Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon - 3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A

 Luke 24:13-35                                                                                                             

                                                               Solutions follow Problems

“While they were walking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

As a child, I thought these two disciples were “kept” from recognizing Jesus by some divine alteration of what the rods and cones communicated to the optic nerve.  But there are other means of interference which could have kept them from recognizing him.  Chief among them, their expectations; or lack thereof.

They have the events of Easter morning perfectly in order; but they seem not to have remembered the part where Jesus told them he would die.  They seem to have failed to recognize the role that resurrection was to play in all this.

Their eyes could not overcome that of which their hearts were convinced and their brains are convicted.

What happened in Jerusalem didn’t meet their expectations.  The problem they wanted resolved was not addressed by the way things happened.

            While these two seem to have been followers of Jesus, they were in fact searching for the wrong thing.  They could not see, they failed to comprehend the significance of what had just happened to them.  So weak in vision are these two disciples that even the resur­rected Jesus goes unnoticed.  He walks among them, he talks to them, but he offers a solution so alien to their expectations that they are incapable of receiving the gift he is prepared to offer.

            I would be remiss if I didn’t interject here the interpretation of Brain McLaren, whose book is being discussed during the SCS hour.  He writes of Good Friday as the day when Jesus’ body and blood are ripped apart – that is what death is, right?  A ripping apart of our body and our blood?  Just before this happens to Jesus, he tells his disciples that the loaf of bread they are to share is his body and the cup from which they drink is his blood.  These disciples – all disciples – participate in the reuniting of Christ’s body and blood every time we observe Holy Communion.  They saw Jesus – just as we see Jesus – when that body and blood are reunited – reunited in us.

            The disciples in Luke 24 weren’t there yet.  In truth, most of us modern-day disciples have been told exactly why their eyes could not see.  Haven't we have been taught from a very early age that the reason they were incapable of accepting Jesus was because they had been expecting a military ruler, one who would drive out the Romans and establish a kingdom like that of mighty David?  Luke provides ammunition for such assumptions when he quotes one of these fleeing disciples as saying to Jesus, "We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel."  We are not told what sort of redemption this disciple anticipated, but it clearly had nothing to do with death on a cross.  We are lead to believe - or at least allowed to believe - that they had been looking for a political or social redemption.

            Whatever it is they had been looking for, they had not found it in this man Jesus.  He had severely disappointed them by dying on the cross.  The hope which burned within them as they followed Jesus from Nazareth to Jerusalem did not match with the solution offered by a cross at Golgotha. 

            But that was the problem they carried with them, and we have so often heard criticism of the desire for political redemption that we have learned not to hope for that.  Few of us expect our Messiah to defeat occupying armies and liberate nations.  We have grown too sophisticated to think that the Savior will ride in on a white horse and lead masses of people in social upheaval.  We no longer bring to God such a shallow hope or expectation. 

            But we do bring a host of other expectations; a collection varied and not at all unified.  The diversity of problems we bring to Messiah result in a host of differing understand­ings of what it means for Jesus to be our Christ.  Referred to as Theories of the Atonement, these various arguments differ in that each addresses a particular concern.

            What problem do you bring to Christ?  Where is the need within you for the one we call the Son of God?  What sort of a theory of atonement is needed to respond to your quandary?

            Some of us see the problem as a devil who is just too strong for us.  All around us we see the forces of evil and we feel powerless to do anything about them.  It is the perception that we are held in bondage by this sin and death, that we are incapable of ever having the power to break ourselves free.  This problem is met with the solution of a powerful Messiah, a Christ who is stronger than the devil, who is capable of defeating the forces of evil.  Christus Victor is the name given to the Messiah who is victorious over evil; the Christ who wins the battle and breaks the hold of evil thus setting us free.  The problem of how will we ever stand up to and overcome the strength of evil is met through Jesus who is strong enough, who is capable of defeating the power of the devil and rejecting all his empty promises.

            Others see the problem as that of human sinfulness.  We are so tainted by sin that we will never attain the holiness God intends for us.  We try to do good, but we just keep slipping further and further behind.  The problem is that God has such great expectations of the creatures which bear the image of God - expectations which we are clearly incapable of meeting.  Those who approach God from this perspective see in Jesus the one who was able to pay the price.  Jesus becomes for them the spotless lamb, the sacrifice offered on our behalf.  The problem of how will we ever live faithful lives is met by a Jesus who pays the price for our shortcom­ings.  Substitionary atonement is the title for this approach.  We often sing a song which lifts up this option – “Lord, I lift your name on high”.  The song, and this particular approach, are very popular.

