There are so many side stories told at Christmas. And many of these stories are rabbit trails. Upland bird hunters know the frustration of watching even a great dog chase down a rabbit trail rather than a pheasant. It's easy chase up the wrong trail at Christmas. Even the Gospels have stories of secondary importance.
Christmas is time to focus on what's most important. Merchants tell us the wonders of their wears. Great actors and directors tell us stories of family function and dysfunction. Even the work of biblical scholars can add the the confusion as researchers debate the historicity of the census detailed in Luke 2:1-5 and other points in the story aswell.
Luke's Christmas story tells of orders to travel. Rome wanted a Census and for Joseph and Mary that meant travel to his hometown. The Roman authorities weren't trying to build a Christmas card list. The census provided information about money and manpower for Rome's military and government. The story isn't Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, or Herod. These men of great power are only side stories. God has come to us, in the body of a little boy. This is the greatest story. Listen to the words in Luke 2:6-7 this is the story, the real trail. There's great excitement chasing a dog whose on the right trail. Stay on it, because this is the story that matters.
Amidst all the bustle God came. The process took 9 months from Annunciation to Mary(Luke 1:26-38) to the night when angels met shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks (Luke 2:8-14). The baby in the manger is the confirmation not only of what Mary heard from Gabriel (Luke 1:31-33) but of what the prophets had spoken centuries before.
Chasing after the right trail:
It was a Holy Night when God, truly great, humbled himself. He came as baby to bring peace in the midst of the world's sin and turmoil. God came in pursuit of us, hot on our trail, unexpectedly camouflaged in humility both for the lowly and for the self-exultant. Jesus came, God in flesh to actively pursue us and to bring his kingdom near to us. The shepherds went to see what had happened (Luke 2:15-19) and they left rejoicing (Luke 2:20). The Words had been confirmed.
Christmas ended and the shepherds returned to wherever and whatever they'd come from. The returned to the same work and sheep and somehow what they had seen in that night, the angels, the heavenly host, the baby, the mother and father had made it all different. May it be the same for us this Christmas. Remember Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. This is the hope and faith of the church from the days of the apostle's on. This is the central story of scripture and it is the reason we leave our Christmas celebrations to return to the same family, home, and work and somehow be different.
Christmas Blessings, John
Monday, December 19, 2011
There are so many side stories told at Christmas. And many of these stories are rabbit trails. Upland bird hunters know the frustration of watching even a great dog chase down a rabbit trail rather than a pheasant. It's easy chase up the wrong trail at Christmas. Even the Gospels have stories of secondary importance.
Mary's story starts unexpectedly: an angel met her and spoke words of hope and joy.
cai`re, kecaritwmevnh, oJkuvrio" meta sou`. Luke 1:28 (NA26)
Rejoice joyfilled/gracefilled one the Lord is with you.
Mary was young, just a teenager, promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. Her life, independent of mom and dad, was just about to get underway. The older I get the younger Mary seems. Just a teenager maybe 5 or 10 years older than our oldest girls. And Mary had plans for her life just about to take shape. Marriage, a home with her husband, and maybe even a family. Then this angel appeared in her life and her plans faded away as God's plans took top priority.
The Words from God's messenger were words of comfort. Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God. It's hard not to imagine Mary's thoughts jumbling together in her head as an angel, a real honest to God messenger from heaven, spoke to her, a human being.
Fear might creep in and cause paralysis for some or maybe even most of us in this kind of situation. But for Mary through faith all this somehow made sense. In Mary's day, just as it is in our day, much, maybe even most, of God's activity goes unseen. And God had seen all of Mary's life and now was going to work in her life to do amazing things in the world.
Many women have spoken of Mary's faith and courage as the news of Jesus' coming catches them. What do you hear as you hear this story. “Such a little girl”, one woman said. “And such big news just think of it,” said another next to her, “Such faith and hope in the words of this mysterious stranger,” said a third woman. The angel spoke to Mary on God's behalf. Don't fear; you've found favor with God. And Mary met those words with faith and hope. She had found favor with God and as we see the story unfold we see her faith and hope were clear.
The angel's next words were and still are unequaled in human history. God had a plan to come into the world. Mary's life: her body from the inmost parts of her soul to the most visible parts of her whole being we part of the plan: Mary was the one who God had chosen. Mary had plans and God had new plans for her body and her son. The child she would bear and raise were God's direct way into the world. God was stepping into human history in a clearer way than he'd ever entered into our world before.
This word from the angels and this faith of Mary's is where our story as Jesus followers finds form and shape. Our story as Christians is a story of hope in the face of so many things that seem impossible. It's a story of confidence in God coming through. Our story begins with the nation of Israel and their faith. And it continues as we find confidence in God coming into our midst not through extraordinary means like arriving on a throne in the clouds but in the fleshy body body of a baby.
Without ears of faith the news she heard would have startled and maybe cause her to panic. The angel was clear “You're going to have a child, He's going to be great.” And Mary asked one simple question. “How?” “How can this be I'm a virgin.?”
Listen to Mary's question: She didn't ask why me or suggest somebody else. She only asked, “How?” By faith Mary accepted God's plan and made it her plan. And by faith the Son of God grew in her and through her life more life came into the world.
There are some parts of the human experience men don't fully and personally understand. There are some parts of the story that we only see from the outside. This dimension of Mary's story makes more sense to women than to most of us with both an x and a y chromosome. Maybe I should stop here before I get myself into trouble later for speaking about things I don't really have a clue about.
But it must be said here that there's a mysterious parts of God's plan and part of that plan is new human lives start not on their own out of nothing, but from the generosity of one human being who would give birth to another. I've seen it happen and I know its real, but I can't explain it other than to say thanks to those women who have given of themselves so fully and completely that others might have life.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 12/19/2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
This advent I've been impressed by the role of John the Baptist in ways that I haven't been before. John's preaching has always impressed me. Listen to John's clarion call in Luke and Matthew to repent, as in Matthew 3:2, repent μετανοειτε rings out over the centuries. John's issued an order that jars and calling us back to God and away from all the lesser things we might think are so important.
Reading about the Baptist in Mark and John this Advent I'm struck not by the sharp call to repent, but by John's work making the way ready for Jesus. I've overlooked this part of John's ministry. Maybe it's not so jaring as the call the repent or so noticable. Or maybe I just need to hear John's call to repent all the more myself. Whatever the reason Johns of preparation is clear to see this year.
John was a visible witness to God in the world and all the same he knew that he was to fade away as Jesus came to the fore. The way the writer of John's Gospel tells the story Jesus was there as John preached and baptized. The religious folk came to the baptizer with intense inquiries about who he was in John 1:19. The Baptizer made it clear that he wasn't the Messiah John 1:20 but that opened up numerous other possibilites like Elijah or another prophet in John 1:21-22.
The crowd was focussed in on John and at the moment when they keyed in on him he made clear who he was, he was the voice making the way ready John 1:23-25. The surprise comes as he says,
“I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” John 1:26-28 NRSV.John's work was ending in the moment when it was just getting off the ground. John would build no great temple to himself or for his followers. John was there to point the way and to get out of the way. Jesus was there the Good News was at hand. The surpise is that He was there, probably on the edge of the crowd and no one cuould see him. May this wonder of the incarnation, of Jesus unseen presence fill us with hope and joy and call us to repentence this Advent and Christmas.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 12/08/2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Mark's gospel begins with a surpising man, a man at home in the wilderness who spoke about an even greater witness to come after him.
And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”Luke and Matthew tell us more about John than Mark. Luke details his geneology Luke 1:5-25, his mother's joy Luke 1:39-45, and his father's doubts and faith Luke 1:57-80. Matthew and Luke both tell even more of his preaching and the particulars of John's call to repentence ring out in Matthew 3:1-12 and Luke 3:1-19. Luke provided key details about John's inquiries about Jesus in Luke 7:18-35 and Matthew included details about John's death Matthew 14:1-22.
