Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lost and Found Luke 2:41-52

There's much mystery to Jesus person. Many call it incarnation. He is God and human 100% both all at once. Luke's gospel starts with stories inviting us into the mystery Luke 1:1-2:52. John's gospel starts with a riff on God becoming flesh.

To drink deep of the mystery of the incarnation it's good to consider the story of Jesus as a boy in the temple Luke 2:41-52. It comes after the more familiar Christmas stories about angels, Jesus' virgin birth in a stable, shepherds, and Jesus' dedication in the temple. This is the only story in scripture about Jesus growing up.

The plot's pretty simple
Jesus went missing but he wasn't lost.
He found himself at home in his Father's house.

The longer story is that Jesus went to Jerusalem with his folks, Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:41-42). These 2 were the people he called dad אַבָּא abba and mom אִמָא amma. He was raised in their family with brothers and sisters. And they went to Jerusalem for Passover. Sounds like a great trip. They traveled as part of a large and wonderful group. But Jesus, unknown to them, stayed in Jerusalem. His parents headed home towards Nazareth (Luke 2:43-44). And Jesus stayed at home in the temple. Why wouldn't he? After all He was home. The temple was his Father's house.

I imagine the moment as a dad. Here's the family on the road. Traveling with a group assuming Jesus had journeyed with them in some other part of the group. Panic came at the end of a day's journey. Where's the boy. He wasn't where he should have been. Where was he? Luke 2:45

They hustle back to Jerusalem. They spent a day looking, I'm guessing, in all the places a 12 year old boy could find to get in trouble Luke 2:45. I'm a dad with 2 12 year-olds. Sometimes I think they're grown and responsible; but other times I think of all the trouble they can find in the world. Fear is very real for parents in any day and age. And after searching all the places where a boy could have gotten into trouble Joseph and Mary found him in the temple. Jesus God in flesh was home. Yes he's God but he is also Mary and Josephs' Thing is he was their boy. Sure the teachers were reveling in this moment. Such wisdom and insight came from a boy Luke 2:46-47. Mary got to the point,

Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety
Luke 2:48 NRSV
Yep he was son of God. But he was also their kid, the one they were responsible for and they didn't understand or much appreciate his dawdling. Jesus explained he was only in his Father's house Luke 2:49-50. Joseph and Mary didn't understand and Jesus didn't protest. He went home and honored Joseph and Mary. And Mary tucked away what she heard in her heart Luke 2:51-52. Luke said she did just the same thing with words of the shepherds Luke 2:19.

There's power in this story. It helps us to see the reality of God coming as more than just a consciousness in the person of Jesus. Here were two parents freaking out because this child God/Man was missing. He was not phantom. He was their kid. Here's a great joy and mystery for us. God would come and be one of us. John wrote of the mystery calling Jesus the Word,
and Καὶ
the word ὁ λόγος
flesh σὰρξ
became ἐγένετο
and καὶ
tabernacled/pitched a tent/dwelt ἐσκήνωσεν
among/with ἐν
us ἡμι̂ν,
and καὶ
we looked upon ἐθεασάμεθα
the τὴν
glory δόξαν
of him αὐτου̂,
glory δόξαν
of ὡς
only generated/begotten son μονογενου̂ς
beside παρὰ
the Father πατρός,
full πλήρης
grace χάριτος
and καὶ
truth ἀληθείας.
John 1:14 Greek from The Greek New Testament (electronic ed. of the 3rd ed. (Corrected)). Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies.
And I give thanks that Jesus has come to live, to die, and to rise that we might have life in him. AMEN.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Praising in the Between Time Luke 1:39-55

Mary's words in the Magnificat aren't often part of the Christmas story. But reading them I wish they were more on my mind as Christmas nears. Holiday celebrations can be full of activity and obligation. There are gifts to buy and places to be. But in Mary's words I hear a soul praising God. This year I want to sit back and sing out in praise to God who brings grace, life, light, and healing into the world. Yes my Christmas tree is lit and I am buying a few presents for my girls and close family, but my soul has reason sing praise to God today.

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47      and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Yes there are shopping lists and all sorts of activity in the weeks ahead. And I want my soul, in the middle of it all, to echo Mary's words today and everyday. I know God sees my sin and still blesses me. In Mary's words I hear a great reminder that God can do many great things. Even in the midst of challenge and adversity I look with faith and see the blessings God's provided for me and mine.

It's easy, for a person with a full belly and plenty of things, to forget the risk Mary took carrying Jesus. Still knowing the risk she sang praise to God who has mercy on those who fear him while scattering the proud. I hear a word in Mary about the God who brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. She wasn't just thanking God for what she had. Mary was praising God for the promises and for the future in God's hands for all people. Mary's word are a great song of prayer and praise for every season and every future. I serve a congregation that sings a version of Mary's words almost every week.

