June 12, 2019- Who is the Object of Our Faith? Luke 22:31-33, 54-62, Ephesians 6:10-12

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(Jesus said to Peter: ), “Simon, Simon, behold- Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”… Luke 22:31-33 (ESV)

Then they seized him (Jesus) and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.  And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.  Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.”  But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”  And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

Who is the object of our faith?

Faith is only as good as its object. We have faith that when we drive over a bridge that it will hold fast- at least until the car goes over it.  We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.  Faith is backed up by past performance- we drove over that bridge yesterday and made it to the other side in one piece.  The sun rose and set yesterday, so it’s probably going to do the same today.

Sometimes we have a habit of putting faith in things that we shouldn’t put faith in- such as that sketchy tuna salad that’s been in the fridge how long? Our culture tells us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, “tough it out,” “believe in yourself,” and culture gives us various other motivational mantras based upon the values of independence and self reliance.  Autonomy is not necessarily a bad thing- nobody wants to be a leech or a mooch, but humans were not designed to be lone rangers.  We were made to rely on God and made to serve our community.

In the first Commandment we are instructed to have no other gods besides God, but we fall into the self reliance trap pretty easily. We really shouldn’t have faith in ourselves, because we make pretty lame gods, but this was the sin of the Garden, the sin of pride that claims that we can be like God.

The problem with our illusion of self reliance is that we really aren’t self reliant at all. The saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is very true.  The apostle Peter believed (read: Peter had faith in himself) that he could follow Jesus to His death in his (Peter’s) own strength.  He fell miserably, three times.  Peter’s faith was not in Jesus, but in his own willpower.

We don’t talk about Satan much in Christian circles any more, even though Jesus did talk about him. Jesus prayed for Peter that Satan would not prevail against him.  Jesus intercedes for us in the same way.  While we are in this world we, like Peter, are surrounded by adversaries, whether they are our own desires for control, the influence of other people, or the Adversary himself.  We cannot overcome the world by having faith in ourselves.  The apostle Paul teaches that we must rely upon God alone:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

The good news is that Jesus is faithful even though we are not. Our faith is not from us, but a gift from God. Jesus did not abandon Peter after His resurrection.  Jesus did not hold a grudge against Peter for his faithlessness and his denials.  Jesus was faithful to Peter and did establish him as the first earthly leader of the church as he said He would do in Matthew 16:18. We learn of Jesus restoring Peter to ministry in John 21:1-19.

Peter’s mission was not to believe in himself or his own willpower, but to have faith in Christ, and to lead others to that same valid, saving faith in Christ. (Acts 2:14-41)

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”- Martin Luther, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

In Jesus – the object of our faith- we are forgiven for our sins.

Even when we are faithless and deny Jesus in our thoughts, words and deeds, He is faithful to us. He has paid the price for our sins, and only in Him are we made worthy in God’s sight.

In Jesus- the object of our faith- we are baptized and born into eternal life.

January 19, 2018- A Fortress of Love- Psalm 62:5-8, 1 John 4:7-12

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Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8 (NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12 (NIV)

One of the greatest proofs for God in the world can be found in our families, friends and communities. We find support, accountability and strength in community. Sometimes we as Americans want to follow Jesus with a sort of “me-n-Jesus” loner mentality, but living in God’s kingdom means that we live in the context of community- even when there are disagreements and hardships and in those times when being part of a community isn’t easy.  Jesus said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5)  A vine has many more than just one branch.  As Jesus followers we need each other.  The Body of Christ necessarily has many parts that need to work together as a whole.

It is important for us to have a one on one relationship with God that we tend in prayer, study, meditation and in cultivating spiritual disciplines, but it is equally important that our relationship with God is also lived out in our community and in the world at large.

We should find joy and strength and support in our fellow Jesus followers. Because of Jesus we have the capacity to love one another and to live in a way that shows the world Who we belong to.

We as God’s people, God’s community, are meant to be a refuge for each other, not because we are such fantastic people, (we aren’t) but because God loves us. He loved us first. This is an important point.  On our own we aren’t always all that lovable. We can be downright ugly at times.

Forgiveness is a big hallmark of Christian community. All of us are saints and sinners at the same time.  None of us can live up to God’s ideal, but we all have been given the gift of God-with-us as our refuge. We have been given the privilege to experience the presence of God in community.  We pray that we would have the eyes to see others the way God sees them.  We can pray to see others with eyes of love, and to respond to them accordingly.

November 17, 2017- Signs and Wonders, Beautiful Feet, and Loving Jesus- Acts 2:43-47, Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15

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Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  Acts 2:43-47 (NRSV)

The early believers were convinced that Jesus would return in their lifetimes, so they lived accordingly.

