December 8, 2019- Advent 8, Luke 8- Jesus and Women, Good Soil, His Message is for All People, Calm in the Storm

Jesus on the water

Read Luke 8,

Today we see Jesus continuing His ministry of teaching and healing.  Here Luke focuses on Jesus’ high regard for women.  There were many women who followed Jesus as disciples- Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna are named here.  In a culture that regarded women on the same level as property or livestock, this was a big deal.

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone.

.She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Luke 8:43-48 (ESV)

As Jesus was on His way to see Jairus’ daughter, this woman with a bleeding disease touched His garment.  He had such pity on her and her faith that He could heal her that she was immediately healed,  And Jesus went on and healed Jairus’ daughter as well.

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:9-15 (ESV)

Jesus shows His disciples that His message and the Word of God is for everyone, even women and tax collectors and those who are not Jewish, but not everyone will respond to the preaching of God’s Word.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and we do not know who will receive that gift and who will not.

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Luke 8:16-18 (ESV)

The Good News of Jesus is meant to be shared.  We can’t help but to spread the light we have been given.  As we spread the Good News around, we continue to grow in faith and grace and maturity.

Jesus gives us a lesson about the meaning of family as well.  It’s not necessarily about our biological family, but the family of God.

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Luke 8:19-21 (ESV)

Jesus encourages us even more as He calms the storm.

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” Luke 8:22-25 (ESV)

We freak out when our circumstances seem overwhelming.  But we don’t always remember that Jesus is in control of everything,  He does have command of everything, whether we understand this or not.

One of the more intriguing accounts of Jesus healing people is of the demoniac so possessed by evil demons (“My name is Legion,” which means thousands,) that he could not be held by chains.  Jesus drives the demons into a herd of pigs, (Jews considered pigs to be unclean animals, not fit to eat) who then run off a cliff to drown themselves.  The man is made clean and coherent.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 38:39 (ESV)

Most of us are called to go out into the world to our vocations- to be employees, employers, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers.  But no matter what our vocations may be we are  all called to live out our calling as believers in Jesus. Our lives and conduct should be witness to how much God has done for us.

Jesus has set us free from sin and death and our own sinful natures to that we can go out and be His witnesses.  Thank God for Emmanuel, God with us, who heals our deepest wounds and gives us the gift of eternal life.

 

March 14, 2019 – Faith in the One Who the Wind and the Sea Obey – Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 24:24, John 1:1-5

jesus calms the sea

On that day, when evening had come, he (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41 (ESV)

All of us face anxiety over circumstances in our lives. Everyone has been through some form of calamity, uncertainty or distress, whether it is something as trivial as running out of coffee, or as catastrophic as a natural disaster or an untimely death of a loved one.

Even though Jesus had chosen these men as His disciples, and they had Jesus right there with them, they were still terrified. They still cried out to Him- “Do something!”

Does it seem to us as if Jesus is sleeping at times- that He is not aware of our need, or that He doesn’t care about our suffering?

The disciples struggled with fear and a lack of faith just like we do- even though they could see, walk with and touch Jesus. The evidence was right there with them, visible, audible, tangible, and they still struggled with faith. No wonder our faith is often weak.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

Faith is a gift from God. Jesus is right here with us just as He was with His disciples in the boat during that storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The difficult part for us is that we can’t see Him or reach out and touch Him.  Faith is not rational.  Some people will claim that, “If I could see Jesus then I would believe in Him.”  Others are looking for Jesus to send us supernatural signs. Yet Jesus warned us that false prophets will display signs and wonders in an attempt to deceive His people (Matthew 24:24).  Faith does not always see the object in which it believes.  We can trust that in our baptism, by the water and the Word we are named and claimed as Jesus’ own, and we are given the gift of faith.  As we hear the Word taught, we learn about Jesus and grow in our faith.

The wind and the sea are subject to Jesus and His sovereignty just as all of nature is subject to Him. We have no control over the winds and the waves.  We have no control over the chemical and electrical processes in our bodies, let alone any process or machinery outside of us.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” This man is God of very God, the Word who was with God, through whom all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-5)

Jesus does know our suffering, intimately. Jesus does not just stand aside as a passive observer.  Nothing came into being without Him. Nothing exists without Him.  We can trust that He is in control of the storms and the tragedies as well as our triumphs and accomplishments.  We may not know what comes next but He does, and He is with us.

Regular Guys- Matthew 14:22-33

jesus-on-the-water

Immediately he (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)

stained glass saints.jpg

When we encounter familiar stories of Scripture- we tend to look at the disciples and other heroes of the Bible from the perspective of “These guys are on the stained glass windows, and they are portrayed in sacred art as pristine clean with pretty halos, and they are NOT us.” We refer to the venerable “saint so and so” but we forget they were saints and sinners at the same time just like us.  I hesitate to use the descriptive of “Saint so and so” when I speak of the disciples or other people portrayed in the Gospels, simply because all believers are saints. The disciples and the other saints of the Bible were guys (and girls) like us.  The disciples most likely were guys who smelled- and roughhoused, and drank, like guys.  We see the stained glass saints and think the disciples were old guys, all clean and neat and bearded and looking like my Dad if he were wearing a halo and a dress.  In reality they were young guys. The disciples were probably all in their early 20’s or maybe even younger when they walked with Jesus.  They were very young, rough and probably had coarse manners and language.

