Thursday, December 30, 2010

Searching for Light? How about Epiphany Matthew 2:1-12

Epiphany is about Light.
Some liken Epiphany to the sunlight that comes a little earlier and stays a little later with us in the Northern Hemisphere these days. The change is subtle at first, but come June it's obvious.
Epiphany is about light; but it's about a different kind of Light that is coming into the world for us.
Epiphany is a celebration for those who have found the Light. Matthew tells of 3 men who had searched for this light. Some people call them Wisemen; some people call them 3 Kings of the Orient. They came with gifts that were meant to honor the new born king. They found him not in palace in Jerusalem near the temple where they expected him, but in a cattle shed in Bethlehem.
We see people like the 3 wisemen today. Some people call them "seekers" and some churches dedicate their most visible ministry to those who seek the Light but don't really know yet who they are trying to find. Epiphany for the seekers is a chance to meet the true light; God isn't always acting like the one who we are expecting to find. No the true God who 3 kings met at Epiphany is different than the one they expected to meet. Epiphany for the seeker, and for us in the fold of Christ's Church, is the chance to let go of our preconceptions and meet again the God who would heal, teach, preach, challenge, be beaten, killed, and raised from the dead.
Pax, John
PS. I'm asking prayers for my marriage these days and for our 3 girls.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seeing Angels changing plans. Luke 2:1-20 Matthew 1:18-25, Matthew 2:13-23

Christmas Eve 2010 and the First Sunday of Christmas

Real angels aren't soft and cushy.
Real angels are messengers and warriors. They comes in God's service. They come not on a whim or a fancy but right into the middle of everything.

I get a chill from reading the stories of Angels making announcements as part of the Christmas: in Luke, to Zechariah, to Mary, to the Shepherds in the fields. In Matthew, to Joseph before Jesus birth and after.

When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant there must have been a million things on his mind. I think suspicions and doubts. Mary was pregnant and she said she'd heard it from an angel. I suspect sin. A well reasoned blogger points to the fathers and sees two distinct lines of conjecture.

1) Joseph wanted to step aside because he knew the child was Holy and he wasn't
or
2) Joseph suspected Mary of sin and wanted to step away.

I tend to agree with the 2nd perspective. I imagine that in Joseph's eyes Mary had a great big stack of troubles coming that were all hers and the father of her unborn child's to face. Sure he'd promised to walk with her in their upcoming marriage; but now believing she had broken her promise to be faithful to him Joseph was ready to walk away.

There's a key detail about Joseph. He was an upright man. I think he chose not to add to Mary's troubles; but he wasn't going to invest anything more of himself either. He would simply back out.

And then the angel came saying first "Fear not," and next "take Mary as your bride." Joseph wasn't just a bit player; he was a complicated man with emotions all his own and after the angel came to him a reason all his own to stay with Mary.

There are so many moments in the Christmas story when God's power is visible. Now looking back 2000 years later we see all these moments when God stepped. To Joseph God sent an angel 2 times first warning him not to fear but to stay and take Mary as his wife and the second time to take Mary and the infant Jesus and flee into Egypt away from Herod's wrath. As we reflect on all the miracles that added up to the birth of the savior and this is just one more of them that flows together uniting two people who hours early had nothing left to hold them together. There might be question in our minds about what Joseph thought of Mary's pregnancy, but there can be no question that what the angel told Joseph changed everything.

There's no way around the ambiguity of the human heart and human faith; but there is clarity in the Good News. Listen to the angels, "Fear not" trust that God goes with you. AMEN
Pax, John

PS.
I am asking prayers for my marriage these days. May God guide both Siri and I in right pathways for His name's sake. AMEN.

Monday, December 13, 2010

When God Sends in the Angels... Matthew 1:18-25

When God sends the Angels into our lives our plans and our most hopeless situations are well on their way to being transformed.
Case in point: Joseph.
When God sent the Angel's into Joseph's life he was a hurting man. He was pledged to marry young woman and build a life together. Then news came his bride to be was pregnant. Joseph was ready to turn away from their engagement. He could have chosen public disgrace for Mary. Instead he sought a quiet way out. He would leaved Mary and her family with their own troubles. Joseph most likely had reached an uneasy peace. He'd protect his reputation and leave no reason for the crowd to rise up against Mary. He couldn't take away her troubles but he wouldn't add any further to them.
And God sent an angel to Joseph with a greeting
Ιωσὴφ υιὸς Δαυίδ, μὴ φοβηθης
Joseph son of David, no more in fear
The greeting was more than a empty gesture or perfunctury words. It was a declaration of God's intent. Joseph had a reason for peace and hope and faith deep in his sould. Joseph heard the voice. God's plans were announced and now he saw the direction God had for his life, "...for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Matthew 1:20 KJV.
The angel did more than just tell him to remain calm. The angel gave him a reason to be calm. The angle spoke of God's activity. Trusting in the angel's words Joseph needed no more convincing.
The loose ends were still there but now after a vision of the Angel Joseph saw a reason and a new hope. The whispered talk of shame and guilt were still there; but now Joseph had a reason; a promise from God. This child was coming as part of God's plan.
There's hope in Christmas for all of us. Hope that trusting in God and turning our lives over to God will mean we have a place in God's plans. There are no promises of a perfect life; but there is a promise that God is with us through to the very end.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Knowing it's Jesus Matthew 11:2-11

Jesus spoke about the signs of his being messiah to the followers of John the Baptist. And this same Jesus gave his friends a warning about false prophets,

the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. Matthew 24:3-5 NRSV
We wait and watch for Messiah's coming. In our age many seek to claim a prophetic office. Some are just guessing what will come next in our ever uncertain world; and some are claiming inside knowledge from a divine source. And Jesus warned his friends not to be lead astray by following someone other than the Messiah.

As Christians we hope to meet Jesus soon. Looking at Matthew 11:2-11 we are reminded again what to look for when we search for God. Even John the Baptist, a true prophet, was searching and wondering if Jesus was the one. In prison word reached John of Jesus' ministry. John knew he himself wasn't the one. He knew that he was even unworthy to untie the sandals of the one.
As news of Jesus ministry reached John it became clear that God was up to something. Jesus was revealing the power of God not with teaching but by calling followers and performing acts of great power.
John the Forerunner sent his followers to check Jesus out,
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them... Matthew 11:3-6 NRSV.
Jesus' words are the most plain directions we could ever follow to find Jesus.

Today as many claim to be prophets it is time to listen to Jesus word's again. Look not for wisdom that sounds pleasing to our ears. Look instead for the the mighty works of God. Look for mercy, forgiveness, and grace, look for the one who is truth and light and no other. You will find him where the lame walk, deaf hear, blind see, the contagious are made clean, and the poor have the Good News declared to them.

