Sunday, April 18, 2021

Where Easter Faith Comes From

Acts 3:11-21
Luke 24:36-49

One of the features of modern American life is that people tend to pay attention to news sources that mostly tell them what they want to hear. 

We can be like the people of ancient Israel who told the prophets of God: “Tell us pleasant things…” (Isaiah 39:10) They didn’t want to accept that before they could experience the pleasant things of God--things like forgiveness, new life, hope, peace--they would first need to acknowledge their sin, turn away from it, and turn in daily surrendering trust to God. They thought that they were nice people in no need of forgiveness, descendants of Abraham genetically guaranteed easy treatment by God. Such were the false pictures of reality they kept in their minds.

The truth is that we all carry false pictures of the way life is. And even when God shows us that our pictures are wrong, we resist. 

Most of us have no idea that our picture of reality is wrong though. We can be bundles of false assumptions, half-baked anecdotes, and self-serving conclusions. And because of these false pictures, we refuse to be confused by the truth. 

Even the truth that comes from God Himself.

“I do the best I can,” more than one person has told me when I’ve tried to impress on them their need of forgiveness and new life through faith in Jesus Christ. But our best can’t make us good enough for God or His kingdom. As Romans remind us: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 

Those “no ones” and those “alls” include you and me. Without an acknowledgment of our sinful condition and impulses...without daily turning to the God we know in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and new life, we have no hope of eternity with God. Without Christ, we won’t understand or accept that life, death, and eternity are beyond our control. Without Christ, we can’t be righteous. Without Christ, we’re born and we live damnable lives. If these facts make us uncomfortable, it means that God the Holy Spirit is disturbing our false pictures of reality. And that’s a good thing.

In both our first lesson and our Gospel lesson for today, we find God messing with people’s false pictures of reality, including ours

The first lesson comes from the New Testament book of Acts. It’s Luke the Evangelist’s account of roughly the first forty years of the Church’s life. Our lesson, Acts 3:11-21, takes place shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven and the first Christian Pentecost. Peter and John have gone to the temple in Jerusalem. There, they encounter a paralyzed beggar. In the name of Jesus, Peter proclaims God’s healing to the man, who proceeds to walk, leap, and praise God. 

When this happens, people run to Peter and John, treating them as heroes. Peter is horrified. People should be giving thanks to God, not to Peter and John! But people, you know, would rather applaud a human being they think they can manipulate than applaud God Who is beyond human manipulation.

The crowd is then shocked after Peter tells them this miracle has been wrought in the name of Jesus and then goes after them. “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 3:14-15) 

The people in this crowd likely thought of themselves as good souls, doers of God’s will. But Peter tells them they’re party to the killing of Jesus, God in the flesh! That doesn’t fit with their picture of themselves. 

Does it fit with your understanding of yourself? 

Do you understand that it’s our sin--yours and mine--that Christ had to bear on the cross to save us from ourselves? 

Until we take that truth in, we won’t be ready to hear what Peter says later in our lesson from Acts: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20)

Our Gospel lesson, Luke 24:36-49, is set on the evening of the first Easter Sunday. The disciples of Jesus discuss that some of their party have seen the risen Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus’ appears. 

But, despite the risen Jesus’ presence, Luke says they thought “they saw a ghost.” (Luke 24:37) 

No matter the reports of Jesus’ resurrection they’d heard or the promises that Jesus had made that He would rise or the fact that the risen Savior is standing before them, they can’t shake their picture of reality that said dead don’t people don’t rise again. 

In verse 38, Jesus asks why they’re agitated and trying to explain away His appearance among them. He’s no ghost and He offers two proofs that He is bodily resurrected: He shows them His scars and He eats some broiled fish. Jesus goes on to show how the entire Old Testament had pointed to His death and resurrection.

But it’s one thing to know facts. It’s another for those facts to change the way we view reality. Accept God’s truth, His true picture of reality, and you need to accept that you’re a sinner in need of saving. You have to accept that only God can do the saving. You have to trust that only the God revealed in Jesus can give us the righteousness that qualifies us for life in God’s eternal kingdom. You have to accept that there is nothing good or meritorious about us, that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. 

We are stubborn creatures though. How do we lay aside our self-serving, self-righteous, self-congratulating, self-aggrandizing, and even self-pitying pictures of reality to embrace the vision of God that calls us to see both our sin and God’s grace in Christ?

