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Monday, March 26 2012

John 12:20-33  

 My beloved wife Nancy—with whom I am well-pleased – and I have traveled many places together.  We’ve been to London, England.  We’ve been to Germany twice.  Belgium and the Netherlands.  Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and of course three times together to Israel.   I’ve actually been to Israel four times.   Later this year, we will be taking our dream trip – well – Nancy’s dream trip.   But I’m pretty excited about it too!  We’re going to Africa.  To Kenya and Tanzania.  You know that Nancy is a cat lover.  And she wants to see the big cats in the wild.  So we will be doing our touristy thing – and spending a couple of weeks on safari in Africa. 

 Of course, tourism is not just a 21st Century phenomenon.  Our Gospel text today tells of certain Greek tourists who are visiting Jerusalem.  They have come to see the sights of the famous city.  It is the time of the Passover festival, and Jerusalem is a crowded place.    
 While there, they hear about a man who is making quite a name for himself.  It is said that this man has raised some guy by the name of Lazarus from the dead.  These Greek tourists are intrigued by this.  They are curious.  So, in an effort to meet him, they approach one of his disciples – the disciple who just happens to have a Greek name – the disciple named Philip.  

 “Sir,” they said, “we wish to see Jesus.  We wish to see Jesus.”  So Philip goes and gets Andrew, and together they go and tell Jesus.      Now, 2000 years later, the same thing is still true.  2000 years later, people are still wishing – still wanting – to see Jesus.  But the question is – where are they going to find him?  I like the bulletin blooper – and apparently this was a real blooper printed somewhere in some church’s bulletin – one of those churches that have Sunday morning and Sunday evening services.  “This morning’s sermon, ‘Jesus Walks on Water.” Tonight’s sermon, ‘Looking For Jesus.’”  

 But what would you do, if someone walked up to you today and said to you, “We wish to see Jesus.”  What would you do?  What would you say?  
 Now we don’t have the luxury of the human Jesus walking the earth in flesh and blood like Philip and Andrew had.  That doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t here.  Remember what he told his disciples – and us – just before he ascended into heaven?  “Remember, I am with you always.”  Jesus IS with us, through the person and the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.  This we believe, and this we declare.  This is our experience of Jesus.  Jesus is with us, and He is watching over us.

I like the story that’s told about some seminary students as they walked through the lunch line at the seminary cafeteria.  The chef had propped a sign on a big bowl of apples that said:  
At the other end of the lunch line, there was a large plate of freshly baked, steaming hot, chocolate chip cookies.  One of the seminarians had put a hastily written sign over it that said:   TAKE AS MANY COOKIES AS YOU WANT.  JESUS IS BUSY BACK THERE WATCHING THE APPLES. 

Yes, Jesus is with us, watching over the apples, AND watching over people like you and me.  We want to see Jesus, but at the same time we need to remember – we need to know that Jesus is watching over us at the same time.

 It therefore seems to me that if Jesus is present in our lives, watching over us, then anyone in search of Jesus can find Him.  And anyone in search of Jesus needs to come to those places where Jesus can be found.  

 Now let me tell you where I find Jesus.  I find Jesus in the Word, in the Bible.  I see Him in His teachings – and the story of his life, his death and resurrection bring me face to face with Him our living, risen Savior.  In the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion I feel His presence.  I see Jesus in word and sacrament.  
But I see Jesus in other people’s lives as well.  I see Jesus where the people of God gather together – you know – where two or three or more are gathered together in His name.  I see Jesus where broken lives are healed and mended. 
In his book, A Future and a Hope, Lloyd Ogilvie writes about a woman named Linda.  Linda was a homeless cocaine addict.  She was experiencing serious health problems, including a heart attack, from her addiction.  Linda was in a panic, not knowing what would happen to her and her young son.  She was at the lowest point in her life.
One Sunday morning she wandered into a nearby church and sat in the last pew.  The people around her could not help noticing that she was crying throughout the service.  That morning Linda heard the Good News about Jesus and his love and his forgiveness.  She heard about how to make a new start in life.  
Linda returned the next Sunday and the Sunday after that, but she was reluctant to fill out the visitor’s card.  But the more she came to church the more she began to feel the love of those sitting near her.  And finally, she filled out the visitors’ card, checking off that she needed help.
That particular congregation had a program of lay visitation.  That week, she was visited by two of the church’s members.  They brought with them a message of hope and love.  They shared with her that Jesus could help her, that Jesus could heal her.  Linda committed her life to Christ and asked for his healing of her addiction.
Several months later Linda was radiating joy as she shared her victory over her cocaine addiction.  “I want to share what I’ve found,” she said with enthusiasm.  “I want to work with people hooked on hard drugs.  I want them to know there’s hope!”  Linda now works with teenagers who are addicted and are in need of Christ’s love and hope.
 Linda came looking, and she saw Jesus.  Where was it that Linda saw Jesus?  In the hearts and lives of the people of that congregation.  Not every congregation – not every church – would welcome someone like Linda.  But this congregation did – and that made all the difference!

