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Tuesday, February 23 2016
Luke 13:31-35; Philippians 3:17 - 4:1; Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18
As you were listening or reading along with me just now as I read today’s reading from Luke’s gospel, did anything strike you as odd? Anything? Let me tell you what caught my attention. Two things. Well, three things really.
First, the Pharisees – the Pharisees of all people – they don’t like Jesus – are warning Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. You remember who Herod is, right? He’s the puppet ruler for the Romans in the are of the Galilee. And Jesus’ response? His response is the second thing that caught my attention. Sounds a bit un-Jesus like if you ask me when he says, “You tell that fox, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”
Actually, I kind of like Jesus’ answer. Calls Herod a fox. That caught my attention. Not the image of Jesus we have. You know – Jesus meek and mild – all that that kind of hokey stuff that doesn’t really capture who Jesus is at all. No. Jesus is standing up for what he believes in. And he’s not afraid to do it. He is not afraid to do the work that the Father had sent him to do. He wants Herod to get the message loud and clear, “I’m going to be doing the work of Him who sent me.”
And by saying that – which is the third thing that caught my attention – Jesus was once again saying something about who he himself is. By showing what it is that he does – he says something about who he is. In other words, he is saying, “I am going to do what I am going to do. The Father lives in me. Therefore, I must do what I must do, and no earthly ruler is going to stop me.”
This is the same Jesus that I keep telling you all the time that we are supposed to imitate. And by that I don’t mean that we should go around calling somebody else a fox, or whatever name you might feel like calling someone else who irritates you. We’re not going to do that, are we! Not us good Lutherans, right? Yeah, right. Today – let’s save the name calling to the presidential wannabes. As shameful as that is. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Listen! What we need to do is to take a look at ourselves. One of the things that we focus on in this season of Lent is to take an honest look at ourselves, and to admit that we are sinners who mess up, and admit our need for forgiveness. And I just want to remind you that God IS faithful. He promises to forgive. To forgive you all your sins. Because that’s who God is and that’s what God does.
But quite frankly, I’d like us to move beyond forgiveness – and to learn what it means to become imitators of Jesus Christ. In everything. In our thoughts – in our actions – in our words. Our attitudes. Our beliefs.
I mean – even the Pope and the Donald got into it this week over just what that means! Ok. I know. I said I wouldn’t say any more about that, didn’t I!
Our reading from Philippians says something about Christ-likeness. Paul – the author of this letter to the Christians in the Greek city of Philippi – tells them to “join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”
Sounds a little arrogant, don’t you think? “Join in imitating me.” How would it sound to you if I were to stand up here and say, “Hey! Imitate me! If you want to be like Christ – imitate me.” Why are some of you laughing?
What I understand Paul to be saying is this. He wants the Philippians to follow his example, yes, but also to “be imitators – not of me – but WITH me.” Which is pretty much what Paul says in another letter, his FIRST letter to the church in Corinth that we call – oddly enough – FIRST Corinthians. In chapter 11, verse 1, he writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” That sounds better, yes?
Among my favorite Scripture passages is Galatians 2:20 – in fact I’ll tell you that it is my favorite – which says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave his life for me.”
If you can – I want you to wrap your head around that for just a minute. “It is no longer I who live.” I’ve got to tell you that the first time I heard that phrase, I was a sophomore in college, and I didn’t understand it. But here’s what I learned. It is no longer I who live. In other words, Randy – Randy is dead. It is no longer Randy who lives, but Christ who lives within – Randy!
Listen! Let’s go back to Jesus for a minute. Jesus is telling the Pharisees – hoping that Herod would get the message – “The Father lives within me. I must do the work of Him who sent me.”
Folks – let me tell you something. This is what Jesus wants for you and me too. He wants to live within us. It’s all about being in a relationship with Jesus Christ to the point where we can say, “Christ lives in me.” So –as disciples of Jesus Christ – let me ask you. Who lives in you? Who or what lives in you?
• What guides your decisions?
• What sets the course of your life?
• What determines the way you think?
• The way you treat others around you?
• What – or who – is it?
Remember just a few seconds ago I said that Randy is dead? Randy is dead. It is no longer Randy who lives but Christ who lives within Randy. But here’s the deal. That old Randy – what the Bible calls the old self – keeps coming back up to the surface. I know. Hard to believe, but it’s true. When you see me at my worst – and some of you have – it’s that old me coming to the surface – again! And it’s like there’s this war going on inside of me. I want to imitate that Christ-likeness that each one of us is called to imitate. I want my life to be a reflection of Christ living in me. I know it doesn’t always happen. But still – that is the life I want to live.
