Archive for March, 2014

A Regular Guy on a Regular Day 3-30-14

This sermon comes from John 9:1-41. This is the story of Jesus healing the man born blind and the resulting controversy that surrounds him after the healing.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was another one of those weeks…another Friday at home with the kiddos…which means I adjusted my schedule so that I wasn’t “working” on Friday, yet knowing full well that my mental coffee pot would be percolating on what to preach about this morning.
And there was a lot of different things that I felt like I could focus on…this week we have another marathon gospel lesson, similar in size to last week…oh and just a warning…next week is pretty long too…but today we focus on the…rather lengthy…account of Jesus healing a man born blind.
And so, last Friday as the day passed by I found myself being mentally pulled in different direction. On one hand, normal household activities like laundry and dishes and cooking lunch took my focus. Other times I was zoning in on the kiddos, at times sharing some time gaming or curled up watching a movie together…but all the while, Jesus kept trying to get my attention, and the blind man kept swimming up to the front of my mind…he was an annoying little bugger…and just wouldn’t leave me alone.
So that was my day…mental switching from one thing to the next to the next…never really staying focused on any one thing for very long…and then it happened…I was in the kitchen, just finishing cleaning up after lunch when I looked out the window and saw an unfamiliar car pull into the church parking lot.
Now, living right next door, I see most of the cars that pull into the church, and unless I’m really busy with something, I typically stop to see who’s stopping by…but the weird thing about this car was that it pulled into the parsonage side of the parking lot, right next to my car which was sitting in its normal spot…and low and behold…about the time I was muttering under my breath “who the heck is this now?” the front doors opened on both sides of the car and the parents of one of my best friends in the world got out…they wanted to swing in and say hi…check out the new digs and pay a quick visit to one of the several “adopted kids” that their kids brought home.
It wasn’t a long visit, but it was totally unexpected…out of the blue as I went about my regular daily activities…and with that…the blind man from today’s story came swimming back up into focus one more time…and I found myself thinking about his circumstances on the day featured in the gospel lesson.
Now as a blind man, his regular day to day activities probably involved sitting alongside the road…just trying to stay out of the way…and hoping for the kindness of those around him as he would sit begging day after day. And this day was a day like any other…when an amazing interruption happened…unexpected and out of the blue…an interruption that changed his life forever. (pause) Because on this day…Jesus came walking by.
As I think about this scene I find myself wondering exactly what happened as Jesus and the disciples happened upon this blind stranger. Did Jesus notice him or did the disciples? Did the man ask them for some money…or was he just sitting there silently? We really don’t know the full details…but apparently something about his situation caught the attention of the disciples…and they ask Jesus a question centered around an old understanding that physical ailments or impairments…his blindness in this case…is the result of sin. (pause) But that’s not what Jesus tells them is it?
And in a truly…odd situation, we find Jesus setting the disciples straight with a statement punctuated by hacking a loogy on the ground. (pause) Just imagine it…imagine Jesus calmly professing “I am the light of the world” (hack a loogy)…and then not only that, bending down, mixing up some mud with said loogy…and smearing it on this blind man’s eyes. (pause) Think about how crazy that would look…and now think about how crazy it must have sounded to this random blind guy as he sits there listening…You hear conversation…you hear a slight rebuke…you hear a guy spitting, which unfortunately was a sound that this man probably heard fairly regularly as strangers would spit on him…but then you feel a gentle set of hands smearing cool mud over your eyes…something that would have probably been very unwelcome for this blind man…until he hears the gentle voice tell him Go…wash your eyes in the pool…
And then the stranger stands up and walks away, taking his followers with him…leaving this blind man alone with mud all over his face. (pause). But then…imagine what it must have been like after he made his way to the pool…and washed his face clean…and for the first time ever, opened his eyes to see the world. (pause) It’s not enough to say that this was life changing for him…though it certainly was…but I’d say its safe to call this an earth-shattering thing…and the crazy part is…you have no idea who did this for you. (pause) Think about that for a moment…because that is exactly the situation that this guy is facing now. Blind his whole life…some random stranger comes by, smears some mud and leaves before the man can see who helped him.
And that is an interesting point right there…because for the next 27 verses…Jesus is gone…Just like Nicodimus from our Gospel lesson a couple weeks ago…right in the middle of the story…the LORD HIMSELF…disappears…and this is precisely the time that the man, once blind but now able to see…could have used a little divine backup.
Because this encounter with Jesus…as much of a blessing as it must have been for this guy to go from being blind as a bat to being able to see and care for himself…as great as that must have been…things get a little rough for him.
As the man is walking back home, he begins to encounter his neighbors…people who have known him his entire life…but they can’t recognize him… “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” He looks familiar but that man was blind…this cannot be the same man…and we see a sort of isolation begin to occur around the newly healed individual…as those around him fail to see past one physical trait that has defined him throughout the entirety of his history…they just can’t see past it…despite his continued assurances “hey guys…really, its me.”
And as bad as that must have been for this man…to not even have the ability to celebrate with is neighbors…we see him essentially put on trial. “What happened?” (pause) I don’t know…this guy put mud on my eyes, told me to wash them, and I could see…but I don’t know who he was.”
And things escalate…and he’s taken before the Pharisees who look down their nose at the fact that this all happened on the Sabbath…WHAT? HE MADE MUD ON THE SABBATH…HE PERFORMED A HEALING ON THE SABBATH…Surely not…he must be a sinner…Quickly now…tell us how this happened.
And the guy has to explain…again…Mud, eyes, wash…not blind anymore…and they bicker amongst themselves…some being swayed and others not…and they ask him again…HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? (pause…take a deep annoyed breath). Blind, mud, eyes, wash, not blind…yes we got that but who is the man…he’s a prophet…can I go now?
But he can’t leave…because the elite aren’t satisfied…and they bring in his parents…and what happens there? Well, we see the man further isolated because of the fear his parents experience…they don’t want to be kicked out of the synagogue…and so all they’ll say is “well, yes that’s our son and he was blind…BUT WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT…ASK HIM!”
This is getting ridiculous for the man…first he’s healed, but he’s alone when it happens…then his neighbors and friends fail him…then the religious leaders fail him…then his family fails him…and then to top it all off the religious leaders haul him back in for a second round.
Tell us again…how did this happen? (pause) After the day this guy is having, perhaps its understandable that he gets a little snarky with them. HEY…I already told you…why do you want to hear it again…planning on learning from him or something? And low and behold, he’s kicked out of the synagogue because of his situation…and then…only then…do we finally see Jesus come back on the scene…and for the first time, the formerly blind man is able to look in the face of the one who offered him this great gift…but he doesn’t know it..until Jesus asks the right questions…and gradually opens the man’s understanding to know the truth…that he is the Son of Man…and the man believes. (pause)
Now take a moment to think about all this that’s happened. In the midst of the normal routine of his day, Jesus utterly changes his life…and that change causes two completely different things to happen to the man…as we’ve seen, it creates a brand new isolation from him as he loses the relationship with his neighbors…and then with his parents…and finally with his “church.”
And that can happen…for some…the radical change brought upon them by encountering Jesus can cause the loss of old relationships…because the light of Christ shining in their lives drives away darkness…perhaps you’ve experienced that in your own life…but in the midst of this growing isolation…we also find a change coming over the man…and this change has to do with his testimony about Jesus.
First, he’s just the man that smeared mud on my eyes and told me to wash…but I don’t know who he is…but then, as the man continues to speak about the truth of his own experience…he calls Jesus a prophet…and then he starts getting really bold in his testimony. We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, so if he were not from God he could do nothing…Yes, this man comes from God…and then finally, he comes to know and believe that Jesus is the son of God…Lord I believe.
And Jesus gives this man a new found relationship in the face of the loss of his old relationships…and this is the relationship with God himself…the one that send Jesus into the world…and that is a reality that we all face.
In one way or another, we encounter Jesus Christ through our experience with the Gospel…one way or another we have each heard the good news that God loved us enough to overcome the sin that stands in the way of our relationship with him by willingly coming to Earth to live and die a brutal death on the cross…so that in the end, we will not face the consquences of our sin…
But sometimes…often I think…our encounter with Jesus Christ puts us on a path that causes rifts in our old relationships while at the same time granting us the courage to speak truthfully about our own experience with Christ…that’s all this man did…throughout all the trials and the hounding…this simple man spoke a simple truth of his own experience.
GIVE GLORY TO GOD, We know that this man is a sinner. (Pause) I do not know whether he is a sinner…I only know that I was blind and now I see. (pause) For this one many who lived and died all those years ago…his encounter with Jesus brought physical sight to blind eyes. But for us today…our encounter with Jesus illuminates our eyes, blinded by the darkness of sin…darkened by the lack of understanding of the truth…but praise be to God that he has sent his Son so that we may be freed of this blindness…and we too may have the courage to testify “Lord, I believe.”


