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Tuesday, June 30 2015

Mark 5:21-43

Pastor Becca Ehrlich

A guy named Smith went to a psychiatrist. “Doc,” he said, “I’ve got trouble. Every time I get into bed, I think there’s somebody under it. Then I get under the bed, and I think there’s somebody on top of it. Top, under, top, under. You gotta help me, I’m going crazy!”

“Just put yourself in my care for two years,” she said. “Come to me three times a week, and I’ll cure your fears.”

“How much do you charge?” “A hundred dollars per visit.” “I’ll sleep on it,” said Smith.

Six months later the doctor met Smith on the street. “Why didn’t you ever come to see me again?” she asked.

“For a hundred bucks a visit? A bartender cured me for ten dollars.” “Is that so!” said the doctor.  How?”
“He told me to cut the legs off the bed!”

Usually psychiatric cures aren’t quite that easy!

In our Gospel reading today, we hear about two healings. In fact, as Jesus is on his way to one healing, and he gets interrupted by another.

A Jewish leader, Jairus, approaches Jesus while he is surrounded by people, falls at his feet, and begs him to come to his daughter, who is near death. Jesus agrees.

But on his way to Jairus’ house, a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years—and had spent all her money on numerous doctors and had just gotten worse and worse—finds Jesus and touches the hem of his cloak. She is immediately healed of her bleeding.

Jesus knows something happened and tries to figure out who touched him. The woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet (there’s a lot of that going around, since Jairus just threw himself in front of Jesus, too), and she tells him what happened. He tells her, “"Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

So now the original story continues. As Jesus goes on his way to see the little girl, they get word that the girl is now dead. But rather than turning around, as people expected him to, he turns to Jairus and tells him, “"Do not fear, only believe."

They enter the house, and Jesus tells them that the girl isn’t dead, but sleeping. They actually laugh at him. But the joke’s on them, because after everyone is asked to leave the room, Jesus takes her by the hand, says “Little girl, get up!” and she miraculously gets up and walks around. And then Jesus tells them to feed her, because being dead for a while has got to make one hungry.

When we first read these two stories, they seem unrelated. In fact, the story of the bleeding woman just seems like a sidebar to the real story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

But I think these stories are put side-by-side for a reason. Both have to do with Jesus healing others. But there is more to it than that. These two stories show us HOW Jesus helps us.

First of all, both of the people Jesus heals are women. This is a HUGE deal. Women were considered property and had hardly any rights in Jesus’ time. And children were considered property as well. So a woman and then a young woman being healed—the fact that Jesus even CARED enough to want to interact with them, let alone HEAL them, is huge.

And then we have the fact that both of these women would have been unclean according to Jewish law. The bleeding woman would have had to isolate herself from society because anyone she touched or came into contact with would also be considered unclean, and would have to wait a time and then purify themselves according to the law. So her being in a crowd, brushing up against people, means that not only was she unclean, but she was making anyone around her unclean too—including Jesus.

And the little girl? She was dead. Coming into contact with a corpse meant becoming unclean and having to purify oneself too. But being unclean doesn’t scare Jesus away-- in fact, he takes her by the hand.

And an interesting connection between the two women in these stories is that we find out that the little girl was 12 years old—she was born around the time the other woman started having her health problems. That girl had been alive as long as the woman had been bleeding.

SO. These connections between the stories are fun to notice, but they aren’t there just to play a match-up game. They’re there to tell us about Jesus’ help for us in our own lives.

Jesus heals two people, two women, who would have been considered nobodies in society. A little girl and an ailing, poor woman. But he doesn’t care that they aren’t worth anything to others—they are worth everything to him. He loves them and helps them, regardless of what other people think.

Jesus continues to help us like that, today. It doesn’t matter how others think of you, or how you think of yourself. To Jesus, you are everything. You are worthy of his love and care. Jesus helps you because he loves you, regardless of anything else.

Jesus also doesn’t care about rules and regulations that are set up. Even though being touched by the woman, and touching the dead girl, meant that he too would become unclean according to the law at the time, he didn’t care. Those women experiencing his love and his power was way more important than any rules someone would throw at him.

