4th Sunday in Lent

4th Sunday in Lent

March 11, 2018

Numbers 21:4-9

“The Antidote For All”

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 read from Numbers chapter 21.

My dear friends,

By now it is a WELL KNOWN fact how I feel about snakes. I hate them. I hate the way they slither. I hate their stupid forked, gross tongues. I hate their beady little eyes. I hate that stupid rattle at the end of their stupid tubular bodies. I hate snakes. I loathe them; snakes are an abomination! Gee…what do you know? The ancient Israelites felt the same way about their daily manna. Even though God was daily providing both freedom and provisions, the people were more mindful of the content of their gullets than reverence for God; they would rather please their palette than please God. They “loathe” the provisions of God Almighty. Literally, the Hebrew word for worthless is even stronger: an “abomination.” The Israelites are calling God’s provisions abominable, which can literally be rendered as “to make one sick to the stomach.” God’s quail and manna were sickening to their stomachs! Nice manners people!

This disrespect for holy food was not just an insult; it was downright rebellion against God and Moses! This abomination was a loathing of all of God’s goodness and mercy. Their rebellion was a complete disregard for Moses’ authority. Friends, don’t let your piety get to you! We as God’s people are no better. We also disregard the holy gifts of worship, Word, and Sacrament convincing ourselves that our plans are WAY MORE IMPORTANT than taking an hour (.6% of your week) or two a week to worship. When we ignore prayer before meals, regard worship as a weekly required chore, when young families diminish their child’s need of Baptism, or we minimize the value of the Lord’s Supper, we also make desolate that which is holy and pure; in action or in attitude we too “loathe” the “worthless” gifts of God, and that’s not good…not good at all!

In addition to being mostly worthless, snakes are rather abnormal creatures. They’re among the few creatures that have no legs at all, not even for show, and they crawl on their bellies. Gross! Sure, that way it’s easier to chop them in half with a shovel, but no legs for a land-dwelling animal? That’s just abnormal, right? In our text, some of the worst of these miserable belly-dwellers bit the people, and their venom brought the demise of many. This is an abnormal event from our vantage point as humans. “This cannot be happening,” we might say. However, events happen every day that don’t seem normal from our vantage point. A plane flying into a building is not normal; it’s abnormal. Children exposed to gun violence, drug usage, and sexual sins in school is not normal. It’s abnormal. A child comes into the world but that life is quickly terminated in abortion. This, too, is not normal. It’s abnormal. In the classic Mel Brooks comedy “Young Frankenstein”, Master Frankenstein tells his assistant, Igor, to find a brain at the laboratory. By mistake, Igor reads the label “abnormal” as “Abby Normal.” The monster, as a result, receives an abnormal brain. Humanity’s history is “Abby Normal,” or abnormal, too as we are distorted by the effects of our sinful rebellion and unbelief against the only true God. This last week, your thoughts, words, and deeds did not always match up with God’s holy will and that’s not normal. Our thoughts, words, and deeds went astray; you went astray. You are abnormal because of sin.

And for that there’s only one antidote. Look to the Savior and live!   As the people cried for mercy, God was not deaf to their cry. He provides a means of healing: look up to the one lifted up and live. Still today, paramedics wear a very obvious symbol on their uniforms. This symbol is that of a snake on a pole; wasn’t my idea. This is really an abnormal symbol apart from a biblical explanation and I’m shocked no one has suggested its revision. In fact, it’s really a completely opposite sign; snakes don’t normally symbolize healing, which the medics set out to do for the ailing. In the Bible the snake-bitten people looking to the bronze serpent, a replica on a stick, were spared.

But even graver are the circumstances of humanity needing absolution from God. Mankind is not simply headed for the grave, but for eternal punishment in hell. Since Eden’s fall, humanity was in desperate need of a look. It was God’s loving look from heaven that made it all possible. He saw the poison of sin rampant in the world. He looked and loved so much that he gave His one and only Son (John 3:16). As antidote is drawn from venom, so our Savior drenches himself in the world’s sin to take our blame. He took our abominations and our abnormalities, and he absolved us freely and fully as we look upon Him crucified and risen again for our forgiveness and salvation.

