Archive for November, 2013

Confirmation Questions 11-24-13

Sunday’s sermon came from Luke 23:33-43. You can find the sermon here.

The Confirmation Students posed an interesting question on sermon notes.

-Why was the criminal mocking Jesus along with the other people.
Great question. On one hand, we could argue that the criminal mocking Jesus was making a proper request. “Save us,” but that’s not really the point.  It seems that the criminal in this Gospel (both of them in the other gospels) were too focused on the immediate situation to really know what they were asking for. To say “Jesus save yourself and us” reveals the selfish nature of the request. The criminal is asking to be saved from the immediate pain and suffering of crucifixion. In other words, he is trying to be saved from death and remain living.  What he doesn’t realize is that Jesus is, in fact, saving all of humanity in the eternal sense. We are able to join in the resurrection of the body that Jesus made possible through his own death and resurrection.  So in short, he’s trying to save his own skin, but that’s not what Jesus was accomplishing.

Save Yourself 11-24-13

Today’s sermon was based on Luke 23:33-43. The text was the crucifixion scene, utilized as today is Christ the King Sunday.

You can listen to the sermon here:

Here is the text of the sermon so you can follow along if you like. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the weird punctuation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Considering that today is Christ the King Sunday, I almost changed up that normal opening line…not the grace and peace part…and not the God our Father part…but the last part…the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ part…I thought about saying Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our King Jesus Christ. (pause) Our king Jesus Christ.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though does it? And so as I sat at my desk, staring at my computer screen, trying to convince myself to change the format of my opening line, I ended up on Google, looking up the definition of the words Lord and Savior.
Lord is defined as someone or something having power, authority, or influence…or a master or ruler…interesting…kinda sounds a little like a king right? (pause) Well what about Savior? Well, a savior is defined as a person who saves someone or something from danger…especially in terms of a country or cause…hmmm…saving a country from danger…well shoot, that sounds like a king too doesn’t it? After all, don’t we look to the leaders of our country to protect us from danger? Sure we do…so maybe, just maybe, calling Jesus our Lord and Savior is the same thing as calling him King.  I like it…let’s run with that. (pause)
But if we’re going to call Jesus Savior…just what are we REALLY saying? What is the danger that Jesus is saving us from? That’s the real question isn’t it? And its an important one to think about.  If was to pose this question downstairs during confirmation class…I would likely be answered with a moment of silence…while the students try to decide if I’m looking for a “church answer” or a “real answer.”  And in this case, I would tell them…HINT!!! It’s the church answer. (pause)
What is Jesus saving us from? Sin and death…the big two.  (pause)
Its interesting, when we stop and really think about it…just how Jesus accomplishes all this stuff.  It’s not exactly our normal mental image when we think about a king, or a Lord, to picture a humble guy who actually seems homeless, because he’s walking around all the time…and we sure don’t tend to think of our King being tortured and killed…but yet that’s exactly where we find him in today’s story…being crucified…hanging on that cross, smack dab between two criminals…accused of a trumped up charge of sedition…accused of being the revolutionary king of the Jews.
Now interestingly enough, this is a scene that’s depicted in all four Gospels…a rare thing…but not unexpected considering the importance of the crucifixion…Jesus’ death on the cross is one of those central tenants in our faith after all…but I have to admit, I really like Luke’s account…because it’s got a couple of details not present in the other three gospels.
Luke is the only gospel where we hear Jesus say his famous words “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And it’s also the only gospel where the criminal declares his own guilt and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  (pause)
Father forgive them…who’s Jesus talking about here? Is he talking about the Romans that nailed him to the cross?  Is he talking about the religious leaders that trumped up the charges against him? Is he talking about Judas who betrayed him, or the disciples that abandoned him? Well, yes, yes, yes, and yes…but that’s not all…I think Jesus is asking God to forgive EVERYONE…because none of us really know the depth of our sin do we? We might recognize some of our sinful behavior but when we get honest with ourselves, our sinful nature goes a heck of a lot deeper than we know…
Father forgive them…forgive them of the sin that they don’t even realize is there…father forgive them…right there in that moment, as Jesus is hanging there on the cross…listening to taunts…he’s thinking of others…he’s saving us from the sin and death that rules our life, even when we don’t realize it.
And during all this time…the people there are throwing insults his direction…and all of those insults have something in common. He saved others, let him save himself…If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself…Are you not the messiah, save yourself and us.
There sure seems to be a lot of people telling Jesus to save himself aren’t there? And you know what…he could have…at any moment, Jesus could have played the “Hey I’m God card” and ended it…He could have come down off the cross, healed his injuries and walked away…but he didn’t.  Because he meant it in the garden when he prayed to his father…Not my will, but yours be done.
Jesus Save yourself…that’s the one person that he WOULD NOT SAVE…because if he chose to do that…then his request…Father forgive them…would have been meaningless…but it wasn’t…because he refused the easy road…he refused to save himself because he knew in that moment…that we needed a savior…each of us…each member of humanity, whether they realize it or not, each of us, needed him to hang on that cross and die in our place….we need him to save us from sin and death.
And in this scene…in this lesson, there’s only one person who gets it…and he’s hanging there too…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. (pause) You know, that’s an interesting request when we think about it.  It’s not “save me from this pain.”  It’s not, take me with you…it is simply asking “hey Jesus, whenever it is that your kingdom occurs and you are sitting on the throne, think about me okay…just remember me…sometime out there in the future.”
But Jesus goes farther than that doesn’t he?  Jesus makes a promise…Today you will be with me in paradise.  Today…right now…At that moment, this man receives the promise of God and if faith has taught us anything, its that when God makes a promise, you can count on it.
And in this moment, as Jesus is hanging there, in agony…tempted to save himself, we find him once again, saving someone else…Jesus remember me…and you know what, he does…not out at some unknown time in the future, but in that moment…as he was hanging there…he was thinking about those that need saving…not just the criminal that he answered…but everyone that needs saving…everyone that needs forgiveness…everyone.  And that includes you…at that moment, when Jesus says Father forgive them…you were on his mind.
And then he died…but the story doesn’t stop there…because we know that three days later…Jesus came back…we know that he was resurrected…and we believe that we are offered a place in that.
Salvation is offered to each and every one of us…We are invited to join with Jesus in a death like his so that we might also join him in a resurrection like his.  And when we join together in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are given the name child of God.
Today, at this font, Bowen Thorne will receive this gift. Today, Bowen will be washed in the water of holy baptism…today, we believe that in the waters of his baptism, the sinful self will die and he will rise again…a new creation…we believe this is true…and we believe that each and every one of us are part of that same baptism.
Through the waters of our own baptism we too, have died and risen again as members of the one body of Christ…we each share the name Beloved Child of God…and each and every day when we repent of our own sinful nature…and remember our own baptism, we proclaim the glory of Christ…we recognize our need for a savior…and we recognize that in his death…He is our king…he is the one that took authority over sin and death…he is the one that defeated it because we can’t do it ourselves…we needed to be saved from it.
And so today we recognize our king…God himself…not some angry judge standing there with his arms crossed waiting to toss you into hell…but rather God’s hanging there, bloody and gasping for breath…arms stretched out wide to show us that there is nothing he will endure to save us from ourselves. (pause)
Jesus SAVE YOURSELF!!! (pause)
Nope…he’s too busy…saving us.  Amen