In Mary's song of thanks I am reminded again that God isn't Santa Claus and grace isn't karma. In God's mercy and love there's blessing and promise. This year and Christmas I want to sing with Mary about God who does great things.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Then What Fruits of Repentance Luke 3:7-15

Bold preachers sometimes jump into the collective imagination of people in their day. John was that kind of preacher. He could grab attention and people wanted more. His words weren't saccharine sweet, and people still wanted to hear. The truth he spoke often hurt before it healed. He spoke to the soul of his nation. Any person who would listen could hear him speak of the world from heaven's perspective.

John, sometimes called the baptist and sometimes called the forerunner, stepped into the collective imagination of the people of Israel 2000 years ago preaching a dynamic vision of God's kingdom.

John's preaching pulled people in to hear about the kingdom. Crowds came out to the wilderness to hear the news. The kingdom is close. Get ready one greater still is coming. Crowds came to hear and they wouldn't leave the same as they came. Leave the old behind: repent. John's powerful message echos in the church in the weeks before a Christmas celebration. Come welcome the new kingdom and the new king. And that means repenting.

John's words dug in deep and hard ποιήσατε οὐ̂ν καρποὺς ἀξίους τη̂ς μετανοίας
ποιήσατε οὐ̂ν poisate produce/bear
καρποὺς karpous fruit
ἀξίους τη̂ς axeous worthy of
μετανοίας metanoias your turning around/repenting.

John's word were intentional. He's inviting change in direction. Turn towards God, that's John's kind of repentance. John's call for μετάνοια metanoia repentance is a call not just a move in the heart or in the exterior life. John's inviting a 180-degree whole being turn back to God. He calls for lives that bear fruit of the turning back to God. William Willimon wrote wisely

The repentance John calls us to is no mere change of mind and heart. It is a total metanoia, a complete turning around from self to God. More than an emotional "feeling sorry for my sins," repentance is the fitting response to the presence of the Kingdom, the only way left now that our God has come, the necessary choice between self-salvation and God's salvation. Here is a costly Kingdom. John pays for his preaching with his head; we may come to the river singing "Just as I Am," but we will not leave these waters without having participated in a painful, deadly, costly work.
Willimon, William H. "What then shall we do." The Christian Century 99, no. 39 (December 8, 1982): 1246-1247. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2015).
John preached and the crowd asked collectively, Then what??? and the responses he gave were simple and specific. Share clothes and food with those who have none. The tax collectors and soldiers, people everybody else thought were sinners came to hear John too. When they asked, What should we do?, John's words turned very practical. Tax collectors, take no more than ordered. Soldiers don’t extort or lie. John would likely have very practical words for each of us too. Turn to God, care for the poor, live just lives. This year as Christmas nears I hope to remember that God's kingdom is always breaking in among us. And we are blessed to turn towards God and bear fruit in our lives.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Waiting in Hope Psalm 25:1-10 Jeremiah 33:14-16

If I could offer someone in difficult circumstances any two gifts I'd give them hope and joy.

And as Christmas comes this year the two gifts I would like to give any and everyone are hope and joy. I haven't seen these gifts on sale in any local stores or online--but I understand God gives these gifts away freely along with the promise of new life in Jesus.

Hope is at the very heart of following Jesus. The simple truth is we live--on this side of eternity--in hope of seeing God's kingdom come. And we live with joy knowing someway and somehow that is with us. Hope is a gift for us while we pray and live, not just watching time pass, but yearning for signs and glimpses of God moving--of God's will being done among us. Psalm 25:3 speaks of this kind of hopeful waiting. Rolf Jacobson writes

The term “wait” here translates the Hebrew word qawah, which means both to “wait” and to “hope.” The waiting described here isn’t just waiting, like one waits for a meeting to start. It means more to wait and hope, like the sort of waiting one does in a hospital waiting room while a loved one is undergoing surgery, or perhaps the sort of waiting one does while waiting for a verdict to be handed down, or again, perhaps the kind of waiting one does after one has put in an offer to buy a home.
Hoping and waiting is part of daily walking with Jesus and living into our identity as his followers. Sometimes it's uncomfortable--but here's where the promise of hope is like a spring of joy in our lives. Hope look even at an apparently dead branch and sees something new. Jeremiah said as much to the people in Jeremiah 33:14-16. He looked ahead and saw the promise of new life for an ancient line. Joy is found in our identity as God's people. The circumstances might look dire--but the identity as God's people, as people of promise and hope--that's the source of joy.

