7th Sunday of Easter

7th Sunday of Easter

May 28, 2017

1 Peter 5:6-11

“X-Ray Five”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today will be the 2nd half of today’s 2nd lesson from 1 Peter 5.

My dear friends,

The boxes of gloves are mounted on the wall in X-Ray 5. But, then again, that’s not all that rare; I saw that in several rooms…including my own. Oh, and you may want to bring an extra blanket (or a parka as far as that goes) because it’s pretty cold in X-Ray 5. They have to keep it cold because of the machines. Lots and lots of machines. They generate so much heat that they have to keep it very cool in X-Ray 5. And imagine, me without my parka. X-Ray 5, by the way, is just one of many rooms in the Imaging department at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“Mr. Anderson, we’re going to have you drink this contrast material,” the X-Ray technician said, “and then we’ll take images of your abdomen and digestive tract initially, at 20 minutes, at 40 minutes, at 60 minutes, and then at 120 minutes. You’re going to be here for more than 2 hours. Did anyone tell you that?” “No,” I muttered looking at my slowly freezing feet and wondering why I at least hadn’t worn something warm. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have anything warm. “The contrast material doesn’t taste very good. Sorry about that. It’s not going to be very pleasant,” the tech warned me.

And thus began my stay in X-Ray 5. And the technician was right. The contrast material was NOT pleasant going in or going out for that matter. But then again, not much had been pleasant over the previous 36 hours. My journey to X-Ray 5 began in my living room last Saturday night. I had watched Nashville beat Anaheim 3-1; my beloved Lightning didn’t make the playoffs but I’m still watching the playoffs. As I got ready for bed I was doubled over in abdominal pain and my first thoughts was “Oh no! Not again!” I just had an obstruction cleared in late February. My second thought was “I can ride this out.” 45 minutes later, I had no choice. It was back to the ER for me. Again.

The ER at SMH was busy late Saturday night. Is it ever NOT busy? I remember I kept wanting to know the time. The pain wasn’t going anywhere, but I sure wanted to be. Church was going to start at 9:15. If I could just get out of there by 6:30, then everything would be fine. After my CAT Scan, I was admitted and hauled up to the 8th floor. No church. My abdomen/stomach hurt terribly from something; my head and heart hurt from having to cancel church last-minute.

And that’s how I ended up in X-Ray 5. On Monday morning my doctor wanted a bunch of images and so I ended up there guzzling contrast and trying to kill time while I fought off boredom and frostbite. THANKFULLY the images were good. No more surgery and 5 short hours later and I was home where there was lots of Dt. Dr. Pepper waiting for me and my dog and my favorite chair. Thank you to the Elders who handled things on this end and for those who came to church on Sunday morning to let any stragglers know of my latest medical crisis that was keeping me out of the pulpit…again.

Crisis. That’s what caused me to end up in X-Ray 5. But we all have our own X-Ray 5s, don’t we? We all have areas, events, situations, people, and the like that cause us crisis. By definition, the word “crisis” means “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger,” and that happens to ALL OF US, and the crisis of life, like X-Ray contrast, are not very pleasant.

We all have our own X-Ray 5s: times of difficulty and trouble and danger and stress and uncertainty and doubt. The times of crisis when our kids let us down or we let them down. The times when the addiction get the best of us. The times we lose a loved one or lose a cherished routine. The times when the daily grind of life is just too much. The times when the ends just won’t meet. We all have an X-Ray 5 waiting for us when we get home, right? And what are we supposed to do?

Enter the words of Peter into our crises. From today’s lesson: “(cast) your anxieties on (God), because he cares for you…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:7-10). When you struggle in life, and EVEYONE struggles because of sin, you may not feel like the devil is lurking in wait. Are you so sure? Think about it. What does the devil want from you? Answer…the destruction of your faith. And what’s the fastest way to do that? Erode your confidence in God. And how does that happen? When we suffer! Ergo, if Satan can escalate your suffering, his evil needs are met. Peter tells us that as we resist firm in our faith, Christ himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

How does that happen? It happens knowing that God in Christ forgives you of all your sin. It happens because we know that Jesus is risen and ascended to Heaven where He prepares a place for us…much better (warmer?) than X-Ray 5. It happens when we find strength for today and hope for tomorrow when we endure the sufferings of life. It happens when we realize that Jesus is our help in ages past and our hope for years to come, including eternity.

In today’s Gospel lesson you heard a portion of John 17. This is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” It is a portion of what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane right before His passion began. And WHO was He praying for? You. He prayed for you and all your X-Ray 5s. Jesus prayed “They have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them…for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Notice that Jesus did NOT pray that we would never suffer. He never asked that we never have to face our X-Ray 5s. He DID pray, though, that we be kept and we be one. That, my friends, is precisely what we are. One. One body joined by one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. We gather in a fellowship of worship and service to know and worship the one True God who is One.