Grace will Shake of the Chaff Matthew 3:1-12

Advent brings an annual reading of John the Baptist's bold declarations in the desert: repent and prepare.

Many read the Gospel, including a preacher I heard yesterday in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and focus in on our actions to make ourselves ready. Quoting a bishop's letter the preacher made a case that Advent involves preparation responding to John's call.

Reading Matthew again this year I was reminded that God is up to something preparing us; making us ready. John announced the coming of the Lord saying not just what we ought to do but what God is doing.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12 NRSV.
The Gospel here speaks of God acting on us; Jesus stand ready with a winnowing fork in his hand. Our lives will be winnowed. God is ready to sift us thoroughly separating the good grain from the chaff. Grain, when harvested, is an organic whole that must be sifted to be useful. The same thing can be said for each of us; God calls us in and needs to make us ready. John speaks here not of separating good people from bad; rather John is describe the act of God to sifting, winnowing each of us that we might be ready to meet him and follow him free of the chaff.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jesus and his friends were in Jerusalem in the temple. Some of his friends remarked about the temple how great the stones all looked in their places and how the whole temple was appointed with gold and gifts dedicated to God. And Jesus warned them as they took awe at the work of human hands,

As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Luke 21:6 NIV.

We who dwell on earth want things to be constant and to just make sense. But the longer we live on this earth the more clearly we see just how many things aren't certain and aren't guaranteed.

A few days ago word came to many in our town that a long standing business will soon stop production in town relocating it's production to another state. The business' production has been slowing for years, but now production will completely cease in town. In my folks neighborhood there's ongoing conversation about a plan to close and consolidate many Roman Catholic churches. For some it's this kind of distressing news that shakes them out of faith in earthly things.

We look for guarantees and certainties and there is a guarantee and certainty; but it's not found in what humans do or accomplish. It is found in Jesus and his Word. The writer of Hebrews wrote boldly of the simple essense of faith,

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

We in the church live on faith nothing more and nothing less. Many search for reified human institutions, traditions, and interpretations of the Word that they can cling to instead of faith. Humans have long conflated church with buildings or church with people who share their exact beliefs. The church just like faith is far simpler than we might make it: the church is the people of God who gather around the Word and Sacraments.

Jesus invited his friends, shortly before his death to live on faith and nothing more. Even when challenged about what they believed he told them to cling to him and not themselves,

So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. Luke 21:14-19 (NRSV)

The Church is the Body of Christ, believers gather around the Word of God rightly preached and the sacraments rightly celebrated. It's just that simple and Jesus is inviting us to live together on faith in the midst of this world's challenges and changes knowing not even what we'l say when challenged but confident that God will provide words and means for us.

pax, John

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Glimpsing Heaven: All Saints Luke 6:20-31

Minnesota Lutherans start November with a weekend set aside in church for remembering. Many of our churches send out invitations to families who have lost loved ones to come and join us worshipping God and giving thanks. We have rituals naming aloud all those who we have laid to rest over the past year.

We give thanks to God in song. Candles might be lit or roses might be placed on the altar in rememberence of those who have gone on before us in faith. This coming weekend is our time to remember the all the saints who have walked in the light of Christ. We remember those who are with us on this earth and all who are in Christ's light long after their remains have been returned to the earth.

In the church I grew up in 1 day, November 1 was set aside for remembering all the saints and a second day was set aside for remembering all souls. Today we celebrate in 1 day reflecting on the full promise of the resurrection for all who trust in Christ.

As we remember this year we'll listen to words from Jesus' Sermon on the plain in Luke 6:20-31. It's a sermon about a world turned over in which eternity matters more than the passing things of this earth. It's a sermon that Jesus preached to a crowd who wanted to be near him. Luke writes describing the crowd,

Jesus and the apostles came down from the mountain, and he stood on level ground. A large group of his followers was there, as well as many people from all around Judea, Jerusalem, and the seacoast cities of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They all came to hear Jesus teach and to be healed of their sicknesses, and he healed those who were troubled by evil spirits. 19 All the people were trying to touch Jesus, because power was coming from him and healing them all. New Century Version Luke 6:17-19.
The crowd came to touch a little bit of heaven in the person of Jesus and he told them of the new world in which things would be turned upside down. He told them of the world in which the

  • poor
  • hungry
  • weeping
  • detested
of today would be happy/blessed by God.

In 2008 I wrote about one phrase that's repeated over and over in this sermon and in the sermon on the mount in Matthew: μακάριοι οἱ often translated blessed are those or happy are those. This one word μακάριοι is repeated over and over, blessed or happy. The popular definition of happiness or blessing that grows out of material wealth doesn't fit these very real life circumstance that Jesus' followers face every day but it makes sense when we see things as Jesus turn overturned for the better.

Jesus shared news of the sorrows that await those who are too comforable in this world. He warned
  • the rich
  • self-satisfied
  • those carelessly laughing
  • those beloved by people.
The crowd came to touch heaven and Jesus spoke to them of the great reversal that he came to inniate both now and in the world to come.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Jesus came for this small man Luke 19:1-10

About 10 years ago, when I was fresh from seminary, a group of 4 7th and 8th graders joined me reading the Gospel of Mark.  As we read we got some very clear ideas in our imaginations about what different people in the gospels were like.  
One of the most interesting groups of people to imagine were the tax collectors.  Every kid in that group could sing a little ditty about a tax collector, "Zacchaeus as a we little man..."  But somehow that song didn't capture the full revulsion that people felt towards men like Zacchaeus.  
As we visited about tax collectors I encouraged the group to imagine a tough violent man as Zacchaeus.  We imagined a small gangster similar in size and attitude to Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas.  He might have been small but his size wasn't an obstacle to his violent attempts to control others.  The same probably could be said for Zacchaeus.
How far can God's love go?Zaccheus was not a beloved member of the community.  Hearing the good news of Jesus' reaching out towards a man like him ought to still shake us when we're sitting in the seat of the Pharisee's.  Jesus was reaching for a man who had been written-off but who was not too far gone for God's reach.  May all who search for God hear the Good News that God's reaching waiting to enter into their lives.

Pax, John.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's in your heart Luke 18:9-14

Jesus told a story of two men who came to the temple to pray, a pharisee and a tax collector. In life men like these 2 are viewed ifferently and likely even see themselves differently. Jesus knows each of us. He knows very well that we each have our own views of ourselves and our own reasons why we might think that we out to come to God in prayer.

Jesus even let's us in on the reasons "why" each man came to pray. The Pharisee came to praise God for making him so great. He concluded with a speech about why he was so great. The tax collector had a reason why he needed to pray in the temple: he was a sinner to came to beg God for mercy.

