Sunday, April 21, 2019

John.20.1-18; Festival of the Resurrection; April 21, 2019;

John.20.1-18; Festival of the Resurrection; April 21, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:1–18, ESV)
(from a sermon by Rev. Norman Nagel)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen! His is risen indeed!
A beautiful exchange we see here between Mary and our Lord. Jesus calls her by name. Mary is distressed at death. Her Lord Jesus, as far as she knows, who was dead in the tomb has had his body stolen. She wants to know where he is. And he speaks her name. The same name he had spoken to her so many times. The name he spoke to her when he cast out her demons. By that name she instantly knows that he is alive standing in front of her. She wants to reach out and grab hold of him in the same way she had always done. But with Jesus raised from the dead everything is different. He no longer is the sin bearer. That has been accomplished. He is no longer under the law that condemned the sin he bore to death. He has gone to the cross and death with sin and now stands in front of her the Risen Lord, glorified in his human body, free from sin and its hold. He stands now in front of her the victor over the wages of sin. He has done death in. He stands alive with the promise of life. And Mary doesn't know, she doesn't understand.
"Rabboni," she says and reaches out to touch him. But she cannot. "Do not cling to me…"; "Do not touch me," he says. It was the time for something more than the physical touch she had enjoyed before. Because although Jesus had been as close to human beings as God could ever be, God and man joined together in one human person, come close to us, to draw us close to him, now is the time for her to cling to him not with earthly hands, but with the hands of faith. Jesus is there to draw her closer then physicality allows. He is there with forgiveness that restores her relationship with God. He has drawn near to her in order to draw her near to him through faith in the forgiveness he offers, because where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.
This is what God does. He draws close to us because our sin prevents us from drawing ourselves close to him.  Even now he draws close to us in his Word. The Word that strikes your ears and tells you of God's great love for you in Jesus Christ. The Word that brings to you the Good News of God come near to you in human flesh. The Word that brings to you the Good News of God suffering your punishment on the cross. The Word that brings the Good News of forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from death. The Word that brings the promise of life forever with God in your own resurrection.
Closer still your Lord draws to you. At this altar he gives his very body and blood. But don't think that this body and blood offered here is the same as that which Mary reached out to hold. You do not receive him here in that earthly sense. You receive him here in a much deeper much more real sense. Here in bread and wine you receive the very same body and blood that God used to save you from the necessary punishment of sin. Here in bread and wine you receive the very same body and blood that walked and talked to Mary. Here in bread and wine you taste and see that the Lord is good but not in the same way as you would reach out and grab a hold of a friend with both arms. But it is no less true. Is no less Jesus. It is no less here for you. He is here for you with all the gifts he offers through his life death and resurrection. That is forgiveness life and salvation. You are forgiven. You have a restored relationship with God through faith in what Jesus has done. And there is no doubt hear that it is for you because you open your mouth and receive Jesus body and blood.
And here at the font you receive Jesus, too. He comes to you in God's name. I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The gifts that Jesus offers in his life death and resurrection are placed on you with God's name. Luther asks the question, How can water do such great things? And he answers
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)
So Jesus is here in the water and Word once again with the gifts that he won for you on the cross.
Jesus is very near. He comes near to us to draw us after him to eternal life. He is no less near to us because we can't touch him. In fact we are nearer to him when we reach out to him with the hand the faith rather than the hand of our physical body. We cannot draw near to God through our earthly efforts, our earthly comforts, our earthly wealth, or even our earthly relationships. These things drag us in the wrong direction away from our Savior. He is the one who must drag us to himself. And when we let go of these earthly weights, through faith, we are united with him in all that he does and promises.
Our Lord Jesus stood before Mary in his glorified resurrected body. And naturally she wanted to touch him. She knelt there before him and looked at him through tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. He had risen from the dead. She wanted to cling to him. Embrace is the right idea. It is God who embraces us. In Jesus Christ, through the Word, in bread and wine, and water, he draws near embraces us and draws us back to God. We reach out with the empty hand of faith that trusts not in what we offer to him but in what he gives to us. Our Lord is before us now, resurrected, victorious over death, promises that are as sure as his resurrection. And we kneel before him in faith. And we say with our sister Mary, "Rabboni!" Amen.
Christ is risen! His is risen indeed!