And when I mess up – miss the mark – those are the times when I am so very grateful for Romans chapter 7. If it weren’t for Galatians 2:20, I’d say Romans 7 would be my favorite. But it’s interesting, the same Paul who said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me,” says in Romans 7, “The good I would do, I do not do. And I do the very thing I hate…Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It’s a struggle. And if Paul struggled – well – then I guess we can admit that we struggle too. Sounds like we’re in good company, don’t you think?
Listen! This is NOT a sermon where I am telling you that it’s good to be good and it’s nice to be nice. I don’t like those kinds of sermons. Christ likeness goes way beyond that. Way beyond.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Most of you remember something that happened in our country last year. It affected all of us. You remember the name Dylan Roof? The white racist who was arrested for shooting nine African Americans to death at a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Again, what makes this incident all the worse for us in this room is that Dylan is one of us. Dylan is an ELCA Lutheran. Apparently, the message that we preach and teach – the message that his pastor taught – somehow didn’t register in his heart. Something or someone else was living in him, but I can tell you at that moment, it wasn’t Jesus.
Now, at his trial, some of the relatives of the dead came to court to speak directly to Roof, and do you remember what they said? They told him – that they forgave him.
Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, was one who spoke. She said to Roof, “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. ... You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
At a news conference later, South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley alluded to the statements the victims' families extended toward the shooter, saying, “Their expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away.” And no wonder. In that painful circumstance, those relatives of the murdered looked like the Christians they are. Because Christ is living in them.
You know – I don’t know. I would like to say that I would be as forgiving. But I don’t know. I think in time, yes, that I might be. I hope I never have to find out. But this much I do know. It was Christ alive and living in the hearts and minds and lives of those loved ones whose lives had been shattered by one man’s act of hate – that allowed them to say, “I forgive you.”
So let me ask you. Who lives in you? Who or what lives in you?
The answer is critical. I think what we want to say is, “Christ lives in me.” And if that is true, then it will show. It will show. And yes, people will notice the difference. They will see Jesus in us!
Let me share with you a story. Maybe this will wrap up everything I’m saying here today.
One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, there’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand." (I know. Sometimes that happens.)
The mother said, “Oh? What is it?”
The little girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said
God is so big that He could hold the whole world in His hand. Is that true?”
The mother replied, “Yes, that's true.”
“But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?”
Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was
With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us – wouldn't He show through?”
Who lives in you, huh? Who. Lives. In. You? It is my hope and my prayer that every one of us would arrive at that point where we can shout, “Christ! Christ lives in me. And I live for him.” Amen.
Monday, February 15 2016
Temptation. Usually not something we like to talk about. What do you think of when you first hear that word…?
When I teach about temptation to Confirmation students, and I ask them the same question, I get things like chocolate, French fries, playing video games instead of doing homework, and skipping church on Sundays to sleep in (although I’m pretty sure that last answer is always to play to the judge….)
Temptation is really anything that tries to draw us away from God. Temptation in itself is not a sin—everyone deals with temptation. In fact, Jesus himself had to deal with it.
Enter our Gospel reading for today. Luke offers us a glimpse into a conversation and battle of the wills between Jesus and Satan. Who wins….?? Well, Jesus of course. I mean, really, pitting anyone against Jesus means Jesus is gonna win, since he’s, you know, GOD.
But what’s interesting about this story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, is WHAT Satan tries to tempt Jesus with. Because it is these three temptations that show us what Jesus’ ministry is NOT. To put it another way—the things that Jesus says no to are the things he refuses to do as our Lord, things that are not why he came.
In fact, you can fill in the blank in the sermon title as we go: “Jesus is not about ____.” There will be three words, to go with the three temptations Jesus confronts. You can even write those three words down as we fill in the blanks together. Ready?
First up, Satan knows Jesus is hungry. And not just, ‘I forgot to eat lunch hungry’—Jesus hasn’t eaten for 40 days. He is literally starving. So Satan shows up, knowing Jesus is famished, and tries to get him to change a stone into a loaf of bread, knowing full well that Jesus could do it if he wanted to.
Now, I doubt Satan is going to tempt us to change a stone into bread. First of all, we wouldn’t be able to since we don’t have God powers, and secondly, unless we were fasting for 40 days like Jesus, that temptation just sounds absurd. (For example, I would want to turn the stone into chocolate rather than bread…. That just sounds way better.)