Jesus does the same thing now. We have all sorts of rules and boundaries for how people should be and act. Jesus doesn’t care about those. He breaks down the walls we build, and helps us despite our human-made rules. Jesus transcends our barriers.

And the two women Jesus helps are very different. One has been sick as long as the other one has been alive. One is bleeding, while the other one is dead. One is broke, one comes from a wealthy, religious leader household.

This shows us that no matter how old you are, what your problems are, what your paycheck is—Jesus helps you. You are worth it. Jesus doesn’t base his love and help on anything except the fact that you are a beloved child of God.

So from these two stories of healing, we find that out NO ONE is beyond the love and care of Jesus.  NO ONE. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you’ve done. Jesus loves you and wants to help you be more of who he wants you to be.

There is a story of a man called the Fisher King. There are many different versions of his story, and this is one of them.

When the Fisher King was a boy, he was sent out to spend the night alone in the forest as a test of his courage to be king. During the night, he had a vision of the Holy Grail (the cup used by our Lord at the Last Supper). It was surrounded by great flames of fire. Immediately, he became excited by the prospect of wealth and glory that would be his by possessing such a great prize. Greedily, he reached into the flames to grab the Holy Grail, but the flames were too much and he was severely wounded.

As the years went by, the Fisher King became more despondent and alone… and his wound grew deeper. One day the Fisher King, feeling sad and depressed and in pain, went for a walk in the forest. He came upon a court jester. “Are you all right?” the jester asked. “Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?” “Well, I am very thirsty,” the Fisher King replied. The jester took an old dilapidated cup from his bag, filled it with water from a nearby stream, and gave it to the Fisher King. As the Fisher King drank, he suddenly felt his wound healing for the first time. And incredibly the old cup he was drinking from had turned into the Holy Grail. “What wonderful magic do you possess?” the Fisher King asked the jester. The jester just shrugged and said, “I know no magic. All I did was get a drink for a thirsty soul.”

This story reminds us that although in our life we experience pain and suffering—sometimes of our own making, sometimes because life kicks us in the butt—love with no boundaries brings healing and life. We saw this in our stories today, and we experience this in Jesus’ love for us in our own lives. No one is beyond Jesus’ love and care and help. YOU are not beyond Jesus’ love and care and help. Jesus loves and helps YOU, no matter what. And THAT is something to celebrate—today and every day! Amen.

Posted by: Pastor Becca Ehrlich AT 09:02 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 22 2015

Pastor Randy Milleville

Mark 4:35-41

    So how's everybody doing?  Sometimes things happen in our lives that are too hard to understand.  And way too often they are things beyond our control.  This week – once again – and I loathe the fact that I have to use those two words, “once again,” – we as a nation are grieving.  We grieve with the members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.  We grieve with the city of Charleston.  And the people of South Carolina.  We grieve.  A storm has arisen over our country once again.  

    There is a certain irony, I think, that our Gospel lesson today is the story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  And a storm arises.  And what I want you to hear today is that Jesus knows something about storms.  Whether on lakes or in our own lives – Jesus knows something about storms.

    Now let me tell you.  I have been on the Sea of Galilee four different times.  The last time it got mighty windy.  Those from here who were with me on the trip can tell you – we never felt in any danger – but the wind blew so hard that it knocked my hat right off my head.  Yeah!  I have a hat sitting on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.

    So there is reason for us to think that these disciples are frightened.  At least four of them – Peter, Andrew, James and John – were fishermen.  They knew the lake.  They knew how to handle a boat.   And yet, it seems that even that is not enough.  Jesus is asleep through all of this – and how he is able to sleep through all this – I have no idea.  But they wake him.  It isn’t clear what they expected Jesus to do – or even if they knew what Jesus was capable of doing.  Maybe they needed him to help bail.  Or row.  Or help with the ropes on the sails.  I don’t know.  We’re not told.

    But this we do know.  When Jesus wakes up he takes one look at the situation and says three words.  “Peace.  Be still.”
    And immediately – immediately – the storm is over.  The sea is calm.  The winds have died down.   