Why questions are slippery and we look for ways to slide arround them. We look for ways to deflect and hide our sinful motives. But God is fully away of reasons why we need to come to Him that we don't understand and won't even face on our own. In the book Couples in Conflict Ronald Richardson says,

In the garden of Eden God did not ask Adam and Eve “why” they ate the fruit of the tree. God simply asked about the fact of eating. Did they do it? But they responded with “why” answers. They would have loved to debate the “whys” with God...(page 12)
There's a danger in presuming that we truly know what we need from God when we pray. Listen closely to story. Maybe we think we know the reason why each man wanted to come to God and the reason why God might have wanted each man to come to him. In at least one case in the story God's reason is different than those of a human being who came to him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep Praying Luke 18:1-8

There's a real picture of a human faith and prayer that Jesus paints as he tells the story of the widow and the unjust judge. It's a vivid picture that both haunts and inspires. We want to meet God and see him and reach him easily; truth is we want all of our encounters with God to be easy.

Jesus knows what we want from God; and he spoke boldly about the real character of God that isn't always what humans want it to be. We want our prayers to be heard and answered fast. Prayers offered to an entity who will answer in our timeframe aren't prayers to the real God.

Jesus said when you pray remember the woman who came to a judge who refused to listen. Remember her persistence when you come to God time after time. Jesus words are meant both to encourage and inspire us. But I also hear words of warning: there will be struggles among people of faith who pray to the God. There will be struggles even for those who have no place else to turn and are completely depending on God for help. Even more frightening to consider is that there might not be any answers from God that we would want to hear.

We might be the one who comes to God like this woman. We might be like the woman who wasn't been heard and who asked for a long time be heard. Martin Luther wrote of God's will both to be known and to be hidden. A good explanation of God's hiding in Luther's theology has been offered by Steven Paulson. It's an uneasy reality to face.

Jesus' story of the widow and the unjust judge is especially uncomfortable when you dwell in the middle space waiting to be heard having no place else to turn except for God. Frieghtening questions pop up inside those in the waiting middle space waiting for God, "Where are you God? Do you care?" There's no way through this middle space between us and God except faith; their are no anchors to hold to except faith in the God you can't see and hear and taste and touch and smell.

May God grant us perseverence and long suffering faith that his great and glorious will will be done among us. AMEN.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What happens when God changes your life? Luke 17:11-19

Look around today and you can see God at work in the lives of many who don't stop to give their thanks and praise in return for all that's been done for them. This situation is nothing new.

Luke tells the story of 10 people who lived with leprosy, a terrible disease that forced them into isolation for fear that their sickness would spread. They were unclean and had to live apart to prevent others from becoming unclean like them.
In faith and hope they called to Jesus. The 10 were asking him to change their lives and make them whole. The miracle they hoped for happened and all 10 were made whole.

1 of the 10 turned back to Jesus to give thanks. Jesus asked out loud about the other 9. He knew that all of them were whole. He knew that grace had been shown to them even while some didn't recognize the gracious free gift that they had been given.

Speaking with a mother and grandmother today about this story it becomes clear that gratitude isn't an instant part of our lives. God's work in our world often goes unnoticed. But thankfully God's love isn't limited by our works and our gratitude. Thankfully God's grace is limited only by his willingness to die for those he would come to redeem.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Christian Humility Luke 17:5-10

Just a note,
many in our town have had some water in their basement after significant rains in excess of 6 inches last week. Folks in other towns near by have faced even greater flooding and even greater challenges in the aftermath. Truman Minnesota just to our north had over a foot of rain last week. Please keep those who have lost some property so quickly to this surprising fall flooding in your prayers.
+++++
Jesus' friends asked for help to grow in faith. But looking at the reading I don't think they knew what they were asking for when they said, "...to the Lord, "Increase our faith.""
Jesus wasn't inviting his friends to grow in faith for their own sake. He was inviting them to grow in faith for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The same thing goes for us. We are called to be God's servants. Jesus drove the point home asking

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ” Luke 17:7-10 NRSV.

There's no hiding our humble position compared to God's. Still the same Jesus who asks humility of his friends bowed down before them to wash their feet the night before he died.
Read Luke 17:8 in contrast to the great invitation we receive from God to His table. We come unworthy and ill-prepared. We come as sinners undeserving who meet God in flesh at the table. We come warts and all. And the maker of the universe who could sternly keep us away welcomes us. We could be pushed aside because the blood of the lamb is on our hands; but the lamb who was slain welcomes us with scared hands to eat and drink with him.
Thanks be to God that Jesus calls us to his table. AMEN.

God knew his name Luke 16:19-31

Today we listen to Jesus and join him considering the lives of two men who lived and died in very close proximity to one another. One of the two men is very poor. This man with no home has a name, Lazarus. The other man has no name but is described as rich.

Jesus is telling this story in no small part to emphasize the great difference between human society and the world as God would have it be. In our world having a name matters and we know all the big names. Just this past week there was a list of the billionaires in our nation published. We celebrate celebrities. There are whole tv channels and websites dedicated to gossip about the celebrated. But in this story Jesus invites us to consider the life of a man who celebrated while a man who lived just outside his door suffered.

Luke writes,

[he] longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.g The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. Luke 16:21-23
Lazarus the man with a name had no permanent address that he could call his own. He laid in front of of the unnamed man's gate. Lazarus had sores on his body that the dogs would like when the came near. The thing is Jesus tells us the story in the reverse of the way that our culture tells such stories.Lazarus watched the unnamed man live sumptuously just beyond inside the gate of his home. Human culture celebrates wealth. We have no trouble naming the billionaires. But God knows every name of every person.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who you serve Luke 16:1-15

Jesus, in Luke 16:1-15, tells a story that many people can relate too. A man was about to lose his job as a business manager. He was accused of wrong doing and his boss demanded that he make an accounting for what he'd done and what he had left undone.

The manager didn't like his chances. He,

...thought to himself, ‘Now what? I’m through here, and I don’t have the strength to go out and dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. I know just the thing! And then I’ll have plenty of friends to take care of me when I leave!’ New Living Translation Luke 16:3-4.
The manager told his soon to be former customers to tear up their bills. A debt of 800 gallons became 400 and a debt of 1000 bushels became 800. Jesus story surprises me; but it shouldn't. He spoke bluntly as someone who sees the world in action for good and for ill. He explained that,
The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:8-9 NIV.
Jesus saw the God fearing fall prey to the world. Even as we try to be shrewd in our dealings in the world we have an enemy who seeks to consume and destroy us by getting us to consume and destroy others. Jesus words have been sound advice for 2000 years but they have also pointed to our limits. We fall prey to the schemes of the evil one who seeks our loyalty. Jesus wasn't speaking idly when he said,
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Luke 16:13 NIV.
Jesus' words have the clarity of an alarm bell. The question is will people sleep through the alarm and sleepwalk in service to a master other than God.

