Monday, July 29, 2013

if Jesus called you a fool Luke 12:13-21

We sinners want God to validate our actions and feelings.
Jesus, Son of the Living God, loves us enough to call us fools.
The story goes a little something like this. A man asked Jesus to settle an in-family probate dispute Luke 12:13. Too many people have been in fights over a piece of property. We can all get the gist of his request. We humans love earthly things and foolishly strive for happiness in things. We get tangled up fighting for our fair share, our piece of the pie. And Jesus knew it and said plainly to be on guard against the love of things Luke 12:15.

Making his point clear Jesus told a story. A farmer prospered so much he had to build bigger barns to hold his harvest, his wealth. I don't think Jesus saw any trouble yet (Luke 12:16-18). Then man said to his soul to eat, drink and be merry (Luke 12:19). And that decision was foolish. Jesus called it out. He saying plainly there's no peace for souls in comfort and possessions (Luke 12:20-21).
Hang on now Jesus, do you really mean that, a Christian farmer in prosperous times living in a prosperous place might say, "I've got big bins, what about it? You know I will use that money to do good by my family, my neighbors, and my church." And I don't think Jesus would argue with him.
The issue in Jesus' story isn't a man's success, rather it was telling his soul that he should find peace in his things and his prosperity. God loves us enough to name our folly. Jesus, the one who died to save us, loves us enough to tell us that no amount of money or accumulated things will satisfy our souls. The moment when we place our trust in things our our life's aim on the accumulation of things is the moment when a loving God will call us fools.
May God point out our folly too. AMEN

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, July 15, 2013

How are you experiencing Christ's Presence? Luke 10:38-42?

Luke tells a story.
Jesus was passing through and Martha welcomed him into her home (Luke 10:38).
Her sister Mary sat to listen to the Rabbi (Luke 10:39)
Martha grumbled about the work she had to do while Mary sat (Luke 10:40)
And Jesus said Mary had chosen the better by sitting with him (Luke 10:41-42)

By faith we know that we are always in Jesus presence.
So we can talk freely today about how we experience his presence, his being, with us.

Jesus is just as present with us--in the Word, in the Sacraments, in his Body the Church as he was present for Mary and Martha. The reality of his presence is often hidden--but that hidden dimension doesn't make his presence any less real. Maybe some will deny Jesus is present when he says he is, but that's their issue to deal with.

Those who believe in the incarnation see contemporary dimensions in this story and not just a past historic moment when Jesus presence was reality. Jesus is always with us when we gather in his name (Matthew 18:20) when we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). Jesus is there when we serve those in need (Matthew 25:31-46). Maybe this story about these sisters who bicker a little isn't about being like either sister; maybe it's about the blessing in seeking Christ in worship and serving in Christ's name.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.
Peace to you and yours, John.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God's Tough Word Amos 7:7-17

Read Amos and there's no doubt: here is a word of law from a holy God. This prophet spoke to someone in particular: Amaziah (Amos 7:14-17). Amos words to this religious leader 2800 years ago still ring clear. John Holbert observes wisely,

Amos is tough; Amos is blunt; Amos says things that no one wished to hear 2800 years ago, things no one much wishes to hear today either.
Amos thought of himself as a cattleman (Amos 7:14-15). He was no priest or professional holy man but he had a vision of plumb line he'd seen God hold. He was no priest but he named the standard held by God for Israel--in particular Israel's religious leaders (Amos 7:7-9). It was clear God wanted something different from those who claimed to represent him.

Luther, so critical of ecclesial abuses in his day, saw something familiar in Amos' prophetic word,
This account is well worth noting. In it one can see what that ungodliness is and what it thinks of the Word of God, how it despises everything that is of God in order to keep its own things safe. Here the wicked priest Amaziah mocks and despises the pious prophet Amos, a contemptible, lowly shepherd. So he urges the king not to believe the prophecy of Amos. He says that it is a lie since Amos indeed speaks against the king and against the kingdom which they were very sure God had instituted. This is how the wicked blind and mislead each other with their wickedness, Luther, M. Vol. 18: Luther's works, vol. 18 : Minor Prophets I: Hosea-Malachi (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (18:176). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Amos calls to modern religious leaders too. He gives warning: serve God and not earthly power. When we serve earthly power rather than God we bring trouble upon ourselves (Amos 7:17). Amos is not unique among God's prophets calling religious leaders and powerful people back to God. There is something dangerous in assuming God's approval--no matter what. We know God loves and forgive and we even search scripture for words of comfort and acceptance. But reading Amos we hear God's judgment particularly of Israel's religious and royal establishment. Here is our warning: religion and politics aren't the same. God wants us first to seek after the Kingdom of Heaven.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, July 1, 2013