Now we, as medics to the world, offer the antidote in our contexts of daily living. Our offerings, our prayers, our service, and our worship all work to be medicine and antidotes for sinners everywhere. We all need this antidote daily and richly. It’s absolution in Holy Baptism, where we are buried in water and Word with our Savior and raised again. It’s absolution in Holy Communion, when his body and blood are given and received for our salvation. It’s absolution when we hear “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And to think that the best is yet to come in heaven’s high home, where the threat of illness, death, or destruction is no more…a 100% completely snake free eternal existence for which we can ALL say “thanks be to God!”

Amen.

3rd Sunday in Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent

March 4, 2018

John 2:13-22

“Breaking News”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the assigned Gospel lesson read previously from John 2, and my apologies if this sermon seems a little, well, weird.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

“Good evening everyone and welcome to the 6:00 evening news. I’m Walterimus Cronkititimus. We have breaking news for you this night so we go right to our reporter in the streets of Jerusalem, Decievum Majorium, for this rapidly breaking news story. Decievum, are you there?”

“Yes, Walterimus I’m here. I’m standing outside the Jewish Temple here in Jerusalem where we are being told that someone has caused a huge uproar inside. Fortunately for us I have located someone close to the story and let’s see what we can find out. What is your name, sir?” “My name is, uhh, “Cheatimus” and I work here in the temple.” “Okay, and what do you do here at the temple and can you tell us what happened here today?”

“Well sir, it all started out just fine. We was a sellin’ stuff in the temple area and I was changing money with the others. You know, with Passover coming so soon and all we had our hands full! People was a comin’ from all over the place and when you come to Jerusalem you gotta have an animal to sacrifice in the temple. And nots just any old animal. Our temple animals are all checked over and only the bests. We sell them animals to the people who come to worship in the temple.” “Oh, okay, I see. Say Mr. Cheatimus, is it a problem having all those animals in the temple?” “Well, I reckon those animals were making a lot of noise in there, not to mention the smell…and the mess, I guess. Come to think of it, it was getting’ a bit ripe in there from all those critters.”

“Mr. Cheatimus, can you tell us about the activities you were involved in and what happened today in the temple?” “Yeah, I reckon I can do that. I’m a money changer, that is, people bring all their money to give to the temple but we don’t take none of it ’cause of all the various images and whatnot. Only certain kinds of money is allowed in the temple. We take all their heathen money and exchange it for temple money so people can give it right back to the temple for their offering.” “Oh, Mr. Cheatimus, do you make a profit off this practice?” “What’s it matter to you, boy? Sure, we charge an extra 4-8% to do this…guys gotta make a living, right? Anyway, there was so many people coming in for the Passover that we had to up and move operations right inside the temple itself. Things was a going just fine…until that feller showed up.”

“Mr. Cheatimus, I take it from your tone of voice that you’re referring to the breaking news story we’re covering. Can you tell us what happened?” “I sure can! We was a sellin’ and doing business as usual until this guy, some carpenter from up north, came into the temple and went loco on us! He made a whip out of rope and made everybody get out! He said stuff like, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a house of trade!” (v. 16). I don’t know what he was talkin’ about…we was just doing business. I heard later that feller’s name was “Jesus” or something like that. He sure put a crimp on my day, and during our busiest time of year, too!”

“Mr. Cheatimus, do you think he had a reason to be angry? Were you supposed to be selling animals and exchanging money in the temple? Doesn’t that kind of activity belong in a marketplace or somewhere else rather than the holy temple where it is both disruptive and disrespectful?” “I has no comment.” “Okay, that’s all from the temple for tonight. This is Decievum Majorium reporting from the streets of Jerusalem. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.”