Confirmation Questions 11-17-13

Last Sunday I preached on Luke 21:5-19. I focused on Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple and how the loss of the building might effect a congregation. You can find the sermon here.

The confirmation kids asked some great questions in their sermon notes. They were all focused around some of the history that I relayed regarding the temple in Jesus time. I will do my best to address them here.

-Why was there a barrier between God and Humanity?
The barrier in this question refers the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple…also it created the same separation in the Tabernacle, which was a special tent that served the same purpose as the Temple while the Israelites were wandering in the desert. It is described in Exodus 26. In this section, God is giving Moses the instructions on how to create the Tabernacle.  The Holy of Holies was originally where they stored the Ark of the Covenant…a special box where the tablets of the 10 commandments were stored. This was also where God stayed in the pillar of cloud when the Israelites camped.  The main point of the curtain and the barrier was because humanity could/can not handle seeing God. The only one to do so was Moses and he saw God from behind…not seeing God’s face.  The barrier was for the protection of the people.
-Is God’s presence greater in churches or holy buildings?
One could argue that during the time that the Israelites wandered in the desert, yes…because God would come down in a pillar of smoke to reside among the people in the tabernacle (see the last question). But I don’t believe this is the case any longer. As Jesus says in Matthew 18, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them.” God is not limited to a specific place. Though that being said, when we gather in worship in a sanctuary, God is certainly there.  So long story short, no God’s presence is not greater in one place over another, but God joins us when we gather together regardless of where we are.
-Why could only the high priest enter into the Holy of Holies?
It was the duty of the High Priest to bear the sins of the entire assembly of the people (the Israelites). On the Day of Atonement, which was the one day a year that the priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, there was a ritual that would essentially place all the sins of the people upon the high priest, who would go into the Holy of Holies and perform a sacrifice of atonement for the sins, so that God would forgive the sins of all the people. This is described in Exodus 28.
-Why were they afraid of God?
Because God is so completely and awesomely good, and we recognize our own sinfulness. An example is Moses in Exodus 3. When he approaches the burning bush and God tells him who He is, Moses is terrified and covers his face. I believe that to be in the presence of God shows us how completely non-righteous we really are.