Jesus 1940s

How many times have we seen Jesus portrayed in sacred art as a clean cut, angelic, very Anglo looking man? This is a wonderful portrait that was my grandmother’s from the early 1940’s. I loved to look at that portrait as a child. Grandma had it hung on the wall in the spare bedroom.  It normally hangs there now, where my own granddaughter can see it when she stays with me.  It was a comforting image, and had someone asked me when I was five what Jesus looked like, that picture would have come to mind.

african jesus

I was a bit taken aback by a portrait of Jesus I saw when I was in college and was visiting a friend of mine who is Black. Jesus was Black- complete with an Afro- in her portrait of Him, which looked sort of strange to me until I realized that there is part of us that wants to believe Jesus looks like us, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We should see Jesus in His humanity as well as his divinity.

But if Jesus had looked like either the Anglo man or the Black man for that matter, in real life, He really would have stood out in 1st century Palestine. Had He really been haloed, sparkling clean, fair skinned, blond haired and blue eyed, or if had he had African features, He would have really stood out.  It would have been, “Hey! Check out this dude!  He looks special!  He looks different.

holygrail-arthur-3knights

I am a huge fan of Monty Python. One of my favorite Monty Python movies is called “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in which they parody the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  In one scene, King Arthur and the Knights pass by people as they are calling out, “Bring out your dead!,” and the people are picking up the bodies of plague victims and tossing them in wheelbarrows. Someone sees King Arthur, who is wearing his nice white tunic and silver and gold crown, and cries out, “He must be the king.” Another asks, “Why?,” to which the other replies, “He hasn’t got any s—t on him!”  The king was supposed to look different.  He was supposed to be above everyone else.  The king wasn’t supposed to get dirty. The implication is that the king was above all the dirtiness and nastiness of real life.

When Jesus walked the earth, He didn’t look anything like either my portrait, or my Black friend’s, or Monty Python’s King Arthur. He was a working class guy.  He was Jewish. He would have been olive-skinned, dark eyed, and dark haired like everyone else in 1st century Palestine. Nobody had running water and daily showers or Whirlpool washers- no sparkling white tunic for Jesus, or a gold and silver crown either.  He would be dusty and dirty from carpentry work and from walking around on dusty dirt roads.  His hands were calloused.  He wasn’t squeaky clean. The King probably did have doody on him, unlike King Arthur in the Monty Python movie.  First century Palestine was not known as a halcyon era of sparkling clean hygiene.  He probably “smelled like a man” and like farm animals too.  There was no such thing as Right Guard or Old Spice either.

But God has a history of picking “regular guys”- and often “rejects” at that- to do His work. God loves the misfits and the unlovely.  Jesus was described by the prophet Isaiah as the suffering servant, as “having no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” Isaiah goes on to say further that He was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:1-5)  This kind of destroys our perception of Jesus looking like Robert Plant in a toga, no matter how pretty the painting is. But Jesus was one of us. He got dirty.  He looked like us.  He suffered like us.  He felt joy like us.  He loved like us.

Along the same line, in Psalm 118:22 it is said of Jesus: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” God has a great sense of humor. The guys Jesus picked to do His work were regular guys.  The disciples were regular guys who were coarse around the edges. Today they may have been truckers, or farmers, or automotive technicians. They were regular guys who blended right into a crowd- no halos, no stained glass, and no angelic looking faces.  They didn’t go to some high faluting seminary or theological school.  They simply walked with Jesus and learned as they lived with Him.    They were saints- but we forget sometimes that they, like us, were also sinners in desperate need of grace.

The disciples were delightfully human, just like we are. These guys were scared out of their pants when Jesus appeared to them when they were in the boat in the storm, just like we would be if we saw someone we knew just randomly walking across water.  That doesn’t happen.  They were afraid. We would be afraid too.

The phrase “do not be afraid” is found numerous times in Scripture, because we ARE afraid. The disciples were afraid that their boat was going to sink.  They were also afraid that Jesus- appearing to them in a supernatural way- was a ghost and not the same “regular guy” they were used to hanging out with.

Peter is the boldest disciple, and perhaps the best example of a very fallible human among the disciples. He reaches out to Jesus in faith, in a way knowing that he can trust Jesus for what he needs to walk on water, but in another way doubting his own ability to carry it out. What could be more human than that? We have to come to that realization like Peter did that we can only navigate life- let alone walk on water- if we cry out to Jesus, and surrender to Him. Sometimes we also have to realize that Jesus comes to us through other people, who He calls and sends to us to help us carry our burdens.

