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

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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)

February 18, 2019- Jesus, the Bread of Life – John 6:25-40

fresh bread on the wooden board

When they found him (Jesus) 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 6:25-40 (ESV)

This is a story of contrasts. There were people who chased Jesus because they saw Him as a bread king- someone who would see to it that their bellies stayed full. Even today there are those who seek Jesus because they believe He will fulfill their material wants.  There are plenty of charlatans out there to sell the health and wealth prosperity “gospel,” but that is not the real Gospel. The real Gospel is the good news that because Jesus died to save us from sin, death and Satan, we are set free to rise to eternal life with Him.

God does provide for our daily bread, just as He (not Moses) rained down manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. God’s provision is supplied for all- those who believe and pray, and for those who do not. The sun rises on the good and the evil alike, and the rain falls on the good and the evil alike. (Matthew 5:44-45)The instruction for us to pray is for our own benefit, so that we would direct our attention away from the gift and place it back on the Giver.

Jesus did not want to be seen as a bread king- handing out bread that will temporarily fill bellies- but for Who He is- the Giver of Life, the Bread from Heaven, freely given for us.

Jesus reinforces that it is by faith in Him alone that we have life. We can’t do anything or deserve anything from God.

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

By faith, given to us by the grace of God, in Christ, we are given the gift of life with Jesus forever.

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

February 13, 2019- Trust Him. Jesus Heals-John 4:46-54

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So he (Jesus) came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.  When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.  As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.  This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. John 4:46-54 (ESV)

Jesus performed many miracles when He was here on earth. The important thing to remember in this case of miraculous healing that Jesus didn’t heal to give signs and wonders so people would believe in Him.  The official already believed in Jesus, as did the centurion we hear of in Matthew 8.  Jesus’ miracles only served to prove to those who already believed that their faith in Him was well-founded.

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:5-13)

Today we see still see miracles, but they are almost always performed through means- through the knowledge and hands of doctors or craftsmen or technicians. We believe that God works in and through means.  Physical healing is most often worked through surgical procedures or medications. Technological and scientific advances are the result of years of study and trial and error.  God’s work here on earth is almost always done through human minds and hands.

Even though forms of the miraculous go on today, the curse of the first death is still in effect. No matter what kind of physical healing a person may receive on earth, that healing is not permanent. The centurion’s servant in Matthew 8 eventually would have died, as would the official’s son in John 4.  Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead after he had been in the grave for days, already reeking of decomposition, eventually died as well.  Our physical bodies will die no matter what kind of effort and toil we put into preserving them. We will suffer disease and decay for which ultimately there is no cure. Every single one of our hearts will lose that tiny electrical signal that keeps them beating. We will lose our loved ones for a time to temporal death, and we will grieve them.

We believe Jesus for far more than temporary bodily healing. God does not always grant bodily healing in this life. Our ultimate healing is going to happen in the life to come, when we pass from death into eternal life.  We can believe Jesus that in the life to come our bodies will be healed and made perfect, without decay or aging or fault.  We share in His resurrection.  Jesus, who made the blind see, who raised Lazarus from the dead, is faithful.  Our trust in Him is sure.

February 12, 2019 – The Living Water, Jesus- the Savior of Sinners, John 4:7-42

woman at the well

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:7-42 (ESV)

Jews in Jesus’ time had “no dealings with Samaritans.” Rabbis did not talk openly in public with women- especially a Samaritan woman who had five husbands and was currently connected with a man who was not her husband.

Jesus was both a Jew and a rabbi. He wasn’t supposed to talk with heretics or “fallen women.” He broke social convention and transcended traditional boundaries, for the sake of the outcast, the forgotten, and the ignored. Jesus did not come to vilify the hoity-toity. He came to save flawed, broken, sinful humanity.

It is true that God’s Law is not negotiable. It is also true anyone who breaks even one tiny little point of the Law breaks all of it. (James 2:10)  With this being said, everyone is considered to be guilty and a law-breaker, Jew or Gentile, male or female.