The Holy Bible : New International Version, (electronic ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), Mk 1:7-8.
Mark instead focusses on one key aspect of John's ministry--Making way for Jesus.
Mark is making a point. There's an essential message here for all believers not just preachers and church leaders. John may have been great but an even greater on is coming. I've often focussed in my preaching on repentence as John's great point, but in Mark's economy of words we hear the other point of John's preaching: someone even greater than him is coming. Mark 1:8.
As Christmas comes this year let Mark be our guide. Strip away all the floss and the glitz and focus onthe Word who comes in flesh. I walk with my daughters on the way to school past a manger scene each day. And looking at the scene I was reminded that only one person in that stable could save anyone. As John says someone great is going to come.
Thanks be to God Jesus did come. AMEN
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 11/30/2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
A little while ago a woman who I didn’t know very well, but who knew that I'm a pastor, asked me if I thought that the end-times had begun. Now that, I thought to myself, is a loaded question. So I gave her a loaded answer in reply. I told her what Jesus said, and what we hear in Mark 13:32--no one knows, except the father. But she persisted quoting the same chapter of scripture saying Jesus also said we can all see the signs and we can very well see what is going on in this world Mark 13:28-29.
This insightful woman had a great point. Every night on TV and in the paper she sees a war continuing with no easy end in sight in Afghanistan. She told me that her neighbor’s son is there and she prays every night for his safe return home. But that is not all. Every night she sees all kinds of terrible things on her TV. In our age we have become vicarious witnesses to the greatest calamities earth quakes, floods, tsunamis. The woman who was speaking with me had seen it all, not in person, but on her TV.
She has been a witness through the media to terrorism around the globe. From what she’s seen terrorism is now a threat on every continent except Antarctica. She didn’t much care for my joke about the radical penguin suicide sliders either. She was very serious about all of this and is sincerely wrestling with this very heavy question: Is the world about to end?
She told me very seriously about all the things that she sees going on even people she knows who have been impacted by hurricanes and floods. She looks at all that's going on and asks persistently, “Is this the end?”
“I don’t know” was my honest reply. I couldn’t think of much else to say to her. After I left I thought about what I should have added. We all know how that goes. Someone asks you something and you just wish that you had a great reply. I think that maybe saying something like, “Only God knows the number of your days and the days of each person on this earth. We are left to watch and to wonder and to trust that God’s love will see us through every trial and struggle.” But I didn’t say anything wise like that. All that I said was, “I don’t know.”
I am not sure if she was satisfied with my answer. She had a sincere question that grew out of her faith that she wanted me, or anybody else for that matter, to answer. But as I think about this reading from Mark and Jesus' words I am increasingly convinced that no matter if this is the last day of the earth or not that this is a great time to live out our faith. We could spend days or years or even centuries debating if this is finally the end. Or we could get on with life as God calls us to live it today. God has lovingly put us for lots of good reason. Two of the best to love God and to love the people who we share this planet with.
There is a segment of American Christianity, which is determined to know the exact date when the world will end. In the 1830’s William Miller, a preacher who lived in upstate New York, announced that the world would come to an end sometime in or around 1843. He later revised that date, based on his careful calculations and the calculations of some of his followers, to March 1844. He later revised that date to October 22, 1844. It is estimated that more than a million people heard him preach in the 1830’s and 40’s. On October 22, 1844 it didn’t end.
The fascination that American Christians have with the apocalypse didn’t end with Miller. The Watchtower association, also known as the Jehovah’s witnesses, have published a variety of different dates. Other religious groups from the Mormons to the Seventh Day Adventists and others have a intense fascination with the end of days. In the 1990’s David Koresh and the Branch Davidians believed they were the elite who would be the first called up, even before the 144,000 before the earth was destroyed. Maybe you remember Jonestown back in the 70’s or Heaven’s Gate back in 1997. These are just a few of the homegrown American religious movements who have sought to name the date when the world will end.
So is this the end of time? I’ll be honest, I don’t know. And I don’t believe any human being alive knows. So then you might ask, “What time is it?” Maybe say it out loud? “What time is it?” I believe that now is the time for us to be the church. Jesus said that we are to alert, vigilant to see the places where God is calling you into ministry. Now is a great time to live boldly as Jesus lived boldly.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 11/28/2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
I know I am posting backwards but hey it's a blog.
Christians believe that God's building a kingdom. It's already here and seen in the acts of mercy that God's people show to one another; but the second you think you can grab onto the kingdom and hold onto it it slips from your hands.
Many people today say they believe in the coming of God's kingdom and even that their lives are meant to be part of it; but today I'd encourage you to think in specific about where in your life the kingdom of God is breaking in. It's easy to give a vague answer to this question; but God's kingdom isn't growing in vague ways in our lives. God's kingdom is real, not imaginary. It grows as we start to wrestle with the biggest questions about what belongs to God and what belongs to us.
George Barna writes about the difference between vision and mission. All Christians have a vague place in the mission of God's kingdom; but there are specific places and times in our lives when we are meant to serve God. Barna explains,
Getting beyond mission to vision is where the rubber meets the road, and getting beyond vision to execution is where transformation becomes a reality.
Barna's a Christian and sociologist who studies how faith and religion take shape in people's lives. Over the years he's uncovered the challenges that face believers today and he's right: God given visions have power to move people for the sake of the Kingdom.
Knowing that we need grand visions and purposes that are close at hand, and knowing that often times we have to start small and close by before we really see the big “great and holy quest” it's really tough to watch people get stuck and sit doing nothing.
Some people get trapped in their quest for comforts and pleasures. The prophets named the lesser gods that so many people chase after first. Some who start to understand that the coming of the kingdom of God will move them to do new things get stuck in fear worried about what to do or what they’ll need. Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34named the fears and uncertainties that trap many and declared a promise that God will provide.
The key here is faith: both leading in faith and living in faith. Trouble is faith isn’t transferable; it’s a gift of God freely given at God’s choice through the work of the Holy Spirit. If church leaders could just give away faith it would be easy, but this isn’t something that humans can do alone. Hebrews 11 makes the case for what faith can do: the faith of Abraham stepping out on a Journey started a nation, the faith of Moses going back to Egypt saved a nation. A willingness to follow a vision starts with a step of faith in God.
Anyone who needs a broad mandate could read Matthew 22:34-40. Jesus says Agape love God and agape love your neighbors. Or Matthew 28:18-20 here is direction to go. These are the mandates, but not the specifics. Faith is the key to stepping out after God’s call. Some people are blessed to see it so clearly; to see the place that they are called to go and live out this mission; others are struggling searching to find their way to serve; and some are still lost in Babylon. The best response is to seek God’s advice in scripture and prayer. Discern God’s will, seek his counsel not vaguely but specifically looking for the great and noble cause that he is calling each person too.
May God give us clarity to see the place where we can serve for the sake of His coming kingdom.
Thanks for reading, Peace to you , John
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 10/31/2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I write today remembering my uncle, Ben Thoma. He died yesterday. Talking with my aunt today I'm reminded what a great life he had introducing modern people to the natural world as a biologist and naturalist. My cousin Ed wrote of him today. I have great memories sitting on the bench seat in the pick up bouncing along washboard quality dirt roads in Itasca State Park with Ben listening to his strong opinions and seeing the way life worked in the world.
