Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Joy-filled anticipation; Thoughts on Luke 24:44-53

Where did Jesus go?
The gospel of Luke ends with cliff-hanger Luke 24:50-52.  Jesus left his friends--but he didn't abandon them.  He went away promising they would forever be in touch.  Before he withdrew and was carried up into heaven Jesus had so much to say to his friends.  He talked about the promises that had been fulfilled, promises that had been shared by Moses, the prophets and the psalms about him.

He opened up his friend's minds and they understood His presence and purpose in new ways.  Jesus came to earth as part of a greater plan.  A plan for redemption--a plan to make all things new.  The redemption came through suffering, death, and resurrection--in order that real new life, death and resurrection new life, repentance and forgiveness new life, suffering and renewal new life might be preached to all nations starting in Jerusalem.  And he told them to wait until God clothed them with power from on high.

And when they got to Bethany Jesus gave them a final blessing and just like he was gone.  Luke says his friends waited full of joy in prayer and anticipation for God's next move.

Where's God?  
As a kid I likely would have said up in heaven.  But the older I've gotten the more I have started to look for signs of God's activity closer than heaven.  There are signs that God is showing up all around us.  In the creation God is at work everyday.  In the people around us God is active today working for our redemption.  God shows up in the relationships Jesus' friends have with one another.  God shows up when we love as he first loved us (1st John 4:10-12).  But I am reminded again and again that the new life Jesus offers only comes after death.  Death comes before resurrection.  Repentance is the actions that makes forgiveness real.  For Christians the cross and the suffering always come first--and only after the grief and loss can we experience the power of God's Easter renewal.

God shows up when God's people share God's love in this world that so needs love and mercy.  This is a huge calling for us as church today.  And it's a huge promise.  When we share the love of God we are not alone.  Jesus promised to show up--God is in the middle of us offering people the good news of repentance and forgiveness.  God shows up in the middle of us serving our neighbors in need.  There are times when we and our neighbors need more than words to connect us to Jesus.  There are times we need God's love to break in tangibly in order that we might know God is still at work in Jesus for the redemption of the world.

Jesus didn't stay with his friends on earth.  He left his first followers--not in order to abandon them--rather he left them with a promise--that they would be clothed with power.  

Peace and thanks for reading,
John

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

God of the Interuptions thoughts on John 13 and Maundy Thursday

God’s in the interruptions…

I've been looking at the story Last Supper. There are all these ways that God showed up that night and above all I see that God showed up in the interruptions. There was a rhythm and a plan that Jesus’ people had during the Passover supper. The plan for the night was all laid out. The Passover meal was supposed to go on just like it had been for generations. The menu, the story from the scripture, and the traditions that went with this one night.  It was all planned out. This night was set aside to remember the way God lead the people from slavery to freedom.

And even before Jesus and his friends sat down to supper God was starting to interrupt things—but God wasn’t the only one planning interruptions. The Devil had his own plans to disrupt Jesus—but Jesus would use that plan of the Devil—Jesus would interrupt the Devil’s plan because the full power of God was about to be shown.

When I was in seminary 20 something years ago one of my professors Bob Albers had some very solid advice. Real ministry happens in the interruptions. Dr. Albers gave that advice to people studying to be pastors but right now I see this happening in all of our lives.

We make plans to do things. And I have come to believe that we often are called to serve God when our plans are interrupted. If you meet somebody in need—that might be an interruption to your day. It might seem like a real obstacle to all of your plans—but that distraction might be the way God is trying to connect with this hurting person—through you.

Sometimes walking with Jesus means going out of your to give to a hurting person you know—but sometimes following Jesus means giving to an organization that helps hurting people you don’t know either in your own community or thousands of miles away. God works through us in the interruptions.

When a friend calls who just lost somebody they love they might need to really talk. That call might very well be interrupting your best laid plans—but that might be the exact way God needs you to move right now in this world. Sometimes love means picking up your phone and putting down what you are doing to listen. Sometimes love means driving somebody to an appointment they don’t want to go to alone.