He’s Out There 11-17-13

This sermon is based on Luke 21:5-17. Jesus discusses the coming destruction of the temple as well as what can be expected in “the last days.” I tackle it from the perspective of the loss of certain places that are meaningful for us, and how tough that can be, but that God is not limited to a place.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also read along with the sermon here. Disregard the off punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember to do them somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Monday was, of course, veterans day…a day when we stop and recognize those brave men and women who have served their country in the military…placing themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms.
Although I have had inklings over the years of serving in the military, and even did a little bit of research into the military chaplaincy program a few years back, I never went down that road…I never put on a uniform…I just never felt that calling…yet I have tremendous respect for those that have.
When I think back over my life, there is one moment that comes to mind when I felt the closest thing I’ll likely ever feel to the sense of honor and pride in being a military man…about 2 years ago, my family and I had the opportunity to travel out to northern Virginia and Washington DC. One of the days that we were there, we visited Arlington Cemetery…the resting place of thousands of our nations finest…it was a humbling experience, walking those grounds…but the highlight for me was when we spent some time at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you’ve never been to this amazing place, I certainly recommend it…a stone tomb stands on its own in an open courtyard…and a Soldier marches slowly and rigidly back and forth…guarding the tomb…I sat on the steps in front of that courtyard…and the enormity of military service…of those that have given their lives for our country…hit me…it was a very solemn…very humbling moment for me…one that I had never experienced before…and one that I have not experienced since.  And that specific place will forever hold special meaning to me. (pause)
I’m guessing that we all have memories of places like that…places where unique, special events happened…places where our lives were changed. Sometimes we can visit those places again…but sometimes we can’t.  I think back over my own life, and specially my life of faith, and there are some places that stand out.
One is Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger, IA. I was baptized there…raised there…but when I was in 5th grade, there was a fire at the church…and the sanctuary…including the font in which I was baptized…was destroyed…I don’t remember my baptism…and now I can’t go back to visit the place where it happened.
Another important milestone for me was my first communion…It happened the same year as that church fire…and my church was worshiping in the Catholic church in town…my first communion happened in a Catholic Church…strange I realize…and difficult, though not impossible, to go back and visit.
Another one that comes to mind is my wedding. Emily and I were married at First Lutheran Church in Milford, IA…and about 5 years later, the congregation completed construction on a new facility…we moved out of the old church where we were married…and where our son was baptized…and the old building was sold to another congregation…and I’ve never again set foot in that wonderful place where my life was changed.
I think about those places…those places where God did some amazing things in my life…and it saddens me to think that I can’t just go back there…because they are so meaningful to me.
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus hints at a similar situation for the entire Jewish culture…the destruction of the temple. These things you see…the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another…all will be thrown down.  This beautiful place will be no more.
Now, its important to realize just how vital the temple was for the Jewish culture…it was literally the center of life.  It is true that by Jesus’ time the majority of worship and learning happened at the local synagogues…but the center for religious life was still the temple.
The temple is where the Priests did their work…everyone in Jerusalem worshiped there…Jewish people would travel from all over the known world for religious festivals…and not only that…but God lived there…that was the belief.
The temple, as a whole, was huge…the outer courtyards where large enough to hold crowds of up to 400,000 people…but as you moved inwards, each section of the temple got smaller…and so did the “guest list.”  Anyone could enter into the outer courtyards…anyone.  Then you entered the actual building where there was a courtyard that only Jewish people could enter…then another that only Jewish men could enter…sorry ladies…after that came another area that only the priests could enter…and finally, behind a curtain, was the Holy of Holies…the place where God was…only the high priest could pass this curtain…and only one day a year…and the people were so afraid to actually approach God that they would tie a rope around the high priest…that way if he died in God’s presence, they could pull him back out again.
God lived there…that was where God could be found…where God could be approached…only behind the curtain, in the innermost chamber of the temple…and only a priest could go there. (pause)
But regardless of the restrictions placed on entry into the different sections…this was a holy place…this was a symbol for the Jewish people…and not just a symbol…it was where you went to find God…to worship God…it was THE place.
And in today’s story…Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple…and unlike Matthew or Mark’s account of this story, he’s not being metaphorical, speaking about the temple of his body which would destroyed…but here in Luke, Jesus is literally speaking about the temple itself…and he was right…about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus…the temple was utterly destroyed by the Romans…and that holy place…that place where the Jewish people went to find God…was gone.
