October 11, 2019- Jesus, the Healer and Restorer is Faithful – Mark 5:25-34

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And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:25-34 (ESV)

“Faith healing” is often seen (and for the most part, probably should be) as a parlor trick or as a hustle and scam perpetrated by false teachers.  If we witness something that’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Yet Jesus’ healing is different than  parlor tricks or the quid pro quo scams of the hustlers.  Jesus does not heal on our demand, or in exchange for anything we do, or according to how much we pay.

Instead, Jesus declares to the woman trusting in Him for healing: Your faith has made you well.

The question about faith is: “faith in what, or in whom?”  Faith must have an object.  We have faith that the concrete bridge on the freeway will hold up the car as we drive over it. We can see the bridge, and we trust that since it held the car up yesterday that it will hold the car up today.  We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning, because we can see it and we can feel its warmth, but because we can’t see Him, we struggle with faith in Jesus, who is Lord over both the concrete bridge, and who is the one who created the sun.  The concrete bridge (that we really don’t give a lot of thought to) that we trust to endure was made by fallible men, and the sun, as timeless as it appears to be, is a created thing that God designed to have a limited and finite lifespan. We trust both of those created things without really thinking about them, because we can see and touch them, but both of those created things, eventually, will fail.

Jesus will never fail, and His word always accomplishes its purpose.  Our faith is well placed in Him, but we struggle with that faith, especially when we can’t see how and when He is working.

We struggle with that faith because we can’t always see Jesus’ fidelity.  We suffer tragic and unforeseen losses- natural disasters, and man-made disasters that make no sense. We see children die of cancer even when we prayed for their lives to be spared, and that loss causes us to doubt Jesus’ power to heal. We encounter senseless violence and destruction every time we turn on the news. We question, “How can a merciful God who claims to love us allow this senseless violence to continue?” We cry out to God, “How long!” when we endure and continue to observe what seems to be endless suffering and pain.  When we have to wait on the fulfillment of His promises, the waiting can be hard. It is easy to lose hope in this fallen world.

We are still subject to and are witnessing the effects of the Fall that brought sin and death into the world. We are painfully aware that in this world suffering and death and loss are the defaults, even as we are painfully aware that death is not normal and suffering is not acceptable.  We see the kingdom of God to a degree today, but as the apostle Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Faith is trusting Jesus, who we can’t see clearly and completely while we still have one foot here in the earthly kingdom.

We do get to see glimpses of Jesus and His healing power breaking into this world through His ministry here on earth. We see the woman who was healed of her bleeding disease after suffering for twelve years.  We see Jairus’ daughter in that same chapter of Scripture, being raised from the dead.

What we don’t see about Jesus’ physical healings and His miraculous raising people from the dead while He lived here on earth was that these people still physically died.  They were still ultimately subject to the curse of sin and death. The woman who touched Jesus’ garment is not still living on this earth.  The little girl who Jesus raised for a time, is long since dead and buried, awaiting the re-creation of heaven and earth.

Jesus is always the Author of healing- whether it be through the means of medical science, through medication, or through the natural processes of the body.  Sometimes His plan for us does involve delaying or even denying our bodily healing for a time. And until Jesus returns, all of creation is subject to the curse of decay and death.

Ultimately Jesus will be the Author of a new heaven and a new earth and we will have incorruptible bodies.

The apostle Paul explains: Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 (ESV)

So in whom do we place our faith?

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10 (ESV)

Our life with Jesus began in our baptism.  How joyful it is to know that we too, will be healed- maybe here and now, or maybe not, but we will be healed- permanently- when Jesus returns.

 

August 22, 2018- Traveling With the Bread of Life- Mark 8:4-21

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Now they (Jesus’ disciples) had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he (Jesus) cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:4-21 (ESV)

The disciples may have forgotten their bread, but they also forgot they were traveling with the Bread of Life.

The apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:9 that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” If we start thinking to ourselves, “we need Jesus AND…” (which every single one of us is tempted to do,) that is a problem. The false gospel the Judaizers were trying to spread of “Jesus AND… circumcision and obeying the Mosaic Law” was a serious problem in the Galatian church. The apostle Paul suggests that the Judaizers shouldn’t stop at circumcision, but remove the whole member as well, (Galatians 5:12) to get his point across. Nobody is saved by law-keeping.

We can’t earn salvation or curry favor with God based on what we do. We are sinful creatures saved, redeemed and justified by the grace of God in Christ alone- or not at all. Nothing can add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to save us from our sins. He saves us alone. It is a gift of grace. He is enough.

Nothing we can do, say, buy or possess is going to be of any use to us beyond this world. We can possess everything and master everything this world has to offer. We can be immersed in a worldly buffet that features every kind of food our hearts desire. But without Jesus, when the end of our days comes, we will be destitute, starving and hopeless. The apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Ephesians that apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Thankfully trespasses, sins and death are not the end of the story for us who trust Jesus.

When Jesus speaks of the baskets of broken pieces, many scholars believe He was referring to twelve baskets to feed the twelve tribes of Israel and seven baskets to feed the Gentile nations. Jesus’ multiplying the bread to feed the five thousand, and then the four thousand was an illustration to the disciples that He has come to give Himself as sustenance for the entire world.

How often do we focus on our worry about bread for the belly and all our cares about all the mess of everyday life? We get ourselves mired in anxiety over bread that only sustains us for today, and we get worked up over cares that don’t matter two cents in the context of forever. Like the disciples in this text, we don’t realize that we are in the presence of Jesus, the very Bread of Life. He is holding us, sustaining us, giving us the gifts of faith and grace and repentance and salvation. We can trust him, rest in Him, and know that He is walking with us.

We are traveling with the Bread of Life. Even when we don’t always see His hand holding us up, even when we forget that Jesus feeds us with His own Body- the everlasting Bread from heaven, Jesus is with us- in this world and the next.

March 7, 2018- The Courts of the Lord and Trusting God- Psalm 84

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How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob.  Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. Psalm 84 (NIV)

Trust is central to the human experience. Psychologist Erik Erickson explains this in his theory of child development. In Erikson’s first psychosocial stage, which he names as trust vs. mistrust, and lasts from birth until the age of around eighteen months, children learn to trust (or to mistrust) the world around them.  Children should be able to trust that their parents or caretakers are going to keep them fed, clean and secure.  According to Erikson, children who do not receive appropriate care in that early stage will continually struggle with mistrusting the world around them.  There is research that supports children who do not grow up learning to trust parents and caregivers are prone to trust issues and anxiety for the rest of their lives.

Most people experience varying degrees of mistrust. Sometimes it truly isn’t safe to trust the environment around us, and a healthy sense of trepidation is necessary. Even in a place of relative security, people who live with chronic (and sometimes unwarranted) anxiety for whatever reason, whether it be from traumatic childhoods, from chemical imbalances in their brains, or from experiences later in life, have a very difficult time with trust.  It’s hard to trust God when people have let you down- or when your own brain chemistry plays tricks on you.

Faith in God is a gift to us from the Holy Spirit. We are not able to come to faith save for God’s intervention.  In our Baptism we are named and claimed as God’s own.  He gives us the comfort of knowing that even though we can’t always trust the world around us, or even trust ourselves, God is always faithful and worthy of our trust.

The Kingdom of God is everywhere God is- which is everywhere! In a sense we are already present in God’s courts, when we gather with our family and friends, when we pray, when we experience God’s presence in Holy Communion.  We can take joy in those moments now, as well as we look forward to the day when we will be living completely and fully in God’s Kingdom forever.

