Thursday, December 22, 2016

Light for people in death's shadow

Christmas didn't start with the angels and the shepherds Luke 2:8-20. It didn't start with Mary's pregnancy carrying Jesus in her body into the world Luke 1:26-28. It didn't start with Joseph's dream being interrupted by an angel Matthew 1:18-25. No Christmas started with God's plan to send light and hope to people in need of a savior.

Isaiah gave a promise on God's behalf to the people. The promise was meant for people who walked in a very specific kind of darkness צַלְמָוֶת tsalmaveth. The word he used to describe the darknessצַלְמָוֶת tsalmaveth is the same heard in Psalm 23:4 to describe the darkness of the valley the shadow of death. God's light shines for the people living in the shadow of death.

Isaiah promised that the light, the hope of God's presence, would come to a people who lived in the land covered by the deep darkness, by death's shadow. This is the death and resurrection promise that starts with prophet's and that Jesus fulfills in time. This is the reason for great hope in dark times.

Isaiah writes so well,

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us...
This is the Christmas promise plain and simple. Light has come for all the world.
And his name is Jesus. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hey shepherds Luke 2:8-15

Christmas starts long before Jesus' birth. It starts with prophetic promises and angels visits. This year as I get close to Christmas I've been thinking about the angel visits,

  • with an old man, Zechariah, serving God in the temple (Luke 1:5-25),
  • with a man planning on walking away from an engagement (Matthew 1:18-25),
  • with a young woman who wondered how she could be one who would give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38),
  • last to shepherds out at work watching sheep in the night (luke 2:8-15).
This week we take in the story of an angel who came with friends to shepherds out it the fields. Luke writes
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:8-9 NRSV
God's glory surrounded them. Terror grabbed hold of them. The glory of God--the God of angel armies overwhelmed them. It shines in every dark place in our world and our lives. It shines for all the world to see. It shines to illumine the way to life ever lasting. It shines revealing our every sin and to show us the savior who comes for us. God's glory shone so bright the shepherds knew fear in every shred of their being. And the angel spoke right to their fear.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 NRSV
A Savior is born for you. For me this is the heart of the good news. Without this word, this promise of who Jesus is for me and you, I don't know why we'd celebrate Christmas. A savior has been born for us. That means something for us. It means God comes to save us from everything that we can't defeat on our own. On our own we are no match for sin, death, and the works of evil. Jesus comes because we know too well that we can't defeat these old enemies. He comes because as hard as we can work we can't get right--not with God or our neighbors. We fight as hard as we can but we can't undo any of our past sins and wrongs. Try hard as we can and we stumble and fail again. Broken promises, broken commandments, broken relationships lay in our pasts. And the angel says a savior has been born for you and me. That's good news. I need a savior. That's good news because all the sins and shames and the failures are real--and so is the salvation that Jesus brings.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. Luke 2:12 NRSV
The baby is our hope. But there's a temptation for long time believers in Advent and Christmas: to think we know the story already. If we think we know the story we'll miss it. It's tempting to think we've read it all and heard it all before. Old traditions and customs often define the meaning of the story. But maybe these customs set neat and tidy limits for how far God can go. So today let word and the mystery of God's coming get close to you. We come to this great event for all time with hope. God is still at work doing new things with us and for us. So rather than moving right along with all our Christmas traditions let's take in the story and remember that Jesus has come for you and me. Luke writes,
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Luke 2:13 NRSV
The angels sang praise for the one to come. A child is coming for you sing gloria. This child will grow to heal and preach with power, shout Alleluia. This child will stand up for the forgotten and the down trodden. He will heal the untouchable. He will come into the heart of the nation as a savior. The people will cry out hosanna. And he will die--taking the sin of the world--the power of death--and all the forces of evil on himself. He comes revealing God's glory. He comes to be our savior.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15 NRSV
This year I want to go back to the heart of the story. To the good news that a savior has come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mary's Angelic Meeting Luke 1:26-38

There's nobody quite like Mary in the Bible. When an angel came she accepted the new plan God offered for her life and for ours.
Luke tells us of a her meeting with an angel.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Luke 1:26-29 NRSV
Mary's response to the angel was all her own. She was quiet. Luke says she was “perplexed” and that she “pondered”. Rather than reacting Luke tells us Mary took in the angel's words. She listened to hear what this great visitor would say next. There's so much that perplexes us. So many people and situations that we can't wrap our heads around. For Mary the words of the angel didn't lead to a snap reaction. No she took time listening and thinking. There's so much that can be wondered about in this story. And for me her silent contemplation stands out. Maybe you've learned the hard way that it's dangerous to rush to a snap judgement. Maybe you've learned like me that it's unwise to talk without thinking first. And Mary's silence was golden. She listened to the messengers words.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33 NRSV
I don't think Mary planned on being the mother of God's Son. Her plan, it seems, was different. The flow of her life was going to be very normal and predictable. But everything changed for her and for us when Gabriel came to visit that one day. Gabriel had big news. He came to announce God's plan. Remember Mary's plan was to
Get married
Have a family
in that order.
But Luke says the plan the angel Gabriel had to share was so different. She was going to have this child of promise in a new and unique way. She was going to have this child through the work of the Holy Spirit. Oh Mary is rightly described as the person who carried Jesus, in her own body, into our world. But from my reading of the scripture it clearly wasn't her initial plan.

People can only begin to imagine all the emotions running through Mary as she met with this angel. Confusion, doubt, and more. As I tried to imagine Mary's emotions I find that I'm caught more and more by Mary's response than what I imagine her feeling to be in her meeting with Gabriel.
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34 NRSV
Mary wasn't telling the angel no. She wasn't asking why me? She wasn't telling the angel to go and bother somebody else. Instead she asked a question. How can this be? There's something about Mary's question that leaves lots of space for doubt and for faith. And here's the place where we often meet God. It's in moments when we don't expect God to be there that God often shows up. It's in the moments when we know only by faith and not by what our ears hear or what our eyes see that God is at work.
The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God.  Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months.  God can do anything!” Luke 1:35-37 NCV
The angel had good news for her and for us. Here's the promise of God to us in our doubts, our fears, our confusion. God can do anything. That's right. Listen to the angel. Nothing is impossible for the one who made the heavens and the earth. Nothing can keep God's love from impacting your life. God is coming into our world and into our lives in Jesus. And nothing--not the conditions of your heart, your sins, your shames nothing can stop Jesus from coming in to dwell as God with us as God for us.