Unsung Heroine 2nd Kings 5:1-14

She shows us how to have compassion even for our enemies.

You might have heard this story from 2nd Kings about Elisha and Naaman before. I know I've heard it before too. And as I read this story again this week a new person jumped out at me as indispensable to the story who I didn't remember standing out before.

She stands out, an unsung heroine who shows how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Before focusing in on the unsung heroine it is probably good to call to mind the two people who usually catch our focus as we tell this story.

The first is Elisha. He was chosen by God as prophet. He was the one who God chose to speak on behalf of heaven after Elijah. Many believe Elijah was the greatest prophet Israel knew between the days of Moses and John the Baptist. Just think what it would be like to be if you were Elisha. He was a humble man of faith. He looked at what Elijah had done. And now he was called to step in. Talk about a weight as responsibility landing on his shoulders. Elijah had been a good teacher but now with him gone Elisha had huge shoes to fill; and he knew it. He asked one thing of Elijah right before he was carried up into heaven in a chariot. Elisha asked that he might have a double portion of Elijah's spirit. It sounds to me as if Elisha was asking for a double portion of God's power to be poured out for him from what Elijah had received.

The second person who stands out in this story is a war hero of a powerful neighboring nation. His name is well known and likely feared: Naaman. He's was living with, what was in his day, an incurable and deadly disease: leprosy. Naaman might be compared today with the head of the joint chiefs of staff. He was that powerful of a man. He was trusted by the king of Aram and he was sick and he was going to die. Just imagine someone in our day with an inoperable tumor that doesn't respond to any known form of chemo therapy. There was no hope for Naaman. But someone in his own household knew exactly who to turn to for help.

The next person in the story who stands out is a true hero for us. She was a slave girl taken from her family in Israel into Aram, into Syria. We don't know how she eventually ended up in Naaman's home. We can guess that she was kidnapped, mistreated, and humiliated before she was sold off at auction by her kidnappers.

Israel was governed by a weak king. Small parties from neighboring nations would sneak over the border and capture a few people to take home to sell as slaves. This same kind of human trafficking continues in our own time. Young women and girls are captured today to be used and abused. They are treated as someone less than they were made to be when God the Father created them in His very image and likeness.

Consider this young woman, a daughter of Israel: kidnapped, auctioned, and purchased to serve as Naaman's wife's hand maid. She was the personal servant of this mighty general's wife;. She'd likely never have her own family or ever see her parents and siblings again. Maybe you think she should have rejoiced that Naaman was sick. Maybe you think she should have offered prayers of thanks for the illness that threatened her master's life. Maybe you think that way yourself about those who have done you wrong.

But this girl, who's name we don't even know, remembered a miracle working prophet in Israel. She turned to Naaman's wife with this precious news. Even after she'd been through so much she still had compassion and remembered this man of God, this Elisha who could do great things because God was with him.

Bill Hybels notes (starting about 20:38) in a sermon called Washed Clean delivered on June 28, 2009 that she could have played a victim card in our time as an excuse for getting even or not caring. She could have been bitter at this man Namaan. Maybe you think she should have quietly rejoiced at his misfortune. Think about it for just a minute.

She'd been kidnapped by the people this man commanded. She'd been forced to serve in his home—there's a good chance she'd been abused after her capture in unspeakable ways—maybe even by this man Naaman. And still she turned to her mistress and spoke of healing and hope for him.

May we be as bold as this heroine of the faith. May we share the good news with those in need; even our enemies as boldly as she did. Peace and thanks for reading. John