived side by side, and she was hurting. But Jesus came with a mission. By faith this woman knew that Jesus could overcome both bias and suffering. By faith she knew that a crumb of God's mercy would set her little girl free from daemonic powers. The bias between native and foreigner would still be present all around them. Suffering would still be just as real in the lives of others in the world. But this woman knew that her child would be released because of him.

There was and still is intense bias among different people who live separately next to each other in our world. Jesus was sent first to his own; but by faith in Jesus many others have been set free. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Faith trumps your clean hands? Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Reading Mark 7 this week left me a little apprehensive at first. Jesus confronted the Pharisees and they squirmed in anger. I have my own pharisaic tendancies and it's always troubling to see Jesus confront them (and me in turn) so clearly.

In Mark the Pharisees didn't know Jesus at first; but that many grew to dislike him very quickly. They were troubled becuase he looked past the law and those who casually broke it. Jesus' friends ate with unclean hands. They were breaking the law and the Pharissees wanted Jesus to correct his friends. Jesus responded like they were missing the bigger picture.

The Pharisees were confused. Jesus was both someone to admire and to confront: he healed the sick and caste out demons. He had authority. He knew that his real enemy was not of this earth but the Devil himself. Then they looked at his friends eating with unclean hands and were outraged. They confronted Jesus about his friends' hands and He responded,

... he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (Mark 7:14-15 NRSV)

If you read the end of Mark 6 you'll find out just what the Pharisees were missing. Huge crowds were coming to Jesus. Just touching His garments was enough for the hurting and the sick to be made whole. The Pharisees came upset about dirty hands. They missed the great work that God was doing in their time through faith. We often find ourselves in the same confusion. We believe people have to be ready to meet God and then God acts independently of our approval saving all who believe. Thanks be to God.

Monday, August 17, 2009

know your enemy Ephesians 6:10-20

August 22-13, 2009
the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16B, Ordinary 21B

The letter to the Ephesians is rich with advice for a young church. The key is to know who we are fighting. Our enemies aren't people. It's the devil. But our enemy confuses us into thinking that people are our real problem.
I told a husband who is fighting with his wife, "You know, she's not your real enemy" and it left him stunned. Our real enemy is the Devil. The advice in Ephesians 6:10-11 to "put on the whole armor of God" may sound like poetry to some; but it's not just symbolic. It's a clarion call to stand up ready to fight against the destroyer of homes, churches, and nations with the very best tool available for our defense: the Holy Gospel.
The writer of this letter could see, with peculiar clarity, that the whole people of God are really dealing with forces with power beyond "flesh and blood" human strength. He clearly saw battle lines that have been laid out by the enemy. We fight, "...against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:12 NRSV
The weapons we need for this fight aren't made by human hands; rather they're God's true gifts for us: truth fastened like a belt, righteousness worn for a breastplate. The Gospel of peace as close to us as our shoes, faith as a shield against the enemies flaming arrows, salvation that protects like a helmet, and the sharpest sword of all, the Word of God.
Know your enemy and know that God fights with you in your prayer and supplication for the saints. Know your enemy and love the people around you. Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, He's the Bread of Life John 6:51-58

August 15-16, 2009
the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15B, Ordinary 20B

Jesus is the bread of life: it's part of Christian faith and a great offense to crowds who come looking for Jesus to do something big. 2000 years ago many came to see Jesus perform miracles. They wanted to eat their fill like the 5000 who were fed from 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus offended them when he said, "I am the bread of life." Jesus words are still just as true and just as outrageous. He is our sustanence and our hope. His words still outrage us in a world looking for God to come in the awesome and not in the everyday bread of our lives.

Bear in mind that bread means different things to all the generations who follow Christ today.

I asked a crowd of 5th graders once how many had made bread before and only a few raised their hands. That evening each child and their parents mixed flour, oil, honey, molasses, water, baking soda, and salt together. It's messy fun work connecting kids with the often unseen ingredients behind everyday life. Jesus promises to come in body and blood in everyday bread adn wine. We eat bread everyday but many have forgotten how to make it and so many other ordinary parts of our diet.

