Tuesday, January 27, 2015

know fear Mark 1:21-28 Psalm 111

Mark's gospel moves fast. Right from the start of Jesus faced off with daemonic forces. Jesus power over the forces of evil comes clear. Even if people did not recognize Jesus as God there's no doubt the daemons knew, feared, and obeyed him (in Mark 1:24-29). The people in the synagogue Capernaum witnessed a human crying out. They saw him come to peace as Jesus spoke to the unseen force that possed him. They watched, not seeing, as Jesus battled cosmic forces. They only saw two human beings, but the words of the man and of Jesus revealed the whole story.

Wow, just when you think it's safe to come to church you hear about Jesus battling a daemon. You might think nothing controversial will happen after Christmas and the annual meeting (for most Lutherans at least). But this story jumps off the of page. Jesus, right from the start, battled daemons (Mark 1:23-24). Some like to think of Jesus as a wise teacher and guide who just loves everybody with a kind of bland acceptance. Jesus was more than a teacher. Thankfully He didn't come only bringing some knowledge. We need more than direction. We need a savior. The real Jesus has power that makes daemons tremble and that's the power changes everything. It calls the mind wisdom from the past read in Psalm 111:10 (NRSV)
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice ita have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
So we ask why, if Jesus the God/man came for the hurting, would we fear him? We learn to fear God not because he plans to hurt us but because he is the one in the universe with real power to help us. He came not because we sort of kind of need a savior but because we deal daily with powers that are greater than us. We need a God who is awesome and capable of taking on enemies that can overpower us. We need a God who can break us free from bondage--and who can and will do it again and again. David Lose wrote,
God – especially in Mark’s Gospel – regularly shows us where we least expect God to be. In authoritative teaching? Sure, but also in the plight of a man possessed by an unclean spirit. In the tearing open of the heavens...? Sounds pretty biblical, but also in the piercing cry of despair from Jesus on the cross when the only one that recognized God’s presence was the one who crucified him.

Our God is a God of the broken, and our church is a fellowship of the needy. That’s pretty much all it takes...to be a member of Jesus’ disciples then or now: recognition of your deep need and trust that Jesus has come to meet it.
Jesus didn't come to guide us so we could live righteously. He came to be our savior. He came to love the whole world--giving his very self in the end. We as Jesus followers, like Jesus, are sent into the world for the sake of the broken. God sends us to the hurting with a promise that God's kingdom is near and that God has stepped in on the side of those broken by sin, death, and evil.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

a call for you John 1:43-51

Jesus' ministry was no solo affair. He invited people to join him. Since early on the people Jesus called invited others along to come and follow too. Jesus' disciples were more than just students who came along for a week or a semester of great lectures. Jesus called them to walk along with him. Yes they got to know him as teacher but more than that they knew him as a true friend. They learned much more than information or philosophy from this great teacher. Jesus invited them to come and see God breaking in. They saw first hand what God was doing in our world. They were witnesses to the kingdom of God coming into the world.

With nearly all our Christmas and New Years celebrations wound down it's a very good time to talk abut Christmas. January, especially in places where it's cold and dark, is a great month to remember the heart of the Christmas celebration: God breaking into our lives. And now we hear Jesus inviting others to come and see how the Kingdom is coming close.

I'm borrowing a theme from Max Lucado. He said, in God's Story, Your Story: Part 1, When God's Story Becomes Your a phrase that really captures my imagination. “Your story indwells God's”. Lucado says God is writing a story that's summed up in John 3:16. God's story started with creation. It took a distinct turn at Christmas coming ever closer to our stories. God's story runs through a cross. And as we hear Jesus call his first follower to come and see we find our place in that same great story of God's love for the world.

Jesus came not just for one day 2000 years ago. He came for that day, for every yesterday since, for today, and for every tomorrow to come until we meet God face to face. Jesus comes today and will come tomorrow. He's writing a story today in history already knowing the end. He's writing a story that has a place for each believer to live out our stories of faith. You have a place in God's even greater story. Jesus' story the one that includes Bethlehem miracles, seaside calling to fishermen to put down their nets and follow includes your story. Jesus story of daemon defeats and disease healing includes the story of everyone saved by faith. Jesus the one who confronted hypocrites, was tempted by Satan, endured the cross, and the empty tomb is writing a story. And the story of every one who follows Jesus fits right inside. The promise is that each of our stories fit into this even bigger story. The way I see it God's writing a story that starts with love for the world, dropped to the depths of suffering in the cross, and rose to the heights of new life on Easter Sunday. And today he invites us to come and see.

Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

God's timing Jeremiah 31:31-34

About 7 years ago I was blessed with a very patient group of folks willing to read through the whole book of Jeremiah. We wanted to learn what a real honest to goodness prophet sounded and acted like. Jeremiah fits the bill of an honest to God prophet.
What I learned most from reading Jeremiah was

  1. his persistence
  2. his sense of God's plan even in the middle of terrible trials
Peace and thanks for reading

A Christmas Metaphor

The reality of what happened at Christmas is so outrageous—on the outside—we claim today that God infinite and forever has come and lived among us. He is now one of us but he hasn't lost any of his glory—that's the meaning of Christmas. The grace and truth of Christmas is more than Jesus looking like a person—the God of Glory has come and lived with us. He's more than just a hologram, a phantom or a magicians illusion. This was God in flesh. This is God with us, our Emmanuel.

Now I want you to imagine it this way.
Imagine a die hard fan of a purple clad football team deciding he needed to become one with the fans of another team famous for wearing cheese heads. Maybe you imagine that die hard Viking fan might put a green and gold Packers jersey over his beloved purple one—but maybe that wouldn't be enough. That would be like a young man who lost a bet with a relative and had to wear a packer jersey to school on Monday. But later when asked about it he said he was extra careful to make sure that packers jersey didn't actually touch his skin.

Now there are some of you here who's weeks don't rise and fall on the success of either team. And that's ok, but just for the sake of conversation let's imagine just how deeply Jesus stepped into our humanity. He became one of us.

It's one thing for a true hard core sports fan to put on the jersey of the team that gives his favorite team fits. But Jesus did more than just put on a different jersey. Jesus, God from the beginning of all time, came to earth as a human being. He did more than make cosmetic changes to his facade. He stepped into our lives. He did more than just live next us. He moved in as one of us.

Just think about a true died in the wool Viking fan. He's got purple everything every where. He could say he'd been near to Packer fans if he'd gone to Lambeau field dressed in blaze orange. But he'd only been near them if he sat silent and hadn't cheered for either team during a game. But Jesus did more than just come close to us. He became one of us.

Jesus moved into the the neighborhood. He had flesh and bones and hair and teeth. He knew temptation first hand and he became intimately acquainted with grief and loss. Jesus entered fully and totally into our story. He became one of us.

Maybe you think that if a Viking fan bought a place in DePere or Ashwabenon a few blocks from Lambeau field that would be enough. But Jesus did more than just move next to us. Imagine that same Viking fan shopping for groceries every week at the Copps store half a mile down Lombardi Avenue from the stadium. Jesus did more than live next to us and engage in commerce near us. He came born of a human mother. He became one of us in every way possible.

Imagine that Viking fan now with season tickets ten rows up from the field on the 45 yard line at Lambeau. Imagine him week after week putting forest green paint all over his torso and a bright gold G painted on his front to form the first letter in GO PACK GO. Jesus did even more than that.

The Gospel of John explains the mystery this way, the Word became flesh and he set up his dwelling, literally pitched his tent among us (John 1:.14) Where ever you might live Jesus is capable of stepping in. Whatever your joys and sorrows might be he's with you. He's one of us faithful all the way to the end.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What belongs to God?

When Jesus said, give to God what's God's and to Caesar what's Caesar's he invited his friend to full lives in 2 worlds. The story behind this maxim reveals Jesus' ability as a teacher and gives us an invitation to imagine God's place in our lives as Christ's followers today. Matthew, Luke, and Mark (even the Gospel of Thomas) all tell this same maxim (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26, Thomas 100).

Matthew says the Pharisees, hoping to trap him, came forward with a simple sounding question ... about taxes. The pharisees buttered Jesus up and then posed this concrete sounding question. “Are we to pay imperial taxes or not?”(Matthew 22:17) On the outside this question looks boring and mundane. Nobody likes taxes. But Jesus' gives guidance in his answer that matters to somebody building a new and better life based on Jesus' life, death, and rising. What Jesus says about giving to God what belongs to God and giving Caesar what's Caesar's (Matthew 22:21) opens up a whole lot of space to imagine how we live, work, and serve today as permanent citizens of heaven and people living full lives on earth today.

The Pharisees were hoping for a yes or no response. If Jesus said yes pay the tax he'd find trouble with the crowd tired of paying Roman taxes. If he replied no he would face wrath from Herod and imperial authorities. But Jesus gave no simple yes or no reply. Instead he asked for a coin and then asked seemingly innocent questions. “Who's image is on it?” “Who's title is on it?” The pharisees gave an honest answer—Caesars. Now Jesus replied—give Caesar what belongs to him and God what belongs to God.

