Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Preciousness of Life

This remarkable video, which appears in this article from Parents magazine, shows a baby twenty weeks into its development in the womb.

That looks like a child made in the image of God to me.

So do the tragically dead father and daughter seeking asylum in the United States seen here lying face down in the Rio Grande.

And these kids who escaped death from death at the hands of a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School look like children made in the image of God too.

As a Christian, I believe that the lives of each of these people are precious in the eyes of God Who made them and Who brought new and everlasting life to all who trust in Jesus, God the Son.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Subversive Act of Marriage

[This message was shared tonight during the worshipful worship ceremony of Phil and Julie Hohulin. Phil is a cherished pastoral colleague.]

Julie and Phil, marriage is a subversive act, a defiant refusal to acquiesce to our inborn nature’s desire to go it alone, to have our own way, to be our own gods.

This human default position can be traced right back to the garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, they immediately revealed how sin had taken hold of them.

They hide from God. God asks, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Adam: “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Eve: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So much for “at last, this is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 3:9-13) It’s been mostly every sinner for themselves ever since.

That’s why your marriage, Phil and Julie, which we joyfully celebrate with you today, is a subversive act. Far from hiding from God, you’re asking Him today in Jesus’ name to be the other partner in your marriage. You know that every marriage is meant to involve a man, a woman, and God.

But neither of you is naive. You know that marriage has its enemies. Scripture and the Catechism name them: the devil, the world, and our sinful selves. These enemies can wreak havoc in all of our relationships: marriages, friendships, families, churches, nations. When sin prevails in our lives, we forget God’s will for us: to love God and to love neighbor, even the neighbor with whom we share the marital bed.

Among the passages just read, Jesus speaks of one of the sins by which the devil, the world, and our sinful selves prevents many people from having the marriages God wants for them and prevents others from even considering marriage. That sin is worry or fear.

Jesus says: “...I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:29-34)

Fear and worry are the opposite of faith. When we know that we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ, we know that God has set us free from sin, death, darkness, and fear

That’s why, clapped in a prison cell for preaching Christ and His gospel, Saint Paul could say, “...we are more than conquerors through him who loved us...neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord…” (Romans 8:37-39)

With the psalmist, the Christian can say, “The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

The devil, the world, and our sinful selves can only cause us to cave into the temptations of worry and fear if we fail to rely on Jesus. For those who are married, the reliable presence, grace, and provision of the God we know through Jesus Christ means that, not only do we have eternal life with God, it means that even when pressures and uncertainties assail us in our marriages--when we disagree, when ill-health threatens us, when money gets tight, when the quirks of our spouses get to us (although we know that neither of you have quirks)--God will never fail to forgive, love, and empower us to keep living together and loving one another in this covenant of grace called marriage. 

God’s Word is clear. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” we’re told (Romans 10:13). And Jesus promises, “...the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). 

When you follow Jesus Christ, you have nothing to fear and a Lord to be trusted with your whole lives...including your marriage!

So, Julie, Phil, along with everyone else who is here today, I am honored to be with you now and I say good for you for being subversives who dare to trust the God revealed in Jesus! 

Daily seek Him together, individually, and in the fellowship of Christ’s Church and He will reward your faithful subversion, come what may, with a life filled with Him now and forever. God bless you! Amen

Sunday, June 23, 2019

When Jesus Sets Us Free

[This message was shared during worship this morning with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 8:26-39
Our son Philip was in Haiti on a mission trip a few years back. One evening, his group had several free hours. Their translator, a young man who aspired to be a doctor, gave Phil a tour of the community. They ended up at the young translator’s home. Among his family members was his sister, a young woman, who Phil said, had the most terrible vacuum in her eyes: there, but somehow disconnected and isolated from everyone else. The translator later told Philip, “She has a demon.”

We who live in a Western post-modern world hear stories like that and have our doubts. We deem ourselves too sophisticated to believe that there's such things as demons.

But listen: The book of Genesis tells us that the serpent was the most subtle, the most sneaky and sly of all creatures. If Jesus' encounter with the devil in the wilderness tells us anything, it's that the devil is a master marketer. In some cultures, he puts people under his thumb with overt demon possession. In others, he convinces people that he's not around and so gains free rein to wreak all sorts of havoc to nations, communities, families, individuals, even churches. I am firmly convinced that there really is a devil and that there really are demons.
Luke, the writer of our gospel lesson for this morning, Luke 8:26-39, has traditionally been thought to be a doctor, an educated person. Of all the New Testament writers, who all composed their books and letters in the first-century world's second language, Greek, Luke writes with the greatest vocabulary and the most precision. 

When Luke writes of someone who has a physical ailment that causes them seizures, he makes it clear that the person is suffering from a physical ailment. 

But when Luke reports on someone who suffers a spiritual ailment like demon possession, he gives that information as well. Luke identifies people’s problems with specificity. 

In today’s gospel lesson, Luke 8:26-39, which recounts an event that occurred in Gentile territory on the eastern banks of the Galilee, where steep cliffs meet the sea, Jesus and His disciples encounter a man possessed by demons. 