But I think what the actual temptation is, is the temptation for Jesus to serve himself rather than others, to put his needs first above others. And if Jesus did that, rather than helping others, Satan knew that Jesus’ mission would be thwarted—just like if we focus on ourselves only, we miss all the people God wants us to help. So that first fill-in-the blank is selfishness.
A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard. The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.
Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.
He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.
As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?' She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?' 'Yes,' was his incredulous reply. She answered, 'Well, today I didn't do it.'
Look what disasters can happen if we ONLY serve ourselves?? Now, I’m not saying we can’t have a mental health day as needed—we need our days off to be healthy. But I’m talking about a way of life, of always only looking out for Number One. Jesus knew that his ministry was not about that. In the Gospels, time and time again we see Jesus helping people. Being God, he could have just chilled out and lived a comfy life. But that wasn’t his purpose. Jesus was, is, and will always be the one who helps others rather than just focusing on himself. Jesus is not about selfishness.
Second temptation—Satan tell Jesus that he can reign over all the kingdoms of the world, if he only worships Satan. Jesus says no way. At first glance, this temptation looks like Devil worship, right? But the deeper temptation here is POWER. Power over all those lands, all those people. So that second fill-in-the-blank is power. If you want to be more specific, you can write worldly power.
I think in today’s world we assume that having power means that all our problems will be solved. And, while having some power means we can sometimes get things done in a more efficient way, having power doesn’t mean our lives are perfect—usually power brings more problems rather than getting rid of them.
Take Joseph Stalin, for example. The leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until 1953, he certainly had power. People bordered on worshipping him, his name and likeness were all over the Soviet Union in the form of songs, statues, and town names. But because of his power, he was afraid. He was afraid to go to sleep. He had seven different bedrooms, which locked tight as a safe, and in order to throw off would-be assassins, he slept in a different bedroom each night. He had 5 chauffeur-driven limos go with him wherever he went, and each had the curtains closed so no one would know which he was actually riding in. He was so afraid, he actually hired a servant whose only job was to monitor and protect his tea bags.
It’s clear that being the leader of one of the world super powers at the time gave Stalin more problems rather than less. Jesus knew that that type of power, the power Satan was tempting him with, was not the point of his ministry.
Jesus knew that his power does not lie in ruling over earthly kingdoms—his power is about bringing God’s kingdom here to earth. His power lies in love, in loving us and showing us how to love him and love each other. Jesus sums up all of God’s teachings in two sentences in the 12th chapter of Mark: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love God, love neighbor just as you love yourself. Sound familiar? It’s Zion’s catch-phrase. Love God. Love your neighbor. Nothing else matters! That’s what Jesus is about.
Not to mention the fact that Jesus didn’t keep his power to himself—he sent out seventy followers to teach and heal in his name, and then when he ascended into heaven he told his disciples (and us!) to teach everyone what he taught them and to go and baptize in his name. Not too shabby. Jesus is not about worldly power.
OK, third and last temptation—everyone ready for that last blank to be filled? —Satan tries to get Jesus to throw himself off the highest part of the Temple so that he can be saved by angels. Jesus, of course, says no.
So what’s this temptation all about?! I don’t know about you, but I’m not usually tempted to throw myself off the top of Zion’s roof.
Most would argue this temptation is about FAME. If Jesus were to throw himself off the Temple and live, he would be famous immediately. Something like that would never be kept quiet. So that last fill-in-the-blank is fame.
But I don’t have to tell you that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just take a look at celebrities. Many of them start off OK, but once they become famous, they fall apart due to messed up lives. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Michael Jackson…. The list just goes on and on.
Yet, even in Biblical times people wanted to be famous. James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples ask him for the two most famous seats for all eternity in Mark chapter 10—they ask, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus, however, explains to them that it’s not about power or fame, it’s about being a servant.
And then Jesus tells them: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus’ fame was not in the fact that he could throw himself off a high place and live--- quite the opposite. He became famous because of his willingness TO DIE, to save us from ourselves-- by taking our sins away and having our sins die with him on that cross.
Jesus is not about putting himself before others, or power over others, or fame based on saving himself. He is about saving us, saving those who believe who he is and what he did for us.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul writes this in the Romans passage we read today, and we heard about it earlier in the Children’s Message.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Think about that for a minute. Think how radical that is. EVERYONE who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. EVERYONE. Doesn’t matter where you live, how much money you make, what the color of your skin is. If you call on the name of the Lord, and believe that he is your savior, you belong to Jesus. It’s that simple.