Just think about how difficult that must have been for the people…not only at the time that the temple was actually destroyed, but also those sitting there that day…listening to Jesus speak about it…it had to have been devastating.
Think about those examples of the special places where God has encountered you in your lifetime…are they still around…are they still accessible?  Can you go to visit them again…or like the church where I was baptized…have they been destroyed…wiped out…whether by accident or on purpose…eventually…those important places in our lives…will disappear.
Perhaps it’s difficult to think about…but one day…this sanctuary won’t be here.  I don’t pretend to know the future…I don’t know the how or the why or the when…but at some point in the future something will happen, and this place of worship…this place of so many happy memories…of so many moving experiencing in countless individuals lives of faith…one day…it won’t be here anymore…and that’s a sad reality…fortunately it is one that we are not facing today, or anytime soon in the future…but someday it will happen.
And that can really be a devastating thought…and unfortunately for many churches…many congregations…that is a reality that they face each and every year…when the doors close…or when tragedy strikes.
I used to serve a very small country church with monthly pulpit supply. For about 18 months I would head out, one Sunday a month, to fill the role of leading worship, and over the course of that time, I got to know this tiny group of about 15 or 20 members quite well.  Eventually the time came when they closed the doors of the church…and it was truly a sad day for them.
In a conversation that happened shortly after the congregation closed, I asked one of the former members how they were doing…how they felt about the whole deal…and though they had found a new church home…a new congregation to join, they expressed the feeling of how hard it was to find God in a new place…not impossible…but difficult because that little country church had been the place for them…it had been the place where they had found God for so long…and over so many different experiences.
This is a sad reality…but it raises a point that is important to make…as wonderful as the buildings are…with all of their memories and experiences…God is not the building…and the building is not God…I look around this sanctuary, beautiful as it is…I think of wonderful memories that I’ve already made in my short time here…and I wonder about the countless memories and faith-filled experiences that you all possess…and as amazing as all of that is…it is not God. (pause)
Because God isn’t limited to a building…if, heaven forbid…something happened tomorrow and the building wasn’t here…devastating as that may be, I believe that Underwood Lutheran Church would continue…because the church…is not the building…it just happens to be sitting in it right now.  We are the church…
Remember those famous words uttered by Jesus. Where ever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also…
God isn’t limited anymore…God’s not just in the temple…and we don’t need to go to a specific place to find him…things have changed.  (pause)
We’re coming up on the end of the church year…the season of Pentecost is almost over, just a couple more weeks…in in December, we’ll enter Advent, the beginning of a new church year…and with it the lectionary will switch over to Matthew…we’ll be done with Luke…and perhaps that’s evident with where we are in Luke’s Gospel…Jesus is already in Jerusalem…the triumphal entry, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday…has already happened…and in fact, we’re only 1 chapter away from the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.
You know, I’ve always thought that the liturgical calendar and the lectionary are set up a little strangely…we get right up to the events in Jesus’ life that lead to his death and resurrection…but then we switch things up…and we don’t hear about those events for a few months…not till Lent, and Holy Week…and that can be a little frustrating.
But when we come back around to it…and the scripture lesson for today…its important to be thinking about those events…and particularly relevant today as we talk about the temple…is what happened on Good Friday…at the moment that Jesus died…hanging on that cross…the curtain…remember the curtain…it guarded the inner room…the Holy of Holies…the place where God was…the curtain divided God from humanity…and when Jesus died…that thing ripped in half…the curtain was gone…the barrier between God and humanity was destroyed.
In that moment…God decided to get out and stretch his legs…they might as well have hung up a sign that said “Are you looking for God…sorry, He’s not here anymore…He’s out there.”
In Christ…God put on flesh and walked around…and when that curtain was torn…the last barrier between God and humanity was destroyed…and that barrier…was sin and death…in Jesus death…we are brought to life…and we know that there is nothing that stands in our way of approaching God.
We don’t have to go anywhere special. We don’t have to go through anyone else…we can do it ourselves…and regardless of where we are…when we gather together in the name of Jesus…He’s there too…the one that placed himself in harm’s way…the one that sacrificed himself for our freedom…not from tyranny, oppression or persecution…but from annihilation…from death and destruction.
We are truly blessed to be able to gather here…each and every week…in this beautiful sanctuary to worship our Lord and Savior…and we know that when we gather together in His Name…he is here…but we also know…that he’s not just in here…he’s out there too…whenever we gather together. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 11-10-13

Last Sunday I preached on the Sadducees questioning the resurrection found in Luke 20:27-38. You can find the sermon here.