We might have plans—but God has an even bigger plan. We might have goals—but God has even better goals.We might have plans—but God has an even bigger plan. We might have goals—but God has even better goals.

So just imagine coming into the upper room with Jesus. 1 of the disciples was planning to betray Jesus that night. The rest of the disciples were planning to celebrate the Passover feast with Jesus. Jesus enemies were planning to have him arrested. The Devil was scheming too. But God had an even bigger plan—a plan that love would win the final victory over death.

The people wanted Jesus to come and be their king. But Jesus came to be the greatest king of all the servant king. He came to be a king who would reign not just here on earth. Jesus came that the whole kingdom of God might start to break in and that we would all experience the whole power of God. But along the way to the glory of Easter morning Jesus would experience the full depth of human sin and brokenness. Jesus came to set us free from the worst of ourselves. He came to set us free from sin, death, and evil. But the way that Jesus delivered us was to take all the worst things that people can do and bear it in his very being.

Jesus came to interrupt this world’s order so that death might be defeated once and for all that new life might begin.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Monday, March 15, 2021

the one that falls bears much fruit thoughts on John 12:20-33

Okay

So it’s been a year now that we’ve been living with this pandemic.  It’s been 12 month of new challenges and slivers of hope.

And as we come towards Easter this year I see a part of the story in a new light—Jesus had a focus—a purpose that guided him.  He came to be the savior.  And Jesus wasn’t about to be turned away or distracted from that God given purpose.  This pandemic has given us countless challenges--and the reality of being church today is not just about the challenges--it's about focusing on Jesus as we meet the challenges.  The challenges and distractions are here--but so is the Good News.

There are some times in my life when I wish I could really focus.  I can be distracted by a million things.

  • A tweet,
  • An email
  • A story on the radio news

I can be so easily distracted.  And as I was reading our Gospel for today I struck by the intensity of Jesus focus in the week before he died. Jesus was getting ready for the cross.

A group of people came looking for Jesus.  They found Philip, one of his disciples, and Philip brought these Greek visitors with him to meet Jesus. 

These people were just hoping to have a meeting with Jesus.  He was growing in fame and reputation as a rabbi.  These travelers were in Jerusalem for the Passover and they had probably heard so much about and Jesus and now they wanted to see for themselves if it was true. 

They had heard about the miracles and the powerful teaching.  They heard that Jesus could heal the hurting, give sight to the blind, and that he taught we such authority.  And now this was their chance to meet him.

Maybe they wanted to see if he really could turn water into wine or walk on water at this first meeting with Jesus.  But Jesus had a different agenda.  These people just came to meet Jesus and he said something they never expected to hear. Jesus was talking about the son of man being glorified. 

These travelers from Greece we likely not sure what to think.  Jesus was so focused on what was coming for him.  Everything look great on Monday—but Jesus knew by Friday he would be dead.  Everything looked great on the outside—the people loved him—so what if the scribes, the Pharisees and the temple authorities complained.  The people loved Jesus.

But Jesus knew what was coming. Jesus had a purpose when he came to earth—and in that week that purpose was about to be fulfilled.   

Reading the gospel this week I am struck by just how clearly Jesus know what was coming for him.  As Jesus’ friends were inviting other people to come along and get to know Jesus he was trying to talk with them about the cross.

Jesus wasn't just interested in meeting these new people—he was interested in telling them and all his followers about the cross he knew was coming. Jesus embraced the cross.

He understood that he had to die, and he made a comparison between his dying and a seed falling to the ground.  Everyone who's planted a garden knows that a seed has to grow into a plant. Everyone who's planted a seed knows that you can't eat that seed if it's going to grow into something new.

 Jesus understood exactly what was coming for him.  Jesus embraced this reality that his death was coming and that his death would bring life about for all people.  Easter for us as Jesus people is our chance to celebrate what Christ has done to set us all free.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, January 11, 2021

Following Jesus started friendship with Jesus. Thoughts on John 1:43-51

How do you imagine Jesus and his first followers?