And THAT’S what Jesus is about. Not being selfish, or worldly powerful, or famous. Jesus is in the business of saving everyone who calls on him. That’s why he came to earth, that’s why he is still here now, as our risen Lord. That’s why we worship him, and serve others in his name. We have an amazing God, who died for us, who continues to save us and love us and help us defeat Satan. We need him as our savior because we can’t battle against temptation alone. He is there with us, helping us say no to Satan, like he did himself.
Now THAT is what I call a Savior. Amen?
Thursday, February 11 2016
Joel 2:1-2; 12-19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2
I don’t know how in the world he got my phone number, nor did I ask. But I remember a phone call I got in the church office a number of years ago, from a man by the name of Anthony. Sometimes when people call churches, they start at the top of the list of churches alphabetically in the phone book, and just start calling one church after another. I figured maybe this guy started at the bottom, and that’s why he was calling me. And my immediate thought was that Anthony was looking for a handout. Pastors and churches get those kind of calls a lot.
But the handout he was looking for was not what I was expecting to get hit with. He was looking for … forgiveness. “I want to confess my sin,” he said. And then he told me what he had done, and the guilt he was feeling as a result. I asked him where he was calling from, and he said, “The Buffalo Psychiatric Center. I want to know what I have to do to atone.”
And then I gave him my best Lutheran answer. I said, “Anthony, you don’t have to make atonement. Jesus – through his death on the cross – has already done that for you. And you know what, Anthony? Just by saying to me what you just said to me, I want you to now that Jesus has heard your confession, and Jesus forgives you.” After I had prayed with him over the phone, I encouraged him to speak with the chaplain at the facility, and promised me he would.
Now I don’t know anything else about Anthony’s life, who he is, or even what he looks like. But the important thing is that at that moment he took a look deep with himself, and knew he needed God’s forgiveness. That he needed to turn his life around. He wanted a healing, and I would like to think that his phone call to me was the first step in that healing process.
What is true for Anthony is true for everyone of us here tonight. Tonight I am going to ask all of us to look deep within ourselves. Tonight we confess – and to confess is simply another way of saying – we admit – we agree – that we are sinners and that we are in need of forgiveness. Our sin has led us away from God – because that’s what sin does. Sin separates us from God. And that’s why we need reconciliation – we need to be reconciled to God.
Listen! I am here tonight not just to preach a message. I am here – along with all of you – because I too have a need to be reconciled to God.
The ashes that many of us will be wearing when we leave here tonight will be a reminder of that need. But there is a problem if tonight is only about the ashes.
It’s the same problem that the prophet Joel was addressing I our first reading tonight. I just love this passage from Joel. Listen again. “Rend you hearts, and not your garments.” Back in Old Testament times, repentance for the folks that Joel was speaking to included sackcloth and ashes, fasting – in other words, abstaining from eating for a period of time – and the rending – or the tearing – of one’s clothes. Unfortunately, these actions didn’t change anything. It was just an outward appearance. No change in their hearts and lives went along with it.
The sackcloth and ashes and fasting and rending of clothing was a first step. But the tragedy was that they never moved beyond that first step. So God sends the prophet Joel to say, “Rend your hearts, and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Did you hear that? Those are grace words. God wants us to hear those words tonight as we repent. God wants us to rend our hearts.
But I can’t state this emphatically enough. As important as repenting and rending our hearts is – they are just a first step. There is a transforming power in the gift of forgiveness. There is transforming power in Jesus Christ – and once He gets a hold of us – there is real change. Real transformation.
But we need to move beyond this first step.
Listen. Sometimes I think we are afraid of God. We run away from God. We’re afraid of returning to the Lord our God. Afraid of what God might do if we really do confess just what a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Sometimes I think we look at God like He’s the town cop, and afraid we’re going to get busted!
Well, let me tell you something! You won’t get busted! But you will be forgiven. God isn’t about to throw the cuffs on you. No. He’s in the forgiving business. In fact, God can’t wait to forgive you.
SO let’s call repentance and forgiveness the first step – the first step in what is for us a life-long journey. And if you will allow it – if this hasn’t already happened for you – the first step towards a transformed life. After all – for you and me to repent of our sin is only half of the equation. The other half of repentance involves change – a turning around – a turning away from the old life of sin.
