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.

4th Sunday in Lent

4th Sunday in Lent

March 26, 2017

John 9

“What Do You Say About Him?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today are portions of John chapter 9, the assigned Gospel lesson as was read earlier.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

As many of you know, I haven’t always been a pastor. I will turn 50 years old this summer and have my 14th ordination anniversary, so do the math. For 10 years I worked in the pharmaceutical industry. For 2 of those 10 years I worked in the tablet coating department. We applied sugar and film coatings to tablets to mask the taste and aid in digestion. One of the main chemicals used in the film coating process is Methylene Chloride. If you look at a safety sheet for Methylene Chloride, it says in big letters: WARNING! HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED, INHALED OR ABSORBED THROUGH SKIN. CAUSES IRRITATION TO SKIN, EYES AND RESPIRATORY TRACT. MAY CAUSE CANCER. Direct contact with the skin and eyes is very bad; it causes irritation, redness, pain and prolonged contact causes burns. It’s good stuff; so glad I work with it…for 2 years!

I told you that to tell you this. One night I was making a tank of coating solution (no safety goggles on, of course) and some Methylene Chloride splashed out of the tank and right into my eye. After being treated on the job and in the local ER, I went home with a chemically-burned eye under an eye patch wondering if I had lost my sight in that eye. After 2-3 days I healed just fine and my sight was restored; thanks be to God!

Along those same lines, John chapter 9 is a lengthy account of another of Jesus’ healing narratives in which He heals someone’s sight; He restores sight to a man blind from birth. In the Holy Scripture, Jesus performs more miracles of this kind than any other. Giving sight to the blind was one of the activities foretold of the Messiah (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5), thus these healing accounts are proof of Jesus’ messiahship. But that’s not what this text is about. It’s about being blind versus having sight and what that means for the Kingdom of God.

In today’s lesson, this is no chemical burn. We see a man blind from birth, and this was a real problem…for others. There was a felt belief at that time, and maybe some of it has carried over still today, that terrible punishments come upon people as a result of their own sin or the sin of the parents. The popular belief was that since this baby was blind, the parents must have sinned greatly against God for God to punish them with a blind child. Maybe that is what people still think today – that God punishes people because of their wickedness. I guess I have heard comments to this effect. The events of 9/11 and the attack on the Orlando nightclub and the flooding of New Orleans were the result of God’s wrath against idolatry and sinful behavior in general. If you think that…don’tbecause that’s not true. God’s wrath against sin, which is great, has already been poured out, but we’ll talk about that more in a minute or two.

Don’t get caught up in the spit or the mud or the pool or any of the minutia of the healing. Jesus is trying to teach His people on a much deeper level about sight versus blindness, that is, spiritual sight versus spiritual blindness, which is why the Pharisees are involved. The Pharisees had a strong adherence to religious tradition – much of it man-made – which they tried to obey rigorously and expected everyone else to do the same. The Pharisees could see physically, but spiritually they were blind as bats! They longed for the coming Messiah, yet could not see Him as He stood in front of them. Rather than accept this miracle in their midst, they quarreled with the man and even with his parents and, ultimately, with Jesus Himself.

The healed man confessed what he knew to the Pharisees, “Whether (Jesus) is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25). We too confess what we know; that Jesus Christ was conceived, born, suffered, was crucified, dead, was buried, and on the third day rose again and one day will return. This is the core of our redeeming faith; it is the eternal truth that allows us to have spiritual sight in a spiritually blind world. The Pharisees asked the healed man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” (v. 17). Good question, folks. What do YOU say about him?

Jesus asked the man born blind, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (v. 35). Good question. Do YOU believe in Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God? Yet, even if you said “yes,” you should realize that bad things still happen to us in life and they happen to others, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist and it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t love you or care about you. Know also that God is not punishing us. Romans 8:28 teaches: “And we know that, for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). God’s wrath against sin was drained out upon Jesus at the cross; God doesn’t punish us, rather, these things happen so that, as Jesus said, the works of God might be displayed in our lives (v. 3). What does that mean?

