Tuesday, January 17, 2023

united in the cross thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 2000 years ago preacher named Paul spoke to a church in Corinth. Corinth was located West of Athens. It was at the heart of so much life in what we today call the Greek islands.  Corinth was a seaport a cosmopolitan city, and a trading center that pulled in commerce from all over the Mediterranean world—and beyond.

Paul was writing to a very new church in this city; he was writing to a church that he loved--that means he was writing to people he loved because deep down the church has always been people gathered together around the good news of Jesus. Paul was writing to this church who he loved; writing to these people he loved as they were quarrelling with one another.

There have been divisions in the church for 2000 years. Paul understood this; he knew the divisions. And Paul appealed to these brothers and sisters to see themselves not as separate parties in conflict but to see themselves as God's people.

Over 20 something years of ministry I have found numerous ways that people can divide one person from another. People can fight about politics; people can joke about sports teams; I can make fun of people from Nebraska. Sometimes the divisions are small and frivolous; but sometimes the divisions are so significant and the passion behind them so strong the people feel they must take a stand and they must speak out about somebody else.

Paul appealed to this church to see their unity in Jesus--especially in the cross of Jesus Christ.  There is something that feels intentionally countercultural in Paul's direction. In our time, when media companies make great profits by dividing people into ideological silos, Paul's invitation to find a common identity in Jesus crucified and risen matters most of all. The real source of the church's identity and the only real power we have he is declaring resurrection and inviting people to live in the light of the resurrection not at a future time but today.

Thanks for reading

Peace to you, John

Monday, August 22, 2022

entertaining Angels

 Entertaining Angels?

It’s been said, by more than one person, that humility and hospitality are basic Christian virtues.  Luke tells us Jesus spoke about humility and hospitality while eating with a Pharisee one Sabbath day.  (look up Luke 14:1-14)

The meal started with what feels like an interruption.  A man showed up with legs swollen by edema.  Jesus asked the Pharisees, who watched him closely, if it was right to heal on the sabbath.  The Pharisees sat silent.  Jesus healed the man.  He sent him on his way.  Now with all eyes Jesus he told a parable about a feast.  He encouraged people to take the lowest seat—that they might be honored later  Next He told the people they should give banquets for people who could never repay.

Jesus words about being humble and serving those who can’t echo with other parts of scripture.  Jesus talked about the least of these.  Prophets like Moses, Isaiah, Malachi called for care the widows, orphans, and aliens.  Jesus tells us to care for the least of these and to welcomes strangers.  Hospitality is deeply spiritual—because we are caring for Jesus when we care for the least of these.  The writer to the Hebrews says We may be even entertaining angels when we welcome in strangers.  Luke up Hebrews 13:2.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

unexpected grace Jesus, Thomas, and us in John 20 and Revelation 1

The story of Easter started at an unexpected hour: early on a Sunday Morning. 
God often makes new life happen at unexpected times.  Truth is God can do the very most with us when we either aren't expecting something new to happen or aren't able to do anything new by ourselves.  

Easter happened.  New life broke in.  Jesus' grave stood wide open.  Some women disciples who went to the tomb reported the good news to the men who followed Jesus.  They had seen angels.  Jesus was alive and well.  But the news the women shared didn't convince the men.  And that night Jesus came looking for them.  Jesus found them hiding out behind a locked door.   Jesus stepped into a fear filled room and he breathed out a word of peace and the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 20:21).  They were expecting the worst and Jesus showed up spreading the Good News of peace and forgiveness. The expected the worst and Jesus brought the best.  He shared grace and new life starting with all of them.

Faith and Hope

They were locked in.  Fear held them tight.  But Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit and a mission to forgive sins.  This is just how God's grace happens.  We expect one thing--we know the ways of the world and the natural order of things.  We sinners, if we are honest, will say we don't deserve grace.  But God's grace supersedes the natural order.  Easter deep down is about grace breaking in.  And we are invited to join the Easter mission--to spread peace, forgiveness, and new life.

Easter comes not because we are ready or because we have earned new life.  Easter comes because God chooses to bring new life to us--ready or not.  Easter is God's great moment.  aster is God's yes.  The men, who once thought the women were clueless, now all believed.  But one of their own, Thomas, missed out.  They told Thomas they'd seen the Lord.  But he said no, unless he saw for himself--he would not believe. (John 20:25)

One week later, Jesus showed up--again his friends met in a locked room.  Thomas was there this time.  And Jesus went straight to him.  Jesus invited Thomas to see and touch the scars.  Jesus was who he had always been--and now Thomas and all the disciples started to see and believe.   Jesus is the alpha and omega (Revelation 1:8) but his friends just started to understand.  Jesus knew Thomas' doubt and disbelief, but that didn't stop Jesus (John 20:27).  Thomas and every other believer after him learns the full power of Jesus majesty in the days and the years after Easter (Revelation 1:6).

There's so much about Jesus gracious nature that comes out in this story.  He meets his friends not with hard words about unbelief--no rather he meets them with peace and calls them to join him spreading the Good News.  May we all join in the joy of Easter--even if we have our doubts and fears the God of unexpected grace can and will meet us.

Peace and thanks for reading, John.

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,

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


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,


[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.