Lenten Monologue-Apostle Andrew

On Wednesday March 26th,  we heard a reading from the perspective of the Apostle Andrew. This reading was based on John 1:35-42 and was based on the question “What are you looking for?” asked by Jesus.

This is the third in Underwood Lutheran’s series of Lenten worship services held on Wednesday evenings through the season. The overarching theme for Lent is the questions of Jesus. Each week we will hear a reading by a different Biblical character who was questioned by Jesus in their encounter.

To those that knew me, my name is Andrew, son of John…although for the most part, history simply remembers me as Peter’s brother. Throughout the ages, Peter has been better remembered. Name the first pope, people tell you Peter. Talk about miracles that happened with the disciples, they’ll tell you Peter walking on the water…its safe to say that history tends to remember my brother way more than me.
You could go a little farther along than that too. Ask anyone to name the disciples, and I’ll bet you money that the first three they call off will be Peter and James and John. The way the history books are written, you’d think they were the 3 most important.
But I’m not bitter about it. Really I’m not…because my worth is not found in the history books…or in being over shadowed by my more famous brother…I find my worth in Christ…though it wasn’t always like that.
My life, like those of my family and those I knew growing up, was quite simple. Like my brother Peter and our father John…and like our partners James and John the sons of Zebedee, I was a simple fisherman. I’d go out at night with my nets and try to catch as many fish as I could. In the morning, we’d haul those fish up on shore…keep what we needed for our own table…and then sell the rest…it got repetitive, day after day, night after night…but that was life in my time.
But you know, there were moments when things did go a little differently. For instance…for a time, I was a disciple of John the Baptist. I watched as he would preach out in the wilderness along the Jordan river…ranting and raving about repentance from sin. He told me about the amazing thing that happened when his cousin Jesus of Nazareth came to the river to be baptized…the heavens were torn open and the voice of God came booming out of the clouds exclaiming that this was His one and only Son.
John said that Jesus was the messiah…the one that would take away the sin of the world…One day, I was standing along with John when he pointed out a man and exclaimed “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” I knew right away that this was the incredible man that John had told me about…and so I followed him.
John had taught me much in the time I was his disciple. He taught me the importance of recognizing our sinfulness…and of repenting from it. He helped me realize that, try as I might, I would fail in my attempts to follow the law given to Moses, but that God would recognize and forgive a repented heart…but most importantly, John taught me that there was another coming that was far more important than he was…and now I had seen him…now I was following him…eager to know whatever he would share with me…simply eager to continue learning.
In my time, very few people were educated…the religious leaders and the scribes were, but for us common people, the most we could learn was at the feet of the traveling Rabbis…the teachers that would go from place to place. And so we learned very quickly as young men, that when we had the opportunity to learn, whether in the synagogues on the Sabbath day or in simple passing with a rabbi, we needed to take advantage of it…and this is why I followed Jesus when John pointed him out…because I wanted to learn…I wanted to find out all that I could from him about our Lord and His ways.
Its almost funny to me, as I think back on it now, how little I realized of the truth…the truth of who Jesus was. I thought he was just an important holy man…perhaps a prophet of greater significance than John…I failed to remember what John had said about his baptism, and that he was truly God’s son. But the reality of Jesus was so much simpler…and yet so much more complex than I could ever imagine.
As I followed him that day, he turned around and looked at me…and I have never experienced a gaze with as much love and caring as I did from Jesus. He asked me a very simple question…but one that would change my life forever. “What are you looking for?”
As I thought about it, I found I didn’t know. I couldn’t put into words all the questions I had…the truths that I was looking for. To be honest, I don’t even think I knew I was looking for them at that time, so I simply asked him “Teacher…where are you staying?” I asked him this, because I wanted to stay with him…to have as much time with him as I could.
The amazing thing about Jesus, he could make simple statement, or ask a simple question and reveal so much truth about a person. In his first question to me, he revealed my longing for understanding…but he did it in a way that allowed us the time together for me to begin to understand my own longing…my longing for something more…for more meaning in my life…for truth in my life.
And in that moment, he invited me to come and see…not just to see where he was staying…but to begin to see the truth of what I was seeking in my life…the truth of God’s love for me and for all people…and the truth that through Christ we could be forgiven…truly forgiven of our sinfulness.
After I spent the day with him…amazed at everything I had already learned…I knew that I needed to share this amazing experience with others. Just as John had shared the truth of Jesus with me, I needed to pass along that knowledge…I needed to point others towards Christ.
And who better for me to bring than my brother. I spent every day with him, and I loved him as all brothers do. How could I not care enough about him to pass up the chance to bring him to meet the Messiah…and so I ran and found him and told him what had happened…and I brought Peter to Jesus…perhaps this is why history remembers me as Andrew the bringer.
From that day forward, my brother and I, along with James and John and 8 other men, not to mention countless others…followed Jesus…we listened to him preach the truth of the kingdom of Heaven. We saw the miracles…we heard the parables. Jesus gave us power over unclean spirits and the ability to heal diseases. The experiences that I had over the three years that I followed Jesus are amazing and words cannot express the joy I experienced. But along with the joys, there were troubles as well. Sometimes Jesus’ teaching was difficult. Sometimes we failed to understand what he was telling us…and so, throughout that time, I was always looking for more answers…I would question Jesus, ask him to explain the truths of God…because I was always looking for more understanding.
Sometimes Jesus asks us a question that reveals more about us than we realize. For me, Jesus very first words to me fell in this category. “What are you looking for?” To this day, I still have not found everything I’m looking for, because I am always seeking more and more truth about God and the kingdom of Heaven…but I do know this much…the truth can be found through Jesus, for he is the way, the truth, and the life…No one comes to the Father except through him. And as he showed me that first day when I met him, if we are seeking, he will invite us…to come and see.

What Is This Living Water 3-23-14

This sermon came from John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I explore what Jesus is talking about when he discusses giving “living water.”

