Thursday, July 29, 2021
Saturday, July 24, 2021
In today’s Gospel lesson, Mark 6:30-44, the apostles--Jesus’ sent ones--return from a missionary journey on which Jesus had sent them. They are exhilarated. The apostles had preached and taught the good news that, in Jesus, God’s kingdom had broken into the world and that, in response, God was calling people to repent and believe in the good news about the One Who had come to die for our sins and rise to give us life with God, Jesus. People had responded to the Gospel message presented by the apostles.Through them, people believed in Jesus. The apostles had also cured diseases and cast out demons in Jesus’ name. But now, exhilarated or not, the apostles were also exhausted. So, Jesus invites them to come with Him to a quiet place so that He can fill them again with the blessings of His Word. This, of course, is what Jesus invites us to do through weekly worship, the Sacraments, and reading and studying His Word. To all who have made the wrong choices when given the chance to do the right thing...to all born into sin and unable to free themselves (that includes all of us)...to all worn out from life, Jesus says what He effectively says to the apostles at the start of our Gospel lesson, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28)
But if the apostles thought that Jesus was inviting them to sit around a campfire with ‘smores so that they could brag about everything they’d done in Jesus’ name, they would quickly learn otherwise. Jesus, in fact, was going to present them with a dilemma. A crowd, anxious to hear Jesus’ teaching, had actually beaten Jesus and the disciples to a the quiet place they’d gone to on a fishing boat. The apostles may have been disappointed. But, Mark says that Jesus looked on the crowds and “had compassion on them.” (Mark 6:34) The root word for the one translated here as “had compassion” is σπλαγχνίζομαι. It means that Jesus looked on the crowds with a gut-deep sense of love and responsibility for them.
Jesus has spent hours feeding the crowd and the apostles on His saving good news, His gospel. Eventually, the apostles suggest that Jesus send the crowd away so that they can buy food for themselves. But Jesus confronts them with a dilemma, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37) The apostles, so recently intent on telling Jesus everything they had done, say that can’t be done. “That would take more than half a year’s wages!” (Mark 6:37)
Jesus will never hold you accountable for what you don’t have or can’t do.
After Jesus feeds the throng, the apostles gather up leftovers: “twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.” (Mark 6:43)
Most of the spiritual dilemmas that we face in life aren’t really dilemmas at all. They’re just instances of us arguing with Jesus.
[Here is the text of the message presented during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, on July 11, 2021. Below it, you'll find a video of the entire service. I hope you find this helpful.]
Recently, during my quiet time with God, as I considered God’s incredible grace toward me, despite my sins, I was compelled to stop as I read the Bible to praise God.
My words were inadequate and tumbled from my mind in an incoherent jumble. At that moment, I needed to praise and thank God for Who He has shown Himself to be in the crucified and risen Jesus. I needed to thank and praise God for Christ’s death on the cross, for His empty tomb, and for the way God the Holy Spirit daily comes to me in His Word, makes me part of His Kingdom, forgives my sin, gives me the gift of faith, and fills my life with purpose and hope.
I bet that most of you know what I’m talking about. There are those moments when God’s grace, love, and salvation, given in Christ, so overwhelm you that all you can do is praise Him!
Our second lesson for today comes to us from the New Testament book of Ephesians. It’s a letter written by the apostle Paul to be circulated among the Christians in the ancient city of Ephesus in about 60 AD. Paul wrote it to remind the church that would read it during worship of the spiritual blessings all who belong to Jesus enjoy (more on what spiritual blessings are in a moment) and of the unity that believers have because all alike have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.
Paul wrote this letter while being imprisoned for his faith in Christ. This makes the passage before us today, Ephesians 1:3-14, all the more remarkable. That’s because these twelve verses, which are part of one single sentence in the Greek in which Paul originally composed them, are what we might call a doxological effusion.
A doxology, of course, is a word of praise to God. The word is a compound from the New Testament Greek made up of doxos, meaning glory, and the suffix logos, meaning word or a word about. As Paul begins this letter, he praises God three times over for the blessings God has showered on His people. I pray that this message today will be a kind of doxology empowering and encouraging us to praise God along with Paul.
