March 14, 2019 – Faith in the One Who the Wind and the Sea Obey – Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 24:24, John 1:1-5

jesus calms the sea

On that day, when evening had come, he (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41 (ESV)

All of us face anxiety over circumstances in our lives. Everyone has been through some form of calamity, uncertainty or distress, whether it is something as trivial as running out of coffee, or as catastrophic as a natural disaster or an untimely death of a loved one.

Even though Jesus had chosen these men as His disciples, and they had Jesus right there with them, they were still terrified. They still cried out to Him- “Do something!”

Does it seem to us as if Jesus is sleeping at times- that He is not aware of our need, or that He doesn’t care about our suffering?

The disciples struggled with fear and a lack of faith just like we do- even though they could see, walk with and touch Jesus. The evidence was right there with them, visible, audible, tangible, and they still struggled with faith. No wonder our faith is often weak.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

Faith is a gift from God. Jesus is right here with us just as He was with His disciples in the boat during that storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The difficult part for us is that we can’t see Him or reach out and touch Him.  Faith is not rational.  Some people will claim that, “If I could see Jesus then I would believe in Him.”  Others are looking for Jesus to send us supernatural signs. Yet Jesus warned us that false prophets will display signs and wonders in an attempt to deceive His people (Matthew 24:24).  Faith does not always see the object in which it believes.  We can trust that in our baptism, by the water and the Word we are named and claimed as Jesus’ own, and we are given the gift of faith.  As we hear the Word taught, we learn about Jesus and grow in our faith.

The wind and the sea are subject to Jesus and His sovereignty just as all of nature is subject to Him. We have no control over the winds and the waves.  We have no control over the chemical and electrical processes in our bodies, let alone any process or machinery outside of us.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” This man is God of very God, the Word who was with God, through whom all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-5)

Jesus does know our suffering, intimately. Jesus does not just stand aside as a passive observer.  Nothing came into being without Him. Nothing exists without Him.  We can trust that He is in control of the storms and the tragedies as well as our triumphs and accomplishments.  We may not know what comes next but He does, and He is with us.

March 13, 2019 – Sowing Seed, Faith and Good Soil- Mark 4:1-9, 1 Peter 3:14-16

Jesus teaching by the sea

Again he (Jesus) began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:  “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.  Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:1-9 (ESV)

The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. This is the reason why churches do VBS and Sunday School or Kids’ Worship.  This is why we do adult Bible studies and have Catechism for middle schoolers and teens.  How can we have faith in Someone we have never learned about?  Ideally parents will bring their children to the baptismal font as early as possible, for baptism is a means of grace and a tangible proof that God names, claims and chooses us.  In baptism we are given the hunger and thirst to hear and receive God’s word- but we are still in need of someone to teach it, and we need to be brought to hear it.

Not everyone has the advantage of being born to Christian parents or of being brought to the font as an infant. Even so, grace and faith also comes from hearing God’s Word. The only problem for us is we have no way of knowing if the seed we sow in preaching and teaching will fall on good soil or not.  It’s discouraging for parents and teachers when we teach God’s Word and it seems as if we are being ignored or outwardly mocked for teaching what we know is true.  However, Jesus warns us that not every seed we sow will fall on good soil, and that’s to be expected.  Sometimes we will get discouraged by the indifferent or hostile responses of others to the Word of God.

The fact that the seed of good teaching doesn’t always fall on fertile soil does not mean we should be silent, or that we should cherry-pick our audience as if we could know who will hear and believe and who will hear and scoff or ignore. How do we know if the Holy Spirit would use our words and witness to bring another person to saving faith in Jesus?  How do we know if He would work faith in a person by them remembering something we said many years prior?  People are still coming to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit-inspired words of the apostles and other human writers of Scripture, thousands of years after they died.  So how can we stay silent even if we know some people aren’t going to be “good soil?” Especially when we know that faith comes by hearing?

There will be people who will openly dispute or mock us when we share God’s Word with them. The apostle Peter tells us what to do when we are confronted or mocked:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV)

Some of the seed of good teaching will be snatched away before it hits the ground. Some will fall on rocky soil. Some of it will start to grow and then wither away.  But the seed that catches in good soil is worth all the sowing and then some. God promises us that there will be seed that falls on good soil even when most of it might not, and that he will make that harvest very, very good.  In faith, we teach, we explain, we live as best we can, and in faith we trust the Holy Spirit works in and through our lives and witness.

March 6, 2019 -Ash Wednesday, Marked With the Cross of Christ, the Promise of Baptism- Mark 1:1-13, Psalm 23:4

ashwednesday

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.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:1-13 (ESV)

The Gospel of Mark omits the genealogy of Jesus and the Nativity narrative and goes straight to Isaiah’s prophesy of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was considered by scholars to be the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the one who prepared the way of the Lord and baptized his followers for the sake of repentance. Jesus gets baptized by John, was called beloved by God, and then He was plunked into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. There’s a whole lot of action packed into 13 verses, and it’s not even the end of the first chapter of Mark.

Jesus’ baptism is different from our baptism in an important way. He had no sins to be washed away, rather, for Him, in His baptism He took on the sins of humanity and the burden of the human condition. He showed solidarity and unity with those who would become part of His body, the church.

Our baptism serves as a tangible seal and constant assurance that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  As we are tempted by our own flesh, the world and the machinations of Satan, we can have confidence that Jesus not only has been tempted like we are and far worse, but we also know that He is with us no matter what temptation or trial we face.  We will face trials.  Jesus taught us in Matthew 10:24 -“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  The difference is those who trust in Christ have hope. All of humanity is subject to the consequences of sin, suffering and death.  But those things are not the end, and even through all of our suffering and trials we are not alone in them.

The liturgical season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days not counting Sundays. (Sundays are “in Lent” but are not counted as part of Lent.  Sundays in Lent are like mini-Easters spread out through Lent, so that we still get to celebrate and worship the risen Jesus, even in this penitential season.)  Many liturgical churches impose ashes on the foreheads of believers in the sign of the cross.  This symbolism reminds us that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever (the ashes just make it visible for a time) even as we are made of dust and will return to dust.  Mortality is the reality of life on earth, but there is life beyond this life in Christ.

These 40 days of Lent are an opportunity to remember our mortality, to consider that time Jesus spent in the wilderness, and to remember His Passion and His sacrifice to save us from the curse of sin. Jesus has done it all for us.  We can’t earn or deserve our salvation, as it is a gift given by faith alone. There is no circumstance too difficult for Him to resolve, no wound too great for Him to heal, no suffering too great for Him to bear.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.- Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

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.