U.S. Army General George Patton once said “It is better to fight for something than to live for nothing.” I think “Old Blood and Guts” had a good point. We fight to resist the devil, to survive our X-Ray 5s, and to find confident strength even in suffering knowing that Jesus lives and because He lives a day will come when we will live forever too. In the meantime, we will be restored, strengthened, and established as the confident, forgiven and redeemed people of God and that, friends, is VERY pleasant indeed.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2017

John 14:1-14

“How Can We Know the Way?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s assigned and familiar Gospel lesson from John 14.

My dear friends,

John 14:1-6, a portion of today’s Gospel lesson, is so well-known by people because it is traditionally the Gospel lesson for a Christian funeral. These words of Jesus are such words of comfort, words of hope, words of eternal promise: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself” (John 14:1-3 ESV). This statement is followed with “And you know the way to where I am going.” The disciple Thomas then said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:4-5 ESV). Indeed, Thomas, indeed. How can we know the way?

I am comfortably sure Thomas and the boys didn’t know where Jesus was headed (his arrest, trials, cross, and death), so naturally they didn’t know the way or at least didn’t understand Him. And has that problem ever gone away? Do people in our age see Jesus as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14:6)? At best – AT BEST – Jesus is considered today as a way among lots of other ways. Now, everyone seems to have bought into the same lie. Every “way” is valid, every way is “acceptable,” no one’s way is more “right” than another. Friends, I know it plays well on TV, but this age of inclusivity and lack of moral absolutes is killing us spiritually. It is killing our children and grandchildren spiritually. And the worst part of it is…we did it to ourselves. We allowed evolution into classrooms, we allowed the removal of crosses and Bibles from public places, we allowed moral filth into our homes and movie theaters, and then we wonder how come kids no longer know the way. We wonder why they stopped carry Bibles and started carrying cell phones, pills, drugs, and guns. We stopped telling our kids to love their neighbor, so they started making hit lists and death threats. And then we wonder why the “young people” are not in church? We stopped showing people the Way, and then wonder why so many have either lost sight of or completely lost the way.

It’s 2017. Times have changed. Countries, governments, policies, and social norms have been drawn, erased, re-drawn, and re-erased like images on a dry erase boards. History has marched on like a steamroller since 33 AD. But one constant has not and will not EVER change: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Jesus is the only way, the only cure, for this sin-sick world we live in. That doesn’t mean we don’t like sinners or those different from us. On the contrary! We are called to reach out to them in love so that they too would know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus’ claim is exclusive – you bet – for He is the ONLY way to God the Father. But that doesn’t mean we exclude others from knowing Him. Instead we are called to not only know Christ but to make Him known so that all would come to a saving knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

Jesus is the way. The ONLY way. EVERY DAY is a chance to live knowing that Jesus is the Way, He is the Truth, and He is the life even when your life is filled with chaos and pain and uncertainty. As a Church and as a nation we can find our way – our moral compass – again, but the only way that can be done is by following Christ Jesus and His life-changing, sin-forgiving, Word.

This means you may have to take some risks! Nurture your children and your grandchildren in their baptismal faith. Be there for your teens who can be troubled and conflicted and addicted. Spend less time with your noses in social media and get back into the greatest media resource this planet has ever or will ever know…the divinely-breathed, inspired, eternal and holy Word of God. If we as the Church are going to be missional at all, we need less Facebook and more time in the “Good Book.”

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), the former agnostic turned Christian, once wrote: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

So…what say you? Is Jesus the Son of God or something worse than a madman? You know the answer to that. And because He IS the Son of God, we can and will re-find the Way for He is the Way and the truth and the life. I know life is hard and faith can be a hard thing to live out. But live confidently in your Baptismal grace. Live confidently in your confirmation vows. And live confidently in knowing Jesus, your Lord and Savior, as the only Way, Truth, and Life everlasting.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Amen.

 

4th Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2017

John 10:1-10

“Doors Saturday/Sunday”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from John 10.

My dear friends,

If you read the sermon title for today, you saw the sermon is called “Door Sunday.” “Really? It’s Doors Sunday? You mean that group from the 1960s that sang ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘Break on Through’ and ‘LA Women?’ Wow…when did church get so cool?” Well, church has ALWAYS been cool. But it’s not Jim-Morrison Doors Sunday. But look again at today’s Gospel lesson. Door. Door. Door. Door. In Greek and Hebrew for that matter, one way to really emphasize something was through repetition. Four times in only ten verses…that’s emphasis! Jesus uses the same word “Door” over and over. Four times! Door. Door. Door! Door!

The point to be emphasized is that Jesus is the Door. Through the door of his holy life and blood sacrifice, we go into eternal life. Through him and him alone, we have heaven and I don’t need a 4-year-old whose dad wrote a book to tell me that Heaven is for real. We have the Door. He’s a door dripping not with stain and varnish, but with water and blood through whom we find good pasture.