Paul’s first expression of praise for God comes in verses 3 to 6a of our verse. Paul says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace…”
It’s likely that as we read this section of the lesson, three words or phrases jump out at us. The first two are heavenly realms and spiritual blessing. Don’t get wifty here, folks. Paul is no New Age guru. In this entire passage, Paul isn’t talking about God taking people into some tingly nirvana of feel-goods. Paul is talking about how God took on human flesh and entered into our lives to set us free from sin, death, and darkness. To be blessed in “the heavenly realms,” Paul literally says in “the heavenlies” doesn’t mean that God is going to bless us someday in a mirky spiritual realm. It means that the God Who wasn’t afraid to get His uniform dirty, taking our sin and dirt and filth onto His clean and righteous shoulders at the cross, makes us part of His eternal kingdom, making all baptized believers His own dear children, even now.
We might also notice in these opening verses two similar words, chose and predestined. A lot of mischief has been done with these words by so-called theologians who replace God’s revealed Word with their own imperfect thoughts. These mischief-makers teach that God had picked winners and losers, those who would be saved and those who would be damned, before any of us were even created. But Christ would not have commissioned the Church to share His Gospel and make disciples if God had already decided who would be saved. What Paul is saying here is that before the world began, He chose and predestined all who respond to His Word as it calls us to repentance and faith in the God ultimately revealed in Jesus to be saved. Paul is overwhelmed by the fact that, through Christ and our faith in Christ, God makes sinners who would otherwise be lost and damned for all eternity, “holy and blameless in His sight.”
In verses 6 to 12, Paul praises God for lavishing His grace--His charity, His forgiveness--on us through the revelation of Christ. There are people who believe that human beings can think or act their way into a life with God. “If I do the right thing, say the right thing, think the right thing,” they reason, “God will let me into His kingdom.” Folks, this thinking is straight from hell and can only lead to hell. The Bible teaches and experience should show us that we can’t do enough good, say enough good, or think enough good to make ourselves right with God. Instead, Jesus, God the Son, acting according to the plan of God, dies and rises for us so that all who repent and believe in Him have everlasting life with God. If our rightness, our righteousness, in the sight of God, depended on us in the least, we would be eternally lost. Our hope is in Christ alone!
Finally, Paul praises God the Holy Spirit for the miracle of faith. “When you believed,” he tells the Ephesian Christians (and you and me), “you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14) Do you know how hard, how impossible, it is for human beings to believe or trust in anyone or anything beyond themselves? Psychologists like Erick Erickson have told us that the first stage in human psychosocial development is negotiating the battle within us between trust and mistrust. In some ways, we never get past it. From Adam and Eve, we have inherited an intrinsic mistrust in others, especially a mistrust in a God Who loves us despite our sins and flaws, Who gives us love now and life beyond the grim reality of death. We would rather put our trust in ourselves and the things we think we can control. Yet the Holy Spirit comes to us in God’s Word, spoken and shared by God’s people, the Church, and, pointing to Christ’s death and resurrection, woos people into believing that we can entrust Christ with our past, our present, and our eternal future. Miraculous, world-defying, death-destroying faith in Christ that God gives to us--saving faith--is a reason for praising God now and always!
Even in shackles, Paul could praise God for choosing to make people His own through what Jesus has done for the whole human race; for God’s undeserved grace for sinners; and for the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith in Jesus Christ that makes sinners the saved saints of God. May we, as we encounter God in His Word, His Church, and the Sacraments, also be compelled each day to praise God for these blessings and the millions more He showers on us. Amen
Monday, July 12, 2021
Romans 8:31-35, 37-39
Nearly one year ago, Ruth Olson lost her earthly life to cancer. I don’t need to remind any of you of what deeply committed disciples of Jesus both she and Bob have been.
There are some who might look at Ruth’s faith in Christ and, particularly in the wake of her passing, see it as delusional.
Death is a hard reality; it can even cause grief-stricken disciples to tell Jesus, as Martha did near the burial site of her brother Lazarus in our Gospel readings, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21)
Our second Bible lesson for today, Romans 8:31-35, 37-39, chosen by Ruth, comes from the New Testament book of Romans, a letter written to the Christian church in Rome in about 55 AD.
In our lesson, Paul poses and answers seven questions.
Paul goes on to ask two questions in quick succession: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
Paul then asks, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33)
Next question: “Who then is the one who condemns?” (Romans 8:34)
Then comes Paul’s sixth and seventh questions.
This is why Ruth chose these words from Scripture for you today. She didn’t want to point to herself. She wanted to point to the Lord Who, by His charity, His grace justifies all who trust in Him.
In the days and years ahead, however long or short, may God’s Word fill us with faith in Christ so that we too will live each day in the certainty that nothing...NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen
Tuesday, July 06, 2021
Monday, July 05, 2021
[Here's yesterday's message from worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below the text is the YouTube video from the second worship service. Have a good week. God bless you!]
