All posts by shepsrq

1st Sunday in Lent

1st Sunday in Lent

February 18, 2018

James 1:12-18

“The Every Day Battle”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is today’s Second Lesson read earlier from James chapter 1.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Every day – every single day – of my 7th grade year at Irving Junior High School was a nightmare thanks to one J.J. Finnegan. J.J. Finnegan was an 8th grade kid at my school who, for lack of a better term – “bullied” me every time I saw him. J.J. Finnegan achieved “victory” over me every day through intimidation. The only way I achieved any victory was when we moved to Minnesota and I never saw him again…thank goodness.

Every day – every single day – we are under attack from a J.J. Finnegan in our own lives that will not go away. Not even moving will help with this bully. It’s called “temptation.” From the lure of the forbidden cookie jar to the draw of dark sites on the Internet, from the gossip we long to share to the grudge we continue to harbor. Temptation is a bully that won’t leave us alone and like every bully the intimidation is always there and so effective! Our battle against temptation is underway, even right now, and it is an every day battle.

Rabbis in James’s day, and some religions in our current age, teach that God is the author of all temptation and evil and that all the evil you are tempted with is a continual test from God. That is absolutely not true for two reasons: God cannot be tempted. He tempts no one (v 13); because God in His very nature is holy, there is nothing in Him for sin to appeal to, and God doesn’t need to use temptation to test us because we do it to ourselves each and every sin in our sinfulness, which is what James wrote about in today’s lesson.

This presence of sin is what generates for us the continual state of temptation that we live in. Consider verse 14 from James 1: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” I guess it is safe to say that, in regards to temptation, we have met the bully – the enemy – and the enemy is us! But, like Adam after the fall, we like to blame others for our sin. We try to shift the blame to others for our temptation and sin: It’s the fault of my parents, my poverty, my youth, or my addiction. They’re to blame, not me. No, James writes, each person is tempted when they are lured and enticed by their own desire; dealing with temptation starts with accountability.

Perhaps we may think that, well, since temptation is such a daily occurrence, maybe it’s not such a big deal. Actually, it is. It is a VERY BIG deal. You see, the end result of yielding to temptation, any temptation, is death. Remember what James wrote in today’s Second Lesson? “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v 15). Let’s face it…when it comes to temptation, it would be as if we rounded up a team to play 9 innings of baseball against the Tampa Bay Rays. We lose…well, then again, it is the Rays. We just might win. But the Tamp Bay Lightning…now THAT’S a different story! We’d have NO chance against them! Temptation is an every day – every single day – battle we just cannot win.

However, you are not alone in your battle. Christ Jesus knows all about temptation. Even better, He endured it without a single sin. Jesus Christ overcomes temptation, sin, and death to give us the Father’s good gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and life. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was tempted – tempted directly by Satan himself! – and yet Jesus did not give in, and this is a significant thing for us! We have to rely on the other Gospel accounts for the details, but we know that to all of Satan’s temptations, Jesus responded with the Word of God (Deuteronomy). What does that tell you as to how we can successfully respond to temptation in our own lives?

When I was a kid, the COOL shoes to have were a pair of Nikes. The “cool” kids at Irving Junior High all wore Nikes. Well, one year my mom took me school clothes shopping, and guess what? We found a pair of Nikes on sale! I wore them to the first day of school and every day after that as proud as I could be and I tried to keep them as clean and perfect looking as I could. They didn’t stay that way, but I sure tried.

Such is the new life in Christ. In our Baptism we have this perfect, cool life of faith given to us by God. But instead of putting it in a shelf and trying to keep it clean, God desires that we take this life of faith like a pair of shoes and use it knowing it just might get dirty. The life of faith that we have been given is to be a living, useful thing, not some pretty knick-knack on the shelf. And when we tarnish it with the filthy blemish of sin, the shed blood of Christ washes us clean.

In this life you are going to get knocked around and tempted and you will face a number of trials and loads of suffering; the world is FULL of J.J. Finnegans and Nikolas Cruzs. Again, we cannot blame guns or parents or policies; you cannot legislate away or control evil. That’s what we have…a people problem. Evil, sinful people are going to do sinful, evil things every day…every single day. God knows this. This is why He has called you by faith, given you the new life in Him through the waters of Baptism, made you His own through the body and blood of Christ, and sustains you daily in the face of temptation and hardship.

   The every day battle against temptation and our many losses are deeply discouraging like we saw in Parkland this week, and it seems like J.J. Finnegan is around each and every corner. But do not lose heart my friends. Jesus has defeated the bullies of temptation and sin and death for us. He paid our debt. He lived without sin. He put Satan in his place. Jesus won, but He gives YOU the victory by faith each day…every single day. Take THAT, J.J. Finnegan, wherever you are!

Amen.

Transfiguration of our Lord

Transfiguration of our Lord (B)

February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

“When Reality Touches the Divine”

Grace to you and peace in the name of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today the sermon is based on the Gospel text taken from Mark chapter 9.