There's a question in our gospel reading about what belongs to who and what doesn't belong. Earth bound people worry about earth bound stuff. And we wonder what really belongs to God and what really belongs to this earth. We make pictures for ourselves of God's Son Jesus as a loving and comforting man who helps us in this world of questions and uncertainty. There's truth to this image, Jesus loved and comforted sick and downtrodden people. Many in Israel loved him. Crowds hung on his words and sought him out to heal the sick. Clearly Jesus loved and comforted many. The popular picture's true, but incomplete. Jesus, healer and comforter engaged in a full on battle for His life; and in the fullness of time he was battling for the life of all who would come to faith in Him.
Powerful people conspired against him. And Jesus matched their doubting words with his own questions. The powerful came to test him seeking blasphemy against God or treachery against Rome in his words. Other powers in the universe were in on the conspiracy. The humans involved were unwitting co-conspiritorse. They just wanted Jesus silenced...
A complete picture of Jesus shows He is comforter, healer, protector, and more. Jesus battled the devil not just the Chief Priest, Herodians, and Pharisees. He matched human words with his own. His earthly opponents needed one slip to trip him up and catch him. His earthly opponents saw a quick way to get rid of him finally turning the crowds against him. The devil wanted nothing less. The real battle was on. All the powers of darkness had to do was see it through, let Jesus die, be rid of him. Those in power on earth weren't even aware of who was doing what. The devil saw Jesus humanity and missed the divinity. Luther likened it to a fish that swallowed a hook.... the Pharisees met together to think of a way to trap Jesus into saying something for which they could accuse him. 16 They decided to send some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to ask him this question: “Teacher, we know how honest you are. You teach about the way of God regardless of the consequences. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. 17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to the Roman government or not?”18 But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Whom are you trying to fool with your trick questions? 19 Here, show me the Roman coin used for the tax.” When they handed him the coin, 20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.” 22 His reply amazed them, and they went away. Matthew 22:15-22. NLT
For the hook, which is the divinity of Christ, was concealed under the earthworm. The devil swallowed it with his jaws when Christ died and was buried. But it ripped his belly so that he could not retain it but had to disgorge it.24 He ate death for himself. This affords us the greatest solace; for just as the devil could not hold Christ in death, so he cannot hold us who believe in Christ. Martin Luther, vol. 22, Luther's Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, page 24.The earthly debate in Matthew 22:19-21 might have been about a coin and taxes; but the real battle was for souls and eternity. The Good News is that Christ won and by faith all who believe belong to him forever. AMEN.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 10/11/2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
There's no clearer point of conflict between Jesus and the religious establishment than in the temple the week before his death. Jesus overturned tables and confronted the money changes. The high-priest and elders were attune to his presence asking for answers. The wanted to know what authority Jesus had to act Matthew 21:23. Jesus answered their question with 3 parables questioning their authority.
first: two sons only one of whom did his fathers will Matthew 21:28-32
second: tenants who dishonored the land owner Matthew 21:33-43
third: about the wedding feast where the invited didn't come and the king sought out many others to come in their place, but one who came was sent out Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus second parable Matthew 21:33-39 veiled the names but not the biting words. Imagine a landowner who isn't paid by his tenants. What would he do? He sent servants to collect what was owed. The tenants beat one and killed another. What would he do next? The landowner chose to send his son believing that the tennant might respect his son. But they siezed the son and killed him believing they'd get his inheritence.
After the resurrection we realize what all Jesus meant. We see who was who and what happened; but before the cross the words bit hard into the chief priests and the elders.
Jesus' words can bite right into a person. He came to show us how to love; but he also came to change us so that we would act out of love. His stories engage us at the deepest levels of our human nature exposing the sin and contempt beneath the surface. Jesus called out the leaders not by name but by identifying their sin. They had no one to blame and no place to hide. He was implicating someone who acted just like them in the death of prophets and the misuse of God's gifts.
The chief priest and the elders wanted to silence him, but they didn't dare for fear of the crowd Matthew 21:25-26 Matthew 21:46. And Jesus taught as a prophet almost daring those in power to conspire against him. And they did, and he died, and he rose. This is the unspoken part of the parable. Yes the tenants had their way and killed the son, but the tenants didn't win through violence, the son of landowner came back from the dead to redeem what what lost not through violence and death but through new life. AMEN.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Imagine the scene
Jesus in the temple in Matthew 21:23. He was in the place that symbolized the very heart of Israel's religious life. Some there in the temple wanted to hear him teach and others were questioning him, doubting him maybe even hoping to trap him so that they could have their way over him. The religious leaders asked,
By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority? Matthew 21b NRSVJesus answered with a question of his own,
Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Matthew 21:24-25 NRSVThe question stung the religious leaders who doubted Jesus. The crowds loved Jesus and John before him. They believed in John and now in Jesus. And Jesus turned the question back to them Matthew 21:25-27.
Now Jesus made his point in story about two sons in Matthew 21:28-30. Both sons were asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard. One son said no and changed his mind doing as his father asked. The other son agreed but ended up not doing the job.
Jesus asked them in Matthew 21:31, "Who did the father's will?" The answers obvious, the first one, the one who did it. Jesus said yes that's right and then he spoke to them a word of judgement and promise in Matthew 21:31-32. It was word of judgement for the religious and a promise for the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors, would enter into the kingdom before them.
Jesus didn't say they were out of the kingdom or out of God's reach, but he told them that Good News had come for those they considered beyond God's reach. Good News has come for those who had turned their backs on God and then returned to His will.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 9/19/2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Paul wrote to the church in Philipi about being church. He said things plainly. And he said that what was important was living a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Paul wrote
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, (Philipians 1:27 NRSV)I've been thinking about this verse as I prepare to give a short meditation at a 100th anniversary celebration for a congregation where I served for 5 years. Every church that I've been part of, from my childhood on, has been a place to learn what God's Word means. I hope that in the church today that we are teaching these same lessons to everyone else who we invite in, nurture in faith, serve along side of, and send into the world. I hope that we are being witnesses in service and compassion and if need be that we will witness with our words.
Many people say they are unqualified to be witnesses on God's behalf. Many say their sins and limitations are too great for God to use them. But a God of boundless grace really does use the broken. He uses broken people to share his light. I remember reading this passage in a cardiac ICU. Paul told the church in Corinth
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.We are the broken vessels, the cracked-pots who God will use. We are the one's He chooses to bring His light to the world. Over and over we see that powerful witnesses to God's work have some of the greatest cracks. Saints with deep flaws and scars are the ones that God really uses to let His light shine in the world. John the Baptist came calling people to turn away from their sin and be baptized. The Risen Christ takes us from that first moment washed and claimed and puts his light in us to shine through the cracks for the good of the world. AMEN.
7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corithinians 4:6-12 NRSV.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Jesus had a great way of teaching us the real truth about himself and ourselves as human beings: telling stories. Stories can tell us a whole lot about who we are and what we do sometimes even more clearly than just giving us a rule to follow.
In Matthew Jesus had been speaking with his friends about forgiveness. He told them that they had power in the church to set people free, to let them lose from their chains to sin, he even told them this power wasn't just about things on earth Matthew 18:18. Those released here are free in the eyes of heaven. The stakes are so very very high. What we do here matters not only here and now.
Forgiveness doesn't always seem like an eternal matter. Sometimes forgiveness looks just like a very practical business. Maybe that's the reason why Jesus' friend Peter came to him with a very practical question about forgiveness:
“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Matthew 18:21 NRSV.Jesus' friend wondered out loud about forgiveness. We might be tempted to ask the same question. Maybe you think the number depends. Maybe for little things a person could forgive somebody again. But some actions, some crimes, are so outrageous in that you believe they can't be forgiven. Peter seemed to be stretching for a big number when he asked Jesus if forgiving someone seven times was enough. Jesus said a number that's been translated either as 77 times or 490 times in Matthew 18:22. Peter thought forgiving 7 times was generous. Jesus asked him to stretch even more.