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. AS usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Ask anyone a simple question…What is the most important thing found on earth? You’ll probably get a variety of answers…but if you ask enough people…I’m guessing that there is one thing that you’ll start to hear repeatedly…water. (pause)
And rightly so. Water is the most abundant substance on Earth. It covers roughly 72% of the surface…depending on what Google article you read. It’s vital to so many things…life as we know it would cease to exist without water…and you know what, so would several of our common expressions.
Has a lot of time gone by since some major event occurred? Well, good…then there’s a lot of water under the bridge isn’t there?  (pause) Something bad happen between you and another person in the past? Have they forgiven you yet? Well good…water off a duck’s back. Things looking a little bleak in the future…I guess your water glass is half empty…oh wait, not so bleak…then your water glass is half full isn’t it? (pause)
Water’s a funny thing though isn’t it? It can be good or bad…sometimes at the very same time.  Farmers…I bet you’re starting to look for the rain aren’t you…get some much needed moisture in the ground before planting time comes up?  But what if we get too much rain…then watch out…the fields will flood and we’ll be cursing it won’t we?
I can relate with that.  I’ve got some amazing memories that involve water…I remember a day long canoe trip down the Sioux River in the northern part of the state a few years back…that was a blast…but on the flip side, if you were here on Ash Wednesday you heard me tell a story of a time when water almost cost me my life…and just yesterday…not even 24 hours ago, I willingly jumped into water that was maybe 3 degrees above freezing…and let me tell you…there was nothing life giving in that experience.
But now that brings us around full circle…because water itself is life-giving isn’t it? We all need it…all of life on earth relies on it…but as life giving as water is…I have never heard of a way in which water itself…is living…until today’s gospel lesson.
Let me set the scene for you. The Middle East in the season when a person can survive walking all over the countryside…very likely midsummer….hot, arid…not exactly the nicest place in the world…and its noon…hottest part of the day…and we find Jesus, tuckered out from walking all day, hanging out by a well…probably really wishing he had a bucket of some sort…when along comes a woman with her water jar. (pause) Oh, by the way, did I mention this is Samaria?
We’ve got a few things happening here that are strange from the get-go. First off, Jesus, a Jew is in Samaria…a place where Jews did not like to go…let’s just say their dislike of Samaria and the people that lived there puts the rivalry between…say…Iowa and Iowa State look like child’s play…Secondly…we’ve got a man engaging with a woman…which was a big cultural no-no at the time…kind of makes you wonder how they ever managed to get to know each other before getting married, though that’s neither here nor there…So, we see boundaries getting crossed over here…something that Jesus was well known for in his day…but here’s the really odd thing…
Why was the woman coming to the well at noon in the first place? Obviously, she’s there to get water…why else would she go to the well, but the custom was for the women of the nearby town to head out to the well together…safety in numbers and all that…and to do it in the cool weather of the morning…maybe in the evening but even that is uncommon…so what is it that has this woman coming to the well in the heat of the day?
Many scholars will tell you a lot of different things about her, but the most common one has to do with her past…a matter we hear about in the story.  She’s had 5 husbands…and she’s living with a guy that isn’t her husband…SHOCKING! I know…clearly she must be some sort of harlot…sinful in every sense of the word and so she comes to the well at noon, alone in her shame…when no one else will be there to shun her or whisper behind her back.
Though that being said, I’m not all that sure about that…nowhere in this passage is there any talk of sin or repentance or changing her ways…nowhere…and so I think it’s important to throw out that assumption that there’s something wrong with this woman’s behavior…and instead focus on the idea that her situation is simply less than ideal…perhaps those 5 husbands died…or maybe they left her…we don’t know…and maybe, just maybe, the guy she’s living with now is her brother…or perhaps the brother of her last husband who would have taken her in, but she wouldn’t be considered his wife…we can speculate all day long…but in the end let’s just accept that she’s here, and despite the odd circumstances…she’s here for the obvious reason…to get water…that life giving water that flows through the well.
And imagine her shock when she comes walking up to the well…and finds this Jewish guy sitting there…and he has the audacity to ask for a drink…and when you exchange a little bit of banter…he throws this little tidbit at you…If you knew the gift of God standing before you asking for a drink…you would ask him and he would give you…living water.” (pause)
Living water. If this random Samaritan woman is anything like me, she hears that statement from Jesus and before answering him as she does…the thought has to go through her head…What the heck is living water?  I wrestled with this question all week long…and try as I might to just ignore that question in my mind, my old preaching professors voices kept popping up saying “if you have a question about something, that’s probably what you’re supposed to preach on.” They’d be so proud of me right now.
But seriously…living water? Just what does that mean? (pause) Perhaps the woman is asking this question as well, but when she questions Jesus…who is, by the way, the one we should be asking these questions of…she words it just a little bit differently…Sir…where do you get this living water? (pause) Not What is it? But WHERE…is it?
Now Jesus answers the question of where…but as per usual he does it in his own, slightly confusing way. He tells her…the water I give…so we know only that this so called living water…comes from Christ…but more importantly than that, we need to pay attention to the fact that Jesus says he will give it to those that ask him. (pause). Bear with me now…Living water comes from Christ and he gives it to those that ask for it….and when he gives it to them, it becomes a spring that wells up to eternal life. (pause)
Right there…I think that’s our first clue that Jesus isn’t really talking about water here…but something else entirely…but we need to keep on searching if we want to figure out what he’s really talking about…so let’s continue…stay with me now.
Jesus gave us a clue when he said that the water will well up to Eternal Life…but we have to ask the question of what he’s talking about there…and that’s a question that Jesus answers later on in the Gospel.  He says towards the end of John while praying to his father that “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” (pause) Eternal life is knowing God and knowing that Jesus is God…eternal life is believing that Jesus is God…and that right there is the entire key of John’s gospel.
For John, sin is not believing that Jesus is God…that’s it…its singular…lack of belief…and through this lack of belief, denying the relationship that Christ has offered to us…a relationship that results in the forgiveness of our sin. (pause) Okay…still with me? I’m about to bring this all home I promise.
There’s another word that we use to describe believing what God has said…for believing the promises of God…and word is faith…and we hear in the book of Romans that like Abraham believing God’s promise that despite his old age he would be the father of many descendants…we can believe in the promise made by God that if we believe in Jesus Christ and that through his sacrifice on the cross we are forgiven of our sin and therefore, we will not perish but have eternal life. (pause)
Okay now…let me apologize for getting really heady there…admittedly, this has been pretty deep theological thinking…but through this process of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “living water” given to us by Jesus is…quite simply…faith…living water that wells up to eternal life is having faith in the promises of God…(pause)
So long story short…faith, is a gift from God…it is not something that we create ourselves…but it is given to us by Christ through the power of the holy spirit…and while you might not realize it…you profess that each and every week here in church…see if you recognize this…
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…(pause)…sounds familiar right? Well then, maybe so do these words from Luther himself…I believe that I CANNOT by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit as called me THROUGH the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. (pause)
We don’t do it people…and even more than that…the gift of faith does not make us perfect people. It does not answer all the questions, or quiet all the doubts…or alleviate all the fears…just as it didn’t for the Samaritan woman in today’s story.  When she finally comes to the point of recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah…she immediately runs off to town to share what she has learned…to share her experience…but take a careful look at what she says to the other townspeople…
Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done…He cannot be the Messiah can he? (pause)  2 important statements here…first off…Christ revealed “everything I have ever done.”  Faith illuminates our darkness…the light of Christ roots out darkness, exposing it for what it is…and our faith does the same thing…Faith recognizes our own sinful nature…our own shortcomings…faith doesn’t deny it…it acknowledges it and by doing so acknowledges our need for a savior…for a messiah…and secondly, she continues to ask the important question “He cannot be the messiah can he?”
In this woman’s wonderful example we see that faith can and does exist alongside questions and doubts…but more importantly it brings us into relationship with the one that can and does allow us to ask those questions…to experience those doubts…and who walks alongside us through the fearful experiences…and who truly is…the Savior of the World.
In this final important confession, uttered by the Samaritan people, we find evidence of the good news uttered by Jesus in last week’s lesson and hinted at again today…For God so loved…THE WORLD.  The Gospel is not for anyone specific…rather…its for everyone…regardless of age or culture or race or gender or any other division that we might want to create…its for everyone…including you…For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life…even when we might not think they deserve it…that’s the offensive nature of the Gospel…that its offered to the most vile person to ever walk the earth…because the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross…his brutal death that we’ll hear about in a few more week’s time…was big enough to cover over all sin…for all time…and he judges us as righteous…even when we don’t. Maybe this good news come to rest in you today and become a spring of living water, welling up to Eternal Life.  Amen.