My dear friends,

What is the most amazing thing you have ever experienced? The Grand Canyon maybe? The pyramids of Egypt perhaps. Paris at night as seen from the Eiffel Tower? Well..not for me because I haven’t seen any of those places; never been there. I have seen some neat stuff, but I think the most impressive thing I have seen and experienced was so because of the enormity of the moment. It was November 2, 2013 and I was in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, NE. Nebraska was playing Northwestern and had just won the game on a final-play-desperation pass into the end zone. 91,000 were celebrating in unison and it was a moment in life I’ll never forget.

Today’s Gospel lesson takes place…we don’t know. There are several options as to which mountain the transfiguration took place on, but we don’t know for sure which one. Jesus takes the “inner circle” – Peter, James, and John – up onto this unnamed mountain and he is “transfigured” before them. What does this mean? In Greek, the word means “to change in form,” or in this case, “given a new, exalted appearance.” The English word “metamorphosis” comes from that same Greek word. Right there before their eyes, the divine Jesus touches the reality of Peter, James, and John. At first, they are too stunned to speak. Then, just like in “Star Trek,” Moses and Elijah appear – “beamed in” – there with the transfigured Jesus. Whoa! Mark doesn’t tell us what they said, but who they are is what is important. In Jewish thought, Moses embodied the Law with all of its promises and its curses. Moses had foreshadowed that a greater prophet, a greater leader, would arise. Jesus is that fulfillment. Then there is Elijah. Elijah, in addition to embodying the prophets, was the forerunner of the Messiah, and his presence provides the same announcement as Moses’ presence: Jesus is the long awaited Messiah and Savior of the world. The divine was touching the reality of Peter, James, and John.

Hey…Peter, James, and John are still here. That’s right. After much stammering I am sure, Peter finally speaks up: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Oooh…nice try Peter. His offer to build tents shows a good but misguided heart. To be sure, tents had a special place in the hearts of the people going all the way back to the book of Exodus and the Tent of Meeting where God’s divine presence would meet the reality of the people. These divine men do not need a place to stay and Peter doesn’t yet realize that. Mark provides the reason why Peter said what he said” “he did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (9:6). Seems about right. The divine is right there in the face of their reality, but the inner circle still doesn’t get it.

And then…oh boy. Just when you thought the event couldn’t become any more divine, a cloud overshadows them.  Clouds in the Bible are a “BIG deal.” The divine glory of God is associated with the presence of clouds touching people’s realities. A cloud kept the Israelites safe during the Exodus from Egypt. A cloud enveloped Mount Sinai as the 10 Commandments were given (Exodus 19). Divine clouds were a significant presence at both the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle. A cloud – God’s divine presence – isn’t all that happens. A voice booms from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Wow. Talk about the divine touching reality. God the Father repeats the announcement made at Jesus’ Baptism. And then, as quick as it happened, it was over. “And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only” (9:8).

Jesus’ divine nature burst into the reality of those three disciples, and one cannot help but imagine that, having witnessed THAT, they would be ready for anything and everything. But they have NO CLUE as to what they have just seen or what to do with that divine encounter. Later in Mark chapter 9, the disciples will argue about which one of them is the greatest (9:34). In chapter 10, James and John will pull Jesus aside and ask to be given the prime leadership spots in Jesus’ coming kingdom (10:37). Really? And Peter…well, we all know what Peter will do after the Garden of Gethsemane.

Too often, when we think about our own faith, we like to envision ourselves like the three disciples up on that mountain basking in Jesus’ glory. But, when push comes to shove, we are a bit more like the disciples back down in the valley where the shadow of death constantly looms making poor choices and providing sub-standard witness to the world. We want the part of faith that promise wealth and happiness and glory, but conveniently forget that Scripture calls for self-sacrifice, suffering, and bearing one’s cross.

When our reality touches the divine we can either understand and react or misunderstand and fail to react. Yes, ‘Tis good Lord, to be here, but we cannot stay here anymore than those three disciples could stay on the mountaintop with Jesus. Jesus could not stay, for He comes down from that mountain and now begins the journey to Jerusalem where the divine will truly touch reality throughout that week in the palms and the Passover and the path that leads to Calvary’s cross. But these events – the passion of our Lord – happen for the forgiveness of sins that we all so badly need and the salvation of our souls for life everlasting. That week in Jerusalem the people experienced something truly amazing – the divine plan of God – and almost all of them didn’t realize it.

Some things never change. The divine touches our lives each and every day, and many times we miss it or refuse to acknowledge it. Our lives are lived out there – the world – with its imperfections, indecisions, evils and issues. And when the crisis arise and pain and loneliness are no longer bearable, when the future is too uncertain, when the pull of the addiction is too great, we can either give up or we can rise up being bolstered in the knowledge that the divine has touched our realities. It touched you in the water of your Baptism. It touches you today in bread and wine, body and blood. It touches your heart through spoken and sung words that encourage you even after you leave this place today so that you can live a Godly life, thrive in the midst of trouble, and be confident as you face the challenges of life with sins forgiven and souls set free.

