December 15, 2019-Advent 15, Luke 15- Lost and Found

lost coin

Read Luke 15.

Jesus is teaching in the temple, answering the Pharisees’ indignation at Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners.  He explains His mission is of finding and restoring those who belonged to Him but have become lost.

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? Luke 15:3-4 (ESV)

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10 (ESV)

Jesus begins with the Parable of the Lost Sheep- leaving the ninety nine sheep to find the one who was lost.  The Parable of the Lost Coin stays with the theme of finding lost things, but puts it in a perspective that most people could identify with.  Who hasn’t lost a precious object and then been thrilled and relieved when the object was found.

Then Jesus moves into the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  A younger son demands his inheritance and leaves home to engage in good times and to squander his father’s fortune.

The son had gotten to the point where there was a famine in the far away land and he was reduced to feeding pigs.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’  And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:17:24 (ESV)

The father was ecstatic that his son had returned to him.  No matter what he had done, no matter that he had spent the inheritance. Yet the father’s older son was not nearly as thrilled at his brother’s return.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Luke 15:25:32 (ESV)

The older brother was not nearly as happy at the younger brother’s return.  After all, the older was faithful to his father, while the younger was not.  The older brother resented the attention that the father paid to the younger one who was not faithful to his father.

It’s easy for us to say, “well I didn’t do that,” and fail to see all the ways that we too have been lost and found.  Both the younger and the older brother were reliant upon the love and generosity of the father.

No matter if we have believed and trusted Jesus from our earliest days or if we have recently been brought to faith, we have all been found and redeemed not by our own faithfulness or righteousness, but by Jesus.  We have all been lost, and He is the One Who finds and redeems the lost.

Do we truly celebrate new people being brought the the Good News of Jesus no matter their background, the litany of sins in their past, or their need?

Father, forgive us and welcome us when we are the lost sheep.  Forgive and comfort us and bring us back to Your table when we take on the role of the younger brother and stray from being faithful to You.  Keep us from becoming arrogant and haughty like the older brother when we fail to realize that it is only by your grace that we can remain faithful to you, and even then we sin and fail You every day.

December 13, 2019- Advent 13, Luke 13 – Jesus Heals on the Sabbath (Again) Enter Through the Narrow Door, Lamenting for Jerusalem

o-jerusalem-greg-olsen

Read Luke 13.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-4 (ESV)

We like to categorize sins. In the earthly kingdom this makes sense, because the gravity of the penalties for our law-breaking is generally set by its impact on other people. No one would think of instituting capital punishment for stealing a stick of gum. God’s opinion about our sin is quite different. As the apostle James teaches us,

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. James 2:8-10 (ESV)

All of us are guilty of original sin and have inherited the sin of the Garden from our first parents, Adam and Eve. Because of the Fall, the world is broken. Bad things happen to everyone as well as good things. The rain falls on good and bad alike. We are not inherently “good” people. We have nothing intrinsically good about us. The only good that we have comes from outside of us, from Christ alone. Every single one of us has earned the penalty of death. Unless Christ returns first, we will all die. We will all suffer, and it doesn’t matter how “good” we have tried to be. None of us have earned or deserve God’s blessings, and none of us will escape worldly pain, loss or tragedy.

Repentance and faith in Christ do not prevent bad things from happening to any of us here on this fallen earth. But He is with us in and through our suffering and trials. He suffered and died to redeem us from our sins so that we will be with Him forever- but in this life here on earth we will bear His cross.

Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree to give an illustration of God’s grace. God gives the water and the sustenance. Yes, God is patient and kind. He gives people opportunities to hear the Gospel and come to faith in Him. Do we respond and bear fruit in keeping with repentance? There will come a time when there will be no more opportunities to seek, ask and knock. Will we be found to be trusting in Christ and forgiven by Him when the door of opportunity is closed?

Jesus has no problem cheesing off the Pharisees and legalists by healing on the Sabbath.

Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. Luke 13:10-17 (ESV)

Jesus did care about the Law, in fact He was the fulfillment of the Law. Somewhere in the letter of the Law (and all the sub-laws and corollaries that got added to it) the heart of the Law, the Shema, got lost. Jesus had the heart for this suffering woman, while the Pharisees and officials were more worried about keeping Sabbath regulations that were man made.

He (Jesus) went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:22-30 (ESV)

The world doesn’t have much use for Jesus and His message of sacrifice and suffering.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

As the apostle Paul teaches us, the message of Jesus and His cross is folly to those who are perishing. Yet Jesus in His mercy, chooses us to follow Him, naming and claiming us in our baptism- the weak, the weary, we, the motley crew of assorted sinners, invited to His table of grace.