May the promise of God's kingdom and the hope to see His salvation fill us with joy. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hope-Giving Joel 2:21-27

I've been contemplating thanksgiving and what I want to say this year as a preacher. Over the years I've encouraged people to look backwards in November and remember the blessings they've seen over the past year. But then I started to read Psalm 126 and the first few chapters of Joel.  Psalm 126 speaks of people going out in hope to plant a new crop even with tears in their eyes. And this year at thanksgiving I want to give thanks not only for the past but for the future too.

I want to start with an ancient prayer song asking God to move in the future,

4 Restore our fortunes (Or Bring back our captives), O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:4-6 NIV
Even with tears over our current circumstances we, as people of faith, can go out with hope at planting time. Maybe I think of thanksgiving as a harvest festival because it comes at fall. And maybe I miss gift of God that comes at planting time--every seed has a plant hidden inside. Every oak tree was once an acorn--every field corn ready for harvest was once just seed in the hopper. Saying thanks to God for the future--for the gift of hope--for the year to come--that's a blessing for me this year. Saying thanks for the hope of a better day even when times are tough--that's a blessing for me today.

The prophet Joel spoke words of great hope to the people--he promised them vindication. But before the promise of restoration there's a word about all the tough times. Joel names some of tough times out-loud. His early words are cold and chilling.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten. Joel 1:4 NRSV
It just sounds awful. Everything eaten away--nothing left. It honestly sounds like a hopeless situation illness, divorce, jobloss, crime, terrorism, war--we know loss and grief. My temptation, in the face of painful reality, is to deny it is there. I don't want to grieve or face what hurts. I want to skip past it just as fast as I possibly can--the grief is too real and the pain unfortunately is too real. And I don't think I'm alone. God's people have long known the pains of this world. The ancient people Israel knew what grief was like because they knew first hand what exile was like. The people knew the pain. And Joel doesn't let up. He names the loss and the pain boldly...
The fields are devastated,
the ground mourns;
for the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil fails. Joel 1:10 NRSV
After a few years of life we can find out, very often the hard way, about the pain and the struggle of life. And the promise of scripture isn't that we will have no pain or grief--quite the opposite. The promise is that God will meet us in this world--in this life with all of our struggles and pains, with joy and with hope. The promise is that God will be with us at every step. This is where I find hope this year--not in looking back--rather I see hope when I look ahead. It takes hope to plant and think ahead. This year I give thanks not only for the year gone by--but for the blessed year to come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What are you asking for? Mark 10:35-45 Hebrews 5:1-10

Two brothers, James and John, came to Jesus with a request,

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.
(Mark 10:37 NRSV)
As a kid I remember learning about saints. And many consider these two sons of Zebedee to be saints. They were among the very first to follow Jesus, after all, they must be saints. But after reading the story it's clear that saints are very human. Jesus' first disciples, just like his current followers, are imperfect humans. God calls people to walk in the light of his love but that doesn't mean Jesus' followers don't still wrestle with temptation and misunderstand their place in God's kingdom. The people Jesus chose as the first building blocks of the church weren't exempt from surprisingly ordinary temptations--from the lust for power or the greed for prestige. So when they asked Jesus for the place of honor. He responded so clearly,
You do not know what you are asking.
Mark 10:38 NRSV
They really didn't have a clue. They could see that Jesus would be lifted up--but they couldn't foresee that Jesus would be lifted up on the cross and not on a throne. And Jesus pushed them to consider their words. He knew a cross was coming before the glory of resurrection.
Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
Mark 10:38 NRSV
They replied confident they could face whatever Jesus could. They had no clue about his suffering, death, and rising. They called him Rabbi, teacher. But he is more than a great teacher. He is the way into God's presence. He didn't tell these first followers to make themselves holy or worthy--no instead Jesus invited them to serve. From the earliest days Christians have understood Jesus as the first and greatest servant as the high priest who gave his life. The writer of Hebrews explained it this way,
Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”
Hebrews 5:5 NRSV
Jesus is the way. He is the one who gave his life for his followers.
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 NRSV
Jesus suffering, cross and empty tomb, this is what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God. Suffering, serving, giving his life made Jesus the great high priest. And we in turn are invited in our lives not to seek for greatness but to find it while we serve.

Human beings search for greatness. We want to be significant. James and John were no different. But somehow we recoil when we see people so clearly search out for a place of prestige. Jesus' other disciple balked at the the thought that these two would go ahead the kingdom. And it was clear that Jesus offering all his followers a very different definition of greatness: service.
whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many
Mark 10:44 NRSV
Service is not the way to heaven or to holiness--rather it's meant to be our way of life--and along the way, as we serve, we'll see our place in God's kingdom.
Peace, and thanks for reading,

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Like God John 6:35-51 Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Jesus first followers didn't call themselves Christians. That word came along a good generation later in the city of Antioch, today part of Syria (Acts 11). Instead of calling themselves Christians Jesus' first followers knew themselves as disciples. They were followers of a great teacher. But Jesus was up to more that just teaching. Instead of just passing out lists of Christian like behaviors and instructions Jesus came to heal, teach, die, and rise. And He invited his first followers, and all who have believed after them, into a day in day out relationship of trust in the God the Father who they know through the life and ministry of Jesus, God own son (John 6:44-45).

