St. John's - Morgan
3rd Sunday in Lent - B
Text: John 2:13-22
Subject: The cleansing of the temple
Predicate: is Jesus radical way of telling us that God's grace is a free gift.
For the last 155 Sundays, (that's one short of three years) we have read 155 different Gospel lessons, and heard 155 different sermons.
And in some way, all of them have talked about our Lord Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, who loves people so much that he will feed them and heal them and preach to them and even die for them.
We've heard Jesus call the little children to receive a blessing from him. We've heard Jesus say that he is the good shepherd and that no one can snatch away his sheep. We've heard Jesus say that the greatest commandment it love and that we are to love one another even as he loved us.
In short, we've spent 155 weeks learning about Jesus the kind, warm, friendly, peaceful, loving man.
But then, along comes the 156th week, and gospel we heard this morning, about the time when Jesus entered the temple at Jerusalem and became so ANGRY at what he saw, that he went into a manic frenzy, using a whip to drive the cattle and sheep (along with their keepers) out of the temple, and turning over the tables and scattering the coins of the money changers all over the ground.
Now this is a side of Jesus that we don't pay a lot of attention to, and that we may have a hard time dealing with.
Just think of all the pictures of Jesus that you've seen over the years, including the ones hanging right here at St. John's. They're beautiful pictures, but they ALL depict the loving and caring side of Jesus.
In all the churches I've been in -- I've never seen an image of Jesus wielding a whip. I've never seen an image of Jesus with the emotion of anger expressed in his face. And I've never seen an image of Jesus heaving the large wooden tables of the money changers over on to their sides.
The scene in the temple that day was nothing short of a one man riot. It was as if a man in the crowd suddenly went berserk. It was complete chaos. People were yelling. Animals were panicking and running wild. Furniture was crashing all around.
I can even see the people scrambling to pick up and pocket a few extra coins (kind of like when the armored truck door flew open on the freeway a few years ago).
And there in the middle of it -- is Jesus!
And based on everything else we've learned about him, we're not quite sure what to think about what he's up to.
Traditionally, this story has been named the "Cleansing of the Temple." To some degree, that's an accurate name for the event because Jesus was concerned about the purity of worship. He was deeply troubled by the fact that the sacrifice sellers and money changers were profiteers who gleefully ripped off Jews who pilgrimaged many miles to worship in Jerusalem.
But to call it the "cleansing of the temple" is done from the desire to side with Jesus and justify what he did, instead of seeking to understand what Jesus did, in the deepest and most profound sense.
You see, over the years we've been taught to understand the life of Jesus in terms of "Good Guys and Bad Guys." Jesus and his disciples are the "Good Guys," while the Pharisees and other Jewish rulers are the "Bad Guys."
What we fail to understand, is that in all likelihood, if we had been alive back then, we would have been on the side of the religious leaders. We would have been furious that someone had the gall to vandalize our house of worship.
To picture what I'm talking about, imagine someone coming into our facility and trashing it.
And not after hours, but on Sunday morning, while we all watched in shock.
And not with "evil intent" such as was the case when we were burglarized last fall, but with religious zeal and sharp criticism about the way that we are practicing our faith.
If your blood boils at the prospect of something like this happening here -- then you are beginning to understand the impact of what was happening back there.
Practically no one saw Jesus as cleansing the temple -- they perceived his outburst as a direct attack on the them and their faith and the way that they were practicing it.
And that is EXACTLY what Jesus was doing.
Today's Gospel lesson has been paired up with the Ten Commandments. For those who know that there is usually some kind of connection between the Old Testament and Gospel lessons for any given Sunday, this seems like a strange pair. At first it's hard to see what the relationship between the 10 Commandments and the temple riot might be.
But there is a connection.
For you see, keeping the 10 Commandments (and the rest of the religious laws that were based on them) was the way that people back then sought their own salvation.
It was taught that the only people who were righteous in the eyes of God were the people who kept the law perfectly.
The Pharisees, who we hear about so often, were "professionals" at keeping the law. They were even called lawyers because they studied the law in minute detail and tried their best live according to even the most obscure points of the law.
It was also taught that regular people were supposed to fulfill certain basic parts of the law if they had any hope of salvation. Parts of the law such as resting on the Sabbath, and making a yearly trip to the temple to offer a sacrifice to atone for their sins.
However, the New Testament gift from our Lord Jesus Christ is that we do not have to keep the law to earn our salvation.
This doesn't abrogate the 10 Commandments. They ARE the rules and standards for faith and living that God wants ALL people to live by.
But it does mean that we are no longer judged on the basis of how good of an effort we put forth in keeping the commandments.
God knows, and Jesus knew that NO PERSON was or is strong enough or righteous enough to keep the law perfectly. St. Paul described humanity accurately when he wrote that, "ALL PEOPLE have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
All this means that when Jesus "cleansed the temple" he wasn't just driving out a bunch of corrupt merchants.
No -- instead -- Jesus was overturning the very basis of the way that people were practicing their faith.
When he said, "How dare you turn my Father's house into a market," he was saying that you cannot buy your salvation through a burnt offering.
He was saying that the rites and rituals of worship do not improve your standing with God.
He was saying that the love and forgiveness of God is not something that you can just go to church to buy.
Through his rampage in the temple, Jesus was saying, in a very powerful (and attention grabbing) way, that our relationship with God -- our very salvation -- is ours NOT by what we do, but BY THE GRACE OF GOD ALONE!
Forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life are not things we can earn or buy.
They are a gift. A free gift. From God through Jesus Christ.
And that is a message that all people need to hear, and that we in the church need to hear again and again.
There is a way in which we need Jesus to charge in here every few years and shake things up.
For we face the temptation to think that the way we participate in the church somehow makes us better in the eyes of God.
We may think that our regular presence at worship, or the generous offerings that we give, or the volunteer hours that we put in, are what opens the door to our salvation.
But they ARE NOT the way to salvation.
Only God can save. Only through Christ's suffering, death and resurrection has God done it. There is no other way.
When you know this and believe this, the good things we do fall into proper perspective. We do them of our own free will and understand that we do them in joy and thanksgiving for the grace God has bestowed upon us.
But just in case we forget and start feeling pretty smug about what good people we've become, three years from now Jesus will come charging back in to stir things up and get us back on track! AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
3rd Wednesday in Lent
Text: Mark 7:31-37
Subject: The ears of Christ
Predicate: Hear our prayers and supplications, and in turn we too should hear his word since according to Paul, faith comes by hearing and what is heard is the preaching of gospel.
One of the most common frustrations in our daily living, is not being heard.
Those of us who are parents frequently feel like we're talking to a brick wall when we talk to our children, especially if we are trying to tell them that it's time to do a chore, or time to go to bed!
As a teacher, I often wonder how much of what I say is being heard. A week or so ago at confirmation instruction I noticed a few students kind of staring off into space, so I asked them to repeat what I just said, and sure enough, their ears were "turned off" and they didn't even have the slightest idea of what I was talking about.
But not listening is not just a kid's problem. As a parent, I must also confess that there I times when I don't really listen to what my children are saying and they get angry, or worse yet, they think I don't care about them.
In marriages, one of the most devastating problems to the relationship is when one or the other, or both partners, fail to listen to each other.
When I administer the Prepare-Enrich inventory to a couple desiring to get married, 9 times out of 10 "communication" is identified as an aspect of the relationship that requires much growth.
And 9 out of 10 times is it not the expressing of information and feelings that needs to be improved, but it is the reception - the hearing - and the understanding, of what the other person thinks and feels that needs work.
The need to be heard and understood is one of our deepest human needs.