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

1 Timothy.2.1-8; Weekday Lent Service, April 10, 2019;

1Timothy.2.1-8; Weekday Lent Service, April 10, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 1 Timothy 2:1-8 (ESV)
(From a Sermon from LWML)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When you live in the mid-west you know about Paul Harvey and “The Rest of the Story.”  It’s usually a story all about some famous person you know, but he would wait until the end to tell you who it is.  Until you get the name you only know part of the story.  Now in real life we sometimes see only a part of the story.  Like the woman whose neighbor said to her, “You have a wonderful husband, everyday I see him get out of the car, walk around and open your door for you.  It’s so nice to see that chivalry isn’t dead.  You’ve been married 20 years you must be very happy.”  “Well,” she answered, “It is true that we are very happy.  But what you don’t know, if the truth be told, what you can see is that every time he gets out of the car to open my door, he’s complaining about silly door handle that doesn’t open from the inside.” 
“If the truth be told,” is a common expression we use whenever we want people to know the “rest of the story.”  Sometimes it’s just not easy to tell the truth from fiction, the truth from a half-truth, truth from little white-lies.  And there are even times when we don’t care or even want the truth to be told.  It’s been said the Mr. Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” are often more fiction than fact.  But millions of people don’t really care.  They listen because he told a good story, the truth simply isn’t important.  In a “Dennis the Menace” cartoon Dennis is pictured sitting at the doorway of his home.  His mother, typically shown with her arms crossed over her chest, stands with a scowl on her face.  Dennis’ father has just returned from work.  “Would you rather hear the truth… or my side of the story?”
We know that people often keep the truth from one another.  They do it for many reasons.  Our relationships with other people are not always what they seem to be.  The person we have coffee with may seem to be content, but if the truth be told, they are really stressed out and troubled about life.  People we work with may seem to have it all together, but the truth be told, they are nearly in a panic.  Because that’s the way life is, because that’s the way that you and I live, it’s a good thing that we have a saying like “The truth be told.”  The more it is used the more open and honest we can be with one another.  In every corner of our society we know and believe that it’s better to tell the truth.  “Honesty is the best policy,” we say, “and if the truth be told,” we would all be healthier and happier if we always told the truth.
But right now, there is another force at work around us.  Really people today shy away from truthfulness.  “What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.”  It’s called relativism.  That’s the idea that there is nothing that is true.  And in fact, relativists say, truth is a made-up idea that is used to gain power over other people.  This idea is growing everywhere.  It is disconcerting to realize that the important people and institutions that we used to trust can’t really be relied on any more because they have been so influenced by this idea.  “The truth be told…” 
And we can’t even rely on lie detectors any more.  In the cartoon “The Wizard of Id” Johnny Hart pictures the Wizard showing the King a machine, “My new lie detector beeps when someone lies.”  The King asks, “Is it reliable?”  “Of course,…” the Wizard answers, as the machine lets out a long stream of beeps.  
As Christians we are concerned about the truth.  We are concerned not just because we think life would be better if the truth were told, but because God is concerned about the truth.  The bible says that God is the God of Truth.
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) St. John tells us.  When God sent Jesus, the Word made flesh, He came to us “full of Grace and Truth.” (John 1:14) When Jesus spoke about himself, he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Jesus remained true to that even when people told lies about him.  It was the truth about who he is and what he came to do that took him to the cross, where he died to establish the truth once and for all.  In his life, death and resurrection Jesus proves that God is our only savior from sin, and that he wants all people to be saved.
“If the truth be told…” we deserved the punishment that Jesus saves us from.  Not just for the times we don’t tell the truth, but for all the wrong things we do.  Jesus hung on the cross and suffered the punishment for our sins.  Instead of punishing us God punished Jesus.  God tells us the truth when he says that baptism joins us to what Jesus has done.  His death is our death, payment for our sins.  That same baptism joins us also to Jesus in his resurrection.  With daily repentance and rebirth we rise in new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s what our baptism is all about, daily death and daily new-life, leading to eternal life, because of Jesus.
We know, too, that God doesn’t want this truth to be known by just few people.  We celebrate here every Sunday the truth that through God’s saving grace in Jesus we have eternal life.  We face the truth that we are sinners and deserve nothing but punishment from God.  We count on the truth that God forgives our sins because of Jesus.  We rely on the truth that eternal life is a sure and certain hope for us, because God has brought us to faith in Jesus as our living savior through the work of the Holy Spirit who is the “Spirit of Truth.”  The truth of our faith stands squarely on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.  Paul himself said that if it isn’t true our “faith is futile” because we are still in our sins.  As for me, I put my faith in the truth of Jesus who died and was raised again to life.
“If the truth be told…” God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  That’s the truth that sets the vision for our mission and purpose in life.  If the truth of the Gospel is told, people will believe in the truth, because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will bring them to faith.
Now St. Paul gets at the heart of matter when he speaks the truth about what needs to happen.  He first quotes the prophet Joel, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13) and then he asks a series of penetrating questions.  “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14) 
As a church, we recognize the importance of this sequence from sending to preaching, to hearing, to believing, to calling on the name of the Lord, to being saved.  That’s the reason they do all that we do.  And the truth be told we thank God that he has used us through our creative efforts to reach people of all nations, tribes and peoples so that they too can call on the name of the Lord and be saved. 