Not just one demon, but a legion of demons. Legion was a term used in the first-century world for a 5000-man unit of the Roman army. So, a regiment of demons had taken hold of this young man. Luke doesn’t explain how they came to take up residence in the young man. But he does explain what happens when Jesus takes on the evil of the world, the devil, and our sinful selves that can engulf us

And he does show us the appropriate response of those set free from evil by Jesus

It's these two things we see in this passage.
In verses 26-29, Jesus and the disciples come ashore in the region of the ten Greek cities established in territory once conquered by Alexander the Great, the decapolis. They encounter this demon-possessed man. Of him, Luke says, “For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.” (Luke 8:37)

When evil or sin holds sway in our lives, it isolates us from God and others. The great commandment in which Jesus summarizes God’s will for human beings calls us to love God and to love others, to live in community with others. This doesn’t mean we should never have times of solitude, times when we seek out the Lord in Scripture and prayer. Jesus needed such times and we do too. 

But God made us to be communal beings. God created Eve, you’ll remember, because He said that it wasn’t good for Adam to live alone. “How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!” David wrote in Psalm 133:1. The demon-possessed man lived among the tombs of the dead, in “solitary places.”

The legion of demons possessing the man, as spiritual beings, fallen angels, immediately know who Jesus is. 

Jesus sets out to free the man victimized by this demonic occupation, calling the demons out. The demons are afraid that Jesus is going to send them to “the abyss,” the place of the dead and the damned, what we call hell, a place of isolation from God, a place devoid of life and love

Since they’re in a Gentile enclave, a place not constrained by Jewish dietary laws which prohibited eating pork, there’s a herd of 2000 pigs nearby. Jesus sends the demons into the pigs, who run over the cliffs into the sea below.

Jesus has set the man free! That should have been a cause for celebration in the community. A man had been set free from evil. But all the pig herders see is that Jesus used some sort of supernatural power to send their business assets to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. They run into town and the surrounding area to report this outrage.

One of the worst traits of our fallen human race is how readily we accept sin and evil, how easily we see the suffering of others as “normal.” As Canadian rock musician Bruce Cockburn says, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” 

Instead of being concerned for the demon-possessed man, the pig herders (and the other people of the nearby town, as we’ll see) had come to accept his affliction as a permanent state of being. 

Are there people whose suffering we simply accept? 

Are there people subjected to injustice and mistreatment about which we say nothing because we don’t want to rock any boats, especially our own? 

Are there people to whose daily walk with sin and death we have simply become resigned, with no thought of praying for them, or sharing Jesus with them, or helping them?

When the people of the town go out to the fields to check things out, finding all the pigs dead and the once demon-possessed man clothed and in his right mind, they’re terrified that Jesus had disrupted their “normal.” 

“Then,” verse 37 of our gospel lesson tells us, “all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.” 

Do you know why most people, even people on the membership rolls of churches, don’t want to have too much to do with Jesus? Because they’re afraid (we all can be afraid) that Jesus is going to change our lives, our “normal”

Set eternally free from sin and death by what Jesus has done for us, we’re afraid that He might call us to live differently, to think differently. 

He might call us spend our time and money differently. 

He might call us to love the unlovable, serve the needy, help others to know Jesus, fight injustice, pray for the spread of the gospel.

“Please, go away, Jesus,” the people of town beg Jesus. 

Jesus will never go where He’s not invited. Which is why I make it a point on many Fridays at the end of my office hours, to walk around this building, going into every room, to invite Jesus to come and be Lord over this place and over the people who enter it. 

I ask that Jesus will make the presence of God’s Holy Spirit unavoidable when people come here. 

I touch every seat in the sanctuary, as well as  the pulpit, the piano, the altar, the baptismal font, the music stands, the keyboard, the drum, the mixer board, and the video equipment and I ask Jesus to be Lord of everyone who sits here and of everything that’s in here that we would live in the confidence and hope of knowing that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and that we will go into the world filled with the Holy Spirit, empowered to share Jesus with others, ready to welcome Jesus into every part of our own lives!

When Jesus leaves the Decapolis at the request of the villagers, the man from whom Jesus cast out the demons wants to go with Him. But Jesus says that the man needs to stay. “Return home and tell how much God has done for you,” Jesus says (Luke 8:39). 

Jesus calls some people to be witnesses for Him as missionaries in South Africa, like Claire Brown, who will be speaking here on July 14. 

He calls others to take mission trips to Haiti; others to visit and pray with folks at hospitals; others to help and to share the Bible with victims of tornadoes; others to meet privately with people around God’s Word to nurture them in the faith. 

All of us are called to share the good news of new life through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus in our everyday lives. 

We’re to share what God has done for us in Jesus, even with those who want Jesus to go away. 

Luke tells us that, at Jesus' command, “the man [once filled with demons] went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39). 

One day, believers will be with Jesus. 

But for now, our call is the same one given to the man by Jesus that day: to live for Him and share Him with people right where we are. Amen