            Perhaps neither of these problems is your problem.  Maybe you approach God with the hope of doing good, with the expectation of yourself that you will live up to God's expectations.  In making such an approach, you need encouragement, you need someone who can cheer you on.  You need someone who has done it and therefore can say to you, "Come on!  You can make it!"  If the problem resides in us; if the reason we are not at full potential is because we are not working hard enough - then what we need is a Jesus who has done it, a Messiah who will give us encouragement.  The problem of how can we ever live according to the law is met with the solution of Jesus who shows us that it is indeed possible.

            One last way to approach the problem:  God is God, we are humans, and the two are separated by so wide a gulf that we find ourselves feeling lonely and lost, hopeless and alienated.  The problem is we live in the company of others but we do not feel connected to any of them.  The solution to this problem is found in a Messiah whose chief characteristic is self-emptying love.  It is the God of Philippians 2 who, though he was in form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  If the problem is separation from God, the solu­tion is found in a God who bridges the gap - a God who comes to us.

            Those two disciples, fleeing to Emmaus, had seen nothing in Jesus which gave them reason to hope.  During his earthly ministry, he had offered them nothing which might satisfy their desire for a Redeemer.  We are quick to condemn them for their lack of vision, but we must be careful so as not to begin a chain of condemnation which will eventu­ally encircle our own lives.  What is the expectation we bring?  How is it that Jesus satisfies our nagging problem?

            The disciples on the road to Emmaus were met by the resurrected Jesus.  They had been fleeing the events in Jerusalem, perhaps return­ing to the comfort and safety of the village of their youth.  As he walked with them he interpreted to them the things about himself in ALL the scriptures.  I dare say he didn't hit upon any one of the theories of the atonement, rather he allowed them to realize for themselves how it is that in the death and resurrection God comes to them, meeting their quandary and responding to their desires.  As he talks, their hearts burn within them.  God is giving to them that which they most desperately desire.

            I do not mean to leave you with the impression that Jesus is all things to all people - that everyone is free to find in him their own different understanding of what it means to be saved, to be redeemed.  But this passage of scripture, contained in the 24th chapter of Luke's gospel, does begin to help to understand why some will respond while others will look upon the story as utter foolishness.  The solution is useful only when it matches the problem.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus had decided Jesus had nothing to offer them and so they were on their way back home.  When he came and interpreted to them the scrip­tures, they retraced their path and followed the road that took them back to Jerusalem.

            We cannot accept the atonement theory of someone else.  Jesus is our Messiah precisely when he responds to the problem we bring.  We all come with something a little bit different.  That is why there are so many differing theories as to exactly what it is that Christ does. 

            Explore your own problem - then find in Christ the one who sets aside your fears.  There is one, maybe two theories you will hear around this house of worship.  As you move forth from here, be aware of the preferences of any congregations you visit or consider joining.  Jesus is many things to many people.  And Jesus does meet us where we have our greatest need.  Become aware of your need, and then look for a group of fellow disciples who find in Jesus the response to that need.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, April 26

I want to call  your attention to Daniel.  You probably remember "Daniel in the lion's den..." but the rest of the story is also memorable.  It is a story particularly meaningful at this point in time, for many of us.

As you correctly assume, Daniel does nothing deserving of being place in the lion's den.  Daniel will also be put into a fiery furnace.  Daniel is taken from his home and his people and made a servant of the King.  He didn't deserve this.  But all this bad stuff happens to him.

The story recorded in the Book of Daniel reveals God's faithfulness.  Daniel is put into unimaginable situations, and yet God is with him and makes it possible for Daniel to survive.

The struggles you face can seem as threatening as being placed in a lion's den or fiery furnace.  You have reason to worry that you won't survive.  But you will. God is with you and will remain by your side and God will assist you as you calmly stare down the lions and wave the smoke out of your eyes.

Daniel - good book; great reminder during these final two weeks of the term.

Pastor Chris

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, April 25

We shy away from any talk which might seem to endorse earning our way into heaven. It is often called "works righteousness."  But the New Testament is full of reminders that it is impossible to walk in the light of Christ and not live life in a particular way.

I read this morning from I John 2.  Here we are reminded that anyone who abides in Christ "ought to walk in the same way in which he walked."  In the following verses, we read "the person who loves sister and brother abides in the light." Loving our sisters and brothers is very important to the writer; very important to Jesus.