January 16, 2018- Jesus Loves His Children- Luke 18:15-17, 1 Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:29-30

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People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17

Innocence and trust are not valuable commodities in today’s culture. Being vulnerable is dangerous- because in this world, unguarded vulnerability will be rewarded with exploitation and broken trust.

Almost daily we hear of children being neglected and abused by the very people they should be able to trust.  Children themselves can be very cruel to other children, causing their bullied peers to close off and shut down. The world can be an unsafe place for a trusting soul or a tender, innocent one. We learn- far too early- to go on defense so we can avoid being hurt.

As children become adults we become jaded and cynical. We get rougher around the edges and thicker skinned in response to all the disappointments and stresses and heartaches we necessarily endure.

Some days we wake up and discover that the color and the wonder is gone from our lives. We don’t get excited about it being time for cartoons, or ecstatic that the weather is right to go out and run through the sprinkler. We get to the point where we are more worried about how crazy we would appear to the neighbors should we decide to run through the sprinkler. We stop seeing the beauty in the fire of the sunset, and we don’t stop to marvel at the majesty of a rainbow.  We’re more worried about the next mortgage payment or that the car is due for an oil change.  In the busyness of life we miss the real meaning of life- we miss celebrations, joy, wonder and delight.

Jesus wants us to respond in wonder and delight to His kingdom. He wants us to be open to wonder, and vulnerable to grace.  He wants us to be excited about flowers blooming and to revel in the smell of puppy breath.  He wants us to sing as though no one is listening, and dance like no one is watching.

Most importantly He calls us to love as though our hearts have never been broken.

Children haven’t learned to put conditions upon love- conditions like, “if you love me back,” or “if you stay thin,” or “if you don’t get sick.” Children love without motive or guile.  That’s the way Jesus wants us to love Him and to love one another- that all-encompassing, innocent child-like love that is a “just because” love.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

Surrendering our cynicism is a choice- it is one of those burdens we carry to which Jesus responds, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NIV)

We are supposed to be responsible people. We can’t ignore the mortgage or vehicle maintenance or all those mundane tasks.  It is necessary to do things that aren’t always rewarding or fun or joyful.

However, we also can’t get to a place where our worry and busyness steal our joy.  We have to make the choice for joy.  We have to be open and vulnerable to the call of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus invites us to love, to dance, to sing and to open our hearts and minds and ears and eyes.

Are we willing to join Him?

September 1, 2017 – Vindication- Psalm 26:1-8

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Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

 O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26:1-8 (NRSV)

On the surface this looks like the Psalmist is praying a pretty arrogant prayer, but his focus is not on us or our good deeds. His focus is on God’s love and our response to it.

What integrity do we have in and of ourselves? Absolutely none.

What ability do we have to be steadfast or loving of our own accord? Again, absolutely none.

Apart from the intrinsic value we have as children of God, and assuming that transplant organs are not sold for a dollar value, what exactly are the materials that comprise our physical bodies worth? About $5.

How many human beings are hypocrites? 100%.

How many human beings do evil and are wicked? 100%.

The Psalmist does speak of his integrity, his trust, his steadfastness, his faithfulness, and his innocence, but all the while his focus is on vindication, which can only come from God.  If we have any integrity, trust, steadfastness, faithfulness or innocence, these are not inherent to ourselves, but given to us as gifts from God.

 Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines vindication as: the state of being vindicated; specifically :  justification against denial or censure.

Without that vindication, if not for God choosing to justify us, we are the worthless, the hypocrites, the evildoers, and the wicked. End of story, perhaps.

We live the paradox of being saint and sinner (simul justus et peccator– the teacher and theologian RC Sproul, while not a Lutheran, explains Luther’s concept very well here) so we are all of these terrible things…but we’re also not.

The Psalmist is affirming in this prayer and song (for a Psalm is a prayer originally meant to be sung) how God envisions us, and he is giving us the definition of who God created us to be.

We trust in Jesus’ integrity, Jesus’ trustworthiness, Jesus’ steadfastness, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ faithfulness, Jesus’ worth- all the things that we do not have save by His grace.