Mary what will you say to the angel? Will you be open will you tell him to buzz off. Oh Mary will you be open to this son who will one day die to set all people free? Mary will you open up your life of see God at work?
Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” Then the angel went away. Luke 1:38 NCV
Mary spoke words of trust and hope. She knew that God could act. She was open to the plan. And for her open spirit I give thanks today. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading. John.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thanks Joe Matthew 1:18-25

This year in Advent we are taking in 4 stories of Angel visits. These visits came in the days before Christmas. Last week we took in the story of a man named Zachariah who had a fearful experience of meeting with an angel. This week we hear the story of an angel who came to visit Joseph. Next week we'll listen into Mary's angel moment. And the week before Christmas we'll listen to the words of the Angels for shepherds the night Jesus was born.

There's a part of Joseph's story that I don't want to pass by to quickly. Joseph came from a great family line. He was a descendant—generations back—of the youngest son of Jesse. That youngest son was called David. The people universally regarded David as Israel's greatest king. After all those generations the family line was thought dead. And along the way. In the middle of a dark and fearful time hundreds of years after the great king David and hundreds of years before Jesus a seer, a prophet named Isaiah had words of hope to share.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Isaiah 11:1 NRSV
This word of hope shined bright in the middle of exile and turmoil. A shoot, new life, shall sprout from a stump that was believed dead. Part of walking with Jesus is this deep hope rooted in a promise. That for God new life is always possible. For God no person and no situation is beyond redemption. This is the promise that was about to be fulfilled in Joseph's life.
Joseph thought he knew what was coming:
a marriage
a family
in that order.
When he learned Mary was pregnant he was done. His plan was simple: end it quietly and walk away. Leave Mary to her problems. But Joseph's plans were going to be subsumed by an even bigger plan. The plan of God laid out for him by an angel.
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
Matthew 1:20-24 (NRSV)

This week I pay attention to what the angel had to say to Joseph. Sure it was fearful and confusing. But I give thanks that the angel's words met him right in his confusion and fear. Because the son he raised together with Mary brought salvation to the world.

Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Monday, November 28, 2016

Zechariah's Fear in Luke 1:5-25

This year for Advent we're taking in 4 stories of angel visits and messages they had to share with God's people.

  1. Zechariah Luke 1:5-25
  2. Joseph Matthew 1:18-25
  3. Mary Luke 1:26-38
  4. shepherds Luke 2:18-16
Zechariah's encounter with the angel reveals the power of God. Zechariah was performing a religious duty. Religion looks backward remembering the place where God had come in the past. But God isn't limited to only earlier places where God's been before.

Zechariah had faith. He prayed for his family, for his wife. He prayed in to to someday be a father. But I don't think he expected to meet God's messenger when he went into the heart of the temple. People stood outside praying as he stepped into a sacred space. He was going in to honor the ancient ritual to remember the times when God had come to his people before. And right as he should have been burning incense in this sacred space God's messenger showed up. Right in the middle of a repeated action of devotion the angel Gabriel came with news.
Zechariah, don’t be afraid. God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you will name him John. He will bring you joy and gladness, and many people will be happy because of his birth.  John will be a great man for the Lord. Luke 1:13-15 NCV
Garbriel didn't come by accident. God was on the move. The angel's appearance was terrifying. And the angel spoke to that terror. He had news. Zechariah's family, in particular his son, was going to be part of God's entry into the world.
...even from birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He will help many people of Israel return to the Lord their God.  He will go before the Lord in spirit and power like Elijah. He will make peace between parents and their children and will bring those who are not obeying God back to the right way of thinking, to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord. Luke 1:15-17 NCV
Zechariah's prayers had been heard. But his response wasn't joy. He spoke back to the angel.
“How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Luke 1:18-20 NRSV
Meeting the Angel left Zechariah speechless. And maybe the promise of Christmas should leave us looking for words too.
Peace and thanks for reading. John

Thursday, November 3, 2016

God of the living Luke 20:27-40

Jesus sat openly in the temple in the week before his crucifixion. He spoke his mind. Just a week before his death the conflict between Jesus and many powerful people came out into the open. One after another different people came hoping to trap him in some form of blaspehmy—but they couldn't.

First it was the Pharisees who came scheming, then the Sadducees came looking too entrap him too. But hard as they tried they to catch him openly denying the authority of God, the law, or scripture they just couldn't catch him--because he didn't come to deny God or scripture. But they weren't going to give up power to him. These two groups had significant differences but Jesus was a common problem. The Sadducees didn't see any possibility of life after death and the Pharisees did believe in life after death. The Sadducees were connected to the ancient priestly families who prospered from the operation of the temple. The Pharisees made themselves out to be experts at teaching and keeping the law.

These two groups were both vying for the hearts and minds of the people and then Jesus came along and the whole situation changed. The issues the Pharisees and Sadducees had with each other where significant. But when Jesus came along those issues fell to the side. They wanted to just take him on and expose him for who they really thought he was. They were trolling to catch Jesus all it would take is a word and they could get rid of him. Much like a fisherman throwing bait on a hock behind a drifting boat these men came at Jesus over and over with many questions and stories. They were trolling and Jesus didn't bite.

When the Sadducees came they had a great story. Image a woman who was married. And her husband died—and so like the ancient law of Moses taught she married his younger brother. Imagine he died. They she married the next brother and he died. In keeping with the law, she married 7 brothers in row. She married one brother in succession after the other. Oh boy this story is a doozy. And when she's resurrected who's wife will she be in the end? The question was a total set up. The people who asked him knew it. The Sadducees mocked Jesus and others who think there is life after death. These people didn't believe in resurrection. But they knew Jesus did and they tried to trap him and expose him as a fool or a blasphemer.

And Jesus responded to their doubts and mocking. And he opened up a view of heaven to his hearers that left them speechless. The Sadducees were seeking to mock the idea of life after death and Jesus blew them away. We imagine things from our perspective and Jesus gave them just a glimpse of the life to come. Marriage and relationship, the human body and it's mortality are all going to be transformed by resurrection. The promise underneath it all is simple. God is God not of the dead--but the living.

The Sadducees didn't have anything more to say. But for me the promise of God's power of death matters. Here is hope in the face of death and despair. Here's the promise of new life for all who believe. He is the God of the living.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, October 24, 2016

heartfelt Word Jeremiah 31:31-34

One of the great promises Jeremiah shared was the promise of a new covenant written on the heart of the people. His words were meant for a people who knew what it was like to lose their homes and find themselves in exile. Oh this promise is even bigger than it seems.