This morning I asked a crowd gathered for worship at an assisted living apartment facility how many had made bread and all of them raised their hands. They could easily list every ingredient needed. One man in the crowd, a pastry chef, piped in not to forget the lard. "You always need some shortning to get it to mix smoothly." Jesus is the bread of life and the hope of the world. He comes in the ordinary that everyone 4 generations ago made in order to survive.

Jesus promise, for us, is that he will be with us, in His body, in ordinary bread made by ordinary human hands and human made machines.


A prayer request: my wife's grandpa Lloyd passed away. His funeral will be this Saturday. Please keep Gerry, his bride of 60 years, and his daughters Stephanie and Linda in prayer.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Leaving no room for the Devil. Ephesians 4:26

Dear Friends Grace and Peace from God Our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

I write this week back fresh from the 125th anniversary of my internship congregation. I was there as “Vicar John” from August 1997 to August 1998. The trip to Saint James took a little more than 30 minutes this time; but the memories from 10 years or so ago have been refreshed for me today. It was good to see some old friends and hear stories from the church where I came as a student and left better prepared to be a pastor. I say thanks be to God for all that.

As I reminisce I'm also pondering Paul's admonition to, “leave no room for the devil.” Augustana's a very different church today than when I came as a seminary student. A few years after I left there was deep conflict. Many left who were once deeply committed to that as their church. Attendance fell by more than half. A few 20 somethings (who now live other towns) were there, but one of the young man's parents wouldn't come. It was tough to watch, for him, for me and probably for others who remembered the people who weren't there to celebrate.

Paul's words in Ephesians 4:27 are particularly haunting today, “...and make no room for the Devil.” Our old enemy rejoices when one Christian attacks another. Do we Lutherans remember why we sing, “Our old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe” as part of a Mighty Fortress. If we will listen, Paul is boldly telling us the real power of the enemy to split and divide us. God's power is greater than the enemies; but we are often the Devil's unwitting accomplices in conflict.

The enemy uses and manipulates us in all kinds of places (not just the church) to try and pull down the good. He knows our old weaknesses: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. In church conflict he uses our anger and pride against us every time he can. If one party feels they have been lied to or mistreated the devil cans use that anger. It's critical to note that Paul warns against falsehood and calls for truth speaking; but he also asked the church to, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (Ephesians 4:26)

Paul's challenge to Christians who are taking up sides against one another is real.

and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)

The old enemy wants us divided; but the Lord of Hosts needs us united. We often mistakenly seek out ways to make others “just like us” assuming that uniformity is unity; and God instead makes us one in the Spirit, in the sacraments, and in his love. For that Amazing Grace I give thanks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jesus offers more than daily bread John 6:24-35

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 13, Ordinary 18, Pentecost 9, Between July 31-August 6.

Many people searched for Jesus after he fed thousands with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. Looking at the story I ask myself, “Why wouldn't they search for him?” Being with Jesus must have been about as good as it could get in this life. He was the answer to people's immediate needs: hurt people were healed, empty bellies were filled, and the proud were exposed in their errors.

Jesus knew that the people were coming and he knew they were looking for more of what he had just given them. More bread and more fish. Just more to keep alive. And He told them that they shouldn't come looking for more loaves made from barley and wheat. He told them they should look for something that will last. He told them something about bread from heaven.

God made us and gives us each gifts to use and to share. Sometimes we ask God to do things that he has already enabled us to do on our own with the gifts he's offered to each of us. Sometimes we count on God to act after God's already put the resources in our hands. The people came yearning for more bread; they'd just eaten the proof of Jesus' power and now Jesus told them that they should ask him for something more.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Praying for Faith in the Church Ephesians 3:14-21

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 12, Ordinary 17, Pentecost 8, Between July 24-30,

Reading Ephesians 3 this week I see a great intercessory prayer for the church.