Discipleship begins with God and what God has done. It grows as we trust in God knowing we belong to the one who created and redeemed us. But discipleship doesn't end either belonging to God or believing in God. Believers are invited to be imitators of God revealed in Jesus who offered himself for the world Ephesians 5:1-2.

Discipleship is not just about Christian like behavior. Wise people have said they wished Jesus would have given us a clear set of directions rather than stories to understand how God work's in our world and how we are to live in the world. We as Christians, have been blessed with human crafted—God inspired stories—that invite us to contemplate who we are and who God is. The Apostle Paul gave advice that seems easy at first glance, “...be imitators of God...” Ephesians 5:1 But the more I understand the cross as full expression of Jesus love the more weight I see in Paul's calling to “imitate God.”

The plain truth is the deeper I get into Jesus story the harder I find it to live like Jesus, to truly imitate him. All four Gospels speak of the great crowds who came for the miracles and wonderful signs of Jesus. But they also speak of the consternation in the crowd when Jesus spoke of how tough it is to follow. They struggled to understand how Jesus could be the bread of life offered for the sake of the world John 6:41-42. And I struggle too and think many others wrestle with the calling to imitate God--to live and die--like Jesus.

Paul invites Jesus followers into the full depth of their calling saying, “...live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us...” It's easy to be “all in with Jesus” if love is thought of as just a weak emotion. It's so much harder to be, “all in” if loving like Jesus means both living and dying like he did.

Today I give thanks that I belong to the one who gave himself away as bread for the world. Today I give thanks for the gift of faith to say, "I believe." And I give thanks for the calling, that I will work on everyday until I die, to imitate God and live like Jesus who gave himself away.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Whad'ya Expect John 6:24-35

Jesus was a miracle worker. 5000 fed from a few loaves and fish proved that Jesus was the one people needed on their side. Crowds followed Jesus expecting more (John 6:24). More miracles, more teaching, more healing--they wanted him to do more. Truth is we all need bread and Jesus feeding 5000 revealed power beyond anyone else's. They knew he was their Messiah and they could see the signs. But they wanted more.

So why is it that we want more from Jesus. Those already miraculously fed, they wanted more bread. And Jesus called them out. He said they came looking for another fill of bread John 6:26-27—-he came not to feed them once but to offer himself as the bread of life John 6:35. People who come to Jesus seeking only material blessings miss the greater blessing he wants to give—-relationship with him and his followers that doesn't end on this side of eternity (Ephesians 4:14-16). People who came only wanting another meal miss the blessing who stood right in front of them offering himself as their way to life everlasting (John 6:35).

Jesus taught his friends to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” Luther wrote in his Small Catechism

...God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this pray that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.
It's easy, as a person with a full belly, to miss all the blessings I've received. It's too easy for me to call the crowd who came looking for more lazy. I sit full and comfortable and can accuse the crowd of missing the point of Jesus ministry when they came back asking for more bread. If I consider my own prayers I see the crowd and I have a lot in common. I give God lists of needs and wants all the time. And I easily miss the greater gift, God's own self given for the sake of the world, that's already present in my life in Jesus. It's so easy to miss what God gives if I don't see beyond my daily needs and wants. Jesus comes to meet our every need, he comes to be our all in all. If we only think about today's necessities we miss the promise of eternity with Jesus.

We come to God asking for more and Jesus points to more than material gifts--Jesus offers his very self. (John 6:35). Preaching on John 6 Oscar Romero wisely said,
Christ can do that which people are unable to do. Christ can raise us up to God.
Here's the promise of Christ's Incarnation. Jesus came to be God with us and for us. He came to give his very self away. He is the bread of life. He came to offer bread that will never be taken away or lost to decay (John 6.27) And Paul invites us to be part of his body Ephesians 4:15-16. We come to Christ not just looking for bread but for life and in sharing our gifts, whatever they might be, we find new life too. Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What God's already done Ephesians 1:3-14

I read Ephesians 1:3-14. What a great blessing for me this week. I'm reminded of all God has done. The reality of God's grace and what God already did through the cross of Jesus just overwhelms. Many say it's too good to be true--they look for something to do to earn more of God's grace and more of God's love. But Paul says God's grace and love have already been revealed fully and completely in Jesus cross and rising. Human religion says do this and you will earn God's love or merit more grace--Paul invites our attention to what God's already done.