They knew why they were in exile—their choices had consequences—and now they had no place and maybe even no hope. And God gave Jeremiah this word of hope to share. A new covenant written inside of each heart.

The situation looked bleak for this people this house of Israel. Their exile meant grief and separation. As God's prophet Jeremiah spoke the hope of a new covenant to this nation who had no more home land.

They'd broken the old covenant. Jeremiah said it was like a marriage covenant broken down. They knew the pain—and rather than leave them lost forever God made a promise not to take away the pain and bring them back. No God made a promise to be with them in the middle of their exile. His word would be inside of them.

God said he was ready to make a new covenant. He was ready to enter into a covenant not with one individual but with everyone who called themselves a part of Israel.

And the Word of the Lord would be written in their hearts. Even miles and years separation from home couldn't keep God out of their lives. And this promise is God news for all people today. AMEN.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What is faith? Luke 17:5-10 Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Jesus friends asked him for faith and more of it. My own prayers echo their words. I can't count all my requests for faith--for help believing. Jesus knew faith mattered more than his followers can imagine. His words must have left their heads spinning.

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:6 NRSV
What Jesus said--about the power of a seed sized faith--reveals the truth of God's kingdom. It's so close to us. With a little faith we can see God moving in our world in many and wonderful ways. With just a little faith Jesus says we will see amazing things happen. There's great power in faith. And Jesus invites us to find the power not with senses--but with faith.

The ancient Prophet Habakkuk groaned in his prayers. He wanted to see God move--He could name all the evil inhe world. He groaned to God about the violence and the danger. And God's response was to tell him boldly -- the rightreous live by faith. We want hard evidence and certainty. And the invitation that we have from God is to step out in faith.

Every August, right before the school year starts, I meet with every 7th grader at Grace. I sit down with each student and a parent to visit about what we do together in confirmation. At the end of our time together I give each of the the kids a mustard seed. I tell them about the three ways Jesus speaks of a mustard seed sized bit of faith:
  • moving bushes (Luke 13:19)
  • moving mountains(Matthew 17:20)
  • as the starting point of God's kingdom (Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:31, Luke 13:19).
Faith is a great mystery for me--but for Jesus it seems so simple: faith sees past the visible into the future that God is preparing. What Jesus has to say about mustard seed sized faith opens up the mystery of faith like a flag unfurling. By faith we trust in the power of God to do even more. Think about how it's best to talk about faith in the light of Jesus' mustard seed parables--
  • is faith action?
  • is faith a thing to hold onto?
  • is faith a gift?
  • is it something that comes from work?
It's, no doubt, a great gift of the Holy Spirit. But when and how the spirit moves--that's the part of faith that's the greatest joy. God's on the move and faith helps me trust even when I can't see God present to know without seeing that God at work.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Cross Carrying Luke 14:25-33

Luke tells a story about great crowds who followed Jesus and his direction to carry the cross. I think of it as a great invitation to think about how we see Jesus and the crosses he calls us to carry.
How do you see Jesus?
This question matters.

There are so many true and faithful images of Jesus.

  • the kindhearted soul man who said let the little children come onto me.
  • the prophet who spoke of justice and called people to repent and turn back to God.
  • the man who spoke of God's judgment speaking of those who cared for the least of these as those who cared for God.
  • Jesus is the same one who died on the cross—for the sake of the world—who called out to God in deepest agony—my God, my God why have you abandoned me. Jesus life on earth was just as varied as any of ours might be. He knew joy and pain—he knew friendship and betrayal.
And how we think of Jesus—which part of the story we tell ourselves and those we love matters.

And today in Luke comes this powerful story about the great crowds who were following Jesus and what he had to tell them. The crowds came to see miracles and hear powerful teaching. They came to see him in the marketplaces and in the synagogues. I think most people in the crowds had one picture of Jesus. And it was true picture. They had this one image of Jesus as the powerful miracle worker. But his words to the great crowds set them and everyone who still heads his words back a step or two.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot be my disciples.
I think the crowd would have gotten really quiet to hear these world. The crowds came expecting to be filled. They wanted to step up and receive many good things—and Jesus spoke to them about picking up their cross. A cross that was coming not just for him but for them. Pick it up he said—pick up your cross and follow me.

We want God to make us prosperous and healthy, happy and care free. And Jesus tells us not to leave our cares behind but to pick up our cross and start to walk with him.

Pick up your cross—oh brother—I don't want my cross. I'd like some other cross—but Jesus doesn't tell me to go pick out my favorite cross. He tells me to pick up mine. If we could pick our crosses they'd be small. Maybe made of gold or platinum and covered with diamonds. But the real cross isn't small. Maybe you'd like a cross made of balsa wood—but we don't get to pick our crosses. They come for us in this life. And to walk with Jesus means carrying our own and walking close with him.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What do the words "Our Father" teach you about prayer?

Jesus friends asked. "Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" Luke 11:1. Seems reasonable. Why not ask the rabbi to show how prayers happens. After all John the Baptist taught his followers how to talk to God and now Jesus friends wanted him to do the same for them. Jesus told his friends how by 1) modeling words for prayer and 2) sharing stories to help imagine prayer in the middle of human life.

Jesus words--what we called the Lord's prayer (Luke 11:1-4) stick deep in the living tradition of many Christian communities today. He taught of prayer not as empty words. For Jesus of prayer reached into the very presence of God. His prayer Words of prayer are short and sweet--but in truth it's many prayers in one. For me the part that matters most is how it starts: Our Father

The way Jesus taught prayer is bold. Start by declaring of relationship of trust: papa--father. Forget all the flowery language of a distant and mighty deity. Start with words that are close at hand. Start by talking to the one who knows you. Jesus says start with Father--familiar and close. These are words of trust and humility.

For me as a pastor serving in Mid-Western Lutheran congregations over the past 17 years I've seen how vital this prayer is for me and many others. I've also been surprised by how many, especially young people, don't know these words. These words are basic. They are part of the foundation of my story as a believer.

Truth is I'm troubled to watch many in my own children's generation who don't have this starting for talking with God. This prayer has shaped my language of prayer. It's the prayer I've heard said at bed time when I was a child. It's the prayer I've heard at the end of AA meetings and church council gatherings. This is a prayer I've shared in with others and said alone. These words are what my old partner in ministry, Pastor Ron Allen, called a perfect prayer, because it touched on most every aspect of life. These words tell me who God is: God is my father and who I am as a child of God.