“Good evening everyone and welcome once again to the 6:00 evening news. I’m Walterimus Cronkititimus. We have breaking news for you tonight so we go right to our roving reporter, Decievum Majorium, for tonight’s breaking news. Decievum?”

“I’m standing here with Peter, a disciple of Jesus. What a unique 40-day period it has been! If you remember, we reported earlier that Jesus has risen from the dead and instructed Peter and his followers to now go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything (he) commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). I was wondering, Mr. Peter, what insight do you have to add to this breaking news situation.”

“Well, Decievum, I gotta tell you. This has been quite a time for us. Ever since our teacher and Lord Jesus has risen from the dead we have come to realize so much about what he was talking about. We have come to the realization that he was more that just a teacher or rabbi. He was and is the Son of God, the Messiah that we have all been looking for and waiting for.”

“The Messiah…THE Messiah…is that right?”

“Yes. When Jesus cleared the temple he was doing more than just cleaning house. He was, as we have now learned, taking the first step of looking beyond the temple itself. He was showing us that if you want to come into the presence of God you don’t need the temple tax or temple sacrifices or even the temple itself. Jesus is the temple; he is the presence of God among us. He is the one that takes us to the Father. The road doesn’t go through the mess and blood of the temple; it goes through the mess and blood of the cross. The Temple is now open for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. He has removed the stink and filth and corruption from all of us by dying and rising again for us and for our sinfulness.”

“That’s very profound, Mr. Peter. Do you have anything else to add to this story?”

“Yes, I do. The breaking news of what Jesus has done is now to be proclaimed by all those who hear the truth of his Word and have been changed by his love and mercy and grace and sacrifice. Some day people will proclaim Christ and him crucified for this world’s salvation using whatever means necessary so that as many as possible hear the Good News proclaimed and have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the one who has become the Temple – the meeting place of God – for us and for our benefit.”

“Any means possible? Even the 6:00 news?”

Even the 6:00 news.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Sunday in Lent

2nd Sunday in Lent

February 25, 2018

Mark 8:27-38

“Sticker Shock”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us as the basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark chapter 8.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

 

Have you ever been shopping for a new car? Have you ever walked along the rows and rows of new vehicles admiring their appearance? Then you wanted to look at the interior and so you took a good, long look through the window, and then you walked to the other side where that list of all the options and features were and that’s when BLAM! There was the price of that vehicle. And so you moved to the next vehicle and BLAM! It happened again! This phenomenon is known as “Sticker Shock.” “Sticker Shock” is defined as “the feeling of surprise or shock experienced by consumers upon finding unexpectedly high prices on the price tags of products they are considering purchasing” (www.wikipedia.com).

Many years ago now (2004), the movie The Passion of the Christ was a regular part of many conversations at this time of year. The movie caused some “sticker shock,” that is, the movie was too violent, too graphic. Blam! The scourging and crucifixion scenes were too long and bloody. Blam! It was seen to be inappropriate for children and even for many adults. To many, it was just so offensive. Blam! It was just too much! The Passion of the Christ was absolute sticker shock to perhaps the majority of those who saw it. They were shocked at the brutality and the violence, and even 14 years later, the shocking nature of the film cannot be ignored. You know what is going to happen, and it is still shocking. Blam!

Humanity has its idea of what the sticker price should be for salvation, but Jesus reveals God’s sticker price for salvation. In verse 31 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus announces, “The Son of Man must suffer many things” and He must do so because of the sin of mankind. Jesus had no sin; when He was tempted he overcame. He was the perfect, spotless Lamb of God – yet He had to die to pay the price for our sinfulness. In fact, the word in verse 31 that we translate as “must”(dei) is commonly translated “it is necessary,” and that is the translation that I prefer. That phrase demonstrates the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death, and when we hear of that happening, it creates – Blam! – sticker shock.