Grace as a gift unearned and undeserved. Wow. In the middle of this week's joys and struggles, hopes and frustrations comes word from Paul of God's grace for us--and more personally for me a sinner. Grace for a real sinner like me is always undeserved. For a righteous person God's favor makes sense--but for a sinner struggling daily with sin in every dimensions of my life it's way beyond comprehension. I've heard many qualify or limit the reach and power of God's grace. But Paul declares what God has already done for those who believe. God's grace in Jesus just stands out as the greatest gift of all time. Listening to Paul's words is like salve for my soul. Paul declares the news of what God's ongoing activity is on behalf of believers.

Paul isn't making a list of requirements to earn grace. Instead he's declaring what God has already done. Just listen to all that Paul says God's already done and is still doing...

  • God blessed us: God gives us spiritual blessings in heavenly places Ephesians 1:3
  • God chose us: God chooses to see us holy and blameless Ephesians 1:4
  • God destined us: God made us his children through adoption Ephesians 1:5
  • God bestowed on us: God in his glorious grace has freely done all this Ephesians 1:6
  • God lavished on us: God forgives our sins, a lavish gift, bought at the cost of his Son's death and rising Ephesians 1:8
  • God has made known to us: God revealed this mystery of his will to us Ephesians 1:9
The things God has done through Jesus Cross and resurrection: wonderful. The gift is free but the price was everything. For God's grace undeserved and unearned this sinner gives thanks.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

seeds and faith Mark 4:26-34

Jesus compared God's kingdom to seed. First seed simply scattered (Mark 4:26-29) and next a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32). In Southern Minnesota's prairie, where I live, people think about seeds in spring. My girls and I planted vegetable seeds in the garden a few weeks back. After planting comes waiting.

Jesus compared the kingdom of God to seeds scattered. But, as Jesus says, we don't know how the seed grows. Even in a "scientific age" with so many mysteries explained mysteries still remain. As a person of faith I often see God's hand at work in the mysteries of life in creation and in the re-creation of believers. Science explains how things grown but not necessarily why. Faith says look to God, the creator who made it just so. Jesus wasn't talking about seeds thou to give a lesson on gardening. He's using seeds to get us to consider the mystery of God's coming kingdom.

Jesus taught powerful truths through seemingly simple stories. He told parables about seeds that invite us into the joy and the wonder of God's work in creation, redemption, and renewal. Jesus told a story of seed scattered. In some ways I can see what he's saying as I look at our garden. The first plants: beans (both wax and green), sugar snap peas, spinach, zucchini, corn, and carrots sprouted quickly. The tomatoes and peppers, started in advance, have taken their place next to the onions that over wintered. Our planting time passed a few weeks ago--but the power in each little seed comes clear right now. It amazes me watching as seeds, no more than a fraction of an inch in size, grow into plants. First green shoots pop with a few embryonic leaves. More substances comes for each plant, many more leaves, branches, flowers, and hopefully fruit will grow from those seeds.

Jesus wants us to see how his kingdom grows. Someone, who Jesus doesn't name, scatters seed, maybe God or maybe a person of faith. And without our knowledge how or permission God's kingdom sprouts and takes root in our lives and our world. He compared the kingdom with a mustard seed--so tiny--but as a plant prolific in all that comes from one seed. Jesus' stories about the scattered seed and the mustard seed are rich in imagery encouraging thought and imagination. What is God up to today. Look at the seeds sprouting to life and you'll see something akin to the inner workings of God's kingdom in his time, our time, and in the world to come.
Peace, and thanks for reading

Thursday, May 7, 2015

living in Jesus love John 15:9-19

Over the past couple month's I've been reminded once again life's fragility. It's been a blessing to hear again the great promise Jesus offers believers in John 15: believers can abide in him. This promise comes from Jesus in John 15:9-19. John writes of a great teaching moment when Jesus explained so much to his friends of how his kingdom really works. Jesus Last Supper had ended. The betrayer headed out to find the temple guards to would come to arrest him. And in the time at the table that remained Jesus shared a vision of how his followers would live. There's so much packed in Jesus' word in John 13:31-17:25. In this night Jesus taught them about his kingdom and prayed for them. He laid out a vision of his friends living on earth while remaining connected to him and his kingdom. It was in the middle of this night that Jesus told his friends,

καγὼ ὑμα̂ς ἠγάπησα· μείνατε ἐν τῃ̂ ἀγάπῃ τῃ̂ ἐμῃ̂
and I you love stay in this love this of mine John 15:9
I love you now abide in this love of mine. What a promise. You are loved. Stay in this love and you will find life. It's life here and it's life after this world is no longer your home.