As a kid I read picture story books in which it was easy to tell Jesus and his followers apart from everybody else.  In so many of these book Jesus had a halo over his head—and sometimes his followers the disciples did too.  Jesus portrayed on these pages absolutely glowed.  

In some churches I went to as a kid there were pictures of Jesus first followers in the ceilings of the church.  They were surrounded by gold and obviously must have been very special.  But just read the Gospels and it seems like the drawings in the picture books and the mosaics in the churches might not have been accurate.  Read John 1:43-51 and see that Jesus was human and very approachable.  He had long conversations and he just got to know people.  His first followers were fishermen—hard-working good hearted people.  They didn’t have halos—they had calloused hands and big hearts.  And Jesus built relationship with his followers.

It’s good to remember the humanity of Jesus and his first followers as we start this new year.  Right now our humanity and our fragility is clearer than ever before.  We need to know that Jesus fully knows us and our stories—this year 2021 is the year we need to know Jesus completely understands the human condition.  Martin Luther described Jesus,

He did not behave in an unusual manner; but He was unpretentious, mingled congenially with the people, and associated freely with all. Thus one after the other gradually came to Him and rallied about Him, today one, tomorrow another.[1]

Jesus was friendly.  Right from the first moment he met someone he already had deep understanding about that unique person.  We need to know that the one who worked miracles knew what it was like to be totally human.  When he started gathering disciples he started relationships with them.  They were becoming friends as he invited into the job of being followers.    

John wrote about the first disciples getting to know Jesus as he called them to come and follow him.   They were building friendship and trust.  They were starting to know Jesus as they travelled with him.  But Jesus already knew them.  There’s a danger in forgetting the love that Jesus and his followers had for eachother.   Martin Luther wrote about John’s Gospel,

John’s theme is not the calling of the apostles into office; it is their congenial association with Christ. He wishes to tell us that they joined Him because of His friendly attitude toward the people.[2]

People really liked Jesus and the truth is Jesus liked people.  And as he traveled more and more people came along with him.  We need to know the humanity of Jesus right now.  We need to know that Jesus understands us and relates to us. 

Peace and thanks for reading,

John


[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1957). Vol. 22: Luther's works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Jn 1:45). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House. Page 182.

[2]Ibid

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

show not tell thoughts about Isaiah 64 for Advent 1 November 29 2020

 There are so many ways that we choose to communicate. In our day and age we can communicate by phone, email text, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, good old fashioned pen and paper letters, or even just a face to face conversation. Over the years God has tried to communicate with humanity. The one of the ways God has reached into our lives and tried to communicate with us is through signs and wonders. Other times God chooses to send a prophets to speak on behalf Of God. 


In Isaiah 65 
we hear words of frustration that a great prophet had to share with God. Isaiah was called by God to speak on God's behalf. But it felt to this person called by God to use his voice on God's behalf like nobody was listening. Isaiah kept speaking but nobody listened. And Isaiah spoke to God asking God to rip open heaven and just come down here. Isaiah could speak but the truth on God's behalf. But the truth only went so far. Isaiah could talk and talk. But all those words were worthless if the people didn't want to listen. Isaiah could talk about what God was saying for him to tell the people. But if the people didn't want to listen they wouldn't. God gave Isaiah these powerful words to share. But Isaiah must have felt like it was all pointless.   


I think some parents and teachers can relate. Parents and teacher can talk and talk but if their kids just don’t get it or just are listening we have to find another way to communicate.  As a pastor I have been challenged to choose some other medium, some other way of speaking than just using my words. 