Outside of him is the way the thieves and robbers operate; they don’t use the door. That’s how the devil and the other false teachers of this world tempt us to believe that our salvation and life and eternity are all really based on something YOU do. Inside of you there’s a great person who just needs to ne hosed off a little bit, right?

Sounds ludicrous, right? But many mainstream Protestant churches are teaching this kind of stuff! If you’re going to be “worthy” to walk through that door, then you have to do this, do that, change this, change that, pray hard, work harder, sing louder, praise more joyfully, give even harder still, and then maybe God will count you worthy to be saved. And in all this “you doing” stuff, you make yourself the door. You are actually the one who, by what you do and don’t do, determines if you are in the sheep pen or not. Sadly, it’s a popular teaching that many of your family members and friends are being exposed to – the idea that YOU are the door through which you get into heaven. Hey…you’re NOT the door; you’re the sheep! The Lord uses that word six times today. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Maybe it should be “Sheep Sunday”!

But you aren’t just anyone’s sheep. He is the Good Shepherd and you are his sheep. You have heard his voice. Each of you BY FAITH is a sheep. You are each uniquely loved, particularly cared for, and led out to pasture by him. He called you by name.

I’m no expert on sheep; I didn’t grow up on a farm per se, but it was still rural. Sheep really couldn’t survive that far north so most farmers had cows instead. To me, all sheep look the same. In my mind they’re all white(ish), fuzzy, and go “baaaaaah.” But to the Lord, each sheep is unique. To Him, you are more than a faceless, nameless herd. You have value and worth and God shows you that worth at the cross of Christ. He gave you your name. He names his sheep at the baptismal font. In the water, the Word, and his name, we were marked as sheep of the flock of the Good Shepherd.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is the Door for the sheep. He’s the way into the sheep pen. He’s the way out to green pasture and still waters. And, contrary to popular belief, He’s not just any door or anyone’s door; He is as unique a door as you are a unique sheep. Jesus is your Door. He’s your way into not just life, but life eternal. You are the sheep. He is the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for you. In the 1st century that was unheard of! That’s why the Pharisees struggle so much to understand.

Hireling shepherds were anything but good or noble. When the wolves or thieves would show up, the shepherds had a choice between their lives and the sheep. “Hmm. Do I want to live and see my family and save my money to finally go on a cruise, or do I want to fight with my bare hands and this stick to protect these stupid sheep I don’t even own? I’m gonna go with the cruise!” The hired hand shepherd bolted, and the sheep were slaughtered.

For the thief comes not to pet or play nice with the sheep, but to steal, kill, and destroy. The ultimate thief would draw you away. He would try to steal you – to destroy and kill your faith; spiritual murder. The devil will show you a door that looks so promising and inviting and pleasurable…it’s a lie! The only thing that you’ll find behind that door is the blackness of sin and death.

But your Shepherd/Door—he gave up his life for you. He goes before you, protects, guides you. He meets your enemies (sin, death, devil) head-on and defeats them for you. You follow him, for you know his voice.

Doors Sunday? Sheep Sunday? Nah, better than all of that is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today is the Sunday when we celebrate that Jesus is our Shepherd – YOUR Shepherd – and the Door through whom we have life everlasting and have it abundantly forgiven.

Happy Anniversary GSLC! Amen.

 

3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2017

Luke 24:13-35

“You’re Going the Wrong Way”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the traditionally assigned Gospel lesson – the narrative known as The Disciples on The Road to Emmaus.

My dear friends,

Not that long ago in a sermon I mentioned how much I love the comedian, actor, writer, and musician Steve Martin. Well, one of my favorite movies of all time is the classic on-the-road holiday favorite “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” I have seen it scores of times and I still laugh every time.

One of my favorite scenes is when John Candy and Steve Martin have finally secured a car and are driving towards Chicago. John Candy, behind the wheel, inadvertently takes the on-ramp for the freeway in the opposite direction just like what happens all the time up in Tampa. In other words, he is driving north-bound into south-bound traffic. Another motorist screams at them from across the road “You’re going the wrong way!” “What?” “You’re going the wrong way!” Steve Martin turns to John Candy and relays the message. “He says we’re going the wrong way.” “Oh, he’s drunk,” John Candy replies, “how does he know where we’re going?” “Yeah…how would he know where we’re going.” Of course, they ARE going the wrong way down a one way, and those who have seen the film knows what happens next.

And so we come to today’s Gospel lesson. A follower of Jesus named Cleopas – who is only mentioned here in the Bible – and another anonymous follower are walking away from Jerusalem. They are headed towards Emmaus, a town 7 miles NW of Jerusalem. It is the evening of what you and I call Easter Sunday and these 2 followers are headed to Emmaus with sadness upon their hearts as they shuffled their feet along the dusty trail. They were headed to Emmaus because there was no reason to stay in Jerusalem anymore. They were going the wrong way. They had been in Jerusalem for Passover and saw Jesus delivered up to be condemned to death and they saw Him crucified (24:20). They had hoped Jesus was their Messiah – their Savior from Roman oppression – the one who would redeem Israel (v. 21). It had all gone down Friday, and this was Sunday. Sabbath is over; it’s okay to travel again. No reason to stick around. They headed out the wrong way.