And fortunately, as we consider the ears of our Lord and what they are like and how well they work, we can truthfully sum it up by saying that God, through Christ, ALWAYS hears us.
What ever we say, when ever we say it, and how ever we say it (even if we just "think it"), God hears our prayers.
God listens to us. And most importantly, God understands us and our needs.
Especially when things are at their worst, and we are directing a litany of, "Whys?" toward God, God is tuned in to our pain and suffering.
Now I say this with a lot of confidence and certainty, because Jesus Christ consistently showed us that it is true as he lived and ministered to people during his earthly life.
Once there was a blind man sitting by the side of the road. Someone must have told him that the miracle worker Jesus was walking by, for as Jesus traveled down the dusty road the blind many cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Even though this plea for mercy was uttered by an insignificant man, the kind of person most people ignore and walk right by, Jesus heard the plea of the blind man, and he stopped and restored his sight.
On another occasion, the disciples were out in their boat on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night. Suddenly, they saw Jesus walking on the water, coming out to meet them.
For some reason, Peter asked Jesus if he could walk out on the water so he could be with his Lord. Jesus said, "Yes," but after a couple of steps, Peter realized what a crazy thing he was doing. The wind and the waves pulled his attention away from Jesus and he began to sink.
Reflexively, Peter cried out, "Lord, Save me!"
And Jesus heard him and caught him by the hand and led him to safety.
Jesus heard many other supplications and pleas for help from a variety of people during the course of his ministry. And every time he heard some one calling to him he responded in an appropriate and helpful way.
But even though word of Jesus' healing abilities spread far and wide and people were always asking for a miracle or sign, Jesus heard many other things from people too.
For example, the ears of Christ also heard words of encouragement and complements and praise and thanks.
At a very important turning point of his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was.
The disciples reported what Jesus most likely had heard for himself as well, that people thought he was Elijah, or John the Baptist returned from the dead, or another great prophet.
Though the people who said this were in fact mistaken about Jesus' true identity, they did think very highly of him - for to think that Jesus was Elijah or another great prophet was actually a supreme complement. It meant that his teaching and preaching was having an impact. People were listening to him and wrestling with the meaning of his message.
But then, after hearing what the people thought, Jesus asked his disciples what THEY thought. And in response, Jesus heard Peter put the pieces of the puzzle together and correctly answer the question saying, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Another time, Jesus asked his disciples whether they intended to keep on traveling with him or not? Again Peter answered saying, "Lord to whom should we go? For YOU have the words of eternal life!"
When Jesus healed people, I'm sure that he appreciated hearing their thankful responses. Unfortunately it seems that many people took his help for granted, or at the least, ungratefully. Who could forget the story about the time Jesus cleansed the 10 lepers. Of the 10, only one bothered to return and give thanks. Jesus was obviously troubled that they other nine didn't, but he was also happy to hear from the one who did.
And who could forget the shouts of praise and adoration that Jesus heard as he rode into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey.
As he entered the city and rode through its streets the crowd shouted "Hosanna to the son of David." And they threw down branches and garments to carpet his path down the road.
On the other side of the coin, Jesus also heard plenty of negative comments and remarks directed toward him from the beginning to the end of his ministry.
Jesus' first public appearance was at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He got up to read from the prophet Isaiah, then he told the people that the prophecy he read was coming true at that very moment, even as they were hearing the words spoken.
Many were amazed at his message, but some scoffed and said, "Is this Joseph's son?" meaning -- how dare a common carpenter say such things and claim such power and authority!
According to Luke, these people wanted to toss Jesus over the side of the cliff to his death on the rocks below. But Jesus passed through the crowd and left safely because his time had not yet come.
Jesus also endured lots of criticism from the Pharisee's and other religious leaders.
When he ate dinner at the home of a tax collector the Pharisee's wanted to know how come Jesus was associating with "sinners."
When he ate dinner at the home of a Pharisee and the prostitute slipped in to anoint Jesus' feet, the Pharisee said, "You wouldn't let her do that IF you knew what kind of a woman she was!"
Still others looked at Jesus and said, "Behold, a glutton and drunkard and friend of tax collectors and sinners!"
And of course, the harshest, most cutting, most painful words were heard during the fateful events of the last week of Jesus' life.
Jesus heard one of his own disciples turn against him when Judas led the mob into the garden and greeted him with the word's "Hail Master," and sealed the deal with a kiss on the cheek.
Jesus hear the cock crow for the third time and he knew that Peter had failed to keep his promise of support to the death and instead denied knowing Jesus, lest he too be arrested and killed.
Jesus heard the false witnesses speak vicious lies that condemned him in the eyes of the chief priests.
Jesus heard the uproar of the crowd, (which included many of the people who had welcomed him with "Hosannas" 5 days earlier), gathered outside the courts of Pilate, shouting out at the top of their lungs, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
Pilate calmed the crowd and tried to make a deal since he knew Jesus was innocent and it was on account of jealousy that they wanted him put to death. Pilate said, "Shall I release Jesus or Barabbas?"
Then Jesus heard the crowd respond in a single voice, "Barabbas!" And the chant, "Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him," swelled up again.
After that Jesus heard the sounds of the whip tearing into the flesh of his back. He heard the whacks of the hammer as the spikes were driven through his hands and feet. He heard the taunts of the crowd as he hung in agony under the hot desert sun.
Through it all, both the please for help and encouraging words and both the criticisms and condemnations, above everything else, Jesus always heard the voice of his father in heaven, directing him on his way.
At his baptism and transfiguration Jesus heard God say, "This is my son with whom I am well pleased." In the Garden of Gesthemene Jesus prayed, "Not my will but your will be done."
And on the cross, even though he felt abandoned and cried out, "My God why have you forsaken me?" He also trusted in God to care for him in death as he died saying, "Father, Into your hands I commend MY spirit."
And his ears stopped functioning as he was plunged into the stone cold deafness of death.
But those ears will hear again. In the resurrection they will be opened in a new and even more powerful way. The will be the ears that hear our prayers day and night all our life.
And they will be the ears that hear our eternal thanks and praise when we too are raised to life eternal.
This is the gospel of the Lord. As Jesus said, "Let anyone who has ears listen!" AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
4th Sunday in Lent - B
Subject: The cross
Predicate: means many things, but primarily it is the sign of what God has graciously done to save us and when we "look" on it in faith we are saved.
The cross is (and always has been) the central symbol of the Christian faith.
And so, whenever you walk into a church, you can be certain that you'll see crosses. Some are free-standing on their own, others are incorporated into the decorative motif of various church furnishings.
A favorite Sunday school activity for many kids is to go on a "cross hunt." If you did that in our sanctuary today, not counting the crosses on the front of the hymnals, you'll find 19 different crosses. At least that's how many I counted before worship this morning.
As you look at the crosses you find, both here and any where else that you might encounter one, you'll notice that there are many different designs.
Sometimes the cross will be a crucifix -- that is, an image of Jesus will be nailed to it. Other times the cross will be plain (like all of the crosses in our sanctuary). Sometimes the crosses will be enhanced with sun rays, or thorns, or a crown, or a triangle.
A few years ago I printed up a little booklet to help Sunday school teachers decorate their classrooms to reflect the seasons of the church year. These two pages of the booklet (show them) have about 60 different cross designs printed on them.
The reason for so many designs is that each one has a special meaning.
A crucifix or a cross with thorns reminds us of Good Friday and the death of Jesus. On the other hand, a plain cross or a cross with sun rays beaming out from behind it, reminds us of Easter Sunday and Jesus' resurrection.
In a similar vein, in sermons and classes, as a preacher or teacher talks about the cross and what it means for us, a variety of meanings can be lifted up.
Sometimes the preacher will describe the cross as an example of perfect obedience.