Today based on God’s Word we too take seriously this matter.  “If the Truth be Told…”  God is a God of Truth.  God’s truth is full revealed in Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He wants that truth proclaimed to the whole world.  Just like Paul said the God had appointed him “a herald…” that is a teller of the truth, we to have been called to be tellers of the truth.  We are sent to proclaim the truth to all nations.  We do a great job of sending our money to help with mission work all over the world, but do we do that same great job of proclaiming that truth right here in this town, this county, this state? 
Jesus tells a parable of a dishonest manager to encourage us to be wise in our dealings with the world.  We use the gifts God has given us to build friendship with people who then will be able to hear the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.  Jesus wants us to be trustworthy and honest in handling our worldly wealth, because God also trusts us to be stewards of the “true riches” that we have been given.  The true riches of faith in Jesus. 
There’s a small town in Texas that every year holds a liar’s festival.  They have a contest as to who can tell the tallest tale.  They compete for the honor of “the biggest liars the Midwest has ever seen.”  While that kind of lying is meant to be humorous, if the truth be told, it is still lying.  I wonder what would happen if Christians spent as much energy and creativity on telling the Truth, especially the truth about Jesus.  What if… the truth were told…
God has given us the truth, so that we can share it with others.  The truth is God’s native language.  And God’s Word repeatedly invites us to imagine what life would be like, what the world would be like, if the truth be told.  What a difference it would make in the world!  God’s love and forgiveness would bring peace and hope to people who are lost and hurting because the truth is not being told to them.  If the truth be told… the true faith would be taught to all people.  
In the church, “If the truth be told” is more than a common expression. It boggles our minds to imagine the possibilities for the mission work of the Church. It expands our vision as members of the Church, who see and care about the lost, the hurting, the lied to, the deceived, the lonely, the poor, the confused. “If the truth be told” expresses our compassion for the lost and our mission mandate to use the Means of Grace to bring all people to a knowledge of the truth. If the truth be told, in contrast to Dennis the Menace, as far as God is concerned, the truth IS God’s side of the story for the salvation of all people by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Luke.20.9-20; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; April 7, 2019

Luke.20.9-20; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; April 7, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We love stories.  People have always loved them.  Around the campfire, dad tucking the children in for sleep, tales about family escapades… and Jesus’ parables.  Some folks say that Jesus’ stories, his parables, are earthly stories with heavenly meaning.  I think it’s much simpler than that.  Jesus’ parables are Jesus-parables.  In other words, the stories Jesus tells are about him.  It’s the simplest rule to keep in mind when reading and hearing them.  Without that, people won’t understand them.  When the disciples asked him to explain the parable of the sower…
he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ ” (Luke 8:10, ESV)
The secret is knowing Jesus and seeing Jesus in the parable.  It is about him.  The hard part is that we are going against our sinful nature.  You see, whenever we start to talk about religious ideas, we go into a kind of auto pilot.  Our first thought is us.  In fact, without the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word that’s all human religion is, human work to raise up humans.  Any example you look at is going to show that.  Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc., they are all religions about what people do.  Christianity is the only religion that is about what God does, and the key to it all is Jesus.  His life, death and resurrection are God doing, God saving.
And so today we have this parable.  And right here in the middle of it we have a great example of this very thing I’ve been talking about.  Before I read it again, I want to set up the context and remind you of the keys to interpreting parables. First the context:
This is probably Monday after Palm Sunday.  Remember Jesus rides into Jerusalem surrounded by people shouting, “Hosanna! The king is here.”  He weeps over Jerusalem’s upcoming destruction.  He goes into the temple, the “home territory” of his enemies, and flushes out the money changers.  Then comes this important sentence:
And [Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. ” (Luke 19:47–48, ESV)
So, Jesus’ enemies confront him in the temple asking where he gets his authority.  He shuts them down by asking,
“I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luk 20:3–4, ESV)
They are afraid of the people.  If we answer “from heaven” Jesus could ask why they didn’t believe what he said.  If they answer “from men” they were afraid of the people’s reaction because the people knew he was from God.  So, they answer “We don’t know.”  So, Jesus doesn’t answer their question either.  The tension is thick.  The people are hanging on Jesus words.  The priests and scribes have blood in their eyes.  Then Jesus tells the parable… not to them but to the people.
Now the parable: Remember the two helps in interpreting the parable.  First, it’s about Jesus.  Second, watch for the thing that would never happen and that’s usually describing what Jesus is doing.