Christian imagination is given space here to run. What does it mean to give back to God what's God? What does it mean to give back to the world and it's powers? Jesus offers no pat answer. He didn't give out forms to file every April. Instead he invites us to live with the very same questions that he asked 2000 years ago.

  • What is God's?
  • What belongs to this world?

Jesus gives guidance—but there's no clear accounting system differentiating God's things from the things of this world. How we live that under his guidance isn't set in stone. And that's where faith and imagination, trusting in the guidance of the one who has given us everything, takes shape in our lives.
Peace and thanks for reading,

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

living in the Father's vineyard Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46

God the Father wants the best for his daughters and sons. He does not want what we want or think best; rather God desires to give the best. God's been calling his people to the best way of living. It started with the law and prophets. Isaiah spoke this call and it continued in the words of Jesus. This is a word of law that pulls away a whole lot scar tissue and lays open a hurt soul. It's this opening that can bring the rest that comes from Good News.

Both Isaiah and Jesus explained the relationship between the Father who loves so much and people who turn away with vineyard stories. Why not? Vineyards made sense, people planted and worked in them. They enjoyed the grapes and wine made from grapes. Two parables about vineyards define God's love for his people through the image of a vineyard that had lost God's protection.

Isaiah told of a friend who planted grapevines on a hillside with rich soil Isaiah 5:1. He did everything right hoping good grapes would come Isaiah 5:2-3. Instead the harvest came and there were only bad ones Isaiah 5:4. Isaiah's parable gets me thinking: What should be done with the bad grapes. The response frightens me. All the protection God provided could be taken away Isaiah 5:5-6. Isaiah wasn't speaking about a vineyard. These blunt words from God were for Israel and Judah. He came looking for justice -- but he didn't find it.

Jesus spoke of a vineyard too. It was rented out Matthew 21:33-34. When time came the land owner sent servants to collect his share of the produce. The tenants beat some and killed others Matthew 21:35-36. And last of all the landlord sent his son. The tenants, some commentators think, were scheming to take over the land by squatters rights. After all the landlord's heir was dead. They must have assumed they would now have control.

Jesus left the story unconcluded. He asked the chief priests and the elders of the people what they thought would happen. They responded the renters would be put to death and the land rented again Matthew 21:40-41. That wasn't Jesus answer. And this is the real twist. We don't know what the landlord did. But we do know what God the Father did when His Son was rejected. He raised him up on the 3rd day.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Forgiveness Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness matters to Jesus. And it will invariably matter to anyone who follows in Jesus' steps—if you don't believe that's true just listen close to what Jesus said to his friend and close follower Peter. When Peter asked, “How many times should I forgive a brother who sins against me? Isn't 7 going to be enough?”

I think Peter picked 7 because it seemed to him, like it does to me, that 7 was an outrageous number of times to forgive somebody. Forgive somebody—yeah seven times is enough. Even for Jesus 7 times would have been enough, Peter likely thought. But Jesus said no.

For Jesus forgiveness can happen 7 times sure. But it can also happen 77 times or 70 times 7 times. Jesus' math seems so strange to our earthbound ears—why because forgiveness costs us something—but we way to often miss what forgiveness gives us in return. Forgiveness in truth changes who we are—and forgiving like Jesus says 77 times or 70 times 7 will always sound so over the top. But it's that over the top life transforming gift of forgiveness that opens us up towards the new future that God has in store.

Forgiveness matters to God the God of Easter Morning; just listen close to Jesus' story in Matthew 18:23-35. This man was forgiven so much by his king. But then that same man couldn't or wouldn't forgive someone who owed him so much less. The king was upset—he heard that this forgiven man wouldn't let this small matter go. And the king had this forgiven man locked up until he could make right a debt that he'd never be able to pay back. There's power in this story. We've been forgiven a great deal by God. Don't ever think other wise—and it's with that reality in mind as forgiven people given a fresh start that Jesus invites us to forgive others who have hurt us.

It's clear listening to Jesus that forgiveness matters to the God who loves us enough to die for us. Forgiveness was one of the words on Jesus lips as he died on the cross. Make no mistake real forgiveness isn't the resumption of an old broken way of being. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one because of anyone else's terrible choice if they will ever forget the person they've lost. No they won't and God isn't asking them to either. Forgetting isn't forgiveness. Instead forgiveness is opening up the door towards the future. Forget forgetting—forgiveness is opening up the door to the future that God has in store for all his people. Forgiveness is opening up the door so that even those who do wrong to others—which in simple truth is everybody here and everybody alive today—can rediscover who they were meant to be at the start of all times—people made in the image and likeness of God.
Peace and thanks for reading. John