    We are told – and this is how this episode ends – we are told that the disciples are filled with great awe – in other words – they are filled with fear.  I can just picture them all looking at the sea – looking at each other – looking at Jesus with their eyes and their mouths wide open.

    “Whaaa…did you – did you see that?  Wowww!  What just happened?  Who – who is this man – that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

    They have heard him teach.  They have been with him when he has healed many people, including casting out demons.   But now – now that they witness first hand that Jesus has control over even the elements – wind and sea – they now experience a different kind of awe altogether.   Who – is – this – man?

    Let me tell you.  Jesus is the One who is with you no matter what personal storm you may be going through right now.  Just as He is with everyone whose lives have been upended by the tragedy that occurred at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.  Now I'll get back to that in a minute.  

    Because first I want to go back to the reading from our Gospel lesson.  The disciples while in the boat with Jesus – witness something they have never seen before.  And they really don’t know what to make of it.  They do not as of yet realize that Jesus is the Son of God.  In fact, Jesus chastises them for having little or no faith.  I think Jesus chastises them – not because they are stunned that he can bring a storm to an end – I think he chastises them because they still don’t quite get it.  They still don’t quite understand who Jesus really is.

    So I guess the question I ought to ask right now is, “Do you know who Jesus is?”  We call him Savior – the One who saves us from the penalty of our sins – which would be eternal separation from God.  And we’re good with that.  I mean – hey – who wouldn’t want to know Jesus as Savior?  

    But we also call him Lord.  That is who he is and what he wants us to recognize.  Calling him Lord is not so easy.  Because if Jesus is Lord – the Lord of my life – then that means that I am NOT the Lord of MY life.  I am not in control – He is!  And if he is Lord – well then – maybe I need to give some thought about how he wants me to live my life.  

    Because not everybody gets it.  And that brings me back to the events of Wednesday night at Emmanuel AME Church.  The young man involved in the shooting – Dylann Roof – and this pains me to say this – was a member of an ELCA church.  He was raised a Lutheran.  He was one of us.  Now, I don't know anything about this young man's life.  But I can imagine that some 21 years ago, a pastor somewhere held Dylann and baptized him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I suspect he may have gone to Sunday School and confirmation class.  I don't know the details.  

    But if this is true – he heard the love of Jesus.  He learned the Ten Commandments.  You shall not kill.  Which also means you shall not hate.  It is not my place to analyze this young man.  But I am curious who it is that taught him how to hate.  Make no mistake about it – this was a hate crime – a hate crime based on race.  

    And as much as it is a racial issue – it is also a spiritual issue.  A faith issue.  Jesus came to make a difference.  To touch hearts and to change lives.  Again, not everybody gets that; not everybody allows that to happen  We must allow that to happen.  And yes, I know it is a process – but it is a change – a transformation that allows people to love and to forgive.  

    Listen to what was in this morning's Buffalo News.  “One by one they looked to the screen in a corner of the courtroom Friday, into the expressionless face of the young man charged with making them motherless, snuffing out the life of a promising son, taking away a loving wife for good, bringing a grandmother's life to a horrific end.  And they answered him with: forgiveness.

    “You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance, 70, her voice rising in anguish.  “I will never talk to her ever again.  I will never be able to hold her again.  But I forgive you.  And have mercy on your soul.

    “ was as if the Bible study never ended, as one after another, victims' family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief.  They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.

    “I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of one of the dead, DePayne Middleton-Doctor.  But “she taught me that we are the family that love built.  We have no room for hating.”

    Only Jesus can make that kind of change in a person's life.  That even those who are angry, hurting, and grieving can stand up and say, “I forgive.  I forgive you.”

    And it's all because of Jesus.  So who is this man that even the winds and the sea obey him?  Who is this man who has been touching hearts and changing lives for nearly 2,000 years?

    Who is this man?  He is the One who makes a difference. He is the One who wants you to know that he is with you always.  Even when life throws its worst at you.  Even when you find yourself  in the middle of a storm – some set back – some disappointment – some illness – some grief.  No matter what.         