And yes, I know. I know I know, I know, it’s not an easy thing to do. Spiritual growth – Christ like growth – that takes us beyond the first step takes time. It’s a process. But you know something? God is interested in you, and how you’re doing. God is interested in seeing you grow and change and develop – to see you become more and more like His Son Jesus Christ. It’s a maturing in Christ kind of thing. And this takes time. grow or change or develop. No. But God is interested in how strong you grow.
On my book shelf in my office is a book called, “The Purpose Driven Life.” To illustrate this process of growth and transformation, there is a story from that book that I want to tell you. A man by the name of “Lane Adams once compared the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used in World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific. First, they would ‘soften up’ an island, weakening the resistance by shelling the enemy strongholds with bombs from offshore ships. Next, a small group of Marines would invade the island and establish a ‘beachhead’ – a tiny fragment of the island that they would control. Once the beachhead was secured, they would begin the long process of liberating the rest of the island, one bit of territory at a time. Eventually, the entire island would be brought under control, but not without some costly battles.
“Adams drew this parallel: Sometimes – when Christ comes into our lives – some folks open the doors of their hearts the first time Jesus knocks. But most of us – and I would suggest the vast majority of us – become defensive. We resist.”
[And let me add here that our resistance doesn’t mean that we aren’t Christians; that we aren’t believers. It’s just that change – especially in some areas of our lives – and I’ll let you fill in the blanks here – sometimes real change is hard. We know where we’ve messed up – we genuinely want to turn our backs on sin – and we’ll even take that first step called repentance. But change? You’re asking me to change? But I like my sin!]
But then – but then – we take that next step. There is a rending of the heart. We open our lives to Jesus as THE change agent in our lives. And he gets a beachhead. And then Adams goes on to say, “You may think you have surrendered all your life to him, but the truth is, there is a lot to your life that you aren’t even aware of ….[But] that’s okay. Once Christ is given a beachhead, he begins the campaign to take over more and more territory until – until what? Until all of your life is completely his. There will be struggles and battles, but the outcome will never be in doubt. God has promised that ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’”
[And you thought you were coming here tonight just to get a smudge on your forehead. There’s so much more to tonight than just ashes, isn’t there!]
Then Adams asks this question. “Why does this change process take so long? I’ll tell you why.
1. We are slow learners.
2. We have a lot to unlearn. [And that I will add is probably the most challenging part of moving beyond the first step. We have so much to unlearn. Chew on that for a while].
3. We are often afraid – not only to face God – but to face the truth about ourselves.
4. Quite frankly – growth is painful. Change can be painful. And sometimes – it can be downright scary.
5. And then the fifth reason why the change process can take so long is this. Habits – good habits – take time to develop.
Folks – Jesus is our change agent. He is working on you right now even as I speak. Oh, you might not be aware of it. But it’s happening.
Tonight, we begin once again with the first step. Ash Wednesday is to repent. But our life with Christ – our life of repentance – doesn’t end here. Can I encourage you tonight – to invite Jesus into that area or areas of your life that need changing? Those places in your life that cry out for transformation?
Yeah – it may be painful. In fact – I would say – count on it. But I’ve got just one word to say to you about that. Suck it up! Okay, that’s three words. But once you start walking with Jesus – and as you continue your walk with Jesus – once the healing gets started – you can find it can be one of the most joyful things you have ever experienced.
And who knows? Maybe God can even turn your mess into a message, yes? But once we’ve taken the first step, it’s time to move on – on beyond the first step. Change. Transformation. Our growth in Christ – our life with Christ – it’s a life-long walk – that goes way beyond the first step.
Tuesday, February 09 2016
Well tomorrow night’s/tonight’s the big night. Of course, I’m talking about the Super Bowl. Who’s going to win? How many want the Bronco’s to win? How many want the Panther’s? How many of you don’t care?
Hey –let me ask you. What’s it take to put together a winning team? At least, one that’s good enough to go to the Super Bowl. Huh? What’s it take? It’s okay, you can talk to me.
Okay, so you need a quarterback, coaching staff, guys who can tackle, guys who can block. Guys who can run. Guys who can catch. Guys who can kick – the ball that is. You need a place to practice and a place to play.
I couldn’t help thinking on this national holiday that we call Super Bowl Sunday – that what goes into making a winning football team – is not unlike what it takes for Jesus to put together a winning team. He needs lots of different people to do lots of different things. Coaches and players, right? A place to practice, and a place to play.