The word that catches my eye is μείνατε abide, stay, remain. It's such a great invitation, stay in my love, abide in my love,remain in my love. In all circumstances each believer has a place to be--it's in God's love. This probably looks unwise to people who only see this world and think this is it. This is all there really is. It's easy to think of buildings as places to stay but the love of the God you just can't see that seems way to flimsy to rely on--except to the eyes of faith. Jesus isn't offering his friends a permanent house on this earth built of wood and stone--no he's offering his friends a connection with God today and a place in the very heart of God for all time. That's where believers are invited to abide--to live--in God's love. Believers hear this promise of a living place in the middle of this life with all it's limits and struggles. This is good news for us still. Jesus' friends have a place to be that can't ever be taken away.

In the past 5 days I attended 2 funerals and officiated at 2 others. It's been one of those stretches in time where it's clear that abiding in Jesus is a matter of death and life. Abiding in Jesus means having a place today and a place for every tomorrow that doesn't lose value and can't be taken away. Abiding, living in Jesus means lives matter both today and for every tomorrow to come to God. Knowing a future home allows believers to bear fruit today in this world. Jesus made it clear--abiding in his love isn't only about this world. He's just as interested in us abiding in his love for all time to come.
Peace to you and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jesus' promise he is the vine John 15:1-8

Jesus made a promise when he called himself the vine and named his disciples as branches in John 15:5. I read these words of promise and hope 2000 years after the resurrection and see hope for believers. John wrote of them as coming straight from Jesus, the night before his death. Hearing this promise, in the context of his death, makes the hope it gives in tough times all that much clearer. He is the vine--he is the source of life and hope. And we, because we are connected to the vine, have a source of hope in any and all times.

In 41 years on this planet I've seen great confusion about how God's love works and how we are connected to God. I've watched people try to earn God's love. I've tried myself to earn it too. But the promise of the cross is that we are already loved--in fact I can't think of a way that we could be loved any more than we are already loved today by the one who gave his life for us. And Jesus words here sound to me like a sweet promise. Yes there will be pruning, yes the parts of my life that don't bear fruit will be taken away. But I know that even in the midst of change and loss that I have a place on the vine. I didn't earn my place on the vine--if anything my sins and choices have pointed me away from the vine time and again--but in truth God has remained faithful. Every time I've been separated from God I have been the prodigal who wandered away (see Luke 15). And this is right where God's love meets us--here in this world as debris is pruned away we find a sure and certain hope--that God's love abides and in that love we find shalom wholeness and peace

Jesus made a promise to sustain his friends. That night was heavy for Jesus. He knew what death would come. It was no surprise to him. But Jesus' friends didn't see betrayal, trial, humiliation, and death coming in just the next day--but they heard a promise. This night as they met for a meal of remembrance Jesus made this promise to sustain and give life to those who are close to him.

Jesus made a promise of deep abiding connection knowing full well that the next day, full of confusion culminating in death and burial was coming fast. There's no doubt Jesus' friend experienced profound disconnection and confusion. It all happened in the hours right after their rabbi and friend promised to be their vine--their sustenance. This night he spoke to them of the deep connection that would sustain them and sustain believers still. He's the vine his followers are the branches. When we abide in him we are fruitful and have a future.

A branch disconnected from the vine can't survive. When Jesus said he's the vine he made a promise--he's the source and sustenance for believers. His promise still gives us hope--we can survive because of who he is. He is the vine. Even as the world grows dry and the environment around us grows inhospitable we can survive--Jesus is the vine giving us life and hope. He is the vine who brings renewal for our souls.

Jesus invited his friends to see the world over and over again from God's eyes. His earth bound metaphors come as bold I am statements. Each metaphor tells volumes to his followers about God's works with and through us. When he said, I am the vine, he invited his friends to open up their imaginations and see every believers deep capacity and need for connection back to Jesus.
May Jesus promise to be the vine sustain us today and beyond.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jesus' blessing of peace John 20:19-31

Easter changed so much. The rules of life and death, the power of sin and hell, Jesus changed all that at Easter. Jesus, remember, was God in human flesh. He overcame sin, death, and the devil, once and for all time dying on the cross and rising from the tomb. His death atoned for sin, his rising overcame the power of death, and the devil lost his two greatest weapons in the process. Jesus' followers are new creations--free from sin, death, and the power of the evil one. Jesus first words were so encouraging.

εἰρήνη ὑμι̂ν peace/shalom to you all John 20:19, John 20:21, John 20:26
Sometimes, living on this side of the resurrection, people still live like Easter never happened. Death is still feared, the uncomfortable reality of sin remains hidden but present, and people pretend that evil and the evil one just don't exist. Meanwhile all these 3 very present forces still challenge. Pretending sin, death, and evil aren't real doesn't work--it never has. And into our realty the risen Jesus comes offering peace. This promise of peace is Jesus first gift after resurrection.
εἰρήνη ὑμι̂ν peace/shalom to you all
2000 years ago Jesus' friends struggled with faith and doubt. Thomas was so open about it, he said plainly if he didn't see and touch Jesus he just wasn't going to believe John 20:24-25. When Jesus met Thomas he didn't chastise his lack of faith--no he blessed him and all Jesus friends peace you all John 20:26.