    I want to finish with the words of our bishop, Bishop John Macholz.  

    Sometimes events occur that leave one speechless, without words. The events in Charleston on Wednesday night was one of those times. So, instead of sharing words I share names, the names of those who were brutally killed because of the color of their skin.

Pastor Clementa Pinckney
Tywanza Sanders
Cynthia Hurd
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lance
Rev. Daniel Simmons,
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

     I invite you to read those names out loud and remember them. Include them in your prayers in the coming days at home and add them to the list of those named on Sunday at worship. Learn what you can about them, they are us. They are pastors, a librarian, former county legislator, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and relatives. People of God, children of the same heavenly father, members of the household of faith.

     Rest eternal grant them, O Lord.  And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Posted by: AT 09:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 08 2015

Mark 3:20-35

    Every once in a while I like to remind you that we are in a three year lectionary cycle.  Big church word there, lectionary.  It simply means that the lessons that we focus on at worship – week after week – are not selected by me – but by some group of scholars years ago.  That’s why we have an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading as well as a reading from one of the four Gospels.  Now, I am free to choose other readings – and I have done just that, especially on those rare instances when I have done a sermon series.  But the idea behind the lectionary is that over the course of three years, we will have a broad selection of readings from the entire Bible.

    SO during this three year cycle, we have the year of Matthew, the year of Mark, and the year of Luke.  The fourth Gospel – John’s Gospel – is interspersed throughout all three years.  We are currently in the year of Mark.

    Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, and the first of the four to be written.  It can easily be read in one sitting – in fact – it is the only one of the four Gospels that I have read in one sitting – and that was years before I was a pastor.  

    Right now, I am reading a novel by Nelson DeMille called “The Panther.”  It is 625 pages long, and it is taking me forever to get through.  So I think there’s something to be said for shorter works – and the Book of Mark is certainly one of them.  But don’t let the shortness of Mark fool you.  

    I want to suggest to you today that what Mark tells us about Jesus – and what all the Gospel writers tell us about Jesus – is enough.  Mark doesn’t tell us everything – but what he tells us is just enough for us to come to faith in Jesus Christ.  AND – by reading and studying this short Gospel between now and the beginning of December – it is my hope and prayer that the power of the message will somehow change us – and help us to grow in who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.

    In Mark, we first encounter Jesus as a man – just beginning his earthly ministry.  So there is nothing in Mark about the birth of Jesus.  No angels or shepherds or wise men.  No.  Mark begins with Jesus announcing why he has come.  Mark 1:15.  “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News.”  Short and to the point.  And Mark spends the rest of his Gospel telling us just what that means.   

    In 16 brief chapters, Mark tells just enough about who Jesus is, and what it is that he came to do.  So for those of us who don’t like to read long novels – let me tell you that what Mark tells us is just enough.

    A man by the name of Stan Purdum, identifies six points about Jesus that Mark makes.  I want to share those six points with you here.  

    First, Mark identifies Jesus as “the Son of God.”  In Mark's day, “Son of God” – a reference to a person who had come from God in order to do the work of God.  So the very first sentence of Mark, Mark 1:1, lets us know that.  Mark proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, and thereafter he allows others to confirm that identity.  For instance, at Jesus' baptism and at the Transfiguration, a heavenly voice announces it. When Jesus drives unclean spirits out of people, demons recognize him and call him “the Son of God.”  After Jesus' arrest, the high priest asks Jesus directly if he is the “Son of the Blessed One,” and Jesus responds, “I am.”   Then, after Jesus dies on the cross, a Roman centurion declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”  So in Mark we have all these other voices telling us who Jesus is –that he is indeed the Son of God.

    You see, Mark is not just telling us a story of some great man, some prophet or teacher who we just happen to know about.  No.  Mark is telling us that Jesus is indeed the Son of God who comes to us – calling us to repentance – because the Kingdom of God has come near.