More that just the words Jesus taught an attitude of persistence in prayer. He told a story of persistent asking Luke 11:5-8 and reminded us that God gives the Holy Spirit to his people Luke 11:13

Jesus has a lot to teach us about prayer. And it's by listening that we open ourselves up to see our place in his kingdom.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

a place of grace Luke 10 38-42

Luke's story about Mary, Martha, and Jesus challenges me in a way that's uncomfortable. The story is short and sweet. Jesus is traveling and he comes to a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

Martha got busy. She perceived “obligations” to her guests. She believed she had a duty to serve. She grew frustrated as she worked and her sister Mary sat with Jesus.

Martha wanted Jesus in the middle. She wanted her sister's hands dirty too. But she didn't talk to Mary in private. She aired her frustration trying make a triangle with Jesus in the middle. Martha assumed Jesus would back her up.

And Jesus responded in a way that surprises me. He didn't take Martha's side. “Mary's chosen the better part.”

I can honestly relate to both Martha and to Mary.

At times in life I can grit my teeth with Martha and look at somebody else who isn't working as “hard” as I am. It's easy to get steamed and sit with Martha.

And I can sit with Mary in grace and know that I could never do enough to make everything workout right.

There's a strong desire among believers to be right with God. There's a desire to be super-Christians. And when I grit my teeth with Martha I need to hear Jesus again. “Mary has chosen the better part.” Trust in God isn't proven by the number of good deeds done or prayers prayed. Trust in God is a matter more of the heart than of the hands and the voice.

Jesus' words about Mary choosing the better part just set me on edge. But in these words I hear the promise of the open place. Jesus was there for Mary. She didn't do anything to earn that love. That space Jesus had for Mary that's Grace. In faith I trust that there's a space—a place for me and for every sinner in the world. Grace isn't something I earned or deserved. It's real and it's free and it comes by faith. And it's for me and for every Mary who just sits with Jesus.
grace and peace to you, and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, June 9, 2016

...who is forgiven Luke 7:36 - 8:3

Luke tells a great story about a Pharisee, Jesus, and a woman. I thought sounds like the great start to a religious joke. But it's really, for me, been an invitation to see the breadth and depth of God's love and mercy.

The pharisee, a devote religious man invited Jesus over for supper. Luke 7:36-38
It was early on in Jesus' ministry, but there was already friction between Jesus and many of the Pharisees. They knew he was a wise teacher but, there was something in Jesus ministry that just went too far. Jesus spoke forgiveness. He declared God's love not just for the holy or the the nearly holy. Jesus dared to speak God's love and forgiveness to real live sinners. And this really got under the skin of the religious elite.

It's been that way from the start. There's been tension between the religious, who believer they are holy and righteous on their own, and the God who sent his son into the world to save sinners by dying and rising. There's tension between self-righteousness and righteousness that can only be received by faith. That friction was there in Jesus' day and it's here in our day too.

So a woman with a bad reputation, the kind that everybody talked about, she stepped into the home of ae Pharisee. Jesus was there as an honored guest reclining at the table. And this woman, the one with the terrible reputation, knelt down behind Jesus. She brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She wept and the tears washed away the dust that covered Jesus feet.

The Pharisee, Simon, looked and thought to himself, this is so sketchy, if Jesus was a real prophet he would really know what kind of woman she is. It's tempting to say we know exactly what her sin really is. It's tempting to say it's some particular sin—but Luke leaves that detail out of the story. What we know is she wept over Jesus feet. Enough tears rolled down her face to wash away the dirt and dust that came from walking in sandals on dusty roads.

But Simon doesn't get it. He looks and he sees this woman and likely says to himself, “She's a lost cause." Maybe he thinks to himself, "not even God can forgive these sins” But Jesus knows exactly what Simon's thinking. Jesus asks a question about two men with forgiven debts. Luke 7:40-43

Simon saw a sinner too far gone. And Jesus saw a person who he loved and forgave. And this woman she showed great love for the one who had forgiven her so so much.

There's no doubt a lot to her story. Maybe you've found that sometimes people's stories have stories and stories. I mean the longer I live—the more complicated I find real living people's stories become. The older I get the harder it is for me to sort people into easy categories. Who is right with God and who is not—only God knows the true faith of our hears. There's depth to each of our stories—depth that we can speak of as joy and pain—and even depth that we don't speak about. And this woman came into the presence of Jesus as one who is already and completely known.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jesus is more powerful Luke 7:1-10

A man of power and prestige, a centurion in the Roman Army, sent elders from the local religious establishment to Jesus asking for help. He was commander of at least 80, more likely 100 or more soldiers. And He was looking for a miracle. He needed healing in his house. Somebdy he cared about, a slave in his home, neared death. He had a problem his power couldn't resolve and he sent people to ask the one man he trusted had power to help heal. He called for Jesus.

The elders in the Jewish community at Capernaum urged Jeus to help him. He is a good man, they pleaded. Help him please. He's worthy. He loves our people. He's the one who built the synagogue. Jesus made way towards the man. I'm guessing the message that Jesus was coming went on ahead of him.

The centurion sent new people to Jesus. They had a message of humility and faith. The words are memorable, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof.” There's no way around this humility. Here's a man of great power—who says please Jesus I'm not good enough to have you come into my home. His word echo's John the Baptist's saying he was unworthy to loosen the latch of Jesus sandals. Luke 3:16

He said, through his messengers to Jesus “All you have to do is speak and my servent will be healed.” Here's a man of earthly power speaking of Jesus' even greater power. Here's faith. Here's a man of great power trusting that Jesus could do even great things.

And Jesus replied amazed at the faith. I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. And the servant was healed.

Faith can come from any corner or any person. Faith is simple trust that God can. AMEN.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jesus Promise-the Holy Spirit Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15

Jesus has made a whole lot of promises. He has promised to come into the lives of his people. And by faith his people know that Jesus keeps on coming into the lives of believers. Jesus told his friends he had much to tell them. But he also said what he had to say was much more than they could bear to hear in that moment John 16:12. He told them the time would come though when they would be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit John 16:13.

