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.