Well, today’s Second Lesson teaches, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). When we walk as children of light we endure the sufferings and hardships that come our way because we walk by the light of Jesus Christ. When we walk as children of light we do the work of Him who sent us (v. 4), because we have a mission to tell the world of the light for this spiritually blind and dead world, who is Jesus Christ. When we walk as children of the light, we live by our faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), because physical sight leads us the wrong direction. Our spiritual sight – faith – helps us to see the love of God in Christ Jesus, who is the light of the world. When we walk as children of light we fear, love, and trust in God alone and we love our neighbor as ourselves, doing what we can to show them the love of God in Christ Jesus who is the light of the world.

Whatever hardships and trials and tests and failures may come our way in life, even if it’s physical blindness, we can still walk as children of light. Even through something as traumatic as pain or loneliness or addiction or debt or uncertainty or grief or doubts about ourselves or even blindness, God still uses you to bring forth light. He gives spiritual sight that we may not partake of the works of darkness in this world, but rather our days would bring light and glory to His name forever and ever. And oh yeah, put your safety glasses on for crying out loud, people. It’s dangerous out there.

Amen.

3rd Sunday in Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7

“Stricken…For You”

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 our First Lesson from Exodus 17.

My dear friends,

Confession time! I am a HUGE Steve Martin fan. LOVE Steve Martin. I’ve listened to his albums, seen his movies, read his books. The man is a comedic legend. One of my favorite Steve Martin films is “The Man with Two Brains.” Hilarious! Steve Martin’s character, world-renowned brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (spelled like it sounds), goes to Vienna for his research. After shocking his fellow surgeons, the doctors in the lecture hall all start to murmur to each other. Dr. Hfuhruhurr asks his host, “what are they saying? Dr. Conrad responds by saying, “they are just saying ‘murmur, murmur, murmur.’ “You mean it’s just sort of a general murmur?” “Yeah. Murmur.” Dr. Hfuhruhurr addresses the crowd “you may murmur all you like” and so they do…extra-loud… “murmur murmur murmur.” Too funny.

Murmur. The definition of the word “murmur” is “a half-suppressed or muttered complaint; see also ‘grumbling.’” Kind of a big word in today’s lesson, right? Today’s lesson from Exodus 17 is another crisis for the Israelites while in the desert. In Exodus 15 they reached Marah, but the water was too bitter to drink so they grumbled (15:22-25). Then, in Exodus 16, they complained because there was no food (16:2). Here in chapter 17, again there is no water to drink in Rephidim and…guess what? The people murmured and grumbled (17:3).

The people of God quarreled with Moses and grumbled against Moses. In effect, they were quarreling with and grumbling against God. In fact, we find out in the text that their misery was so great they wanted to stone Moses! (v. 4). These are the exact same people who saw God’s great provision for them against the hard-heart of pharaoh, but they still doubted God’s provision in their lives.

God reacted to their grumbling by graciously delivering His people. He gave them water to drink at Marah (Ex. 15:25). He gave them manna and quail in the wilderness of Sin. And now, here at Rephidim, God once again provides despite the murmuring and grumbling. God commands Moses to strike a rock and water will come out for the people to drink…and that is exactly what happened.

Now, sitting in a nice cool, cozy church pew we’re tempted to think, “those dumb Israelites. What was their problem anyway? Why didn’t they trust in God to provide?” Consider for a moment…would you have fared any better in the same

desert? Would you have grumbled against Moses or against God when things got tough? I know we would because we already do; we complain twice as much over issues half as bad.

We, God’s people today, are sinfully stricken in this life and we hunger and thirst literally but also for deliverance (v 7). Like the wandering Israelites of old, we are stricken by afflictions we did not bring upon ourselves: threats from really severe weather, uncertainties and trouble at work or at home, sicknesses, and suffering with loved ones stricken with illness, addictions, difficulties in your relationships. To make matters worse, all around us is the ever-present temptation to doubt God’s provision. We see, on TV in particular, our perceived “needs” – whether it be toothpaste, a car, a faster cell phone, cheaper insurance rates, deodorant, nice clothes, or whatever – those needs are to be met as quickly as possible. And when our felt needs are not met within 15 minutes or less, we murmur, we grumble, we complain. We also doubt God’s provision.