We have sort of made a game out of remembering Luther's explanation to the 8th commandment. I love to ask, at random times, for this part of the Catechism.  Luther tells us that we are to interpret our neighbor's (insert brother/sister) actions in the kindest of ways.  Loving our sister/brother means not speaking ill of them.

It also surely means never objectifying them, or seeing them merely as an instrument of our pleasure.

How can it be said that we love our sister/brother when we turn a blind eye on their hunger?

There are some brothers/sisters who seem hell bent on making it difficult for us to love them.  But remember the line from Pastor Jon's Easter sermon - "Followers of Christ don't have enemies; we have folks who are at enmity with us (paraphrased.)"

We ought not to shy away from the work of Jesus. We ought not be worried that our actions will fail to reveal our true intentions. We are to walk in the way of Jesus, and that way is loving our brothers and sisters.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Devotion - Monday, April 24

Someone accused me of napping during Pastor Jon's sermon yesterday - which I wasn't doing.  But I did find myself missing some of the latter points because of something he said earlier.  

The text is the story of Thomas, who isn't with the other disciples when Jesus comes to visit. When Thomas asks that he be granted the opportunity to see what the others have seen (the resurrected Jesus), Thomas gets labeled as "Doubting Thomas."

Pastor Jon said how important it is to believe what others in the community tell us.  He lifted up the things which he knows to be true (knows to be true, not merely accepts as true) because a trusted member of the community has told him of these things.

My campus pastor told me that Christians are always "aliens in a strange land."  His words have allowed me to be at ease, no matter how frustrated I was with the world around me.

My mother told me "those who don't know Jesus find it really difficult when someone they love dies."  She said that at the funeral of her friend, as the woman's teenage daughter begged them not to lower the casket into the ground.

My intent this morning isn't to chide you if you find it difficult to believe, but to encourage you to lift up and speak of the things which you have come to believe as a result of a member of the community saying them to you.  What we believe is very important and forms a foundation for our daily lives.  So much of what we believe has come to us by way of trusted sisters or brothers.

Again, my intent is not to chide you for not believing me when I speak to you - but I would remind you of all the times I have told you (told you without reservation) that God loves you and cares for you and is pleased with you.  I would remind you of the ability to preserve in the midst of challenges and trust that a brighter tomorrow is before you.  I would say to you, once again, that the self-giving nature of Jesus may make us aliens in the many of the circles of our world but it makes us right at home in the community which bears Christ's name.

Listen; hear; believe; and speak of these things which the greatest of confidence.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, April20

The daily cycle of readings brought me back to the appointed readings for last Thursday (Maundy Thursday).  The section is Jesus' command to "love one another."  Let me confess, that as I started to read my first reaction was to scan and move on - fooling myself into thinking that these verses were already familiar and recently applied to my life.

Then I started to remember yesterday.  Yesterday was one of the days when I allowed myself to get over-booked.  I had too many things on the schedule and too many commitments to pay attention to them all.  Even when I did make it to last night's dinner, I was distracted thinking about the Habitat Event on Friday and getting the displays prepared.

My quiet time this morning brought to mind all of those who carried me through the evening.  An earlier text assured me that the dishes would be cleaned.  A phone call confirmed that the projector would be up and running.  Observed Messeger messages bore witness that things would be in place for boxball.  All of this didn't happen just to ease my commitments, but it did.  And it allowed me to attend to the things pressing the hardest.

It is an amazing thing to be part of a community that does truly love one another and look out for one another.  It is a gift of God's grace to come together each Wednesday and experience a whole room full of persons seeking opportunity to bear one another's burdens.  It is the end toward which Jesus is pointing when he tells his disciples to love one another.

You have a couple of weeks of stress in front of you.  You have schedules so full it makes mine look like a cake walk.  I will pray (and attempt to remind you) that you have a resource available to help you during these weeks - you have each other.  You have the community of Jesus' followers.  You have the opportunity to love one another and be loved by one another.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, April 19

What does it take for our joy to be complete?  We fill our lives with many things, anticipating that this is the corner which will make everything perfect.  

In John 15.11, Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."

While not meaning to imply that "all is fine" when we have Jesus in our hearts, I do understand and have experienced the realities of this verse of scripture.  There is a blessing which comes from allowing my eyes and my heart to be set on the joy that is Christ's.  There is a joy which fills my life when I am connected and fully participating in that which marked the days and message of Jesus.