Normally the confirmation students pose questions on their sermon notes, but this week is a bit of an exception. This week in class, we were discussing the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed which deals with the Holy Spirit. In class we talked quite a bit about the work of the Holy Spirit, and how it brings us to faith in Christ, which leads to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting (the last line of the creed).

This was good timing as the sermon text dealt with the same question.  Towards the end of class, I told the students “Hint, the resurrection and life everlasting are great things, but we really don’t understand it very well at all. Write that on your sermon notes today.”

I’m happy to report that the students did just that.

The real take away from the sermon is that we’ve been given glimpses of the resurrection and life everlasting, but in the end, we really don’t know what its going to be like.  The important truth from this sermon is that Jesus tells us that there IS a resurrection and through our faith we will experience it…whatever it looks like.


Just a Glimpse 11-10-13

In this sermon, I tackle the dispute over the resurrection that Jesus has with the Sadducees, found in Luke 20:27-38.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. Disregard all the odd punctuation and indications to pause.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
By now, most of you have probably figured out that I’m a movie buff. I enjoy a lot of different types of movies…different genres…different styles…different time periods…Sometimes I’ll watch a movie once and never come back to it again…other times I’ll get ahold of a movie and will watch it repeated for a few weeks and then have it fade into obscurity…and sometimes I find a movie that is so good, I put it on the shelf, but then dust it off periodically and watch it again.
I can think of several examples of that last type of movie…but today, there is one particular example…1989’s Lonesome Dove…a made for tv miniseries based on the book of the same name…starring Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall…and pretty much every other actor or actress that was working in the late 80’s. There is a scene about three quarters of the way through in which Angelica Houston, who has lost her husband, walks out to her family cemetery where her hired man Cholo is busy digging a grave. They sit and chat over a cup of coffee…and the subject is death…
Sometimes it seems like grave digging is all we do around here, don’t it Cholo? What do you think happens when we die…His response…Not too much. You are just dead… (pause)
Cholo has a pretty simple view of the end of life doesn’t he?  It’s like a book…you finish reading, and close the cover. Life is over…you’ve got a certain amount of time on earth but once its finished, its finished.
Cholo sounds quite a bit like the random characters in today’s scripture lesson known as the Sadducees. (pause)  Ahh the Sadducees…subjects of many Bible trivia questions…it seems like everyone has heard of the Sadducees, but other than partnering them up with the Pharisees as “religious leaders” we don’t know a lot about them.
Today’s lesson actually gives us a little tidbit about their beliefs though…they don’t believe in the resurrection…period, end of story. Like Cholo in Lonesome Dove…when someone dies they think “well, you are just dead.” I actually find it a little ironic when I see the Sadducees paired up with the Pharisees like they are allies…reality was quite a bit different…yes, both groups were Jewish “religious leaders,” but they actually differed in a lot of ways…one being what each group considered “scripture.” The Sadducees followed the torah…or the first 5 books of our Old Testament…The Pharisees…well they liked the Old Testament in its entirety.
And this is where their different views on the resurrection come from…its not mentioned in the Torah…and so the Sadducees don’t buy it…but the prophets were fond of the notion of resurrection, and so the Pharisees…well they believe that there is a little something more after death. (pause) But how can that be?  Both groups are Jewish…shouldn’t they all have the same ideas? (pause) You know what…hold that thought…we’ll come back around to it.
The resurrection…now that’s a funny thing isn’t it…kinda hard to really nail down just what its going to be like isn’t it? I mean…for starters…just what is it?  Is “the resurrection” something spiritual? Does it mean that our soul leaves our dead body and heads off to heaven? Or is it immortality…that our body never actually dies? Or does it mean that our bodies come back to life?
Have you ever stopped and really thought about that? Maybe we should…we proclaim it every week in worship…have you noticed that? It’s tucked discreetly in at the end of the Apostles Creed…but it’s one of those blink and you miss it phrases…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…did you catch it there?
The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…well…that’s sort of ambiguous isn’t it? Does that mean that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus body…that he rose again? Well, yah…we proclaim that earlier in the creed…but aren’t all believers members of Christ’s body?  Oh yah…so…does that mean that we raise again too? Seems like it…and then there’s life ever lasting…okay…that sounds good…but just what does it mean?  What does it look like? (pause)
That’s the million dollar question right there…what does the resurrection look like…or more simply…what does the afterlife look like? (pause) That seems to be the question being posed today by the Sadducees…what’s coming next Jesus…got a good answer for us? (pause)