The Word of God comes to us today to remind us that even in 21st century America the way of the cross is different. As the people of God we are being trained in righteousness to be able to rid our minds of those perceived needs and their immediate gratification and to turn our eyes toward the God who is determined to get us where we need to be. Christians cannot forget – in

fact, this must be the center of our self-understanding – that Christ and Christ alone is our only true need.

God loves and thereby God gives his only Son, Jesus Christ, who is stricken for you to be that need; to bring your deliverance. The testing that comes from God is for our benefit, not His. Exodus 20:20 reminds us that “God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” Yet we know that we do sin, and we sin daily. And for that reason the Son of God was stricken to bring forgiveness and salvation and life.

Jesus Christ was stricken before and during His crucifixion, but He was so for you and for your benefit. The passage from Exodus 17 highlights the relationship between water and life; in fact, we heard that as well from today’s Gospel lesson from John 4. Also in John’s Gospel we find out that at the cross “one of the soldiers pierced (Jesus’) side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” Coincidence? I don’t think so! That life-giving water and that life-sustaining blood which were given in death at the cross are still given today to us to give and sustain LIFE!

The water flows forth in Holy Baptism to bring us to faith and forgive our sins. The blood flows forth in the Lord’s Supper for the continued forgiveness of our sins. Without His blood, without His water, we would die and we would die eternally. But that is not the case. The blood and water from the side of the stricken Christ quench your thirst amid life’s chaos, satisfies your soul, and gives you hope.

Though you are stricken by sin and sufferings in this life, when Christ was stricken, it was for you and for your deliverance. Our lives, and certainly not Jesus’ passion are as funny as a Steve Martin movie. And just as the Lord delivered his people from their afflictions in the wilderness, so also does he deliver you from your afflictions.

Are you doubting God’s provision in your life today? Are you murmuring that God may not provide for you in some area in your life? Are you grumbling about the things you don’t have and neglecting the things you do? God does not leave you stricken. He deals with you out of love and grace and mercy, not anger and negligence. From his stricken side flow the blood and water that quenches your thirst for deliverance in this life in preparation for the life of the world to come.

Amen.

5th Sunday after the Epiphany

5th Sunday after Epiphany

February 5, 2017

Luke 19:1-10

“Giving Out”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for our 3rd of 4 sermons on Stewardship is the Gospel lesson read earlier from Luke chapter 19.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

You probably remember the song from Sunday School, but did you remember the narrative? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see…for I’m going to your house today.” That’s all fine and good, but this narrative has a LOT to say about Stewardship/generous giving; nobody ever sings cool songs about that.

This is a narrative of giving and love, which Jesus extends to a man who most consider a vile, awful traitor to his people. Zacchaeus is a tax collector. In the 1st Century, a tax collector is one who made his income by extracting money from his neighbors and giving that money to a foreign, occupying, often brutal government not to mention his own piece of the action: tribute taxes, head/poll taxes, land taxes, trade taxes/tolls, Temple taxes. If you didn’t pay the tax collector’s rates, big guys with sharp swords and pointy spears showed up. There was rampant corruption among tax collectors, and everyone knew it.

Suddenly, words like salvation and son of Abraham show up to describe Zacchaeus. These words imply a relationship with God that no one thinks Zacchaeus deserves. Even further still, the words are spoken by Jesus himself!

This is a narrative that involves love and giving. When we think about generous giving, it’s important to know that it is not exclusively financial in nature. Remember me saying that over the past weeks? Generous giving is a lifestyle of deep love for Jesus Christ and extraordinary generosity toward opportunities of service and the advance of his kingdom.

Consider Zacchaeus. He wants to see Jesus. Luke says he is (political correctness like “woman of the city”?) “small in stature;” he’s short. He is also curious. As Jesus approaches his town of Jericho, Zacchaeus runs ahead of him and climbs up in a sycamore tree.

Jesus looks up in the tree and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (v 5). This moment of engagement and invitation is radically different for Zacchaeus. Think about it; Zacchaeus is accustomed to people not stopping for him and not speaking to him. He is familiar with disapproving stares. He knows the names people use when they refer to him. He hears their threats. He is the man people love to hate. Yet, with a look and a word from Jesus, Zacchaeus hurriedly climbs down from the tree and gladly receives him.