Other times it may be described as a judgment on our sins.
The cross is also something that we are called to bear -- in other words -- the time may come when we need to be willing to suffer on account of our faith, just as Jesus did.
And, as I told the children a few minutes ago, the cross is also a sign of God's love for us and the means by which God has given us hope and salvation.
Now, if you think about all the different meanings of the cross, you can divide them into two basic groups.
Sometimes the cross and what it means is a burden for us. But at other times the cross lifts a burden from our backs.
Sometimes the cross and what it means is law and other times it is gospel.
Sometimes the cross and what it means leads us to say, "Oh yuk!" and other times the only response we can think of is, "Thank you dear Lord!"
For example, many times the cross is said to provide the perfect example of obedience for us to follow. It is held out as an example of what you and I should be and how we should live.
That is -- just as Jesus was obedient to the will of God the Father, even unto death on the cross, we too should be perfectly obedient to God's will -- no matter what the cost.
But notice well, when we set this concept forth as the primary meaning of the cross, the center of our focus is on ourselves and what we do or how we behave. The cross becomes an objective or a goal toward which we must constantly strive. Along the way we must constantly watch what we do and continuously readjust our attitude toward God.
It would be great if we could live a life of perfect obedience, but the truth of the matter is that trying to live a perfect life is a heavy burden.
Different people will respond differently to the burden of trying to be perfect. Some people simply give up trying to be perfect and become satisfied to live life as a perpetual underachiever.
Others try harder and harder to be perfect, and they chastise themselves every time they fall short of their goal. Until one day, the stress of trying so hard to be perfect catches up with them and they explode.
Still others live a roller coaster like life. They try hard to be perfect one day, then give up the next, then renew their zeal to be the best person possible, only to lapse into despair because no matter how hard they try they just can't measure up to their perfect expectations.
The simple fact is, no human being can be perfect, no matter how hard they try. "ALL people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
So, while it is true that God does desire our perfect obedience, it is not helpful for us if we think the primary meaning of the cross is a DEMAND for that perfect obedience.
Likewise, if the primary meaning of the cross is said to be judgment on our sin and sinful lives, we will not be able to see the cross as a positive thing for us.
Have any of you heard a real "hellfire and brimstone" sermon?
In our branch of the church they are pretty rare these days. But in some denominations, and in years gone by in the Lutheran Church, many preachers used the sermon as opportunity to chastise the congregation for all the sins that they committed, and to use the fear of burning forever in hell to scare everyone into repenting and believing.
But here too, this understanding of the cross focuses on us and what we do (or don't do), and the cross becomes a reminder of how bad we really are.
As a result we are robbed of hope and feel no reason to rejoice. And worship becomes a weekly ritual of punishment and shame instead of a time for joy and thanksgiving.
Now we must not ignore our sin and imperfections. We must never say that our sin is no big deal and doesn't matter much one way or the other. We must never say that as long as we can't be perfect we might as well just go ahead and do whatever we feel like when ever we feel like it.
But we MUST say that God's love is always greater than our sin.
And we MUST say that the first and foremost and primary meaning of the cross is that God loves us.
The cross is the victory of God's love over our sin and victory over the death that results from our sin.
The words from John's Gospel sum it up best: "God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die for us so that whoever believes in him (and what he has done on the cross) shall be saved."
The good news is that we are relieved of the burden of having to be perfect. And we are spared from the hellfire and brimstone that should be the punishment for our sins.
All we have to do (and even this happens by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit), is to believe that what God says and what God has done is true.
The Old Testament lesson for today is linked with this Gospel lesson not only because of the direct reference that John makes about it, but because it is a concrete illustration of God's power to save those who believe.
And it is a simple illustration of what it means to believe.
After the Israelites had been wandering around in the desert for several years, they grew impatient with Moses and with God for not leading them to the promised land quicker. So in anger and resentment they spoke against God, and against Moses.
In response, the Lord withdrew his protective hand and poisonous snakes invaded the Israelite encampment. The Bible says that many people were bit and that many of those who were bit, died.
Historical records also indicate that surviving the bite of such a snake was only possible with the prompt amputation of the bitten limb! But in those days, amputations were very risky and most amputees died of blood loss or infection. So either way, someone bit by one of these snakes was essentially doomed.
When the people realized that the snake infestation was the result of their sin, they repented and asked Moses to pray for their salvation.
Moses did and God answered saying, "Make a bronze image of a snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten should look up at the snake, and they will live.
Now that sounds simple enough. But think of the faith that such looking up requires! I can imagine the disappointment of the Israelites when Moses said, "OK folks, if you're bitten just look at this and you'll be fine!"
"Yeah, sure! What's the catch? What else do we have to do? How can simply looking at the bronze snake do anything? You've got to be kidding!"
But Moses wasn't kidding and God was totally serious. Looking up at the snake on the pole WAS enough to be made well. If God said it was enough -- IT IS enough!
For you see, it wasn't the looking up at the snake on the pole in and of itself that made the people well. When they looked up it was a sign that they once again trusted in God. It was their faith in God's promise that made them well! Looking up was helpful only in as much as it represented their renewed faith.
Likewise, all we have to do to receive the benefits of the cross, is to look up.
By the power of the Spirit we can look up to see Jesus on the cross and know that because he willingly died for us to pay the price for our sins we now can live forever.
So my friends, as you consider the cross and what it means, realize that the primary meaning and purpose is not to demand perfection, nor to condemn us with judgment, but to bless us with salvation.
And all we have to do, with the help of God, is look up, and believe. AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
4th Wednesday in Lent
Subject: The Eyes of Christ
Predicate: See our needed even before we say any thing and even if we don't ask for help.
Last week we were reminded how Jesus heard cries for help from many people as he traveled around the countryside. And we learned that Jesus did what he could to help those who cried out to him.
But -- there were many more times, when no one was calling out to Jesus for help or healing, yet he looked upon the people he encountered, and he saw their need. He felt compassion for them. And without even being asked, he performed miracles of healing, or he embraced them with his presence, simply because of the love Jesus had for all people.
Once as Jesus was walking down the road he saw a man who was sightless from birth. When Jesus saw the man he felt a deep compassion toward the man.
All the disciples were concerned about when they saw the blind man was whether he deserved to be blind because of his or his parent's sin.
Jesus said neither was the case, and then, without being asked by anyone, not by the man, not by the man's friends, nor by anyone else in Jesus' entourage, he walked over to the blind man and restored his sight.
On another occasion, Jesus and a crowd of followers were walking into the town of Nain and they had to stop to let a funeral procession go by.
When Jesus saw that the man who had died was the only son of a widow, he had compassion on her. For in those days, a widow with no one to support her was doomed to a life of poverty and hunger and most likely an early death.
When the widow drew near to Jesus he said, "Do not weep." Then he reached out and touched the dead man's bier and said, "Young man, I say to you -- ARISE!" And the young man instantly woke from his death and sat up and began to speak.
On still another occasion, Jesus entered the house of his disciple Peter, and Jesus saw that Peter's mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Again, without being asked, Jesus reached out and healed her.
Jesus help was not just limited to healings.
One day he sailed across the top of the Sea of Galilee, intending to retreat from the crowds and spend some time alone grieving the recent death of John the Baptist. But the crowds found out where he was going, and they ran around the shore line and actually got to the boat landing first.
When Jesus arrived he looked out at the mass of people waiting to see him. According to the Gospel of Mark, "Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd." And Jesus then began to teach them many thing.
Later, when evening came and he realized that very few of the people had any food, he gathered up what little he could find, gave thanks to God, blessed the food, and fed 5000 men plus even more women and children.