We get a lot of images of the afterlife…of life everlasting…of resurrection don’t we?  Pop culture…including movies and tv…are full of them. I think of the movie Gladiator when the hero dies and finds himself walking down the road to his house where his dead wife and son are waiting for him…I think of the popularity of vampires…and that’s a different spin on the notion of living forever isn’t it?  And we can’t deny the popularity of zombies today…with shows like the Walking Dead…which even addressed this very notion in one episode…is the resurrection of the dead fulfilled when humans come back as zombies? (pause)
But what about images of the afterlife outside of pop culture? We get those too don’t we? As I thought about this idea I found myself remembering the sermon preached at the funeral of my grandmother a few years back…and an illustration of Grandma walking through the pearly gates…being greeted by my grandpa who had preceded her by a few years saying “Hey there honey…what took you so long.” (pause) And while that illustration gave me a sense of comfort in the moment of mourning…I don’t know if its accurate or not?
And so we come back around to it…just what does it look like? Well Scripture…well Jesus? Do you have a good answer for us today? Will our relationships be the same? Will our bodies look the same…will our souls look like us? (pause) What’s it gonna look like?
Well…Jesus doesn’t give us a lot to go on does he? Just a quick glimmer…we’ll be like the angels…and we won’t be married…and that’s about it…unfortunately, scripture doesn’t really give us a lot to go on when it comes to this notion of the resurrection.
Jesus himself has raised some different people from the dead…most famously his friend Lazarus…but as far as we know…every one of those people raised by Jesus or Elijah, or Paul, or the disciples walked the earth for a while longer…and then died again…so not a lot of help there.
Later on, while hanging on the cross…one of the criminals asks Jesus to remember him in the kingdom…and Jesus replies “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And then they both die…we don’t know what happens to the body of the criminal, but we know he’s dead…and at that point so is Jesus…so did they both head off to heaven together? Well, no, they were just dead, and then three days later Jesus wasn’t dead anymore…
And Jesus’ own resurrection…that brings it’s own mysteries.  We call Jesus the first born from the dead, and so perhaps it’s helpful in this whole discussion to look at his example. Jesus interacts with the living…so we know that he’s got some sort of a physical body…but people don’t seem to recognize him…Mary Magdalene thinks he’s the garderner…the two men on the road to Emmaus spend the day with the guy without realizing it…so it would seem that Jesus looks different in the resurrection, so does that mean that we will to? (pause)
Lot’s of questions…questions that really don’t get an answer at this point in the game…and so we have the tendency to speculate….or to interpret…and we try to make up our own minds about just what’s coming over the horizon…what the unseeable will look like…and we talk about it…we talked about it in Confirmation class last week…we talked about it again today…countless religious scholars and groups debate it…different denominations dispute each other…different religious groups argue…atheists deny it all and think we’re crazy (pause)
In short…its all up in the air…but you know what…in the end…it doesn’t really matter what we think, or expect, or interpret does it?  I talked about this passage with the high schoolers earlier in the week, and we pretty much agreed that the Sadducees in today’s story are really just being jerks. They don’t believe in the resurrection…and for whatever reason they hate Jesus…and so they want discredit him by attacking his teaching on the resurrection…now obviously they’ve given this a lot of thought…and perhaps that’s not surprising…it seems like the religious leaders always try really hard when they are attempting to discredit Jesus or the disciples or other believers…we see the same sort of thing today when it comes to items of debate…know your opponents arguments so you can counter them, or make them look stupid…isn’t that exactly what they try to do here? (pause) and isn’t that what we tend to do to each other when we fall on opposites sides of an issue?
As I thought about this scene…and the feeble attempt of the Sadducees to argue against a point that only God himself has any merit in answering…and I wondered about Jesus’ reaction to the question.
Teacher…a woman is married to 7 brothers…in the resurrection, who’s wife will she be? (pause)  “REALLY?” Do you suppose Jesus got aggravated?  Or did he sort of chuckle to himself in the way that a parent chuckles at the odd ball notions that a young child comes up with?  I don’t know of course, but I tend to think the latter.
Humanity, in no way can fathom the mysteries of God or the resurrection or heaven or salvation, or the rest of it. We try really hard though don’t we…really hard…and often times we butt heads with each other when we come up with different solutions…but in the end, doesn’t Jesus really tell us…hey…I know this is over your head…I know this is confusing…but hey…just remember…its not up to you to figure it out…its not up to you to pull it off…its not up to you…but it is for you.
Salvation from sin is for you…the resurrection of the body and whatever that means…is for you…Jesus is for you…and regardless of what it will look like or be like…regardless of if its our soul or our bodies being reanimated or changed…regardless of just what the reality of a new heave and a new earth really means…we have the hope the hope that Jesus gives us that God, is not a god of the dead…but of the living…for to him…All are alive…and regardless of our understanding…Jesus says here…that there is…a resurrection…and we have a place in it…so let’s rest in that hope…Amen.