 Jesus says that he is with us always.  But what does that means?  Well – it means Jesus is here – right here – right now!  Jesus is present.  And to a hurting and broken world – to all the Linda’s of this world – Jesus is present through people like you and me.  This is something we must not forget.  Jesus is present through his followers – through those who are his disciples.  He lives in you – and therefore he is present in you.  And that is one way He makes himself known – he makes himself known through you and through me.

Let me share one more story.  It’s one I have used before – and I probably will use it again.  Maybe some of you will remember it.  But the story goes like this:

There had been no time to brief the class of children at Vacation Bible School about the little boy who came in late.  There had been no time, either, for the teacher to find out how he had lost his left arm and how he was coping with it.  Understandably, she was nervous, afraid that one of the other children would comment and embarrass him, or worse, tease him.  

Taking a deep breath, she proceeded with the lesson.  No problems there.  No problems with the art work; he drew quite well with one hand and seemed to fit in well.  No problems during snack time; he gulped his juice down with not even a spill.

Relaxed and quite relieved now, the teacher led her class into the center circle for their closing exercises.   “Let’s make our churches now,” she said, leading them in the familiar activity, “Here’s the church; here’s the steeple; open the doors, and there’s all the people,” when the awful truth of her actions struck her – a second too late.  The very thing she feared had happened – done not by a child, but by herself.  
As she stood there speechless, the little girl sitting next to the boy reached over, placed her left hand against his right hand, and said, “Let’s make a church together.”
Where do people see Jesus?  The same place where we see Jesus.  Where hearts and hands come together to make – and to be – the church.  We see Jesus in his word – we see him in the sacraments.  We see Jesus where two or three or more are gathered together in his name.  We see him where broken hearts and broken lives are put back together again.  
Where Jesus dwells in human hearts – where Jesus dwells in our hearts – in our lives – in our homes – there we will see Jesus.     


Posted by: AT 02:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 20 2012

John 3:14-21

          This past Monday night I read this passage from John’s Gospel to our church council as the Scripture for our opening devotions.  And I asked a question.  If you were to preach on this Gospel reading, what would you preach about?  Or, if you were hearing this Gospel being read to you, what would you want the preacher to tell you about it?

          Now, as a preacher those can be dangerous questions to ask.  However, for a preacher they can be very enlightening questions to ask.   Although I try to explain what I think you need to know about any given Scripture passage – I am realistic to know that when I take aim, I might not always hit that mark. 

          So, I asked the questions.  And what I got back was two things.  “Explain what Jesus meant about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness.”  And the second thing was, “What does it mean when it talks about light and darkness?”  SO let’s see if I can preach a sermon here that will weave together an answer to those two questions.  Serpents – or snakes – and just what is John talking about here when he tells us that the light has come into the world.  Snakes and light.  SO the questions have been asked.  And therefore to cover everything that’s been asked – I am going to be mixing metaphors.  Is that alright?  Ok, So!  Are you ready?      

          There’s a story about three men who live on a ranch out West, the father John, the sons Jake and Joe.  They never had had any use for the church until one day Jake is bitten by a rattlesnake.  The doctor is summoned, but the prognosis is not good.  Jake is going to die.  The younger son is sent to bring the preacher.  The preacher is asked to offer a prayer for Jake:


          “O Father God, we give you thanks that you have sent this snake to bite Jake.          It has brought him to seek you.  We ask, Lord, that you would send another snake to bite Joe and a really big one to bite the old man, so that they, too, might come to seek you.  We thank you for your providence and ask that you send among us bigger and better rattlesnakes.  Amen.”


          Talk about a gutsy prayer.  But had it not been for that snake, poor Jake would not have been drawn to God.  If it hadn’t been for that snake, poor Jake would not have been drawn to the light. 