But haven’t we done the same thing even since we’ve seen Easter’s resurrection miracle? Easter was only 14 days ago, and I bet in the short last 2 weeks there have been many times – MANY times – that you also have found yourself going the wrong way. You knew the right thing to do was to forgive your spouse or child or sibling, but you found yourself going the wrong way instead. You knew the right way to go was to make that phone call or pay that bill or make those difficult arrangements or finally commit to recovery, but you found yourself going the wrong way instead. You knew that the right way was to love your neighbor, to pray for those who persecute you, to turn the other cheek, but you found yourself going the wrong way instead. That’s called sin, my friends. It is every thought, word, and deed contrary to God’s Word and will. God wanted you to go one way, but you found the other way so much more fun and easy and so you found yourself going the wrong way instead. Again.

In Joanne’s car we have a Garmin GPS and that GPS, probably like yours, speaks to us when we are going the wrong way. If I take a route other than what has been plotted, the GPS “says” in a digital woman’s voice “Recalculating” because I’m going the wrong way. Now imagine those 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, going the wrong way in the sense that they are walking away from where Jesus is. And then He slides up next to them…and He provides the ultimate “recalculating.” Jesus said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV). Now that’s the ultimate Bible study!

Whoa. Friends, when we are headed the wrong way in life is when Jesus steps in to remind us of His resurrected presence, and that resurrected presence changes everything! A crooked, sinful generation is “OK” with going the wrong way. It is perfectly content to let everyone go the wrong way…if that’s what they choose (Postmodernism/no absolute truth). However, the baptized in Christ fervently cling to forgiveness and grace in Jesus, believe His Word and wondrous divine mysteries, and confess Christ crucified, risen, and living in all that we do and say. By faith we understand that Jesus’ death was necessary so that we would know imperishable life. Without His death, the breaking of the bread which we are blessed to do again today would be empty ritual. But in the holy feast instituted and offered by and through Jesus, we receive the broken bread and the body of Christ that sustains us in a life and world filled with people going the wrong way.

And surrounded by people – a generation or more – going the wrong way, you and I in our Baptisms and in our table fellowship that is the Lord’s Supper, we reach out to them to share an extraordinary, life-changing faith. It is our God-given faith that enables us to confess timeless divine truths amid a lack of absolute truth: hope, faith, forgiveness, and love from God in Christ that enables us to go the right way in our homes and in our neighborhoods and classrooms and in our workplaces even though we are tempted to follow the world headed in the wrong direction. The first step in doing so is to re-discover the courage to tell people that they ARE going the wrong way apart from Christ.

Today you are here at church; you’re NOT going the wrong way. Instead, you are here “recalculating.” Today you are here to be reminded of God’s love and forgiveness. Today you are here to be pointed in the right direction in life through Word and Sacrament. Today, as a forgiven sinner, you are here because you want to go the right way…the way that leads to eternal life through faith in Jesus and that’s better than even the best Steve Martin movie.

Amen.

2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017

John 20:19-31

“Doing Without”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s assigned Gospel text from John 20.

My dear friends,

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

I was born in 1967 which means I remember the 1970s when I was a boy growing up in Nebraska. I remember the bicentennial of 1976 and what was called the “energy crisis.” I can remember long lines at the gas stations to fill up our car. I remember as a kid the big deal about turning down the thermostat…whatever that thing did. Yet despite the so-called “energy crisis,” I cannot ever remember us going without, well, anything. We always had heat and air conditioning and TV and food and cars. I don’t remember ever doing without…thanks be to God! But in America that has not always been the case.

I once read a book called “The Dirty Thirties,” and it might not be what you think; it’s not THAT kind of book! “The Dirty Thirties” is about the terrible winters and equally bad summers of the Dust Bowl years – the period of the early and mid 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of American families to abandon their farms. The book is a collection of memories of those who lived through those years and the hardships they endured. The book is full of common tales: little to no money, no plows to move snow, no warm clothing to keep out the cold and no air conditioning to keep away the stiffing and oppressive heat. Little to no crops. One writer from Columbus, NE finished her contribution with the statement “the good old days, you can have them. Nothing but hard work and doing without.” Those of you who also lived in that era just might echo her sentiment – “nothing but hard work and doing without.”

Now, in your mind go back not to the 1930s but to the 30s…30 AD. Jesus has risen from the dead – the first Easter. On Sunday evening our risen Lord came to the panicked and afraid disciples and brought not anger or accusations or blame, but peace. “Peace be with you” (John 19:21). But, for some reason, the disciple Thomas wasn’t with the others. Why not? I have no idea. I do know that it’s because of this narrative that we attach the label “doubting” to Thomas.