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Luke 13:31-35 (ESV)

Jesus tells the Pharisees that He will rise again on the third day, but they don’t get the reference. On Palm Sunday He will enter in to Jerusalem amidst shouts of “Hosanna!” but by Friday He will be humiliated and put to death amidst cries of “Crucify Him!”

Jesus knows what will happen to Jerusalem in just a few years. He can see the destruction of AD 70 before it happens.

We await Jesus coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and to bring us to His kingdom that has no end.

November 1, 2019- Dia de los Muertos- (The Day of the Dead) – Remembering and Forgiving- Lead Us to Jesus -1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

day of dead

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

Those of us who observe the church year may find the feast of All Saints to be one of the most difficult days to commemorate.  On this earth, death still has a very real sting.  The pain and longing of separation from those we love and those who have been big parts of our lives is a heavy burden to bear.

We also endure the pain of regret when loved ones go before us.  We may wonder if our loved one died in Christ.  Sometimes we carry grudges or unforgiveness toward those who hurt or wronged us before they died because we never had a chance to resolve the issues we had with that person when he or she was alive.  Sometimes our remembrance of a family member is tainted either by our regret that we were evil to them, or the pain we suffered due to their evil toward us.  The world is one big pack of sinners, after all.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We all desperately need the grace of God in our relationships with others.

We do not have to resolve the issues with someone in order to forgive them. They may never “forgive us back.”  We are called by Jesus to let go of our anger, resentment and unforgiveness toward others regardless of their response to us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.  There are situations in which reconciliation is impossible in this life- the death of the other party, or situations in which one’s health or life may be endangered through contact with the other party. Those who are living with physical or emotional abuse, or are enduring life with a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs may have to separate themselves from and completely cut off contact with that person for the sake of their own life and health. In Christ we can pass on the gift of forgiveness, but we are not compelled to keep enduring abuse.

God gives us the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, as Jesus has first forgiven us- even if there is no reconciliation, or even contact with the other party.

Jesus has sweet comfort for His own when we have to encounter earthly death, unforgiveness, disappointment and separation. He is walking with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

Many people read the above verses from the Gospel of Matthew and look at the Beatitudes as a “to do” list, things that we need to pull up our bootstraps and just do.  On one level, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but like the Ten Commandments teach us God’s Law, (that are also seen as a sort of “to do” list,) and show us our inability to keep them, Jesus teaches these blessings so that we may see how we are not the source of any of the blessings of the Beatitudes.

Only in Christ can we receive these attributes.

He is the one acting upon us so that we do see our own complete inadequacy and our desperate need for Him.

He is our comfort and our companion in our mourning.

He is the champion of the meek and lowly, as He came to serve, not to be served.

He is the Bread of Life who feeds us with the most sweet and holy bread of heaven- His very own Body and Blood.

He is the source of all mercy.

He is complete and total holiness and purity.

He grants us peace that is beyond all understanding.

He gives us the confidence to stand up for things that are right even when they are not  popular and may lead to our own personal harm.

He suffered the ultimate persecution and punishment (Isaiah 53:5) in our place, so that we would be blessed with salvation and life with Him forever.

The Beatitudes point us to our utter dependence on Jesus.

As we remember those who have gone before us, we thank God for those who passed along the faith to us, those who loved us, and those who we have confidence in Christ who we will see again.  We ask God for the gift of forgiveness toward those who have hurt us, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus first forgave us. We ask that Jesus brings us healing and peace for the injuries from relationships that cannot be reconciled, especially those relationships that we have had with those who have died.

We pray for the gifts of the Beatitudes because they are the attributes of Christ.

Today is remembered in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Part of that tradition involves honoring one’s ancestors.  Another part of it is acknowledging that death isn’t the end.  It is a celebration of remembrance and anticipation.

We will see those who departed in Christ again in the next world, in the new heaven and earth.

According to the message of Genesis 3  we are all dead- every person living will die.  In Christ we have His promise of eternal life.  The Day of the Dead is for those who went before us, the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews speaks of. (Hebrews 12:1-2)  We celebrate their lives.  We mourn their absence.  We think about what we may have done differently.  We pray for the grace to forgive where we need to forgive. But ultimately the lives of those witnesses serve to point us to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One Who is beside us and with us always, the One Who broke the curse of death so that we may live.

 

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.