Jesus told his friends a story about a king and a servant in Matthew 18:23-35. The servant owed the king a lot of money. It was more than he could reasonably earn in 3000 life times. Pay me said the king. The servant begged for mercy and the king was merciful. He forgave the whole debt.
The story turned when the forgiven man tried to have his debt's repaid. He found a fellow servant who owed him a month's worth of wages. He heard the man's pleadings for mercy. They probably sounded a whole lot like his own begging. But he didn't show mercy like he'd been shown by his master. The forgiven man called the authorities and had him thrown him in jail until he could pay.
News like this travels fast. It reached the ears of the king. He had the servant who wouldn't forgive another tossed in jail. Jesus warned us not to remove the splinter from our neighbors eye without first dealing with the log in our own. Which standard do you wish God to judge you with; the one that you use to measure others, or the one God has set through the cross and rising of Jesus.
A lot of people prayed 10 years ago that there would be peace on earth in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United State. A lot of people asked God out loud about justice and righteousness as the seeds of violence and destruction were thrown about the earth.
The enemy wants us to forget about peace and justice, forgiveness and renewal. God's kingdom grows as we remember that we are both citizens of eartlbound nations and citizens of God's kingdom. Trust in God, not evil, trust in God's mercy, not vengeance. It takes is the faith of a little seed, hope in Christ, to have a reason gh to keep planting even when the enemy is working hard against you and God. Even when days are tough and grief is too real to ignore it's planting time for God's Word.
Every person has reason to forgive; but not every one with reason to forgive has let go of the hurt and let God handle it. Forgiveness happens after we name the hurt and turn the problem over to God and to the proper authorities. Forgiveness happens but it doesn't mean that we'll ever forget.
God has forgiven you; he's planting the seed in your life. Let it take root and flourish. In Christ you are forgiven by God. Remember that forgiveness is meant to change both one who forgives and one who is forgiven. You stand here today forgiven through Christ's blood shed on a cross of everything. The seed is in your hands. AMEN
Thursday, August 25, 2011
You belong: in line behind Jesus
Jesus had a destiny 2000 years ago: the cross, suffering, and death and only after all that resurrection to new life. This side of His resurrection we understand in faith all this had to happen and did as part of God's saving plan.
Jesus' friend Peter didn't see it the same way before the cross and resurrection. Peter believed, even before the resurrection that Jesus was cristo" ouio" tou` qeou` tou` zwnto" the Christ/Messiah the son of God the living Matthew 16:16. Jesus said Peter was blessed to have such faith that came from the Father. And just a few breaths later Jesus challenge Peter's faith. Jesus was talking about His cross and that meant suffering and death. Peter wanted Jesus to stop speaking another word of it (Matthew 16:22). Jesus wanted Peter to get in line. He called Peter out with an unexpected intensity saying he was a stumbling block with his mind set on human things rather than God's plans Matthew 16:23.
Jesus strong reaction stuns us 2000 years later. Jesus' words (Matthew 16:24-26) about the cross that was coming for him and the crosses coming for us shake any pleasant understandings of God and His loving plans for us today. Jesus called Peter and now us to get behind him. We aren't going to tell God how or who to save. Instead we are to get behind God and find a new order in our lives in which God is first and our neighbors rank just as high up as ourselves. Get in line as you live in to the kingdom of God.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 8/25/2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
After hearing Peter's confession of faith Jesus announced a bold decision. Jesus planned to build His church on him, on Peter and his confession of faith Matthew 16:18-19. Be clear about who is doing what here: Jesus has decided to build a church. And He told Peter the plan saying plainly, “...you are the rock and upon you I will build my church...” Matthew 16:18
Make no mistake about it; Peter was a big part of Jesus' plan for the church. But Peter wasn't the only one who Jesus would choose. Peter was one key stone among countless others he would call. Sometimes we'll want to emphasize the keystone people of our faith believing them to be extra-ordinary people. But the truth comes clear, considering Peter, that God was at work through flawed people to build up the church.
Read in the Gospels and you will see Peter boldly confess Jesus (Matthew 16:15) and pledge the night before his death to stick with Jesus (Matthew 26:33-35). Peter sure sounded like a rock. But Jesus knew otherwise. He predicted rightly in the very same night that Peter would deny him. Peter wept when he realized what he had done in the high priests courtyard denying he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75).
Jesus chose Peter and after the resurrection angles told the women at the tomb to seek out Jesus disciples and Peter to tell them him to go and meet Jesus in Galilee Mark 16:7. Jesus was still planning on Peter to be a keystone of his church; but Peter was humbled and came face to face with Jesus who he had denied after the resurrection John 21:15-19.
The key components of Jesus' plan for building the church have never been stone, wood, or metal. They are people: but not any people. They are people of faith and as a prime example Jesus chose Peter as his stone. Faith doesn't remove either human frailty or doubt. Faith doesn't mean we won't stumble and fall away, perhaps very far away, from God. Jesus chose Peter not because of who Peter especially was but because of what God the Father had done and would do in him.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 8/18/2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Using the Crossings method
Initial Diagnosis: our external problem – with one another
Initially it's tempting to think that this story is only about a woman who needs help caring for her sick daughter. But we soon realize she has other hurts and broken dimensions in her life. If we are reflective at all we see that her problems, much like ours, are far bigger and more complicated than we admit. Jesus friends, and people today looking to get out of a hurting persons way, can find seemily reasonable excuses not to get involved. The disciple had reasons well understood in their time and place to ignore her: she was 1) a woman approaching a man and 2) she was not an Israelite.
Advanced Diagnosis: our internal problem – with Christ
What would a hurting person do? turn to God. But Jesus friends and even Jesus seems to reject her pleas. Churches and institutions meant to help can often turn away the hurting. The more complicated the hurt and the circumstances of the person's life the more clear the need for God's actions. Jesus response to her plea, “God sent me only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) The plea only confirms her desperation. She is truly among the lost of the world; but she doesn't even qualify for the initial work of the shepherd.
Final Diagnosis: our eternal problem – with God
Just like this woman we come to God with nothing to offer to God and in truth needing everything. This woman sought out help and at first all hope seemed lost. She begged for help. But Jesus recognized her unworthiness. “It's not right to take the children's bread and give it to the dogs.” Matthew 15:26. She didn't hide her need, she stood on no formality or attitude of entitlement. She stood before Jesus in faith that He was capable of revealing something of God's good and gracious will in the world.
Initial Prognosis: God's eternal solution – for us
the woman responded to Jesus standing on nothing besides faith. Jim Boyce wrote wisely
This woman is not to be put off, and against all the signs of apparent hopelessness, doggedly stands her ground, persistently seeking the Lord's help, even if it is only to be in those meager crumbs that might fall from the "master's" table. And in the wonderful surprise that is the miracle of faith, she meets the gracious healing power of God's Messiah.This is faith. Standing before God even when the disciples want you to go away. This is faith hoping in the face of opposing circumstances that God can and will transform this situation
Advanced Prognosis: God's internal solution – in us
the Holy Spirit working Faith in this woman was God's response, God's gift for her. To often we view faith as an extension of our will. But Luther argues otherwise
no man can be thoroughly humbled until he knows that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, devices, endeavors, will, and works, and depends entirely on the choice, will, and work of another, namely, of God alone. For as long as he is persuaded that he himself can do even the least thing toward his salvation, he retains some self-confidence and does not altogether despair of himself, and therefore he is not humbled before God, but presumes that there is—or at least hopes or desires that there may be—some place, time, and work for him, by which he may at length attain to salvation. But when a man has no doubt that everything depends on the will of God, then he completely despairs of himself and chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work; 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 62.Final Prognosis: God's external solution – through one another
Faith in this world is not lived out alone. Sometimes it's lived out in community and sometimes its lived out even when the community stands against it. Luther wrote of faith
faith has to do with things not seen [Heb. 11:1]. Hence in order that there may be room for faith, it is necessary that everything which is believed should be hidden. It cannot, however, be more deeply hidden than under an object, perception, or experience which is contrary to it. Thus when God makes alive he does it by killing, when he justifies he does it by making men guilty, when he exalts to heaven he does it by bringing down to hell, as Scripture says: “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (I Sam. 2[:6]) 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 62.As we stand before God let it be in faith just as this woman stood. No person of faith can claim a special position of entitlement or honor because of what we've done. We claim only one thing: confidence that God can do amazing things. Let us be bold witnesses to the breadth and depth of God's mercy. AMEN
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 8/11/2011
Monday, August 1, 2011
Jesus walked on water. I've seen a bunch of kids try to make it look like were. Years ago at a scout camp on a beautiful lake kids would walk out on some old pilings that lay just below the surface in one of the bays. It was a great picture to get of kids out in the lake, "walking on the water."
