July 10, 2018 One Flesh, One Body- Genesis 2:13-25

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Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:18-25 (ESV)

It is not good for human beings to be alone. God made us for relationship, not just with Him, but with His creation and with other humans. God entrusted Adam with naming the animals, but having the animals as companionship just didn’t seem to be enough for Adam.  As much as we might think a world with just dogs and cats for company would be a good thing, we can’t relate to them on the same intellectual level.  Procreation is pretty much impossible without both male and female humans.  Where would the babies come from?

One of the most tragic casualties of the Fall – and of the second half of the 20th century- is the good gift of marriage.  Fewer and fewer couples see the necessity of making the commitment of marriage, and even among those who do, only about half of all marriages will survive until one of the partners dies.  Our culture glorifies the ideals of independence and sexual freedom.  The fallout of the so-called “sexual revolution” is all around us. We want that euphoric high of infatuation, and we love to be in romantic love, but we don’t want to deal with another person’s flaws or hard times. Infatuation doesn’t last long. Marriage can become trying when the reality of monthly bills, medical issues, and dirty laundry and each other’s personality flaws becomes painfully clear.

Some marriages are destroyed by adultery. Still others are torn apart by addiction, or by physical or emotional abuse. Some even decide to end a marriage due to lack of interest or “falling out of love.” There is always emotional and spiritual fallout throughout a family when a marriage falls apart.  Separation and divorce- while sometimes absolutely necessary due to abuse or unavoidable because of adultery- are part of our sinful condition, because of our hardness of heart. Separation and brokenness were not the ways God intended.

The relationship of a husband and wife was intended by God to be the closest and most intimate relationship within humanity. John the Baptist compares the relationship of Christ and the church to a marriage. See John 3:28-30. We, the church, as the Bride of Christ are part of His body- just as we see foreshadowed in the creation of Eve from the flesh of Adam. Marriage was intended to be a mirror of that perfect union.

Flesh of my flesh,” Adam says of Eve.  He speaks of a relationship so close that they are of the same body, the same mind, unashamed of their nakedness, with no secrets between them.  This kind of relationship echoes the intimacy of God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden without the barriers of sin, shame and regret.

The good news is that Jesus always invites us to come to Him- to confess our sin, to repent, and to surrender our shame to Him. Unlike our flawed and tempestuous relationships with other sinners/saints like ourselves, Jesus is always with us, always faithful, never letting go of us, even into eternity.

While the best earthly marriages foreshadow the delight of the forever relationship we will share with Jesus, we can trust that at all times Jesus is our comfort, our strength and our defender.

It is important to remember that there is no condemnation for a person to seek separation or divorce should they be the victim of adultery, or for those who suffer abuse (which includes physical, financial and emotional abuse) at the hands of their spouse. There is forgiveness, healing and restoration for those who have suffered the pain of divorce. Everyone alive has fallen short of the glory of God.  Jesus invites us to come to Him to be forgiven and restored.

We can look forward to the day when there will be no separation from Jesus- no more tears, no more pain, and no more brokenness. Until that day we trust that God will give us the grace to reflect and share His love, forgiveness, restoration and peace.

April 30, 2018 God’s Love- Overcoming the World: 1 John 5:1-5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 12:1-2

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Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:1-5 (ESV)

God’s commandments aren’t burdensome? Really? Who among us can claim to have kept God’s commandments for any length of time?

If we try to go through life keeping score and attempting to will ourselves “good” by adhering to a harsh legalistic interpretation of God’s law, we are setting ourselves up to fail. The apostle Paul teaches us:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Faith itself is a gift of God. There is nothing to brag about unless one is bragging about Jesus.

The things we do, or the length to which we succeed in obeying God, is in response to our faith, which is in and of itself a gift. The glory all belongs to God, because we are not capable of love or goodness apart from Him.  John Calvin (a theologian who was a part of the Reformation around the same time as Martin Luther) proposed the total depravity of man, which is to say that apart from God humanity is 100% corrupt, self serving and downright evil. Roman Catholics refer to this concept in a similar way, calling this condition original sin, which is the concept that we humans all inherit the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Jesus died on the Cross as our substitute for all the sins of humanity for all time, because the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Even though we trust Jesus for our salvation because He became our substitute, as long as we live in these bodies on this earth, we live the paradox of being saints and sinners at the same time.  God in us prompts us to respond to His love, but the old Adam has to be drowned (as we remember our Baptism and confess our sins) on a daily basis.