Who do you serve?
More than a decade ago my old college roommates liked the band Nine in Nails. The words of the dark hard driving song "Head Like a Hole" on the album Pretty Hate Machine speak, in the chorus especially, of the power surrendered to whatever or who ever we serve. The chorus strikes hard, "Bow down before the one you serve, you're going to get what you deserve." These haunting words in response to the singer asking "...god money tell me what you want."

In my generation it's clear we serve all sorts of idols who will eagerly replace God. The ugly truth is these idols will demand even greater service at greater cost. The debate was not over trivial matters of day to day earthly choice but over the limits of human choice in matters of God's control. A few years later I entered seminary and encountered Luther's debate with Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will. Luther wrote naming the power God has and the limits of human choice as compared to God's power. Luther argued that because God is soveriegn our wills and powers have will always have limits. To some this sounds like a great loss; but to Luther he saw this as the source of greatest gain,
But surely it is preferable to lose the world rather than God the creator of the world, who is able to create innumerable worlds again, and who is better than infinite worlds! For what comparison is there between things temporal and things eternal? This leprosy of temporal evils ought therefore to be endured rather than that all souls should be slaughtered and eternally damned while the world is kept in peace and preserved from these tumults by their blood and perdition, seeing that the whole world cannot pay the price of redemption for a single soul. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 33 : Career of the Reformer III, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1972), Page 53.
Luther spoke of God's supreme power in debate with those who claimed humans have free choice even over salvation. Luther spoke of God's power as a word of gospel naming God's authority to rescue the most ungodly through the Word. Today give thanks for God's power to break any bonds and age to set captives free.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Loving the Unlovable Luke 15:1-10

Luke tells us in our gospel that people who might be considered ungodly were coming close to listen to Jesus. Luke wrote,

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus and the Pharisees didn't see eye to eye on this matter at all. The pharisees had human eyes and they saw Jesus sitting with broken imperfect people. And they wanted to know why. Didn't know who they were. Didn't Jesus know what they'd done. Jesus saw the broken most imperfect people and he wanted to bring them closer to God.

We get into trouble when we forget who are. And we get into even deeper trouble when we forget who God is. Human beings, who try to judge God and tell God what to do, are always in for a surprise. And often they are surprised by the audacity of God's love for those they consider most unlovable. Jesus told two stories about the love of God for people who aren't holy. Truth is God can do the very most with someone who believes they are too far gone for even God to help. Jesus is telling us plainly today that God has a mission and a plan and that mission and plan is to build the kingdom of God by searching out the lost.

There's a part of us that tries to protect God from the truth. But we don't need to protect God from reality. Jesus wanted people 2000 years ago to know the good news that God loves the unlovable and that he will search out and find those who wander away from him. The same is true today.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Leave that too Luke 14:25-33

When Jesus tried to make his way into the towns it was often impossible to get to him. The crowds who wanted to be near him were so big. And as the crowds got bigger Jesus turned and said words that weren't meant to attract more people to jump on to the band wagon.

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus' choice of the word hate strikes hard when you hear it. Hate father, mother, spouse, sister and brother. How can anyone, let alone Jesus say we are to detest and abhor them and even push away from them and from life itself. Oh such a strong word hate. And this strong word was used here on purpose. Eugene Peterson translated this word hate into a compound verb refuses to let go. He reads these words and explains them this way.

"Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27 The Message

Jesus is inviting us to give up everything that we seek so hard to protect and that we pour heart and soul energy into to follow him. And hard as you might fight to preserve your life and your family the day will come for all of us when we will turn away from everything that we have on this earth in order to enter into everlasting life with Jesus.

Joining the church means joining something new. Joining the church means leaving old things and even beloved old parts of our identity behind. The question for me today is does this happen all at once or does this happen over a lifetime.

Reading this week from Luke the word's that Jesus speaks seem so harsh at first glance. But I read this words this week knowing again that none of us will live forever. I read these word's knowing that as much as we love life and as hard as we work to preserve our families the day will come when we must let go of everything. Jesus isn't kidding anyone for even a second. Following Jesus means following Him into death and only through death into life everlasting. And that will mean giving up everything you know.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Look who's coming to dinner Luke 14:1,7-14

Jesus told parables, like the one in Luke 14:1,7-14, to help people understand what he saw happening as the kingdom of God arrived. The parable isn't just about how we eat at fancy meals or even who we eat with. This parable is really about how God regards all of us and how God in turn wants us to honor the people around us.

Unfortunately the lectionary leaves out part of the story. Luke starts out telling us that Jesus was going to a meal on the sabbath. The missing part is that Jesus came in and met a man with dropsy, probably today we'd call it edema. Jesus asked the pharisees if it was legal for him to heal on the sabbath. The pharisees were silent. And Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. Jesus wouldn't accept their silence. So he asked pointedly,

“If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this. Luke 14:5-6 NRSV
I think that Jesus invitation to dinner was a set up. The meal was to be held in the home of a leader of the pharisees. They wanted to watch him closely waiting for him trip over one law so that they could discredit him.

The house was filling and Jesus watched as everyone took their places for the banquet. Then started to tell a story about honor and place. Honor and recognition matter to you and to me and it surely mattered to the pharissees. But humility and hospitality matter to God.

Jesus came in flesh and blood to fulfill the law and the prophets. He came bringing the glory of God with him. He came not to serve people or to be judged by people. He came revealing the Kingdom of God in his words and in his actions by healing the broken, forgiving wrongdoers, and finally dying to save the whole world. In his rising from death Jesus opened the way for the world to come join him in a feast that has no end.

We can't make ourselves ready for such a feast. We need an invitation; but we have done nothing worthy of such a gracious gift. Jesus, crucified and risen, has prepared the way for us in our poverty and brokeness to join him at the eternal feast and now he invites us to bring in the poor, crippled, lame, and the blind.