It’s only been 1 or 2 days without Jesus, and Thomas is already learning to do without Jesus. Instead of accepting the witness and testimony of his fellow disciples, Thomas remained skeptical and wanted proof (20:25). Thomas must “see and touch.” He must have verifiable, empirical evidence. It is not enough that he has the eyewitness of others – 10 other guys (3 was enough in court) – so until he has more, he will do without Jesus in his life. Doing without Jesus – doubt – robs people of the joy of the resurrection. Doubt keeps us locked in our fears.

Thomas was steadfast in his doubt and disbelief. Emphatically, a double negative in the original language, he said, “I will not, no way, believe” (20:25). But cannot we be the same way? When anger and anxiety and pain and strife and fear and stress rise up in life outside these walls, do we not act like Thomas and sinfully doubt God’s goodness and plan and presence and peace? Thomas robbed himself of the joy and peace that a risen Jesus offers! And haven’t you done the same this week? Haven’t you lived the same way this week? Haven’t you denied yourself Easter peace because you’re tangled in the events of daily living?

Then, 8 days later, everything changed. For Thomas, no more doing without. Jesus appeared to Thomas just as He does to all of us personally. He calls Thomas by name. He has come to remove doubt from the heart of Thomas; there is no need for Thomas to do without Jesus any longer. To a man filled with doubt and fear and who was wrestling with an existence apart from Christ, Jesus says instead, “Go ahead…see and touch. Look at my nail marks. Feel them. With these wounds I hung on the cross. With these wounds I suffered for your sins. With these wounds I secured your forgiveness. These nail marks are a sign of my victory over sin and death. Thomas, you don’t have to do without Me any longer, for I have done it all for you.”

When Thomas saw Jesus’ nail marks, his knees buckled from under him and he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” His doubt had given way to saving faith in Jesus. No doubt about it, Jesus IS risen from the grave. Jesus IS the Messiah. Jesus IS the Son of God. Jesus has “destroyed death.” Jesus lived 33 years – half the life expectancy of the Dust Bowl Era – before He was crucified and died, but He rose and lives forevermore. His people do not have to learn to do without Him, for Jesus is alive then, now, and forever more and will be with us always (Matt. 28:20)!

And then the Gospel lesson today ends with some of the most powerful words that John provides for us anywhere in the Scriptures: but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). And what does that mean…to you? Are you trying to live each day doing without the resurrected, living presence of God in your daily actions and decisions? Sure, maybe your current situation is less than ideal. Maybe your bank account isn’t the biggest and your health isn’t where you want/need it to be and your house isn’t the grandest and your electronic gadgets aren’t the newest, but is that what really matters? 50 years of life has taught me that stuff is just stuff; if you do without in some areas God will more than provide in others.

Friends, be thankful today for what you DO have – including the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, and eternal salvation – and don’t obsess on what you have to do without. The summers and winters of the 1930s were bad…so I’ve heard and read. Summers and winters come and go. But tomorrow is a new day, a day to live and believe and celebrate that Jesus is the Christ for you and by believing in His life, His love, His forgiveness, and His salvation you will have life and have life in abundance (John 10:10). And no one can truly ever do without that. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

Easter

Easter 2017

April 16, 2017

“Life”

My dear friends,

The Crossroads of life. They are there for all of us. Sometimes life is a struggle and other times life is like the T-shirt says: “Life is good.” You feel the sand between your toes, the waves lap at your feet, you have a cool shell or two in your pocket and the light breeze blows in off the Gulf, feeling at peace. Those are good days. And then it comes. A crossroad. A choice point. Which way now? Right? Left? Straight? What waits down each of those choices? Which way does our heart call us to go? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way? The answers aren’t easy. Life experience and wisdom teaches us that when we take the wrong choices and go the wrong way, it brings pain: emotional, relational, spiritual and maybe even financial pain. All of us…each and every one…has to deal with the crossroads of life.

Throughout Lent and Holy Week we have been examining the various crossroads of life like compassion, obedience, judgment, suffering, forgiveness, and death to name a few. In doing so, I have been doing monologue sermons to give you a chance to “hear from” people from Jesus’ ministry and Passion and how they dealt with their life crossroads. We have “heard from” people like Pontius Pilate, Peter, Malchus, John, Simon the Zealot, and Joseph. And so today, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and focus on the crossroad of life, we will hear from an until-now unnamed Roman Centurion. Today, on Easter Sunday, we hear from Choperuss Abescum Maximillian or “Max” for short.

