What is Truth? John 18:33-38, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Matthew 10:34

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So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Pilate was not a Jew and had little to no understanding of Jewish laws and customs. He would not have known all the references in the Old Testament that speak of Jesus and of His kingdom. Pilate would not have been able to comprehend that as he was condemning the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 55 he was also condemning the Lord of Life, the I AM God.

Pilate did understand the power of Caesar- of tangible, absolute, military authority. However, Roman society was very tolerant of just about every type of religious belief or observance as long as it was understood that in practical and temporal applications, Caesar was “lord of all.”  As far as religious belief went, the attitude was, “I have my truth, you have yours.” Pantheism (the worship of many gods) was the norm in Roman society.  There were gods for everything from fertility, to the oceans, to the harvest. People were thought to be strange if they didn’t indulge in worshiping a pantheon of gods.

We can identify to some degree with Roman society in that there is a smorgasbord of philosophical, religious and spiritual beliefs out there. As Americans we hold the freedom of religious exercise in high esteem if for no other reason than we don’t want to face persecution for our own beliefs.  Political correctness blurs the line even further when we are shamed or made to feel uneducated because we speak up for the truth even when it offends some people.  Truth is never made false simply because it is unpopular.

Christianity is not compatible with the postmodern concept of relativism or with the pantheistic, hedonistic, anything goes idiom of ancient Rome. The message of Christianity has never been the nebulous “find your own truth” philosophy that is so prevalent and pervasive today. Pilate had a philosophical conundrum with “the truthiness of truth,” but reality is that truth is objective.

Truth is not based on feelings. Truth is not based on expediency. Sometimes truth is painful. The way of the Cross is the way of the truth even though it seems silly to the rest of the world.  The apostle Paul teaches us: “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)

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

As the church year ends, we certainly are aware of the things are wrong with this world, and we groan right along with the rest of creation as it endures the weight of the curse of the Fall. We are bogged down in the world of now, and the promise of not-yet seems far away.

Truth is concrete. It is not flexible or subjective.  The truth is there is a Lord of All.  The truth is that the way to life is found only in the Way, the Truth and the Life- Jesus- the One Who went to the Cross to die to save us from sin, death and the power of evil.

 

 

June 27, 2018 -God’s Mercies are New Every Morning- Lamentations 3:22-33

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The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.

Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.

 For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. Lamentations 3:22-33

Suffering is a common denominator across humanity. Whether a person is born privileged or in poverty, all of us are touched by the fallout of the Fall.  Sometimes we would like to think that material wealth is the answer to all earthly problems, but to see the broken relationships, chemical dependence and suicide rates among the “beautiful people,” it’s clear that money alone can only buy the misery one likes the best.  There is no escaping suffering, loss and despair by attempting to do so in burying oneself in the comforts of this material world.

It’s easy to get into a place where we blame God for suffering, but it is a non-negotiable condition of living in a fallen world. Sometimes suffering is the result of our own poor choices, and can be used by God to bring us to repentance, but more often than not, suffering is brought about by something outside of our control or ability to prevent.

The reality of suffering is that we are not the ones in control. If it were up to us we would take it all away. If it were up to us we would try to figure out some higher meaning or noble purpose for suffering.  Sometimes we can see a purpose for it, but most of the time we are simply left to endure it and keep on wondering why. We are challenged by suffering to simply trust God when we do not understand.

It is encouraging to know that no matter what suffering we must endure as a condition of being a fallen creature that Jesus walks with us in our suffering. We are being tried and prepared for life with God forever.  Our bodies will age and decay and wither. We will all know grief and loss. Even so, there will come a day when suffering will end. There is life beyond the limitations of this world.

Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations, was most familiar with suffering. He was sent to the people of Israel by God as a prophet, set aside to warn the people of God’s impending judgment on them.  The people weren’t terribly thrilled with Jeremiah’s message, even throwing him into a cistern to sink into the mud and die. (Jeremiah 38)  Nobody likes to hear that they are screwing up and that their screw ups are coming back to bite them.

Yet Jeremiah had hope even though his earthly life was rather bleak and he endured a great deal of persecution and suffering precisely because of his assignment from God. Jeremiah points us to the hope he had in God.

Jesus, too was no stranger to suffering.  The prophet Isaiah foresaw His coming as the Suffering Servant. (Isaiah 53:1-5)  Jesus knows the suffering of fallen humanity because He shared in it.

God’s mercy is always fresh and new. God is always listening to our prayers, God the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf, and in Jesus we have the assurance that He has died to save us from our sins and that we will be made whole and our tears will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4.)

We can trust in the compassion of God and know that in Him is comfort and peace, even when our circumstances would argue otherwise.

 

A Scion of David, God of the Impossible-Ezekiel 17:22-24, Romans 8:20-21

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Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” Ezekiel 17:22-24 (ESV)

Old Testament prophets usually had the unenviable job of being the bearers of bad news. Often they found their ways into various tortures and martyrdoms because of the messages God charged them to bear. Ezekiel had plenty of bad news for the people of Israel, but he also had good news.