May God help us to be a church that opens its doors to the poor and seeks no place of honor. May God give us the humility to follow him always serving as his emissaries to the poor and forgotten.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

God's unauthorized power

The story in Luke 13:10-17 makes me want to stand up and cheer. The kingdom of God was coming at unexpected hour. It happened as Jesus taught in a synagogue on the Sabbath. In the crowd he saw a woman hunched over. We might speculate as to the cause maybe arthritis, maybe scoliosis, maybe an injury. Jesus said it was something more sinister naming the power that held her bound as daemonic.
Jesus called to her saying woman you are set free. He went over and placing his hand on her Jesus healed her. She started praising God. She was free: Alleluia.
The leader of the synagogue protested rather than offer any kind of praise. He insisted that the Sabbath wasn't the right day for healing There are other days in the week to come and be healed. But not this day he exclaimed.
Jesus called him out. “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” Luke 13:15-16 NRSV.
The man in the synagogue knew the law very well; but he didn't approve of Jesus' merciful actions on behalf of the suffering. He thought that because he knew the law he knew what God could and couldn't do. God's kingodom comes in many ways both expected and unexpected, both seen and unseen. Even the law was no limit on Jesus' mercy.
In the Lord's prayer we say again and again, "Thy kingdom come." Martin Luther wrote in his small catechism,

"To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us." Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ( Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959), The Small Catechism: III, 7.
May thy kingdom come. AMEN.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

waiting for fire

Jesus words in Luke 12 move from inspiring confidence in what God can do on behalf of his people to showing us the reason why Jesus came.
He came to bring fire to the world. 3 years ago I wrote a reflection on this weeks Gospel that still gets a hit every now and then. The reality is still the same. Jesus' passion for us is no different. He burns to see us alive and on fire for his sake and not our own. And still we wait as a church in idle speed. Listen to George Barna and others and you can start to see the effects of idling as the church while the Spirit moves past us.
Jesus' words in Luke 12 start with a promise that God will be present and that he will provide for us in every need and every way. We can trust in that promise. The trouble is we are waiting for signs that tell us God's promise is good when that's been true all along.
A few years ago Peter Stucki presented a great painting No Waiting for Signs at the Northeast Minneapolis Spiritual Art Show a.k.a Spargex. Pete's painting of a street sign with the words NO WAITING FOR SIGN is a message for us. (if anybody knows a link for Peter or this painting please pass it on. We don't need to idle any more. The Good News is in our hands and on our lips. Spread it and watch God do the work. You will see the fire move.
pax
John

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Trusting in God Luke 12:32-40

Jesus gives clear instructions in the gospel reading for this week.

  • do not be afraid
  • sell your possessions and give alms
  • make purses in heaven where thieves can't steal or moths destroy your true treasure
  • be dressed for action with your lamps lit
These instruction go hand in hand. He says to trust him knowing that he will supply us with our every need. He says trust knowing that we are here today by God's grace. But we aren't supposed to live with our eyes only on this world alone. We are to live confident that God keeps his promises and that we won't be cut off from his gracious provision either here or in the world to come.

Martin Luther wrote of this confidence as he explained the 4th petition of the Lord's Prayer.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, God provides daily bread, even to the wicked, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that God may make us aware of his gifts and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
What is meant by daily bread?
Answer: Everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property; a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor; true friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ( Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959), The Small Catechism: III, 11-14.

Jesus remind us again that we can be confident in God's love. AMEN

Monday, July 26, 2010

Talking about money Luke 12:13-21

End of July greetings to any and all readers.
I've been blessed with some good distractions this past month. Time with my family, in laws, and Godparents at the start of the month and a visit with my sister, niece, and my folks last week. But now I am back trying to figure out what to say this coming Sunday.

Reading the gospel for this week there's plenty to talk about. Jesus spoke about a rich man who God called a fool. The question is do we as Jesus' followers today have the guts to have such a conversation with ourselves and our neighbors like Jesus had with the people around him.

A man came to Jesus asking him to settle an dispute with his brother about the family estate. Jesus asked the man, "who set me to be a judge." Then he warned the people to be on guard against all kinds of greed. Jesus was really warning the people to be on guard against idols, false gods, who will enslave us and distract us from the real God.

Jesus confronted the idols of money and possession with a story about a rich farmer. Many would have considered the farmer wise in the ways of this world and that's why Jesus story in Luke just cut to the core. Jesus said he prospered so much that he needed to build bigger barns to hold all his harvest. As the project was completed he said to his soul,

Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. Luke 12:19 NRSV.
Jesus made it very clear that God had another view of the situation.
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. Luke 12:20-21 NRSV.
Jesus has a way of cutting through our false gods, shredding through them so quickly that we end up standing before the one true God naked with absolutely no place to hide. Our list of false god's and dumb idols includes, but is not limited to, money and possessions. The hardest part of confronting idol worship of any kind is the denial that most people have of their own idolatry.
Last summer David Lose at Luther Seminary organized a gathering for young pastors to present on ideas of interest to them that might be of interest to others. He asked us to use the ignite format. Present 20 images that auto advance every 15 seconds while talking about an idea of great interest to us. I showed up with our 5 month old , now 17 month old daughter ready for a day full of presentations but as I remember only 2 of us came with anything to spark conversation.
I came with a presentation about money, and an invitation to other pastors to be willing to talk about money. It was good to see that David Lose is ready to pick up the conversation about money again. You can read his invitation to conversation about money this week at Working Preacher.
The question in the first two slides were in part sparked by a question in the Thrivent More Than Money Matters material.
















So what do you think.
Is the church really ready to have a conversation about money in the midst of a struggling economy. Are we ready, as Christ's people, to be free from the shackles of false gods. Jesus invites us to come to him and take his light yoke upon our shoulders instead of the overbearing yoke that comes from our infatuation with money and things.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sit with Jesus Luke 10:38-42

"Lord, don't you care...?"
Martha asked Jesus this question. It's a question Jesus has probably heard again and again over 2000 years as followers seek to be faithful. The question's borne of frustration and disappointment proving that no matter how much we strive there's still more to do.

Martha busied herself serving while her sister Mary sat at Jesus' feet listening to her teacher. The truth of this story rings clear in Christian life. We hear the Good News of our freedom in Christ and then we hear the call of the Lord to serve. We forget that God's work isn't going to be finished by one person alone. We get tired and frustrated our emotions fraying at the edges.

  • Sit at Jesus' feet and be restored.
  • Work and work even for the sake of God and you tire physically and emotionally.

Martha voiced her emotion asking, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Luke 10:40 NRSV

Martha wanted a yes or no answer from Jesus. Jesus wouldn't respond to her demand with a simple yes or no.

Mary wanted to be with Jesus. Martha wanted to serve him. Martha watched Mary sitting with Jesus. Martha was angry. And Jesus answered her saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part..." Luke 10:41-42 NRSV

Jesus had no less concern or compassion for Martha than he did for Mary. The difference was that Martha wouldn't stop to simply be with him.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

YourNname in the Book of Life: a better reason to rejoice. Luke 10:1-11,16-20

Jesus friends believed they had plenty of reason to rejoice. But he said there was an even better reason.

In Luke 10:1-15 Jesus sent His friends out into the towns and villages to heal, caste out daemons and announce the that the kingdom of God was coming near. They were to go where they were welcome. Where they were unwelcome they were to wipe the dust from their feet. It's worth noting that Jesus friends aren't recorded here as making reports about towns where they had wiped their feet.