What is the most impressive thing you have ever seen? How about when the reality of your life touches the divine, as it does again here today in the enormity of this moment as God comes to you in Word and Sacrament, and in doing so you have a life that reflects the eternal life you have in Christ Jesus? Now THAT’S impressive.

Amen.

5th Sunday after the Epiphany

5th Sunday after the Epiphany

February 4, 2018

Mark 1:35-39

“Everyone is Looking For You”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the assigned Gospel lesson for today previously read from Mark chapter 1.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

What do you want out of life? They say one should always start a sermon by getting people’s attention…and that should just about do it! For some, that is a question with still much potential; the future is still so bright you gotta wear shades. For many others, we look back at our past accomplishments and know what still lays ahead and we aren’t afraid. If you know anything about human psychology, you know that psychologist Abraham Maslow famously proposed a pyramid called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” The “hierarchy of needs” says that all people seek to attain certain physiological needs: breath, food, water, sleep, etc. The levels go up from there: safety, a sense of love and belonging, esteem, and at the pinnacle is self actualization, that is, you’ve met your full potential as an individual.

So…what do you want out of your life? I’m not asking Maslow…I’m asking YOU. That might be a lot to ask based upon a simple Gospel Lesson about Jesus moving on to a new town, but in this lesson today we see a great truth revealed: God in Christ will always and forever give us what we truly need in life.

As Mark 1 begins to draw to a close, we see Jesus doing more healings. He had cast out a demon is last week’s lesson (1:25), then in the lesson today He healed Peter’s mother-in-law (1:31), and then Jesus was besieged by all of Capernaum for healing (1:32-33). The next morning, Jesus went to a place to be alone and pray (1:35). Wouldn’t you too? You can imagine our Lord’s peace and quiet didn’t last long. Peter, leading the pack of disciples, finds Jesus and told Him, “Everyone is looking for you.”

You think? Of course they’re looking for Him! Jesus had just done some pretty awesome stuff: teaching with authority, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Certainly the people wanted more! “Where’s Jesus?” you can be sure the crowd shouted. Can you imagine the mess we would have if people today heard that there was a man working miracles down on Siesta Key Beach? It would be a snarled-up mess…think Spring Break but 100 times worse! I can imagine it’s a bit like the people right about now straining to get into the stadium in Minneapolis for tonight’s Super Bowl where parking is going for $100/car. The crowd wanted more of what He offers so they found the disciples; the disciples in turn go and find Jesus and tell Him, “Hey! There you are! Everyone is looking for you.” Why? Because they think they need what Jesus has to offer.

Little has changed today. People think they know what they want in life. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in addition to the basics of life, people want: to live with intention and purpose, to be free from worry, pain, and fear, to find a way to earn a living for their family, to feel important, or whatever list we dream up. And the general consensus is that “Jesus can deliver, right? He is God after all. Jesus will provide everything I need and not make me feel guilty about the bad things I do and He’ll understand if I do things differently than Him because times are so different today. Jesus knows I am trying to be a good person so He’ll take care of my boo boos and send lots of money my way and give me what I need and that’s what matters.” Whatever you say, pal.

People throughout the ages have been seeking something – anything – to give their life a sense of self-actualization or reach their full potential as Maslow would put it. The problem is that as sinners we will never get there! There will always be another issue, another obstacle, another ordeal, another crisis, another short coming, another failure. There is always another need. There are so many times, so many instances, in which we think we know what we want and so driven by sinful greed or pride we seek after it only to be disappointed time and time again. The endless cycle of despair robs us of any hope, any joy, any true sense of purpose; a constant lack of fulfillment because we have a false sense of what we truly need!

Dear friends, that is not the kind of Savior we have in Christ Jesus. Jesus will always and forever give us what we truly need in life. Jesus didn’t stick around Capernaum for an encore; He said “let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” He didn’t come to be the ultimate doctor or caterer or ultimate Mr. fix-it. He came to not only address our needs right now, but also address what you and I REALLY need: the forgiveness of our sins before God, the promise of eternal life to come after this life, and the hope that comes through faith.

30 years after he led the charge to find Jesus, Peter would write “Through (Christ) you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21). You and I have hope, a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), because of what God in Christ has already done for you in a manger and at the cross and at the empty rock-hewn tomb. Our crucified and risen Savior forgives us in order to give; to give a lasting sense of love…love of God and love for neighbor. That’s what should be at the top of the pyramid.

We are loved by God that we may love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus came to preach the Gospel and, in doing so, He gives you forgiveness, eternal salvation, and hope. You can now show and share that same forgiveness and life with those you meet and greet on a daily basis. As the body of Christ in this place, we also spread that Gospel message through word and deed that others might also have what it is that Jesus gives, for He always and forever give us what we truly need in life.