Luke shows us how in verse 45 of our Gospel lesson. He writes: “Then [Jesusopened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” God’s Word comes to us both as a mallet that shows us that we’re sinners in need of salvation and as God’s gift of the repentance and faith in Jesus that frees us from sin, death, and darkness! God’s Word breaks open our minds, helping us to see the truth that we are sinners and that Jesus Christ died and rose to save sinners! Jesus told the first disciples and He tells us, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations...” (Luke 24:46-48)

This is the God-given picture of reality that is so foreign to our sinful natures that we won’t believe--can’t believe it--unless, as Jesus did for the disciples on the first Easter Sunday evening, God opens our minds to see the truth that comes from God alone.

Martin Luther explains this in The Small Catechism: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith."

A man I knew grew up in an unchurched family. He married a Lutheran girl and, initially just to placate her, began attending worship with her. Later, he got involved with a Bible study and took an adult catechism class. Imbued with an analytical mind and being one of those people who could do anything, making him self-sufficient, the Bible’s picture of reality that we are sinners in need of saving and that God alone gives salvation through Jesus, was completely foreign to him. But as God’s Word did its work and opened his mind, his view of reality changed. Never have I known a more joyous Christian disciple! After God opened his mind to repentance and faith in Jesus, he challenged people he knew to set aside six consecutive Sundays to participate in Christian worship. “If you can make yourself miss the seventh Sunday, I’ll never talke with you about Jesus again.” He knew that God’s Word has the power to open up minds and hearts to the love and new life Jesus wants to give all people.

God’s Word has that same power today, friends! May God’s Word give you a true picture of reality. May you see that your desperate need of forgiveness and new life has, in Jesus the crucified and risen One, been met by the God Who desperately loves you: Loves you passionately, unswervingly, completely. And may you, like my friend, the early Church, and generations of faithful Christians, share the picture of the God we see in Jesus. Jesus is God’s Word of love for the whole human race. Amen

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Strength from Beyond Myself

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:26)

Through Jesus the Christ, all people can experience what the writer of the psalm did. That's because God grafts all people who daily turn from sin and follow Jesus, trusting in His grace and His love, into His Kingdom.

Each day, this God we meet in Jesus, gives me, despite my sinfulness and imperfections, strength, peace, hope, forgiveness, and never-ending life. His call is to all people: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

The crucified, risen, and living Jesus is saying that to you today, this very moment.

(If you think this is helpful, share it with a friend.)

Thoughts on How Christians Can Approach Voting

Watching municipal elections around the country, I'm reminded of how, to get elected, candidates feel the need to sell their souls. I don't mean playing to special interests. I mean playing to ordinary voters. Winning candidates mostly build coalitions of the self-interested.

Churchill was right, I think: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

The Bible makes clear that, in our fallen world, government is necessary and that those who serve faithfully in government are servants of God, whether they believe in God or not. Christians are called by Scripture to pray for leaders, whether they agree with them or not. They're also to pay their taxes and be good citizens. And it's clear to me that Jesus's call that we love God and love neighbor means that we should seek to vote in the best interest of our neighbor, not of ourselves.

Saint Paul writes: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves..." (Philippians 2:3)

Christians are freed to live in this way because we have been received into God's kingdom through faith in Jesus and nothing can separate us from the love of God given in Jesus. (Romans 8:31-39)

Monday, March 29, 2021

A Reminder and Some Comfort

For my morning quiet time with God, I'm using The Discipleship Journal's Bible reading plan. It includes a reading from one of the four Gospels, a New Testament reading, a Psalm or a portion of one, and an Old Testament reading for twenty-five days each month. 

Today's readings provided me with comfort and a reminder.

The reminder came from Psalm 72. This is a royal or enthronement psalm, associated with King Solomon. It reminds me of what we're to expect of good political or government leaders. It says of such leaders: 

...he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:12-14)

May all the nations of the world have leaders like these. In light of the numbers of despotic governments there are around the world and democratic populations' increasing flirtations with authoritarianism, praying in Jesus' name for leaders like the psalm describes seems a good thing for Christians to do.

The reading from 1 Corinthians gave me comfort in two different ways.