As a pastor I served a while back in a church 30 years after some young people left to join a cult. Members spoke, years later, of the cult leader wiping the dust from his feet after he came to visit. The symbolic act was shocking. To see someone come free after over 30 years in the cult was amazing. It seemed like a good reason to rejoice to see someone free from such power. In Luke 10:16-19 Jesus friends came back with excitement to report what they'd seen and heard as they followed Jesus. Jesus said,

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Luke 10:18-19 NIV
Jesus's friend thought they had reason to rejoice. And in many ways it seems to me that they did. They were seeing the evil one retreat. They were seeing the power of God at work. It seems like a good time to offer thanks. But Jesus said,

...do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:20 NRSV

Jesus words remind us that we haven't even seen half of what God is up to in this universe. We can and often do get excited when we see God at work through the church; but Jesus knows that we have even greater reason to rejoice.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How do we live free: Galatians 5:1,13-25

Greetings to any and all readers,
I took a week away from this blog and most other activities for Vacation Bible School. It was a week imagining being on a High Seas Adventure while studying the Book of Acts.
Back in the routine I looked back to what I'd written before about this week's readings; but as Jesus makes clear, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” ( Luke 9:62 NIV) You can read my comments from 3 years ago about Luke 9:51-62, if you'd like, but I'm looking in a different direction.
I'd like to push into different terrain this week, Christian Freedom. Paul wrote, "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 NRSV

Paul's letter to the church in Galatia is a message of hope for the people Jesus died to set free. Paul put it simply, "...you were called to freedom.." (Galatians 6:13) Our freedom is a gift that starts with Jesus. But reading on in Galatians 5:1,13-25 we see the challenges to our freedom defined. Martin Luther wrote,

This is the freedom with which Christ has set us free, not from some human slavery or tyrannical authority but from the eternal wrath of God.
Where? In the conscience. This is where our freedom comes to a halt; it goes no further. For Christ has set us free, not for a political freedom or a freedom of the flesh but for a theological or spiritual freedom, that is, to make our conscience free and joyful, unafraid of the wrath to come (
Matt. 3:7). This is the most genuine freedom; it is immeasurable. Luther's Works, Vol. 27 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1964).
Luther had a troubled conscience. His ministry spread the same Good News that brought him peace: the total freedom that comes as a gift to those who follow Christ. But Paul warns us not to surrender the gift. The price of our freedom was Jesus body and blood; and we sell that very same body and blood bought freedom very cheaply. Paul even warns his readers

the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idoolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,envy,drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NRSV.


Temptations of all kinds assail us; that's the enemy at work to undercut our freedom. Jesus says we are to follow him and not look back. Paul knew first had about what we give up when we follow. And he knows that it is only in letting go of everything that we might claim as our own in the past, present, and future that we will be free. Paul says we are to live by the Spirit. It only sounds simple. May God help us to live by the Spirit free as he intends. AMEN.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's Christ who lives. Galatians 2:15-21

Paul told the church in Galatia
"it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20 NRSV
I saw this reality in action twice this past weekend.
On Saturday I went to a funeral for a man named Albion who died at 91.
On Sunday my beloved, our girls, and I attended the baptism of a 2nd cousin's baby girl, Mariah.
It was wonderful to see God's place, the families place, and the churches place in each of these events and the way that God, life, family, church, death, and baptism overlap. Baptism is about death first and then about life. It's hard to admit it really works this way because we deeply care for earthly life; but we as Christians are already dead because of baptism and we are alive now because of Christ.
Seeing Albion's funeral and Mariah's baptism reassures me that these two events are really connected. The pastor at Albion's funeral told a story about the Wednesday night after worship when Albion came to him as he was gathering up the communion elements. Al was singing the final hymn of the night as a question, "How can I keep from singing." The framed copy of the Beatitudes that hangs on my wall from Al reassures me that Al had faith and hope in the power of God's love. And in faith and hope he hasn't stopped singing.
The promise of Baptism assures me that Mariah's just begun to sing and that her singing and the singing of all who trust in Christ will not end.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jesus said, "Rise" Luke 7:11-17

Jesus' ministry began to attract great attention; not because of his teaching at first; but because of the miracles. The miracles drew in the crowds who would be willing to listen to him teach. The miracles were proof of Jesus authority.

Sickness, sin, and the daemonic were not too much for Jesus. He healed, forgave, and exorcised. But there's another great enemy that we humans can't conquer on our own: death. In this story we see Jesus take on death. He reacted in sympathy to a widow who watched her son's body carried out for burial.
It happened fast. Jesus stepped in front of the funeral procession. Jesus turned to the mother. "Stop crying" He touched the bier that held the body and said, "Young Man, I say to you, arise." The man rose.
The crowd was stunned. They'd seen this son of a carpenter step in between a dead man and the procession to his grave. They's seen something big happen and the news of the man's healing spread.
++++++

Throughout history rational thinkers have been drawn to Jesus as a prophet. Thomas Jefferson, famous for his presidency and role in the establishment of the republic known today as the United States wrote the The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The book is all about Jesus; but saddly Jefferson's book makes little mention of the miracles. Without them Jesus had no authority as a teacher and would have had no crowds to listen. With them Jesus made it clear that he had power to act; not just wisdom to share.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

God's triune identity John 16:12-15

A week ago a man stopped by wanting to speak tell a story about his experience of God. It started 11 years ago and it's shaped his life. I asked him what he understood about Christian mystics. He didn't know much and thought the word sounded too magical. He assumed his experience of God was unique, like few others had ever had. I told him of mystics trying to relate his experience to that of others who had experiences of God that defy simple explanation.
One great difference that emerged in our conversation is that the man who came to share his story didn't accept the Trinity. I do. We both admitted belief in God the Father; but the man I met with wasn't sure about God's Triune being. He didn't see Jesus as God's son equal in majesty and one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In our conversation I found myself repeating portions of John's gospel.

All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:15. NRSV
The man I met wrestled with this verse and other passages like it in John. Jesus says he is one with the Father. I spoke about God the Father, Son, and Spirit being different beings yet somehow sharing one will and one supreme place in the universe.
I responded to his questions that it's simply something we disagreed about. He was willing to accept that I viewed God differently. He was willing to believe, as I do, that so much of our great theological work that's meant to explore God's being makes the simple reality of God's presence way too complicated.
Trinity Sunday is a day to celebrate God's presense, work, and majesty. It's a day to give thanks that God has interest in our lives.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortalsa that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,b
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
Psalm 8:3-6 NRSV
One of the great challenges a great teacher ever gave a class of would be preachers was to expect, in our earthly lives, that much of God's true being would be hidden, shrouded in mystery. Instead of resolving questions for people about God maybe we are supposed to learn that God comes and the questions are the evidence.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Holy Spirit, a promise kept John 14:8-17

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit AMEN

Pentecost Sunday is a day to remember, to celebrate, and to dream. Jesus promised to send us an advocate. He said,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate; to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:16-17 NRSV)

God comes to us not at our command; but entirely of at a time and through a means of God's own choice. Jesus keeps his promises. He has promised to send the Advocate. And just like the wind the Spirit moves free and strong among God's people today.