Lenten Monologue-Woman Caught in Adultry

On Wednesday March 19th,  we heard a reading from the perspective of the woman caught in adultery that is brought before Jesus. This reading was based on John 7:53-8:11 and was based on the question “Has no one condemned you?” asked by Jesus.

This is the second in Underwood Lutheran’s series of Lenten worship services held on Wednesday evenings through the season. The overarching theme for Lent is the questions of Jesus. Each week we will hear a reading by a different Biblical character who was questioned by Jesus in their encounter.

History does not remember my name. Like countless others who have lived and died throughout the ages, the details of my life have been lost, and the history books do little to tell you who I am.
My name is not important, though rest assured that God knows my name. Like many others, I am very simply a Jewish woman. I lived my life as best I could. I knew the rules. I knew the law, everyone did. God gave it to Moses, and Moses gave it to the people.
Throughout our history, the history of the Jews, we have clung to the law to help us remember our identity as the chosen people of God. We have experienced countless years of heartache and enslavement. First my people were slaves in Egypt. Then we wandered in the wilderness for an entire generation. We could not maintain the promised land given to us by God, and we were invaded, carried off into exile around the world, first by the Assyrians, and then by the Babylonians. In my time, the Romans were in command, controlling our lives and overshadowing our way of life.
Through these trials, my people have been spread throughout the known world, never knowing where we could call home, or what would happen next. But the one thing that we clung to was the knowledge that God had given us the law, it was a blessing to help us honor God and one another. We all know it, and we all cling to it.
But sometimes life takes control away from us, and try as we might, we fail. That is what history remembers of me. When the Jewish leaders found out about my transgressions, they used me. Not out of any concern for me or for the law, but because they wanted to trap the man that they considered a threat. The man called Jesus of Nazareth. I had heard the name, but I knew nothing about him. Only that he was some sort of teacher and he was speaking out against the old ways.
I am not perfect. I have never claimed to be perfect. I have made mistakes. I have let myself get carried away, and I know that I have broken the law. I know that one of the 10 commandments is against adultery…and I also know that the expanded law states that anyone caught in adultery should be stoned to death. I do not deny it, and I do not deny what I did. I was guilty of what they said I did.
But what was strange was how the leaders handled the situation. Honestly, I don’t think they really cared about what happened…all they really wanted to do was trap Jesus. To discredit him so that people would stop listening to what he was saying; what he was teaching. If they really cared about the law, they would have brought the man along to. He was equally guilty, but they left him, and brought only me. Perhaps its because I couldn’t resist them, and I had no rights, I don’t know why. But that was the first clue that they really didn’t care what I had done.
The crowd brought me before this man Jesus as he sat in the temple one day. I was afraid. I knew I was guilty and if they followed the proper channels, I could be killed. They’d have to clear it with the other religious leaders first, and then with the Roman officials, but no one would stop them. I was a woman, I was unmarried with no one to speak for me, and I was guilty. Surely this would end with my death. Of course I was scared…and I was scared of this Jesus.
I only knew that he was a teacher…surely he would know the law and he would agree with the crowd. I was so afraid, I can hardly remember what they said, but I heard them address him. “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery. The law says we should stone her. What do you say?”
I stood there, humiliated and afraid. I had my eyes cast to the ground and didn’t dare try to meet the eyes of this man that would surly judge me as guilty…I just waited to hear him say it…but I didn’t hear anything. After a moment, I glanced his direction, and saw him bending over, writing in the dust on the ground. Why would he be doing that?
I never knew what he was writing, I was standing too far away, but that is all he did. He just sat there writing for a moment…and then finally he stood up.
That was the moment…the moment I was dreading, when this holy man, this great teacher from God would condemn me, but when he spoke, his voice was kind and calm…and he wasn’t speaking to me. “Let anyone among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I braced myself…for surely among this crowd of religious leaders would be sinless men. I knew, any second, the stones would start to fly and I would feel the agony of them biting into my flesh, pounding on my body. I tried to cover my head with my arms, fearing the worst was about to happen…and then I heard it.
First it was isolated. The sound of a stone being dropped, not thrown at me, but dropped on the courtyard floor, clattering on the stones below…and then footsteps. I glanced that direction and saw one old man walking away…and then another dropped his stone…and then another…soon they all dropped their stones and left…they just left me there…alone with this man Jesus.
And when I looked at him, he was writing in the dust again…and then he looked at me…there was no anger in his eyes…no hatred…there was only love and compassion. I stood up before him…and then he walked over to me and asked me, very gently “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
I was so shocked…and still so afraid…I barely whispered… “No one sir.” And then he looked at me with such love…such acceptance…and with a smile on his face he said “Neither then do I condemn you.”
In that moment, looking in his face, I knew…I knew that he was no mere holy man…this was the true Son of God…and he had forgiven me…he had every right to judge me guilty…to let them stone me…to agree with the crowd and follow the law…but he didn’t.
In that moment, I knew that God was not an angry judge waiting to strike us down when we failed to follow his law. Rather, he is a God that loves all people enough to offer them his perfect forgiveness.
Jesus told me then, to go forth and sin no more…and while I know that my life is still not perfect, I know now that my past…that my actions do not define me. Instead, I know that I am defined by how God sees me…as his beloved child. And that is how God sees you. No one on earth can condemn you, because your sins are already forgiven, just as mine were that day.