Greetings people of the one true God. Yes, I was a Roman soldier – a centurion to be precise. That means that I was in charge of 100 soldiers. I suppose you think that the life of a Roman soldier is what you’ve seen in motion pictures. Gladiator-style fighting and conquering foreign lands and marching victoriously through the streets of Rome. That is rarely the life of an average Roman soldier. Most of it is boring…monotonous…routine day in and day out. I thought the proudest day of my life was when I was assigned command of my own company; 100 life-takers and heart-breakers. Then I found out where we were being deployed to…Jerusalem in Judea. Not exactly a glamorous assignment. Little did I know that this assignment would change me forever.

We were stationed in Judea because there had been several uprisings that had to be suppressed. Talk about a letdown! We left behind the glory and grandeur of Rome for the dust and dullness of Judea. Dull, that is, until the arrest of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Jews had brought in Jesus as an insurrectionist and troublemaker. Didn’t look like one, but if The Man says jump, we jump. They brought Jesus into the Praetorium, that is, the Pilate’s official residence in Jerusalem. The boys wanted to have some fun, and so we had some fun that kind of got out of hand. It started innocent enough: we draped one of our scarlet robes on him and a few taunts and jeers. Then some of the boys got a little carried away. Once the blood started to flow, there was no stopping it. The crucifixion was routine enough; we had done a bunch of those. Yet Jesus was so different. Most men begged, cried, swore, or bargained during those agonizing hours. Not Jesus. He spoke so little, and when He did it was words of kindness and compassion and forgiveness and love. 6 hours – for nay victim of crucifixion it’s too long and by comparison for most crucifixions, it was relatively short. With everything I had seen and heard and from what I saw in Jesus, I could only come to ne conclusion: “surely He was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47). And then He was dead.

“Max, make sure that one is dead,” the fellow company commander called out. So I did; I ran my spear into His side (Mark 15:44-45, John 19:34-35). But that wasn’t the end of it. “Max,” Pilate told me back at the Praetorium, “we need you to stand watch over Jesus’ tomb. The Pharisees think they might try and steal the corpse.” And so I did. And what happened next changed me…changed Jerusalem…changed the world. There is really no need to go into detail since that event is why you’re here in the first place. In plain terms, an angel from heaven appeared, rolled back the stone (Matthew 28:2), we were terrified (28:4), Jesus was gone, and the chief priests brought us in, bought us off, and told us to tell people that the disciples stole the body while we slept (28:11-14).

After that it was pretty clear I was playing for the wrong team as it were. My life as a Roman soldier was over after that. Ol’ Choperuss Abescum Maximillian never strapped on a sword again. I quit because as a soldier I was a merchant of death, but in Jesus I saw what life can be and how beautiful life is. It was easy for the commanders to say that there is “glory in death,” because they weren’t the ones charging head-long into the sword and spears of the enemy. There is no beauty in death – only the sting of pain and loss. But in life there is beauty and hope and light. Even a washed-up old solder like myself can see that.

I guess I am living proof (if you can call it that) that even after a lifetime of bad choices, wrong turns, and poor decisions, you can always return to God, the author and creator of life. Don’t you see? Easter, the resurrection is not just a miraculous event, it is a life-changing crossroad for all of us. In the Risen Christ we are found at all of the stopping places of life, all of the dead ends, all the poor choices, all the bad decisions, and called to new life by the one who purchased and gifted new life for us.

As a Centurion, I know what it is to give an order. Orders are letting others know what needs to be done, right? I know that the Risen Christ also gave an order. Jesus has sent us to teach the new life he has given us. He said: “Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). There it is, our Easter challenge and promise. He sends even you and me to be his witnesses and he promises to be with us, to keep on being with us, to keep on coming after us, picking us up and sending us again—to the end of the age.

Happy Easter everyone!

Amen.

 

 

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday 2017

April 9, 2017

“Suffering; Simon the Zealot”

My dear friends,

The Crossroads of life. They are there for all of us. We may move along from day to day, sometimes a struggle and sometimes we live easily, walking in the sunshine, enjoying the view and the light breeze off the Gulf, feeling at peace. And then it comes. A crossroad. A choice point. There we stand, frozen to the spot. Which way now? Right? Left? Straight? Which way does our heart call us to go? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way? The answers aren’t easy. A crossroad can bring daunting emotional, relational, and even spiritual pain. And it can bring us to our knees. It can even bring us to destruction.

This Lenten season we have “heard” from Pilate, Malchus, Peter, and John. Today we have an expert on the crossroad that Jesus faced as he moved toward the cross. We have a Simon, a disciple of Jesus who was with him throughout his years of ministry and at the last, as he went toward the cross. This Simon is not Simon Peter. This is Simon, sometimes called the Zealot.

Zealot? You would probably say rebel or revolutionary. I had joined a group seeking to get rid of the Romans by any means necessary. Some of my group were marked as wanted by the Roman authorities for acts of what you might call “terrorism.” The rest of us were quieter about our desire to see Rome out of our country and out of our lives; I “flew under the radar and kept a low profile.” But I kept my eyes open and ears open and finger on the pulse waiting for the next potential leader to come along…a leader who would fulfill our purpose. And then Jesus came along.