          Now, I’ll get back to the snakes in a minute.  Because right now, I want to say something about light and darkness – since our lesson today from John’s Gospel contrasts light and dark.    

          Simply put – those who do evil hate the light.  Those who love God – those who live a life that is true – are drawn to the light.  You see, God sees and knows our sin.  But what is also true is that God helps us to see – God helps us to know our own sin too.  And when we do, we have a choice.  We can stay in that sin – stay there in that dark place – OR recognizing our sin – knowing our need for forgiveness – we can choose recognize our need for God – to be drawn to the light of God – drawn to the love and forgiveness of God.


          But sometimes, we need to be snake-bitten in order to see it.


          That’s where our first lesson from the book of Numbers comes in.  That reading tells of a time when God’s people – the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness.  They began to mumble and grumble against God and Moses.  So God sent the snakes.  I told you I’d get back to the snakes. 


          Anyway, that’s when the people repented.   “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you [Moses], pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.”  The Lord heard their prayer, and instructed Moses to fashion a snake of bronze, and to erect it on a pole.  And whenever anyone was bitten – whenever anyone was snake-bitten – all they had to do was look at the serpent of bronze and live. 


          Jesus, in our Gospel lesson, compares his upcoming crucifixion to this time when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness when he says, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  And then Jesus goes on to say words that are probably the first words – the first Bible verse I ever memorized as a child.  And I daresay the same is true for many of you.  Say it with me – and it’s okay if it comes out different because we probably all learned it slightly differently – but if you know it, say it with me:

          “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone     who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.”


          In other words, if you would be saved from sin – saved from those times when you’re snake bitten – saved from those places of darkness – if you would experience God’s salvation – in other words, God’s gift of eternal life – then come to the light.  Come to the light of Christ.  Just look to the cross.  If you would experience God’s love and forgiveness – just look to the cross.


          And what is this love of God like?  What is this forgiveness of God like?


          There is a story that comes out of the Bedouin culture.  “Bedouin” is the Aramaic name for “desert dwellers.”  These people live today much as the society of the Old Testament did.  During a heated argument, according to this story, a young Bedouin struck and killed a friend of his.  Knowing the ancient, inflexible customs of his people, the young man fled under the cover of darkness, seeking safety.  He eventually found his way to the tent of the tribal chief, seeking his protection.  The old chief took the young Arab in.  He assured the young man that he would be safe until the matter could be settled legally. 


          The next day, the young man’s pursuers arrived, demanding that the murderer be turned over to them.  They wanted to administer justice in their own way.  But the chief would not allow them to get at the young man.  “I have given my word,” protested the chief.


          “But you don’t know who he killed!” they countered.


          “I have given my word,” the chief repeated.


          “He killed your son!” one of them blurted out.


          Abruptly, there was silence.  The chief was deeply and visibly shaken.  He stood speechless with his head bowed for a very long time.  The crowd waited breathlessly for the chief’s next words.  What would happen to the young man? 


          Finally, their leader raised his head.  “Then he shall become my son,” he told them, “and everything I have will one day be his.”


          That young man certainly did not deserve, neither did he earn the chief’s forgiveness and generosity.  That story is a picture of grace – God’s undeserved love and favor.  For it is by this, God’s grace – as our second lesson from Ephesians tells us – “that you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing.  It is the gift of God.”


          It is the gift of God.  If you want to see what this gift looks life – if you want to receive this gift into your life – look to the cross.  Look to the cross.


          What has brought you here today?  What has brought you near to the cross?  Have you been snake bitten by something?  Maybe things aren’t going right – at least not the way you want them to.  Perhaps you’ve messed up, and are looking for a word of forgiveness.  Maybe you’re angry or bitter about something, upset and disappointed, and you don’t know where to turn.  Listen to another story.


          Billy Graham tells of meeting a young man at one of his crusades who was confined to a wheelchair.  The young man was suffering through the final stages of terminal cancer.  He was filled with anger and bitterness.  He had read too many books promising health to believers.  He had met too many well-meaning Christians who had promised him a miraculous healing from his disease.  And as he continued to get sicker and sicker he grew more and more uncertain.    


          His parents loved him dearly and took him to one faith healer after another.  Each one prayed for his dramatic healing.  The young man had prayed and fasted.  He sincerely believed in Jesus.  But the healings never worked.  Instead, he was dying.  Billy Graham’s crusade was the last meeting the young man would ever attend.