So, we can say with great certainty, that NOT ONLY does Jesus hear the cries of those needing help and then takes care of them IN RESPONSE to their plea, BUT -- HE ALSO SEES what ails people and TAKES THE INITIATIVE to help them.
As a man, and as the Son of God, Jesus was so full of sympathy, tenderness and understanding, that he took the first step to offer forgiveness of sins and healing of afflictions. Jesus was so moved by the misery and need he saw, that he responded with concern, mercy, pity, AND concrete acts of assistance.
Now as we meditate on the great miracles and acts of love and grace that resulted in response to what the eyes of Christ saw, let us reflect for a moment on the gift of sight, and the wonder of the many things we are able to see.
Now of course, ALL five of our senses are gifts from God.
And ALL five of our senses are important -- but I suspect that
most of us would rank our eyesight at the
MOST important of the five. If for some reason we had to lose a sense, we would be most crippled by the loss of our sight.
Touch, smell and taste are nice to have since with them we can enjoy a lot of routine things such as eating. Sometimes these senses are important to our work or safety, but in general you'd be able to survive and function well enough without them.
Hearing loss is more critical, but you can still see where you are going even if you can't hear, and you can still communicate through reading and writing.
But the loss of sight would really hinder us in our living. For SO MUCH of what we know and love about the world, and each other, comes to us through our sight.
With our eyes we see the beauty of a sunrise and the splendor of a sunset. We behold the vastness of the night sky filled with billions of sparkling stars. We gaze upon the beauty of an individual flower, glistening with morning dew.
With our eyes we can enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job well done. Our eyes behold the smiles of loved ones. We watch with delight as a newborn discovers his or her surroundings and abilities.
Our eyes shine with elation at the view from a mountain or high hill. We gaze with joy upon the greening ground and leafing trees in spring. We behold the beauty and awesome power of a summer storm.
Our eyes savor the sight of bubbling brook on a hot summer
day. We soak up the explosion of color as the trees prepare to
shed their leaves and the fall. And our sight
gives us the amiable cheerfulness of family and friends gathered around a fireplace on a cold winter's night.
There are, and there always has been a myriad of wonderful things to see in this world. And just as we see them today, our Lord Jesus saw them as he lived his life.
At the same time though, there is ugliness and violence and evil in this world too. And though sometimes we try to avoid seeing it, because we don't like what it looks like, nor what it means, nor how it makes us feel, it's impossible for us to be totally blind to the desperate situations so many people are in.
Our eyes witness the rejection and hatred that people feel toward one another. We see the Bosnians and Serbs killing each other. We see Israelites and Palestinians destroy the lives and homes of each other. We've seen people attack and beat others, in South Africa, and EVEN here in our country, simply because their skin color is different!
Our eyes behold the squalor, filth, poverty and hunger that millions of people live in each and every day. We see the burnt out buildings where once upon a time decent neighborhoods in great cities. We see the skeleton like people, tottering on the brink of death in countries devastated by famine.
The we can look the other way and see the rich selfishly indulging in expensive luxuries and wasting more food and resources in a week than a poor person will consume in a year!
And our eyes witness what seems like a never ending litany of dishonesty, deception, deceit, and disrespect from the people of our communities. And sometimes, we even see these behaviors within our own families!
These evils are nothing new. Christ saw them in his day too.
Sometimes he tried to do something about the situations he encountered. At other times he spoke out against the injustices of life, warning the people that to do nothing when an act of love is required is in effect, to be a part of the evil!
At the same time, the eyes of Jesus were able to see beyond, both, the temporal beauty of this world, AND the sin and suffering of the this world.
The eyes of Jesus could see that the Kingdom of God was being ushered into the world through his ministry, and that one day all evil and destruction would be replaced by the eternal perfection of the new creation which we sometimes call heaven.
Jesus saw that the miracles he did, whether someone asked for help or whether he did them by his own initiative, were small glimpses of what this future life would be like.
And Jesus also saw that the only way to bring this Kingdom of God into full being was for him to suffer and die and be raised from the dead on the third day.
Tonight, and every day of our lives, we need to be able TO SEE Jesus, and to see LIKE Jesus.
We need to see Jesus as he did whatever was necessary to help and save us.
We need to see him on the cross.
For when we see him dying on the cross -- we see the love of God is so great that he sent his one and only son to die for us.
We need to see Jesus bleeding and dying -- because then we see the power of God over sin.
And we need to see his lifeless body laid in the tomb -- for when we do we see that God knows exactly what human life, and suffering and death is all about.
We also need to see the resurrected body of our Lord on Easter morning. We need to see his eyes, open once again, and as such, forever able to see us and our needs. When we do, we will see the ultimate power of God and that life WILL prevail over death.
It is also our fervent prayer that we will be able to see LIKE Jesus -- that is to be observant and sensitive to the needs of others.
And the, like Jesus, taking the initiative to help in what ever way is necessary, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the oppressed, and sharing the good news of forgiveness and salvation with all. AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
5th Sunday in Lent - B
Text: John 12:24
Subject: Dying unto ourselves
Predicate: and rising in the image God intends is the way that we are to fulfill the mission God has in mind for each of us.
There is a saying in the world of politics that every politician who really wants to get elected takes seriously.
And the saying is, that "People vote their pocketbooks."
In other words, when its time to decide who to vote for, one of the main things that sways us from one candidate to the other is the perception of how much its going to cost me if vote for him or her.
Will my taxes stay the same? Or will they go down? Or will they go up?
Though the final outcome all depends on whether the politician is willing (and able) to deliver on his or her promises, at the moment we have to pull the lever or mark the X on the ballot, 9 times out of 10, our self-interest is going to come first, and we'll vote for the candidate who we think will benefit US the most.
Actually, this kind of thinking is not just limited to politics and elections.
We live in an intensely self-centered, individualistic society. From childhood on we are taught that the most important thing in living is to watch our for number one. That is, to watch our for ourselves.
We're bombarded with messages like the old beer commercial that said we should, "Grab for all the gusto you can because you only go around once!"
Unfortunately, the same individualistic, self-centered thinking that is so highly touted in our society has invaded the realm of religion too.
In a fairly recent Gallup poll, 80% of the respondents agreed that each individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any church or organized religion.
Such thinking goes all the way back to the founders of our
Jefferson once said, "I am a sect myself." And Thomas Paine wrote, "My mind is
In the middle 1980's, sociologist Robert Bellah interviewed a number of people concerning their religious beliefs. He found that nearly all of them thought that every person needs to decide for themselves what they will believe and how they will practice it.
He even found one woman who actually named her religion after herself!
Though she never goes to any kind of church or worship services, this woman describes herself as "very faithful" and she believes that her "faith," (which speaks to her as a little voice in her head) has sustained her in many a difficult situation, and that there is no doubt that she will go to heaven when she dies.
Professor Bellah, and many others, including me, find the logical extension of this woman's radical individualism quite frightening. For if everyone established their own private religion, there'd be over 200 million religions in the United States alone! Literally one for each of us!
And if this ever comes to pass, I see chaos, and/or suffering, worse than anything we can imagine.
If everyone becomes a religion unto themselves then it's anything goes in the name of what I believe - no matter what I believe.
Of course this could lead to total anarchy. And if that were to happen I can see the government clamping down and not allowing the expression of ANY religious beliefs, individual or corporate, including the major, historical religions, like our Christian faith.
Now even under the umbrella of the Christian church, the temptation to individualize our faith is extremely strong.
There are many people who have decided to become Christian's so as to save themselves from going to hell after they die.
And there are others who see the rites and rituals of the Christian faith as some kind of "holy insurance policy," that will magically save them or their loved ones IF THEY CHOOSE to participate.