Ephesians 1 is filled with praise for the church and what God is up to in the church. Ephesians 2 has exhortations to live together. But Ephesians 3 is different: this is a real live prayer for the church in Ephesus and its happening here for us to read and hear. Lots more instruction is going to come for the young church later in the letter, but for just a moment focus in and pray.

Pray with humility. The prayer in Ephesians 3 grows from hard learned humility in the presence of God, with a knee bent in honor of the All-mighty. We humans undervalue God's mysterious and life-altering presence in our lives. We sinners really want to be gods all by ourselves. We sinners want to construct the church in our own image and likeness rather than in the image and likeness of God. This prayer starts from the opposite place, with a humble request for God to strengthen the church rather than anyone individually.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. (Ephesians 3:14-17 NRSV)

Faith is a mysterious work of the Spirit. It happens in one person at a time but it moves us into community. Faith isn't our property: its a gift that this writer asked God to help nourish in others that they would grow in faith too.

Pray it hope: Other forces (most notably the old Enemy) seek ways to destroy faith; but this prayer asks the Spirit to work, in us, in order that Christ might find a dwelling place inside of our lives. Faith comes first as the Word from outside looking for a place in our lives. God's word searches for places to take root and to grow. It starts with a Word but it doesn't stop there. The spirit comes to nourish it and tend it. Storms and droughts will come, but the Spirit will come too, and wonderfully and mysteriously we will grow in faith ourselves.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Tend the unshepherded Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 11, Ordinary 16, Pentecost 7, Between July 17-23
Jesus invited his friends to gather together and go away with him. The crowds who came looking for help from him and his friends were growing and Jesus wanted to be alone with just his friends for a while.

Jesus was, and still is, the very best example of what we are to do and how we are to live. Jesus lived like heaven mattered more than earth; he lived like love mattered more than money, and like people mattered more than things. To the powerful among his own people Jesus was a radical who disturbed the order of society, but to the hurting people of his day it meant everything just to be with Jesus and his friends.

Looking back at him 2000 years later I believe that no one before or after him has ever shown better what it is to live right with God and right with the people around him than Jesus did.

Inside the church we know about Jesus today. We know that Jesus came to earth. We know from the hymns and the stories that we've heard, read, and sung that he came as a boy who grew both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of human beings. We know him; we often choose not to follow him; but we know him even when we'd rather turn away from him.

Outside of the church Jesus is a mystery. People hear about this baby at Christmas time and they wonder who he is or how it could be that God would come to earth. At Easter people outside the church on a week to week basis hear about Jesus as a person who willing to die for others and they wonder if its true; and sometime they might even wonder if he'd die for them.

Jesus response to the lost and the hurting was compassion. When it was his friends who were tired he asked them to go away and rest. They got into the boat and found a deserted place, but even more still came looking to find him. When Jesus saw that crowd and another crowd gather to meet him he was filled with compassion. He saw hurting people as he looked at them. He saw sheep without a shepherd. Today the church is at its best when we respond to the people around us, whether they are in the church or our of the church as Jesus did in compassion and mercy.

The church, the body of Christ, started very small. It started with a few people who gathered around the teacher. He sent them out and they had no leisure, not even time to eat. The earliest Church of God in Christ was there in the boat that went out in that day onto Lake Galilee. The church grew as those who believed that Jesus could change their lives kept on following him and started to live like he did.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Faith in a Dangerous World Mark 6:14-29; Ephesians 1:1-14

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 10, Ordinary Time 14 Sunday Between July 10 and July 16 Inclusive 6th Sunday After Pentecost 2009.

The last couple of weeks have been full of celebrations for many in our church. 2 weeks ago the whole building resonated with the stories and excitement of Vacation Bible School. There have been weddings, baptisms, a wonderful 80th birthday and all the joy and excitement that go along with the fireworks and gatherings that happen around the 4th of July.