    Second, Mark declares that Jesus is the Messiah.  Again, Messiah is a Hebrew word meaning “The Anointed One,” – the one long expected by the Jewish people to restore Israel as a nation once again.  In Greek, the word is Christos, from which we get our word Christ.  For Christians, the understanding of Jesus as Messiah or the Christ connects Jesus to the Old Testament with its promise of a redeemer.  So for us, it is enough to know that Jesus – as the Redeemer – is the One who sets us free from sin, death and the power of the devil.

    Third, Mark recognizes Jesus as a unique teacher who instructs “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  

    Fourth, Mark understands the ministry of Jesus as calling us to discipleship. In Mark 8:45 Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Now we talk a lot about discipleship here at Zion.  And it is a process of following and learning what it means to become more and more like Christ every day.  And you’ve heard me say this before.  The problem with being a disciple is that it is so daily.  It is an everyday thing.   But we dare not miss this call to become disciples.

    Fifth, Mark shows Jesus' death on the cross as the will of God. It's Mark who first tells of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, where he bows himself to the Father's will about the crucifixion.  Remember?  “Not my will, but yours be done.”

    Sixth, Mark understands Jesus' death as an atoning act.   Now there’s another big church word.  Atoning.  Atoning is the act whereby we are reconciled to God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  SO Mark understands Jesus’ death to be an atoning act – in other words – because of Jesus our sins are forgiven, and we are reconciled to God. Mark quotes Jesus saying, "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (10:45). Clearly, Mark views Jesus' death as the one and only way that makes forgiveness by God possible for us.  So these are the things that I want you to be listening for over the next six months.

    Then Purdum states, “It is good for us to remember that all four gospel writers share one common goal – to bring their audience to faith in Jesus. To that end, Matthew and Luke started with the baseline of testimony about Jesus that Mark provided and added additional testimony to it.”  [What he's saying here is that when Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels, they had a copy of Mark sitting if front of them.  They plagiarized – I mean they borrowed from what Mark write.  We know this because with the exception of maybe two sentences, everything that is in Mark is in either or both Matthew and Luke.  And then, Matthew and Luke add their own unique contributions to our understanding of who Jesus is.]  John declares the deity of Jesus [in other words, that Jesus is Himself God] and broadens our understanding of who He is.  [So all four Gospel writers have something unique to tell us about who Jesus is.]  But Mark was the first, and his gospel is an excellent place for anyone to begin to learn about Jesus.”

    SO what does our Gospel reading today from the third chapter of Mark contribute to all of this?  Might I suggest that the crowds we read about always seem to realize that there is something different – something special about Jesus.  Whether at this point they yet recognize him as the Son of God or as the Messiah – we don’t know.  But he certainly was a curiosity.  

    The religious leaders accuse him of being demon possessed.  The man must be crazy!  A lunatic!  The neat thing about this episode in the life of Jesus is that because Jesus has been healing and precisely because he has been casting out demons – we learn that Jesus is NOT in league with the devil as his accusers would want us to know.  NO.  This episode in the life of Jesus reinforces for us that Jesus is indeed the One sent from God.  He is not a liar, he is not a legend, he is not a lunatic, but he is indeed Lord – the Son of God.

    AND – what we see here is not only who Jesus is and who he is not – he is not in league with the devil.  And we also see what it means for us to be disciples.  Those who want to be his disciples – those who do the will of God – are his mother, and his brothers, and his sisters.  In other words – as disciples of Jesus Christ – we become part of God’s family.

    So over the next few months, we are going to be looking at Mark’s Gospel.   And what I want to say today is that what Mark has to say is enough.  We know that Mark does not tell us everything that happened in the life of Jesus.  We don’t have all of his teachings here – all of his miracles – and certainly nothing about his childhood.  But what we have is enough.   

    And the enough we have is this.  Who is this Jesus?  He is the Son of God.  He is the Messiah.  He is a unique teacher – albeit more than a teacher.  

    What did he come to do?  He came so that we might be forgiven – and be reconciled to God forever.   

    Therefore – since this is true – Jesus is calling us – calling you – calling me – to follow him and be his disciples.