Every pastor I know has been asked more than once, to do a baptism for someone's child or grandchild "just in case something happens to them."
When I've been asked to do this, I always make it a point to impress upon those who are asking me to do it, that the baptism in and of itself is not a guarantee of eternal life.
I try to tell them that the baptism is not a private rite but an initiation INTO the community of believers.
I try to help them see that EVERY baptized person is a part of the body of Christ and that EVERY person has his or function within the body. I also say that unless all the parts are functioning together, the body is not as whole and healthy as God wants it to be.
I rarely, if ever, withhold the sacrament, because I trust in the power of the Spirit to reach the hearts of all people. But as I think about the people who never bother coming to church again, it grieves me that they are putting their own self-interests first, and often at the same time, teaching their children that its OK for them to do the same thing.
And lest you think that all I'm talking about this morning are "those people," outside the church, even among those of us attend and participate regularly and faithfully, there is a strong temptation shape the congregation according to our selfish vision of what we want it to be like.
And there is a strong temptation for us decide how we will or will not participate in it, on our terms instead of God's terms.
Of course the challenge here is discernment. That is, how do we know when we are pushing for what we want, or when we are working for what God wants?
Our Gospel lesson for today is one of those texts that can help us to see a little more clearly.
Imbedded in among words that Jesus spoke in the 12th chapter of John is a "mini-parable."
It is a parable about a tiny grain of wheat. Jesus said that, "unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will remain a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
In other words, a grain of wheat is not fulfilling its purpose in the cycle of creation until it stops being what it is -- a single kernel of grain.
The grain could be milled, pulverized into a million pieces to become flour and eventually a part of a loaf of bread. Or, as Jesus suggested, it could seemingly die and be buried in the ground, where in due time it would eventually sprout and grow into a stalk which would be the source of many new kernels of grain.
Now if the kernel of grain could think and talk, I've got a hunch it's first impulse would not be to choose either milling or planting, because each course of action would result in the death of the status quo.
But Jesus is saying quite clearly, and strongly, that the only way to grow, and the only way to accomplish what God wants done, is to die to what we are and be reborn in the image and likeness of our Lord.
That's a hard message to hear.
After all -- who wants to die?
And who wants to sacrifice our individual - "ish - ness."
And who really wants to renounce all the riches and possessions of this world in order to follow Jesus?
But ultimately that is what the Christian faith is all about.
It is about dying so others can live.
It is about setting aside our selfish desire to be seated at the left or right hand of Jesus in his kingdom and instead drinking from the same cup of suffering that our Lord did.
It is about denying ourselves and taking up our crosses and becoming a servant to others.
It is about using our talents and our abundance of riches to help those in need and to make sure that first and foremost above everything else, the message of Jesus Christ is spread to as many people as possible.
When Jesus spoke this little parable about the wheat seed to his disciples, he was telling them that his life was going to be just like that seed.
Had Jesus not been killed on the cross and resurrected on Easter morning his popularity would have run its course and the people would have started looking for someone else to lead them to the promised land.
But with his suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus became the seed that sprouted and produced a billion-fold.
Within 50 days of his resurrection 3000 were baptized and added the number being saved.
Today, though it is impossible to get an exact count, there are between 600 million and a billion Christians around the world.
The church did not grow to this size with everyone running off doing their own thing.
It only happened because of people who willing died in the waters of baptism, and allowed themselves to be reformed in to the unique being, doing the unique ministry that God wants done.
As we draw to the close of this Lenten season, may God touch us all, killing our sinful selfishness and bringing forth a new creation, committed to the glorification of God and the building of his kingdom. AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
5th Wednesday in Lent
Subject: The HEART of Christ
About 9 or 10 years ago I had the opportunity to watch an open HEART surgery.
It was a triple by-pass operation that lasted about 2 or 3 hours. Everything went well, both for the patient, AND for the 5 of us rookie chaplains who hadn't seen the inside of a living being since we disected frogs in high school biology. Our supervisor had the smelling salts handy -- but we all did fine with the sight of both blood and organs.
Now, as I look back on my time as a student chaplain, the chance to witness this HEART surgey was definitely one of the most significant learning experiences of the term.
It helped all of us to better understand exactly what a person goes through in a surgery like this, so in turn we could be better at listening for, and understanding, the range of feelings and emotions that someone experiences when their life is literally in the hands of a surgeon.
Seeing the surgery also helped us to better articulate our theology of the body and our understanding of the resurrection. When you see how all the parts of the body fit together and work together, it is obvious that we are the handi-work of a very powerful and creative God.
And - when you consider that God has promised to raise us to new life after we have died, (and that God has demonstrated his ability to do this in the resurreciton of Jesus), the magnitude of God's power and love stands in stark contrast to the frailty of our physical being and our human abilities.
There is also one more thing that I have wrestled with since seeing that open HEART surgery. And that is the concept of the "HEART" as the center of a person's emotional, spiritual and mental life.
In the context our biological life - which was very obvious in the surgery I saw - the HEART is nothing more than a muscle and a pump.
Of course the Heart IS very important. Our blood MUST circulate and oxygen MUST be transported to all the extremeties of our body or we will die. And unless we are alive we cannot have an emotional, spiritual, or mental life.
And yet, even though the HEART is nothing more than a biological pump, nearly every person will attest to the fact that somewhere deep inside of us, (touch chest) is the essence of who we are, what we feel, and what we believe.
In the New Testament in general, and in the words of Jesus in particular, everything time the HEART is mentioned, it is mentioned as the center of our being and believing and not as a mere pump to circulate blood.
This evening, I would like for us to consider 7 sayings of Jesus. In all of them Jesus refers to the HEART.
And though in all but one of the sayings he refers to our HEARTS and not his, the sayings never-the-less take us to the HEART of the matter - in terms of what Christ taught, in terms of his faith, and in terms of his life and ministry.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said that the things that defile a person, or make a person unclean, are things that come from within, from the HEART.
He said: "From the inside, from a person's HEART comes the evil ideas which lead to doing immoral things like robbery, killing, adultery, coveting, wickedness, decit, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these things come from within and they defile a person."
In saying this, Jesus was describing the human condition - that is - our sinful human nature.
Jesus knew full well that if it were not for the innate sinful nature of people, then he would not have to suffer and die on our behalf.
Likewise, Jesus wants everyone to recognize their need for redemption, and to seek it from him.
That is why we come to church. That's why we are here tonight. We recognize the truth of what Jesus spoke and we know the inner-most secrets of our HEARTS -- the sins we've committed in thought, word and deed, and the things we've done and the things we've left undone.
To both attone for our sins, and to help set us on the right path, no sin ever came forth from the HEART of Jesus. Instead, from his HEART comes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, good deeds and miracles of various kinds.
And most importantly, from his HEART, comes the obedience to God that leads to his willingness to suffer and die in our place and for our sins.
Of course this doesn't mean that we can just go on sinning since he died for us. Jesus does want us to strive for a purity of HEART similar to his. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in HEART for they shall see God."
Jesus was the living example of what it means to be pure of HEART. He maintained this pefection through frequent prayer and oneness with the Spirit of God. He worshiped weekly at the synagogues and temple. And in everything he did he demonstrated the thoughts and will and actions that are pure in the eyes of God.
In fact, Jesus summed up what this purity of HEART really is when a Pharisee asked what a person must do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your HEART, and all your soul, and all your strength and all your mind, and you shall also love your neighbor as yoruself.
For Christ, loving God AND loving neighbor was not something he had to work hard at. It was has very nature to love God AND to love others.
Jesus knew how God has presented his commandments in two sections, or tables, that are inseperable from one another.
