Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seeing the Light John 9:1-42

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. 

Pax, John

1Patrick Keifert with Patricia Taylor Ellison, Talking about our Faith (Church Innovations, St Paul, MN 1997) Page 10


Monday, March 14, 2011

story and promise John 3:1-17

I think of John 3:1-15 as the great back story that gets jumped over to get to one of the meatiest part of John 3: the promise of God's love revealed in John 3:16-17.

I say don't skip the story to get to John 3:16 because there's so much mystery in the story. A man named Nicodemus was looking for Jesus. The story gets more because mysterious Nicodemus came at night. Sue Whitt offers some reasons why Nicodemus might have chosen the night to meet Jesus. Maybe he chose night because he didn't understand. Or maybe he chose the night so as not to be seen coming to Jesus. We can guess all we want; but the story tells us no reason why he came looking for Jesus at night.

Nicodemus had questions. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of γεννηθη άνωθεν being born from above and of γεννηθη εξ υδατος και πνεύματος being born of water and the Spirit. Nicodemus was stunned. He was wondering about the signs that Jesus was doing. Jesus did know why. The thing is Jesus' answers were far beyond his capacity (or any person's simple human capacity) to understand. Jesus said plainly, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?" John 3:10 NRSV.

The hope for me in this text this week is that God's at work in ways we can't explain or understand. God's at work both in the people arround us and in each one of us. He is at work through water and the Spirit bringing people to new life. There's hope for anyone in Christ of new life. Jesus comes that we might let go of the old and start new lives in him.

Pax, John

p.s. I like what I've written about John 3:1-17 before much better. Lutheran Digest republished a post from me on John 3:1-17 in their Winter 2011 print edition (it's not online yet as of March 14, 2011 at lutherandigest.com yet but you can read it as as an old post.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the long battle Matthew 4:1-12

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.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ashes, faith, death and Life Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Faith is a matter of death and life not piety or public actions that appear faithful. It's more common to think about faith as a matter of life and death; but faith in Christ, the ashes on our heads will remind us, is about living while we are already good as dead and living again after our bodies have returned back to the dust. Gerhard Forde wrote of faith as a matter of death first and then life.

I was talking about being dust a little while ago with our 7 year old daughters. They joked with me when I said, "We are only dust and water mixed together." They reply, "We don't look like dust or act like dust." I looked at my hand and their's too, “But we were dust in the beginning when God made us and that's what our bodies we'll be again in the end.” We are dust and we will always be dust except for God's good and gracious will.

Faith is the gift that allows us, who are dust, to trust God totally and completely. Faith is trusting in the Father who already knows your needs before you ask him.

οιδεν γαρ ο πατηρ υμων ων χρείαν έχετε προ του υμας αιτη σαι αυτόν.Matthew Black, The Greek New Testament, (electronic ed. of the 3rd ed. (Corrected); Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1997, c1982), Matthew 6:8.

Ash Wednesday is a day for you and me, as dusty people, to see the new life we've been given in Jesus death and rising. We have faith and hope even in the ashes.

My favorite place in the sanctuary at church to sit with somebody going through a trial in life is next to the windows of the cross and resurrection. We live in that space between the cross and the day when we will fully experience the risen life with Christ. This Wednesday we remember what Jesus has done for each of us in our sin and ashes. Today we will have the Ashes on our heads as reminders that we are dust and that we are going to return to the dust. Ashes could be put on our heads any day of the year. The truth is the same, we are dust and to dust we shall return.

We will turn back to dust; except for the will of God that says we should go on. Tonight we know full well that every material thing that we invest time and money into is just dust; but tomorrow we might go and live like our lives and the things we do and the things we care about will go on forever. Tonight we know that we in our bodies are just dust; and tomorrow we might forget and search in vain for a way to stay young or rich or powerful even at the expense of others.

So many families have gathered in this sanctuary to say goodbye to someone they love. So many know the hard truth because they've bid a spouse, parent, friend, or child good-bye. We see the truth in coffins and urns in this sanctuary. We are dust.

One of my favorite Ash Wednesday memories is of putting ashes on the head of a wonderful man called Duke who was followed right afterward by a not quite year old child. Duke was one of the key characters in the kitchen on Wednesday nights at church. As a neighbor Duke is a good soul. I'd stop by to visit him and Bev while walking our dog. Duke would pass me a can of beer and insist that I sit down. If the girls and I were walking together they'd get an orange pop or grape soda to split. You could spot Duke pretty easy. Bald head, a huge smile, and a hearty laugh. He was and is full of life. And on Ash Wednesday every year Duke would walk up to me and pull his hand back over his bald head just like teenagers with big bangs and say, “Father John, don't mess up my hair.”

Ash Wednesday, some say, is supposed to be somber. But not with Duke. He would just smile holding his hand over his bald head waiting for me to start laughing. This Ash Wednesday let us remember what is truly in God's heart:
  • God meets us today in our mortality and loves us. He knows we are dust and loves us.
  • God meets us in our sin and in our imperfection as as each of us is and loves us totally. We can do nothing to earn God's love because his love for us is complete and total.
  • God meets us now, even if we aren't ready He is.
  • Jesus meets us in our sin and shame and the holes from the the nails that set us free are still there in his hands.
For all that I say thanks be to God. AMEN

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Transfiguration: it's not about me Matthew 17:1-9

I wonder reading Matthew 17:1-9 is the Transfiguration about Jesus or about me. My habit, as a sinner, is to make it and everything else about me. Rick Warren's greatest line, "It's not about you" still serves like a bell for me because it really isn't about me. God's different from me, and God's habit, as a redeemer of sinners, is to have it be about him but to give the benefits away. And because the transfiguration is about him but he gives the glory away sinners are made new. Because the one who is glorified will surrender his glory, dying and rising, we sinners (who are also saints only because we are believers) are the one's who are made new and better.

Peter thought for a flash that the transfiguration was about him. "It's good for us to be here." But it wasn't about him or the other disciples at all. It was about God the Father being pleased with his only begotten Son and wanting Peter and the others to listen to Jesus.

Peter and other sinners, by habit, think it's all about us: our wants and our needs are what matter. Jesus thinks differently. David Lose points to this as a call story. Looking again I see that there's something here that is fundamental to the nature of God calling sinners. God does it repeatedly. Jesus called for Peter to serve many times. I think God repeatedly calls us into service too.

We might rise to meet the call like Peter did. And just like Peter, after a time, maybe 6 days, maybe years, we fall away into sin, doubt, and denial of God's power. One of the true wonders of grace is that God calls again. We have fallen and come to God seeking to be made new and God has already extended the opportunity to us. God has redeemed us and made us ready even before we ask to serve for his glory.

The great news of Transfiguration is that God's glory is revealed in Jesus. The Good News is that we, and all believers, will be made new by the dying and rising of the one who God glorified at the Transfiguration.

Pax, John