    Well, I know this has been more of a lecture than a sermon, but what we need to remember – what we need to pay attention to and listen to over the next few months – is that Mark’s purpose was not to write an all-inclusive life story of the man Jesus.  This is not a biography.  But what it is is Mark’s effort to share the Good News message of God in Jesus Christ – in order to bring you – in order to bring me – to faith in Jesus Christ.    
    And that my friends – that is enough!      

Posted by: AT 11:52 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, June 02 2015

John 3:1-17; Romans 8:12-17  
    I guess it should be no surprise that when you come to church the chances are real good that the preacher is going to talk about God.  No surprise there.  But every once in awhile – oh, about once a year or so – we have this thing called Trinity Sunday.   Big church word there – Trinity.  We also use the word, “Triune.”  They simply means three in one.  Three in one.  

    So I want to talk to you today about the Trinity – and I’m going to tell you everything I know about the Trinity.  Which – let me tell you – isn’t much.   But Trinity is a way of talking about God as Father – Son – and Holy Spirit.  Not three gods, but one God.  A one personed God in three persons.  

    Confused?  Anybody here confused?  Yeah.  So am I.

    That’s why I like the story that’s told about     St. Augustine.  Augustine lived from 353 to 430 A.D.  He was and still is an influential person in the church.  The story goes that Augustine was walking along the seashore one day while pondering the doctrine of the Trinity - Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  He seemed to hear a voice saying, “Pick up one of the large sea shells there by the shore.”  So he picked it up. Then the voice said, “Now pour the ocean into the shell.”   And he said, “Lord, I can't do that.” And the voice answered, “Of course not.  In the same way, how can your small, finite mind ever hold and understand the mystery of the eternal, infinite, Triune God?”  

    Well, whether that story is true or not, I don’t know.  But the point is clear.  The Trinity – God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is beyond our ability to understand.  If you think you understand the Trinity, you don't understand the Trinity.

    One of our favorite hymns – Holy, Holy, Holy – which we sing today – has as one of its lines “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”  SO we can sing about the Trinity.  We can talk about the Trinity.  And we can read about the Trinity.  But not quite fully understand the Trinity.
    Now, you will never find the word “Trinity” anywhere in the Bible.  And yet, as we read the Scriptures – we can only conclude that when the Scriptures talk about God – when it mentions the Father – or the way it talks about Jesus and the Holy Spirit – we can only conclude that all three are talked about as though they are God.  All – equally – God.  

    And yet, we know that we don’t have three gods.  We have just one God.  A one-personed God in three persons.  It is not meant to be understood.  And you know what?  I’m okay with that.  You okay with that?  It’s what we call mystery.  And I’m okay with mystery.  

    The mystery itself begs these questions, “Is there a God?  And if so, what can we really know about this God?”  Now I am keenly aware that there are a lot of people who wrestle with this question.  Does God exist?  Every once in a while I like to take off on answering that question.

    So let me tell you again – that as I look at the world – the universe as I see it – read about it – watch TV documentaries – I can only conclude that this universe – this world – this planet we call earth – it all just could not have come into being in all of its complexity – by dumb luck or by chance.  It’s just too complex – and quite frankly everything has the look of being designed and engineered.  Even some prominent atheists concede that the universe has the appearance of being engineered.

    Just think of how complex DNA is – the way our bodies are made – and the balance of nature – I just don’t see how all of this complexity could have come about by chance.  Out of nothing.  If space, time, matter and energy all have to exist in order for any of the other three to exist – then this must mean that all four came into existence at precisely the same moment.  And science agrees that once upon a time there was this singularity called the Big Bang.  

    So what we observe – what we experience – in the physical realm could not have just kind of started on its own.  I mean – you can't get something from nothing, right? I look at all of this – and I can only conclude that there must have been some intelligence behind all of this – an intelligence that we call God.  
    But that’s all that my observation of nature and the universe can tell me.  That somewhere out there, there is a God.  That’s all it can tell me.

    So for today I think the question is not whether or not there is a God.  The real question is what kind of a God?  M y short answer to that is that we can only know what we know about God by how God has revealed Himself to us.  And it seems to me that the best – and I would say the only source we have of God’s self-revelation is in the Holy Scriptures.  What does the Bible have to say about who God is?