The Super Bowl is tonight; kick-off is in about 6 hours. Everyone is looking for that edge or key to winning the “Big Game.” Who’s going to win…the Eagles or Patriots? Doesn’t matter. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. What do YOU want out of life? Funny commercials and a good halftime show, or a good and loving and forgiving God who gives you a true sense of hope and purpose that you might seek Him throughout your daily life and be a good, faithful steward of all things? Yeah…that’s what I thought.

Amen.

4th Sunday after the Epiphany

4th Sunday after the Epiphany

January 28, 2018

Mark 1:21-28

“Who’s In Charge Here?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Mark chapter 1.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

 

The phone rang on a Monday morning just like it does a dozen times or so every day. It was our oldest daughter Emily – at the time still in high school – and it was obvious that she was shaken up. “Dad,” she said, “one of my friends died in a fire last night.” I called the high school and they confirmed my fears; one of the students – 4 people in a family of 6 – had perished in an early-morning house fire. I immediately drove to the local school. What I encountered was overwhelming grief; kids crying and hugging each other in the hallways, teachers wandered around trying to help the best they could amid their own sorrow. I looked for someone in charge so that I and the other area clergy could help, but no one seemed to be in charge other than the monumental sense of sadness. I did the best I could talking with students. By lunch the school was mostly an empty shell. Grief had overcome the day; everyone had given up and gone home.

When something tragic like this happens, we often wonder who is in charge here. Not always literally, but figuratively…spiritually. Is evil stronger than good? Doesn’t God have the power – the authority – to stop these tragedies? What kind of evil causes 13 children to eat only one rationed meal a day and shower just once a year while being beaten, choked and shackled to their beds? How does that happen? The confusion and pain leaves us with more anger and anxiety than answers. When life begins to crumble or implode around or because of your family, friends, job, finances and so many others, we are left picking up pieces and wondering who really has authority here.

Jesus has authority. Like other good authority figures, Jesus didn’t seek authority; authority was given to him (Matthew 28:18). In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus showed the world his authority; he proves his authority through word and deed. He is ultimately and ALWAYS in charge.

The synagogue was the ideal place for the true authoritative Word, Jesus, to reveal himself with authority for God’s people.  Previously the people of God had been mislead; the religious leaders in authority had abused the flock and abandoned God spiritually in favor of their lists of “do and do nots” for the people. Jesus enters the synagogue to teach with authority and then display that very same authority.

A man in the synagogue who was possessed by an unclean or evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’ Notice his words: “What do you want with us?” It’s like saying, “What are you doing here?” Obviously, the demon had quite enjoyed having the place to himself; just goes to show that evil can be at work even in God’s house. But Jesus wouldn’t allow it any longer. It was time for the demon to relinquish his authority and yield to the true authority.

Now, just a bit about demons if I may. Hollywood has done the Church a great disservice by their portrayal of demons and demonic forces in movies and on TV making them seem so over the top and so absurd that a rational person would question their existence. The greatest trick that Satan ever pulled was to get man to doubt God goodness, and at the same time, and then deflect his involvement (Genesis 3)! It was a pretty good trick…with damning consequences for you and I. as the people of God, we get our theology from scripture, not from a screen. The reality is that demons are quite real, and in the presence of God and his authority they shudder (James 2:19) and panic.

So Jesus shuts the unclean spirit up. Literally in the Greek, he “muzzles him” like an ox. As I like to translate it, Jesus told the demon to “zip it!” Like we saw last week, when Jesus speaks – “follow me” – there is a reaction.  The unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of the man. Now THAT’S authority!

God’s Word has final authority even in our world where ultimate and absolute truth and authority are questioned. God’s Word not only has authority, but it also has the ability to restore. It restored that man who was freed from Satan. God’s authoritative Word restores. Even when homes burn and people die, the authority of God does not change. God is still in charge, and using that authority, he restores. He speaks to you and all those who hurt and grieve. He says, “I forgive you,” and “I love you; I sent My own Son to save you.”  God’s grace keeps pace with everything you face. Jesus’ ultimate word of restoration came from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30), as Jesus restores our relationship with God through His sacrificial death and resurrection.

Words of authority from the mouth of God defeated Satan at the synagogue, in the desert, on the cross, and at the tomb. But it doesn’t – it NEVER – stopped there. To the faithful, God says “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b ESV).  There are times when you feel he isn’t there or in charge: the kids are driving you nuts, the sickness is rampant, the days are too long, your spouse infuriates you, the pain is too great, the loneliness is too miserable, the bills are too many. God’s delays are not always denials or defenselessness. It’s an answer of “not right now, and so trust me. Learn from me. Grow in your faith.”

My friends, don’t give up or give in to your sadness or troubles or problems. God is there. He is in control. He has authority in, over, and through your life. He rules in your heart and life with grace and peace and mercy and forgiveness and love; things that Satan will NEVER show you. God is in charge here over grief, over sadness, over sin, over fire, over physical death, and even over the very forces of Satan so that you might have an eternal existence with him where his authority will reign not only today and tomorrow, but for all eternity.  If God can cast out demons, restore sight to the blind, make the lame walk, cleanse leper, and cause the deaf to hear again (Luke 7:22),  just imagine how he can AND WILL exert his divine authority in your life.