First, there's the comfort of knowing that no matter how much I sin or screw up, as I turn back to Jesus Who claimed me in my Baptism, I can rest assured of His grace. Paul tells the first-century Corinthian Christians, who seemed to specialize in sinning and screwing up, that because of the Gospel they had received--the good news of new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus--Christ "...will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:8) The Jesus I turn to each day is faithful even when I'm not and covers me in His righteousness and His grace. That's good news because, on my own, I know that I'm neither righteous nor worthy of grace.

Second, I found a bit of comfort for a preacher looking at Holy Week. This week and Easter seem to present a special temptation for us preachers. The temptation is to be clever, memorable, fresh, innovative. We tell ourselves, "This week presents us with opportunities to share the Gospel with people who don't ordinarily hear it." Or, "I can't be my old boring self for the 'regulars.'"

You see what's going on? We're tempted to think that this week is about what we say and do rather than about what Jesus has done and is going to do. We, who rail against "works righteousness" and try each day to help people know that we can't and aren't saved by our good deeds get lured by the devil, the world, and our sinful selves into thinking that our "performances" during Holy Week will "wow" people into faith or deepened faith.

To be sure, some churchgoers and some people who just show up on Christmas or Easter will be wowed by clever or entertaining preaching. And, God knows, that the call of the preacher is not to be deliberately stupid or boring. 

But, it's not about the preacher's performance! 

In the second passage that struck me in today's reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul is lamenting the fact that some in the Corinthian churches were identifying themselves by the preachers they most enjoyed. Some said that they followed Paul. Others said they followed Apollos or Cephas (Simon Peter). But, Paul said that neither he, Apollos, or Cephas had died and risen for anyone. Only Christ had done that. None of them were true God and true man. They were just people whose lives were being transformed by the undeserved grace of God given to all who believe in Jesus.

Then, Paul says that God had sent him to the Corinthians "but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." (1 Corinthians 1:17)

This is exactly what I needed God to tell me on this Monday of Holy Week! My call as a preacher isn't to wow people. It's simply to present Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, so that sinners like me know that we can turn to Jesus in faith, however weak or imperfect our faith may be and know that we have life with God now and forever. That good news, or evangel, both synonyms of the term Gospel, is exciting enough and transforming enough that I don't need to strive for excitement or raising goosebumps. As the late Baptist pastor, Gerald Mann, used to say, the preacher's aim is not to get people to say, "Lord, what a preacher we have!" It's to have them say, "Preacher, what a Lord we have!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Power of Jesus and His Cross

[Here's this evening's Midweek Lenten worship message from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. It's based on the fifth part of the Passion History, the history of Jesus' suffering and death.]

Luke 23:39-43
We associate certain furnishings with people who wield power and influence and can make a difference in other people’s lives. 

Throughout history, kings have had thrones. 

British prime ministers get people's attention when they enter or leave through the front door of 10 Downing Street. 

American presidents sit behind impressive desks in the Oval Office. 

Popes have Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. 

The furnishings given to such public figures cause billions around the world to pay attention to them, to attach authority to their words and actions.

On the other hand, there are other people whose attire or furnishings convey that they are without influence, power, or the capacity to make a difference in anyone’s life. A condemned man sitting in an electric chair, for example, isn’t someone who instills awe or a belief that he can do anything helpful for anyone.

This is why something mentioned in tonight’s installment of the Passion History, coming to us from Luke 23:39-43, is so odd. 

Jesus, His body already battered and bleeding from the physical and emotional abuse to which He has been subjected, is nailed to a cross between two thieves. Crucifixion, as you know, was a humiliating, painful, and usually, drawn-out means of execution. The victims of crucifixion often took days to die, usually succumbing to suffocation as they could no longer arch their bodies away from the nooses put around their necks when they were attached to their crosses.

It’s hard to imagine anyone less likely to incite awe or worship than a man on a cross. A cross is not a furnishing that imbues a person with power.

That explains why in Luke 23:35, we read that the religious leaders of the Jewish nation “sneered at [Jesus and]...said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’” 

It’s also why, we’re told in Luke 23:36, “The [Roman] soldiers also came up and mocked him.” 

Jesus had called Himself God’s Messiah, had accepted worship from people who proclaimed Him God in human flesh. But now, His friends having largely abandoned, betrayed, or denied Him, Jesus is alone in enduring the humiliation and death of a Roman cross. No wonder people were taunting Him!

According to Mark’s Gospel, even the two criminals who hung on their own crosses, one on Jesus’ right hand and the other on His left, joined in jeering at Jesus. 

But Luke tells us about something else involving those two.