For me this year the big question as Christmas comes is what is God trying to show us right now. I think a lot of people have stopped listening in right now God like a frustrated teacher or parent is trying to show us both God's great love and also the call that God gives us to let that love order our lives. Right now in a pandemic we need to hear this great grace of God's undying love and also this great call to both love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. God is trying to show us something right now because a lot of us have stopped listening. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

You're invited thoughts on parable about a wedding banquet

Jesus had a lot to say about the kingdom of God.
And it was throught his parables helped people glimpse the way God's kingdom is moving into our world. These parables about the kingdom open us up to see just some of the possiblities God has in store. Jesus talked about the power of tiny seeds when he talked about the kingdom. He talked about the way little light can change the way we see the world when he talked about the coming reign of God. These stories get people like you and me thinking and looking at the world differently. These parables are all about seeing God's activity in our lives. Each one of these stories help us to see a little more of God's work among us today. These stories are all about God's action--they tell us what Jesus is doing to bring the kingdom to life--but they also let us see how people have responded to God's kingdom at work.

Jesus had inside knowledge because he was at the heart of the kingdom that was breaking into the world. With every step Jesus took the reign and rule of God came closer and closer to the people. The hurting people could feel it in their very being. Jesus was the one. He came and hope and healing came with him. It was so good and the poor and the hurting reached out to him.

But not everyone was excited that Jesus' kingdom was coming. Truth is we need Jesus--but we don't always want the real Jesus to show up in our life. Jesus told stories about people who would enter into his rule and others who would reject the offer to enter into his reign. The older I get I find these parables are more and more challenging. Jesus told a parable about a vineyard and tenants who refused to pay their share at the harvest time--when the vineyard owner sent servant to ask for payment they violently mistreated them. When the vineyard owner sent his son the tenants killed him. There's a long history in Christian churches of scapegoating--pretending that this story is about somebody else rejecting Jesus. But this story strikes close to home when I admit that I have rejected Jesus invitation to enter into his kingdom.

Jesus told a story about the Kingdom of God being like a banquet. The invitations were passed out. It was the king's wedding feast. This was going to be the party to be at--this was a big deal. But the invited guests ignored the invitation. But the king was going to keep on with the plan. This banquet was still happening. Servants went out to remind the invited guests. But those first people who were invited rejected the invitation that came from the servants. Some folks ignored the servants--and some did worse than ignore.

The king was still going to have the feast--this is how God really works. God has come. Jesus has entered the story of the world and many who claim to be close to God will ignore the invitation. But God is still coming. Jesus has come he has stepped into our world. God's grace is still going to be shared even if we deny we need that Grace. And Jesus will send his people out--first to the ones who are close to him already. But the good news is that Jesus will send his people out with good news. It's our workr--our mission to share the grace of God. That love and mercy will extend far beyond the first ones to be invited. See this story is telling the real truth about how God's message of hope is still spreading. God's rejected grace would still be shared. But there's one more uncomfortable part of the story. One man was singled out. He had no garment. And he was set outside of the feast into the darkness.

God's Word is full of challenge and promise. This story asks us to consider our response to Jesus. And--it really pushes us to see that God has a plan to keep sending Good News to us and to others after us. AMEN.

Friday, July 24, 2020

the little things Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

How do you talk about something as big as the kingdom of heaven. Superlative words like awesome and wonderful come to mind. But Jesus put emphasis in a different direction when he spoke about the kingdom of heaven. Matthew tells the story

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Matthew 13:31-33 (NRSV)
Jesus spoke with inside knowledge abut God's activity--the kingdom God is working to bring here to earth. Jesus spoke about mustard seeds and yeast when he spoke about the kingdom of heaven opening up. God is moving. The kingdom of heaven is coming near to you and me. That's good news--for us for all people. Jesus said when God moves its a whole lot like the mustard seed or yeast. Small things-easily overlooked and wrongly considered insignificant.

Mustard seeds and yeast mark the start of God's kingdom. Grace and mercy mark the coming of God's kingdom. A mustard seed is so small--and grace feels the same way. Yeast is a micro organism and mercy feels so small too. Mustard seeds and yeast Jesus spoke about these two small things...Jesus points to them...saying that these small things matter. The small things matter. In a marriage you bet it's the little things that matter. In a family it's the little things. In a church, a community, a city, a state, a nation, in this world the little things matter.

See the seeds are here for us as church and for us as people. The seeds are here--with us today. The kingdom of heaven is close to us--look for the little things. AMEN.