Untitled The Holy Spirit is the plan—Jesus' says he comes to speak not on his own but for Jesus. The Spirit comes not looking for glory but rather to make Jesus shine bright. The Holy Spirit comes again and again into the life of God's people—the very breath of God breathing life into us and showing us the very heart of God. The Spirit making clear to us who Jesus is and who we are as people set free by His cross and resurrection.

There are promises in Jesus Words—promises that we will not ever be alone or forsaken. There are promises that God will not remain silent. There are promises Jesus has made not just once but over and over. And he's kept his promise over and over again coming into the lives of the his followers.

The promises remind us of the peace that we have with God through faith in Jesus Romans 5:1. The promises sustain us in every challenge Romans 5:2-3. And here the great gift of faith takes hold. By faith we know a love that doesn't end—that not even death can end. Romans 5:4-5
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Babel’s reflection Genesis 11:1-9

In the ancient book of Genesis there's an account of a city in which everything made sense and then nothing made sense at all Genesis 11:1-9. The city was called Babel.

The human population of the whole earth, it was said, had just one language and the people all understood each other. And they came together in one place on earth. That really sounds good on the outside. Yes we want people to be united, but these people were not united for good purposes. They came together with big plans all their own—not plans that came from God. Now they had their chance. Now they would make a name for themselves. They planned to build a great city. But having a great city wasn't enough. They wanted a great tower to be at the heart of this great city that would reach right up to heaven.

The people believed that they'd be scattered all across the earth if it weren't for this great tower that they were going to build. They had to build it—it became their purpose—their obsession—their very reason for living. They had to build it otherwise they could never be one.

What's funny (to me) is that they missed the fact that they already were one and that they had a great and wonderful purpose from day one. They were God's own and they were made to live in the joy of knowing God's constant presence and abiding love. They were made to live in great joy. But joy wasn't enough for them.

The people of Babel thought that this tower, this man made structure, would unite and unify them as a people. They thought the glory of this tower would make them happy satisfying the deepest needs of their souls.

But in God's great and grand design they already had a common identity and an even greater purpose. In God's great and grand design they already had all that they needed. They were made in the very image and likeness of God. In God's great and grand design was greater joy than could be found in making an even bigger name for themselves on the earth. In God is found our great hope and joy. It's not in the stuff that we can get or the things that we can build. It's in knowing and loving God that we find true joy.

I've watched over the years as people live to acquire more stuff and bigger things. I've watched people in power step on and exploit others for their own selfish gain. And the one thing that surprises me the most is that somehow that identity that stuff that amount of money is never enough. The people of Babel were absolutely convinced that they needed more than just what God had given them. They thought that they needed to prove once and for all that they were great and that they were the ones who made themselves into one great and powerful people.

And God stepped in among the people of Babel. Imagine God coming, maybe in the company of angels and nobody noticed. They were so busy. Their eyes fixed on this project, this tower, and they missed God's presence in their midst. And God brought confusion. The words that once formed their common bond no longer united them. In a moment their common language and earth bound purpose were gone. And they lost any need or ability to keep on building that great tower. They'd forgotten their real treasure is not in what they can build or acquire—their real joy is found in God.

And in the moment of confusion and consternation everything that they thought had mattered just stopped mattering. And in God even after everything has lost meaning we find peace.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John

Monday, May 9, 2016

can you show me God John 14:8-17

There's a beautiful request that people can make, “Can you show me God?” It's a question that can be asked at so many junctures. In the best days and in the deepest pains, “Can you show me God?”

Jesus' friend Philip made this kind of request when we he asked Jesus,

“Lord, show us the Father.”
Jesus responded with surprise.
Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?
Jesus and Philip—and all of his friends had been through so much together. They'd traveled for 3 years together. They'd seen daemon's cast out, Lazarus come out of a tomb and heard Jesus teach with power and wisdom that clearly didn't come from any earthly source. After all they'd seen together Philip still didn't recognize Jesus as one with the Father

So when Philip asked to see the Father Jesus told him plainly
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
For Jesus it's simple as his nature. When a person sees God the Son they are seeing God the Father too. So often humans. like Philip don't see God even when God's at work all around every day. People ask sometimes even out loud, “show yourself God” But so often humans don't see God at all.

And Jesus invited his friends to look through faith and see God at work. Deep down seeing God is a great need of every person. And here's the promise of God's presence. The one who created all thing, the same one who died to redeem still breathes life today. When God's Word is heard or a neighbor is served Jesus comes into our midst. In the bread and wine God's very heart is seen. He is the one who made heaven and earth and died to redeem it. And this same Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit it still coming. An advocate is coming to speak in God's name—on God's behalf to teach and reveal God's promises and to bring us peace. Today we trust that Holy Spirit comes to show us the heart of the Father.

Peace and thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

love in the real world John 13:31-35

If you are a follower of Jesus and he told to do something it's likely a good idea that you do it.
Even when it's hard or complicated if you follow him, his Words of guidance will be worth more than a listen. So if you are trying to walk with him as your teacher and Lord you take him seriously whatever he says, one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.
If your intention is to follow him you'll take his direction to love as guidance for your whole life. But we say this call to love only goes so far; there's got to be a limit. This is often when we meet the real narrow road of following Jesus. This direction, to love one another as he has first loved us, has no qualifiers or limitations. Period. We shake our heads and say, there's got to be an end point. We look in disbelief at this world and the pain of sin and evil that people deal with and create for others. We look honestly at the people who it's painful to love and the situations where love doesn't seem to be the answer and we start to wonder, "when do we get to stop loving?" But as Easter people living in a Good Friday world we hear him say these Words knowing that he would die the very next day. Jesus love has no limit and for his followers the same call to love without limit is right here in front of us,
Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.
The truth is loving like Jesus is not easy. Truth is the only one in the whole universe who can love like Jesus loves is Him. And still, as his followers we have this call to love others right now, to live in his kingdom right now. We might want to say sure, I will treat other people with love when they treat me with love. Sure we say we like to dwell in the kingdom of God but that'll have to wait until the world is ready and everybody else on this planet is ready to embrace Jesus and his commandment to love as he loves. But Jesus doesn't say that it's ok to wait. He doesn't say love those who love you. He doesn't say you get to have empathy and compassion later, or when the people who challenge you the most will agree to live in the kingdom too. Jesus doesn't give us an option of saying, "maybe later." He says,
Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.
The temptation, for me at least, is to shrug this direction away. But Jesus said these words knowing his betrayer Judas was on his way. The plan was made to hand him over

Friday, April 1, 2016

Jesus comes, and we might very well be amazed John 20:19-31

In fear we can become paralyzed—unsure what will come next or where to turn. Fears act like locks and chains on us.  Fear has no mass or form, but somehow they can hold us in bondage to mortality, our sin, and our fear of the power of the evil one.  We hold still,  paralyzed by fear; unsure what's next.  And we sit.  Fear can restrict us and limit us and worse.

