January 8, 2019- Jesus is Baptized – Mark 1:1-11

the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:1-11 (NIV)

Of all the Gospel writers, Mark is the one who gets right down to business. Rather than going through the genealogies and the details of Jesus’ birth, Mark starts right off with Isaiah’s prophesy that tells of Jesus’ coming. Mark goes right on to tell us how Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled with John the Baptist paving the way.

Even though Mark does not go into the details of Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth in the way that Matthew and Luke take pains to do, he makes it clear: Jesus is God who became human like us. He took away the sin of the world and put death to death. In His baptism He took upon the weight of the sins of every person ever, so that they would be put to death and buried with Him.

In the Lutheran tradition we take the sacrament of Holy Baptism for what Scripture claims that it is- a means of grace through which God the Holy Spirit works saving faith in us. The old Adam is put to death.  Our sins are washed away.  We die to sin, death and evil, and rise again with Christ.  Even so, as long as we live in this world of not-yet, we can take comfort in “putting on our baptism as daily wear” as Martin Luther taught.

When God looks upon us in our baptism He sees Jesus. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and faith is made alive in us. We become God’s beloved, and for the sake of Jesus we become children with which God is well pleased.

September 4, 2018-Freedom and Feelings 1 John 4:19, Galatians 5:1,13-15

freedom1We love because He (Jesus) first loved us.- 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery….For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.   Galatians 5:1,13-15 (ESV)

“Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.”– Martin Luther from the Commentary on Galatians, 1535.

Freedom in Christ does not mean we are set free from the law of love. It means that because of Jesus’ love for us we are set free to love each other.

The Law is a good thing.  It shows us God’s will for our behavior toward Him and toward our neighbors.  The Law was given to maintain good order.

The Law also shows us our desperate need for a Savior.  None of us can follow the Ten Commandments (let alone the whole of the Mosaic Law) perfectly for even a day.

Our freedom in Christ does set us free from the penalty of the Law (which is death) but our freedom is not a license for “anything goes.”  It is empowerment from Jesus Himself to love as He first loved us.  No, we are not going to love one another perfectly.

Feelings are not good indicators of where we stand spiritually.  One day one might feel as if, “Hey, I am doing a really good job.  I haven’t murdered anyone, I do my Bible study and devotions, I am faithful to my partner, etc.”  But the next day, one might feel as if all is lost and God is far away. Feelings are mercurial at best, and following our fickle feelings will only lead us to despair.

The fact is that no person is able to justify him or herself.  Regardless of our feelings or how bad or good we think we are at any given moment, the reality is that justification and salvation is found in Jesus alone.

We are not set free because of our feelings.  We are set free of the curse of sin and set free to live out the Law of love because Jesus became the curse for us. Because Jesus died on the Cross and put death to death our freedom is in Him no matter how we feel. When we come to the font in Baptism we are washed clean of our sins, we are buried with Jesus in His death, and we are named and claimed as His own.  When we come to the Communion table, we share in His body and blood.  We can taste and see that He is good, He is there, and He is enough.

We are free because of Jesus, no matter what we feel.  It is in Him we have our life and strength and hope.

 

 

July 31, 2018- The Bread King or the Bread of Life? John 6:22-40

fresh bread

On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”  Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  John 6:22-40 (ESV)

What must we do? Everything in the natural world has a catch. The most basic premise of psychology is that human beings have to have a reason to do things.  We have to have a motivation. Do we look at Jesus as a celestial Santa Claus, who will give us what we want right now, or as the God of the Universe, who has our forever-life in mind?

Many of Jesus’ early followers were after a bread king- someone who would provide them with food for their bellies. Bread for the belly is important, but the bread from heaven is far better and far more than just a meal for a day. Even so, how often do we trade the peace and solace found in Jesus for incessant worry about how we are going to get by?

Jesus points out that it was God who rained down manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) – the people of Israel did nothing to earn or deserve it.  All they had to do was pick it up.

The bread from heaven- the bread of life– as Jesus refers to Himself, is free to those who simply believe that Jesus is who He says He is.  We spend our lives so worried about our temporal needs and what we need to do to meet them, while the very bread of life has already been given for us, to break the curse of sin and to sustain us in forever-life with God.

Even our faith is a gift from God, as we cannot come to faith of our own accord. This doctrine is explained in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord.  Our faith is derived from God doing the acting on us.

We learn from Jesus Himself: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (ESV)

Jesus doesn’t require us to do anything. We come as we are- crude, dirty, flawed and broken. Sometimes we are brought to Him screaming and protesting, yet we are drawn to Him- in the waters of baptism, in the words of the Gospel (Romans 10:17) and in the Body and Blood of Christ given for us in Holy Communion.

God provides the bread. Just as the manna fell in the wilderness, we are given Jesus Himself- the bread of life. There is no catch. To be doing the works of God is to trust Jesus, to know that He is the one Way, Truth and Life. This is the faith by which God transforms us, the power of God that makes us “good trees” from which good fruit will come.