There is a theme throughout Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the Lord of All, the Suffering Servant, yet always the King of Kings- the theme that God always preserves His people. (Isaiah 11) God makes a way when the way seems impossible, and he usually uses humble and unlikely people and things to make His will come to pass.

God isn’t impressed by the strength of men. Money, power, weapons, etc. can’t buy anyone entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  The strongest empires eventually fall.  The most powerful and wealthy men eventually grow old and die and their lineages die out.  Entropy – the eventual decay and return of created things to their base elements- has been written into the order of the natural world since the Fall.  This world is in the process of passing away. God must re-make the world free of corruption, and that new re-made earth is still to come.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:20-21 (ESV)

God raised up Jesus, who in His earthly bloodline, is a scion of a long dead king (David), even though Jesus is the one who is and was the King of Kings for all eternity. The noble cedar that Ezekiel speaks of is a reference to both the line of David and to the original Temple.

The idea that Jesus was the father of David (who was Jesus’ forefather) may seem a little strange from a metaphysical perspective- how can it be that a son is his father’s father? How can it be, as Mary asked, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, much less the very Son of God?  As we learn in Luke 1:26-38, “nothing (is, was, or) will be impossible with God.”

The noble cedar, this scion of David, from this branch is Jesus. Jesus who came to be salvation and shelter for “every bird of a feather” came to us through from a most unlikely source. Jesus’ people come from every nation and people group and from all demographic backgrounds.  Jesus’ people come with every sort of history and baggage attached to them. God especially calls the unlikely, the humble, the downtrodden, and the weak.  He is known for making something out of nothing- for raising the dead, to breathing life into dry bones.

Do we trust in God, even in the face of the physically and logically impossible? We aren’t called to check our brains at the door, but we are challenged to trust the Author of the universe. We aren’t promised that we will get the answers we want or that our lives will be made easy. In our baptism and at the table of the Lord’s Supper we are named and claimed as God’s own.  We are brought into His body and made new creations even as we sometimes slog through life in this broken world and we are currently living the difficult paradox of now and not yet.

We are fragile, flawed and captive to sin, but at the same time we are made God’s beloved because Jesus humbled Himself, allowing Himself to be tortured and killed (the punishment we deserve see- Isaiah 53:5) and became the sacrifice to cover our sins. Even when it seems impossible, God speaks and it happens.  He has spoken, and it will be.  In Jesus, God comes to us in a most unlikely way.  God is with us, has been with us, and will be with us.

April 9, 2018 Forgive and Be Forgiven- John 20:19-23, Luke 23:33-34, Matthew 11:25-30

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On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23 (ESV)

So what could Jesus say to us today about forgiveness?

Most Protestant Christians, including Lutherans, don’t practice regular confession and absolution. Since every human alive is also a sinner, it might be a good practice for us to revisit. While Lutherans don’t view confession as a sacrament like Roman Catholics do, we are called to confess our sins and to hear the words of absolution proclaimed to us. When Pastor proclaims the forgiveness of our sins during corporate confession in worship, or in private confession, he is simply passing along the forgiveness and absolution that Jesus has already won for us.

It is not possible to go through life without being offended in some way or another. It is also not possible for us to go through life without offending others. We sin without thinking about it, all day long. We make comments, we forget to do things we should do, and we break the Law all day long whether we know it or not.  Other people do the same things to us that we do to them, because they are lawbreakers too.  We are iustus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time) indeed.

Someone might cut us off while driving, or take the last donut that we really wanted. Those are fairly easy offenses to forgive.  Other offenses are not so easily forgiven.  Those of us who have suffered physical or emotional abuse, or have otherwise endured serious harm from another have a lot harder time forgiving.  If the petition of the Lord’s Prayer that affirms “Thy will be done” is the most difficult of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is the second most difficult petition.  It’s not easy to let go of a grudge, even though it’s hard to see how hanging on to our angst against someone might somehow punish them in some way.  It’s like taking poison in the hopes of making one’s enemy ill.

Even though on examination we find holding a grudge doesn’t make rational sense, the pain of suffering from serious offenses is nothing to trivialize. Everyone who has spent much time on this planet in the company of other sinners is a member of the “walking wounded” to some degree.  Some of us suffer from unspeakable wounds both deep and profound.  How are we supposed to forgive the most evil of offenses?  Just ignoring things and failing to acknowledge our pain is not a valid answer. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or not feeling, rather it is a choice to let the offense go and to leave our pain and anger to God.  Sometimes we also have to seek other believers who can pray for and with us, and offer us spiritual and emotional care, as God ministers to us through the Body of Christ (as in other Jesus followers!)  We who have the same hope and the same Lord need to encourage each other and give each other strength. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-11)

We follow Jesus’ example when we forgive, Jesus who forgave His tormentors (as they were rolling the dice to divvy up His clothes,) even while He was enduring the unfathomable and unimaginable suffering of the Cross.