So the doors were locked.  The first reports of the resurrection had come.  But the 12 were still afraid.

And to our fears and locked hearts and doors Jesus says, Peace be with you.  He says it again, peace be with you.  And it is this peace that he sends us out on a mission from the Father.

We don't go alone.  He sends the Spirit with us as we go into the world announcing forgiveness for sins and a new chance for sinners.

No we say, there's got to be a limit to God's power.  There's got to be a limit.  But in Jesus resurrection we see the truth.

There is no limit to the love, grace, mercy, and power of God who made heaven and earth and who brought the Lord Jesus Christ back to life after 3 days in the grave.

The 12 who had been in the upper room were excited.  They'd seen the Lord.  They'd heard his blessing of peace and direction to go into the world with a Word of forgiveness.  And Thomas he shock his head.  It just couldn't be.  Unless I see him with the marks of the nails and touch him I will not believe.

They met again a week later in that locked upper room.  And Jesus stepped in again.  And his first Word was peace be with you.  He quickly showed Thomas his hands and side.  And now Thomas believed.

There's much evidence of Jesus' resurrection that we haven't heard about.  But the stories we have were write that we might believe and in our faith we might have life—even life after death—in Jesus name.  AMEN

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

two things in mind 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:4-15

The Bible is a collection of accounts of God's activity in the world. People who had profound experiences of God's activity used human language to tell the story of what God had done. In the tradition of the church on Maundy Thursday we remember two wonderful and distinct accounts of Jesus' last supper.

  • What Paul said about the last supper,
  • What John said about the last supper,
Paul's words, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, about the night of Jesus betrayal are so familiar to every week worshipers.

John's words, John 13:4-15, aren't nearly as familiar to any every week worshiper—but they are no less important.

I want to keep these two directions in mind.
Take and eat, take and drink. This is my body, this is my blood do this in rememberance or me 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you John 13:14-16.
Remember when you come to the Lord's Table.
Remember when you meet your neighbor.
Jesus directions are so different; but to be a disciple is to take both seriously
  • come and meet God present for us bread and wine, Jesus body and blood in communion.
  • serve like Christ has served us.
Disciples are found living out their faith remembering Jesus. But we don't just remember Jesus in our heads or in some high sounding spiritual place. We meet Jesus in this world in very concrete ways. We meet him in the bread and wine. We meet him in the people who we help as he has helped us.

Remembering is uniquely human. I think my dog remembers where the treats are and where the food can be found. But I don't think he can remember Jesus' call for us serve and to meet him. My dog can remember a friend and he also steers away from dogs who he's had issues with in the past. But Jesus invites us to a deep, human level of remembering. Jesus invites us to remember what he has done and where we will find him today and throughout our live, in the Lord's supper in service to our neighbors.

Following Jesus, being his disciple today is about meeting Jesus today and following his direction in our lives today. Discipleship in the year 2016 right here and now is about worship and service. Remembering is essential to worship today. Remembering is essential to service too. Here in this room we will we gather around the table and hear the good news of his deep love for us. And beyond the walls of this building we will be Christ's body in service. We remember him when we meet our neighbors as servants. We remember him not just in this beautiful space but when we follow his example. John's story of the last supper includes Jesus taking off his cloak and kneeling down to wash the feet of his friends.

Remembering Jesus doesn't just happen in worship. Following Jesus means remembering what he did and what he taught as we come to the our own crosses and as we come to our place in the Easter story as sinner redeemed by grace through faith. Jesus cross is no mere metaphor, and his direction to meet him at the table and in service are not idle words. It's our guide into life.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Kind of Disciple? John 12:1-8

The people who gathered around Jesus all had their own stories and thoughts about Jesus. People who follow Jesus today are no different. Jesus' first followers, his disciples, experienced God's power and mercy directly. They watched him perform signs that revealed his true identity. But they all lived out that experience so very differently.

This week we read a story from John 12:1-8 of 4 people who knew Jesus first hand. They all knew Jesus' power in their lives; but their actions reveal so much more. Lazarus, Martha, Mary, and Judas Iscariot could all be considered followers with close personal knowledge of Jesus. But they followed Jesus in such profoundly different ways it just stands out.

  • Consider Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead.
    It can easily be assumed that Lazarus looked at Jesus as light and hope. He knew first hand that Jesus was unlike any other person. Who was Jesus to Lazarus? Jesus was life and hope in flesh and blood. I don't think that Lazarus, alive after 4 days in the grave, doubted Jesus power. He just knew him as his very real source of new life and new hope.
  • Imagine Martha hosting dinner for her once dead brother.
    What simple joy to serve food to her brother and his savior. Lazarus and Jesus weren't the only ones there eating; but it must have been pure joy to have Jesus and Lazarus both there. I can't even imagine the joy of sitting with a once dead loved one and the man who raised him from the dead. Sure some of Jesus disciples were there too, but Jesus and Lazarus together that was pure joy, that was hope and faith fulfilled. Who was Jesus to Martha? He was resurrection and life. He was the one with power over all things starting with death.
  • Think of Mary who covered his feet with perfume
    She came to Jesus with nard, a heavy strong smelling perfume. She didn't speak a word and told Jesus just how much she loved him. Her brother was back from the dead. He was buried four days but now Lazarus sat at the table as Martha served the food. Mary poured perfume on the feet of the man who brought her brother back to life. She wiped his feet with her hair. She loved this one who had shown great love for her brother
  • Judas Iscariot was there in the house too.
    I assume others were there too, but John very clearly names Judas. His motives on the outside look so honorable. His protest following Mary's extravagant anointing of Jesus is named out loud in the Gospel of John. The perfume was so expensive. It was worth 300 days wages--imagine a perfume valued at $30,000 poured out. What a waste, Judas protested. If it was sold and all that money given away for the good of the poor. But John hints at something more sinister in Judas character. He was a sneak, a con man, who slipped money from the common purse into his own pockets.
These people, and others, gathered around Jesus. But these four all have very different back stories. The part that matters for us today is that we can see ourselves in them. Who these four people were so very often mirrors who we are. The people who gather around Jesus today are just as varied in experience and perspective as the first to follow him. We all have surface motives and hidden motives. Many of us, like Lazaraus, Mary, and Martha have profound experiences of God's mercy. But many of us, like Judas have also known deep questions about God's actions and inaction. We have sins that linger just below the surface.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain about the paradox of good and evil. God can use our evil acts and still make good happen. It's not hard to see a paradox between Judas' idea discipleship and Mary's idea discipleship. Both if asked, "are you a faithful follower of Jesus?" would likely have answered, "yes." But there is something so different in how they are following. Lewis wisely observes,
For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John. C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain 1940. Harper Collins 2001 Page 111
Our stories as believers are complicated. Our motives are often layered thick with love and devotion for God interspersed with sin and egregious selfishness. And here's where the Word of God meets us. Here is the mirror that God holds up to us. See your sin and your motives.
peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fear Less? Psalm 27