The first three commandments tell us that we are to love and worship only God. The last seven cover our relationship with others. Together they make up one law.
You cannot separte the two tables. If you claim to love God but do not treat your neighbor well, then you have broken the law.
Likewise even if you love your neighbors, if you don't also love God then you have broken the law.
Jesus is the perfect example of how to love BOTH God and neighbor. Though we will never do this perfectly, and though we can be forgiven for our shortcomings, Jesus calls us imitate his behavior and he challenges us to try our best.
In Matthew, Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in HEART, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Now we may wonder how can trying to do the impossible be an easy yoke or a light burden?
Well, it's not so much the trying that is light and easy as it is the results.
To set aside hate and anger and bitterness and sin and replace it with love and care only seems hard because we have been deceived by the sin and we are afraid to take a more positive and Christ like approach to our relationships with others.
Time and time again people have discovered that the hardest step is the first step.
For example, to say, "I'm sorry, please forgive me," is hard because it is an admission of our sin and heardened hearts.
But to take the leap and admit our sin, ALWAYS lifts a burden from our soul. Because when we do we know that we've owned up to the truth, and that God forgives us.
It does take faith to belive this.
But since Jesus' heart is a believing heart, he can make this bold statement about faith, as a promise to all of us.
In Mark Jesus said, "If you have faith, you will be able to say to a mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown in the sea,' -- and it will be done. If you do not doubt in your heart, it will be done for you."
As far as I know, no moutains of stone have been tossed into the sea because of anyone's faith.
Yet, due to the faith of Christ to the will of the Father, and by the grace of God, due to what little faith we do have in what Jesus has done, I know that moutains of sin, and despair and grief, and hoplessness are moved everyday for millions of people.
In pastoral conversations over the years I have hard many people bear witness about their own experience of how Christ moved the mountains that troubled them.
And I firmly beleive that God WILL do the same for us. All we have to do is believe he can, and he will. The faithful heart of Christ will be the source of our faith.
There will be obstacles to this kind of faith. Jesus talked frequently about how the material things of this world can seduce us and draw our hearts away from him. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, their your heart will be too!"
For Jesus, his treasure was his relationship with God. Even when tempted by the goods of this world (such as when the devil tempted Jesus out in the desert), Jesus' trust in God remained firm.
With God's help we can do the same. We'll need reminding from time to time. The treasures of this world are extremely alluring.
But because the heart of Jesus is so fully united with God, we can be certain that eternal life and the forgiveness of ALL our sins IS possible.
And we can realize that what we have (or don't have) is of minor importance when we have the grace of God.
When we realize this, we can live in peace. Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled; beleive in God, believe in me. In my Father's house there are many rooms, if it were not so I wouldn't have told you that I am preparing a place for you too!"
Thus we've reached the heart of the matter. The heart of this lenten season. The heart of this sermon.
God loves us so much that Jesus died for us so that we might be given the gift of eternal life.
And Jesus' heart and faith was so pure and perfect that he fulfilled God's plan just as God intended.
Believe this with all your heart -- the sacred heart of Jesus has given you this promise -- "I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also." AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
Text: Luke 19:45-20:19
Subject: We are sinners
Predicate: who reject the cornerstone and force Jesus to the cross.
In books, in television shows, and in movies, one of the classic storylines, and one of the most powerful storylines (even though it is the most basic of storylines) is a confrontation between GOOD and EVIL.
We've seen it in westerns. The bad guy (often dressed in black) terrorizes the people by robbing banks and stage coaches. The good guy (often wearing a white hate) pursues the outlaw throughout the film until at the end there is a final head to head confrontation and a fight to the finish occurs.
We've also seen it in the immensely popular Star Wars Trilogy. For three feature length movies the good Luke Skywalker pursues the personification of the evil empire - the black clad, demonic sounding Darth Vader. Finally in the third episode they meet face to face for the final time and the outcome of the whole war depends on the outcome of their struggle.
But the clash between good and evil is not just a fictional device to drive the plot of a book or movie.
It is a real life event that happens over and over again, day in and day out.
Sometimes it happens on a grand, world wide scale. World War II comes to my mind. It took all the power and military might of the world's largest countries to turn back the evil aggression of Adolph Hitler.
Sometimes it happens on a more local level. A hostage crisis is one example. I recently say an eyewitness video of a stand off in a Sacramento electronics store. Armed gang members held the police swat team at bay by holding innocent shoppers prisoner.
And sometimes it happens on a very personal level. Such as when we are tempted to sin. That old cartoon image of the little angle whispering in one ear and the little devil whispering in the other is a good image of the confrontation going on within us when we are tempted to sin.
Except, I don't think the little devil should be cute. It should look mean and viscous because the temptation to sin, no matter how big or small WE think the sin is, is always serious business which puts our eternal future at risk.
The confrontation between good and evil as a very real event with an outcome that can affect ALL people for ALL time is the main story in our Bible too.
From the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden - to when David was tempted to commit adultery with Bathsheba - to the time Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert, the Bible tells about one confrontation between good and evil after the other.
In many of the stories the out come is in doubt. In many of the stories, evil prevails.
Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.
David had sexual relations with Bathsheba, impregnated her, and then made sure her husband was killed so he wouldn't find out.
However even though evil is VERY powerful, if evil ALWAYS prevails, or if evil ultimately prevails, then God is dead, and we are doomed.
Eventually, the confrontation must come when evil is utterly and completely defeated.
And it is God's plan that his son Jesus be the good and holy one who comes to take on, and defeat the forces of evil once and for all.
It is God's plan that Jesus will die at the hands of sinful people and after three days rise up again. Jesus' death will seem like a victory for evil, but his resurrection will be the sign that evil is less powerful than God, and that God, through Jesus has won the final victory.
But in order for God's plan to take place, it is necessary that Jesus suffer and die at the hands of sinners.
And in order for it to be certain that Jesus dies, it is necessary for Jesus to make sure that the religious leaders are angry enough to want to kill him.
This evening, our gospel lesson tells us how Jesus kept pushing and riling up the leaders until they had no choice but to kill him.
Ironically, at the same time Jesus is pouring fuel on the fire of dispute he has going with the religious leaders, he is proclaiming good news for everyone else.
Now Jesus final showdown with the Jewish leaders actually started on Palm Sunday. Last week we heard the Pharisees tell Jesus to make his followers be quiet.
But Jesus said, "there IS going to be noise and rejoicing whether you Pharisees like it or not." Jesus said if his disciples were quiet, "then the stones lining the side of the road would begin to shout."
The very next day, Jesus went to the temple and drove out all the vendors and money changers doing business there.
On the one hand, the vendors provided a much needed service. They sold animals for sacrifices and changed foreign currency into coins which would be accepted by the temple for an offering. People who traveled great distances appreciated not having to bring their sacrifices on a long journey.
But on the other hand, the vendors had quite a racket going. They inflated the prices and cheated people on the exchange rates and in so doing ripped the worshippers off and became rich themselves.
And on top of that, Jesus knew that burnt sacrifices were not what God really wanted from his people. As the prophet Michah said, "Shall I bring burnt offerings to the Lord? No. What the Lord requires of you is to do justice, to love everyone, to show kindness to others, and to walk humbly with God."
The angry outburst directed at the vendors in the temple upset a lot of very powerful people. The chief priests, scribes and principle leaders of the Jews immediately sought to destroy Jesus in retaliation for his assault on their livelihood.
For the next several days they looked for an opportunity to seize Jesus.
But they had difficulty finding a good time to grab him because Jesus' preaching and teaching always drew a large assembly of his followers.
Some of the priests thought that the best way to get Jesus was to trick him into speaking some kind of blasphemy - or a lie.
So they came and asked him, "By what authority are you doing these things and preaching these words?"