And [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Ok so it’s about Jesus.  It’s obvious that the son in the parable is the Son of God.  The servants are the prophets.  The vineyard is God’s people who reject prophet after prophet and finally Jesus.  But take care.  The thing that would never happen isn’t that the tenants would kill the son.  According to the law of the land, this could happen.  And the tenants would be in a good position to take the property because the landlord was out of the country.  It’s the people who hear the parable that tell you what’s out of place.  When Jesus says,
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”
Do you see what they’ve done?  They have made the parable about them losing the vineyard.  Almost like saying, “That could never happen!”  They are thinking, “God would never do that!”  That’s what we are likely to do too.  When we hear it, we start asking questions like, “What do we have to do to not be like the people in the parable?”  Do you see how we automatically center it on us?  Jesus tells them they’ve missed the point.  Listen:
But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Jesus directs them back to the main thing, him.  He is the son who will be cast out of the vineyard and killed.  He is the rejected stone.  In a matter of days, they are going to see it in all its bloody detail.  God’s glory, his work for us, God doing what is needed, is accomplished by the rejection of his son.  In the garden the priest’s thugs arrest him and beat him.  In an illegal trail they condemn him.  They force Pilate to put him to death on the cross under threat.  And so, Jesus dies just as he tells in this parable.  Rejected! He is the cornerstone.  The parable is about him and his work for us, his people.  On Wednesday nights we’ve been singing the Magnificat.  It’s Mary’s song about God’s great reversal in Jesus Christ.  God working to undo injustice.  God turning the world’s order upside down.  God doing things like no one else would do them.  Jesus talks about it like this.  You may have wondered why that song is so prominent in that evening prayer service.  Listen to some of the words:
Oppression halted;
    The meek exalted.
    Full are the hungry;
    Empty, the wealthy—
O sing the greatness of God the Lord!
It’s not a song about the rich getting their comeuppance.  It’s about God turning making everything right again in Christ, the rejected stone becomes the corner.
And there’s even more here than meets the ear…  Jesus says:
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.
It’s a quote from Psalm 118:22, and an explanation.  I want you to notice something here too.  He says everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces.  He’s not just talking about the scribes and priests that rejected him.  He’s not just talking about today’s religious leaders that lead God’s people astray with false teaching.  He’s not just talking about popes and pastors who push their works before the work of Christ, he says everyone.  Yep, he means you and me, too.  Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken.  He does that to us.  We must be broken and crushed.  Otherwise we fall into to our old selfish patterns.  We make ourselves the center of our religion.  Repeatedly Our Lord breaks us with the law.  He doesn’t do it the way we do.  We use the law to show how good we are.  See I keep the law.  I haven’t stolen from my neighbor even though he deserves it.  I haven’t cheated on my husband, even though I could do much better.  No, Jesus uses the law to kill us.  He shows us that we must be perfect, and nothing short of perfect will do.  When we see our sin clearly, we fall at his feet and call on him to save us.  He does.  The stone the builders rejected becomes the corner stone.   He was cast out of the vineyard and onto the cross for us.  We are forgiven.  He is our savior.  In repentance, the gift of faith, we broken sinners cling to Jesus for forgiveness and receive it.  Those who reject him, he falls on them and they are crushed.
Jesus is the ultimate stumbling stone.  Jesus is Christianity, not good works of any kind, not transforming culture, or getting good laws through the legislature.  Jesus only.  Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus the rejected stone.  Jesus for you and me. 
And that’s how the text ends today too. 
The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. (Luke 20:19, ESV)
It all begins just as Jesus told in the parable.  Amen.
The peace of God the passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

John.17.20-26; Weekday Lent Service; April 3, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:20-26 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Here in this text Jesus prays for unity.  I’ve been thinking a lot about unity this week.  Maybe you have, too.  What exactly does it mean to be “united?”  It’s a tricky word for us, isn’t it?  I think that unity is something the whole world is looking for.  In some sense lots of the violence of the Middle East is about unity.  And closer to home we have the false unity of men and men, and women and women seeking to be married.  This is just the latest; there are other attempts at unity.  For a long time now men and women have been trying to live together without being united in marriage.  They believe that marriage isn’t necessary, and yet the statistics show couples who live together before they are married will most likely divorce.  Political correctness tells us that if we just say things the right way, we can create unity by not causing offense.  And I don’t know if you feel the pressure (but I certainly do) to say that Muslims worship the same god that we do, or to say that all religions are the really the same and each lead to God, each in its own way.  We don’t have to look very hard at these attempts at unity to see that they really don’t work.  They collapse under their own weight, because they are unity that is based on things that are not true.  They are based on misunderstandings of the way the world really is.