This was no mere trick for Jesus. There were no pilings. Indeed he was just crossing the lake when he met his friends.
Jesus sent his friends out onto the water. He sends us out onto the sea. We do not know what's next. Neither did the 12 when they went out on the water. Jesus sent them out together. He sends us out together in the church. We aren't to go into the world alone. He sends us out with brothers and sisters. He sends us out as part of a greater body. You are out there, just like Peter and Jesus' other friends were out on the water in the middle of Lake Galilee. It was late that night. Matthew wrote,
By this time the boat was a long way from the shore. It was going against the wind and was being tossed around by the waves. Matthew 13:24
There's a lot of wind and lot of waves today. There's a lot of uncertainty. The fear's real; and the kingdom of God is just as real. They were scared. Jesus called to them in their fear, "It's me" Peter called out to him. "If it's you let me come out to you."
Jesus walked on water. He healed the sick. He fed thousands. And still they weren't shure who he was. Peter asked to go out. Fear is real. Doubt is real. The Devil wants fear to be the most real thing we know so that we'll sit paralyzed. The Good News is that Resurrection and are just as real. Jesus' transforming love is real and complete.
At once, Jesus said to them, "Don't worry! I am Jesus. Don't be afraid." Peter replied, "Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water." "Come on!" Jesus said. Peter then got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward him. Matthew 14:27-29
Stepping out in faith is risky. Jesus called “Come on Pete.” Step out of the boat and live with your faith in action. But when Peter saw how strong the wind was, he was afraid and started sinking.
"Save me, Lord!" he shouted. Right away, Jesus reached out his hand. He helped Peter up and said, "You surely don't have much faith. Why do you doubt?" When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind died down. The men in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, "You really are the Son of God!" Matthew 14:31-33
Maybe you think you aren't ready. Or maybe you just have to be ready whether you think its the right time or not; because God is ready to meet you out there on the water.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 8/01/2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Jesus came on purpose. He came to be the light and to shine into our lives and to be reflected by us into every corner and every hurting place.
Do you ever wonder what God sees as we come towards him.
Does God see the great things you've done?
Does God see the plaques that hang on your walls or the medals you won in 7th grade.
Does God see the hurts you bear and the hurts others bear on your account?
Do you ever wonder what God sees when we come to him? Jesus saw this crowd and in his own pain he met them with compassion. They were hurting at John's death just as he was. Jesus touched the sick and healed them. They came from all over. They came because they knew that Jesus was the one person on the face of the earth who could make things different. Sometimes we can be cruel or harsh with one another. Sometimes we deserve no less from God than anger.
In Jesus today we see that he has compassion for those who seek him out. Come as you are in your sins, and shames. Come to God and open up to him about your failures and your sicknesses of all kinds. Jesus had compassion for those who came to him 2000 years ago by the lake in Galilee and that compassion is still real for all of us today.
Grieving people don't always think about what's coming next. There are times in human grief when we loose track of time and forget to even take care of our own most basic needs. And this crowd who came to Jesus with grief about John's death fresh in their minds weren't thinking about themselves like we might think they should have been. It was getting late in the day and Jesus' friends started to think about feeding this great crowd.
They came to Jesus worried. Jesus we are so far away from anyplace. The nearest town was a couple miles away and the sun would be down soon. Jesus please send them all away so that they can go and buy some food for themselves in the villages.
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:15-16The people came looking for the light of God; they weren't worried about what they would eat that day. They were in shock and grief. And in his compassion Jesus met them. He saw what they had and what they needed. And that night he looked at the great crowd and he responded to them with compassion.
The disciples didn't like the situation at all. The were nervous even anxious and uncertain. They turned to Jesus and said, “All we've got are 5 loaves and two fish.” This is it. This paltry little meal is all that they had. Jesus said, "bring them to me."
We have moments in our lives as believers like these first disciples had. We have moments when there's no human solution. We have moments when we see only one way out of our messes and God sees limitless possible ways to move ahead. Sometimes its these moments when sin creeps in again and we start to hoard the blessings God has placed into our lives. Sometimes its these moments of fear and scarcity when instead of opening up our hands in order that we might bless others that we hold onto what we have.
As we look at our worlds economic troubles today part of the solution will be found in opening up our hands. It's time to start giving away from our blessings. Its time to invest what we have into new ventures and give away to the neediest that we might may be used for good. God has blessed us to be a blessing to others.
The question here isn't how much have you got. It's how much can God do with whatever you offer either him or to your neighbors.
Jesus took the 5 loaves of bread and the two pieces fish and he looked up to heaven. He gave thanks for them most likely saying an ancient Hebrew blessing
This prayer is traditionally recited over two loaves of bread or challah:Then he gave them to the disciples and said start passing this out to the people. And they kept on passing and kept on passing. And everyone ate and every one had their fill.
בָּרוּך אַתָּה אַדָנָי אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם הָמ וֹציא לֶחם מן הַארץ
Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam,hamotzee lehem min ha'aretz.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the unvierse, Who creates bread from the earth.
There are times when we see what we have and we see that it is more that we deserve. We see what we have and we realize that if we open up our hands we can be blessed and blessed again by giving. God's abundant blessings are real in our world. Open up your hands to God and to your neighbors. Open up your hands that you might be blessed and be a blessings.
For God all things are possible and no obstacle is insurmountable. AMEN.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 7/27/2011
How much of God's activity does it take to change the world?
Jesus in Matthew seems to be arguing that it takes just a little bit from God to start the kingdom breaking into our place and time.
In Matthew 13:31-32 Jesus compared God's Kingdom to a tiny mustard seed. Jesus said that God works just like a mustard seed. God starts small and grows. God's kingdom is at work in often tiny ways. Every year I meet with each seventh grader and a parent one to one right before we start confirmation. And every year I pass each of the students and each of the parents a mustard seed to hep them understand again the promises that God has made to work in their lives and in our world.
A verse later Matthew 13:33 Jesus says a little bit of yeast is like the kingdom. It's the leaven of the yeast that transforms the dough from flour and water past into something completely different.
It only takes a little of God's activity at the start and suddenly everything is transformed. We look sometimes for great things and sometimes God will do what seems to us like just a little, and that little we will find out in the end was the beginning of something great.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 7/27/2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Jesus chose stories to teach and some, like NT Wright, argue we should to. Why? Because Jesus seemed to know that he could make his point through stories better sometimes than through lectures.
Jesus spoke in this story of wheat and weed in Matthew 12:24-30 and then he explained the story in Matthew 13:36-43. Jesus spoke of a landowner who had a wheat field seeded. In our day farmers go out with planters as big as 36 rows across. But in Jesus day there were no planters, no big red or green tractors, the way it sounds from this this story there probably weren't even any rows to make for easy cultivation. In Jesus day an acre of ground was the space one oxen driven plow could reasonably work in a whole day. In Jesus day there were people with seed, hand tools, and animal powered implements working the land. The land owner would have collected some of his past years grain for seed or bought some from another farmer and that seed was most likely just tossed up into the air and scattered over the ground.