So – as members of Team Jesus – may I suggest to you that the church – this place – is the place where we practice. This is our practice field where we train, and learn, and develop – those gifts, those skills, those talents – that make us useful to the team. And the place where we play – where we take the results of our training – is outside these walls. Out there. Out there is the playing field.
Now I don’t know who it is that you think Jesus might have thought would have been ideal candidates to be his followers – to be on his team – but I would suggest that at first glance that the three disciples that Jesus takes with him up to the Mount of Transfiguration – Peter, James and John – would probably not be our first choices. This is a rough group. Sunburned, calloused, fishermen. Perhaps a little salty in their language – we really don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. But I would guess – and again, we really don’t know – that you would be more likely to see these guys someplace other than anywhere near a church. Well, actually, a synagogue.
But here we are today – on this Transfiguration [weekend] [Sunday] and we find that these three disciples are in awe when they see Jesus transfigured in all of his brilliant glory. They don’t know what to do. They are terrified. And Peter – just has to say something – want to build three shelters of sorts to mark the occasion – but quite frankly – they are so in awe that they really don’t know what to do or say.
All three – all three – for whatever their reasons happened to be – felt unworthy to be there. But the Lord wanted these men to be on his team. They didn’t know it then – but what happened to them on that Mount of Transfiguration was a part of their training. Jesus was preparing them for that time when they would be going into the world to tell anyone willing to listen about all that they had heard and seen and experienced when Jesus walked the earth. They were a part of the team. And you know what? The Lord wants you and me to be on his team too.
Now, at some point the analogy with football kind of breaks down. You see, the game of football is a rough game. Lots of hitting. Lots of tackling. The team Jesus calls us to is more akin to touch football. Being a part of Team Jesus requires a special touch. Jesus teaches us that our job as disciples is to touch peoples’ lives. To create a place where lives can be changed. Where grace, mercy, healing and forgiveness are given away for free.
It requires a special touch. This assumes, of course, that we are a little touched ourselves. And we are when we are touched by Jesus with God’s amazing grace.
So we go out into the world and we touch others. But what does this look like? There are many ways, but I want to focus on just two. And both points I want to talk about focus on evangelism First, touching the lives of others is invitational. Waiting for the right moment. I have found that if a person is not ready to talk about God – or Jesus – or church – then the time just isn’t right. However – however – when the time is right – a simple invitation sometimes is all it takes. A simple invitation that says, “Come, and see!”
By the way, think about how it is that you first came here. For some of you, you’re here because your mother and/or your father brought you here. And you’ve been coming here ever since. My conversations with folks joining the church tell me overwhelmingly – a vast majority will say – “Someone invited me,” or “Someone told me about you.” That’s what I would call the soft touch. That simple invitation works a lot better than the person who wants to argue – or guilt – or shame – somebody else into believing.
A simple invitation is sometimes all it takes. And a lot of you are doing just that. Keep it up.
So the first thing about being a part of team Jesus is that it is invitational. The second thing involves story telling. Folks – if there is anyone who has a great story to tell – it’s us. I can’t think of anyone or any group that can tell a story that is also a Good News message like the one we in the church have to tell.
Someone once called the Bible, the Divine Drama – in other words – the Bible from Genesis through Revelation is God’s interaction throughout history with us human beings. And we see a part of that Divine Drama in our Gospel reading from Luke – again what we call the Transfiguration of our Lord. Moses and Elijah are two heroes of the Jewish faith. They are heroes of our faith tradition as well. And the stories of the Bible – stores about Moses and Elijah – and so many, many others – are stories of faith and of the many times God interacts – and intervenes – and saves – and creates – a people for Himself. From creation – right on through the history of the People of Israel – in other words – the Jewish people – through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – to the life of the early church. The Bible is full of amazing encounters between God and God’s people. Stories of miracles. Stories of death and resurrection. Of love and grace. Of mercy and forgiveness.
For instance, we know about this story of the Transfiguration because Peter and James and John later told about it. It’s recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. A reference is made to it in II Peter.
Just to demonstrate how a modern day story can convey the same message that the stories from the Bible tell us – let me tell you a story. I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, so I like stories about Niagara Falls. Listen.
In March 2003, a resident of Buffalo, NY attempted suicide by climbing into the icy waters just above the rushing waters of Niagara Falls. But at the last minute, the man changed his mind. Now, this man was luckier than most. He grabbed hold of a rock in the freezing waters just above the Falls.