Amen.

 

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

January 21, 2018

Mark 1:14-20

“A Really Good Sermon”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us as the basis of the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark 1 as previously read.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Did you catch the content of Jesus’ first sermon? What a really good sermon! “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). Short and sweet sermon, aye? Well, you’ll have no such luck with me, I’ll tell you that! Not that I’m a better preacher then Jesus, because I’m not! Sermons should “do” a few things: explain God’s Word, have good Law/Gospel dynamic, and give you something to use in your life. Jesus’ sermon does all that and then some!

Repentance has a fairly simple, but meaningful definition in the Bible. It means to turn away from one thing and to turn to something else. It’s like driving a car and making a turn. Repentance is a turn from one direction to another.

When Jesus uses the word repent, he is calling people to turn away from anything that leads away from him and to turn instead toward him. Then comes his second directive: believe. Believe not just anything, but believe in Jesus. Trust him. Turn toward him. Hold on to him. Repent and believe is the heart of Jesus’ message. He says and does much more, but this is the gist, the summary, the heart of his ministry: repent and believe.

Why? Because the time had come. To Jesus, “time” here is not so much a calendar date, like 30 AD. No, it’s more the right time, a decisive time. Like in World War II when the Allies decided on just the right day for the Normandy invasion: D-day. Preparation, morning tides, the element of surprise, even the weather all had to come together…well, sort of. All had to be just right. It wasn’t just June 6, 1944; it was the day. And that day, just the right day, changed history. Normandy changed world history. Jesus is saying that now, since he has arrived on the scene, the prophecies from the Old Testament were fulfilled in him. History now turns in a different direction. All of time was leading up to this moment. Everything changes because he has arrived.

Now comes the hard part – what this does in our lives. Once again, Jesus turns everything upside down. He turns our lives inside out. He changes the direction we and our sinful nature so often – too often – want to go.

Start with something as simple as what you do when you do something wrong. People use many techniques when they’ve messed up so they can avoid taking responsibility. Deflection, that is, they blame someone else. They say they were only doing what everyone was doing. Minimization, that is, they say it really wasn’t that bad. Rationalization, that is, they call it a lifestyle choice. They “self identify” different from others.

Jesus doesn’t want excuses. Jesus calls for us to repent. He says take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong. He says confess it to him and to each other. He says don’t make excuses like the rest of the crowd, but come before him with repentant, changed hearts and seek his forgiveness. The confession of sins at the beginning of worship is not just a part of the liturgy we do for the sake of doing. It’s actually turning away from the sin in our lives and turning toward Jesus, because he does forgive.

To repent is to turn away from anything that leads away from Jesus. One key area in life where Jesus calls Americans to repent is money. Christmas has caught up to many folks by now. Many went overboard and got overextended again last month, spending more and more than we should, to put ourselves into a deeper financial mess. A lot of people are headed in that direction instead of towards faithful stewardship through repentance.

Jesus calls us to repent of such spending on ourselves. He says we are to repent of being so concerned with stuff and more stuff. Instead, he wants us to turn in a different direction. He wants us to be wise stewards of our resources. He wants us first to give to the Lord and others in need; repentant stewardship means that YOU don’t get to come first anymore. To repent is to turn away from anything that leads us away from Jesus, and one of the prime offenders is money.

I grew up on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River in northern MN. I used to fish a lot; I dig fishing. I think about the four fishermen—Peter and Andrew and James and John—whom Jesus called to follow him. There they were, going about their own business, cleaning their nets by the Sea of Galilee, and suddenly their lives were changed, not just for 1 hour every weekend but turned; now they were to catch people for Jesus.

Think of the courage of those first fisherman disciples. They walked away from their income and way of life; they took a HUGE risk in following Jesus. When was the last time you took a risk for our Lord? When did we start believing the lie that we’re NOT supposed to say anything about Jesus in public? We’re told to keep our faith quiet. We’re not to impose our belief on others. Don’t wear a cross to work or at a social event…that might offend someone. Sure, the message of the cross and resurrection will be a “stumbling block” to some, but that should NEVER stop us in being faithful to what God put us here to do.

Jesus says repent and turn to a different direction in your life. You are called just like the disciples to share the Good News about Jesus with others. Because the time is right. The time has come. Jesus has come and He is here. He is the kingdom of God. You have been forgiven by his death and resurrection! You have a new life! Do as he bids: repent and believe. Find those areas in life that are leading you away from Jesus. Turn away from them, and turn to him. Repent and believe in Jesus. What a really good sermon.  Jesus’ sermon…not mine, of course!   Amen.

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

January 14, 2018

John 1:43-51

“Christmas All Over Again”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson previously read.

 

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

 

Christmas has come and gone. Of that there is no doubt. Of course, you don’t need me tell you that. Just look around you. No more Christmas tree. No more manger, wise men, bright star, shepherds, etc., etc. Your homes probably also resemble the fact that Christmas has come and gone. The cards and wrapping paper are put away. The mistletoe taken down…or maybe you leave that up all year; maybe that’s the way YOU roll!