By the time of the events recorded in today’s Gospel lesson, Mark 6:1-13, the gospel writer Mark tells us that Jesus has already created a stir by announcing that in His appearance, the kingdom of God has invaded the world and that, in response, people need to repent and believe in Him.
Jesus has already undergirded the legitimacy of His apparent claim to be Messiah and God-in-the-flesh by performing notable miracles.
Now, disciples in tow, Jesus comes to His hometown of Nazareth.
I’m convinced that Jesus did this quite deliberately. We’ll see why in a moment.
Once in Nazareth, Jesus goes to the synagogue. It was the custom then to ask visitors or members of the synagogue who had been away for a time to speak on the reading from the Torah for that day. So, Jesus was bound to be asked to teach. It’s likely that Jesus’ disciples went to the synagogue anticipating that Messiah-come-home would receive a hero’s welcome. They would soon be disabused of such ideas.
Mark tells us that while listening to Jesus, the hometown crowd was “astonished,” the word Mark uses in the original Greek meaning they were shocked, at a loss to explain Jesus’ words, wisdom, or miracles.
Their astonishment doesn’t spring from faith or pride though. The Nazarenes are appalled by what they see as Jesus’ presumption.
“Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?” Mark says, “...they took offense at Him.” (Mark 6:3)
Two scorpions in a bottle with an open top would rather sting each other to death than help each other escape. As human beings, let’s face it, we’re not much different from the scorpions: Our sinful natures resent it when others are higher than us, especially when those others are people we think we know, even when that other we think we know is God Himself.
Jesus had already revealed Himself to be God and Messiah by the time He returns to Nazareth in today’s lesson. But the Nazarenes refuse to believe in Jesus or the gospel of new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in Him He brings. As a consequence, Jesus, Who has been performing miraculous signs right and left everywhere He went “...could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them…” (Mark 6:5)
Faith, of course, is a gift from God. It comes to us when, through the Word spoken, read, or explained to us or given to us in Holy Baptism or Holy Communion, is used by the Holy Spirit to create belief in Jesus within us. As we’re told in Romans 10:17: “...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” You can’t manufacture or talk yourself into faith in Jesus. Faith isn’t derived from feelings or thoughts.
The question is whether we’re willing to receive the gift of faith or not?
God’s Word tells us that Baptism saves us, because when the water covers our heads, we participate in both Jesus’ death and His resurrection. Baptism, the apostle Peter writes, “now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21) And Baptism, the apostle Paul says, causes us to be “buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4) Are you willing to trust in the salvation that God’s Word says you already have?
God’s Word tells us that we can only confess that Jesus is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit: “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit,” 1 Corinthians 12:3 says. Are you willing to believe that the
Holy Spirit is working in your life and empowering you with faith?
Jesus, the Word of God, says to His followers in reference to the signs of the Kingdom He opens to all who believe in Him, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Are you willing to trust in that promise?
Jesus commissions all of us who bear His name to go and make disciples, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them, then getting them baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, promising that as we faithfully pursue this mission He will be with us “always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Are you willing to take Jesus at His Word?
Friends, I can tell you with certainty, if we are willing to believe God’s Word in Jesus Christ, we will believe.
I can say with equal certainty, that if we aren’t willing to believe, we won’t.
The gift of faith is there for us to be received one day at a time. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves [meaning, deny your skepticism, deny your addiction to sin, deny your need to be in control or to know how everything’s going to turn out] and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Are we willing to believe in Jesus?
Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes weren’t willing to believe. Nor did they have a faith in Jesus that would cause them to share Christ and His Gospel with others. To see this must have been stunning for the disciples to see.
Listen: It’s possible for people to receive the Gospel, whether through the Word or the Sacraments, and for people still not to believe.
If you carry the Gospel to others, they may refuse to believe in the only Savior Who can give them eternity with God. As Jesus is about to send the disciples out in pairs to share His message and do His signs, this is what Jesus wants the disciples to know. If you follow Jesus and, from a place of love, you share Him with others, expect to be rejected. Expect it. If you are faithful, you will have your good news spurned, even by those closest to you.
This is why Jesus tells the Twelve as He sends them out, “if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:12) Disciples should expect to be rejected for their faith in Jesus just as Jesus Himself was rejected.
But, as disciples of Jesus, we need not be discouraged.
Instead, we need to pursue our faith-sharing mission with urgency. The reason for the urgency is simple. When the people we know die, they will have no more chance to repent and believe in Jesus.