In our world we might say God works just this way. He give generously. He gives to the just and to the unjust. He gives to the faithful and to the unfaithful. And even more interesting still are all the different ways that God has of scattering believers and the gifts of faith, hope, and charity all over the world.
Consider how the seed We aren't the only Christians who will hear these words this weekend and consider what they mean. God has a way of planting his people in the world. We aren't meant to live anyplace else. a only to have any enemy come behind and throw weed seed out among the wheat. The man's servants came to him with the news of the weeds in the wheat and asked what to do.
Weeds obnoxious or noxious, you can call them what ever you want to: weeds.
There are weed's in my front yard—my. When my neighbor sprayed for the first tiem in 20 years some of the spray came over into our yard and now we can see what the grass looks like without the crabgrass and the clover. There are weeds in the perenials. Weeds in the garden. Creeping Charley and Creeping Jenny, crabgrass and dandy lions.
Weeds are part of our lives and we can try to get rid of them; but we can't. We can try to battle against them but as one lady was told by her lawn service, if you stop the creeping plants that your neighbor has will be in your yard in no time.
Weeds. Jesus spoke of an enemy scattering weeds. God's enemy is the devil. And Jesus says in this story that the enemy will scatter weeds all over. And what's the best thing to do. Is it best to just start over. Is it best to just to round up everything.
Jesus isn't talking about weeds in a a bean field or yard--Jesus is talking about our lives as people of faith living with weeds. Living with challenges that the enemy will put in our way. There's a temptation in us as human beings to try and get rid of all the weeds and all the imperfect people. There's a temptation a little like the feeling you get when you have a sliver in your thumb. You want to dig it out, just that little sliver might drive you crazy because it's under your skin, but do you reach for a huge knife to dig it out.
God says to wait and live with the weeds. Wait and live with them now knowing that you can grow and provide a great and glorious harvest in your life for God's sake.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 7/12/2011
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Good Afternoon, after a week off for Bible School and Vacation it seems like a good thing to look at scipture
Jesus, who are you talking to? Might sound like a funny question until considering the mixed crowd who came to see Him.
People have different reasons to seek Jesus out:
- real disciples want to walk close with him
- crowds come for deeds of power: healings and miracles
- others come looking to dispute with Jesus.
In the middle of Matthew we see these different groups take shape. In Matthew 10
Jesus called his twelve followers together and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and sickness. Matthew 10:1-2 CEV.With His friends headed out to preach and heal Jesus turned to the crowds and spoke to them (in Matthew 11). His words to the crowd were both promises of blessing and deeply perplexing. The disciples returned to Jesus (in Matthew 12)and as he taught many became angry because he dared to eat and heal on the Sabbath. Jesus sought to get away but the crowds found him together with his friends sitting by the lakeshore (in Matthew 13).
Imagine the scene: a sloping beach with a few boats nearby. The crowd who came to see Jesus was so big he put out a little way into the lake in a boat to speak to them. The air and lake most likely were calm, the water almost like glass as Jesus spoke to them,
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, tthey withered away. Other seeds fell among uthorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:4-9 ESV)Sure Jesus says let any with ear hear this word but some in the crowd were confused. Maybe they came to see acts of power and instead Jesus told them stories about a farmer spreading seed. His disciples asked him why he taught in stories. Their teacher responded,
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (Matthew 13:11 ESV)These words bother me and they really should: as a sinner I want Jesus to work as I would have Him work. I want His Word to be accepted by all very easily. And here Jesus speaks so boldly of the challenges we offer to God. Jesus tells out loud what it's like when God's Word enters into our lives.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and munderstands it. He indeed ubears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”Jesus doesn't say everything is well with us in our current condition; quite the opposite. He's naming what happens when God's Word enters our lives. God might call us to great things; but he might also call us to leave aside the easy path, the rocky soil, and the thorns in our lives in order that we might flourish for His glory. God can do great things.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 7/05/2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Matthew's Gospel tells that Jesus, the morning He rose from the dead, asked the women who came to his tomb to go find His friends. They were both to announce the Good News to them, that Jesus had risen from the dead, and invite them meet the Risen One in Galilee.
Jesus met them on a mountaintop. Some saw him and worshipped him recognizing Jesus and other's who'd been with him didn't recognize him at all. And Jesus spoke, both to those who recognized him at first sight and those who didn't, giving them all words of promise,
“All power in heaven and on earth is given to me.and words of direction
So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you,He ended his word's with a final word of promise
and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.” Matthew 28:18-20 CEV.We are directed by Jesus into the world. We could debate endlessly how to best go and make disciples and just who ought to be going. Some say only pastors need to go. Other's say everyone ought to go. I'd argue that the calling isn't just for pastors; but not everyone is gifted to go and speak with strangers about Jesus. Instead Jesus calls us through our gifts and passions to share His Light in the world. Think about the word, "teach" for a moment. Jesus says to teach, and often the best teachers don't teach with words but by example.
To understand Jesus instruction to go into the world it's helpful to think of the church not on Sunday but on Monday morning when the church is at work in schools, hospitals, tractor cabs, on the product floor, in offices, and in many more places than any one on earth can count. The people who make up the church bring the Light of Christ into the world in their lives both by what they do and by what they say.
Jesus spoke of himself as “the light” but he also spoke of the light that believers carry saying, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.” Consider this light that Jesus spoke of as an analogy for the life and joy of Christians who follow their Savior. Remember Christ said, “I am the light of the world, who ever follows me will have the light of life.” The Light chooses us and might very well choose to shine through us.
This Sunday as we gather for worship I want to celebrate the light of Christ and I also celebrate those who bring it into the world. I give thanks for the invisible church, the one that’s made up of the believers who have been redeemed by Christ’s blood who carry that light (that joy found in following the Lord) with them. In a world of darkness Christ's Light shines. Some will run from the Light to hide their deeds. But others will come and embrace the Light turning away from their sins. It’s such a joy to see God at work in people’s lives so clearly that others can see the joy and the light of Christ in them. Thanks be to God.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 6/15/2011
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Come Holy Spirit--
After Jesus rose some of his friends, Peter among them, went back to what they knew best--fishing. Part of the reason may have been that they needed something to do while they were waiting for God to act next. Fishing was what they knew. It was their livelyhood before Jesus called them to follow. After watching Jesus rise they were back on the lake in the boats with the nets in their hands. Jesus promised to be with them, but I don't know, looking at John 21 and acts 1 if they knew exactly how God would come and be with them.
We pray "Come Holy Spirit" for lots of good reasons. The mystery of that prayer is that we aren't always sure what God will do as he comes into our lives when we invite the Holy Spirit in to be our counselor and guide.
Peter left his nets again and Pentecost was a key turning point for him and Jesus other followers. Reading Acts 2 we see Peter as a bold witness to Christ in Jerusalem and reading on we see his ministry include Judea and beyond. Others thought the disciples were drunken as the Spirit entered into them. But it wasn't wine: it was God at work in a surprising way. It was God breaking in and all people hearing the Good News in their own language even though there were people of many nations there in Jerusalem. When we pray come Holy Spirit we invite God in to work not as we expect: but as God needs. This Pentecost pray Come Holy Spirit and be ready to be surprised by what God does.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 6/09/2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Luke and Acts together tell the story of Jesus' followers becoming the church. The key moment when one act ends and another act is happens in Acts 1:1-11 Luke 24:44-53. The risen Jesus gathered together with his friends. He gave them instructions and then lifted up his hands to bless them. And as Jesus blessed them His Body was take up into Heaven. As Jesus rose the disciples looked up towards heaven most likely with their eyes and mouths wide open. And just then two men in white robes asked one of the funniest questions in the New Testament,
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was takenThe next act in the drama starts as Jesus followers figure out what do next in Acts 1:12-28:31.
up from you into heaven, come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Acts 1:11 ESV
The story sure changes in focus from Easter to the beginning of the church but we should ponder: Does Easter end?