The church isn’t doing any better.  It is very ironic that in a year that Hollywood gave us a great movie like “The Passion of the Christ,” the Christian church in American gave us the first openly gay bishop, “in the hope that the church can be more inclusive.”  And the desire to be a united church, despite the differences that exist, grows every day.  But the kind of unity that is sought is the kind that simply ignores the reality of the differences in the teachings of the different church bodies.  There are real significant differences in understanding who God is, what He has done in Jesus Christ, and how He works in peoples lives.  This kind of unity is not true unity at all.  It is a unity that ignores the truth of God’s Word for the sake of an external coming together.  This is the kind of kind of unity that promotes communion tables that are open to all comers without regard to what they believe or even the kind of teaching they support.  It is the kind of unity where adultery, divorce, homosexuality and other sins are outright ignored; “for the sake of unity.” Even when those sins are present in those serve as the Church’s pastors.  The Church, just like the world around it, is seeking unity.  But it is a false unity that isn’t the unity the Jesus prayed for. 
And yet, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church; that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  Are we to believe that Jesus prayer went un-answered?  I hardly think so.  We can trust that what Jesus prays is true.  He is the One to whom the God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”  So, when Jesus prays that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  We can know that it is true.  The Christian church through out the whole world is united, just as Jesus said.  It really isn’t a choice is it? 
Someone said to me once that when we became Christians, we gave up the right to choose who we would love.  We are united because of Christ.  If you want examples of how the church is united, you need look no father than the chairs we are sitting in.  All of you know of times when you were helped by someone here.  God has given us brothers and sisters in Christ who are here for us when we need them.  We are united when we hear about God’s great love that sent Jesus to live and die and rise again for us.  We are united when we gather and have the gift of salvation poured down our throats.  We are united as we speak the words “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” that were spoken, when Jesus united us to Himself in Baptism.  We are united because we have been claimed from the jaws of death, rescued from sin, and saved from our own sinful desires.  Our unity comes only from the work that God does and what God has done, not from anything we have done or could possibly even do.  Martin Luther said it very clearly in his explanation of the third article.  (p. 301 in LW) 
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Because we are united, we have a responsibility to love one another.  We have the responsibly to correct one another, and accept each other’s correction, and even to hold one another accountable. 
But we also know that we don’t always act very much like we are united.  That’s because we are sinful people.  That’s because the very nature of sin is separation.  Sinful people are separated from God.  Sinful people are separated from one another.  Sin is divisive.  That’s the problem with all human attempts at unity; they are filled with and driven by sin.  For an example just look at so called “homosexual-marriage.”  It is no real marriage at all.  It is a false unity that is based on a lie, a lie that two men can have the same kind of unity that God has created for men and women.  Or even the example of live-in couples, claiming to have unity when there is none.  Because the unity that God puts into marriage is based on a commitment to love, honor and cherish despite what trouble may come.    
True unity doesn’t come from sinful people.  It can’t come from sinful people.  It comes only from and through Jesus Christ.  Jesus brings unity to a divided world.  He brings restoration to a separated world.  Through God’s Word made Flesh, we find peace, healing and wholeness; first, in restoration of our relationship with God; and then in our relationships to other people.  It is in Jesus Christ that we find that we have true unity.  He is the one who has knit us together into one body.  That’s what Jesus is talking about when He prays that they may be in us.  We are united to God and to one another through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
It works like this:  When human beings were separated from God because of sin, God united himself to humans by becoming a human being.  Jesus was conceived by an act of God, a miracle in which God took on human flesh and became a full and complete person.  He grew like any person, was born like any person, and was fed by his mother like any person.  And although he was a complete human being he wasn’t like any other person, because He was without sin.  Jesus is God and Man perfectly united together, completely God and completely human.  In order to bring an end to the separation between God and man that is caused by sin, Jesus lived a substitute life for sinful people.  He was a perfect “stand in” for us, because we can’t stand for ourselves.  To better understand what I’m talking about, imagine that you are the star player of a basketball team.  But, in the first few seconds of the game you foul out.  You can no longer play in the game, but your substitute comes in and plays for you.  All the points that he scores still count, just as if you made them yourself.  The other team’s coach can’t contest those points because they were made by a substitute.  Jesus whole life was lived perfectly, as our substitute, in perfect unity with God, the Father.  So that, as Jesus prayed, they may be one even as we are one.  And Jesus our substitute goes even further.  Jesus doesn’t just do the good things we should do; He doesn’t just live the life we should live; He suffers the punishment we need to suffer.  Jesus on the cross suffers and dies as the greatest sinner that has ever lived.  Not because He was sinful, but because He substitutes Himself for sinful people.  All of God’s anger at our sinfulness is re-directed to our substitute.  All of God’s punishment for our sin is put on our substitute instead of us.  Jesus became sin for us, and the very thing that prevents our unity with God is put to death.  Sin is sent to the grave with Jesus.  Jesus, our substitute, is made to be guilty and we are declared not guilty.  With sin done away with, with its punishment paid in full, Jesus was raised to life again.  Again, He rises in our place, a complete human being dead and buried, raised again to live.  You see, all that Jesus did He did for you, and you are united with Him through Baptism in it all, through faith in what He has done.  It’s all Jesus.  It’s all His work.  It’s all for you.