At and around Christmas, a multitude of gifts were given and received. As Christians you know and believe that ultimately all gifts come from God. This is most evident in the birth of Jesus, the heir of King David, the child of the Virgin Mary, the Savior of all creation. God gives gifts – the gift of Himself – of that there is no doubt, and his greatest gift to us is Jesus.

God gives, and God’s people receive. This is the most basic relation between God and his people. From the beginning of time until this time, God gives many gifts along with his greatest gift. And how do we handle or receive those gifts? Sometimes even the people of God act like spoiled children; of that there is no doubt. “Why couldn’t this or that be better?” “Why can’t I have a better house, better job, or better family?” “Why couldn’t we have this thing or that thing or have what that person has.” In spite of all of this, our text for today from St. John shows us that God continues to give, and he does not withhold his greatest gift. In this event – to Philip and Nathanael – God gives Himself and His people receive the greatest gift. It’s Christmas all over again!

From the days of old, God has promised to give gifts to His people. From the very beginning, the gift was forthtold. In the Garden of Eden, God first promised to fallen Adam and Eve the greatest gift: a Seed that would crush the head of the serpent. Centuries later, to a land-less and son-less Abraham, God promised to give the gifts of land and a son. The promise of a son by Sarah to Abraham was not just any gift, but rather looked into the future toward the greatest gift: the Seed that would one day crush the head of the serpent. Like sinful people, though, they had mixed reactions to God’s gift. Abraham scoffed and Sarah laughed. And yet, in spite of their sinful actions, God still gave to them as promised: a son.

The promise of God and the actions of his people were no different in the following generation. The Seed, first promised to Adam and Eve and later promised to Abraham and Sarah, was again promised to Isaac and Rebekah. Esau, the elder of twin sons, should have fulfilled God’s promise, but the younger twin, Jacob, in league with his mother, deceived his aged and blind father and stole his father’s blessing, which was intended for Esau. That’s some way for the people of God to behave, right? In spite of their sinful actions, God still gave to them as promised: a son. In fact, Jacob would have 12 sons and those sons would become the 12 tribes of Israel.

The nativity of our Lord, Christmas, is the celebration of God once again giving the greatest gift. The promise, first made to Adam and Eve and each subsequent generation of God’s people, was finally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. 30 years later, God gave this gift, and Philip and Nathanael (Bartholomew) received this gift, a gift that was much more than they realized. To Philip, Jesus said, “Follow me,” and in so saying, Jesus gave himself to Philip. To Nathanael, Jesus said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit” (Jn 1:47). What does that mean? It probably meant that Jesus knew Nathanael was an Israelite – a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – who would always speak the truth about Jesus. As far as we know, that’s exactly the case. There is no evidence to suggest Nathanael ever denied Jesus or doubted Jesus. We can only imagine that Nathanael maintained that integrity until his death in India, as tradition says, where he was tortured and then stoned to death. God gave Philip and Nathanael the greatest gift – He gave Himself. For them, it was Christmas all over again.

In Jesus, God gave the Seed that would crush the head of the serpent. On that dark Friday, the serpent bruised the heel of Jesus, and Jesus bled and died and was buried. But on that glorious Sunday, Jesus stepped upon the head of the serpent, crushing it, as he rose up out of the grave from death to life.

God gives the greatest gift to you. As He did with Philip, so also God has called you to follow Him, and that invitation changes the way you think, act, behave, and give of yourself. Sure, there are many times you don’t feel it or sense the gift. Life has become too hard, your future too unclear, your day-to-day living has become not what you imagined or expected. And yet, still to you, the gift of God in Jesus comes. As gray and uncertain as your days can be, it is a glorious Christmas all over again because of just how richly God gives to you each and every day in Christ!

It is a gift that you receive it in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says to you, “Take, eat; this is my body. . . . Drink of [the cup], all of you, for this is my blood” (Mt 26:26–28 ESV). With your body you receive the gift still being offered; you eat and drink the body and blood of the greatest gift of God for the “remission of (your) sins” (Mt 26:28 KJV). Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it is Christmas all over again!

In spite of your sinful complaints and rejections and doubts, God continues to give to you the greatest gift each and every day. In His Word, His endless presence, and upon the altar, and hidden beneath the elements of bread and wine, is Jesus. The body and blood of Jesus, promised of old and born of the Virgin Mary, are given to you to eat and drink for the remission of sins and the strength to live each day. Yeah, the tree is gone, but the celebration of the nativity of your Lord continues; today for you at the rail it is Christmas all over again, and of that there is no doubt.

Amen.