    First, we affirm God the Father.  The first book of the Bible – the Book of Genesis – tell us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  We have right at the start God revealed to us as the creator.  And as we read through the Scriptures what we discover is that this creator God created the universe with you and me in mind.  God is not a far distant God somewhere away out there.  No.  God created you and me so that we could enter into a relationship with God.

    The fact that we refer to the first person of the Trinity as Father says something about what God is like.  In fact, Jesus went so far as to refer to God not only as Father but as Abba, which is the Hebrew word for Daddy. Close.  Intimate.

    Now, I know that not everyone likes that reference to God as Father.  And the reason is – usually – that they themselves had a lousy father.  An absentee father.  A cruel or abusive father.  It’s hard to have an image of God as a loving father when your own father was a schmuck.  If that’s where you find yourself today, please don’t let that image keep you from having the kind of loving relationship that God the Father wants to have with you.  As much as I would like to think otherwise – there is no such thing as an earthly father that even comes close to the kind of father that God our Father is for us.  Kind.  Sympathetic.  Understanding.  Compassionate.  Forgiving.  These are the dominant images that the Scriptures paint of who God the Father is.

    And then there is the second person of the Trinity.  We know him as Jesus.  And when you look to Jesus – you also get a picture of who God is.  Jesus himself said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  You hear me say this all the time – if you want to know what God is like – look to Jesus.  

    So we affirm today that Jesus is also God because that’s what the Scriptures – God’s Word – affirms and so we believe.  John’s gospel starts this way “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And then in verse 14 it says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,…full of grace and truth.”  Who is that Word?  Jesus.  Jesus is what we call the Living Word of God.

    So while our understanding of who God is somewhat incomprehensible – it is a mystery – the Good News is that in Jesus Christ we do get an understanding of who God is.  You can read more about Jesus in the Bible – especially in the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  And the rest of the New Testament tells us what the early church thought about him.  Read it!  I mean – think about it.  The same God who created the universe is willing to go all the way to the cross so that we might have our sins forgiven!  That’s what God is like.  That’s the God we say we believe in when we say we believe in Jesus Christ.
    And then we affirm that the Holy Spirit is God.  Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “He.”  Not it.  The Holy Spirit is never an “it.”  The Scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit has personality.  He can be grieved.  He can be lied to.  

    It is the Holy Spirit that gives us power to say, “Jesus is Lord.”  In other words – we cannot have faith in Jesus Christ – except by the Holy Spirit.  

Well, that’s it.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That’s the best I can do in a twelve minute sermon.  Actually – that’s about the best I can do!  But someone suggested that we think about it this way.  God the Father who is for us, God the Son who is with us, and God the Holy Spirit who is within us.

     So – that’s who God is.  It’s a long way of introducing the question I really want to ask.  Do you know who you are?  Do you know who you are?  One of the most important chapters in the Bible is in Romans 8.  Listen again to what Paul says here.   About you.  “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God…, you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba! Father!”  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”  

    And it is in the waters of baptism that we receive that adoption.  Here it is that we are named.  We are claimed.  We are made sons and daughters of God.  Another mystery, to be sure.  But this is what God says He does for us.  This is what little Jackson Paul will experience in just a few moments.  Through baptism God adopts us as daughters and sons of God – adopted into God’s loving family.

    Folks – I want you to know that you are no accident – the product of an impersonal universe that came into being by pure chance or dumb luck.  No.  You are a daughter – you are a son – of the living, loving God who has been watching over you from the day you were born.

    If our understanding of the Trinity tells us anything about God, it is this.  There will never come a time in your life when God will ever stop loving you.  No matter what you’ve done – no matter where you’ve been – and if you’re prone to wander – no matter how long you’ve been away.  God will never stop loving you.

    So even though the understanding of the Trinity is a mystery – my hope and prayer for you today is that your understanding of who you are is NOT a mystery.  You are loved with an everlasting love.  So daughters!  Sons!  Let that love of God remind you of who you are – and to whom you belong.   Amen

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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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