Some have used this passage as a Christian argument for collectivism as a form of government (the somewhat contradictory phrase “Christian socialism” comes to mind,) however, the key to making this first century community work was that sharing and living in common were voluntary. The response to the Good News was one that came from grateful and loving hearts, not one of forced compliance to a set of rules. There were no mandatory levies or quotas, as the people provided for themselves and for others as there were needs. They were governed by the principle of loving God and bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.  There was no tax man going around making sure that everyone gave his or her fair share (and more,) and no one claimed more than he or she needed.

Their community was based upon living in response to the love and grace of God.

Today it seems as if we have lost sight that God is still with us. Does the way we “do life”- and how we welcome others into our community- reflect God’s love and grace and mercy toward us?

It has been said that integrity is living one’s life the same whether we are under direct scrutiny of others or not.   Are we the same people in the dark that we claim to be in the light of day?

By the grace of God we are called to live our lives in such a way that others want to come join us- because we share the joy we have in Christ.

And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (reference to Isaiah 52:7) Romans 10:15 (NRSV)

Do we have “beautiful feet?” Do we bring good news? Do we show others that following Jesus makes a difference?

September 29, 2017 – Forgive Us When We Do Wrong- Matthew 6:12

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Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. Matthew 6:12 (CEB)

The traditional English translation of this verse is “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”  and that is part of forgiveness, but that wording tends to limit our understanding of forgiveness to monetary transactions or mortgage payments. Forgiveness is much more than simply writing off a debt, which is why a more comprehensive translation of this verse is necessary here.

In Luther’s explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we get into the hardest, yet most necessary thing to do if we humans are to live in community and live at peace with God: forgive.

It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.

 But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. For just as we daily sin much against God and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. If, therefore you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, — for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, — but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6, 37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6,14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. – from the explanation of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer from Luther’s Large Catechism

 Forgiveness is not blithe forgetfulness, in which we no longer remember the hurtful things said or done to us. Forgiveness toward others is a process in which we acknowledge the injury and pain that we have suffered at the hands of others, but we make the conscious choice to let go of our anger and surrender our claims to revenge against those who have wronged us. We surrender those who have wronged us to the mercy of God, as we surrender ourselves to His mercy and forgiveness when we do wrong.

Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Sometimes forgiveness means to let that person or group of people out of our lives, especially if they are unforgiving toward us or if they have the potential to be toxic to us in the future.  There is nothing about forgiveness that requires us to endure abuse or live in a toxic environment.  Forgiveness allows us to get rid of the toxic anger and pain we carry and give it to God.  He can handle it.  He can heal and restore us. We can’t work that kind of restoration and healing ourselves.  Forgiveness toward others is really for our own good.

Our response to a loving God who forgives us unconditionally is to pass that gift along, and let His healing and His grace flow through us.

It has been said that the heaviest burden to carry is a grudge.

However…Jesus said to take up His yoke, because His burden is light.

Who do we need to consciously decide to forgive today?

August 1, 2017 “Just Me-n-Jesus?” Philippians 4:10-15

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I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone.  Philippians 4:10-15 (NRSV)

I can do all things in Him (Jesus) who strengthens me. (verse 13)

Verse 13 of the above passage from Philippians is often picked out and quoted on its own. Yes it is true that Jesus is our Strength, but that shouldn’t make us infer that the journey of following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of proposition.

In our country we have been conditioned to prize our independence, which is not always a bad thing. No one wants to be a mindless lemming that just goes along with the group without thinking about what the group is doing. Many people are also wired to be introverted, which means a little socialization goes a long way, as introverts primarily recharge their batteries by getting away from people and being alone.  Jesus Himself did this at times.  He went off to pray and fast by Himself quite often.  Taking times of solitude- in moderation- can be a healthy discipline.

It can be unwise to think we are too independent though. Not only do we move and breathe and have our strength because those things all come from God, we were created to live and operate in community.  Not just “me-n-Jesus,” but “me-n-Jesus AND the greater community,” is how it’s supposed to work.

This means we are supposed to engage in dialogue. We are supposed to contribute to the life and the well being of our families and communities.  We are, like the apostle Paul did, supposed to accept help from others when we need it.  We are called to the drama and the messiness of belonging to a community and participating in the life of the community.

We do encounter Jesus in the solitude of prayer and study, and those disciplines are important to our growth in understanding and faith. Yet there are some who will say things such as, “nature is my church,” and who claim to not need the fellowship and the encouragement of a Christian community.  Unfortunately when we miss out on being part of a community, we miss out on a vital way of connecting with God, and we miss out on sharing the strength and encouragement of others.

How can we live out our lives as Jesus followers and rely on His strength both one-on-one with Him in solitude, study, contemplation and prayer, AND in community, alongside fellow believers?