Because Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for many, we are made into saints- even as we are still sinners.  He is continually calling us to Him, and turning our hearts more and more toward Him.

Do we desire what God desires, and freely gives, to us?  Do we have (in Christ) the confidence to join the Psalmist in his prayer?

August 16, 2017 – Wooden Idols and Other Gods Who Cannot Save – Isaiah 45:20-25, Daniel 4:28-33

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Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge—those who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior;  there is no one besides me.

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.

Isaiah 45:20-25 (NRSV)

 

In Western culture a wooden, man-made idol is seldom seen as having any other power other than that of an aesthetic appeal. We can appreciate the craftsmanship and the artwork involved in the manufacture of such idols, but generally we don’t regard such things as being divine or deserving of worship.

Our idolatries are much more subtle and perhaps more insidious. The first commandment of God is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  That sounds easy enough until we are put on the spot.

Who (or what) do we run to in times of trouble? Who (or what) do we rely upon for our provision?

Do we think money will buy our way out of problems? How many times have we thought, “If only I had enough money I wouldn’t have to worry about this or that problem?”

Do we think our own intelligence or our connections with other people will see us through trials?

It has been said that the root of all sin (sin being anything that goes against God’s will) is pride- trusting in our way instead of looking for God’s way. There is another old expression that states, “Pride goes before a fall.”

Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king of Babylon who had convinced himself that he was omnipotent (all powerful) and in control of everything.  God had different ideas, and found it necessary to let Nebuchadnezzar know who was really in charge:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you!  You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws. – Daniel 4:28-33 (NRSV)

 As much as we would like to believe the idolatry of Western society at times, especially the myth that each of us is “captain of our own souls,” in truth, God is the one in control.  It took Nebuchadnezzar a rather harsh lesson to understand the sovereignty of God, but ultimately he got the message.

When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.

I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?”

At that time my reason returned to me; and my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom. My counselors and my lords sought me out, I was re-established over my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. Daniel 4:34-37 (NRSV)

Intelligence, financial resources, friends in high places, and even political power are not necessarily bad things. However, everything we are and everything we have are gifts from God.  God expects us to put the gifts He has given us to good use, however, when we value the gift in higher esteem than the Giver, we lose our foundation and perspective.  When we put God first, He brings the rest of our lives into balance.

Are we putting our trust in the One True God?

March 22, 2017- Bring the Children- Luke 18:16-17

 

jesus_w_children_600But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17 (NRSV)

Children are bold and trusting by nature, until they spend some time out in the real world where hurts and betrayals happen. Parents and caregivers constantly give cautions to trusting young children because young children haven’t learned the difference between when it’s OK to trust, and when it’s dangerous to trust.

As part of the process of living and growing up most children end up with a healthy dose of cynicism and reticence toward the world before reaching adulthood. We become too distrustful and jaded for our own good.  In many ways that distrust and cynicism is warranted, as the world isn’t always a very safe place and life can be hard at times.  Friends and family fall short of their promises.  Disappointments and hurts happen.  There are many instances in which it is downright dangerous to trust others.

As we come of age we lose that childlike innocence and we pick up all kinds of inhibitions and doubts- even if they come from legitimate efforts to stay safe- that make it harder for us to simply trust.

Jesus says that we need to come to Him with that childlike innocence and hard-wired trust that only children have. He welcomes us to Him in perfect love and safety.

That’s not easy to do. Especially for adults with jaded and cynical minds and the emotional and spiritual scars that come along with living life.

This is why the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf to help us surrender the things that would keep us away from God and bring us to Jesus- the Way, the Truth and the Life. He wants us to surrender our burdens, our fears, our pain, our sins- everything.

(Jesus said): “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NRSV)

We can trust Jesus with everything we are- without reservations, without fear, and without limits. And we have the Holy Spirit always available to help us do that.