It shouldn’t, though. Ever since the days of Abraham, the forgiveness of sins required the sacrifice of something, and typically that involved a blood sacrifice. The forgiveness of sins carried the price tag of death. It always had: pigeons, oxen, bulls, lambs, sheep, goats, rams, and doves were all sacrificed to atone for sins. When Jesus revealed that He too must be killed (v. 31), – Blam! – sticker shock. There are no shortcuts to the forgiveness of sins. It requires, it necessitates, the shedding of perfect blood. That is the price – Blam! – but Jesus has paid that price in full.

Consider what the disciples heard. They heard that their teacher, the one they had followed, was saying that he must go and suffer and die. All they could hear right now was the price that Jesus was saying he would pay and not looking any further than their own needs; “what will happen to us if something happens to you?” And Peter suffered a severe case of sticker shock. Blam! “Oh never, not you Lord. This shall never happen to you!”

It seems harsh what Jesus said in return – “get behind me, Satan” – but you can hear the mistake behind Peter’s reasoning. Peter failed to grasp the utter depravity of the sinfulness of man and, as such, the price seemed too heavy to him. “Well,” Peter may have thought, “sure we do some stuff wrong, but no one has to die because of it…right?” Blam!

The sticker shock of Peter is common today. “Our sin is not so bad,” we may rationalize, “it’s no big deal. No one gets hurt by what I do. I’m not nearly as bad as so-and-so.” And so we go through the motions of confessing ourselves as “poor, miserable sinners” with a bit of a pious snicker. “That’s somebody else…not me.” Blam! Because our sins aren’t so bad (we think) what we need is the cute, huggable Jesus; the smiling, non-bloody, pal who’s going to forgive all our “little” transgressions anyway which then allows us to rationalize all kinds of sinful behavior. The reality is that all of us, ALL OF US, need the bloody, beaten, scarred, and suffering servant Savior because it is OUR SINS for which he suffered and died. Sure, it’s not pretty when we think about what Jesus had to do for us and sure, it is shocking…and maybe it should be.

Imagine what the reaction would be if people went to a car dealer, found the perfect car, and found out that there was no cost. Wouldn’t everyone drive off the lot in a brand-new, perfect car? The same is true when it comes to our salvation offered by and through Jesus. There is no price demanded of us; it comes to us as a gift. And that gift prompts a response. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must (not dei) deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v 34). These words are not stating that he has set a price for us to pay in regard to our salvation. No, he has paid the price in full on our behalf. Instead, he enables us to respond to his grace with a life of self-denial, a life of “cross bearing,” and following him.

The cost of being a disciple is neither a payment nor divine mandate, but it is a joyful connection to Jesus by grace through faith in his unconditional love. That joyful attachment changes us. It gives hope in the face of uncertainty. It gives love in the face of anger and hatred. It gives a future where before there was none.  It enables us to make the correct decision in various situations. You know what all that adds up to? Frankly, something rather shocking. Blam! The sticker shock of Jesus’ passion is our passion to serve and follow him.

What a miracle! God has given us a passion for denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following him. His Passion makes this a reality in our sanctified life. We do not have to live for ourselves anymore, but desire to live for him who died and rose for us. The Gospel makes us new. We proclaim it daily in our Baptism, and we feast on it in the body and blood of the One who faced the shock of damnation, so that we can put on the new self wrapped in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Blam! The sticker shock of Lent was absorbed in Jesus’ Passion, which now enables us to have a passion to deny ourselves and follow him.

Amen.

1st Sunday in Lent

1st Sunday in Lent

February 18, 2018

James 1:12-18

“The Every Day Battle”

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

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Transfiguration of our Lord

Transfiguration of our Lord (B)

February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

“When Reality Touches the Divine”

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

My dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

5th Sunday after the Epiphany

5th Sunday after the Epiphany

February 4, 2018

Mark 1:35-39

“Everyone is Looking For You”

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

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

4th Sunday after the Epiphany

4th Sunday after the Epiphany

January 28, 2018

Mark 1:21-28

“Who’s In Charge Here?”

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

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

January 21, 2018

Mark 1:14-20

“A Really Good Sermon”

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

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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