There isn’t a whole lot of difference between the way the disciples reacted to Jesus and how we react. How often do we say to ourselves, “Jesus is really the Son of God,” but then we doubt His ability to get us through the difficult times in life, or we think we can walk across the water all by ourselves- until we panic and sink.

It’s good for us to hear other people’s testimony. It’s good for us to see how God is working in other people’s lives and to share how He is working in our lives.

In the Lutheran tradition we aren’t always the greatest about sharing our testimonies, but it is a good practice, not only to remind us, that hey, Jesus really is the Son of God, and He really is working in our lives, but also to make that reality known to others. We are called to encourage others and help build their faith.

We also have to remember that we don’t have to look up at stained glass windows to see the saints, and that Jesus isn’t necessarily going to appear as a very white Anglo-Saxon or as an African man with an Afro in a pretty portrait. More likely than not, the saint who walks into your life and works miracles might be dirty and coarse around the edges. More likely than not, the saint who walks in to your life will be a fallible, human person with flaws and fears and doubts. He or she might have greasy hands and dirty clothes. He or she might be the exact opposite of who you were expecting to see.

Jesus might come to us as a needy child, or an elderly woman, or as a friend with the right words of comfort at the right time. We don’t have to wait on the supernatural to see God working all around us, but we need to have eyes to see those beautiful examples of God at work.  Like the apostle Thomas, in our human nature we really do want to see and touch His wounds to prove that yes, Jesus did rise from the dead.  The more we share our testimonies and listen to those of others, our faith is strengthened.  Our minds gather the evidence that eventually makes its way to our hearts as we share with other believers.

Do we have eyes to see Jesus and to experience the saints in the “regular” world? We don’t have to have a degree in divinity or a background in theology to be as Christ to one another.  One of the beautiful concepts in Lutheran (as well as most Protestant) theology is something called the priesthood of believers– meaning that all believers are fully qualified to participate in God’s kingdom regardless of what our vocations may be.

We are also qualified to serve God through our vocations, regardless if we dig ditches or do neurosurgery or ask people if they want fries with that. In Christ we have the same potential for God to work in and through us as anyone else. God made us for His purpose, and we can do anything He intends for us to do.

Do we have the courage to share what Jesus has done for us?  Do we have the courage to believe in ourselves the way that Jesus believes in us?  We really can walk on water on God’s command if we keep our eyes and minds and hearts on Jesus.

In His strength we can do impossible things, but we have to be willing to try. We have to be willing to see the sacred and experience the supernatural in the very ordinary and perhaps unlovely people we encounter every day.

August 10, 2017 – God in the Silence 1 Kings 19:9-18

Elijah-in-the-cave

At that place he (Elijah) came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.  Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.  Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NRSV)

The Lord was not in the wind.

The Lord was not in the earthquake.

The Lord was not in the fire.

 

After the fire, a sound of sheer silence- then the Lord spoke.

Elijah was pretty depleted and worn out at this time- having just dealt with Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-46 and 1 Kings 19:1-8) He was looking for God to come to him in a big and dramatic way, wrapped up in the whirlwind, but God waited to speak to Elijah in the calm after the storm.

Most of us have been in places where the storm around us is so intense that the breath is sucked right out of us, we fall to our knees, and we have no words with which to speak. God does not abandon us in those moments, but often He waits to speak to us until the storm is over- whether the storm is the shock of a physical injury or a sudden tragedy or the blow of a deep disappointment- or, like Elijah, when we are coming to the end of ourselves and what we can handle. He lets us rage and scream and bargain, and once we have completely emptied out our hearts and souls, God steps into that silent, empty space.  He speaks words of comfort and peace and healing, but after the storms, in the silence. He speaks through the silence so we can’t help but hear His words.

There is a strong theme of redemption and restoration and continuity in this passage as well. God reminds Elijah that he is not alone (even though he thinks he is the last man standing, he is not) and that God’s work will go on even after Elijah’s work is done.  In the silence after the storm, after God passes over Elijah’s fatigue and frustration and burnout, God spells out what Elijah has left to do, and who will carry on after he is gone.

Elisha will finish off and continue some of the projects that Elijah started. It’s encouraging to hear that, that the work we do for God’s kingdom is part of an ongoing endeavor.  We build on to the work of those who were before us, and God will ensure that there are people after us to build on the work we have done, even though sometimes when we are tired and burned out and overwhelmed by grief and sorrow , we think, “I am the only person doing anything for God.”

The truth is that God’s work will get done.  We as individuals aren’t called to do it all. The laborers might be few and the work intense, but God finds a way.  That doesn’t mean that we should just bow out and miss out on the joy of serving because “someone else will do it,” but it does mean that we are in this together.  Everyone has his or her purpose in God’s plan along with others.  Bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth is something we do together, not a solo effort.

Do we trust God that He does speak to us in the silence, and that we are not called to be-all and do-all, rather we are called to complete the purpose He created us for, to contribute a piece of an ongoing tapestry, to write a chapter in a never-ending story?

In the end, in the silence, God brings us rest. There will be a day when we will see Jesus and He will say to us:  “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”-  Matthew 25:21