The people who observed the moment grumble. They complain. They accuse. “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (v 7). People can say what they want – and they often do. Sinners quickly assume the worst case scenario and worst construction on things. God’s grace intersects Zacchaeus’ disgrace. No one sees it, but Jesus knows it. Zacchaeus’ life is transformed by his encounter with Jesus. The one who receives the redeeming gift of God’s grace becomes a generous giver. In response, Zacchaeus gives out to others. “The half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v 8).

What is going on here? This kind of giving is more than an attempt to soothe a troubled conscience or silence his critics. This is a kind of giving out to others that Martin Luther recognizes when he describes the Christian life as consisting of faith and charity. Zacchaeus gives out to others because he is found by a Savior who seeks and saves lost people. The saved person becomes the kind of person who WANTS to give out of themselves.

The encounter with Jesus changes the entire orientation of Zacchaeus’ life. Paul describes this encounter: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). “Giving out” to others is the way Zacchaeus expresses this new orientation of his life with Christ at the center.

Yes. Zacchaeus responds to Jesus. Yes. He responds to the needs of the community around him—the poor and those he had defrauded (v 8). Yes. He responds with generous giving: “The half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v 8). Yes. Jesus notices; you cannot fake it to make it with Jesus. Jesus makes the connection between “giving out” and “new creation.” “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (v 9). On another occasion, Jesus taught about the relationship between the “treasure” of my life and the orientation of my life: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21). In other words, your giving – your giving out – gives you away.

Once I worked with our church’s Men’s Group doing some yard work for one of our shut-ins. As I stood there, sun burning my bald spot, covered in grass clippings and Lord knows what else whacking elephant grass and cockleburs taller than myself, I wondered “why am I doing this? What’s the point?” Then it came to me. The reward for giving out is the act of giving out. Giving yourself away – giving out to others – through our time, talents, and treasures is what the Baptized, saved, forgiven, and redeemed people of God do. Our encounter with Jesus crucified and risen again for the forgiveness of our sins changes our life too, not just Zacchaeus.

What is your giving out practice? How do you give of yourself? What was the last volunteer opportunity you took advantage of? What was the last charity you gave to? What was the last thing you signed up for at church? What was the last board or committee you served on? If it happened when Reagan/Clinton/a Bush was still in the White House, it may be time for you to step up once again and do some generous giving out of yourself. Sure, it could have been easy to be Zacchaeus. It’s easy to sit back in your comfort zone and love the environment you’ve created for yourself. But when you hear that still, small voice of God calling you down out of your tree – your comfort zone – you know it’s time to start loving and start truly living and giving. Why? Because you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.

The time for you to come down out of your tree and be a generous giver of yourselves in every way is now more than ever.

Amen.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

January 22, 2017

John 3:16-17

“Generous Giving”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today for the start of my sermon series on stewardship is today’s Gospel lesson from John 3.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

DON’T ANYBODY MOVE! Yes, I just said the word “stewardship.” Now…before anyone panics…this is NOT a sermon series that ends with you filling out a pledge card. It does NOT end with me asking you how much you give every week or month. Instead, this series on generous giving is a call to re-discover your understanding and motivation for stewardship as found today in the familiar words of John 3:16.

I have something special here. This is a pencil rubbing of the name Bruce Carlyle Anderson; my uncle Bruce killed in Vietnam (1969, 22 years old, KIA, 8 months in country). You’ve perhaps been to the Wall in Washington DC., or at least seen pictures of it. It was originally quite a point of controversy, because it’s so dramatic – a long, low wall of black granite with almost nothing on it but names, lots and lots of names. But it’s that stark, black simplicity that makes The Vietnam War Memorial so powerful. As you walk past the long granite wall inscribed with all those names, you are very aware that these are women and men, daughters and sons, husbands and fathers and wives and mothers, who made what most call the “ultimate sacrifice.” These are Americans who died while serving in the military forces of our nation.

As your eyes fall on each individual name etched into the memorial, words like duty, honor, courage, patriot, sacrifice, and love come to mind. It reminds me of being at Sarasota National Cemetery; you don’t need to have known every person. The conclusion is overwhelming. There is no greater patriotic love than to serve and lay down your life for your country. The freedoms and privileges that we enjoy in this nation come at a very great price – the flesh and blood of America’s fallen.