Where Did He Go? 3-16-14

This week’s sermon came from the story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night, found in John 3:1-17. In the sermon I explore the difficulty of the truth that Jesus presents, and how some people will turn away from it, needing time to come to grips with what Jesus is telling them.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the weird punctuation…gotta remind myself of that somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As many of you have learned, I grew up in a small town, not unlike Underwood. But there was one major difference between Underwood and him home town…the size of the school. My entire school, k-12 was less than 300 people. As I think back, I can remember pretty much every room in that school because I was in them at one time or another…but for some reason, there is one room really stands out in my memory. The boys bathroom in what was at the time, the junior high wing.
Now, there is nothing special about the bathroom…no reason that it should still be visible in my memory 17 years after leaving the school for the last time, but I can still see it. A large wooden door…dark red floor, pale blue walls…quite the combination…you walk through the doorway and around a corner, past 3 or 4 toilet stalls to the back wall where there are 2 sinks and 3 urinals. Can you see it? Picture it for a moment.
Now the kicker. This is junior high. Some wise guy thinks he’s funny and flips the lights off as he walks out the door…complete darkness…Great…Needless to say, this situation happened to me…more than once during my time there…but I never panicked. I knew the layout of the bathroom…I knew where the light switch was. All I had to do was carefully feel may way through the darkness and I’d find my way out…sounds simple right? I always thought so, but reality was a little harder. I remember one time in particular when I decided against the normal “feel my way along the wall until I hit the corner, turn and find the light switch” technique. I thought to myself that I knew how to walk out. I don’t need any lights…I don’t need any illumination. As I took a few tentative steps in the right direction…I thought to myself about two more steps then I better put my hand out to find(BAM!!!)… the wall. I guess my “knowledge” was lacking there wasn’t it?
This theme of groping in the darkness blares out of our lesson for today. The story opens with Nicodemus…or as I like to call him Nick…now this guy is a Pharisee…and he’s apparently impressed by Jesus and seeking him out…in the dead of night.  Why at night? Come on Nick!…you’re a prominent guy, why all the secrecy? (pause here) Oh…I see…you’re not quite sure about this guy you are going to see…and not only that, your Pharisee cronies wouldn’t think too highly of it. Okay, I get it…Nick’s got a reputation to uphold…and he’s not overly excited to visit with Jesus during broad daylight when everyone can see what he’s up to.
Regardless of his motivation for the night time visitation…and regardless of the circumstances that led him to Jesus, we should, in the very least give him a little credit. He’s seen the man, and he knows what he can do…Rabbi clearly you are from God because the stuff you are pulling off is impossible…Now, I’m a smart guy. I’m a Pharisee and I’ve got it together, but…I’m still a little confused? Can you shed some light on all this for me?
Now we know how the story goes don’t we? Jesus starts firing off truth for our old pal Nick, who tries to show off how brilliant he is…but it doesn’t quite work out…epic fail…He’s just groping in the darkness…darkness as deep as the night of our story.
Jesus continues to teach him, living up to the very name that good old Nicky used in the first place…Rabbi…Teacher…but it is hard truth…it is confusing…and Nick finally admits his lack of understanding with a simple, yet very profound question…How Can This Be?
Jesus doesn’t miss a beat here, but lays out a pretty strong “religious accusation.” You are a Pharisee…you of all people should get this.” He might as well be saying “See…even the Jewish big-wigs fall short. With all their rules and restrictions and piety, and yet here they are…alone in the bathroom with the lights off, groping around trying to find a light switch.”
But you know what…I think we can probably relate can’t we? Think about it for a moment…Nick comes at night…confused, but curious…lacking understanding about just who Jesus is and what he stands for…but Nick is seeking this understanding…and not only that but he’s seeking it from the source…he wants to drive out the darkness of his confusion with the very light of the truth itself…Jesus…but what he experiences is confusing…its hard…and I think that sounds really familiar.
Because sometimes, when Jesus starts teaching…he lays out some pretty strong truth…and he does exactly that in this story. But in doing so he says a lot of stuff that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For instance, Jesus says that no one can enter the kingdom of heaven without being born from above…Nick’s confused and asks how can someone be born again?
Now it doesn’t really come through very well here in the English, but in the original language it’s the same word used by both men…above or again…same word…which raises the question…did Jesus use it intentionally just to be confusing? Or is this just another example of how the truth about the kingdom…a truth that Jesus knows and understands…is just down right difficult for us to grasp?
Whatever the motivation of Jesus for using confusing language, we simply recognize that it is, in fact confusing…confusing for Nick…and confusing for us today…and so, like Nick, perhaps we find ourselves asking the very same question…Jesus…How can this be? Or to put it quite simply…WHAT ARE YOU BABBLING ABOUT!?!
But in the end, Jesus does stat to move things towards a pretty good conclusion…and in my opinion, he lays out the very center of the entire Biblical message. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have life eternal. (pause) In the midst of some pretty heady stuff…he drops that wonderful little nugget.
But…now at this point…where’s Nick? Did anyone notice that he disappeared by this point? Sure enough…by the time Jesus gets to the really good stuff, he might as well be talking to himself. But there’s a reason for that. As Jesus is teaching, laying out these uber-truths, he is bringing illumination into the world. And it is…intense. After groping around in complete darkness, the lights just came on and they are blazing. Has that ever happened to you?
One of my favorite times of day is a brief moment of quiet that I experience between taking the kids to school in the morning and heading across the parking lot to the office for the day. I grab a cup of coffee, step into the living room…and plop down in a chair that faces the big bay window on the east side of the house…but one thing that I’ve noticed is the second I sit down in that spot is the morning sunlight blinds me…utterly and completely…I can’t see anything because the light is so intense.
I think that good old Nick experienced the same type of thing in his initial encounter with Jesus. Here he is, groping around in the total darkness of his disbelief, and then the full power of the Son hits him full in the face. It’s too much for him. He can’t take it and has to turn away…at least for awhile.
This isn’t the last we see of the man. Later on in the story, we see him…and he’s changed. He defends Jesus within the Pharisee’s, the very people that he feared finding out about his initial encounter with Jesus…though admittedly in that part of the story, his defense of Jesus is simply based on a technicality within the Law…He’s making progress, becoming a little more bold where Jesus is concerned…but he’s still holding onto his old way of thinking.
But then later on…towards the very end of the Gospel…we see Nick pop up a third time…and this time, he assists in the burial of the crucified Jesus…can’t get much more public and exposed than that…assisting in handling the body of the very enemy the other religious leaders had killed.
So what happened? Did he just need some time? Did his eyes need some time to adjust? Maybe so…Maybe Nicodemus simply needed time to come to grips with the life changing illumination that Jesus was giving him…and that…sounds pretty familiar.
Think about your own experience. Was your conversion instantaneous? Or when the full light of the Jesus the Son of God was shining in your face, did you need a little time to come to grips with just what you were facing? For many, the light of Christ may be just as blinding as the utter darkness that I faced all those years ago in the bathroom.
This is the reality of the gospel that we have each been called to proclaim. It is a hard truth and many that hear it will turn away. Like Nicodemus, they might disappear for awhile. We cannot control that….but we shouldn’t condemn it either…because the story of Nicodemus…his journey through life towards faith in Christ mirrors he human experience…one that we all have…one that we all experience. So remember this…when the people are blinded by the light of Christ,  they may just need some time for their eyes to adjust. May it be our prayer that they do…and that they are able to see the truth, and hear the good news that Jesus himself proclaimed…The son of man has not come to condemn the world…but he has come to save it…and to save you…Amen.

Lenten Monologue-Peter

On Wednesday March 12th, I performed a reading from the perspective of the Apostle Peter. This reading was based on John 21:15-19 and was based on the question “Do you love me?” asked by Jesus.

This is the first in Underwood Lutheran’s series of Lenten worship services held on Wednesday evenings through the season. The overarching theme for Lent is the questions of Jesus. Each week we will hear a reading by a different Biblical character who was questioned by Jesus in their encounter.

While the monologue/reading was not recorded, I will plan on posting the readings themselves on a weekly basis, so you can keep looking for them.

Note that about half way through the monologue, there was a video shown that features the Skit Guys in a humorous but meaningful look at the scene featured in the scripture lesson. There is a link to the video at the correct time.

My name is Simon…at least that’s what my parents called me when I was born…and I guess everyone still called me that as I was growing up…all the people that would come to the seashore in the morning to buy the fish that I would catch with my brother Andrew called me Simon…you know what, as I think about it…everyone called me Simon…at least for a while.
But that all changed one day…it changed the day that I met Jesus…let me tell you…that was some day. I was just sitting there along the shore that day…a day like any other…and there he came. I’d heard about him already…some holy man that was doing some pretty amazing things…but I never expected to meet him…and I certainly didn’t expect him to change my life like he did.
Jesus just came walking up to me…and he said “follow me” And I had to…I couldn’t resist…there was just something about him…but what was really amazing about that day was the change that came over me…Jesus looked at me and said “You are called Simon…but I will call you Peter.” Now, you should know that the name Simon means shifting sand…and I suppose that’s fitting. I’ve been known to be a little impulsive…and not just that…I guess I’ve been pretty shaky at times…and just like the sand swirling around when a wave comes rolling in, my life was pretty swirly too…but Jesus said he would call me Peter…and Peter mean the Rock…solid, unmoving…and he said that he was going to build his church on that rock.
How could he do that? How could he even think that I’d be worthy of anything like that? I couldn’t believe it…but then Jesus was always doing things, or saying things that just didn’t make much sense…there were a lot of us that followed him…Me and Andrew…our friends James and John…we were just 4…there were 12 of us…not to mention all the other people that followed him around those three years.
Now let me tell you something…Jesus…he knew his stuff…and he should…I mean, come on…he’s the son of God…but the great thing about it was that he always wanted us to understand…we asked him questions all the time…constantly trying to wrap our simple minds around the amazing truths about God and Heaven and sin and forgiveness…all that stuff…but its tough you know…it wasn’t easy…and I think out of all us…I asked the most…I had to…I mean…he was gonna build his church on me…I guess I felt like I was responsible to know all the answers…so I ask him…and asked him…and asked…over and over again. I thought if I covered all the basis, then I’d be capable of being in charge…and all I’d have to do is put on a brave face and just keep following him.
But what Jesus had in mind went way beyond my abilities…beyond my ability to understand…and beyond my capability to handle.  You see…I always thought that Jesus was going to stick around…and I would be in charge of the followers…but really…we’d all still be following him…Jesus talked about being sacrificed…about being killed…but I didn’t believe him…I thought maybe he was just talking about it as a possibility…but I never thought it would actually happen…but then it did…Judas…he was supposed our friend…he betrayed Jesus…had him arrested…and we knew what that was going to lead to.
We’ve all seen the crucifixions…the dead bodies…we know what the Romans do…but I had said that I would follow him…even to death…but when it got right down to it…I failed…and not only did I fail to help him…I denied him…that was the worst mistake I ever made.
But you know what…after he died…after a couple more days…something amazing happened…and he came back to life…we saw him many times after his resurrection…and just the fact that he was alive again made us so happy…it was so amazing…
But then…one early morning…we encountered him again…and he asked me a question…a very simple question…at least I thought it was simple…until he asked me again…and then a third time…it went like this.