At first, I was not sure how to act, but then I came upon Jesus of Nazareth. Here was one with power and authority, one who could act. I saw him feed thousands. I saw him still a storm. I saw him escape the religious leaders who were stooges and flunkeys of the Roman government. He kept talking about the coming of the Kingdom of God; now THAT’S something people will get behind. I wanted to be in on that kingdom. I thought he could do it.

I was so sure he was going to overthrow the Romans and establish the new rule of our ancestor King David. I was not alone. Most of his disciples were hoping for a new ruler and thought Jesus could be that ruler. Look at what we were seeing. Jesus was immensely popular. People flocked to him. Thousands sought him out. His name was on every lip when he raised Lazarus. Then he did exactly what we thought he should do, he paraded into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like the Scriptures said the new king would do.

You should have seen it! It was beautiful! He came into Jerusalem on that donkey with the shouts of people proclaiming him the Messiah, the new king. They shouted a kingly greeting, they threw their cloaks in his way, they called out: “Hosanna!” God saves! At that moment, he could have been everything we wanted him to be. He could have called the people to rebellion – to pick up a sword, spear, rock, anything! – he could have moved the masses against the Romans, against the corrupt religious rulers, but …

I understand now, but I did not then. I did not understand how a leader with his authority, with his place as the chosen one of God, with his connection with the Father, could fail to act. How could he do nothing but drive some money-changers out of the temple? And after that, nothing. Completely missed our window of opportunity! We did nothing…well, nothing except share the Passover meal and go to the Garden to pray. No speech to the crowd, no commands to act, no call to arms. And worst of all, when we went to the Garden, he was arrested and moved to trial before the High Priest…at night of all times. Who ever heard of a trial in the middle of the night?

I was in complete confusion then. I saw Jesus, with the chance to be ruler, choose to allow himself to be arrested, choose to allow himself to be taken to a mock trial, choose to allow himself to be humiliated before the council and before the filthy (spit) Roman governor, choose to go meekly to the cross. How could he make the choice to suffer and die? Inconceivable.

You know, Jesus once said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39). Who talks like that, right? But after his resurrection I understood. When he invited us into his kingdom, he was not asking us into a place of rule on earth, he was inviting us into a spiritual kingdom, marked by believers who would follow him, even to the cross.

The cross. Talk about a crossroad, right? Then we ALL had to make a decision. We had to decide whether to continue to follow the risen Christ or seek another leader who might give you the success in rebellion. Yes, I faced that crossroad. So did all the other disciples. We could have gone our own way, sought our own successes, found what we thought we needed. But we chose to stay with him. Every single one of us to a man. That’s what resurrection can do to you. By the power of the Spirit we stayed, even though we knew that it might cost us our lives. How ironic was that? I wanted to take as many Romans lives as possible, but now willing to give my own life in discipleship. Jesus warned us that we would be persecuted, hated and even put to death, but we joined him in his choice, we chose to follow. He was right; all of us but John were martyred.

Sure, maybe you have not walked with Jesus, seen his miracles, heard his voice like we did. How can you make that kind of choice? Oh, but you have seen him in the hands of those who have loved and helped you. You have seen his miracles in the hearts of those changed by his power. You have heard his voice in the voice of those who have brought you the Word. You have been touched by the same Spirit and can make the same choice. It isn’t easy to choose the way of discipleship if it leads to dissention, danger, oppression, suffering. From eternity’s standpoint, it’s the only choice to make.

A fellow Apostle, not disciple, St. Paul wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us …And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” With that kind of power going for us, how can we fail, right? You say YOU want a revolution? (Cross) There it is. Thanks for your time friends.

Indeed, how can we fail? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39).

Welcome to Holy Week in the year of our Lord 2017. Amen.

5th Sunday in Lent

5th Sunday in Lent

April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14

“There is Always Hope”

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 First Lesson for today from the prophet Ezekiel as was previously read.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

In 1991 the Buffalo Bills made it to the Super Bowl, but they lost that game when their kicker missed a field goal with 3 seconds left. The next year, 1992, the Buffalo Bills were back in the big game…and they lost…again. In 1993 the Bills were primed and ready to make a third run at a Super Bowl appearance. And that is when the events of January 3, 1993 unfolded. If Buffalo were to make it back to the Super Bowl in ‘93, they would have to beat the Houston Oilers and quarterback Warren Moon in the playoffs.

The start of the Bill’s quest for their straight 3rd Super Bowl was less than impressive. Warren Moon and the Houston offense scored 4 touchdowns before halftime and added an interception return for a touchdown with 13 minutes left in the third quarter to make the score Houston – 35, Buffalo – 3. Buffalo players and fans seemed to have their confidence in a 3rd straight Super Bowl appearance dashed – they were 32 points behind! Talk about a hopeless feeling!