As a person the promise of peace that starts with God and not inside of me matters a whole lot. This world sometimes offers us anything but peace. I've seen enough uncertainty and doubt to last me for quite a while. And here's where Easter meets me this year with Jesus blessing for his friends peace. Jesus comes seeking to reconcile the people of this broken/fallen world to himself. He comes that we may have

  • fellowship with the Father, 1 John 1:3
  • joy 1 John 1:4
  • forgiveness 1 John 1:10
  • an advocate with the Father 1 John 2:2
Jesus first Easter blessing was peace. May we hear that same blessing and promise today.
May we live in His peace today. AMEN.
thanks for reading and let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New days are coming Jeremiah 31:31-34

The promises of God are light to walk towards in times of darkness. There are days when despair and fear loom large crowding out hope and threatening destruction. God's promises matter most in dark days.

  • The promises that God is God in all circumstances,
  • that God's mercy is renewed each day,
  • that God's people can count on God in all circumstances.
Those promises are a huge part of our reason to be here today as church. We are here today to speak God's Word into every life just like the ancient prophet Jeremiah. We are here to speak of God's love for his people Jeremiah 31:31-34. Speaking God's love is what matters. Speaking God's love is the difference we can make. In the face of death we can speak life. In the face of hate and rage we can speak God's life transforming love and joy. In the face of fear we can speak hope.

Some times days flow into days. It's funny how you can find yourself stuck in a place you don't want to be. You might wake up each morning to a reality you'd like somehow to alter--but you can't. I've watched with my mom, sister, and extended family these past 10 days since my dad had a stroke. I don't think any of us would have chosen for his Monday morning trip to Home Depot to end up as emergency surgery, an extend stay in a hospital, and now time in a rehab center. But that's now a part of his story and our stories.

As I was driving my mom to the hospital one morning to see my dad I asked her if it felt like the movie Ground Hogs Day. In some ways it does sure remind me. And here's where I hear God's promises made through Jeremiah and Jesus this week. In this world dealing with powers that I don't understand and can't defeat God's promises matter. My mom's been humming her favorite hymn, The Summons especially the line "you will never be the same." Meanwhile I've been humming my favorite hymn, For by Grace You Have Been Saved it's the promises of new life--of resurrection in the face of death that matter.

My hope is simple--to keep declaring this promise of hope and light.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, March 16, 2015

Crowd Sourcing: What's the New Covenant?

I am crowd sourcing today to answer this question
--What does ‪#‎Jeremiah‬ 31:31 mean?
"The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah."
What is the ‎new covenant‬?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

unnerved by grace John 2:13-22

Jesus has a way of looking at the world and seeing both today and the cosmic reality to come. John tells a story about Jesus. He stepped into the temple—the house that people built as their meeting place to be with the divine—and he saw more than just what was going on there that day right at the start of Passover. What Jesus saw was the day when he would be offered as the final sacrifice, the once and for all sacrifice to take away sin.

There in the place a prophet of old said was to be the house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7) were all kinds of people. Some came for prayer and some showed up, like they did most every working day, to make a buck. Many came praying and offering sacrifice to make themselves right with God. There were merchants with all kinds animals waiting for sale and sacrifice: cows, sheep, and doves. Money changers came too who'd take money considered impure and exchange it, for a tidy fee, for money considered ritually clean to by an animal for sacrifice or to make an offering to God (John 2:14).

What Jesus did next stuns and unnerves. The one who calls believers to love enemies and pray for those who persecute wove a whip out of chords. He drove away the merchants and money changers upending tables and traditions (John 2:15).

It's unnerving to have God step into your business. It's unnerving to think God would care at all. But this is the real Jesus after all—not the one who comes to approve of everything we've done—no this is the one who loves you and me enough to challenge us and to die for us.