Now look around you.  It’s all Jesus.  It’s all His work.  It’s all for them, the young ones and the old ones, the brother in Christ sitting next to you, the sister in Christ sitting behind you.  It’s for the person here that you don’t particularly like.  It’s for the person here that you love more than any other.  It’s for the person here who has hurt you deeply and even the one you have hurt deeply.  That’s the unity that binds us.  That’s the unity that is found in the true nature of Jesus Christ.  It can’t be found or seen in any way other than in the truth about what Jesus has done, and for whom He did it.
And He did it for other people, too.  Many don’t even know or care about what He has done for them.  They aren’t united to Him, because they don’t trust that what He has done is for them.  Jesus talks about that, too.  so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  He’s talking about taking the message of what He has done to people who don’t know Him.  This Good News about true unity in the world isn’t just for you, and the people sitting right here.  It’s for folks you know out there.  That’s what Building Friendships is all about.  We talked about Building up our friendships with one another.  In our friendships here we share the unity the Jesus Christ has given us.  We also want to build up the friendships we have with people who don’t come here, and people who don’t go anywhere.  So that Jesus can use us all to show what He has done to bring unity to the world. 
The church will not find unity by ignoring sin.  Unity is found in repentance and forgiveness that only Jesus gives.  It will not find unity by setting aside real differences that take away from the truth about what Jesus has done for us.  There is no “piece”, nor “part” of the Gospel that is unimportant.  The world won’t find unity by wallowing in its own misguided sense of morality.  It won’t find unity in speaking so as not to offend.  The unity the world is looking for is found only in a relationship with the True God.  There is no relationship with the True God outside of Jesus Christ.  He is God’s only way of uniting human beings with Himself once again.  Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

2 Cor.5:17-21; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 31, 2019;

2 Cor.5:17-21; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 31, 2019;
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV)
The New Creation
(Inspired by a series by Rev. William Weedon.
Concordia Pulpit Resource, Volume 17, Part 4, Series C)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
What in the world does Lent, getting ready for Easter, have to do with Baptism?  Pastor I think you’ve lost it.  What we need is a little tweaking about selfishness.  What we need is to hear about how the world gets carried away with the Easter Bunny, and how it doesn’t have the right focus.  “They’ve forgotten what Easter is about!”  So that we can feel good about ourselves because we’ve got the right focus.  That’s why we’re here to get in the right mood for Easter.  What’s all this about Baptism?
Well, Baptism is foundational for our faith.  In fact, it is so central we shouldn’t be talking about God’s gifts to us without placing Baptism among the most important.  If we believe what we say we believe, then our baptism should never be far from out thoughts.  That’s why I’ve moved the font front and center this evening.  Really, it belongs there all the time, or right in the middle of our focus.  We have the tradition of moving it back when we are not using it.  Maybe though, it would be good to put it out front a bit more often. 
Take a good look at the font.  Some of them have eight sides.  There’s a reason for that, it’s not just a random thing, the way the carpenter decided to make it.  He had a reason.  There’s a long-standing tradition in the church for having them octagonal.  Just like so many things, symbols in the church, there is a deeper meaning.  And that’s what we are going to look at tonight.
To really get the understanding about what Baptism is all about, and how it connects us to the baby in the manger, and Christ on the cross, and resurrected, we need to go back a way.  Not to Bethlehem.  But way back even farther than that, all the way back to the beginning.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2, ESV)
I want you to notice a couple of things here.  First, it starts with God… in the beginning, God.  No big bang, no aliens, nothing but God.  And notice how God is active The Holy Spirit was hovering over the waters.  The world begins with water and the Spirit.  From the water the Holy Spirit brought life.
The account goes on to explain just how God, the Holy Spirit worked to create everything.  And here’s the first hint as to why a font has 8 sides.
Day 1: light and darkness, day and night.
Day 2: Heaven and earth. 
Day 3: Land and sea.
Day 4: Sun, moon and stars
Day 5: Birds and fish.          
Day 6: Animals and human beings.
Day 7: God rested.