There's lots to fear. And in faith we find not that our fears go away—rather we find God's present with us as we face our fears. And here's where Psalm 27 hits me. In my fears the Psalm writer says trust in God as light and salvation.

I heard a man who lost parts of both legs to bone cancer in his teens say this psalm had helped him go through some hard times and knew right away that there's a Word from God for all of us. Just in this first verse,

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 NRSV  
There's a whole lot to fear in this world. Cancer, war, death, economic ruin, loss of relationship and more. There's a whole lot to fear. But the Psalm writer speaks a word of hope and promise.

Fear yeah it's there and it's real. But one of the gifts of living in faith is know God is with us as we confront our fears.

The Psalm writer calls God by name—he says יְהוָה אוֹרִי God is my ora, my light and וְיִשְׁעִי my yasha my salvation. This personal. The Lord is the stronghold of my life who shall I fear.

I look at this Psalm and think of all the calamities that have overtaken God's people. And here is a promise and a hope that's personal even in the middle trouble. Evildoers can asail God's people, armies can encamp against God's own, and in that moment faith can remain because God remains faithful.

Here's faith, the psalmist says, “Yet I will be confident.” In the face of fear we can fear less knowing not that what we fear goes away but that God's light shines even in the face of whatever we fear.

One this I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, to life in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. Here's trust and faith in the face of fear. Here's cofidence in God faithfulness in God's steadfase love. Even when we can't see God's faith faith trusts faith hopes faith believes and fear diminishes. Fear less. Wait for the Lord.

Talk to your own heart and your trembling hands. Speak a Word of hope to other troubled souls Remember even in the face of evil and the forces of sin and death that God is faithful. Take courage and trust.
Peace and that for reading, John

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mountain and Valley Faith Luke 9:28-43

About 8 days later,
this seems like there's a throw away line right at the start of this weeks Gospel. But this little line is really important. 8 days before Jesus transfiguration on the mountain top he had openly talked with is friends about his death and resurrection. He said some would see the kingdom of God before they died.

I don't want to jump past this too fast. Jesus was on a mission. He had a mission to die and to rise. And along the way to the cross and the empty tomb were many stops. Some were so glorious and so wonderful and some so heart breaking. Today we hear the story of Jesus transfiguration followed by a miracle for a desperate father and child

This is exactly what our lives as Jesus followers is like. We have lots of stops along the journey as we walk daily with God. And there's good reason to take stock of the moments when we see God's glory both on the mountaintops and in the valleys. There's good reason to drink deep of those moments when we know God's real and ever present love. There's good reason.

Luke says Jesus took his closest 3 friends, Peter, James, and John and went up a mountain. I'm not sure what happened to the other 9 of the 12—but I know about these 3. And they went up a mountain with Jesus. Jesus was there to pray.

In the middle of praying Jesus changed. His face just shined. God's glory was clearly in him or on him I don't know how to explain it. Two men showed up. Great men from old. Moses the prophet who led the people of Israel from slavery to freedom the one who gave them the law. Elijah the prophet who confronted queen Jezebel the man who stood for God in a season when many said God was gone or just didn't care.

While Jesus was visiting with these two greats of old Peter, James, and John were getting very sleepy.

Luke says Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about His departure. Jesus was on a mission. His friends thought he was here on earth to do many things but I don't know if they understood the part where Jesus was going to die and rise. But Jesus knew the mission lead not to a throne but first to a cross. In their sleepy state Peter, James, and John saw glory. But the conversation in the glory between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah was about death and resurrection.

I imagine Peter thinking for a moment. This is big. Jesus, Moses, Elijah talking all together. This is big. I want to hold onto this moment. Peter turned to Jesus with a plan,

Master it's a good thing that we're here. We can build booths for you. We can an build you, Elijah, and Moses each a shelter—a little tent a tabernacle. You can sit down each of you in your shelter and we can come to visit with you.
In the middle of Peter's planning God spoke clear as day.
This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him!
And Just that fast the glory was gone. Peter, James, and John stood there with Jesus.

Jesus and his 3 friends head down the mountain. He met desperate man who shouted to get his attention. His son was possessed. Jesus followers were unable to caste out this one daemon.

Jesus response to this desperate father sounds harsh. He named the lack of faith and I hear Jesus' deep frustration—but his action show love. He called for the boy and set him free. And all were astounded by the power of God. There in the valley of this families pain, just like on the mountain, God's was there. Even when it's unexpected it's there.

There's such power in seeing God in the glory. But today I give thanks for faith to trust that God can move in the dark times. And this is exactly where we live as God's people today. With fear, love, and trust knowing that God is with us faithful both in the mountains and the valleys all the way to the end.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

best for last John 2:1-12

Sometimes I think there are limits separating possible and impossible, private and public. And when I read this story about Jesus at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) those lines disappear.

John told this story of Jesus' first sign of power. Jesus, his mother Mary, and some friends were in attendance at a wedding feast.

The wine ran out. For the host it was a private personal social catastrophe. But what was it to Jesus?

Mary turned to Jesus to tell him the news. Jesus asked back, “Woman, of what concern is that to us. It's not my time yet.” I've heard these words read over many years now. I've thought sometimes as I listen that Jesus was terse and disrespectful. But Mary wasn't deterred by Jesus' response. She directed the servants to follow her son's instructions.