Your struggles and the interruptions of joy which invade your life may need the attention of extra help.  Do not forsake the wise advise of those persons.  But we can all set our hearts and our minds on the joy which comes through the Easter message.  We can fill our lives with that which does complete us and fill us.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, April 18

While Lent is the season of the Church Year when we encourage reflection on one's expressions of faith, it is Easter which brings the greatest change to our lives and the way we live those lives.  In the immediate aftermath of Jesus' resurrection, Peter preaches to the crowd in Jerusalem and in Acts 2 we are told that three thousand are added on a single day.  

These persons "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."  If this is the way new converts express their faith, is is surely a good model for all of us.

"The apostles' teachings" have been recorded for us in our bibles.  We also share in those teachings when we engage in discussion with other disciples.

The "fellowship" is very important.  While attention should be given to the content of the gatherings of God's people, even such evaluations are only possible when we are together.  I often say that I am not the "attendance police," and I never will be. But I will continually encourage gathering with fellow Christians.

The breaking of bread is generally taken to be a reference to Holy Communion.  I was having coffee with a student who had recently brought a friend with them to Sunday worship.  This person was more familiar with worship in a church where the sermons and the service focused on interpreting and applying scripture, line by line.  The discussion over coffee was an opportunity to acknowledge that our worship style is focused on exposing a mystery and confronting worshipers with a sacramental outpouring of God's grace.

I do understand how tough it can be to pray.  But prayer is a trait that every follower of Jesus must develop.  The prayers of the apostles' are more than a recitation of the wants and needs of an individual.  These expose us to God's intention for the world and our willingness to take a part in the work God intends.

Lent is a time of preparation for the events of Easter.  If your preparation has you prepared, take this list from Acts 2 and compare it to the life you live.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Devotion - Easter Monday

I do not mean to overlook the handful of you who yesterday were at the same worship services as me.  And, there was a good smattering of students who we don't see all that often, but always overjoyed when we do.

The assumption made is that you were with those who have known you from your childhood; that you were in the community of persons who have observed your faith walk from the days of your baptism.  This assumption is also a hope - a prayer - that you have such a home and that you have such persons in your life.

The Easter evening story is of Jesus joining some of the disciples on the road to Emmas.  He is not immediately recognized; that happens when he breaks the bread. This encounter always reminds me of those who have come along side me, as I journeyed, and as happens in this story they are the one who explains what the events in Jerusalem mean.  Jesus does all this in the story.  Those who journey with me have done this in my life.

My home congregation is Cedar Grove, Vale, NC.  In that gathered community there are many who have known me since my baptism.  They are the fellow travelers who can remind me of events and help me to understand the significance of things that happened in the beginning of this marvelous story.  I am called to be where I am now, but I treasure the days I am able to be back in that fellowship.  I hope, I pray, your Easter was such an experience.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sermon - Good Friday

John 18:1-19:42                                                                     

Jesus Dies For Us

The events just recounted in our reading of John’s Gospel happen quickly.  There is an urgency and a rush which lies behind the actions of the leaders of the synagogue and the residents of Jerusalem.  In John’s Gospel there is no Last Supper because the timeline is adjusted so that Jesus is on his way to Golgotha on the same day as the Passover Meal lambs are being selected for slaughter.

In John, more than the other gospel accounts, this notion of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb is loud and clear. 

Jesus dies an undeserved death; he is innocent of crimes deserving death; Jesus suffers and dies in order to shield us from suffering and death.

Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb who takes upon himself everything which would threaten us or harm us. He steps between us and the hatred and the violence of the angry crowd.  He takes it on his shoulders because he loves us too much to leave us burdened down.

This is not a “new” way to speak of the Jesus story.  It is simply becoming more important that we speak of John’s presentation.  In today’s world, we are increasingly finding ourselves in the presence of an angry crowd looking for someone to blame and punish. 

Lorries are being driven into crowds and children crushed while holding the hands of their parents – all in the name of some political agenda and localized ideology. 

Keyboards are no longer used simply to post greetings to one’s friends – but are manipulated so that the emergency alarm systems in a whole city are triggered at once and thus the ability to respond to true crisis is impossible.

The Mother Of All Bombs has been dropped.  In a region of the world which has received its share of bombs these past two decades.

City and University administrators both claim they knew nothing of the plans to build an electric power station in Clemson neighborhoods.  But somebody had to know and the list of names on petitions shows interest in seeing someone put to shame and forced to take responsibility.