(skit guys video Note..there’s likely a short ad that will play at the beginning of the video…you can skip it after a few seconds)

It hurt so bad that Jesus had to keep asking me over and over again if I loved him. Of course I loved him…but I messed up…I denied it…but you know what…Jesus gave me a second change. He asked me…three times Do you love me…just like I had denied it 3 times.
Because Jesus came to forgive our mistakes…I know that now, even if I didn’t know then…that’s the grace of God…the gift of God. We don’t earn it…we don’t deserve it…and even though my mistake was unforgivable…Jesus forgave me…just like he forgives us all…and then, one more time…Jesus repeated the same thing he’d said to me on the seashore that first day I met him…Follow me.
God’s gift to us is forgiveness, each and every day…and each and every time, he’ll extend the invitation to follow…just as if those past mistakes had never happened. So if he ever calls you by name and asks “Do you love me.” He’s not condemning you for your sins…because he’s already forgiven you…He’s just asking you to follow him.

All rights to the video belong to the Skit Guys.

Confirmation Questions 3-9-14

Last Sunday I did not preach as Underwood Lutheran hosted Western Iowa Synod Bishop Rodger Prois. This sermon was not recorded, which is why I have not posted the latest sermon. It will return again after this coming Sunday. However, the sermon was based on Matthew 4:1-11, which is the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan.  As usual, an important question was raised in the sermon notes by the Confirmation Students, and I’ll attempt to address it here.

-What can’t one person be obedient?
Great question, and one that I believe also stems from the additional scripture passages that highlighted the story of original sin by Adam and Eve. In the sermon, Bishop Prois discussed how the original sin was not so much about eating the forbidden fruit, but more importantly that it was being disobedient to the command of God. In the garden, Adam and Eve had one command…”don’t eat from this tree.” Now I could go on and on about theories as to why they chose to disobey God. But in the end I believe that it really comes down to a combination of two things. First, Satan is really good at his job. The deceit and lies that Satan spins to trap us do their job well. Secondly, for whatever reason (and I don’t claim to know what it is) our nature is to focus on ourselves rather than to love God and love our neighbor. We are just selfish…its in our flawed human nature.  Adam and Eve were tempted to become “like God” in the knowledge of good and evil. This was a lie that Satan told them, and they wanted it.  Likewise, it is in the nature of all of us to be self centered…to place ourselves above others and even more so above God. We may not intend to do so, but yet we still do.  So, long story short, why can’t we be obedient? Because our selfish nature is stronger than our own ability to obey God. But praise the Lord, because Jesus has overcome the condemnation that our sinful nature warrants.