Jesus Himself makes this point in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man. After each of them die--the rich man who paid no heed to God or neighbor and Lazarus, the poor beggar, who trusted in God despite his suffering, the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus is safe in eternity in the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man begs first, that Abraham will send Lazarus to bring him relief from the condemnation he chose in rejecting God. Then he asks that Abraham will send Lazarus to preach repentance and faith to his brothers.
But Abraham says that can’t happen; beyond the gates of death, there is a fixed chasm between the living and the damned that can no longer be crossed. God alone can close the gap between Himself and those of us born into sin and separation from Him. He did that in Jesus.
And Jesus sends those of us willing to believe that Jesus is God-come-to-us to people who will die under condemnation if someone doesn’t take the risk of sharing Jesus with them! “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Are we willing to believe in Jesus?
Are we willing to share that belief in Jesus?
God has already done everything necessary for us to have such faith and to live with such belief.
Our call is to get out of God’s way so that we can believe and we can share Christ with the world.
A few days ago, our son posted on Facebook, “God gave me the opportunity to share my faith with someone today. Please pray that the Spirit guides and enlightens both proclaimer and recipient of the Gospel.” Philip doesn’t know what God will do with the Word about Jesus he planted in the life of that spiritually-disconnected person. And Philip will be the first to tell you he doesn’t have all of life together and that there are times he’s probably had the opportunity to share the Gospel and he hasn’t. (I know that’s true of me as well.) But, quite honestly, when I read that post, I was proud of his willingness to trust in Jesus and share Jesus’ Gospel with someone.
Friends, God is only looking for people willing to believe in Jesus; He will do the rest.
May God daily work such willingness in us. Amen
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Friday, June 25, 2021
Gracious, almighty God, You have dominion over all things. We thank You that You hear our prayers offered in Jesus’ name. Above all, we thank You that through the crucified and risen Jesus, You have done all necessary both to save us from sin and death and to make us Your holy people. In all circumstances, help us to take refuge and hope in Christ alone. Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Gracious Lord, the world with its worldly thoughts, ideologies, and prescriptions crowds around us, making it difficult for us to see the Truth only revealed in Jesus, the Way, Truth, and the Life. Forgive us for the ways we allow the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures to lead us to bitterness, suspicion, envy, or the ancient human desire to be You. Forgive us too for sometimes thinking that Your Church is something that we must control rather than seeing it for what it is, the body of Christ, Your eternal people, to which, as disciples of Jesus, we are all mutually accountable. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit so that in all we say, do, think, and pray, we seek to honor Christ alone. Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord of the nations, we lift up to You for guidance and encouragement all the leaders of the world and of this country that we might lead peaceful lives. Protect those in military service from danger, harn, and temptations. Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Monday, June 14, 2021
Anxiety has been defined as “the body’s response to worry and fear.” Researchers tell us that in 2020, 62% of respondents in the United States reported experiencing some anxiety. And 31% of all American adults will, in the course of their lives, suffer from a clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder, be it generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Christians aren’t immune from anxieties, of course.
It may have been because He anticipated the onset of anxieties among Christians that Jesus told the two parables we find in today’s Gospel lesson, Mark 4:26-34.
The first parable Jesus tells in today’s lesson is the parable of the growing seed.
In this parable, the seeds are the Word of God. When the Word of God--the Gospel Word about new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus--when that Word is scattered in the soil of human hearts, minds, and wills through the Word shared, taught, preached, and given in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, there is a harvest. The seed won't grow in every person who receives it. But there will be a harvest. The harvest is disciples, people who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, receive the gift of faith in Jesus and have life with God. Faith in Jesus makes people part of the harvest, part of the Kingdom of God.
This first parable addresses one enormous source of anxiety among some Christians.
Last month, I was talking with a pastoral colleague who serves a congregation in a small town in another state. His church’s facilities were ample enough to provide for social distancing midway through the worst of the pandemic and reopened in January. “We lost three or four families,” he told me. “Why?” I asked. “They were upset that we were reopening.” The loss of those families triggered the anxiety of some of his church’s members. “What are we going to do, pastor?” they asked him. His answer was very wise: “Keep spreading the Gospel!”
That’s our job as Christ’s Church. We scatter the seed and trust God to do the rest, no matter what the apparent results.
The second parable Jesus tells today, the parable of the mustard seed, assures us that just as a mustard seed is tiny and becomes a great bush that accommodates birds looking for places to nest and sing, the Kingdom of God may look tiny, vulnerable, and overmatched by the sin, death, and darkness of this world and our common enemy, the devil.
One of the biggest anxieties you hear among Christians these days is, “The world is going so badly and nobody wants to be in Church. What’s going to happen?”