A few years ago the poet Herb Brokering answered this question in the hymn Alleluia! Jesus is Risen with these words "City of God, Easter forever, golden Jerusalem, Jesus the Lamb." Seamlessly Brokering connects Jesus rising with the promised New Jerusalem foretold at the end of Revelation.
If Brokering is right Easter doesn't end. It's only just begun and we will see it come to fullness in the day when Jesus the Lamb sits enthroned in the new city. Funny thing is that many churches, but by no means all are about to come to the end of the "Easter Season." To be faithful to scripture our entire church year from the seasons of Advent to the time after Pentecost must all be about Easter.
In my own case my religious and even biblical imagination is shaped by these human created seasons of the church year. Reading the story of Jesus rising every year and mixing in accounts of his post resurrection appearances can really shape our understanding of Jesus story. But the best news of all is that Easter has no end and that we can retell the story at any time of year.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 5/31/2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Right before his death Jesus made a promise to his friends.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18 NIVJesus words mattered for his first followers and they matter for us today. If God wanted to hide from humanity no one on earth would ever find him.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— John
We humans have limits. Go Monday in the United States on Memorial Day to a cemetery and you'll see the flowers, wreaths and flags left in remembrance. One nation will remember those who have served. Families will remember those who have given of their lives for others. Humans can remember and give thanks knowing both the value and the fragility of human life. But God can meet us beyond death. God can promise and keep a promise to never leave us orphaned both on this earth and in the life to come. For that I give thanks.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 5/24/2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?1
He promised them a place in the home of his Father. There's a human tendency to think of this promise in earthly, human terms of home and property. Some even imagine our place as a "mansion" inside of the Father's house (in the KJV translation). But Jesus is promising believers more than a physical place in the home of God the Father. Jesus gave his friends a promise that they would have a place in God's household. So consider Jesus promise, the home our Lord speaks of is not just a place to go, rather he is speaking of being at home as a part of God's household or family. Life in the Body of Christ on earth is a foretaste of something greater. Believers begin to experience the family of God in this life; but there's so much more to come. Luther wrote
...when we consider what is held in store for us and what prospects we face, then we should be joyous and rather pity the poor, wretched world. For what if the world now treads us underfoot and most grievously torments and plagues us? We cannot lose. Whatever we lose is merely the sack that hangs around our neck.2
Jesus is promising believers a place in His Father's House. The question for today is how to best live here on this earth in our time when believers know that God has planned a place within his own home for all who believe. Martin Luther wrote...
For once a Christian begins to know Christ as his Lord and Savior, through whom he is redeemed from death and brought into His dominion and inheritance, God completely permeates his heart. Now he is eager to help everyone acquire the same benefits. For his greatest delight is in this treasure, the knowledge of Christ. 3
May the hope of new life permeate the church. May all who belief in Christ be eager to share the Good News with others. AMEN
1The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version, ( Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 14:1-2.
2Martin Luther, vol. 24, Luther's Works, Vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1961), Jn 14:5.
3Martin Luther, vol. 24, Luther's Works, Vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1961), Jn 14:15.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 5/17/2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
I've sometimes called the First Sunday after Easter Thomas Sunday. We read the gospel story (John 20:19-31) that talks about his unbelief and belief in Jesus resurrection afterall.
I'd like to call it something else this year. Why?
Because Thomas isn't really the subject of the story: this story is all about the risen Jesus. Some years I read this story and think it's all about Thomas. Afterall Thomas is a guy I can relate to again and again. So maybe I'm making it all about Thomas so that it can really be all about me. Thomas is a guy I can see my own faith in or, in some years, my own lack of faith.
This year as I read the story in John 20:19-31 I see most clearly that Thomas isn't the subject of the story at all. Please don't get me wrong, Thomas isn't insignificant, but looking at the story this year it becomes clear that the risen Jesus, and what he is doing, is more important than what Thomas believes or doesn't believe.
Jesus made 2 appearances to his friends in a locked room. He came to His friends first on Easter evening when Thomas wasn't with them. He showed them by his presence that he was very much alive and he breathed on them saying recieve the Holy Spirit and the authority to pronounce forgiveness. That week Thomas heard the news that Jesus was risen from the other apostles, but he said he wouldn't believe until he saw Jesus and touched him for himself. Jesus came again and Thomas was there declaring Jesus to be his Lord.
Some years I call this Thomas Sunday, but this year I'm looking for a new name: Do you have any suggestions?
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The night before he was betrayed something big was happening in Jesus life. Jesus and his friends gathered for a last and final meal. He knew what was coming: betrayal. But He didn't run or seek to make a bargain to save His own skin. He joined with his friends for supper. His friends didn't know it was the last one. When He told his friends what was about to happen not a one of them understood him. They simply couldn't understand what he was saying or doing that night; not yet anyways.
Even before they ate Jesus started reversing the order of things for His friends. They looked up to him as teacher and leader. And Jesus said he was there to serve. They were ready, that night as Peter said, to follow him all the way to death if necessary. That night they believed in Jesus he was ready to be prophet, priest, and king. It might even be argued that even the one who betrayed him believed in him and thought he was helping the cause along by hand him over so that the world would finally see hims authority and power. Jesus came to reverse everything. Yes he came to be the greatest prophet who knew the heart of every person he spoke to. Yes he came to be the great high priest who would enter the temple once and for all offering himself as the final sacrifice. Yes he came to be Christ the king; but His kingdom is not of this earth. Jesus came to be prophet, priest, and king and suffering servant. And Jesus told them if they want to honor him they have to serve just like he was about to serve them.
The Gospel of John says Jesus took off his outer robe and gathered together a towel and a bowl.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” John 13:5-7 NRSVPeter protested. Jesus insisted. Peter said then wash my face and hands too. No Jesus replied. Those parts don't need to be cleaned; only your feet. Jesus was reversing everything not denying his power and honor but setting it aside that we might glimpse the reality of his coming kingdom.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 4/20/2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
We're getting closer to death and to Easter both in our lives and in time this year as the days on the calendar tick by like clockwork. Easter is coming; but before God's full is revealed in the greatest day after we sink down into the worst days. Temptation, sin, isolation, disability, and death creep up on us in life. This year the scripture readings for Lent have lead us deeper into suffering. In this week's gospel we meet grief head on. Lazarus was dead. Martha and Mary wept along with their friends and neighbors. Even Jesus came and wept along side of them near the tomb. But lets not be stuck here at the tomb. Dan Wheeler says, “The tomb isn't the point of this story.” The tomb was there, but it wasn't the goal. The tomb in Lazarus' story, in Jesus' story, and the story of every Christian who believes in Jesus' resurrection is only a point along the way to the fullest revelation of God's glory.