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Confirmation Questions 11-3-13

Last Sunday I preached on Luke 6:20-31, which is Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. You can find that sermon here.

One question came up from the sermon notes submitted by the confirmation students. I’ll try to address it here.

-Why is it that people who are full will be hungry when those who are hungry will be full?
Great question…and really gets to the heart of this particular passage. Jesus makes 4 different comparisons. First he says “blessed are you [who have it rough], for [it will get better] but woe to you [who have it good now] because [it will get worse].” As I read this passage over and over again, it really seemed to be pointing towards what an individual is putting their hope in. Jesus speaks to those who are suffering now, due to hunger or lack of resources to let them know that if they trust in the promises of God, there will be something more for them following this life. Eternal life in heaven. But on the flip side, when Jesus addresses those that have much, I believe he is saying that we are not to place our trust in those resources…because they can fail us in this life, and they won’t earn our salvation.  This whole passage seems to be saying “be careful what you place your hope in” because things of this world will fail you.

Life’s A Roller Coaster

Today’s sermon came from Luke 6:20-31. You can listen to it here.

In this sermon I tackle Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. I explore the comparisons between the “blessed be…” statements and the “woe to…” statements. I explore how life is full of ups and downs like a roller coaster…and how that back and forth is like Luther’s teaching that we are simultaneously saints and sinners.  You can read along here. Disregard the odd punctuations and indications to pause. I gotta remember these things somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Back in April of 1997, my senior year of high school, the administration of the Graettinger Community School district approved something that they hadn’t allowed in many years…an overnight senior trip. My class of 24 students and a few chaperones headed to the Des Moines area for a couple different class activities…the most prominent in my memory being an afternoon at Adventureland.
Now, Adventureland is, of course, an amusement park…and as most of you likely know, amusement parks are best enjoyed in sunny, warm, calm weather.  Iowa in early April…not overly sunny, warm, or calm…We had a breezy overcast day…and so you can imagine…there weren’t a lot of crowds flooding the gates of Adventureland that day…and so for this group of 20 odd high school seniors…we pretty much had the run of the park.
As we all jetted around the park, trying out the various rides…the lines were short…if there were lines at all…and the anticipation of trying out a new ride was very short lived…we pretty much spied a ride…and hopped right on it…including the park’s roller coasters.
Now if you’re anything like me…you like roller coasters…They are exciting…they are a thrill…especially the first time you ride it because you really don’t know what to expect. The twists and turns…flying around…side to side…up and down….all those reversals. (pause)
That first time on a roller coaster…now that’s livin right there…but then…each time you ride it again…it loses a little something doesn’t it? Sure, its still exciting…but you start to develop an awareness of what’s coming…and the thrill of the unknown begins to drain out.
That day at Adventureland…about 8 of us hopped on the main rollercoaster…no line…no waiting…we just ran up the ramp and hopped on…and away we went…screaming our heads off in excitement over that first ride…and it was exciting…when we came pulling back in at the end of the ride, one us hollered “THAT WAS AMAZING!!!! CAN WE GO AGAIN?” The guy looked…saw no one else waiting…and said “Sure…looks like you kids can go as many times as you want to.” We hollered out approval…and went out on lap number 2…and 3…and 4…and 5…and 6…and 7…and finally 8. (pause)
By lap number 8…it was getting a little old…and when we pulled in that last time…we just wanted to get off the ride. All the thrill was gone…and in the end…the ups and downs…well they were just making us sick to our stomach. (pause)
Ups and downs…does that sound familiar to anyone? We experience plenty of ups and downs in our lives don’t we? We experience a lot of reversals…and we see quite a few reversals in today’s scripture lesson don’t we?  Luke’s account of the Beattitudes…a little shorter than Matthew’s account…a little more blunt…and also…we’ve got the woes in there don’t we? (pause)
This is one of those passages when I’d like to go in and switch up the order of the verses a little bit. Luke starts off on one foot, goes for a few verses…but then drops the hammer.  He starts off with the blessings, but then flips the switch…but I think it’s a little more eye opening if we pair them all up together. (pause)
Blessed are you who are poor…for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich…