Thousands of years ago, in the land we today call Iraq, a civilization took shape that we know of as Babel. We heard about them in our first reading. It's people looked at themselves as especially unique. They shared so much in common from their language to their dreams. They had big aspirations. They wanted to make a name for themselves.

They built a great city and at the very heart of their city they started to build a tower. These people wanted to approach heaven so they built their tower to reach into heaven. A friend says that the people of Babel built a ziggurat, a great stepped pyramid meant to either entice God to come down them or to allow them to reach up to God. These people weren't the only ones in human history to build such great structures. People still build today hoping to either reach the divine or to entice the divine to come to them.

God saw what the people had done. He saw that they were seeking glory; and he came down among them confusing their language ending their unity. The people scattered to all corners of the world no longer unified by human will.

Today God seeks to unite us not through language or earthly glory; instead God sends out the spirit free to unite us one to another as witnesses to God's power in our lives.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gone from sight Luke 24:44-23

Ascension Sunday Year C
Hope came back to Jesus followers when they met him again after the resurrection. The day he died they were lost--leaderless and without hope--the day before Jesus death they had been confident; over-confident because they didn't understand either the nature of Jesus' power or the nature of the Kingdom of God.
After the resurrection Jesus' friends would be ready to go forward without being able to see him. Luke writes,

he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 NRSV
The difference: resurrected hope. Jesus friends were filled with hope until he died; but their hope was too small. The resurrection was the proof; it was the evidence that God's kingdom isn't limited to our space and time or even by death or sin or the devil.
Jesus was the first glimpse of the plan to redeem all of Creation. Paul described Jesus as the first fruits (1st Corinthians 15:20). And that is true. He is the first redeemed. His rising from the dead meant that hope started again; but the hope of the Christian isn't limited by the boundaries of human power. Our hope in Jesus is eternal. Returning to his father Jesus didn't leave his followers; instead through the Holy Spirit God comes to His followers today.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Guardians and Missionaries Wanted Acts 16:9-15

The Apostle Paul seems to have had both peace with God through Jesus and an unsettled spirit that left him out on the edge of the church spreading the gospel. Paul's life was tranformed by his conviction of sin and forgiveness by Jesus on the road to Damascus. His encounter with God seems to have completely convinced him that the kingdom was coming soon.
Paul didn't settle down instead he lived spreading the news going from city to city and country to country on the edge of the growing church. In Acts 16:6-8 we read of his plan to go throughout Asia Minor to spread the good news. But the Spirit had another plan and stopped him from go further into the land we now call Turkey. Paul was asked to cross to Europe beginning ministry in Greece.

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had
called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. Acts 16:9-13 NRSV

The kingdom of God grows when there's someone like Paul going beyond the current reach of the church to spread the good news. Still, knowing the essential missional need of the church, it's clear that not everyone shares Paul's exact missionary calling. Some in fact are called to build the church right where they are today. For 2000 years there's been tension between the desire to reach out in mission into the world with the good news that has released us from sin and the desire to be guardians who protect the Word of God and the community who has gathered around the Word.

In the first days of the church Paul argued with Peter (the details can be found in Galatians and Acts) about whether a person had to be a Jew first before being a Christian. Today there's plenty of debate about how we can best be church together. There are clear lines with camps defending truth and camps reach out out. The terms of guardian/settler and missionary/pioneer aren't new to our age; neither is the dialectical nature of our faith and calling as the church both to building up the body of Christ by guarding the truth of the Gospel and to go out boldly as pioneers into unknown territory in mission declaring the truth of Christ's love for the world.

The tension today divides some denominations between those claiming to defend the truth and those claiming spread the truth. Looking at these sides fighting over the wrong divide it's good to know that Jesus meant it when he said,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27-28 NRSV
Many married folks know that God often works by pairing the gifts of opposite people together. The kingdom of God needs both those ready to reach out and those ready to build. God grant us the wisdom to appreciate the gifts that both bring to the church.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's it like there? Revelation 21:1-6 John 13:31-35

%th Sunday of Easter Year C
Salvation came into the world. He name is Jesus. When Jesus came, the timeless God who is always one with the father, entered into our world. Some people followed him. He healed, many rejoiced. He taught, others rejected him. He was crucified and rose from the dead. The story of God entering into our time and space teaching, healing, dying, and rising is the core of our faith.
As Christians we look back to the words passed on by Jesus earliest followers. We read the ancient words of the first Christians and have opportunity to hear their stories about Jesus and the things they heard him speak.
Listening today we hear a very real invition from Jesus to his first hearers, and to us today to live now, here on this earth in our time, acting out of love. Our human experience is always limited. We're mortals afterall and the very real boundaries of space and time are hard and fixed, for us. Any cemetary will testify clearly about human limitations. In Jesus we meet the very real God who chose to enter into time and space as we know it and who left our earth returning to the father.

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:33-35 NRSV
I give thanks today because God's not limited by such simple boundaries like we are. Acting out of love doesn't make us into little gods. Loving as God love us connects us with our fellow creatures as God intends. When we believers act out of love for one another and act with compassion towards our neighbors everyone can see that we are Jesus disciples. I give thanks that God has a plan to make all things new.
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” Revelations 21:3-4 NRSV

May God help us to live in faith and hope and love until he makes all things new. AMEN.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jesus knows his own John 10:22-20

People in Jesus day were hoping and wondering if Jesus was the one. The people of Israel wanted the Messiah. Some came to Jesus boldly,

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” John 10:24 NRSV
The question shows real chutzpah. Jesus healed and taught about a Kingdom; but he wasn't acting like the Messiah they wanted. The people had suffered greatly but still had hope. Living on hope isn't easy; but it can be done. Studs Terkel, a great observer of American life wrote Hope Dies Last and in many ways he's right: hope is fragile, but it sticks around. The people wanted to know if they could stop waiting for their day to come.

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, John 10:25-26 NRSV

Jesus is hope. But the people hoped he would take power. Jesus' actions and words convinced many God's kingdom had come. Others were unmoved. Jesus told them--they didn't believe. Jesus works, done in the father's name, didn't create faith in everyone. Jesus doesn't resolve the doubts. Instead he named the conflict. "You don't believe."