The Epiphany of our Lord

The Epiphany of our Lord

January 7, 2018

Matthew 2:1-12

“Superstars”

Grace to you and peace this New Year and always from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today for our celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord is the assigned Gospel lesson read earlier from Matthew 2.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

We now begin the season of Epiphany. The Day of Epiphany is the day that our attention turns on the Magi, coming from the East to bring gold and frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. You know the story, right? The Wise Men (we assume 3, but do not know the real number) travel a great distance – perhaps as far as 900 miles – to Jerusalem to find the newly born King of the Jews. They consult with wicked King Herod – that’s what visiting dignitaries do – and Herod pretends that he desires to worship Jesus too. Then, leaving Jerusalem, the Magi complete their journey to Bethlehem and reach their goal.

That’s Epiphany. The Christmas angels have gone away into heaven; the shepherds have returned from the manger glorifying and praising God. Now the Wise Men are the stars of the show. But I’ve got a proposition for you. May I suggest that Herod was just as much the superstar of Epiphany as were the Wise Men?

Wait one cotton-pickin’ minute! How can that be? You know what the Wise Men were like. They were shining examples of faith: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who

has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'” (w 1-2). The Wise Men seem well-suited to be THE superstars of Epiphany, don’t they? They were educated, rich, respected, and sophisticated. The Wise Men were well-studied in the wisdom of the world, but apparently they had a working knowledge of the Old Testament. It is likely that they were astrologers; that was usually part of the job of men who advised the kings of the ancient East. That, of course, is no example for us. God prohibits astrology, horoscopes, fortune-telling, because He tells us everything we need to know in His life-giving, sin-forgiving Word that makes us wise unto salvation.

But it wasn’t through astrology that the Wise Men understood the meaning of the amazing new star that had appeared in the sky. Most likely it was through diligent study of the Old Testament Scriptures. The captivity of the Jews six centuries before Christ had spread God’s Word to Babylon, Persia, hence “the East.”  In Numbers 24:17, God had promised, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” It’s likely the Wise Men had studied or heard that passage from local Jews who after the exile had not returned and interpreted it to mean that a star would mark the birth of the One who would hold the scepter of Israel, that is, the new King of the Jews.

The Wise Men were also men of wealth and position. And yet, they were humble. When their quest was finally completed, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold; perfect gifts for the perfect prophet, priest and king. These Magi are rich men…important men. But here they are, bowing down to a child! A beautiful example of faith, isn’t it? That’s a “Superstar” kind of faith!

On the flip side, Herod was an example of darkest evil. He was nobody’s star. Using a Greek play on words, even Caesar had said it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son, because the sow had a better chance at survival than Herod’s son. Herod was a crazed murderer. He had his favorite wife and his son executed because he thought they wanted his throne – a preemptive execution of his own family. Herod would also order the murder of the 2 year old infants in his region; that’s a whole kind of crazy. Yikes!

“When Herod the king heard [about a new King of the Jews], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (v 3). You think? No wonder all Jerusalem was troubled! There was no telling what Herod might do! Herod had only real one intent, but he concealed it under the guise of religious piety. Herod sent the Wise Men to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him. Wow…that’s low. It’s the worst kind of wickedness, isn’t it? Herod used the religious teachers and the sincere, naive faith of the Wise Men for his devilish plan. Herod was the worst!

So, then, how in the world could Herod be just as much the superstar as were the Wise Men? Herod was just as much the star as were the Wise Men because neither of them are the star; the star is the superstar of this show. The star is the superstar of the Epiphany show because the star is God’s invitation inviting all people to the Savior, and that is what Epiphany is really about.

Not the Wise Men, not Herod, but the star is the superstar because it announced Christ, the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the One who would be born and live and suffer and die and rise to save all people. God put the star in the sky where all could see. That was God’s way of announcing that Jews and Gentiles alike, people of all lands and languages and backgrounds, are included in those promises. We, even though we never saw the star and never met the wise men, are included…you and I. All people. The star shined in the East over the Wise Men. You know what else? It shined over Jerusalem too. Over Herod. Yes, the star of Epiphany included him too.

The star itself bears the message of Epiphany: Christ Jesus is our Savior no matter who we are, where we are, how sinful we’ve been. We’re all people who aren’t worthy to be superstars before God – we’re outsiders – sinners – on whom the real Star has shone with the bright light of salvation for all to see and believe. What a glorious show indeed!

With that being said and in conclusion, how can you be a Superstar of the faith in 2018? No, you don’t have to walk great distances from the east (900+ miles to Dallas, TX), but maybe you’ll walk across the driveway to help your neighbor. You don’t have to bring gold or frankincense, but maybe this is the year you challenge yourself to further develop your stewardship and consider giving your time in addition to your treasures. You don’t have to dodge a maniacal, murderous king, but maybe it’s time you took head-on that position or task that you’ve been avoiding. With the light of God’s love and grace shining upon you, is there anything you cannot do? Gabriel told Mary that nothing is impossible with God…do you believe that for your own life? God’s inviting and forgiving light has shone on you. You are a superstar in the faith as you repent, love God, and love your neighbor. You’re a superstar whose forever has been changed because of God in Christ. That star makes all the difference.

Amen.