Blessed are you who are hungry now…for you will be filled…but woe to you who are full…
Blessed are you who weep now…for your will laugh…but woe to you who are laughing now…
And finally…blessed are you when people hate you…and exclude you…and revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man…for surely your reward is great in heaven…but woe to your when all speak well of you…
Isn’t that kind of eye opening?  Last Wednesday night I was talking with the high schoolers about this passage…and we all though it was weird that Jesus seemed to be saying…if it stinks now, it’ll get better, but if you’ve got it good now its gonna go downhill…ups and downs…lots of reversals…just like life.
Because life is full of those reversals isn’t it?  When we stop and think about it, its kind of a no brainer…sometimes things are going great…but then one thing goes wrong…and then another…and then another…and the next thing you know, you feel like you’re at the bottom of the barrel…just trying to stay afloat…
And on the flip side, we have those times in our lives when everything’s lousy…nothing is going your way…and then something changes…and before you know it…things are going okay…ups and downs…reversals. (pause)
Now if you’re anything like me, you might be sitting there thinking about the notion of reversals…and wondering just what the heck it all has to do with All Saints Sunday…I wondered the same thing this week…and in yet another moment of personal exasperation, I found myself wanting to smack the people that created the lectionary right upside the head because they seemingly took a scripture lesson that has nothing to do with the saints and put it right in there…smacking us in the face with it…thanks lectionary authors…
But then I stopped and thought about it for awhile…and I thought about All Saints Sunday…and what we’re really celebrating today…Yes, one hand, on this day, we stop and remember those that have gone on before us in the past year…those that have crossed the great threshold between this life and whatever lies beyond…between this existence that we all know…and the next one…that we’ve only caught glimpses of…that’s one of the things that we remember today…but it’s not the only one.
It occurred to me this week that two church festivals…two church celebrations for us Lutherans…are actually closer together than we tend to realize. Last Sunday we celebrated Reformation Day, and today All Saints Day…but they actually fall on October 31st, and November 1st…Thursday and Friday…back to back days…
On Reformation Day we remember Martin Luther nailing the theses on the church door in Wittenburg…and one of the concepts that Martin Luther taught…one of the tenants of the Lutheran faith…something that we recently talked about in confirmation…is the notion that we are simultaneously saint and sinner.
Each and every day we go back and forth between the two…each and every day we feel the effects of sin in our life, yet we recognize that Christ’s sacrifice has made us free from that sin…and each of us…is in essence…a saint…we go back and forth all the time.
And so, when we celebrate All Saints Sunday…we are not only remembering those that have gone on before…but we are celebrating each and every believer across time…those that have gone before, those that are still here today, and those that will come after us.
And while we all fall under both categories…its important to remember just what a saint really is. (pause)  A saint…is someone that has received that which God has promised… (pause) And so we ask the question…just what has God promised?
Well…he has promised that if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior…our savior from our own sinfulness…that same sinfulness that we feel and experience every day…when we receive that promise in faith…then its done.
And as I’ve hammered into the confirmation students time after time, faith is the key…its not by any merit of our own…but only by faith through the grace of God. (pause)
And what a blessing to be able to hear those promises…we can hear them in many places…one of which is right here in worship…and more specifically, we hear those promises in the sacraments.  In our baptism we are named and claimed as a child of God, secure in the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ…and in Communion, we hear the promise again…that through the broken body and blood of Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins…we hear those promises and through faith we receive them and God has told us that the promise is ours…that’s what makes us all saints despite being sinners…each and every day…not just today.
Martin Luther once said every time you wash your face remember your baptism…and Christ himself said as often as you eat and drink do this in remembrance of me…we live in the promise of God every day…through the ups and the downs…through all the reversals…throughout the roller coaster of life…we claim those promises…and we know that one day…when we cross the threshold of this life into whatever lies beyond…and we join in that cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us…that God will be faithful to the promises that we claim today. Amen.