What they felt is not totally uncommon. Many outward circumstances and happenings in our lives and in our world leave us with little or no hope. When devastating storms wipe out people and property, it also takes a chunk of our hope. When shooters and terrorists hurt and kill innocents, it takes with it a piece of our innocence and hope. When there are doubts about the economy and doubts about our country’s future, it destroys a bit of our hope. When our health or our relationships begin to fail, a little of our hope dies along with it. Should it be that way? This is America, after all; the land of freedom and opportunity and hope, and yet so many people are finding only sorrow and shattered dreams instead of the American dream.

The Israelites of the Old Testament knew something about sorrow. Ezekiel was a prophet to Israel during their darkest hours; times of little or no hope. He lived among them and preached to them prior to and after the Babylonian conquest of Israel. He saw the temple destroyed. He saw the people getting hauled off into exile. They were a people living in a foreign land with no home to return to. They definitely lacked any kind of hope, much like we lack hope today in our twisted, corrupted, bullet-ridden, death-filled, sin-stained world. But there is always hope.

With a 3rd quarter score of score 35-10, the Buffalo Bills recovered an onside kick and scored a touchdown just 4 plays later. That made a small dent in the Houston lead as the score became 35-17. Then the Buffalo defense held, got the ball back for the Bill’s offense, which then drove 59 yards for another touchdown. The score was now Houston – 35, Buffalo – 24. Then Buffalo intercepted a Warren Moon pass and drove deep into Houston territory again and scored a touchdown. In just under 7 minutes, the Buffalo Bills had reduced the Houston Oiler’s lead to 35-31. Buffalo had some renewed hope, but this game was not over…far from it.

In verse 11, God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone.” Many people today feel that way today. They feel twisted by uncertainty and overwhelmed by fear and the tension of life is far too great to withstand on our own. To release that tension and fear, though, people will make terrible life choices: porn, alcohol, pills, or maybe some drastic lifestyle changes. But then when things don’t get better, they continue to lose hope and the cycle repeats itself over and over. That is not what God intends for you or anyone! Instead, Ezekiel saw what God intends. He can take dry bones and make them live again. He can give hope where there was no hope. Just when it appears that there is no hope, God intervenes and He provides hope even in the most hopeless moments.

With the score Houston – 35, Buffalo – 31 the Houston Oilers regained control of the game. They marched downfield in the 4th quarter and set up for a 31 yard field goal. Then, and I am not making this up, it started to rain. The field goal attempt was botched in the rain and Buffalo got the ball back. They marched 74 yards into the wind and rain and scored another touchdown. With the game almost over, Buffalo’s hope was restored! They held a 38-35 lead late in the 4th quarter. But Houston had the ball back and they had Warren Moon. Moon drove the Oilers 63 yards in 12 plays to set up a game-tying field goal with just seconds left. The winner of this fantastic game would take a step towards the Super Bowl and the loser’s season would be over. As it began to get dark in Buffalo, the ball went back to Houston kicker Al Del Greco whose kick…

When God intervenes, there is ALWAYS hope in Christ. Hope truly does not depend on our outward circumstances. Hope is not in a bottle, joint, slot machine, lottery ticket, or even in a field goal. Real hope depends on God’s plan for saving the world.

God provides the hope we need. By Jesus going to the cross of Calvary for us, he takes our fear and our concern and our sin and our tension and He allows it to nail Him to the cross. This was a part of God’s saving plan for the world. By the death and resurrection of Christ He brought us back from our exile in sin and hopelessness. As a result, a faith-filled life is a life also filled with hope. We have hope in knowing that our salvation and forgiveness is sure. Our victory over sin and death and hell has been won for us by Christ Jesus, and that victory and the hope it brings is ours by our faith in Him. To renew our faith and hope, the Spirit has been given to breathe new life and hope into our “dry bones” just as it breathed into the dry bones in the valley with Ezekiel.

Al Del Greco’s kicked sailed through the goal posts to tie the game between Buffalo and Houston at 38-38 with no time left. The game went into overtime and Houston won the coin toss. The Oilers ran just 3 plays and turned the ball over on an interception. Buffalo never looked back. At one point they had been behind 35-3, but Buffalo Bills kicker Steve Christie kicked a 32 yard field goal 3:06 into overtime to cap off what remains today as the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history, a 41-38 win for the Buffalo Bills. I guess it’s true…there is always hope.

The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, was the greatest comeback ever and it was achieved for you, and YOU are the winner as a result. Instead of defeat you have victory over sin. Instead of fear you have God’s love and grace to sustain you every day. Instead of uncertainty, you have HOPE…a living hope that only God can bring.  There is always hope…just ask the Buffalo Bills. But then again… the Bills did make it all the way to the Super Bowl again for the third straight season. And they lost…again. You can take that for what it’s worth I guess.

Amen.