Now, think about the words of John 3:16, a verse that like the Lord’s Prayer is “tragically familiar.” Are you still engaged by the same thoughts and emotions as you consider the so-familiar truth of God’s Word: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son”? When you consider the cross of Jesus Christ – His flesh and blood price – do words like hero, honor, courage, sacrifice, and love come to mind, or has John 3:16 also become “tragically familiar”? The cross is the ultimate act of love and generosity. I want to suggest a simple idea to you to consider these next four weeks: you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.

Today when most people think about giving, especially in church, love is not the immediate thought that follows. Money is the first thought. “How much?” is the first question. As a starting point, that premise starts you on the wrong foot, so to speak. It is the unspoken tension of “I’ve got it, you want it, but I don’t want to give it to you.” I want to say clearly, first and foremost, that generous giving is not just about money. John 3:16 teaches that giving is God’s demonstration of sacrificial love and boundless generosity. God loved and God gave. Generous giver, generous giving not out of compulsion or need, but love.

Are you familiar with the children’s book The Giving Tree? The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, is a wonderful story to some and misunderstood by many. Published in the 1964, the basic story describes the relationship between a young boy and a tree in the forest. The tree loves the boy and throughout the boy’s childhood, adolescence, and young adult life, the tree gladly, generously gives without reservation to meet the boy’s needs: shade from its leaves, limbs on which to swing and play, apples to eat and sell, branches to build a house, and its trunk to build a boat. Finally, the tree is only a stump, and the man sails away. Many years later, he returns. Now he is an old man at the end of his life. He asks the tree for a place to rest. The tree (stump) offers itself as that resting place. The old man sits down on the stump, and the tree is glad. To many, including myself, the tree represents perfect, selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love…like God gives to us. God loved sacrificially, and God gave with boundless, unparalleled generosity. You see, you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. When you love you cannot help but give back. Why? God so LOVED the world that He GAVE…

Now, what does this mean for me? What does this mean for the Church? How does this new reality affect the way I think and act, believe and live—the way I understand generous giving? The change that God empowers is to understand that the center of my universe is not me. The primary focus of my thoughts and actions is not me. The finances, abilities, and resources of my life are not solely for my consumption. My generosity is a response to his generosity. Stewardship is about more than your checkbook. It is about ALL giving – time, talents, and yes treasures – and is a radical check of your heart and then a change of life priorities.

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” This giving is very intentional. Intentionally, Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Intentionally, Jesus lives as one of us. Intentionally, Jesus dies on a cruel cross. Intentionally, Jesus rises to life and his tomb is found empty. Intentionally, Jesus gives His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine; an intentional gift with an intentional purpose: forgiveness, salvation, life! Generous giving is intentional. It is not a casual afterthought. Generous giving is intentionally choosing to love and give. Why? Because…you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.

Amen.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

January 15, 2017

John 1:29-42a

“Questions”

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 text from John chapter 1.

My dear friends,

Well, last week’s sermon sure hit a “hot button!” People really liked hearing about the answer to the question “What happens when you die.” So…to keep the question ball rolling…I’m going to give you quiz. Don’t “OH” me! You may write the answers down if you like, or you may just “think” the answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the capital of Kentucky?
  2. Solve for X if X2 – 25 = 119.
  3. The Greek poet Homer was said to have suffered from what physical impairment?

 

So how did you do? The answers are Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky.

In the equation X2 – 25 = 119, X would equal 12. Homer, who wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey, was blind. That wasn’t too bad, was it? My guess is that you didn’t struggle too much with those questions or stress out too much, right?

But life is full of questions, isn’t it? We are confronted daily with questions that we eventually have to answer, and all questions are not created equally. Some are easy to answer and some are quite hard. “What’s for supper tonight” is an easy question in life. “How much money do we have left in our checking account?” can be a harder question. “You’ve never smoked pot before? Do you want some?” can be an even harder question to answer. Questions come at us from every angle, and we are called upon daily to provide the best answers and to live with the consequences of the answers we provide.

In our text for today, there are three questions that pop up and the way we answer each one is also critical. The first question that had to be answered was “who is that?” The second question, the one asked by Jesus, was “what are you seeking?” And finally, Andrew and a fellow disciple asked, “where are you staying?” These are the questions of our text, and they are the questions that we too take up today.