If Jesus could not claim the authentic authority of God to say and do what he was saying and doing, then they could capture him and turn him over to the Roman authorities as a rabble-rousing revolutionary subversive - a threat to the security of the nation.
But if Jesus openly claimed that he had the authority of God to say and do what he was saying and doing, they could seize him as a blasphemer, because according to the "rules of their religion," God would never say or do the things Jesus was saying and doing.
Jesus was not an easy victim though. He turned the tables on the priests and said, "Before I tell you, you answer a question for me. Was the baptism of John the Baptist from heaven (that is from God) or, was it his own, human idea?"
Suddenly the priests were in a bind. If they said that John's baptism was from heaven, then Jesus would ask them why didn't they believe John, and in turn why didn't they believe Jesus for Jesus ministry was a direct continuation of the work of John.
But, if the priests said that John's baptism was one of John's own harebrained ideas, then the crowds of people gathered around listening to the conflict would have attacked the priests because they REALLY believed that John was a true prophet.
So the religious leaders replied, "We don't know."
And Jesus shot back, "Then neither will I tell you by what authority I preach and perform miracles."
Then, almost as if Jesus deliberately turned his back on the priests to spite them, he told the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard.
In the telling of this parable, Jesus mad it perfectly clear that God can, and will, take his goodness and grace away from anyone who rejects his son. Jesus said that God will in turn give his goodness and grace to others who do accept and believe in his son. Even if those who believe are Gentiles, or Samaritans, or wretched sinners.
The parable escalated the conflict between himself and the priests because Jesus was obviously speaking out against them.
When he finished speaking, the priests knew that they had been directly attacked through Jesus' words.
And so did the people.
Tension was high. Tempers flared.
The priests made a move to seize Jesus. The crowd quickly rose to Jesus' defense.
And the priests backed down. At least for the time being.
They needed another plan. The confrontation in the temple courtyard called for decisive action.
But the priests could bide their time until the situation was more to their favor.
"If not today, then tomorrow or the next day," they thought. "Then the confrontation will have run its course and this pesky preacher will be out of our hair for ever."
St. John's Lutheran
5th Sunday in Lent
Text: John 11:1-57
Subject: Life for us
Predicate: cost Jesus his.
(After the gospel acclamation the congregation will be seated and the pastor will go to the pulpit.)
The holy gospel according to St. John, reading in the 11th chapter -- as printed in our bulletins begins like this, "Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. . ."
Unfortunately, due to space limitations, it was impossible to print the whole 11th chapter of John on the back of the bulletin.
And the unfortunate result is that if ALL we hear today are the 7 verses printed on the bulletin, the story won't make sense. If we limit ourselves to these 7 verses we'll hear the chief priest Caiaphas call for the death of Jesus, but we will not hear about what provoked him to reach the conclusion that this drastic action was necessary.
So today I'll be handling the reading of the gospel a little bit differently than we usually do.
Today, I am going to read the entire 11th chapter of John's gospel because that is the ONLY way that the conclusion will be understandable to us.
It also happens that the story line of the 11th chapter breaks into 5 separate episodes. As I read the story, I will pause for a brief, "mini-sermon" on each part.
The first episode includes verses 1 through 6.
(Read the first portion of the text.)
Well, with these introductory verses, you should certainly know what story we are dealing with today. It is, of course, the raising of Mary and Martha's brother, and Jesus' good friend Lazarus.
It is a very important story in the way that John structured his gospel. For John, this event is the turning point in Jesus' mission. Everything John wrote previously leads to this climactic miracle, and everything from here on in leads directly to the cross.
And yet within the story of the raising of Lazarus there are many important lessons to be learned.
In fact, you could even say that the entire story is a paradigm, or model of God's whole plan of salvation.
If that is true (and I believe it is) then it is instructive to see just how the story begins.
It begins with a NEED.
Lazarus was sick. Not just sick, but really sick. He was so sick that death was an immanent possibility.
His sisters Mary and Martha recognized the gravity of the situation and so they called upon Jesus to help.
Now I'm sure that the local doctor had been there to take care of Lazarus. And I'm sure that Mary and Martha had nursed their brother to the best of their abilities. But as we all know, there reaches a point with many illnesses where there is not much more that anyone can do.
At times like that we realize that the only thing left that we can to is to place the whole situation in the hands of God.
Mary and Martha knew that Jesus was the hand of God in their midst. In complete faith and trust, they called upon Jesus to take care of Lazarus.
Please note that they did not specifically ask for a healing or a miracle. According to John all they did was send word of Lazarus' serious illness.
They certainly recognized their need, and Lazarus' need for healing, but the most important thing was that they trusted that Jesus would respond in an appropriate way.
This is an important lesson for all of us.
We are reminded that we too have needs that only God can help us with. We need the forgiveness of sins. We need the faith the God is with us when we suffer and when we die. We need the grace of God to experience eternal salvation.
And when we call upon the Lord, he will be there for us. //
The second portion of the text includes verses 6-16.
(Read the text.)
The focus shifts to Jesus and his disciples in this section. It is a tale of temptation and faithfulness.
A couple of days after Jesus received word of Lazarus' illness, Jesus decided it was time to travel over to Judea to be with his sick friend.
But the disciples tempted Jesus into not going. Once before when they were in that region the Jews had tried to stone Jesus to death. So the disciples said, "Jesus are you crazy? Do you want to get us all killed? Let's not go there."
Jesus refused to cave in to the disciple's temptation. Just as when he was in the desert being tempted by the devil, Jesus was still complete open to fulfilling God's will and plan. He has his inner ear open all the time, listening to exactly what God wanted him to do.
That is why he didn't head for Judea immediately when he got word of Lazarus' condition. God's plan was for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead. A premature arrival would have been unfaithful to God's plan.
And that is why he did go when the time was right, even though he was putting his life at risk. It was God's plan. And Jesus was going to do what God wanted him to do no matter what. Even if it meant losing his own life. //
The next section of the Gospel runs from verse 17 - 32.
(Read the next section.)
I really like funerals.
But perhaps I should explain what I mean by that.
I certainly DO NOT like death. If I could have one wish as a pastor of this congregation, it would be to serve with you for 40 or 50 years, and NEVER have to bury a one of you.
However, as unpleasant as it is, death is a reality of human existence that we cannot evade. And since we cannot avoid death, I really like what happens at a Christian funeral.
For a Christian funeral is a profound spiritual experience. It is a time when the depths of despair and the most glorious of celebrations are superimposed one on top of the other.
Our despair is expressed in our grief. The pain of loss and the tears of sadness are very real and very necessary. Grief is universal. Every human grieves the death of a loved one. Even Jesus wept!
And yet, at the same time, our celebration is in the proclamation of the Gospel. For we believe that God has defeated the power of death through Jesus. And we believe that in reality, our death is not the end of us, but it is in fact, our birth to everlasting life.
Jesus and Mary and Martha experienced both extremes after Lazarus died. They wept and wailed in sorrow.
And Jesus proclaimed, "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will never die."
To which Martha responded, "Yes Lord, I believe!" //
The fourth part of the Gospel starts at verse 33 and continues to verse 44.
(Read the fourth part.)
Lazarus was dead and buried. There was no doubt about that. He had been in the tomb for four days. The weather was hot and no one really wanted to open the tomb. Martha said, "There will be an odor if we do."
But Jesus said, "Didn't I tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?"
Then Jesus prayed and called out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, Come out!"
And he did.
And everyone saw the awesome power and glory of God that Jesus said they would. //
The final reading begins at verse 45 and runs to the end of the chapter. This portion is printed on the back of your bulletin if you would like to follow along.
(Read the final section.)