Right in the middle of the summer celebrations we find ourselves face to face with this one reading in Mark about John the Baptist's death. There's a temptation for us to dance around a reading like this one or maybe, for preachers (at least), to pick another reading. John's beheading is a real gut check for us. We want our faith and our life as easy and simple. We imagine that if we would just follow God and do everything right, as we are expected to do, we will get everything we need. And then comes this reading and Herod’s straight head-on challenge to us and our complacency as people of faith.
We live on a broken planet amidst all kinds of broken people. We live in a world that is full of uncertainty and risk. We look for safe-places to hide from the storms.

Some people like to try and hide behind wealth and prestige thinking that things can protect them from the brokenness of our world; but they can't. Others like to hide out in amusement and entertainment. Its easier to turn on the TV or pull the handle on a slot machine than to watch the painful realities of our world. We want desperately to be numb to the world; God needs us to be alert and aware.

John the Baptist wasn't afraid of speaking the truth. It was completely costly for him and he did anyways. Others would like to hide out from the dangers of the world in religion and devotion; but we learn from watching John the Baptist and Jesus that our relationship with God is not a way out of the storms and the dangers. Instead when we enter in in faith into the world we go into the storms trusting that God is with us.
When we walk in the wilderness we trust in faith that God is with us and that our eternal everything is in God's hands and God's control. Paul wrote,

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to
the good pleasure of his will, Ephesians 1:5 NRSV
John the Forerunner paid the total cost that could be asked of anyone for following God. John gave up everything and then he headed to the wilderness. People came from Jerusalem and all over Judea to see him. They wanted to hear him and be baptized by him. The king was intimidated by him. John pointed out Herod's sins and Herod hated it; but Herod, at the same moment, wanted to have John around. He enjoyed listening to John and knew that John spoke the truth even if it was painful to hear. He knew the full cost of living committed to his faith in Jesus Christ.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:1-12
Herod totally forgot about justice and mercy. He totally forgot about following God. Instead he had a promise that he intended to keep. Forget justice or mercy if you are Herod. Herod's word was his only currency and he couldn't risk being shown to not keep his word. Right and wrong were gone and forgotten and John would die because of it.

Here were are on this beautiful summer weekend listening and reading this tough story. We just might want to run the other way and forget trying to even understand this reading; but John the Baptist is one of the heroes of our faith. He was bold, he was faithful. He was ready to offere everything and in his example we'll learn how God wants us to live in our broken world.

Monday, June 29, 2009

When unbelief meets Jesus? Mark 6:1-12

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 9, Ordinary Time 14 Sunday Between July 3 and July 9 Inclusive 5th Sunday After Pentecost 2009.

Read Mark 6:1-6 and watch out: God's on the loose.
This is a great story: Jesus came home and it wasn't a great homecoming. As a man it was natural for him to come home. Afterall Jesus had a hometown so why shouldn't he come back home. The tricky part of the story is that Jesus returned to his very same hometown preaching, teaching, and even healing; but the people in his hometown already knew Jesus (or at least thought they knew Jesus), and they didn't believe he had any business preaching and healing.

Reading Mark fresh this week is a great way to meet the real Jesus. He had family, neighbors, and friends who knew him; or at least who thought they knew him. Jesus, to them, had a personal history and an identity that made sense. To them when Jesus stepped forward in the synagogue and spoke with such wisdom Jesus was completely out of line and of his place.

Beyond his hometown Jesus was viewed very differently. Early on in his ministry many people believed that God was up to something, in, with, and through Jesus, because of what they had experienced first hand or heard second hand. They believed that Jesus was a daemon fighter, healer, wise teacher, and counselor. And in his home --ehh-- in his own town and in his own home synagogue the people saw Jesus as they had always known him. Jesus was Joe's boy, he was Mary's kid. That's who Jesus was and always would be; but to the people who had been healed by Jesus and to those who had witnessed others who had been made whole he was somebody special doing something that no one else could do.

Read Mark 6:7-12 and get ready to Go
Jesus didn't waste time before he sent his friends out to the nearby villages to take on the daemons. The ancient Creeds teach that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God the Father and that through him all things were made. He had power and would send them out in that same power to take on the Enemy. At some point most Orthodox Trinitarian Christians are told that Jesus is always both fully human and fully divine. It's an article of faith wrapped in questions and mystery. We wrestle to understand how Jesus fully human and fully God. But the people who met Jesus face to face recognized him first as fully human and only later realized that Jesus is God at work in the world.