Luke 23:39 says, “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’” 

In the Greek language in which Luke composed his Gospel, the two criminals are literally called κακούργων, a compound word that means evil workers or evildoers. In other words, the two men being executed with Jesus are professional criminals, so given over to evil that they’re in the habit of only looking out for themselves, constantly working evil. 

That comes through in the mocking words of the first criminal Luke quotes. “Hey!” he’s saying, “If you really are the Messiah, Jesus, get us off these crosses.” 

His words echo those of the devil, speaking to Jesus when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. “If you are the Son of God...command this stone to become bread...worship me [to have the kingdoms of the world You came to claim]...throw yourself down from [the pinnacle of the temple]...” (Luke 4:1-13) 

Jesus, through His words, signs, and compassion had demonstrated His identity repeatedly. But for a cynical world filled with human beings intent on being their own gods and ignoring Jesus’ call to repent and follow Him, nothing Jesus did or said would ever be enough. 

So, the first criminal, railed against Jesus, literally, Luke says, he blasphemed Jesus. He slandered Jesus, profaned His good name. 

We can say that he was profaning Jesus’ good name because even Herod, the Jewish king, and Pilate, the Roman governor, had found Jesus completely innocent. “I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty,” Pilate had said (Luke 23:22). But, innocent or not, a cross doesn’t look much like a president’s desk or a king’s throne. Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, was no St. Peter's Basilica or 10 Downing Street.

Yet Luke tells us that the other criminal, as he observed Jesus being crucified with him, came to view Jesus differently than the other evildoer did. 

Verse 40: “But the other criminal rebuked [the first one]. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’” (Luke 23:40-41) 

And then, he turns to Jesus to offer a prayer request. “Jesus,” he says, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) And Jesus assures the criminal that He will remember. "Today," Jesus tells him, "you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)

Listen: When anyone is able to believe in the good news that Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, died and rose so that all who repent and believe in Him will live with God in His kingdom for all eternity, it’s a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith.” Faith is always a miracle of the Spirit!

And while faith is a free gift from God, it isn’t easy. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, we read Jesus describing what it means to be His disciple: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross [that is, must acknowledge their mortality and their sin and their need of Jesus to save them] daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) 

Now, on a cross, a hardened criminal takes up his cross, admitting that he is a sinner who deserves to die, yet seeing in Jesus forgiveness of sin for the repentant and new life for those who trust in the Savior. 

He became one of Jesus’ disciples. 

Do you know what disciples are? They’re people who have come to the end of themselves and recognize that their only hope, every single day, is to be found in Jesus Christ alone.

But what did the Holy Spirit show the second criminal that drove him to repentance and faith in Jesus? 

He saw a sinless Savior Who had previously demonstrated His power over life and death--even raising people from the dead--Who laid His glory aside in order to take the punishment for our sins that we deserve. 

He saw God’s infinite and inexhaustible love for a human race that doesn’t deserve it. 

The apostle Paul says that “...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) 

In Jesus’ selfless death for him and all the other sinners of the world--including you and me, the second criminal saw the power of God to save sinners, to destroy the power of sin and death over all who take up their cross and follow Jesus.

As we look to Jesus today, may the Holy Spirit help us see this same thing: Jesus died for sinners like you and me. 

Jesus doesn’t need basilicas, thrones, or oval offices to prove His authority over sin and death or to provide for our deepest needs. 

He does it through His cross. 

May we, like the second criminal be led to understand that it’s worth bearing the cross of our mortality, sin, and desperate need of God to follow Jesus into eternity. 

To all who daily repent and believe in Him, Jesus promises that one day we too will be with Him in paradise. Amen

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17:20-37

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Chapters 13:31-14:24

Regret That Leads to Joy

Here is yesterday's Midweek Lenten worship from Living Water Lutheran Church. Below it, you'll find the text of the message shared. God bless you!!

Matthew 27:3-5

It’s happened more than once during my years as a pastor. A person will arrange to see me, at their wits’ end. Their faces show they’ve been spending sleepless nights. There’s desperation in their manner and in their words. Some will cry. Some will be numb with shame.

Their stories have differed: The woman who bilked her company of money. The man who turned his back on his parents, wife, and kids. The man who forced his wife to get an abortion. The woman who regretted her former relationship with a married man. But for all the differences in circumstances, these and others have had one thing in common: They didn’t believe that God could forgive them.