We mistakenly think that belief and unbelief are human matters. Bill Hybels' sermon on Ephesians 1 Who Chooses Whom (October 18, 2009) is a great walk through this issue. God's will and how we understand it is a theological minefield that's divided churches. Reading the scripture challenges our assumptions. Jesus spoke about the people as if they were sheep either chosen or left out of the flock. He said clearly,
...but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:26-29 NRSV.
Our place in the kingdom isn't that of the shepherd. We are the sheep blessed by God's protection not by our will to enter God's kingdom.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Conversion or Forgiveness Paul in Acts 9:1-20 and Peter in John 21:1-19

I've been pondering what it means to say that Paul had a conversion in Acts 9. For many years I assumed that Paul had converted to a new faith on the Damascus road. After all the word “conversion” appears as a heading for Acts 9 in many bibles. Then I heard a podcast by Mark Goodacre (I think he teaches at Duke).

Goodacre asks some provocative questions to start about the narrative form of Luke Acts that seemed off target; but as I listened he really got into the meat of the Damascus Road story and the times when Paul shares some about that experience in Acts 16, Acts 23, and Galatians 1.

Paul was not converted from one faith (Judaism) to another (Christianity). Paul, according to Goodacre, is clear in his writing and speeches that he remained a Jew. He didn't let go of that identity in order to follow Jesus; quite the opposite he clung to his Judaism as he declared Jesus both to Jews and Gentiles.

So if Paul wasn't converted from one faith to another or from belief in the one true God who spoke through the prophets then what happened to him?

Maybe you think Goodacre is just splitting hairs. Or maybe he's asking a vital question about how we explain Paul's experience, and, in turn Peter's experience and our own experiences of God. Both Peter and Paul found themselves in opposition to God. Peter denying Jesus and Paul openly fighting Jesus. And Jesus forgave them both (even before they asked or were properly contrite) and called them to new lives.

Maybe ther better word to describe what happened to Paul in Acts 9 and to Peter after meeting Jesus in John 21:1-19 is forgiveness. Rather than conversion to new faith I believe they experienced the radical end and new beginning that comes through God's forgiveness.

Gerhard Forde, one of the great theologians to come out of Starbuck, Minnesota wrote about the cross and resurrection as a radical experience of God in which the old Adam and the old human order dies. He asked simply, “Will I survive forgiveness?”1 Looking at Peter and Saul it seems like the two had to die to themselves in order to live in Christ.

Maybe we have domesticated the concept of forgiveness. Perhaps we have so disconnected it from the cross and resurrection that we don't see either the radical cost in Jesus body and blood and the radical end to self that comes in God's forgiveness. What does it mean to say that we must die to ourselves and rise anew in Christ? Dr. Forde wrote,

We fear such talk of death and resurrection because we fear the loss of continuity. Is there not continuity between the old and the new person? Is there not something to carry us across? It is a real and serious question. But it is the same sort of question that one should address to the cross. What was the death into which Jesus entered? Was he assured continuity? The question is of the sort one must ask about forgiveness. “Will I survive forgiveness?” I may take it, perhaps, as old Adam and abuse it, use it as license, presume upon it, preserving myself, my continuity. Forgiveness itself will turn into a poison if it does not bring that death and resurrection. It cannot be mixed with such continuity. Such talk of continuity may be used just to protect us from death. But we have no need to fear. He has died for us. To believe that means to believe that my continuity is now entirely in him.

So perhaps instead of calling this Paul's conversion I will now call Acts 9 God's Forgiveness of Paul. The old Paul didn't survive God's forgiveness. The old Peter in John 21 didn't survive either. Instead they rose to new life in Christ surrendering their own to offer everything up for God.

1Gerhard Forrde “Seventh Locus, the Work of Christ.” page 1-100 in Braaten & Jensen Christian Dogatics Volume II. (Philadelpia: Fortress, 1984) page 96.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The room where fear met hope John 20:19-31

Fear and hope met together in the same room 2000 years ago. Jesus friends were living in fear when they met hope embodied in the person of Jesus.

The fear was thick enough for everybody in the room to feel it that day. It was fear that brought them upstairs to a locked room. And Jesus inexplicably stepped into the midst of this fear bound gathering. God does the same today. He meets us in our fears. He meets us in the hopeless moments.

The disciples knew fear on Good Friday

  • they were afraid that they might be next to die just like Jesus had just died.

  • they worried that they might have followed the wrong guy

  • because they had given up their own lives and their own reputations to follow Jesus.

The Easter Sunday evening meeting Jesus was a meeting that could only be imagined in hope. Jesus met his friends and greeted them with a word of peace. They heard him and they had hope; but they were still in fear. They told Thomas the news but he thought it was simply too good. “...he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)


The next week hope came again in the flesh and blood of Jesus. He came into a room locked because of fear. He again greeted his friends with peace and invited Thomas to touch him and know it was really him.

Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:27-29

Jesus was there for all to see. The marks of the nails gave evidence of his suffering and death; but his words and actions were proof that resurrection had happened. Jesus came with the evidence of death; but his life was contrary. His followers come with the evidence of fear, but in Christ we meet hope who overcomes our fears calling us from death into life.

Monday, March 29, 2010

God's not finished John 18:1-19:42 & Luke 24:1-12

There's no better point in time to see the difference between human inability and God's ability than in Jesus' death and resurrection. Preparing for Easter its good to see Jesus death and resurrection as a whole story. If you read John 19-20 instead of just John 20:1-18 you'll hear both Jesus words to his friends from the cross "It's finished" and the joy Mary finds in meeting Jesus again. If you read Luke 22:1-24:12 instead of Luke 24:1-12 you'll hear the despair of the people who met Jesus on the way to die and on the cross and you hear the joy of God's resurrecting power.

There's tension in seeing human inability and God's ability at the same time. The best word to describe what happened is δε in Greek translated in English as now or but. Luke 24:1 hangs on this word. Τη δε μια των σαββάτων ορθρου βαθέως επι το μνημα... (Matthew Black, The Greek New Testament,) This was God's now/but moment. Humanities power had stopped. But/now God was on the move, "But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came unto the tomb..." (American Standard Version.)

On the cross Jesus cried out, "It is finished."

There's nothing more anyone on earth can do for him.

He saved others but he wouldn't save himself.

He's there on the cross or at least his body's still there.

Do you still call that body by His name Jesus?

Do you still call the corpse that walked on water by name?

He cried out it's finished. Now he's in the grave.

Mary came just after dawn to pay last respects at the grave.

Somehow someway in that dark tomb he rose from dead.

He had been left dead to decay; now He's risen

He's not in the tomb or at least his body isn't there.

Mary thought someone, maybe a gardner took His body.

Jesus met her and sent her to tell the others

God's not finished, not with him and not for you,

Easter Greetings.

John