This is the real Jesus. The one who would die for the sake of the whole world. He is the one who would offer himself as the last and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:11-14). He spoke of a temple falling and being rebuilt in 3 days. His friends later realized—after Jesus rose on the 3rd day—what he really meant. (John 2:19-24)

The temple the people saw that day was a part of the world Jesus came to save. A world of hurting souls, a world of religious tradition and profiteering. And Jesus came to die for all people in desperate need of God's love. He came to be both the offering and the final temple All the sacrifices offered up to the point of Jesus weren't enough—but one sacrifice—Jesus offering himself once for all would be the only one needed (Hebrew 10:11-14). His cross would be enough. Paul says is just foolishness to the world but it makes every bit of sense to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

Thanks be to God that I can be a fool saved by grace through faith. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

know fear Mark 1:21-28 Psalm 111

Mark's gospel moves fast. Right from the start of Jesus faced off with daemonic forces. Jesus power over the forces of evil comes clear. Even if people did not recognize Jesus as God there's no doubt the daemons knew, feared, and obeyed him (in Mark 1:24-29). The people in the synagogue Capernaum witnessed a human crying out. They saw him come to peace as Jesus spoke to the unseen force that possed him. They watched, not seeing, as Jesus battled cosmic forces. They only saw two human beings, but the words of the man and of Jesus revealed the whole story.

Wow, just when you think it's safe to come to church you hear about Jesus battling a daemon. You might think nothing controversial will happen after Christmas and the annual meeting (for most Lutherans at least). But this story jumps off the of page. Jesus, right from the start, battled daemons (Mark 1:23-24). Some like to think of Jesus as a wise teacher and guide who just loves everybody with a kind of bland acceptance. Jesus was more than a teacher. Thankfully He didn't come only bringing some knowledge. We need more than direction. We need a savior. The real Jesus has power that makes daemons tremble and that's the power changes everything. It calls the mind wisdom from the past read in Psalm 111:10 (NRSV)
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice ita have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
So we ask why, if Jesus the God/man came for the hurting, would we fear him? We learn to fear God not because he plans to hurt us but because he is the one in the universe with real power to help us. He came not because we sort of kind of need a savior but because we deal daily with powers that are greater than us. We need a God who is awesome and capable of taking on enemies that can overpower us. We need a God who can break us free from bondage--and who can and will do it again and again. David Lose wrote,
God – especially in Mark’s Gospel – regularly shows us where we least expect God to be. In authoritative teaching? Sure, but also in the plight of a man possessed by an unclean spirit. In the tearing open of the heavens...? Sounds pretty biblical, but also in the piercing cry of despair from Jesus on the cross when the only one that recognized God’s presence was the one who crucified him.

Our God is a God of the broken, and our church is a fellowship of the needy. That’s pretty much all it takes...to be a member of Jesus’ disciples then or now: recognition of your deep need and trust that Jesus has come to meet it.
Jesus didn't come to guide us so we could live righteously. He came to be our savior. He came to love the whole world--giving his very self in the end. We as Jesus followers, like Jesus, are sent into the world for the sake of the broken. God sends us to the hurting with a promise that God's kingdom is near and that God has stepped in on the side of those broken by sin, death, and evil.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

a call for you John 1:43-51

Jesus' ministry was no solo affair. He invited people to join him. Since early on the people Jesus called invited others along to come and follow too. Jesus' disciples were more than just students who came along for a week or a semester of great lectures. Jesus called them to walk along with him. Yes they got to know him as teacher but more than that they knew him as a true friend. They learned much more than information or philosophy from this great teacher. Jesus invited them to come and see God breaking in. They saw first hand what God was doing in our world. They were witnesses to the kingdom of God coming into the world.

With nearly all our Christmas and New Years celebrations wound down it's a very good time to talk abut Christmas. January, especially in places where it's cold and dark, is a great month to remember the heart of the Christmas celebration: God breaking into our lives. And now we hear Jesus inviting others to come and see how the Kingdom is coming close.

I'm borrowing a theme from Max Lucado. He said, in God's Story, Your Story: Part 1, When God's Story Becomes Your a phrase that really captures my imagination. “Your story indwells God's”. Lucado says God is writing a story that's summed up in John 3:16. God's story started with creation. It took a distinct turn at Christmas coming ever closer to our stories. God's story runs through a cross. And as we hear Jesus call his first follower to come and see we find our place in that same great story of God's love for the world.

Jesus came not just for one day 2000 years ago. He came for that day, for every yesterday since, for today, and for every tomorrow to come until we meet God face to face. Jesus comes today and will come tomorrow. He's writing a story today in history already knowing the end. He's writing a story that has a place for each believer to live out our stories of faith. You have a place in God's even greater story. Jesus' story the one that includes Bethlehem miracles, seaside calling to fishermen to put down their nets and follow includes your story. Jesus story of daemon defeats and disease healing includes the story of everyone saved by faith. Jesus the one who confronted hypocrites, was tempted by Satan, endured the cross, and the empty tomb is writing a story. And the story of every one who follows Jesus fits right inside. The promise is that each of our stories fit into this even bigger story. The way I see it God's writing a story that starts with love for the world, dropped to the depths of suffering in the cross, and rose to the heights of new life on Easter Sunday. And today he invites us to come and see.

Peace and thanks for reading, John.