It was all good and perfect.  No suffering.  No pain.  No death.  Human beings were in perfect relationship with God and everything, and everyone around them.  It was Eden, paradise.
“Seven days of work make one weak” W E A K.  That’s not what God intended for us.  God set aside one day for rest.  He calls it the Sabbath.  The confirmation students can tell you what day the Sabbath is.  He worked six days, Sunday through Friday and rested one, Saturday, the Sabbath.  That’s God’s way of doing things.  That’s God plan and order for creation.  He made everything, beginning with water.
Water is the key to all life.  When the explorers searched the world for new places, they spent lots of time searching for water.  When scientists look for life on other planets the first thing they look for is water.  Nothing can live without water.  We need water.  Without it we die.  We use water for everything.  We drink it.  We wash with it.  We horde it, when it is in short supply.  We even play in it.  Water is one of the keys to God’s creation.
God’s creation of the Garden of Eden was centered on water.  When we think of the best places to be on the earth, we picture of Lake Superior, or peaceful waterfalls and pools of cool clear water.  That’s a yearning that comes from deep within us.  We know the world isn’t as it should be.  “in the beginning” that’s the way it was.  Everything was in perfect harmony.  Everything was in perfect relationship to everything else.  Everything was in perfect relationship to God.  We have a built-in longing, homesickness to return to that.  God’s creation isn’t that anymore.  Where once peace was everywhere, now there is only death.  Instead of life being in harmony, life is in competition.  Instead of time marching toward eternity in perfect peace, it marches only toward death.  Seven days at time, week by week we march toward death.  An endless series of sevens until death takes away all that we have.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.   (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, 9, 10, NIV)
And yet, there stands our Baptismal font.  All eight sides.  Right in the middle of meaninglessness.  Right in the middle of certain death.  Right where we put the coffins.  Right where your coffin will be.  If the Christian faith means anything it must have something to say about death.  If it doesn’t then, you may as well be an atheist.
There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, NIV)
One baptism connecting us to one Lord, Jesus Christ, sent into the world to set it free form the endless march of seven and seven and seven and seven leading to death.  One Lord, Jesus Christ, sent to rescue us from meaningless life.
God created the world in six days.  He finished all his work and rested on the seventh day, Saturday.  Does it sound familiar?  God’s Son did it too.  He did his work of salvation.  He finished it on the sixth day… a Friday.  We call it Good Friday.  That day He hung nailed to the cross.  He suffered, died and was buried.  He restored our relationship to God by removing the punishment for sin, for all those who have faith in His death and resurrection.  He lived a perfect life for us.  He was born, lived a perfect life and died on the cross.  His very words were “It is finished!”  Dead and in the tomb where we will all be.  His body rested in the grave on the seventh day, Saturday.  But this is where everything changes.  This is where Lent really has some meaning.  We look forward to the resurrection, but only because Jesud died, and rested in the tomb on the Sabbath.  But even more so because the baby rose again from death, the next day, Sunday, the first day of the week.  Day 1 but a new day too, Day 8, a new day of a new creation.  Jesus Christ rose from death, promising to you and me a resurrection.  You see the 8 sides of the font?  When you were baptized, you were placed into the 8th day of creation.  You were given new life in the new creation.  Those eight sides are a constant reminder that the old has passed away and the new has come for you.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV)
That’s what I’m talking about.  In the beginning God, the Holy Spirit moved over the water and created life.   At this font, God, the Holy Spirit moves over the water and creates life.  By His life-giving promises God gives you new life, through water and the Word.  You have a new beginning.  One that doesn’t end in meaningless death, but one that passes through death, with Christ into new life, eternal life.  In Baptism God connects you to the baby in the manger, the Jesus that walked dusty roads, the Christ that suffered on the cross, and rose again.  You receive the forgiveness of sins.  That means your relationship with God is restored to paradise.
Ah but… there always an “ah but.”  As I look at my life, the reality of God’s promise doesn’t seem so sure.  I sin.  You sin.  Relationships fall apart.  Death waits for me outside the doors of the church.  Work is endless.  Week after week an endless progression of seven, seven, seven.  Look here.  Look at the eight.  Don’t think that your baptism is just a one-day event.  It’s not “I was baptized” it is “I am baptized.”  You live every day in the eighth day.  Take your sin as God uses his word to point it out and lay it at the stable, the cross and the font.  Receive the forgiveness of sins every time.  You are a new creation.  You are a forgiven child of God.