If we try to love and do good deeds as if those are items on a checklist, we will fail horribly. Yet if we focus on loving God, the fruits of repentance will follow.  A wise Pastor once taught that if a person truly loves God, he or she can do whatever he or she wants, because his or her desires will be God’s desires.  As Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy (meaning God’s) kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The apostle Paul also teaches us:

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)

It won’t necessarily become easy to love the unlovable.  Diapers will still stink.  Drudgery will still cause our bodies and minds to be weary.  But as we grow in our faith, and we trust that Jesus gives us our daily bread, we experience joy beyond the drudgery, and we know love in serving others, which is love we share in serving God.   We have the hope of the kingdom to come where sorrow and pain and tears will be no more. (Revelation 21:4)

It has been said that nothing easy is worth doing. Yet it is God behind the action, God granting us the faith and the resolve to love the unlovable, and to endure hardship for the sake of another.  We cannot love or serve others apart from God’s love.

This world can be painful, difficult and hard to endure. But in Jesus we have hope.  Because He loved us first, we are free to love others and find joy in that service.

February 22, 2018 No Greater Love- John 15:13, 1 John 4:9-12

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Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13 (NIV)

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 4:9-12 (NIV)

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

*I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. – from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism on Sanctification -the Third Article of the Creed.

Belonging to God is not our choice. God is the one who does the choosing and the naming and claiming. God created. God calls us to life in Him.  God loves us first and has plans for us.  In Baptism we become permanently and irrevocably His. The Holy Spirit equips us for a life of faith.  It’s not about what we do, but what God has already done and continues to do in and through us.

The gift of faith and of being named and claimed by God is incredibly freeing. Our salvation is not contingent upon our current emotional state, the good deeds we do, or our good behavior, but on Jesus crucified. He was the perfect example of love- laying down His life for not only His friends, but for every human being.

When Lutherans talk about loving God and those around us, we do so in the realization that we can only love because God first loved us. Much as the moon can only reflect sunlight and has no light of its own, we can only reflect God’s love.

This is not to say that it is easy or automatic to live a life that honors God.  The difference is that we are called to live in response to God’s love for us.  We cannot earn God’s love and we certainly do not deserve it.

If we say we love Jesus, it is only because He has loved us when we were unlovable.

What does that say for the love that we reflect?

If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

February 20, 2018 – Whatever We Fear (Do It Anyway!) 1 Peter 3:13-16, 1 Corinthians 2:13

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Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:13-16 (NIV)

Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me/ Whenever I let my guard down, whatever I was ignoring /Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me /Whatever I have been given, whatever I have been – “Whatever I Fear”- Toad the Wet Sprocket

Fear in and of itself is neither good nor evil, but there are healthy and unhealthy fears. “Fear of the Lord,” as in a reverent respect for God, is a healthy fear. Fear of touching a hot burner is a healthy fear. At times fear can prevent us from diving into an action or a behavior that will cause us harm.

However, it’s easy in this world to get mired down in unhealthy fears that are borne of either bad experiences in the past or irrational anxiety. To “err on the side of caution” is usually considered a prudent and wise course to take, but too much caution can lead us to stagnation and lead us away from the things that God has for us to experience and accomplish.

We should not hesitate to do what we know is good. We should be unafraid to tell others about Jesus and what He has done and is doing in and through us. The apostle Peter tells us to have an answer for those who ask us why we hope in Jesus- a kind and respectful and helpful answer.

Unhealthy or excessive fear can keep us from doing and saying the things we know we should.

Martin Luther is known for saying, “Sin boldly.” This doesn’t mean just randomly sin, but to feel the fear and live and do anyway. Since we are sinners, yes, some of the things we do along the way will be wrong and will fall short of God’s will, but nothing will get accomplished if we are too afraid to try. We are challenged to be bold even when we are shaking in our boots, if we know what we are doing, saying or standing for is necessary and right.

The Holy Spirit has answers when we don’t have them –

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 1 Corinthians 2:13 (NIV)

God is the only One we should fear- the same God who tells us to get out there to do good, and to tell others about Him.

How is fear holding us back from the discipline of service today?

Do we fear getting too involved, whether it is emotionally, physically, financially or in committing our time?

Do we hesitate to make a sacrifice for the sake of others?

The spiritual disciplines of sacrifice and service do require intentional effort on our part.  Like the disciplines of sports or music, for example, we get better at it through small steps, and practice.

How can we practice a small step today- an act of service for someone, or a sacrifice of our time and talents to serve God?

February 19, 2018- Possessed Pigs, Go Tell About God’s Mercy- Mark 5:1-20, Ephesians 6:11, Isaiah 61:1-3

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They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him.  This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”  He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.  When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.  Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5:1-20 (NIV)

What does this one of Jesus’ works of healing have to do with loving Jesus? Who seriously believes in demon possession today?

We can say that we are more enlightened today. Today we know that mental illness can be caused by chemical malfunctions in the brain.  While in most instances mental illness can explain what used to be referred to as demon possession, the fact remains that there is a spiritual world. There are powers and principalities that we learn about throughout Scripture that are not easily explained by science. We have an Adversary. Not everything that lives in the spiritual world has our best interest at heart.