The first question is one that was implied. John the Baptist was baptizing at Bethany (verse 28) when he happened to see Jesus pass by. When John saw Jesus he knew exactly who He was from the get go. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” If the people wondered who that guy was, there was no doubt about the answer; John the Baptist had identified and spotted the Lamb of God, and then gave testimony about Him. If someone asked, “who is that?” then those around had been given the answer – it was the Jesus, Lamb of God – the Son of God.

So how do people answer the same question today in regards to Jesus? “Who is that?” Sadly, there is no unified answer like the fact that Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky. Today if you tell people that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, you’re likely to hear, “well, that’s your interpretation.” It would be like saying that your answer to 122 – 25 = 119 is your “opinion.” People hold a variety of interpretations and opinions regarding Jesus. He is a good teacher or their guilt-free buddy or a prophet or the main character from some old book that grandma and grandpa talk about or a figment of imagination that has fooled billions of people throughout history. Don’t think that’s true? Go on-line or take a walk through any major bookstore, go to any college campus or even visit our local high schools and you’ll literally find dozens of incorrect “interpretations” of who Jesus is.

As orthodox Christians, we know that John the Baptist’s answer was correct. “Who is that?” It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He served as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He was God in human flesh; perfect in every way who came to this earth for one reason – to be that sinless sacrifice. He is the perfect Passover Lamb whose blood was shed so that the people of God might be free from death. The parallels between Jesus and the lamb of sacrifice from the Passover event of Exodus 12 are striking. The blood of both saved people from death, both were without blemish or defect, and both were killed so that others may live.

The second question of our text was asked by the Lamb of God. Interestingly enough, when Jesus asks, “what are you seeking?” those are the first words He speaks in John’s Gospel. That is a good question. What do people seek or want from Jesus? Again, it depends on who you ask.

Some see Jesus as a vending machine. You pray to Him, He spits out whatever blessing you asked for. Wrong answer. Some think Jesus brings cheap grace. In other words, we can do whatever the heck we want, and Jesus is going to forgive us anyway, so we can have the best of both worlds! Wrong answer. Tragically, some think that Jesus isn’t anything…just some mythic figure that people who go to church talk about. Ultimately, these are the wrong answers…tragically wrong answers.

When Jesus asks us, “what are you seeking” we have to really take that into consideration. What ARE you seeking from Jesus? More importantly, what do we need from Jesus? What we want, what we need, is someone who can provide us with eternal life. What we want and need is forgiveness from the midst of our sinful nature. We want hope. We want and need hope in the face of addiction, identity breaches, uncertainty, and death itself. We need hope for this life and the promise of a life to come. And if that’s what you’re seeking…Jesus provides that. Eternal life, peace, hope, forgiveness, love – all these and so much more come to us in Christ and we believe this not because we have to but because we want to. What we truly need is what only God through Christ can provide. While others look in so many hollow places and in so many shallow ways to find a substitute, a way to fill their void of hopelessness, the answer – the real answer – is we want and we need Christ and Him crucified and risen again for us and for our salvation.

Finally, we hear the question from the disciples “where are you staying?” At least that is what the English translation says. But “stay” implies temporary. In Greek that word may also mean “dwell,” which implies permanence, and as His modern-day disciples we too ask where does Jesus dwell? Those without faith doubt He dwells anywhere. Because they doubt the resurrection they would say that Christ “dwells” in a stone tomb someplace. Again, wrong answer. Jesus dwelled on this earth. He dwells in heaven at the right hand of the Father. He dwells in His Word. He dwells in the Sacraments. He dwells in our hearts. He is exactly where He promised He would be.

What questions are you wrestling with today? I doubt it has anything to do with geography or algebra. Self worth? Self esteem? Health ? Career? Financial concerns? Parenting issues? Relationship stuff? I don’t know all your questions any more than I have all the answers; no one on this side of heaven does. But here’s what I do know.

Who is that? It is Christ the Lord, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What are you seeking? We seek the hope and peace and love the Lamb brings. Where does He dwell? He dwells where He said He would – in the Word and in the Sacraments. And by faith He dwells in our hearts. Now those are the correct answers today and always, even if you didn’t know Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky.

Amen.