If we are to bring forth good works that are truly God’s will and from God, we can only do that by God’s grace and transforming power.

We are reminded to remember our baptism daily so we do not forget that God has named us and claimed us and made us His own. We need to stay immersed in the Scriptures, where we hear the words of the Gospel, which are the very voice of God. In Holy Communion we get a foretaste of the kingdom to come, a taste of the heavenly manna, and we are reminded that we are part of the body of Christ. We are also reminded when we come together for worship that we belong to God, and that He serves us with His great gifts.  God provides.

June 25, 2018 Today is the Day of Salvation- 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

loving god

Working together with him, (Jesus) then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,  but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;  through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;  as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.”  2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (ESV)

Lutherans generally don’t view salvation as a one-time event; rather, we see it as a lifelong process. We don’t do altar calls or expect miraculous immediate healings. Yet we do believe in the promises God gives us in Scripture.  We believe what Jesus and His apostles taught us. We believe that in our baptism we are named and claimed by God, and that we receive the real Body and Blood of Jesus- given to save us from our sins- when we come to the communion table. Our sins are washed away. Although now we live with one foot in this world and one in the next, and we struggle with sin and unbelief every day, salvation is our hope, The Promise, the ongoing process of God restoring, renewing and preparing us for live forever with Him.

For us, every day is the day of salvation, just as the apostle Paul preached during his ministry. Paul’s ministry was fraught with danger. As he and other Jesus followers endured persecution, shipwreck, starvation, imprisonment, deprivation and eventually martyrdom, the promise remained.

Because we know today is the day of salvation, and every day is a day to put on our baptism and know that in Jesus we have salvation, we are free to live in a way that honors Jesus no matter what obstacles or hardships we face.

We deal with living in this fallen world. We have suffering, loss, poverty and disappointment all around us.  Yet we also have that great and precious promise of salvation- Jesus with us now even through all of our pain, sorrow and loss- and life forever with Jesus.

June 1, 2018- Sing, Dance, Worship! Let God- Psalm 81, Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 1:9

David Dancing before the Lord

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.

For it is a statute for Israel, a rule of the God of Jacob.

He made it a decree in Joseph when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a language I had not known: “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 

So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!

I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes.

Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever. But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81 (ESV)

Shouting for joy and jumping around with trumpets and tambourines might not sound very Lutheran- though it actually is. Lutheran congregations in Africa- and there are more Lutherans in Africa than in the United States- are known for very lively and colorful worship. Those of us in the American Midwest tend to be rather conservative and reserved in our expressions of emotion, including our expressions of emotion in worship. Even so, the northern European Lutheran tradition- where many of us Midwesterners originate from- includes the music of great composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel (Handel was an Anglican, but we like his music anyway). Martin Luther himself wrote many hymns, the best known of which is, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Music of many genres and styles has traditionally held a high place in Lutheran worship.

The people of Israel in David’s time, when many of the Psalms were written, were not conservative about their expression in worship. It was normal and expected for people to sing, play instruments, and dance (yes, dance) as part of worship. (2 Samuel 6:12-18)

The Psalms were a big part of both teaching and worship.  Since most people weren’t literate in ancient times, it was easier to teach essential truths if they were set to music and sung out loud.

The Psalms don’t sound as lyrical and poetic in the English language as they were written in the original Hebrew, but they are prayers as well as lessons- and they were generally meant to be sung.

There is a contrast here between the beginning of the Psalm, as the Psalmist is praising God and singing for joy, and the second part of the Psalm where God’s people are being obstinate and stubborn. On one hand we as new creations in Christ want to hear the good news and praise God and live as God’s people.  Then the old Adam steps in and starts screaming like a petulant toddler, “MY way, not THY way.” We think we can do better than God. We try to live life our way.  Then we get mad when our way just doesn’t work out.  It’s frustrating, but it is also part of the human condition in this broken world.

We can’t just make up our minds on our own to “straighten up and fly right.” When we do this on our own willpower, we are not really conforming ourselves to the mind of Christ. We end up becoming legalistic and stuffy and self-righteous. (Think Dana Carvey as the Church Lady.)  Rather, we must rely on the mercy and grace of God to let Him transform us.  A good way to visualize our transformation is as we “put on baptism” every day- we acknowledge and remember that we are named and claimed as children of God. Baptism is a means of grace that comes completely as a gift of God and is through no works of our own. He will do for us what we are not able to do on our own.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

So we return to the themes of Psalm 81- Joy. Worship. Trust God– but trust in ourselves…not so much. When we confess to Jesus that we continually sin and fall short of His good will for us, He promises to forgive us and bind up our wounds, as we learn from 1 John 1:9. We have the assurance that God will carry our burdens. We can be confident that God will see us through our distress and that God will provide us with all good things.  We can’t be afraid to sing it loud and sing it proud- and to live a life of worship.  God feeds us with the finest wheat.  Jesus freely gives us the feast of His Body and Blood, the honey from the rock, and He sustains us with His good and healing Word.  We are set free to love God, to love and serve our neighbor, and to sing out in worship.

