Thursday, January 19, 2012

God sent fish tales Jonah and Mark 1:14-20

Consider two fish stories: Jonah and Peter.  They had one thing in common: both of them had great success fishing for people. The church today joins Jonah and Peter and a whole lot of others who, over the years, have fished for souls spreading news that God's kingdom is drawing near.

Our reading, Jonah 3:1-5, Jonah 3:10 gives details of Jonah's ministry to Nineveh. 5 words of his preaching survive in Jonah 3:4.  He declared, עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְ‍נִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת  Only forty days Nineveh destroyed Jonah convinced everyone in Nineveh from the King to the lowest person to put away violence and greed. Fancy clothes and jewelry were shelved.  The people chose simple dress and humility.  God saw it all and he viewed the city differently. This is what happens when God sends people out to fish for other people, but this isn't the whole story.  Luther described Jonah's preaching as transformative,

Just look at this city! Jonah preached only a day’s journey, and not every citizen heard him; yet they were all converted. Neither Christ nor all the apostles and prophets were ever able to bring Jerusalem to that point by means of their words and their miracles, though they ministered to it for a long time and preached from one end of the city to the other. God might exclaim here, too, as Christ did in Matt. 8:10 about the centurion: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Luther's Works, Vol. 19 : Minor Prophets II: Jonah and Habakkuk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1974) page 85.
Everyone who goes fishing knows there are many parts to a fish tale. In Jonah 3 we hear of the amazing catch, a great city caught by word of God's judgment turned away from evil. But there's more to the story.  Jonah heard God's plans plainly and clearly Jonah 1:1-2. God gave him direction. Get up and go north to Nineveh an in mercy tell them to repent.  God was sending Jonah his enemies to call them to repentence. Jonah heard the direction and resisted Jonah 1:3. He knew God is merciful to Nineveh and he didn't want to be a part of it.  And just like a skilled fisherman God let Jonah run fast and hard with the hook of God's own mercy set deep in his mouth.

God's mercy cut deep.  Jonah didn't want it extended to his enemies. The mercy of God dug deeper in as wind and waves rocked the ship Jonah 1:4-5. Jonah knew it was him God wanted.  "Toss me to the sea"  he told the crew. They prayed for mercy as they threw him overboard. Something, a whale, or a fish as big as a whale, swallowed Jonah.  He'd run; but he couldn't get away.

Trout with a hook inside will fight hard getting between rocks, fallen branches, and tree roots or diving into the deepest hole in a stream to get away from a fisherman.  And Jonah, like a great lunker German Brown trout had fought all the way.  Exhausted he sunk into deepest darkest farthest place he could get; but God wasn't going to give up and let the line snap. He waited Jonah out and like a net catching an exhausted fish God sent a fish to catch Jonah.

In that fish Jonah prayed humbling himself before God.  He was spewed out to spread the word of God's mercy. 

Jesus called others generations later to fish for people too.  First was Peter.  He knew how to catch fish when Jesus called him.  In years to come he would catch many people too.  Jesus called to him out in his  boat saying, "Follow me"  Mark 1:17.  These words were the start of an adventure for Peter that didn't end on this earth.  Pastor Ron Allen spoke of Peter marvelling at how little he could have imagined when he first heard these words from Jesus.  "Follow me" oh think how far this fisherman would follow.  But the meaning of these words would have been most clear only dayss later. 

Peter, this fisherman from Galilee would follow Jesus around Israel.  He would watch blind men see and daemons leave tormented people at Jesus command.   After Jesus' resurrection Peter would preach and thousands would come to faith.  Peter this fisherman would follow all the way from Lake Galilee to Rome where he would offer his own life to share the news of Jesus teaching, healing, dying and rising.  And it all started when Peter followed Jesus' call, "Follow me."

Thank God he put down his nets to follow.  Pax, John

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How do you know me? John 1:43-51

Jesus called his first followers to come follow him. Peter was first, then his brother Andrew. Next Philip who He invited Nathanael saying