The challenge in our increasingly secular culture is to invite people on the outside of the church, who often assume that they already know what the church and God are all about, to meet the very real incarnate Jesus. There's nothing like meeting Jesus first hand. You are loved and convicted at the same time. The key is to keep Jesus at the center of our faith and life so that other's might meet him. It's tempting to tell God how to act or when to come out and touch other people. We sinners (both in the church and beyond) would like God to be domesticated and predictable. But Jesus doesn't have to obey; instead he invites us to follow him.

Meeting the Jesus you already think you know is powerful. We sinners would like God to fit in a neat and tidy place in our world and our lives. But the real being who made heaven and earth won't sit nicely when we bark out the commands. The One who made heaven and earth is on the lose; Thanks be to God

Monday, June 22, 2009

interuptions = ministry Mark 5:21-43

Jesus came to earth on a mission. He was going to bring the Kingdom of God close to the people. The Good News of Jesus meets us in the middle of life's joys and pains just like Jesus met the people of Palestine in the middle of their joys and pains. Reading Mark 5:21-43 this week is a great reminder how the kingdom works and grows in the middle of our very real lives.

Jesus was on his way. He'd just crossed the lake from one place, where he'd talked with many about the kingdom so that he could go to another place to minister so that the kingdom could come near to the people. Just after he stepped on the shore he met a desperate father with a sick daughter and he went with him to help. On the way Jesus was touched by another desperate soul. A woman who'd suffered for years touched him. She,

had been bleeding for twelve years. 26She had gone to many doctors, and they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain. She had paid them all the money she had. But instead of getting better, she only got worse. (Mark 5:25-26 CEV)
She knew by faith that Jesus could help. He knew that something had happened. She knew that just by touching him she could be made whole. He wanted to know who had touch him. Now she was afraid. Jesus met her fear with love.

Jesus said to the woman, "You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace! You are healed, and you will no longer be in pain." (Mark 5:34 CEV)
Ministry happens in the moment when people moved by faith, need, fear, hope, or love interupt our plans. A few years ago a wise man told a group of seminarians that the real ministry of pastors happens in the interruptions. Today I give thanks that God chooses not to work around us; rather I give thanks for the opportunities that he gives us to serve in his name.


A prayer request: as a family we are learning again that we aren't in control. We've been relearning this lesson this past week. My wife's grandfather was diagnosed with cancer a week ago. In the past week he's been hospitalized, had surgery, and learned that he's going to die. In a week the illusion of control has gone away. Please pray for Lloyd and Gerry (his bride of almost 60 years too), thanks

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

With us in the storm Mark 4:35-41

..when evening had come, he [Jesus] said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side." This plan made reasonable sense; Jesus and his friends were just heading to the other side of the lake.

Jesus and his friends were going to do something ordinary that had been done before. But something changed. The water, that was smooth, got rough.

Jesus was there, with them, in the boat; but he was sound asleep. They got scared. So they woke Jesus up, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" HE DID AND HE STILL DOES CARE. Jesus didn't debate with them to prove that he cared. He just got up and told the storm, "Peace, be still." His friends, caught in awe, asked outloud, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

I'm reading Mark in the back of an hour long presentation by David Stark entitled "Stategic Leadership/Tidal Wave of Forces." As I listen to the presenation this text is a great reminder of God's presence in the storm.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Jesus is right, it starts small Mark 4:26-34

Mark 4 is a great place to start the imagination growing about God's kingdom. Jesus talked about the kingdom like seed spread by a farmer. That seems reasonable; but Jesus didn't stop there. Right away he was telling about the potential in just one mustard seed. Jesus was emphasizing the potential growth that God sees for the kingdom.

I read mark 4:26-34 to a member of the church on a visit today. As she listened she held out her fingers like she was imagining holding the small mustard seed that Jesus spoke about. I held mine up too imagining that tiny seed. These two stories are so inviting to ponder and to consider.