You and I know that God’s Word speaks to us in three major ways: as Law, Gospel, or the call to follow Jesus.

The Law convicts of our sin, the ways in which we show ourselves incapable of completely loving God or our neighbor. The Law tells us that we are sinners in need of the Savior Jesus. The Law can’t save us from sin, death, or futility because none of us is capable of perfect obedience to the commands to love God and love others. But when we hear God’s Law rightly, it will, as Martin Luther puts it, drive us to the foot of Jesus’ cross for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

The Gospel is what God has done for us in Jesus’ suffering and death. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty we deserve for our sin so that, as we repent and believe in Him, we are spared the awful price of separation from God. In Romans 5:8-20, the apostle Paul writes (this is from the Good News translation): “God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! By his blood we are now put right with God; how much more, then, will we be saved by him from God's anger! We were God's enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God's friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ's life!” (Romans 5:8-10, GNT) It’s this Gospel--the good news of God’s great love given to us in Jesus and His cross-- and Holy Spirit-given faith in it, that saves us. As we repent and believe in Jesus, we can be assured that we are forgiven and that we are God’s own child.

The call to daily follow Jesus is described by Him in the Gospel of Luke: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) As the Holy Spirit empowers us to daily repent and believe in Jesus, we can be assured that we are walking with God, despite our faults and failures. If repentance before God in the name of Jesus doesn’t result for us in release and joy, there’s something wrong. Repentance always ends with joy!

The people I mentioned a moment ago weren’t experiencing the joy that results from repentance because, for whatever reason, they couldn’t hear the Gospel. They couldn’t hear Jesus when He said words like those in this month’s memory verse, John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” To them, God’s saving Word in Christ was for everybody else, not them. No matter how many times they heard the Gospel or received Holy Communion or were reminded that God had claimed them in Holy Baptism, they couldn’t accept that they were forgiven.

There’s a person like that in the Passion History, the history of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. It’s Judas. Jesus, you’ll remember says in Matthew 26:24, “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." In other words, Jesus was saying, “I was born to go to a cross, just as the Old Testament prophets said the Suffering Servant would do. But condemnation and sorrow will be on the man who chooses to be the instrument by which the Messiah is sent to the cross.”

In our reading tonight, we’re told: “When Judas, who had betrayed [Jesus], saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3-5)

The word translated here as remorse is, in the Greek in which it was originally written, μεταμεληθεὶς (metamelethes). It can be translated as repentance, but it’s not the usual word for this term. (That's metanoia, literally, change of mind). Whatever the word though, we can see that Judas regretted his sin of betraying the innocent Jesus to people intent on crucifying Him. Judas’s action was a failure to love God and love another. Sadly, Judas’s sense of guilt was so great that he committed suicide.

There are, for me, two great unanswered questions about Judas. 

The first is why Judas fell into such despair over his sin. Judas had watched Jesus forgive hundreds of sinners. Judas had heard Jesus assure all the prodigals of the world, like you and me, that He had come into the world to seek and save sinners and welcome them back into the embrace of God. Why is it that, after realizing the wrong he had done, Judas could hear God’s Law, but couldn’t hear the Gospel? That's a mystery.

The second great unanswered question for me is whether, in those brief moments when Judas was suspended between life and death, he recalled the grace that Jesus bears for all sinners and, like the thief of the cross, would pray, “Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.

Of course, I don’t know the answers to these two questions. But there are two things I know for sure

One is this: We are never so lost in sin that Jesus can’t save us. His saving Gospel Word belongs to any and all who turn to Him. When God’s Word tells us, as it does more than once, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” you can trust that as Gospel--good news--for you! (Romans 10:13)

The other thing I know is this. It’s always too early to give up on anyone. If there are people you know who are, like Judas, wallowing in guilt and shame, as long as they’re breathing, it won’t be too late for you to share the good news of forgiven sin through Jesus with them. Their regret can lead to joy. So, don’t give up on praying for or sharing the Gospel with anybody ever! They may come to know Jesus as God and Savior yet.

We all have done, do, and will do things that we regret. We are sinners. But we’re also the objects of God’s great love and forgiveness, given to us in Christ. Turn to Jesus and trust that, by His forgiving grace, you are reconciled with God now and always. Amen

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Chapters 12:49-13:4

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12:35-48

Internet gremlins turned last evening's study into a parade of chaos. But we did get through several verses of Luke, chapter 12. You can skip through the first eight minutes of part one to get to the study itself.