Some commentators, like Roy Harrisville III, think this was a private miracle. But I'm not so sure Jesus would have cared if it was public or private. Harrisville writes,

This is a private miracle, subdued and quiet. It is not some flashy show of divine power. Only a few people, including the reader, know what actually happened. Jesus was even reluctant to do anything at the event. It was not meant to happen, but the persistence of his mother led him to perform what has become one of the most famous of his miracles.
Harrisville's right, the story changes when Jesus moves. It's the same today. When God moves the lines of possible and impossible disappear. But the lines of private and public vanish too. God took on the problem. It was no longer the hosts problem alone. It happened at Cana and it happens in the lives of God's people far beyond Galilee. When we think we're alone God's movements remind us that we are not alone.

I wonder what God thinks when we say somethings impossible. I also wonder what God thinks when we think we're alone with our troubles and problems. And then I remember that for God all things are possible (Mark 10:27). For Jesus all situations and people are redeemable. This is how God works. This is as David Lose argues how grace works.
...I’m grateful for John to remind us that grace isn’t only about making up for something we lack, but also providing more than we’d ever imagined or deserve. 2
John tells us six stone jars were there. Each jar had a capacity of 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus directed them to be filled. The water was drawn out and tasted by the chief steward. He didn't know where it came from but what he tasted, wow.. What he tasted wasn't water—it was was wine. More than just wine it was the good stuff even better than what was served before. If God hadn't moved the party would have ended. But Jesus stepped in bringing abundant blessing. The host's private disgrace was now a miracle that everyone could savor.

We often think faith is private, between, just” me and God”. But when God moves in our lives the lines of private and public disappear right along side of the limits of possible and impossible. For Jesus there's always power to transform our world and grace that transcends our limitations.

This is how God works. The signs and miracles are God moving revealing himself. Jesus gives not just enough but plenty. Mike Rogness says,
Surprise and shock always accompanied Jesus' signs and miracles. Here he surprises everybody—Mary, who probably wasn't sure what he would do; the servants, who were baffled when Jesus told them to fill the jars with water; the steward, who was taken aback at the excellence of the wine; no doubt the host, who was facing acute embarrassment upon hearing that the wine was running out; and finally the entire assembly, when suddenly their next goblet of wine was far better than anything they had drunk so far.

How often we lifelong Christians lose that sense that Jesus intends to remake us. We have come to expect that being a Christian is a good way to live, a rather acceptable and comfortable brand of vin ordinaire, as the French call their table wine. But just when life is going rather well, Jesus means to shower us with the really good stuff
Rogness, Michael. "'You are my son, the beloved': the Epiphany gospels." Word & World 24, no. 1 (2004 2004): 86-94. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 12, 2016). page 87-88
The steward was surprised the best wine had come out at the end of the feast. He didn't know about the miracle—all he knew was that the best wasn't usually saved for last.

But God often works this way revealing presence and power when we think God is absent or powerless. When God moves we often see the best is saved both for last and for the least. Jesus says
  • the last someday will be first Matthew 20:16
  • the servants among us will be the greatest Matthew 23:11
  • he came among us to servant John 13:12-17
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

God's own Isaiah 42:1-7, Luke 3

There's a word that we all need to hear. We all need to hear God's claim, "You are mine."

This word of belonging is a prophesy spoken on God's behalf by people. It was spoken first on God's behalf to people in exile in Babylon. These words, found in Isaiah, speak to a nation in tough straights. Exile meant loss of land and possibly even identity. These were the chosen people, the people of promise, but their situation looked awful. And it appeared to be getting worse. That's when God called to the people, through prophets, and said, "you are mine." Isaiah 43:1. These words declare once again to all Israel, simply and clearly, you belong.

But, those in exile will rightly say, it doesn't look like we are God's people. Severino Croatto asked a very reasonable question;

How can it be possible, above all, that in the midst of the painful experience of those dispersed among the nations, a project of salvation was announced to those very nations?
THE "NATIONS" IN THE SALVIFIC ORACLES OF ISAIAH by J. SEVERINO CROATTO* Buenos Aires, Argentina © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2005 Vetus Testamentum LV,2 page 143-144
What a great question. When circumstances seem other than blessed how can we claim to be God's. It's seem reasonable to start asking God tough questions, How can we be your chosen God, your beloved, if all this is happening? And here is where the promise meets us. We live in a world broken by sin and death and it's in this world--in this life that God has spoken his claim,, "You are mine." This is a Word of Gospel--this is a gift we don't earn or merit. This is grace spoken by the God who would face the cross for his people,

Jesus heard words from heaven that declared his identity. He heard it first at his baptism Luke 3:22-23 and again at the transfiguration Luke 9:28-26. He is God's beloved. And we hear these words in baptism when we rise from the waters. We belong. Even when the opposite seems to be true God's claim is still valid. Even when we feel unworthy God's love matters all the more. Luther wrote,
It is our glory, therefore, to be worthless in our own eyes and in the view of the world. We must indeed be nothing in our eyes and in those of the whole world. Not speculatively, as the Monastics say, but in reality we must be nothing to the tyrants who are raging against us, so that, though we are unwilling, all our wisdom, strength, and glory before us and the world may perish and we may seem stupid, so that with groaning and overwhelmed by the cross, we may long for liberation. In that extreme despair we hear You are precious in My eyes. “Because you are nothing to yourself, you are glorious to Me.”

I love you. The opposite seems to be true, “I do not love you.” When conscience hears God threaten, it says, “You are God’s foe and enemy.” So the whole world gives expression to the opposite view. Yes, the enemies themselves are the objects of God’s love, not we. Under this cross the flesh cannot believe that it is loved by God. The flesh says, “Love someone else also.” But here the prophet says, “Do not judge yourself according to your feeling but according to the Word...
Luther, M. Luther's Works, vol. 17: Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 Vol 17 Page 88). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

There's something in God's Word we need to hear. From the greatest person to the least we need to know of a love for the unworthy and the unlovable. God has claimed us and keeps on claiming his own not because we are worthy or holy; no God has claimed us because he loves us enough to die for us. The prophetic Words push us forward into this world with a permanent identity as God's people. Real live calamities are named in the prophesy: rising floods, terrible fires, and the promise is clear God is with us Isaiah 43:2. And through the worst this world can bring God's promise, you are mine, is heard again. The God of hope and salvation has spoken for Isael, for all people of faith, even for the worthless and unloveableee. God – the ancient one who made heaven and earth – God the one who set the people free from slavery is still the savior of his people. By the power of God's Word alone you know you belong. Isaiah 43:3.
And for that Good News I give thanks today. Peace and thanks for reading, John