Eight sides.  One for each day of the week and one for the Eighth day, the day of the resurrection, the day of your baptism, the day of your new life.  Jesus said it,
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5, ESV)
That newness is yours through Holy Baptism, into the new life of the eighth day.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Joshua.24.1-2.14-18; The Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2018;

Joshua.24.1-2.14-18; The Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.  Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” ” (Joshua 24:1-2, 14–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the things that is most sure about American life is the choices we have. There is a whole row at Walmart dedicated to choosing toothpaste. In fact, you might say, Walmart itself is an institution dedicated to the prospect of choice. Nothing displays our choices more clearly. My wife and I recently went to the Walmart at Ames. While our Walmart is fine, the choices one finds there make our small store look downright poor. So, our lives are full of choices. What car do you drive? Ford or Chevy? Vikings or Packers? Some choices are important, some are unimportant. Some choices are big, some are small. Some are heart wrenching some are easy.  
Because our lives are what they are, that is filled with choices, it might be easy to project the idea on to places in your life where a choice is not yours to make. For example, what about God? Is he your choice to make? Did you decide one day to follow God after living your whole life as his enemy? Did you choose one day to make a commitment to God? Well, that's what it sounds like is happening in our reading form the book of Joshua, isn't it?
Joshua assembled the twelve tribes of Israel to give them the word of the LORD. “Thus says the LORD,” said Joshua, and the word of the Lord comes to the people. What does the LORD say? He reminds the people of their fathers who lived beyond the Euphrates, the fathers who served other gods. He reminds them that he took one of those fathers, Abraham, out of that foreign land of foreign gods and gave him the land of Canaan. The LORD reminds them of Isaac and Esau and Jacob and the descendants of Jacob, and what he did for them. He reminds them of Moses and Aaron, his instruments that he used to bring his people out of slavery in Egypt. He reminds them that he drove the peoples out before them and he told them “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Jo 24:13).
Joshua delivers to the people of Israel this command: serve the LORD; put away the gods! Serve the LORD, the LORD who speaks these words, who rescued them, and who delivered them into a land he has promised. If this for some reason, some odd reason, seems evil, displeasing in their sight, Joshua demands that they choose which god they will serve. How about the ones beyond the Euphrates? How about the ones down in Egypt? Joshua, however, declares, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Jo 24:15). Well, that's just like us. Isn't it? It's a perfect example of a world full of choices! Doesn't this prove the we can choose God? Choose the gods of your father, the gods of the Amorites, or serve the God that brings you pleasure, or serve the god that tells you that you are always right, or choose a combination, or choose the one true God. Is Joshua really suggesting to the tribes and to you that they and we have the right to choose God? Absolutely not! One who thinks that Joshua 24 is about making a choice for the LORD has sadly misunderstood this word. Choose for yourselves amongst the gods that your fathers worshiped, sure. Choose one of the gods of the Amorites, yeah you could do that. That is no different than choosing between a blue door and a white one or between ham and turkey. Making the LORD just another choice, no way!
The people respond adamantly that they will not follow any other God than the LORD. They seem appalled by the very suggestion itself. “Far be it from us!” Never! Never! Let it not be! They say they will follow no one other than the LORD who saved them and showed them great signs (Jo 24:17). Is it simply that they didn’t want to bite the hand that fed them? Is it just a matter that these people made a good and educated choice? Joshua bursts that bubble straight away. “But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God’” (v. 19). Joshua recognizes the sinful condition of this people and their lack of power and authority to do any choosing. Freedom of choice just failed them.
The confession that Joshua and the people make is bold: my household and I will serve the LORD, and far be it from us that we would serve anyone other, for the LORD is the one true God. This response, however, has nothing to do with their choice but everything to do with God’s choice. God took Abraham from beyond the river. He chose Abraham. God delivered his people from Egypt. He chose them. Now this word of the LORD has come to the twelve tribes. Their response? To serve and follow him. Their response flows from faith, which is never a choice of man but always a work of God. God has done his work on them through his word!
Always a work of God! So, it is in your life. As neither Joshua nor the twelve tribes chose the LORD, so we have no ground for choice. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (Jn 15:16). Choose for yourself this day whom you will follow (Jo 24:15). Who you will follow is Jesus who has already chosen you and leads you to himself by faith. The one you follow is Jesus who has drawn you to his cross through the waters of your Holy Baptism. The one whom you follow is Jesus who finds you dead in your trespasses and brings you to himself—to life—even when we had no intention to follow. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God’s choice for you is no accident or afterthought: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the very foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:3-4).
So what does the LORD’s work mean for Joshua? What does it mean for the twelve tribes? What does it mean for the disciples? What does it mean for you? It means being chosen by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who sent his Son to be your salvation, the promise fulfilled. It means receiving that gift by a faith that is his work alone. It means living a confession that looks like these words: As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD, the LORD, who is the true God. It means confessing with our lips and lives that we follow none other than the LORD. He is our Savior who came after us and rescued us on the cross. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.