This whole story ultimately teaches us ONE striking lesson.
It is the theme of the 11th chapter of John's gospel.
It is the theme of the entire season of Lent.
And it is the theme of the whole Christian faith and all Christian worship.
Every thing has a cost.
Life for Lazarus cost Jesus his life.
And in the same way, eternal life for all of us cost Jesus his life.
After Lazarus was raised, the religious leaders were afraid of Jesus and eventually had him put to death on the cross.
When they did they became instruments in God's ultimate plan. They mistakenly thought that crucifying Jesus would get rid of him forever.
But instead, the cross released torrents of divine energy into human history. And in Jesus death, God sent the gift of life to us all. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
Text: Luke 21:1-29
Subject: The End
Predicate: in near in that Jesus will soon be crucified.
Since the end of February, we've been watching Waco, Texas with morbid interest. First, as government agents searching for illegal weapons were ambushed by cult leader David Koresh and about 100 of his followers, and then, as the FBI put Koresh and his compound under a siege that continues to this very day.
Now every time there is a shoot-out or hostage situation it makes the news. But this one has been particularly fascinating to many people because of the religious nature of Koresh's cult.
At the least, Koresh claims that his "Branch Davidian" sect is a legitimate part of the Christian church.
But according to most reports, Koresh goes even further and says that he considers himself to be the present incarnation of Jesus Christ, and he believes his followers are the one and only true church..
And on top of that, he is reported to believe that the violent events taking place between his cult and the government agents is "Armegeddon" - that is - the final battle between good and evil, after which the world will come to an end and God's chosen people will be taken up into heaven where they will live forever.
A few people have even speculated that Koresh's plan is to time the final, all out confrontation with the government agents so it occurs on Good Friday.
Then Koresh can die at the hands of the government (just like Jesus did) and be raised from the dead (just like Jesus was) on Easter Sunday.
How the whole situation in Waco will end remains to be seen. But in the meantime, it can certainly stimulate our thinking, and cause us to wrestle with our faith. For as weird as Koresh seems to be, the fact is that the Bible speaks very openly about the end of the world.
Several prophets (in both the Old and New Testament), and Jesus himself, talked about specific signs that will tell us when the end is near.
We heard some of them listed in our Gospel this evening.
Jesus said that nations will rise against nation. He said there will be great earthquakes. He said that many places will experience famine, pestilence and terrors from heaven. And he said that his followers will be persecuted and brought to trial before the rulers of the land.
On any day of the week, all you have to do is open the evening paper or turn on the nightly news and you'll hear about war in what used to be Yugoslavia, and earthquakes in California, and famine in Somalia and South Africa.
And it is easy to wonder - are these just the news events of the day? Or are they really signs that the end is near?
To me, it makes perfect sense how some people can end up believing that Biblical prophecies are coming true.
We have a strong inner need to make sense of chaos and events that are beyond our control. For a person of faith, turning to scripture for guidance in interpreting our world and the events in our lives is a very proper thing to do.
But at the same time, things are not always as simple as we'd like them to be.
For even though we can see worldly events as a sign that the end is coming, Jesus also said that the he would come again like a thief in the night. And he told us that no one except God the Father knows exactly when the end will be. Not even Jesus, the son of God was privileged to that information.
And Jesus also warned his followers about being lead astray by false teachers. In tonight's Gospel Jesus said, "Take heed that you are not lead astray! For many will come in my name saying, 'I am HE!' and 'The time is at hand!' But, DO NOT go after them."
Now the fact that the bible gives us two contradictory messages leaves us in a bind and makes us vulnerable.
Which way should we go? Should we ignore the part about false teachers and instead, spend our time looking for the signs of the end, and listening to those who are obsessed with looking for them and preaching about them?
If we do we are vulnerable to misinterpreting world events and following messianic kooks like David Koresh.
Or should we constantly be on guard and wary of every preacher who says anything about the end?
If we do that, then we are vulnerable to missing the true word of God as preached by faithful preachers, and/or a true prophet.
And, it is also possible that we could over look the actual return of Jesus, just as the Pharisees and other religious leaders failed to recognize that Jesus was the son of God when he came for the first time.
So what are we to do?
Well first and foremost, I think we should avoid the temptation to become obsessed with the end of the world.
Quite simply, the end of the world is out of our league. As Jesus himself said so eloquently, the end of the world is God's business. Nothing we can do will cause it to happen. Nothing we can do will help it happen. Nothing we can do will truly prepare us for it when it does happen.
I believe that the true Christian looks toward the end of the world with complete faith. Faith that when ever it happens, and however it happens, God will be in control, and God will watch out for his people who are alive at that time.
But even though we should not be overly concerned about the end of the world, there are two "end times" that we should be concerned with.
The first "end time" is the end of the journey that Jesus has been on since his birth in Bethlehem. The journey that we have been meditating on during this season of Lent. The journey to Jerusalem. The journey to the cross.
For the truth is, that in Jesus' life, and in the events of Holy Week and Easter in particular, we see everything that we need to know about the end of the world.
When I was in the seminary, one of my professors assigned a chapter in a book entitled Jesus - God and Man to be read for our next session. Everyone dutifully read the chapter and came to class. When class began the professor asked us, "Did you understand the reading?"
Everyone sort of nodded their head, "Yes." The he opened up to page 108 and read a paragraph that said, "'The events of Holy Week and Easter are a proleptic event,' So class, what does that mean?"
No one knew. And we realized that we had a lot to learn before heading off to be pastors!
But he taught us what it meant. And despite the fact that "proleptic" is a $.50 word, the idea is really quite simple.
All it means is that in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see the future, happening in a past event.
Or to put it another way, in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see what is going to happen at the end of all time.
And the number one thing that we should see in all of this, is that everything is in God's hands.
As Jesus journeyed closer and closer to the cross and his death, he frequently wondered if he was doing the right thing. And he frequently wondered if he could be faithful to God and stay on the path that was unfolding before him.
In the Garden of Gesthemene, just minutes before his arrest, Jesus even told God that he didn't want to suffer and die. Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering he was about to drink from be taken away from him.
But in the same breath Jesus also prayed, "O God, not my will, but your will be done."
Moments latter when the angry mob whisked Jesus away into the night, he went without a struggle. Trusting that God was with him. Trusting that God's plan was coming to fruition. And trusting that God would ultimately deliver him from the bonds of death.
The second "end time" we need to be concerned about is our personal end. Or to put it quite bluntly, our death.
I think that a lot of people who are sure that the end of the world is going to happen any day are really just afraid of dying.
Actually, I don't blame them for thinking that way.
If I could have my choice between dying from a dread disease like cancer, or wasting away due to the infirmities of old age, or being snuffed out like that (snap fingers) in a tragic and violent accident. . .
OR being instantly snatched up into heaven. . .
I would certainly choose the latter.
But since the end of the world is God's business and not mine, I think I better plan on dying, and so should you.
And even though we don't know exactly when its going to happen or what the cause of our death will be, today is a good day for us to learn how to die.
How to die and die well is really quite simple.
Just look to Jesus.
He faced death knowing that he was in God's hands all the way. He faced death knowing that God would see him safely through to the other side of death, to the time when he would be born to eternal life through the resurrection.
And that is the way we should face death too. Looking to Jesus. Trusting in God. Believing that there is nothing, not even death that can separate us from God's love. Confident that we shall be resurrected on the last day.
It is simple. But it is not always easy.
We are constantly tempted to deny death, or to hope for an easier way.
And then comes Lent and Holy Week and Easter, and we get another look at the future. We see Jesus live, die and live again.
And the Holy Spirit helps us to believe, that is what it is going to be like for me too! AMEN!