A helicopter crew was dispatched to rescue him. The crew threw a safety line to the man, but as he reached for it, he lost his footing and was swept even closer to the Falls. He grabbed another hand hold on some rocks and reached the safety line. But then, he and the safety line were pulled up under a shelf of ice along the shore line only a few feet from the very edge of the Falls. One of the rescue workers pounded on the ice until it shattered. He then hauled the man up out of the water and into the helicopter.
That rescue worker, as well as the rest of the rescue squad, put themselves in a treacherous situation in order to save this desperate man who had changed his mind about going over the Falls.
So why did they do it? Why did the rescue squad put their lives in danger to rescue this man? Let me tell you why the rescue team did it. They did it because – that’s what they do. Their rescue of that man had nothing to do with his worthiness. Other than, he was a human being – a man who needed rescuing.
Now, I hope that you just heard the Good News that that story of rescue was meant to say. The Good News message I want you to hear is this. God loves you – and God rescues you – not because you deserve it – not because you are worthy – but because of who God is. Saving and rescuing? That’s what God does.
But are we worthy? Naw. And in that respect we are no different than Peter or James or John. But God rescues us anyway. God saves us anyway. Because of his overwhelming love and mercy – and yes, because of His amazing grace. That’s the first thing I hope you heard.
The second I want you to draw from this is that as a member of God’s rescue team, you too can be a messenger of the Good News. And most times, that involves listening. Just listen to that other person’s story – where they’ve been – what they’ve done – without judgment. Listen to what they have to say about God – about Jesus – about the church. And you do not need to be defensive. And you don’t need to be offensive either. We’ll leave the job of defense and offense to the Broncos and the Panthers. All you have to do is listen. And if you’re lucky – maybe they’ll listen to your story too. Of who Jesus is to you. And why you believe. And what being on the Lord’s team means to you. And then if the time is right – to invite. A simple invitation is all it takes.
By the way – anyone who has been touched by the Good News message of Jesus Christ – has a story to tell. A story of God’s love and forgiveness, mercy and grace. And I’d love to hear yours. Well, not right now. But sometime when you get the chance.
Now I know that we good Lutherans aren’t known for our faith story telling. We are kind of private. Maybe what we need to do is get into practice – get into training. Get our game face on. After all, this is the place where we train – right? – This is the place where we learn to tell our story – which is really God’s story active in our lives.
Well, I don’t know which team is going to win [tomorrow night] [tonight]. But this much I do know. Jesus is putting together a winning team. Peter, and James, and John signed on. And when it comes to choosing sides, I know whose team I want to be on. I want to be on the Lord’s team – and I trust you do too. Because his is the winning team. Amen
Monday, February 01 2016
Luke 4:14-30; I Corinthians 13:1-13
Today’s Gospel reading begins in a strange way. Listen again. “Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” Well – what Scripture? Jesus is referring to a reading from the prophet Isaiah announcing what the arrival of the Messiah or the Christ will be like. This actually is a continuation from last weekend’s reading, so let me read that Isaiah passage that Jesus is referring to again to you.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
When Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he’s saying, “That’s me. I am the Christ. I am the promised Messiah.”
Now, you need to know that Jesus is in a town called Nazareth. We sometimes we all Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. It is the town he grew up in. So all the folks in Nazareth have known him from the time he was a boy. They’ve watched him grow up. They know who he is. He lets them know that his message is Good News – and his ministry is all about grace.
– in other words God’s undeserved love and favor.
– It’s about compassion.
– It’s about caring for the hungry and the thirsty, and for those in prison.
– Its’ a ministry that calls men and women to live their lives differently.
Up to this point, they like what he has to say. But then he says something to change all that. He goes on to tell them – in essence – that his ministry – his word of God’s love and grace and forgiveness – is for all people. Not just for the people of Nazareth. Not just for the Jewish nation. But for all people – including Gentiles – in other words, people outside of the Jewish faith.
Now up until that point – he has them in the palm of his hand. After that – well, they are so outraged at even the hint – of a possibility – that God might be even on the side of Gentiles – even the hated Romans – that they grab him to take him to throw him over the side of a cliff that is just outside the town limits. But somehow – don’t know how, but somehow – Jesus passes through them and goes on his way. He can do this because – well, after all – He is Jesus.
The townspeople don’t like what they hear – and they have their own special way of dealing with things they don’t want to hear. Wouldn’t be our choice, I’m sure. Not us good Lutherans! Throwing people off a cliff because you disagree with them – or they disagree with you – or they say something to offend you – is probably not our first choice. You might feel like doing that – but I am sure that’s not your first choice. So may I suggest to you that there is a better way? What the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians calls, “… a still more excellent way.”?