This Good Friday’s recounting of the events which occurred in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago may need to focus on the way in which Jesus steps in between those looking for someone to blame; and the innocent who are too often made to suffer.

Jesus becomes our Passover Lamb. Jesus takes on himself the weight of the world’s rejection.  Jesus steps between us and those who would want to make us pay for every misdeed or inappropriate action.

Jesus didn’t deserve what he got.  But he willingly accepted it.  He stepped forward and said “What is the truth?”  He stood before High Priests and Governors and declared, “You have no real authority!”  When they took to beating him and mocking him, his silence increased their shame and drove them blind with fury.

“You want someone to blame?”  Jesus asks?  “Blame me.” 

“You need someone to make into your scapegoat?”  Jesus tells them, “Use me and my name.”

Jesus would not stand up for himself, and he wouldn’t let his followers stand up for him.  He would rather endure all that could be thrown at him than to have the ear cut off the High Priests’ servant or Barabbas executed on a cross.  Jesus would rather die and have his name drug through the mud than to see this happen to someone else.

On this particular Good Friday, we need to remember this part of the story.  On this particular Good Friday, Christians everywhere need to stand untied and loudly proclaim our devotion for a Messiah who revealed this pattern of self-sacrifice as the way of God.

Another world leader, and person of faith, responded to the 2001 terror attacks by saying, “Let’s not only ask ‘Who did this,’ but also ‘Why did they do this?’”  President Jimmy Carter, in his weekly Sunday School Class at Maranatha Baptist Church shows a model of what it means to live the faith of Jesus rather than to simply talk about it.

Jesus steps between us and those who have hatred and violence in their hearts.  Jesus allows himself to take the brunt of the punishment, even though he did nothing to deserve it.

We are not to ignore hatred and violence and terror, but everyone who gathers in a Christian Church on this particular day will leave with a clear statement of how we are to respond to hatred and violence and terror.  The model is to take it on ourselves and absorb as much of it as we can. 

If someone out there is so intent on hurting and harming – then let them hurt and harm those who KNOW there are limits to how much real damage they can do.

If there is someone out there looking for someone to blame for circumstances and situations, blame us.  It won’t bother us nor will it destroy us.  We have a model for what happens when blame is ascribed to one who is innocent.  Blame us, and we will willingly follow Jesus into the center of the circle of the angry mob.

Jesus didn’t deserve what he got or what they said about him or the way he was treated.  He didn’t deserve any of it.  And yet, he absorbed it.  And in absorbing it, he muted their hatred.

The innocent people of the world do not deserve what those committed to terrorism are doing.  The innocent deserve none of this.  Following Jesus means we will also absorb, that we will be understanding and accepting.  Following Jesus means we will refuse to react with hatred and violence.  We will not allow those who do not know Jesus to tear us from our commitment to follow Jesus.

This is the Good Friday message we all need to hear, and to share, and to live.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon - Maundy Thursday

John 13:1- 17, 31b-35

Love – As I have Loved You

Maundy Thursday takes its name from the commandment that Jesus gives to his disciples on this, the final day of his life.  “Maundy” is the middle English pronunciation of the Latin word for “commandment.”   Jesus calls it a “new” commandment.  But it really isn’t new.  It is the heart of so much of what he has said and lived during his time among us.  Maybe he calls it “new” because this is he wants his disciples to remember, and to do, above all else.   Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 

This is the commandment (the maundy) for which this Thursday is known.
“Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  

Earlier in his ministry, when asked which of the previous commandments ought to be considered the “greatest,” Jesus lifts up love of God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.  Jesus is careful to root this “new commandment” at the very heart of what God’s people have been about from the very beginning.  Here, on the last night he will spend with his disciples, he returns to the same theme.  He instructs them that what he expects of them is that they will love.  That they will love as he has first loved us.

To follow this to a conclusion, two points need to be made.  The first has to do with the way Jesus loves.   What is meant when he says, “Love, as I have loved you”?  The second point is to ask the question (the painful question) of whether it can truly be said that we do emulate this love.

First point - the love with which Jesus loved is a love that is giving and self-sacrificing.  Let’s remember that as he spoke these words, Jesus is just hours from being betrayed into the hands of those who would orchestrate his death.  This is the model he gives us for loving.