In part two, I promise that I'll get the camera turned to right-side a few moments into it.

Part three is a 29-second cry of, "Uncle!"

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 8:19-39

Jesus Says Woe! (No, not whoa!)

These words of Jesus struck me during my quiet time with God today: "Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!" (Matthew 18:7, English Standard Version translation)

The word Jesus uses at the beginning of this verse, woe, is one, that if used at all in today's world is said in sorrow or lament. A person's woes are their sorrows or difficulties. That's part of what the word means. But it can also be a word of judgment over God's enemies.

The context in which these words appear shows us that it's mostly in this second sense that Jesus uses the word in Matthew 18:7. Jesus is speaking God's condemnation for the ways in which the world can tempt people to sin.

In the second sentence of the verse, Jesus says that, because this world is fallen and imperfect, it's inevitable that we'll face the temptation to not love God or love neighbor. (All sin entails either or both of those possibilities.) But Jesus finishes that last sentence with a woeful warning, particularly for His followers, those who consider themselves Christians. The warning is this: God condemns people who tempt others to sin.

This made me think of all the ways we human beings can tempt other human beings into sin. As my list piled up, it gave credence to the teaching of my own Christian tradition, Lutheran, which says, along with many other Christians, that we can be tempted by the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves.

Then I asked God, "Lord, what are the ways in which I have tempted others to sin in my life? Are there any I don't know about and haven't yet confessed to You?"

This seems like a good question to ask God when we encounter passages like Matthew 18:7. It's no good toting up "the world's" faults or those of other people if we're not dealing with our own sins. As Jesus says in Luke 6:42: "How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

One of the great things about God is that, as quickly as His Law will cause us to remember our sins--the planks in our own eyes, He will just as quickly forgive them, removing them. He does that as we lay aside our self-righteousness and instead, cling to the perfect righteousness that Jesus freely gives to those who entrust Him with both their lives and their sins.

Lord, forgive me for the ways in which I've tempted others to sin. Help me to love and forgive others as You love and forgive me. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 7:1-30


When I was about six or seven, my dad splurged and bought a Stromberg-Carlson stereo. It was encased in a well-crafted piece of wood furniture. (Dad still has it.) I remember spending hours sitting in front of that stereo listening to the music. I felt like the musicians were playing right there in the room.

Dad would later let me play my own music on it, mostly the Beatles. But in the first few years, I listened to dad's favorite stuff, much of which I still love. Glenn Miller and His Orchestra were among those I loved hearing the most.

The other day I was listening to the "Mark Daniels Radio Station" on ApplePlay. Of course, Apple's algorithm incorporates my preferences, based on what I play when I make the selections, and educated guesses as to what I might like. (The algorithm is right less than 50% of the time.) This tune, I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, one of those I loved to hear playing on my dad's stereo cropped up right after the Beatles, Sidney Bechet, and Flame the other night.

Wikipedia has a good article on the background of the song and how it was introduced in a movie. I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo sat at number 1 for eight weeks the year it was released and was on the charts a total of eighteen weeks. Its film introduction had the added bonus of a fantastic dance routine by the Nicholas Brothers. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Jesus is Heavy!

Here's today's online worship from the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Here, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the final Sunday in the Epiphany season. Below the video, you can find the complete prepared text of my message for the day. Have a good week!

Mark 9:2-9

Throughout this Epiphany Season, of which this is the last Sunday, we’ve considered incidents from Jesus’ earthly ministry that reveal Him to be both the anointed earthly King--the Messiah--God had long promised to His people AND God the Son. 

Many, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, had heard God the Father tell Jesus at the Jordan River: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) 

And the evidence for Who Jesus is became so overwhelming for those who followed Him day after day that Simon Peter tells Jesus six days before the incident in today’s gospel lesson, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29)

But as the Lutheran preacher of the last century, Bo Giertz points out, no one who had witnessed any or all of the epiphanies we’ve considered this Epiphany Season, had yet seen Jesus in all His glory. 

The word we translate into English as glory is, in the Greek in which all the New Testament writers composed their works, doxa, which in turn translates a word commonly used in the Hebrew of the Old Testament to describe what God is like, kavod

The root meaning of kavod is heavy or weighty. God has glory because He is greater and weightier than any or all of us, His thoughts are beyond our comprehension, as are His grace and love and power. In Isaiah 55:8, God tells His people: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” 

God’s glory is weighty stuff! 

