Monday, January 26, 2009

the real battle Mark 1:21-28

Over the past 9 years as a pastor Mark's become my favorite Gospel to read out loud, especialy with other people. I love to read Mark because the stories get right to the point without resolving every mystery of Jesus and the incarnation. Reading Mark 1 this week we hear Jesus speaking with power and authority in a synagogue and next witness him quickly entering into battle with the daemonic and winning.

Jesus is fresh in his ministry. He's been baptized and tempted. He called a few men to come and follow him. He started speaking and people were listening. And now his mission takes off in a new direction as a daemon appears and Jesus is ready to take it on.

23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:23-26 NRSV
The mystery of Jesus' identity and purpose isn't resolved by this story; instead a new layer of mystery and power have been added to Jesus identity. It's striking that the daemons knew Jesus' name and that the possessed man would seek him out to be saved. Clearly he came to do battle with forces beyond us. The hurting man came to the synagogue knowing he was their. The daemon cried out knowing it was in the presence of a greater power.

Sin came seeking Jesus in the form of temptation. The daemonic came and found Jesus ready for the fight. Sin and daemons will come against Jesus again in Mark, but the final enemy, death will be the last to rise up against him. Thanks be to God Jesus came to win.

Just read a great sermon by Lance Stone that takes this theme one step further by examining the daemon's place in the synagogue and the church's role in naming the daemons.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What time is it is for us? Jonah 3:1-5, 10 Mark 1:14-20

The readings we have this week are all about timing. It's a good moment with high sounding speeches during an inauguration week to think some about God's timing as well as our own.

Our first lesson's from Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Some people think that Jonah is just a fish story. But a close reading says that the fish was just a part of the whole story.

Jonah was a prophet sent on a mission from God. He was sent to the people of Nineveh called to tell the whole city to repent. There was just one problem. Jonah didn't what to go. He decided that he'd travel by sea in the opposite direction. He was supposed to be headed overland towards modern day Iraq. Instead he was headed by boat towards Tarshish in modern day Spain. This is the part of the story where the fish comes in. Jonah is in the boat and a storm hits. The other sailors start praying, each to their own gods, looking for mercy. Then Jonah admits that he's the reason for the storm. He tells the others in the boat that he is supposed to be serving the Lord God who made the earth and sea. Instead of following he's going in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go. The sailors tossed Jonah over hoping to save their own lives and appease Jonah's angry God.

Timing is everything for God. At just the right time he sent a fish to save Jonah.. This wasn't in Jonah's plans at all. But God was making a point to Jonah that the time was right to save the people of Nineveh. We fight God; but he will win. Martin Luther wrote,

In order that the terror of death might be all the greater, not only was Jonah thrown into the sea, where there was no hope for help either from God or man, but when he thought that he must surely die, he was also swallowed alive by a fish, a fish the Lord provided for this very purpose. In this way it came about that, although he was in the midst of death, still he was alive. This is a wonderful account, in which the excellent, most high God has wished us to become very certain that He is the Lord of death and life, that all things are in His hand. Luther's Works, Vol. 19 : Minor Prophets II: Jonah and Habakkuk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1974) page14.
This story isn't about a fish; its about God and all of us who are reluctant to follow him into the world. We get too comfortable in our churches, our homes, our lives, and we forget that we have a mission. Jonah had a city he was called to preach to and he didn't want to go. God didn't care what one man wanted. God kept him alive in a fish to save others. God does the very same for us.

Paul touched on timing in First Corinthians 7:29-31. He sensed that time was coming to be ready to meet God. He saw the old world passing away and the new world beginning.

Mark 1:14-20 tells of Jesus early ministry and his anouncement 2000 years ago in Galilee,
... proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”Mark 1:14-15 (NRSV)
We need to know today, just as much as ever, that we are in God's hands. The world we live in is in desperate need of the Father's love and care. We who know the love of the Father are asked to be followers of Jesus who went out into the world announcing the Good News. This Christmas a wise man said that Jesus came to the world on purpose when the time was right He pointed to Paul who said,
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Galatians 4:4-5 (NRSV)
Jesus came at the right time to save us. He came to the world as is. He came at the time when God's love was desperately needed. He came to people who didn't all accept his ministry and love him. He came to a far from perfect nation. Jesus came and gave everything for the people he came to save.

What time is it is for us?
We are Christ's people called to into the world right now. Pastor Rick Warren, in a sermon on January 11, 2009 from a series on change said that America has been wounded and we need healing. Warren named all kinds of isms that hurt and tear us apart separating us from God and one another.
materialism, hedonism, secularism, racism, factionalism, terrorism, extremism, consumerism, narcissism, cynicism
We are citizens of this nation and world. In this week of inauguration ask the question, “What time is it for us?” Jesus was bold when he started his ministry in Galilee. He told the people of his own neighborhood in Galilee “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the gospel.”