A bruised reed He will not break, (Isaiah 42:2-4) as the prophet Isaiah said of Jesus. We are all bruised reeds, imperfect and not able to save ourselves.  We are all in need of Jesus.

Our backgrounds don’t matter. Our past and our station in life don’t matter. Jesus comes to us no matter how society views us.  By faith, Jesus lifts us up.  He forgives us no matter how terrible we might think our sins might be. He gives us the gift of repentance, so that our lives would give a witness to Him. There is nothing that Jesus cannot or will not forgive.  None of us are beyond the power of the grace of God.

Jesus offered the woman at the well living water. In our baptism, the living water is poured over us, so that in being in Christ we also are born into eternal life.  He offers Himself.  He poured out His blood for the salvation of the world- no matter what our heritage or our past would say about us.

We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this (Jesus) is indeed the Savior of the world.

September 25, 2018- Jesus is the Bread of Life, and God Does the Choosing

Jesus bread of lifeJesus 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.”

 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:35-51 (ESV)

Who chooses God’s people? Many of us have probably experienced Christian traditions that teach such ideas as, “you have to ask Jesus into your heart,” or pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to become a Christian. These prayers aren’t exactly wrong, but the emphasis in these traditions is on us humans- on our decisions and our fickle emotions rather than on the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. The end result of such teaching is often doubt and despair. How can we know we are really children of God?  How many times can we pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” or stay awake nights wondering what we can do to be good enough for God, or wondering if Jesus really is in our hearts? Unless we know that our faith is a gift given by God to us, we will have that lingering sense of inadequacy that comes from knowing we can’t be good enough to earn our way into God’s favor and salvation.

It is truly Good News when Jesus reveals to us in John’s Gospel that He is the eternal Bread of Life.  It is the Father Who draws us to Jesus through the means of grace- through preaching of the Word (Romans 10:17,) through the waters of baptism, and in the Body and Blood given in Holy Communion.

When we look at the history in Scripture, we discover that all along that God does the calling, and the choosing. God created Adam and Eve from the dirt of the ground. (Genesis 1-2) God chose Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people to repent, even though Jonah didn’t want to. Jonah even tried to go the other way but failed miserably. God wanted Jonah to go, and God made sure Jonah went! (Jonah 1-4)  God chose David to be king of Israel over his older, taller and more formidable brothers. (1 Samuel 16:1-13) God chose the Pharisee Saul- a murderer of Christians- by knocking him off his high horse and transforming him into the apostle Paul who wrote a good deal of the New Testament. (Acts 9:1-18.)

The fact that God chooses His people is good news. Our salvation and status as children of God have nothing to do with our feelings or our behavior. God is the one doing the acting- specifically Jesus by His death for us on the Cross.  We are the ones being acted upon.

When a child is conceived the child had nothing to do with that process or with that decision. No person has come into being by asking their parents to make it happen! When a child is adopted it is still the parents making the choice, not the child. The same can be said for us when we become children of God.  God is the one putting the means of grace out there- by sending His people out preaching the Word, by bringing children (and adults) to the font for baptism, and bringing His people together at the table for Holy Communion.

We cannot make anyone a Christian anymore than we can turn someone into a car by having him or her sit in a garage.  However, we are called to preach His Word, whether through direct teaching or teaching indirectly through our vocations. As we serve God as parents, grandparents, friends and mentors, we will spread God’s Word.  God is the One Who does the work.  Even when we don’t see results, how are we to know the way the Holy Spirit will use our witness?

When we hear God’s Word preached we are reminded Who is the object of our faith: Jesus.  We remember that as we read Scripture and as we hear preaching and teaching on Scripture that God is speaking to us.

When we are reminded of our baptism- as we pray in the morning and evening (or even in the shower) and when we take hold of the promises God gives in baptism in times of trial, we can take tangible confidence in saying: We are baptized, named and claimed as Jesus’ own.