Ultimately, to borrow a phrase from another Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich, God is “wholly other,” totally different from you and me. 

God’s glory is such that, even when He enters the world as a human being in Jesus, He’s not like us: He’s not into Himself; He isn’t obsessed with going along to get along; He’s satisfied with His daily bread; He has a servant’s heart that overflows with love for the very people society hates or marginalizes; His love is more than just words on a Valentine's Day card: He daily lives out His love for us and He dies for it.

Now, up to the point in Jesus’ ministry that today’s gospel lesson, Mark 9:2-9, describes, nobody had seen Jesus, God the Son, in all His glory. They had seen Jesus teach, preach, and perform many signs and miracles. But they hadn’t seen Jesus in the full glory of His deity, the glory of God that 1500 years earlier had caused the people of ancient Israel to tell Moses, “You be the one to look at God face to face for us.”

One verse before today’s gospel lesson, Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1) 

Then comes Mark’s description of what happened next. “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:2-4)

If you had been Peter, James, and John at that moment, how might you have felt? I think I have some idea how I would have felt.

In my thirties, I experienced severe stomach pain that went on for a few weeks. I finally saw my doctor. He ordered tests. As I awaited the results, I became convinced I had cancer, incurable cancer. 

When I went to the doctor’s office to learn the test results, I was literally shaking. In the examination room, waiting for the doctor to show up, I steeled myself by listing all the reasons I could think of for the symptoms I was going through. You see, I was trying to bargain with the death I was certain was imminent. 

By the time the doctor walked in the door, I was so terrified that I practically spewed my diagnosis and what treatment he needed to prescribe. I don’t even remember what I said. I was desperate to drown out the words I dreaded. So I went on for some time. 

My doctor just laughed and said, “That’s fine. You have an ulcer and here’s what we need to do to treat it.”

For human beings to come into the presence of God in all His glory is a terrifying thing. 

To do so is to see the enormous chasm between God’s righteousness, sinlessness, perfection, immortality, and endless power, on the one hand, and our unrighteousness, sinfulness, imperfection, mortality, and weakness, on the other. 

That’s what has Peter acting like me in Dr. Flora’s examination room thirty years ago as in our lesson. He babbles and tries to take control of things on the Mount of Transfiguration. Verse 5: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)” (Mark 9:5-6) 

Coming into the presence of God’s glory will remind us, as it did Peter, that we are sinners. 

But we can’t bargain or negotiate away that truth. 

Building shelters, cathedrals, great reputations, or good works won’t alter the fact that God is “wholly other.” 

To get a glimpse of God’s glorious perfection and power is to see that there is nothing we can do and nothing we ever could do to earn a place in His presence for a fraction of a second, let alone eternity.

That’s why what’s next in our gospel lesson is so important. 

Verse 7: “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’” 

My place in the Kingdom of the God we know in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on my religious fervor, my good works, my moral perfection. If it did, I would be damned for all eternity. 

My place in God’s everlasting Kingdom depends solely on the Gospel Word--the good news Word--that Jesus Christ speaks to us not only in His preaching, teaching, and miracles, but also in the good news Word He does for us in His death for us on the cross, the place where I bore our sins and punishment, and from the empty tomb, from which He tore open eternity for all who repent and believe in Him

God the Father says to have life with Him, we need to listen to Jesus, both when He speaks and when He acts. 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells us (Matthew 11:28). 

He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

When we come into the presence of God’s glory, we can’t help but feel terrified! 

But, the Father says, listen to the Son. 

Listen to the charity I have for sinners. 

Listen to the forgiveness and new life I give to those who repent and believe in Jesus. 

God saves us from sin and death as we listen to Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us faith in Jesus. 

But even that’s not the most glorious thing about the God we listen to in Jesus. 

In our second lesson, the apostle Paul, who knew something of the terror of seeing Jesus in all His glory, tells us: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Conscious of your own sins and imperfections as you live with Jesus each day, you may not see this happening in your life. 

But bank on it, as you turn to Jesus each day and listen to Him with repentance and faith, God is transforming you into the very image of the Savior that Peter, James, and John saw at the Mount of Transfiguration. 

God is in the business of turning believers in Jesus into people who look like our Lord for all eternity. 

And that’s the most glorious thing I can imagine! Amen