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

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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.”  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 20, 2017- Keep the Sabbath Holy- Exodus 20:8:11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Mark 2:27-28

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Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)

Why is the concept of Sabbath- which almost seems foreign to us today in our 24/7/365 world- so essential to God that He commands it? Why is Sabbath still as important for 21st century Jesus followers as it was for ancient Jews?

Part of that answer can come from the natural cycles of the world that God created such as- day and night and the seasons of the year. As the Teacher of Ecclesiastes – who was most likely King Solomon- teaches us:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)

God built in cycles for activity and rest and he built a rhythm into nature. Spring is for planting, new beginnings and birth.  Summer brings growth and coming to fruition.  Autumn brings the harvest and preparation for the deprivation and dormancy of winter.  Winter brings a sort of mini-death, a rest period in which the world recharges and prepares for the planting and growth of spring.  There is a time to work and a time to rest that is built into even day and night. We are called to work and do the good things God created us for, but we are also called to rest and to just be sometimes.  That is what Sabbath is for.

Sabbath gives us that recharging and rest time we need to disconnect from the world, from work, from the temporal cares of the moment and focus on simply being in the presence of God. The consequence of non-stop engagement and endless work is burnout.  God knows we need to connect with Him to be renewed and to have Him restore our strength.  Observing the Sabbath is not so much about “doing something for God,” but it is part of His provision to take care of us.  Jesus had to remind the Pharisees that God made the Sabbath command not for people to have to observe a laundry list of man-made restrictions, but so that people would see the need to take time out to simply be in the presence of God.

Then He (Jesus) said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27-28 (NRSV)

How do we make a conscious effort to observe the Sabbath, even knowing that some people must work on Sundays?

Take an alternate day- one who must work Sundays can take a day not scheduled for work to observe the Sabbath.   Those who have Sundays off should make weekly worship in a church with other Jesus followers a priority, along with receiving Communion when it is offered.  Even those who must work Sundays can find ways to connect with the Jesus community- through audio or video sermons and through study and discussion groups online, or with groups who worship or meet together on days other than Sunday.

Take Sabbath moments every day. Observe a time of prayer, meditation and conversation with the Lord for a set amount of time every day.  Such a simple practice can easily become a part of our spiritual disciplines and part of the cycles and rhythms of our lives.

Sabbath is God’s gift of rest and recharging for us. It is part of the rhythm of life that He created. We need to work, but we also need to rest and reconnect with Him.

 

 

December 16, 2016- Mary, Did You Know? Luke 2:15-18, Luke 9:46-49

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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. Luke 2:15-18 (NRSV)

I know that sometimes Protestant Christians- even Lutherans- sometimes shy away from talking too much about Mary, the young woman who God chose to be Jesus’ earthly mother.  We get uncomfortable talking about her because we don’t believe that she is equal to Jesus or that she is a deity in and of herself.  Yet we should most certainly look at Mary as a woman who was blessed by God.  We should certainly look at Mary as a role model and an example of a person who was open to God’s will and purpose for her life.

God had an infinitely important and special plan for Mary’s life even though she was not wealthy, influential, well educated or any of those things that the world puts value upon.

Is it too hard to believe that God has unique and important plans for all of us in His grand scheme of things?

One of the most interesting themes in Scripture is that we see that the only real “hero” in the Bible is God.  God has a deep sense of humor in who he chooses to do His greatest things.  David was a youngest son- a scrawny shepherd boy- but God made him the greatest King of Israel and Jesus’ greatest earthly ancestor.  Ruth stepped into the Scriptural story as a destitute widow and an outsider in her community, yet she is also in Jesus’ lineage.  Paul was a misguided Pharisee who had been behind persecuting the church and killing Christians, yet God used him for a powerful Christian witness who speaks to God’s people even today.

God uses the least likely people to accomplish His biggest purposes- the meek, the weak, and the flawed.  And that is good news.  God is in control in spite of our failings, weaknesses and missing pieces.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you. – “Mary, Did You Know”- Mark Lowry

I wonder if Mary knew as she watched Jesus grow up and as she did all those things that mothers do for their children for Him, just how important this tiny child would prove to be.

Sometimes we lose sight of our own importance in God’s eyes.  Do our lives matter?  Do all the mundane and repetitive and dirty chores make a difference?  What about the people around us?  If we truly believe that God is Who He says He is, can we look at ourselves and others knowing that God is always at work in and through His people?

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side,  and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” Luke 9:46-49 (NRSV)