Timing was everything for God. Jesus came at the right time. We are sent to serve in our time. Thanks be to God.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Follow Me John 1:43-51

The Gospel this week offers us a great time to ask a pesky question. "Where and when do I start following Jesus?"

At first glance I try to deflect this sort of question, "Following Jesus has been part of every day. I was raised in a church going home. My wife and I are intentionally raising our daughters in a home where worship is a part of each week and prayer is a part of each day."

The deflection works for a while. Then pesky facts start to creep in. George Barna and other sociologists tell us that most people in this generation don't live in homes where faith is part of weekly and daily rhythms. Anecdotally I know that most of the kids I've confirmed in 4.75 years in ministry in my current call aren't worshiping here weekly. The longer I'm a pastor its clear how distant people who live near me, who are members of the church I serve, are from the church. Maybe the best response to the pesky question, "Where and when do I start following Jesus?" isn't to look within; but is to go out and find people on the outside and invite them to "come and see."

Jesus invited many people to follow him. Some were deeply religious and others were outside the community and story of faith. Early in ministry He called some of John's followers to come. Next he called Philip. Philip invited Nathaniel. But now I am asking my self, "Where and when do I start following Jesus inviting somebody to come and see?" Its been a while since I've been out door-knocking. Sure I make connections through school, but Jesus and Philip invited people on purpose. This pesky question, "Where and when do I start following Jesus?" isn't answered by saying I am a pastor. I am called as a believer to imitate Christ, and imitating Jesus' ministry means inviting others to come and see.

Discipleship starts with an invitation. Read John 1. Watch as Jesus personally invites men to come and follow him. They became His friends; and, just as Jesus promised, they witnessed God's power. John and Robin McCullough-Bade wisely observe in the bible study Daily Discipleship© 2005 ELCA,

It is clear from this passage Jesus is not going to wait for people to find him and discover his message. In this situation, Jesus decides to go to Galilee and find Philip. It is unknown if Jesus already knew Philip. Perhaps, Jesus went looking for him on the recommendation of Andrew and Peter. They were all from the same home town. It is possible there was no previous connection. The key aspect of the story is one of invitation.
When Jesus finds Philip, he simply invites him by saying, “Follow me.” (John 1:43 NSRV) There is no mandate. There is no theological discourse. It is a simple invitation: “Follow me.”
Jesus' example in John 1 is simple. The pesky question's still here, "Where and when do I start following Jesus?" His model is clear. Will we take the risk and invite others to, "come and see"?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Out of the Blue Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

Only God can make something happen out of the blue. God can be the voice that comes from the blue sky announcing, "You are my Son, with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11) Some say no way, such a voice is just the figment of Christian imagination.

Look around at God's work. Faith teaches us, "Nothing is impossible for God." In unbelief we might say it can't happen; and God might do it anyway. People limit God because we have limited imaginations. We make logical boxes for God to fit into; but the real God won't be tamed or limited by logic. The real God is love with his creatures and is passionately reaching to find them.

Parents take pride in their kids and the things their kids do. I didn't realize how much pride parents have in their kids until I became a dad. It's wonderful to see our girls making and shaping things on their own. Their art hangs in our home, in my office at church, and fills up the refrigerator door at Grandma's. I love their stories and their ideas. We were made in the image and likeness of the creator. We are made to create, to build, and give away what we have been blessed with.

The Creator takes pride in each of us. He knows us by name and loves us with the same sort of love that earthly parents have for their own children. God makes us in his image and gives us shape, color, voice, and form from an unlimited pallet. DC Talk, in an intro to the song Colored People on their 1997 concert disc Welcome to the Freak Show said it best, "...God is very creative artist."

We can make and create; but the elements that we shape and mold into our creations were created before we could use them or mold them. All of us, body and spirit, were created by God. He made us in his own image out of nothing. We are God's handiwork. We are creative but we were made that way.

The evil one has the power to corrupt; but the Devil has no power to create. Our enemy works against God and us, but the evil one will never prevail against God's infinite power to create and to resurrect what sin, death, and the Devil have corrupted and destroyed.Our God started with nothing and made everything. In the Nicene Creed we confess that the Father is the, "...maker of all things, seen and unseen."

Our God is the maker of all things, is the only one in the universe who can create from a formless void. Others can create from what's been made, but the one true God can create out of nothing.