We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Nathanael was unconvinced,
Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?
Jesus greeting surrprised him,
Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.
 Nathanael was taken by surprise,
How do you know me?
This question could come from anyone's mouth meeting a stranger who seemed to already know him. The real God was there. Jesus knew him. Nathanael realized, in this moment, that Jesus knew him and had always known him. He was and always had been in God's presence and now he knew for certain that God was at work in this one, in this man Jesus. He had always know him just as he's always known all people. Jesus answered his question simply,
I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.
Nathanael declared faith in Jesus knowing that God was and is really on the move in the person of Jesus. His words of faith
Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.
Jesus responded to his words of faith,
You believe a because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Scripture from John 1:43-50 NIV
Jesus had inside knowledge of their souls and he has the same inside knowledge of each person today. We, like Jesus first followers say we believe in a god who knows and sees all. And God's transcendence catches us by surprise. He's known our every move and our every failure. Matt Changler explained transendence in a January 2011 Sermon entitled The Just Judge on Habbakkuk.
In the end, God is a just judge who will judge everyone. Let me show you some Scripture. Job 28:24, “For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” Psalm 69:5, “O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.” There’s going to be this rhythm established here that there’s no such thing as a secret. That is a myth. Everything you think, everything you do, every place you go is seen by God. One of the reasons we are so comfortable in our sin is because we have lost a respect for the presence of God. It’s much harder to stare at a computer screen with your pants around your ankles if you’re aware that God sees and is in the room. Isaiah 40:26-28, “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.” So here is Isaiah's argument to Israel. “Look up at the stars. It is God who calls them out, it is God who places them, it is God who names them and tells them at what temperature to burn, where they are to stay. It is God’s power and His might that has done such a thing.” And then he asks them a question based on this power. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heard?The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” God sees everything, and those things you got away with when you were a teenager, you cannot get away with now.
Jesus is God. He knows each human being. He is the one individual in the universe from whom no secrets are hid; he is the one who can cleanse our hearts and renew us. He is God who searches us out heart and soul body and mind. He's well acquaitned with our failures and our every success because Jesus has been with us in the middle of it all. He is the one who offered His life in place of ours who knows what we trully need both on this earth in this life and beyond. Those who hear God's call to come and follow have already been known inside and out. His invitation is to come and see heaven open as God works in our world.
May all who hear God's call come to know him as He already knows each of us. AMEN.
Pax, John

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Words of Grace When Heaven Is Torn Open Mark 1:4-11

As I read Mark 1:4-6, it sounds a lot like John the Baptist is the story's subject. But read the next line and John says the story, and his ministry, is about somebody else (Mark 1:7-8).

Jesus appears and it's clear John played a significant part in the story, but he was not the central character (Mark 1:9). John was first announcing Jesus' ministry but he wasn't the last. God the Father reached into the story next in Mark 1:10. Heaven tore apart. God wants in. God wants in today in the Word and through the people who make up his body into the world.

The next words God the Father speaks are words of joy and celebration (Mark 1:11). I listen as God declares love for His Son—and I wonder how often this happens among us humans? These uplifting words of grace and approval stun me. Hear the Father's approval of Jesus shows us what God's gracious aproval feels like—this is the a clear declaration of God's of gracious love.

Words of Living Grace
God the Father says such gracious words, but what about me, a human father. There are times when no gracious words come from me. I'm a sinner who digs in deep into my own sin. I stuff my head so deep inside that I can't see my sin or even smell it anymore. Make matters worse, with my head stuffed inside, I sit in judgment of other's sins while I've become so accustomed to my own sins that I can't and won't face or even smell them. In my sin I pronounce judgment but no words of grace.

Jesus' prescription for this problem is to 2 fold
1) He imparts His righteousness upon us. In Jesus the Father's words of love are imparted to us. Paul explains Jesus death as imparting something on us in Romans 5:6and reshaping our relationship with God Romans 5:11.
2) Jesus own advice is to seek forgiveness from God and from others. He taught that as we seek to be forgiven we are to ask God to help us to forgive (Matthew 6:12).

You are beloved by God.
We're blessed to hear God's words. Hearing them strikes hard if you've been the one giving too many lectures or speaking too many words of harsh judgement. There's a judgment hear and in the same moment an invitation: speak words of grace and encouragement. Martin Luther's explanation of the 8th Commandment is an invitation to speak to the good of the others in our lives. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Luther says,

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. (From Luther's Small Catechism translated by Kolb and Wengert)
This commandment's about what we say. Luther's keen twist is to see it as more than a direction not to lie. We have power in words to undermine and uplift. Luther's words hit directly and forcefully when I examine how I talk to others and how I speak about others.

God the father is teaching us graciousness by example. May He help me to live showing such grace to people around me. One of the best explanations of how to live this way is from Florence Littauer. Her Words of Encouragement are a great invitation to speak as graciously as God the Father spoke to God the Son. As she explains every word can be like a, "Little silver box with a bow on top." I keep this talk by Mrs. Littauer on my Ipod and listen often. It's a message I sure need to hear.

Now if only I could practice this as easily as I can write about it.
Pax, John