The kingdom of God starts small and grows way beyond what is possible for humans to do alone. Jesus stories reveal just how the kingdom grows exponentially. Jesus chose earthy images to be clues revealing God's power in creation. In those clues we can see what God is up to in the kingdom. A seed doesn't double in size once a day. It explodes in growth. Remember that Jesus started with the image of the seeds being spread by a farmer and you see just how much potential there is for us to see the Kingdom of God at work in our world and our lives.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hope Matters on the Edge Romans 8:12-25, John 3:1-17

The church is at its very best when we live on the edge. God can use us the most when we are living, together in hope and faith, beyond the certainty of individual resources, at the edges where faith and hope in God meet providing us all the strength needed to follow God into the world.

Many worry about the church's relevance in our culture. George Barna, and other sociologists of religion, report of huge generational shifts in religious identity happening right now. Strong church connections are being replaced by a new more "Casual Christianity" in the United States.

As pastor I hear elders in the church asking out loud, "What can we do about this, 'Younger generation' to get them back." Most of the elders are stunned to learn in conversation that it's not just 1 generation but 2 and sometimes 3 generations in one family who are disconnected to the church. We will not invite a 3rd generation non-Christian back; the youngest unchurched folks live way on the edges of the church. We are called to go to them and tell them about the love of God revealed in Jesus. We aren't inviting them to come back; instead we are called to go to them and tell them about Jesus in hope that they will become first generation followers of Jesus Christ.

The church is at its very best not when we wring our hands over missing generations; instead God can use us the most when we reach out in hope to the edges where the church is most distant from people's lives. It takes hope to live on the edge. We humans expect to run our own power and stength. We look inside our ownselves to solve problems; but in the body of Christ we are carried, by the Spirit of God, in hope to the very edges where God needs us to spread His Good News.

Paul's first hand experience living on the edge in hope: Romans 8:12-25
In Romans 8 Paul wrote about hope from firsthand experience.

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25 ESV)
God's Spirit moved Paul and he gave up his whole life to be part of something new. Paul changed dramatically when God adopted him into the Body of Christ. He was was not born into the body, none of us are. We are reborn in water and the power of the Spirit. God made Paul new again as one distinct part of a new and even greater body.

As one person Paul did everything he could to destroy the church. But God had a different purpose for Paul's life. As a reborn man he didn't he rely on his own strength, instead he found new strength as the spirit grafted him into a much larger new body. He left his old life behind. He gave up everything and the Spirit gave him so much more than he ever gave up in return.

Learning from Jesus example of reaching out:
John 3 Jesus lead a man beyond his own strength and understand to see God acting in ways that were well beyond anything he expected or even conceived of happening. The story happens like this: Late one night a man called Nicodemus came searching for the Rabbi. It's interesting to read this story intentionally, without Jesus name. There's a mysterious quality to the title Rabbi. It's a title of honor; but it's not the proper name of the Son of God. Nicodemus, a teacher himself, came with a strong sense that God was up to something through this particular Rabbi; but he didn't grasp entirely what God was doing in the person of Jesus. He greeted him,

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do
these signs that you do apart from the presence of God. John 3:2
The Rabbi told Nicodemus,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3 NRSV)
This reply lead Nicodemus to ask a question. Nicodemus may have had an answer in mind when he asked the Rabbi the question. But God was on the move in an unexpected direction.

How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
The Rabbi who Nicodemus sought out responded with an unexpected reply. Nicodemus asked how and the Rabbi told him,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

We look for God to act in places and way where we think God can and should work. This Rabbi taught of a God who moves freely and boldly in our lives.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)

We will hear from Nicodemus in John's Gospel again: when he stood up for Jesus in John 7:45-52 and when he showed up again to help bury Jesus, in John 19.

There's a gray area in our culture between a life changing faith in Christ and a state of total disbelief. Nicodemus came in the night and Jesus didn't change in order to move him to faith. Instead God changed him.