And we see this model, not only on Good Friday, but throughout his life and ministry.  Remember the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ attempt to withdraw from the crowds.  He tries to get away, to a quite place.  He travels across the sea only to discover that the crowd has rushed around the shore in order to be there when he reaches the other side.

The love with which Jesus loved is selfless and self-sacrificing.  He gives all that he has.

I was pleased with the impact from Operation In-As-Much; but we didn’t have the participation such efforts deserve.  Clemson Congregations In Touch has been forced to take stock and evaluate whether there is sufficient interest to keep it going.  Maybe it is a rejection of organized programs and projects but our support for the Clemson CROP Walk for the hungry continues to decline. 

We are tired; and we are overworked.  But how much of this exhaustion comes from the tasks which advance our own careers or aspirations?  Are our schedules full because we are seeking ways in which we can be of serve to others, or are they jam packed with the drive to acquire more and more stuff?

The love, with which Jesus loves, leads him to the cross.  Are we willing to follow where he has lead?   Seems doubtful when we struggle to find even a handful willing to sacrifice one Saturday a month in order to work on a Habitat house.

I don’t mean to overlook or to ignore the sacrificial acts performed on behalf of family members.   I have watched, over the past five years, as many of you set aside choices for how to spend time in order to attend to the needs of our ailing parents.  Such self-giving acts are certainly a reflection of the love with Christ has first loved us.  We do reflect the love of Jesus when we provide care for those to whom we are intimately connected.  The trouble is that the circumference of our circle of love seems to end there.

In a separate biblical story, a young man tries to justify his narrowing of the circle of care.  He asks Jesus to define “neighbor.”  In that story, Jesus makes it clear that neighbors are not simply those who own the house next to us or sit beside us in worship.  Jesus speaks of neighbor as anyone we encounter – especially someone who is in need of our help.

We do a pretty good job of loving those whose lives are connected to our own.  It is admirable and honorable to take care of and protect one’s family.   And no one is more popular than the guy next door who helps us blow our leaves, collects our mail when we are out of town, and comes over to ask snoopy questions when a stranger shows up at a time when we are away.  But the circle of Jesus’ love is much wider.  He has compassion on all those whom he sees.  He cries over all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  He dies for the sake of all creation. 

I am coming to the conclusion that it is easier to follow the command to “Preach Jesus” than it is to follow the command of Jesus.  It is simple to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord.  What is hard, what is trough, what really divides the sheep from the goats is when it comes to loving one another with the love with which Jesus has first loved us.  The difficult question, the tough question, the question which embarrasses us is the one which asks whether we are offering to others the love with which Jesus has first loved us.  It is easy to say we love the Lord.  It is another thing all together to love doing what it is that our Lord did.

Devotion - Maundy Thursday

John 15 is often referred to as "Jesus' High Priestly Prayer."  It is a very moving and comforting section of the gospel.  Jesus is talking about us - about you and me, about his followers.  He is praying - for us.

I learned many years ago the strength of a few very simple words.  "I will pray for you" is a promise and a commitment that strengthens our hearts and moves our souls.  To know that someone is praying for us is to know that another has seen us for who we are and understands that which lies at the core of our lives.  "I will pray for you" is to acknowledge a shared trust and confidence that God is on our side and always by our side.

In John, we have chapters dedicated to the prayer that Jesus offers - for us.

What a comfort; what an assurance; what a gift.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday of Holy Week

"It is very important that we are without pretense when we come before God's countenance.  All adornment, all excuses, must be cast aside.  We must not give ourselves out as anything other than we are.  Wares often pass in trade under false names in order to win easier sale; but it is still more common that the human heart houses cravings to which it gives false names in order to justify love for them.  Deceit is called cleverness; greed is called concern for spouse and children; hatred and anger are called zeal for truth and justice.  No sinful desire is found in the human heart that does not sail under a false flag and steal a name that done not belong to it.  It is a great step forward when we are able to give the name to all that lives withing us.  It is one of the blessing of prayer that it calls upon us for serious self-examination and brings into the light of God's countenance that which steals around in our souls, have unconscious, part truth, part falsehood.  Everything that lives within us should be aid bare i prayer."

"The World of Prayer"  Ditlev Gothard Monrad

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday of Holy Week

In John 12, Jesus reminds the disciples "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone."

While there are many ways to speak of the experience of faith, a powerful way of doing so is to speak of never being left on our own.  God is with us; and we are united with those around us.  How many of our fears are set aside when we know that we are not alone?