In the Lutheran tradition we aren’t much to focus upon the dark side, and we don’t talk much about demons or possession or bizarre supernatural happenings, because we know who wins- but it is important to know that we do have an adversary, and that we know Who to run to when the adversary comes knocking. Evil has a lot harder time getting to us if we spend our lives being immersed in what is good.  The apostle Paul told us to put on the full armor of Christ (Ephesians 6:11) for good reason.

It was curious that the demons knew Who Jesus was. The demons knew their enemy and they knew that ultimately they were subject to His power.  Why do we doubt the sovereignty and final authority of Jesus when demons, who are evil, get it?

The demons begged to be released into pigs. To Midwestern Americans the pigs drowning themselves in the sea might come across as a really sad waste of a LOT of bacon.  Yet to Jews in first century Palestine, pigs were the most unclean of unclean animals. It was fitting, at least to first century Jews, that the demons met their demise in the unclean bodies of pigs.

More important than the final disposition of the demons, or even how the demons got in the man to begin with, is the final authority and sovereignty of Jesus.

Jesus had mercy on the man. Everyone else wanted to restrain the man, and when that didn’t work, they simply pushed him out of society.  He was living in the tombs- basically written off as dead.

Jesus got the unclean spirits to move on out of the man and gave him his life back. Sound like a familiar theme?

We all have our stories to tell about what Jesus has done for us, just like the formerly demon possessed man. Jesus has set us free from the powers of sin and death, as well as for many of us, Jesus has set us free of earthly afflictions also. We return love to Jesus when we show it to people around us.  God is real.  He loved us first.  He sent Jesus to show us what love is, to love the unlovable, and to set captives free from the things that bind them (Isaiah 61:1-3.)  Who can we draw to Jesus by sharing our stories? By showing them kindness?

If we claim to love Jesus, we are called to do as He did. Go out. Share the love. To whom can we bring a bit of mercy and care today?

January 2, 2018 – The Pursuit of Wisdom- Proverbs 9:9-12, Matthew 6:33, Job 28:24-28

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Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.  If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it. Proverbs 9:9-12 (NRSV)

The phrase “fear of the Lord” is sort of an awkward translation into English.  When we use the word “fear,” it has a few different connotations.  “Fear of the Lord” correctly translated is fear defined as a reverent respect and awe. Jesus uses the parallel of a healthy father and son relationship, one of respect, dependency and love.

The story of the Fall, and of human nature and sin, is one of humanity getting too big for its britches in a figurative way. When we blindly trust in our own knowledge or ability and fail to acknowledge God, we are being unwise.  We are given many examples in Scripture of what not to do – the temptation in the Garden (Genesis 3 ) , the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), and the lawlessness that prevailed in the days of the Judges (Judges 21:25) all tell us of the consequences of separating ourselves from God and not having a respect or reverence for Him.

All of the above are also examples of trusting in human logic instead of going to the Source of wisdom. We all do it, too. The good news is there is a better way, and God is patient with us, like a wise father guiding his children.

Solomon was said to be the wisest man who ever lived. God offered him any gift that he would want, and he asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-14). God not only granted him wisdom, but also prosperity and long life.  When our first passion is seeking God and His kingdom, His plan for our life comes to life.

(Jesus said): But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33 (NRSV)

If we choose to find wisdom today, we still need to ask God and look to Him to find it. We will still find wisdom and the King of Kings present in the most unlikely and humble places- from the manger in Bethlehem to the needy, the lonely, the misunderstood, and the forgotten who are everywhere in the world today. We find wisdom when we seek God in the pages of Scripture. God reveals His wisdom to us in our times of meditation and prayer.

For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.  And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:24-28 (NRSV)

November 6, 2017- Simple Faith in a Greater God- 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV) Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

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Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV)

 Thankfully, God is so often the champion of the underdog. We see evil in so many places and in so many experiences in this world that it’s easy to get discouraged.  Terrorism, random violence, not so random violence, drug addiction, poverty, natural disaster and disease are regular features in the news.

We wonder why. We ask God why these things go on in the world and why they don’t stop.  We wonder if evil really will win out.

So how can we believe in a greater God when we are so powerless in a world filled with heartbreak and evil and sin?

If this life in this temporary world was the only and final reality, then perhaps there would be cause for despair.

But we have a greater hope, not just for the end of days (or the end of our own personal days) but for now and always.

I hereby command you: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

 How can we keep on going on when we are afraid, depleted, discouraged, in pain, or just plain overwhelmed? How do we keep our faith and sanity when we see and experience the insanity that is so pervasive in our world?

God is with us. Have courage.