May 23, 2018 Breath to the Bones- Ezekiel 37:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

dry bones

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:1-14 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit brings breath to the bones. As much as we think we know in the 21st century, we still don’t get the mystery of how “breath comes to the bones,” or how life enters into elements that were once dry and dead and inanimate.  This is a mystery, an understanding, and a power that is reserved for God.

Ezekiel was a prophet who spoke to the people of Judah, when the kings of the line of David had been defeated and the people of the Judean kingdom were exiled in Babylon. (2 Kings 24:10-16)  It seemed as if all was lost to them.  The temple was destroyed, their kings were no more, and their land was taken over by foreign pagans. It seemed to the people of Judah that God had abandoned them, and that their heritage and their family were defeated for good.  Yet God had other plans for them- God, who keeps His promises, God who raised up multitudes of Abraham’s descendants from Isaac, the child of the promise.  From the seemingly dead and dry bones of the line of David, the King of Kings would arise, just as He promised David.

One of the least understood and perhaps under taught concepts included in the Apostle’s Creed– which is one of the primary statements of Christian faith that Lutherans and all other orthodox Christians believe- is that of the resurrection of the body. Because of the curse of the Fall, all of us are doomed to death in these mortal bodies. But in Christ we will rise from the dead just as He did- in new bodies. God the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into dry, dead bones, will breathe eternal life and incorruptible flesh into our dead, dry bones.

We see in Job 19:25-27 that Job in his earthly torment believes – and that George Fredrick Handel echoes in his musical work The Messiah- although worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”  The apostle Paul explains to us in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58  that when Jesus comes to establish the “not yet” part of the kingdom of God, the trumpet will sound and we will be changed into our incorruptible bodies in a twinkling of an eye. Our mortal, decaying, corruptible bodies will be remade like Jesus’ resurrected body.  We will live forever in God’s kingdom with bodies that won’t get sick or scarred or die.  The Spirit will bring breath to our new incorruptible bones and flesh!

Nothing is impossible for God. When we think there is no hope for us, we are called to trust that God will restore broken creation and that He will make us new.  He promises us that He will breathe life into long-dead bones.  We can be confident that there is hope.  We are baptized into Jesus’ life and death- and we will share in Jesus’ resurrection.

May 22, 2018 Synergy in the Body of Christ- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

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For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (ESV)

When the members of a body function as they are intended they work in synergy:

synergy: a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements such as resources or efforts – (as defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

It’s very clear even on casual observation that God has created us all with different gifts and placed us in different roles. Not everyone is an eloquent speaker or a talented dancer.  Some of us are gifted with the ability to encourage others and to anticipate others’ needs.  Others of us can sing or write or have a love for mentoring children.  Still others are gifted in carpentry or plumbing or in repairing mechanical things.

There is a reason why the Body of Christ has so much diversity in its members- because no one person can do everything, or wants to do everything! Some are physically stronger than others, while others have different gifts to bring to the table. The idea is that we work together as one to serve God and each other.  It is easier said than done.

Vocation is more than simply what one does for a living. It is operating as part of the greater body of Christ for everyone’s good, while still retaining the unique separate humanity that God created us with.

It’s been said that marriage relationships should be “fifty-fifty,” but that’s almost never how relationships work. There are times when it’s more like twenty-eighty or sixty-forty- or even ninety-ten.  Sometimes one must have compassion and completely carry the other in his or her weakness.  It is also true in any community or relationship that sometimes the stronger members need to carry the weaker- and over time the roles change.  The helpless infant  who is carried to the baptismal font- where he or she is named and claimed by God and welcomed into the faith- becomes the toddler in the nursery. Soon enough that toddler is the teen who helps watch the toddlers.  The teen then becomes a young adult, and then he or she becomes a parent. Then parents become grandparents, and grandparents, become the elderly who are again in need of special care.  Yet we are all brought into one body, named, claimed and loved by God, through our baptism.

Sometimes we find it difficult to accept the role that we are currently occupy- sometimes we hold the role of being the one being able to offer help, and other times we are the one in need. Yet the apostle Paul reminds us that each of us are essential to the greater Body, that the eye is as honored as the hand or the ear or the mouth.  The greater Body needs each specific and individual part.  The weaker among us are to be held especially carefully and honorably as- “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

Our society isn’t very good at valuing the weak or the seemingly insignificant, such as the very young, the physically or mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly. Yet even in their weakness, or precisely because of it, they are precious members of the Body of Christ and need to be treated with special care.

We look to Jesus to help us live and work and love in synergy and right relationship within our families, communities and in the greater Body of Christ. We ask Jesus to forgive us when we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves and when we want to be something that we are not. We pray for Jesus to give us the courage and strength to live out our various vocations together with others, in our family, workplaces and church to the glory of God.