In our Gospel lesson we hear this story of a deep grief in Jesus' life. Two sisters, in a family Jesus cared about mourned after their brother's death. Martha and Mary knew hope in their friend Jesus but they knew many reasons to weep in their brother's death. Jesus came and wept with them because their grief and his grief over Lazarus' death was so very real. We can be tempted to spiritualize Lazarus' story, and that's good to a point, if it helps us see Christ's power to overcome problems that seem to great for us here and now. But don't forget the end of this story and the point of the Gospel. Jesus came to overcome death and not just today's problems. Fred Craddock writes wisely,
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are not simply props for a spiritual story. They are real people trapped in death and grief, and Jesus brings comfort and life. Jesus was a real human being ministering among the suffering. But John wants us to understand that God’s blessing did not come solely to certain people who happened to be in that place at that time.1
As you read keep your eyes on the way the story ends. New life in Christ triumphs over death. Death and suffering are real parts of the Christian experience as much as they are parts of the human experience. The difference is that Christians suffer and grieve in hope. Martin Luther wrote of the people gathered around Lazarus' sisters,
...they were earthly, so that they were unable to refrain from weeping and the people had come to them to console them because of the death of their brother, as the evangelist describes so skilfully. From this we learn that they were all in unbelief and sin. And then we see how kindly the Lord deals with them, praying and weeping with them, and all this at the behest of his Father. This is the true guidebook, from which we learn the will of the eternal Father.2
Perhaps we have forgotten the humanity of the people we think are holy and always saintly. Perhaps we feel fear in telling God the truth as we There are so many unanswered questions about the people in this story and how their place in this story is connected to other stories in the gospels. There are so many rabbit trails to follow along the way–
What kind of family was this? Where were the parents? How old was Lazarus?
Are these the same Martha and Mary who squabbled and fought once when Jesus came to visit?
What about Mary who had anointed Jesus feet with oil and wiped them with her hair--Why do so many speak her terrible reputation?These and other rabbit trails might yield some information about Jesus, his friends and their humanity. Perhaps we need to see who we, and all who follow Christ really are. Martin Luther explains,
That’s why I should like sermons about the saints to be more moderate in the sense that we would also tell how they fell, in accord with the gospel, not the books of rhetoric. For there can be no doubt that they too tripped and stumbled over great humps. They were of one flesh with us, one faith, one baptism, one blood. But we have now set them so high above us that we must despair of imitating them.3
The message here is Christ who has power over death not that we need to be just like the most perfect saint. We follow in the footsteps not only of Jesus as we walk past the graves of this world. We walk in the footsteps of sinners who God has made saints through the gift of faith.
1 Fred Cradock A Twofold Death and Resurrection (Jn. 11:25-26) Christian Century, March 21-28, p. 299 hosted online at www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=7102 Martin Luther, vol. 51, Luther's Works, Vol. 51 : Sermons I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1959), Vol. 51, Page 48. 3 Ibid. Page 48-49.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 4/06/2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
At every baptism we retell some of Jesus words about light as we hand the sponsors of the newly baptized a candle. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Heavenly Father.” or “Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.”
Jesus healed a man blind since birth. He told the man, “ I am the light of the world.” Everyone around him knew who the man born was and what disabilities he had. The moment he could see things started changing both for him and other people around him. Many, even Jesus disciples, thought this man's blindness was a punishment. Jesus' friends asked,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:2 NRSV
We look at the world as it is through human lenses. We look for justice and injustice when we see sickness and disease, ability and disability. We look for a sin and we ask out loud sometimes in the face of great tragedy, “Why God?” or “Who sinned?” Jesus friends were asking and Jesus answered them in a way they didn't expect.
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” John 9:3 NRSV
God's work and glory are revealed in redemption even in situations we consider hopeless. We have ideas about how the world works; and God has plans and ways all His own involving a cross, grave, and resurrection. The promise of new life begins here with redemption in this world and continues in the hope that all who died with faith in Jesus Christ will rise. We might say that we believe in justice. But when we meet Jesus we are meeting a redeeming God who died for us and our world. He is the one who died and rose claiming the power to redeem both here and now and in the life to come. The kingdom of God started as Jesus healed the broken and brought light and truth into human darkness. It will continue through the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus is working on a kingdom. He's building a kingdom out of flesh and blood redeemed people. It's a kingdom that's already here but isn't ours to control. God's building one soul at a time. We keep hoping for the day when we dwell in it completely. Pat Keifert wrote of God’s kingdom saying, “It is at hand, as close as the air we breathe the moment before in enters our bodies. In fact it is so close that it governs us, but it is not fully in hand.”1 The kingdom of God was at hand when Jesus spat in the dust, put the mud on the eyes of the man who couldn't see. The kingdom of God was at hand when he washed the mud from his eyes and saw for the first time in his life.
People around Jesus wanted to control the power of God revealed in the person of Jesus. They wanted Jesus to follow the law as they understood it; but God’s not ours to control. The Redeemer comes to shine in our lives revealing all our shame and showing us who we are now in the light of Christ.
1Patrick Keifert with Patricia Taylor Ellison, Talking about our Faith (Church Innovations, St Paul, MN 1997) Page 10
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 3/29/2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 3/14/2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
There's was an ongoing battle, that is told of in our scripture readings. It's was a battle featuring Eve and Adam verses Satan in our first reading and Jesus and the very same old opponent, Satan, in our Gospel reading. Some say these were two different fights. I wonder looking at these readings and listening to Paul talk to the Romans if it wasn't really just the same fight that continued on generations later featuring a new opponent who was a new kind of Adam taking on the same old enemy.
So who will finally win this battle?
Satan, the tempter, was absolutely certain that he'd won the fight in the very first round. And he believed, sizing up Jesus in the wilderness, that he had a good chance to win completely. All the Evil One would have had to do to in order to win was tempt Jesus away from God the Father. It might have looked easy to Satan. Just tempt Jesus as he had tempted Eve and Adam away generations before and he would win.
I shouldn't get ahead here. Let's start with the first round of the fight in the Garden. The Devil has a habit of picking some of the most beautiful places to try and bring corruption. He knows how to use temptation to get us to do his destructive work in the world. The Evil One, our true enemy, has no power to create; but he does have power to corrupt and he does have the ability to invite other creatures to corrupt good things that God has made.
Think of Eden for a moment. God created a very good place for Adam and Eve to dwell. There's one key thing to remember about Eden it wasn't, as Dennis Olson points out, static and unchanging. Eden wasn't made out of plastic or fabricated aluminum parts designed to stay in place permanently. Eden was wild and beautiful, it wasn't like a theme park. God created a real life garden. Eden was a living and changing with growing plants and animals. There were flowers blooming, critters running around who ate the plants, and trees that produced all kinds of fruit. And in the middle of the Garden God placed one tree that bore fruit and he told Adam and Eve to keep away from this one tree.
The Tempter came like a snake. He slithered in to the beautiful place where everything needful had been provided by God for Adam and Eve and he tempted them. Those 2 knew the breadth and depth of God's good and gracious will. Adam and Eve had it made; but there was one tree to keep away from; everything else was in bounds.
There's a temptation for each of us. Some of us are very simple and some of us are a little more complicated. But the tempter knows us each. He knows our vices. He knows our desires and the little lesser gods that we worship instead of worshiping the real God who made heaven and earth. There's a temptation for some who covet things to worship a part of creation rather than the God who made everything.
Satan is skilled. But the promise of resurrected life in Jesus is the you are never alone with him. Invite Jesus in when you face temptation. Invite God into the life of a hurting person who needs to be made whole. You need not walk alone. Jesus came that we might have abundant life. He came that the tempter would be defeated in all his plans and schemes. On the cross the devil thought Jesus was defeated; but on Easter Sunday the devil and all of us learned the truth. In Christ we are not defeated. In Christ we have new life and not death.
Desmond Tutu the Anglican Arch-Bishop who was the great spiritual leader in South Africa's struggle for freedom and equality after generations of oppression held fast to the promise of new life in Christ. He wrote of the hope we have even as we face evil in whichever place and whichever form we might meet it. “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.” In whatever situation you find yourself today hold fast to the promises of God who loves you. Invite him into whatever place of pain or temptation you face today or any day and know full well that you are never going to be alone.
Posted by John, an unlikely pastor at 3/10/2011