One of our readings today is from I Corinthians, chapter 13. And it is called the love chapter. Now – most of you are familiar with the words in this passage because – I suspect – many of you had this read at your weddings – or you have been at weddings where this passage – or portions of it – have been read.
So let’s talk about love life. I think that’s better than talking about throwing Jesus off the side of a cliff. When you see those two words together – you can see them in three ways. Number one, when I say, “Love life,” – it can be a reflection of my attitude towards life itself. “Luvvve life.” I love life. The second way, “Love life,” usually refers to the romantic side of things – between two people who love each other.
Now, I don’t want to get into trouble be asking, “How’s your love life?” and I know Valentine’s Day is just two weeks away. And guys? That’s just a friendly reminder. We cool with that?
Actually, I do want to ask, “How’s your love life?” Because today – when I use the phrase “love life” I want us to think about its use in a third way – the love life that we as disciples of Jesus Christ have for God – for other believers – AND for the non-believer as well. For our purposes today – that’s our love life.
Again, I’ve said this to you before. You can be the best Christian you can possibly be – say all the right things – do all the right things – and say and do them all in the right way – but if you do not have love – love for God and for others – no matter who those others might be – then you’ve missed the whole point of what it means to be a Christian.
And that’s why I really – love – this 13th chapter of First Corinthians. Now, I want you to see that St. Paul – the author of this letter to the Corinthians – is putting some meat on the teaching of Jesus when Jesus taught us to “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And just so you don’t forget that – not only is it our mission statement – but it’s been awhile since I put those words into that sing-songy way that will helps us remember it.
If you know how it goes, do it with me. You gotta get your fingers snapping. “Love God – and love your neighbor as yourself.” (said in a rap style, repeat several times.) There’s the longer version that works just as well. “Love God, with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor, love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yeah. You know those words. You remember what Jesus has to say about how important loving God and loving each other really are. And if you didn’t know that before now – well, now you do! So Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor, and Paul tells us what that love looks like. Which is why I really like what Paul has to say about love especially in verses 4-8. Listen:
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; – do I need to repeat that one? – it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.
Folks – I’m going to go out on a limb here and say – if you say you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ – but if you’re not also committed to a life of love – a love life – then you’ve missed the whole message of the gospel. You’ve heard me say this before: Being a Christian is more than just going to church on Saturday/Sunday. Being a Christian is more than just hoping to go to heaven some day. Being a Christian is both of those things – but if we don’t have love – as Jesus describes it – as Paul describes it – then our church going and our hopes for heaven – well, they’re kind of hollow, don’t you think? – IF we don’t also have love for God and for each other. They all go together. It’s a package deal.
Elsewhere Jesus says that people will know that you are truly my disciples if you have love for one another. You know what that tells me? Love is the central task of the Christian. It’s more than just a feeling. Love is a verb. It’s what we do. If this is how people will know that we are followers of Jesus, then true – genuine love – for God and for others – is the central Christian task.
So before you feel like throwing someone off a cliff, let me ask you – how’s your love life? Is there somebody in your life that you need to say, “I’m sorry,” to? Or are you waiting for somebody to apologize to you? Are you willing to be the one to take that first step?
Are you having a disagreement with someone? Heck – let’s call it a feud. What can you do – to the extent that it depends on you – to show love to that other person? Now I know – I know, I know, I know – that some people are just difficult to love. I get that. This is that sometimes not so easy part of being a Christian. And if you’ve done all that you can do – if you’ve done all that you can do – well then – that’s OK. Sometimes it’s OK to just let it go.
And by the way, if you’re in an abusive situation – get out. No one needs to stay in an abusive situation. That is not love!
If reconciliation is all but impossible – let me suggest that you can still pray for them. Maybe even find a way to speak well of them. Because – you know – that you can’t stay angry at someone for too long – if you’re praying for them – or saying kind things about them.
And when I say pray for them – I don’t mean, “Lord – help them to see things my way.” No. Just pray for them. And while you’re at it, pray that the Lord will give you – would give all of us – a heart to remember that,
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.
Folks – let me repeat – if you’re not committed to a life of love – a love life –then you’ve missed the message of the gospel. If you’re having trouble with that – just look to Jesus. He gave us the greatest example of what it means to love. Remember? “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son . . .” (John 3:16).
And then – in 1John 4:19 – we are told that “We love because He first loved us.” So let me ask you once again. How’s your love life?