Being united with God; being united with other children of God - these are wonderful gifts.

Getting to this state or this condition is also rather simple - however it means letting go of so many things which are valued and treasured by the world around us.

We want what Jesus offers; but our hands are holding firm to the things the devil has made to glitter.

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  This is the promise, the dilemma, the challenge.  Trust and faith bring us into a fold and give us a home.  Letting go of the things valued by the world is tough.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Devotion - Monday of Holy Week

In John 12, immediately before the story of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem, there is the acknowledgement of how much excitement surrounded Lazarus.  The crowd who places palms on the path as Jesus enters had come to see Jesus, "but also to see Lazarus."  They came to observe the one upon whom the Word of God had had such a profound effect.

The story gets even more precise.  The anger of chief priests against Jesus grew stronger because the observed that "on account of (Lazarus) many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus".

They were coming to have faith in Jesus because of the change they had see in Lazarus.

No less than Lazarus, we are the way others see Jesus.  What they observe in us is their opportunity to see the Word of God active in the world.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, April 6

Too often we think of Jesus as peaceful and calming and immensely popular.  In John 10, there is yet another story of how angry the crowd is toward him. They "took up stones again to stone him."

Jesus' words are a great comfort to me (and to you). Jesus' words bring a peace to my heart that would otherwise be impossible. But the message he proclaims is often set at odds with the scenario preferred by the world.

This is most obvious when we reflect on who is to be advantaged by our actions and our plans.  Jesus' words tells us to consider the other, the neighbor, the forgotten.

We are preoccupied with our safety while Jesus speaks of lying down our lives for the sake of others.

Our culture elevates personal wealth as the mark for status while Jesus would remind us that it is our service of others which brings us notice.

The words of Jesus, like the Word of God, sets the world right side up.  The world would seemingly prefer to be upside down.

It is the disciples of Jesus who can lead the way in making his way more obvious in the world.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, April 5

John 10:16 is a verse worthy of remembering. Jesus says, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

In too many instances, "good Christians" shun those who are "other."  We prefer the young lawyer's understanding of neighbor - unwilling to hear Jesus when he tells us that the alien and stranger are our neighbor.

In John 10, Jesus expresses a hope that those sheep who do not belong the same fold will be brought together with this fold and that they might all be one flock.  A hope, which his life-death-resurrection surely makes possible.  A hope, likely in need of being advanced by those who bear the name of Jesus.

Look upon the other with the instructions of John 10 in mind.  Look for ways in which this unity has been achieved, and look for ways in which you might be the one who advances it further.  Jesus did not call us into some upper room where the doors are shut and the wind is kept out.  Jesus sends us forth into the world to proclaim the Good News.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, April 4

The devotion offered at yesterday's Synod Council meeting encouraged us to consider how the word of God informs and directs our day.  It gave me opportunity to consider the interaction that occurs during these quiet moments at the start of my day.

I read the appointed lessons.  I read a reflective piece.  I read some prayers.  I also sit in silence.  I also look over the list of those I want to continually lift up in prayers. I also find myself preparing for the events and challenges the day will hold.

Some days, what I read dominates the reflection time.  Some days, the matters lifted in my prayers ring so loudly in my heart that the words I read have no chance.

It is probably understandable that this happens - that the balance is tipped one way or the other.  But if it were to continually tip in favor of the concerns facing me this day I would need to be concerned.  The intention of a morning prayer routine is to allow the Word of God to set the tone for my day.  When the concerns of the day drown out the Word I am no longer praying.  Rather, I am making use of reflection techniques taught in a self-care seminar.

There will always be a time in my morning to remember you and the concerns you have shared with me.  But the strength I have to share as the day progresses comes from the Word of God, reflected in those scripture selections which I read before I pray.  This is the gift we give - the power of God's Word.  

Monday, April 3, 2017

Devotion - Monday, April 3

If you are looking for places in scripture which support the theological concept of predestination, Romans 9:19-33 is a good place to start.  Paul speaks of why some are still found to have "fault", given that God is the one who brings the Word to us and moves our heart to respond.  (All of this is in the preceding verses, the parts of Romans you hear often in our Lutheran congregations.)

In chapter 9, he turns to the thorny question of how any, then, resist.

In many ways, his reply is a pass.  He says it is not our place to know what God knows or to understand why God does it.

Along the way, he reuses the image of a potter. He asks whether it is not the prerogative of the potter to make from the same batch of clay some vessels for honor, and some for menial tasks.  The implication being that God is free to move the hearts of some while leaving others in their "fault."