Remember That You Are Dust 3-5-14

The sermon for Ash Wednesday comes from 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10. In this sermon I tackle the subject of death, a common theme on Ash Wednesday.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Remember that you are dust…and to dust you shall return. We are all familiar with these words aren’t we? We hear them at least once a year on Ash Wednesday and as expected…we’ll each hear those same words spoken directly to us as individuals in a few minutes.
Have you ever wondered exactly where that phrase came from? I’ve heard various people try to explain it over the years, each focusing on the same central theme. God made Adam from the dust of the earth, forming him into a human being and then breathed life into him. Okay…fair enough I suppose.
But for a long time, that basic explanation just didn’t quite sit right with me. But then, in my early seminary days, I made a bit of an astonishing connection in one of my classes. It happened about week or so into my study of the Hebrew language. No admittedly, I don’t remember a lot of Hebrew. I’ve kidded around with the confirmation students as well as the high school students that Hebrew pretty much looks like chicken scratches and sounds like you are clearing your throat and that’s about all I recall from it…but in truth I do remember a few words and one of them stems from this realization that I had a few years back.
One of the vocabulary terms from that first week was the word ah-dam. Sounds familiar right?  As well it should. Ah-dam is the Hebrew pronunciation of Adam. But the important thing to note here is the root of the word. Ah-dam is taken from the Hebrew word ah-da-mah. Any idea what the translation of that word is? (pause…) That’s right. It means ground or land.
YES!!! Humanity was literally formed from the dust of the ground. So much that God named the first man…“Ground.” Certainly this was a light bulb moment for me. So students, remember that if you are ever grumbling about homework. It does pay off.
So, now we know where the first part of the phrase comes from. “Remember that you are dust…”  What about the second part? “And to dust you shall return.” I would think that it is quite obvious. If the first part of the statement refers our origin or birth if you prefer…then clearly the second part must refer to death.
Now is it just me, or is death a bit of a taboo subject? Something that people shy away from talking about? I know I’ve had times in my life when I shied away from the conversation. But I wonder why we avoid it. I’ve known people that don’t even like to say the word, preferring to say that a loved one is “gone” or has “passed away.” Maybe we’re hesitant to talk about it, because in the end, we are all afraid of it. Have you noticed that often in life, people will hesitate to talk about those things that scare them? They’d rather keep the conversation away from the scary stuff…because that way they don’t have to really think about it.
Tonight, I’m going to invite you to think about it. I’m going to invite you to come face to face with it. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes, and I’m going to tell you a story. I want you to picture this in your mind.
Imagine that it is a bright sunny day, 85 degrees and wonderful. You are standing on the shoreline of a lake. It’s the 4th of July. As you look around, what do you see? Boats everywhere, people everywhere. There is a family playing in the water. One of many groups of people on this beach. They are having a good time. As you watch this family, you notice one of the men looking out from the shoreline, out into the lake. He is looking out to the buoys floating a hundred yards off shore, boats floating nearby. That’s not so far out right? It wasn’t so long ago that he would could swim out and back twice over…no problem. Or so he thinks. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the man dives into the water and starts swimming out towards one of the buoys. He didn’t notice from the shoreline, but with all the boat traffic on the water, it’s choppy. He’s fighting the waves as he’s swimming. He’s doing okay, but is starting to strain much sooner than he expected. By the time he makes it to out the buoy, he is exhausted. Treading water isn’t an option…he grabs a hold of the buoy, pulls it down, drapes over it and floats there…thinking that he’ll rest for a bit before swimming back into shore.
The water has a different idea.
A big wave knocks him off the buoy after a few seconds…far too short of a time for him to get the rest that he needs, but he begins swimming back towards shore…he’s moving slowly, fighting the waves. He rolls over on his back, trying to float and rest his arms and legs, but the waves keep rolling over him. He’s fighting to stay on top of the water…just barely succeeding…he can’t swim anymore…panic sets in…he looks to the shore, but it seems to be miles away…he looks around at the boats moored nearby…he starts crying for help, but the people on the boats can’t hear him…panic is really setting in now…he’s totally exhausted. The man see’s death staring him in the face…and he is terrified. (pause)
I’m going to stop at that point. Go ahead and open your eyes.
Death has entered this story hasn’t it?  That word that scares us so much. That word that we are often too scared to say out load. Well I’m going to say it again.
It’s real isn’t it?
Yes my friends, death is a reality that we must all face. At one time or another. From the moment that we enter this life as a baby, kicking and screaming we owe the universe 1 death. It’s unavoidable.  Death and taxes…the only two things that are sure in this world. My grandfather was fond of saying that very thing before his own death a few years ago.
So if it is a reality for each and every person…WHY ARE WE ALL SO AFRAID OF IT?
A few years ago, Max Lucado published a book called “Fearless.” In the book he shares a few quotations aimed at this very question. I’d like to share a few of them with you…Aristotle called death the thing to be feared most because it appears to be the end of everything. Jean-Paul Sartre asserted that death removes all meaning from life. Robert Green Ingersoll, an outspoken agnostic said life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities.
Certainly this paints a very bleak picture of the end of life doesn’t it. Unfortunately, in our scripture lesson for tonight the Apostle Paul doesn’t exactly paint an optimistic picture of life either. He discusses his life serving God as filled with afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, and hunger.
However, Paul goes on. He doesn’t stop there. Listen to these words.  We are treated as imposters…AND YET ARE TRUE. As unknown…AND YET ARE WELL KNOWN. As dying…AND SEE WE ARE ALIVE.  As punished…AND YET NOT KILLED. As poor…YET MAKING MANY RICH. As having nothing…AND YET…POCESSESING EVERYTHING.
Yes, Paul speaks of hardships in life. He is even known to speak of death within the many books of the Bible that he is responsible for writing. But the difference between Paul and the “scholars” that Lucado quoted in his book is the eternal. Those men, each considered to be brilliant thinkers, failed to wrap their heads around one simple fact about death.
This life is not the only thing that is in store for you. Death…is not the stopping point of your existence. Paul knew it. He not only knew it he believed in it with every atom of his being…and he preached it everywhere he went. He said “Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.”
Jesus was born…just like us…Jesus died…just as each and every one of us will one day do. BUT JESUS…CAME…BACK.
Where oh death, is your victory…Where, oh death, is your sting?
These are famous words, also written by Paul, highlight a crucial fact. Death is real…he doesn’t deny it. But he does tell us that we have nothing to fear in it.
When Jesus defeated death, He created the bridge for us. Jesus reaches across the void which we cannot cross, takes us by the hand, and brings us into eternity.
When we realize that Jesus lived and died for this purpose, we begin to understand the journey of Lent that we embark on tonight. Lent is a season of preparation.  Preparation for the death of Jesus. 40 days from now, it happens. But three days later…HE COMES BACK. Jesus…comes…back…for…us.
I’d like to return to the story that I began a few minutes ago. There was another character that I didn’t mention before. A second man swam out to the buoy as well. He was in better shape and had no trouble swimming out. When the wave knocked them both off the bouy, he swam back towards the shoreline unhindered. But when the first man began to flounder, he was still nearby.
If you’re wondering, this actually happened. I was the first man…the man that was floundering. But my brother in law was there too. When I was in trouble, I cried out, and he was there. He came back for me. He took me by the hand and brought me where I could not go alone…He brought me back to the shoreline and I was still alive.
I cannot think of this story without thinking of the story of Peter walking on the water. Do you remember that story. Everything was going fine for awhile, but then Peter started sinking. In his fear…in his panic…he did the only thing he could think to do. He cried out “LORD SAVE ME.” And at that moment, Jesus reached down, took him by the hand, and raised him up where he could not go alone.
It is true, that Peter was afraid. I was afraid too. In the Fearless book Lucado talks about accepting death without fear. He says that we can do so because we are assured in our salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ. He knows that Jesus comes back for us.
As we travel through this season of Lent, remember that you are all swimming in the lake of sinfulness. At some point, the waves are going to start crashing over you and your arms and legs will be too tired to keep your head above water. You can cry out to Jesus. “Lord save me…save me from sin and eternal death.” This is the simple act of repentance. Crying out “I can’t do this on my own…Lord I need you to save me.”
Then know this…Jesus will take you by the hand, raise you up, and will bring you where you cannot go.
Remember that you are dust…and to dust you shall return…but remember…Jesus…comes…back…for you. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 3-2-14

The sermon from last Sunday came from Matthew 17:1-9 and was based on the Transfiguration of Jesus. You can find that sermon here.

The confirmation students raised several great questions on their sermon notes, that I will attempt to address here.

Note: this first question was actually not finished on the sheet turned in by the student, but I believe this is what was being asked.
-Why didn’t Jesus want the disciples [to tell anyone what had happened]?
This is a great question, and honestly one that I’ve pondered on many different times. It is very common, particularly in Mark’s Gospel, for Jesus to perform a healing for an individual and then instruct them not to tell anyone about it, but there’s never really a good indication of why. Different scholars speculate that Jesus didn’t want the crowds chasing him around simply to acquire healing from him, but rather that people would follow him because they desired to grow closer to God through him. Other notions are that by telling people not to say anything, he’s actually appealing to the human tendency to be bad at keeping secrets, and therefore they would go out and tell everyone what would happen. Regardless of what the scholars propose, the honest answer is that we just don’t know.  The only real clue that we get here is Jesus own statement not to tell anyone what had happened until after he had been raised from the dead.  Perhaps Jesus was still hesitant to reveal his divine nature to the world, I don’t really know. But it seems that he didn’t want people knowing about this moment until his true identity was revealed through his resurrection. Why that is, I can’t tell you.  And perhaps, this is why he only invited the three disciples to go with him, rather than allow all 12 men to see it.  Admittedly, I’ve thrown a lot of my own speculation your direction on this one now. I’ll wrap it up by stating again, this is a great question, and one that I’ve pondered on a great deal myself.
-What is Zion? (this question was raised based on the responsive reading from Psalm 99 earlier in the service)
Great question. Sometimes this word comes up in our readings and its easy to gloss over it without thinking about it. Zion is a name for the mountain (or at least large hill) that Jerusalem is built on. I’ve never been to the Holy Land, so I don’t know if the “mountains” around Jerusalem are like the Rockies, or maybe more like the Appalachians, or perhaps just big hills. But regardless of my lack of descriptors, that’s what Zion is. It is a holy mountain where Jerusalem stands, and is where David established the seat (capital) of the Jewish Kingdom. Next to Zion is the Mount of Olives, which is a common location to hear about in the Gospels, particularly in the later portions of each Gospel when Jesus is in Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives is literally right across a valley, only a mile or two away from the city.

Be Risen 3-2-14

Today’s sermon comes from Matthew 17:1-9, which is the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain. In the sermon I tackle the notion that Jesus invites us into many different things, and usually they end up scary…but through all of the scary situations, Jesus is always with us and lifts us up, telling us not to be afraid.

You can listen to the sermon her.