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:33-34 (ESV)

When we forgive as Jesus forgives us, not only are we forgiven, but He gives us His peace. Because He has taken the punishment that brings us peace, and bears the wounds that bring our healing (Isaiah 53:5) we can endure.  We can surrender the burden of our pain to Him.  We look to the Cross for our healing.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)

It may sound simplistic and silly to simply trust Jesus and surrender our sins, our burdens and our pain to Him. But it is only in Him- and in entrusting those who offend or “trespass against us” to Jesus. We look to the Author of our salvation to find forgiveness, healing and rest.

March 22, 2018- Rest for the Weary- Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 23:1-2

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The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

In light of current events, much has been said about the role of bullying and violence in schools. Being spit on, having one’s hair (or beard) pulled out, and being beaten on are not pleasant experiences. In the storms of pain and humiliation it is human nature to want to lash out and retaliate rather than to simply endure. Endurance is harder than revenge, even when we know that our rage is pointless and will not make a difference in the amount or the duration of the pain we endure.

If there is one thing common to the human experience it is suffering, whether it comes from our own human failings or it is inflicted by the hands of others. Even if one is not literally being spit on or beaten, the storms of life wear us down. We all get weary.  We all long for rest and resolution.

Jesus knows what it is to share in our suffering. He did not fight back against His tormentors. Instead, He silently endured the punishments that we deserve.  He knows our pain and anguish when we are tormented and weary.  He is with us and He shares in our pain.

The One who vindicates us, who restores us, who brings us rest, has been where we are and worse. Jesus knows the humiliation and violation of being mocked, spit on, of being scourged, and ultimately of being nailed to a tree.

It’s not easy to stand in times of trial. Even so we can have the courage to say along with the Suffering Servant as He stands with us: Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me!

Jesus knows our weariness. He has fought our battles.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow and leads us to refreshment and rest.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-2 (NRSV)

November 24, 2017 – Christ, the King! Colossians 2:6-19, Matthew 20:25-28

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As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision  by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV)

Speaking of kings seems like a very old fashioned thing to do.  The United States declared independence from the British monarchy 241 years ago.  Admittedly, King George III was a rather tyrannical monarch, and history has proven over and over that one man having absolute power will lead to absolute corruption.  Human monarchies typically are not terribly effective forms of government.  Dictatorships are even worse.  Why should One Guy be in charge of everything?

In Scripture we learn that even the “good kings” like David, Solomon and Hezekiah had tragic faults. The “bad kings” were Really Bad. So why would we want to call Jesus “King?”

The answer is that Jesus simply is (that simple little word again) the King.  He was not made- He is One with the Father Who made us. Unlike human beings who want to think they have some kind of divine calling to rule over other humans, Jesus is the divine ruler.  No debate, and no proving ground was ever necessary.

Yet Jesus took the ultimate proving ground. While He could rule over humanity with an iron fist- and be within His right- Jesus took the route of sacrifice and ultimate love.  He entered into the world of humanity and took on the entire human experience, including poverty, suffering and an unspeakable death.

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As we think about Jesus the conquering King, we also remember He comes to us in humility and compassion. We represent Him and follow Him when we reflect His example- when we remain humble, when we sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others.

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But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

 

September 13, 2017- Are We In the Place of God? Genesis 50:15-21, Ephesians 2:10

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Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?”  So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.”  But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.  So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21 (NRSV)

Are we in the place of God?

When it comes to exacting revenge, we shouldn’t presume to stand in the place of God, even though sometimes we really want to.

Surprisingly Joseph doesn’t choose to repay his brothers for selling him into slavery even though he would have every right to do so. In our lives there are so many times we want to take our pound of flesh from everyone who has wronged us, and we want to play the tit for tat game.

The problem with playing tit for tat- exacting our own revenge- is that we don’t have God’s perspective on the purpose of events in our lives.

Joseph’s brothers had no idea that the pesky younger brother who was their father’s favorite would be transformed from being a slave into a savior.

In some ways Joseph teaches us about one of his descendants- Jesus- Who became the suffering servant and ultimately the Savior of all.

Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice and joined us in our humanity. Humanity rewarded Him by hanging Him on a tree to die.

Yet God’s mercy and grace abound even when we betray our fellow humans. Like Joseph, Jesus comes to us as a brother, a friend, and offers us provision in our times of desperation and need instead of the vengeance we deserve.

Joseph ended up in Egypt for the very purpose of preserving his family- a family that includes Jesus’ ancestors. God knew what was happening to Joseph was ultimately for good even though Joseph’s brothers intended their actions for evil.

How do we know that the cruelty someone else inflicts on us today may not end up as a means for us to glorify God?

Sometimes being merciful is hard. It’s difficult to forgive when we have been wounded.  But sometimes that’s God’s plan for us, to forgive the unforgivable and love the unlovable.

We may not stand in the place of God, but we can trust that He stands with us, and that He will give us what we need to do the good things He intended for us to do. Even when it’s hard.  Even when we want revenge.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)