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.