This is not a part of Romans you will hear me quoting often or turning to when I share my faith story.  But in this ongoing, years long interaction we have, it is important that I also expose to you the verses of scripture that confound me.  This is one.  

I know that my faith is not of my own doing.  I remain totally convinced that it was God who brought faith to me and sustains that faith.  I don't know why all are not similarly overwhelmed by God's goodness and thus turn from their fault.  Maybe Romans 9 is the answer.  It isn't one I would embrace, but I need to read it and consider it and make sure that I am not ignoring it.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fifth Sunday in Lent - Year A

John 11:1-45  

                                                            Lord, if you had been here….. 

“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Did anyone else notice that both sisters utter exactly the same words?  Neither of them wait for Jesus to speak; neither of them allow him to extend his sympathies.  Both, upon seeing Jesus, are quick to rush to the same conclusion and to utter the same statement.

“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

This is another incidence in which tone of voice could make a whole lot of difference.  What tone do you think Mary and Martha were using, when they spoke these words to Jesus?

We don’t have to assume they used the same tone – and there is always the possibility that in the initial retelling of the story tone varied so that the story teller could illustrate how the same statement could be taken to mean two very differing things.  We will come back to that; after you have had opportunity to consider your answer.

What is the tone of voice is used by Martha/used by Mary when they say to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here……”?

What I intend to point out about both of these of these women is their total confidence in Jesus.  Both of them seem to be exposing an unwavering conviction that Jesus – Jesus – could have made everything different.  Regardless of tone of voice, both of them speak of their confidence that when Jesus is present, death is not allowed entry.

You are also free to form the opinion that I am reading too much into this.  And maybe I am taking too great of a leap from what happens to what might be happening. 

In addition to noting that both sisters utter exactly the same sentence, I also noted that Jesus’ reaction to the two identical comments differs.  When Mary speaks these words, Jesus is said to be “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”  When Martha speaks, Jesus enters into a theological statement about the plan for salvation.  Jesus tells Martha, “(He) will rise again.” And discusses with Martha the significance of the one who lives and will never die.  Is there a significance to these two differing responses?  Was Martha in need of instruction?  While Mary’s only need is for Jesus to be present?

Don’t forget that the other story about Mary and Martha.  Jesus goes to their home, remember?  When he is there, Martha is busy fixing the meal while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens.  Does Martha need to listen, to what Mary has already heard?

“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

I do not want to negate my earlier observation that both of these women used the same words to express a common conviction that Jesus has the ability to keep death at bay.  Both reveal their confidence that Jesus is the answer and solution to that which hurts them, to that which threatens them.

The first time we speak these words, it probably is with a degree of frustration.  “If you had been here….”  If you hadn’t lingered for two additional days before coming this way…….  If you had been here….  if you had spoken the right words…… if you had interceded on our behalf……  All of these “If’s”, and each one enough to make our heat swirl and our hearts break. 

The first time we speak these words, there is a tone of anger – angry that any of this had to happen or would even need to happen.  The first time, we simply don’t understand why Jesus wasn’t there, or didn’t come, or failed to be attentive. 

The first time, there is an urgency in our need which will not allow us to be reflective – even about our own words.

Jesus points out to Martha, that it doesn’t make any difference whether he was physically present with her or not – the same thing is going to happen.  Jesus points out to Martha that his being present two days earlier would not have changed the ultimate outcome.  Jesus being bodily present is immaterial to the gift which is about to be experienced among them.  This reply sets at ease the fears of those who would read this story in the thousands of years when it was impossible for Jesus to be physically present.  It isn’t his physical presence which keeps death at bay – it is the confidence that when his presence is experienced all the good that God intends is indeed ours.

The first time we ask our question, there is so much we are unprepared to admit.

The second time is different.  The second time, there seems to be less of a bite or a demand and more of a confession.  Mary isn’t interested in arguing with Jesus about resurrection or life. Mary seems more prepared to make a statement of faith. 

The second time we speak, we are ready to acknowledge that in Jesus there is this ability.  In Jesus we have found the one whom we will trust.

The second time our faith and confidence is allowed to show.

Two sisters, trying to make sense of their brother’s death, utter the exact same words.  It isn’t the words which reveal what is on their hearts. Thankfully, Jesus is able to look beyond the words and understand.  Thankfully, Jesus is able to move beyond the words and respond.