You can also read along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuations. There are also a few spots where I went off script, but don’t worry, I come back in pretty quick.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father…and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Being a farm kid, I’ve seen countless examples of some random item serving more than one purpose. Whenever something would break, my dad would rig up something to fix it…One example that really comes to mind was a time when the handle on our lawn mower broke. Dad took one look at it, walked into the shed, found a short length of iron pipe…and the next thing I knew…he had somehow fashioned that old water pipe into a connection for the handle of the lawn mower…and rather than have to go to the store and buy a new one, he pointed me back towards the lawn and said…Go on…finish up.
Have you ever seen something like that? Some random things that ends up serving more than one purpose…some random thing that ends up filling a role that you never expected or realized? (pause)
I can think of another one too…one that’s a little more current than a broken lawn mower 20 years ago…and its right across the parking lot. In the kitchen over in the parsonage, the refrigerator serves 2 important functions. The first is obvious…to keep food cold…but the second one is a little different. You see, in my house, the fridge is a communication center…It is littered with all kinds of important information. This information includes class information for the two kids, various photographs, weekly spelling lists, hand drawn masterpieces, and most recently…a wedding invitation for one of my colleagues who was just married yesterday.
There’s something special about being invited…isn’t there? It implies that the other person desires your company…they want you to be with them…to accompany them in some special experience…an experience that is so special, it needs to be shared.
There is an invitation in our Gospel for today. Jesus has invited Peter, James, and John to accompany him up the mountain. That raises the question…Did Jesus know what was about to happen? Perhaps…most likely even, but I’m guessing that the disciples were very likely unaware of what they were about to experience as they accepted the invitation and followed Jesus up the mountain that day.
Now this is a common theme within Matthew’s Gospel…particularly in terms of these three disciples. Jesus invites, they follow. For example, think back to the initial call of these three guys. Simple fishermen, just hanging out on the shores of the sea, when along comes Jesus who simply asks them “Follow me.” A simple invitation, and these three men along with Peter’s brother Andrew, accept the invitation. Do you think they really knew what they were getting into that day? (pause)
If we fast forward through Matthew, we see another situation. In this case, the disciples are in the boat in the middle of the night rowing across the sea…and we know its kind of stormy. In the midst of everything, Jesus comes towards them…walking across the water. Now, Peter…ever the excited or downright impulsive one…asks if he can come to Jesus…and Jesus, once again, extends an invitation. “Come.”
Now Peter thinks this is going to be amazing. He steps out of the boat…He’s doing it…he’s walking on the water…but all of the sudden, the truth of his situation dawns on him…fear creeps in along with doubt…the reality is terrifying and he starts to sink…but Jesus is there to lift him up again. Jesus is there.
Later on, towards the end of Matthew’s Gospel…Jesus offers an invitation to the same three disciples once again. Peter…James…John…come with me into the garden…Pray with me this night. They accept…not thinking that there will be any trouble…not realizing that Jesus has spoken of this time…that his passion is about to begin…and they follow along, so unaware of anything unexpected happening that they all three konk out…but once again…reality becomes much scarier than they had anticipated…and in the face of opposition, they run away from Jesus, who has been there with them the whole time.
Over and over again, we see examples of Jesus offering an invitation. Each and every time, the disciples accept the invitation. Now, perhaps they have expectations of what may happen each time Jesus invites them…maybe each time Peter pulls out the daily disciple itinerary and checks to see what God’s got up his sleeve…Let’s see Thursday evening…accompany Jesus to the garden for a time of prayer…encounter Judas and whole crowd of soldiers…Jesus arrested and soon to be killed…check…sounds good Jesus, let’s go.
Or perhaps not. Maybe these guys are just content to go along for the ride with Jesus. But regardless of what they may or may not expect…the reality is never what they expected. It’s a whole lot scarier.
We see this again in our lesson for today. The three men follow Jesus up the mountain and something extraordinary happens. Jesus is transfigured. Now, exactly what that means, we don’t really know, but it would seem that his divine nature is shining through the human nature. At this moment, both aspects of Jesus are visually present.
At first, the men seem to reveal in this vision. Peter, again the impulsive one, cannot hold his excitement and blurts out. “Jesus, this is wonderful…can we stay with you.” (pause) But then God…shows…up.
Peter, James, and John…good Jewish men that they were…finally recognized the significance. God is here…they are in the presence of the great I Am…like Moses did before them, they fell on their faces on the ground…terrified to the point of death.
When God shows up, it’s a scary deal. And maybe for these three guys on this day its even scarier than normal…because in this moment, having seen the divine nature of Jesus…in realizing the truth about just who he is…maybe they’re realizing that the guy they’ve been following isn’t just the son of God…but this…is…God…this is the one that Moses cowered in fear from…this is the one that drives them to ground in terror…and they’ve been casually walking around with him…joking with him…interacting with him.
And that’s a scary notion…to realize that God…the unfathomable God…this great being who is so far beyond our understanding or even capability to understand has become human…that the God who could in any moment snap his fingers and end our existence if he chose to was right here with you…as one of you…that’s a scary realization when you realize that the maker of the entire universe and everything in it is standing right next to you. (pause)
Have you ever had an experience like this? As I look around the room, I would expect some of you to say yes. Think about it…think about the time when you realized that God truly became a man…not some myth…not a burning bush…not just a voice booming out of the clouds…but that God became a person…and walked around…and not only that, but that this person…this Jesus…this tangible form of God…has invited you into something. (pause)
Now Jesus invites us into a lot of things…first of all, he’s inviting us into relationship…relationship with him…and through him, remembering that we are in relationship with God.  But the invitation of Jesus isn’t limited to that…sometimes…probably more often than we realize…Jesus invites us into some sort of specific experience…and while we might think we know what to expect…just like Peter, James, and John, we quickly discover that God’s got much bigger expectations than we do…and it often gets scary.
Now, for some of you sitting out there today…I know that you are facing some scary situations…that God is inviting you into a situation and you don’t know quite what will happen when He shows up…for some it might be the potential for a job change and the unknowns that come along with it…for others, its to walk the unknown road that follows a tough diagnosis when the ending sounds pretty bleak…and for others of you, most likely all of you…God is inviting you into something that might turn out pretty scary at times…because we all go through that.
And we don’t just go through it as individuals…but the church is going through it too…individual congregations go through it and the entire church is going through it. God is inviting the church as a whole, and our church of Underwood Lutheran to join him in becoming something new in our present reality…the church has been walking this road for a long time now…and we are here on the road as well.
Now I won’t stand up before you today pretending to know what God’s really got planned…that would incredibly arrogant for me say, but I do believe that God is leading us into becoming something new…the church is going to look different in the future…because the ways of spreading information are changing dramatically every day…but the message remains the same…
The church is the place where the gospel is proclaimed, the sacraments are shared, and absolution is offered…that’s the church…but I think we all know that old environment in which those three things were done is changing…and the audience for the gospel is changing…and the method of reaching the audience is changing…the church, contrary to popular belief…isn’t dying…like Jesus being transfigured on the mountain, its simply becoming something new.
But that’s scary to think about isn’t it?  Its scary to realize that God is inviting us to become something new…especially because we really don’t know what that looks like…we only know that we are here now…and that we have a God who is too amazing to hold onto…and that we have a God who will not be confined within these four walls…and that we have a God who is already out there…inviting us to come along on the journey.
It is my hope that we each accepted that invitation…and if you are anything like me…if your experience is anything like mine…Jesus…God… is scaring your socks off. Sometimes he leads us into places that we don’t want to go…we may think that we do, but once we are there…once we are in the midst and God shows up…the realty is terrifying for us.
But that being said…there’s one more part of our gospel story. Peter, James, and John are lying on the ground…terrified that they are about to die…but Jesus is with them. Throughout every terrifying experience that they have had…Jesus is with them…God…is with them. Perhaps this is why Matthew calls Jesus Emmanuel…God with us…because in each and every situation…terrifying though it may be…He is there…Jesus will touch you on the shoulder and tell you…Rise Up…and Do Not Fear.
And you know what…that word Rise up…Get Up…Be Resurrected…its not something that we do ourselves…Jesus lifted those three men up when he touch them…he gave them the courage to be raised from their fear…just as he himself was raised from the dead…it’s the same word…and we share it…in the midst of our fear, both the fears that we realize right now and the fear that will show up as we walk the road that God invites us on…God tells us to BE RAISED UP…resurrect as something new…We are not alone…scary though it may be to walk the unknown road into the unknown future, we have a God who has already been here…and who is still here…who lifts us up…So do not fear…Amen