When we come together at the communion table, we share in the real Body and Blood of Jesus, Who died to save us from our sins.

God chooses us. Jesus finished the work of our salvation on the Cross.

 

 

 

 

 

April 12, 2018 In the Name of Jesus We Live – Acts 3:12-23, 1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 2:10

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While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.  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. We are witnesses of this.  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.  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.  Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.  Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’ Acts 3:12-23 (NIV)

Yesterday’s lesson was on the lame man (Acts 3:1-10) who Jesus healed through the ministry of Peter and John.  The lame man was healed through Peter and John because Peter and John had faith in Jesus, faith which is a gift of God. Today we move on in Acts 3 to Peter’s explanation of who really performed this work- and as we see, it wasn’t Peter or John.  Peter leads us directly to the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

So why does the Resurrection of Jesus matter anyway? In what we believe to be a day and age of rational thought and of the primacy of science and technology, why should we hold on to a belief that God incarnate was put to death and rose from the grave? It seems silly or irrational on the surface to believe such an implausible account, but the death and Resurrection of Jesus is literally the premise upon which we live or die.

The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 (it is helpful here to read the whole chapter) that if Jesus did not come back from the dead, we are wasting our time believing in Him.  If Jesus did not come back from the dead, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and fallen nature and we might as well eat, drink and be merry (and be free to lie, steal, fornicate and pillage, etc.) because the only thing we have to look forward to is the grave.  If this world is the end, we are stuck in a rather hopeless state of affairs.

Thankfully this world is not the end.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We were not created by God to make our own gods, or to turn ourselves into our own gods. Yet that is exactly what we humans do when we are left to our own devices.

The premise of God’s Law is summarized in the Jewish shema: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Deuteronomy 6:1-4) The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) spell out God’s requirements in even more depth.

God requires our perfect obedience to this Law. We can’t do it.  But because God loved us, and did not want us to suffer the consequences of our sin and disobedience, Jesus had to take our place as a perfect sacrifice.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (NIV)

We are not able to follow the Law’s requirements. We are fallen, broken and fallible. Jesus has done what we cannot do for ourselves, and that is Good News.  In Him we have life.  We rise with Him also. He is Risen.  He is Risen, indeed.  He is real.  Our life in Him is real too, and it is forever.

April 6, 2017 – What is Truth? – John 18:37-38, Proverbs 16:25

pilate truthPilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” John 18:37-38 (NRSV)

Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death. Proverbs 16:25 (NRSV)

Pilate is one of the more tragic characters in the Bible. In judging and condemning Jesus, Pilate was put into a situation he didn’t rightly understand.  To his credit, at first he tried to do the right thing, but he ultimately got caught up in moral relativism (the philosophical assertion that truth is variable depending on its context, and upon who is discerning the truth) and went with what popular opinion dictated.  He chose the action that was the most personally and politically expedient for him.

The thought that clearly immoral actions are fine as long as popular opinion supports them and peer pressure backs them up is as old as time itself. From the first original sin of the Garden, to the first murder, to the Holocaust and other abominable acts of human beings, denying the truth and substituting our own pride is at the core of sin.

Popular opinion is probably the furthest thing from truth that there is in many situations. When we follow the rumor mill we are tempted to pass judgment without knowing the entire story. We let our pride cloud our decisions and actions until the truth- which is an absolute, not a variable- becomes lost in a fog.

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Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) As His followers we know and hear His voice even though we don’t always respond to Him the way we know we should.  The Holy Spirit constantly intervenes on our behalf, drawing us closer to Jesus and His voice, leading us to the Truth.

The Truth is that we are named, claimed and loved by God, and covered by the Blood of Jesus.

Pilate wasn’t able to extinguish the Truth. In fact, God transformed Pilate’s actions.  The actions that lead to Jesus’ physical death paved the way to our eternal life.

It is good to remember that, “What is truth?,” should really be seen as, “Who IS Truth.”