 

 

1st Sunday after Christmas

1st Sunday after Christmas

December 31, 2017

Galatians 4:4-7

“Whose Idea Was This?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today the sermon will once again be based on the Second Lesson from Galatians 4.

My Dear Friends,

Happy New Year! Now, with that being said, whose idea was this? Church on New Year’s Eve? Well, New Year’s celebration on the weekend is not all that uncommon. It just so happens that 2017 started that way with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day on Saturday and Sunday. It also happened in 2012 when I was in Braham, MN. It happened in 2006 when I was in Crosslake, MN. It happened in 1995 when I was in Baudette, MN. I was also in Baudette when it occurred in 1989; Joanne and I were just about to complete our first year of marriage. When you look back at life like that, you realize just how fast it can and does change. And, in case you’re curious, it will happen again in 2023 so start planning ahead, I guess.

So…the question remains. Whose idea was this? That would be the folks who established the Gregorian Calendar. The Gregorian calendar is the most internationally used civil calendar. It is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. The calendar was a refinement to the Julian calendar involving a 0.002% correction in the length of the year. The motivation for calendar reform was to stop the “drift” of the calendar with respect to the equinoxes and solstices—particularly the vernal equinox, which set the date for Easter celebrations every year. So, in other words, it was the Church’s idea…not mine. Not that it matters to me. My days of being hung over on New Year’s Day are long since in my rear-view mirror of life!

Now that we have that solved, have you ever asked yourself the same question in regards to salvation: “Whose idea was this? Why would God send a baby?” Good question. Here is a fun fact to start your new year. How many times does the word “baby” appear in the 39 books of the Old Testament (ESV)? Answer? Once. Only in Exodus 2. This is the narrative in which a certain infant is spared from certain death, raised by a special family, spends time as a shepherd, and then later embarks on a task in which he leads God’s people out of bondage. His name? Moses. And just as Moses did in the Old Testament, Jesus will do in the New Testament once and for all. Jesus is spared from certain death at the hands of Herod’s goons. He is raised by a special family – Joseph and Mary. Jesus spends 3 years shepherding: preaching, teaching, leading, healing, feeding, and nurturing. And, yes, He too will lead the people out of bondage…bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

Okay, I see that connection…but why a BABY? Well, in order to save us, Jesus had to be one of us. And how did we all start life? As babies, of course. Isaiah 7: “The virgin shall bear a SON,” and since no one is born an adult, Jesus had to start like each and every one of us…a helpless infant. Why a “like us?” Because Jesus is ONE of us, and that is the only way to save us; “That WE might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:5).

It is very important for us to understand today whose idea this is and why. 2017 is gone…2018 stands before us now as a blank slate. 365 blank pages of possibilities and change. Some of those pages will be filled with pleasant surprises and happy endings. But not all of them. As the children of God, we should expect that not everything is going to go as planned in 2018. About the one thing you can count on is the fact that you won’t be able to count on everything!

Paul, in today’s lesson, states that we are sons and heirs of God and because of that we have adoption. But also because of that fact we should expect to suffer. Paul also wrote in Romans 8, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (8:16-17). Did you catch that? As children of God we should expect to suffer in order that we too may be glorified.

And suffer you will in 2018. You will experience pain and crisis and loss and maybe even death. These are a natural result of the sin-stained world we live in. That is Satan’s idea for us…to see us suffer…in hopes that we will abandon our faith out of frustration and fear. May this never be! Granted, we may be called to suffer and bad things may happen to you in 2018. You may even be expected to be like Job and endure the loss of everything. And if that does happen…then so be it.

What I mean by that is consider the example of Peter. Can you imagine the pain and anguish that Peter must have felt after Jesus’ passion? Peter was supposed to be our Lord’s “right hand man,” the “leader” of the 12. But what did Peter do? Denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. And then Jesus died a wretched, horrible, public death. I can only imagine Peter really wondered whose idea this was at that point when he saw Jesus dead on a Roman cross.

Then, on the 3rd day, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples that night, but John doesn’t say if Peter and Jesus had reconciled. Later, in John 21, the disciples have returned to Galilee and are fishing again. How much time has gone by? A week? A month? We don’t know. But it is at that time that Peter and Jesus are reconciled. Imagine the anguish that Peter must have felt in-between! The guilt! The anxiety! The emotional suffering! Most assuredly, Peter knows what it meant to suffer for the faith. Church tradition says that, when Peter was executed, he asked to be crucified upside-down because he wasn’t worthy to die the same way as Jesus. And it was Peter who wrote “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV).

And there you have it. We can suffer in 2018; it’s part of the plan. And when we suffer for doing good, we do so entrusting our souls to a loving, faithful, creator God who has a plan of salvation for you. Will you always understand the plan? No. Will you always be able to follow the plan? No. Will you sometimes wonder “whose idea is this anyway?” when you experience trial, trouble, and tribulation in 2018? Probably. But know that it is God’s idea that you receive adoption as His children for an eternity of privileges that come from being the loved and saved children of God.

Happy New Year everyone! Amen.