          At the crusade that night there was a youth emphasis.  The speaker was Joni Erickson Tada.  Some of you know her story.  At the age of 17 Joni was paralyzed in a diving accident.  She too had prayed for healing.  Yet she remained confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Sitting there in that wheelchair, Joni spoke from the heart, confessing her early anger at remaining crippled after praying and believing a miracle would occur.  But a miracle did take place in her life, though not the one she had been praying for.  Instead of being healed physically, God met her in her pain and gave her life new meaning and a new direction, in spite of her suffering and disappointment.


          Joni’s frankness set that dying young man free.  He was able to let go of his bitterness and anger.  He stopped seeing himself as one who did not have enough faith.  Instead he came to see Christ in a new way. 


          Not long after that crusade, the young man died, “but his parents were able to rejoice,” Dr. Graham says, “because he had not died angry and bitter.  He simply gave his life back to his loving Father by giving himself completely to Jesus Christ.”


          My friends, let me invite you to come to the light.  Look to the cross.  Come to the light.  If you’ve been snake-bit by sin, fear, hopelessness, anger, bitterness, despair, or whatever.  If you find yourself walking in darkness – come to the light.  Look to the cross. 


          With His arms wide open, God is waiting there.                Amen

Posted by: AT 10:38 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 05 2012

Mark 8:31-38

          Some of you may remember a comedian by the name of Yakov Smirnoff.  He is a Russian immigrant – and he likes to compare his former life in Russia to what he discovered here in the United States.  In one of his monologues, he says that he was not prepared for the incredible varieties of instant products in American grocery stores. 

          He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk.  You just add water, and you get milk.  I saw powdered eggs, you just add water and you get eggs.  Then I saw powdered orange juice, you just add water and you get orange juice.  And then I saw baby powder – and I thought to myself – what a country!

          Unfortunately – the same thing cannot be said when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Most of us begin our Christian walk at our baptism.  We pour water over – or we fully immerse a person in water – and up out of that water arises a new creation – a Christian.  But the transformation into a fully committed disciple of Jesus Christ has only just begun.  When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus Christ – well – there’s just nothing instant about it.    

          Our transformation into a disciple of Jesus Christ – is a process that takes time.  And I would suggest it is a process that takes a life-time.  I think we would prefer something that was not so challenging.  You know – a process where we go to church as if we are going to the grocery store – and finding something called “Powdered Christian”.   Just add water and – instant disciple. 

          Unfortunately, you know it doesn’t work that way.  Becoming a disciple is a process – it’s a marathon not a sprint.  Disciples of Jesus Christ are made slowly through a process of trials and temptations – maybe even suffering – certainly questioning – times of prayer.  It is something we train ourselves in – and quite frankly – it is a team effort.  You name it – the disciple making process takes time.

          Jesus tells us today that as his followers – as his disciples – we are to take up our cross and follow him.  He says we are to deny ourselves.  Those words might possibly be the hardest words to hear that Jesus ever says to us.  But in order to follow him, we must learn what it means to take up our cross and follow him.  And that can be painful.  Letting go of the past – letting go of those things that would keep us from becoming and being the kinds of disciples Jesus is calling us to.  Sometimes it might even feel like God is taking a hammer and chisel to us. 

          SO let me invite you to watch this video I found this week.  It’s called “God’s Chisel:  Remastered.”  (watch at:

          So when you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Do you see Jesus?  When others look at you, do they see Jesus?  Jesus tells us today that if we want to become his disciple we are to deny ourselves.

          And that means allowing God to take His hammer and chisel to us.  We are God’s workmanship – God’s masterpiece.  God is at work in you and me to make us the kind of people He wants us to be.  In order that we might do the things He is calling us to do.  It takes time.  The process of being – of becoming – a disciple takes time.  And practice.  And yes – it is a team effort.  We are in this together. 

          You know, we talk a lot around here about the marks of a disciple – worship – prayer – Bible reading – developing Christian friends – giving – and serving.  These are more than just the things that mark us as disciples of Jesus Christ.  These are the tools God uses to chip away at the old self – the old self that rebels against God.   Worship.  Prayer.  Bible reading.  Spending time with Christian friends.  Learning to serve.  Learning to give. 

          But He chips away.  And as God chips away – even those areas of our lives that we would just as soon he leave alone – as God chips away – in the place of the old arises a new self – what the Bible calls a new creation. 

          Nothing instant about it!  It takes time, but God doesn’t make junk. 

          You are God’s original masterpiece.  Yes even you!




Posted by: AT 09:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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