Sunday, May 24, 2020

Acts 1:1-11; The Ascension of Our Lord; May 24, 2020


Acts 1:1-11; The Ascension of Our Lord; May 17, 2015;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:1–11, ESV)
{From a Sermon by Rev. Nabil Nour}
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Life changes in an instant. A flash of lightning, a tornado siren, an ambulance ride. Everything that was in front of you instantly vanishes. Everything that seemed so firmly set on a foundation is changed and shaky. This is life in our fallen world.
But today we celebrate and observe the Ascension of our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, we can take to heart His Word of promise. There is nothing in this world that will be able to separate us from His pierced and loving hands.
The disciples were in their last earthly moments with their Savior. They know who he is. They know what he has done. They know why he has done it. They have seen his love, compassion, forgiveness, healing and anger. They have been with him through it all, in spite of denying and abandoning him. Even though they didn’t stick with him, he stuck with them. He forgave them and restored them. He even appeared to them and gave them words that helped them be steadfast— “שלום עליך.” “Peace be with you.” This is what Christ came to give us and even more…to reconcile us to God.
The ascension is Jesus crowning in glory. His returning to the Father with the job done, finished. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father. It is no set place in heaven, but God power to do what God intends and promises. He intercedes for us. This is why our prayers are heard before God. Jesus hears them. This is why we can be sure that all that happens is in our best interest, even painful things. Jesus, our Savior and Advocate is in control of all things.
And he did not leave the disciples alone, or us either. He sent the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate that sending next week at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence among us. The Holy Spirit is God in, and with us, for us. He comes to us in Word, and Water, Bread and Wine. We are washed in the water, connected to Jesus. We have God with us in the Holy Spirit. He keeps us looking at Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness.
But instead of looking to Jesus, we look to our own welfare. We want things, and stuff, and money. We strive but seldom get what we strive for. When we suffer we turn in on ourselves and mourn the loss of things we think we deserve.
Think of the farmer who plants the field. He looks ahead at a fixed point, not a moving one. He doesn’t look back. If he doesn’t he won’t get straight rows. If the point is fixed you will reach it, but if it is a moving target you will never get it. That is why it is so important to look up to see what is ahead.
Jesus told the disciples to do that. He tells us to do that. Keep your eyes on Jesus, no matter what. But we turn back on what was, rather than what IS…often we look down rather than up. We always think we know better. We always try to help God out. We even try to figure out a way without letting the Savior lead and guide us.
Jesus’ ascension is important because of what it reminds us. It is the day when he took back all that was his, all his power, all his glory, all his everything that belonged to him, that he set aside when he took on human flesh.
Remember! Even though everything in this world will be taken away from us and or left behind when we die; we need not be consumed with worry. Jesus calls us to look up to him and put our hope and trust in him alone. Jesus is able and he will, supply all of our needs. He is faithful!
Life can be full of trouble and worry. It would be even worse if didn’t know that God was in control, working out His plan for the nations and us His baptized children.  Instead, He has told us that when these things begin to take place, to “lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Listen to Psalm 121
      I lift up my eyes to the hills.
            From where does my help come?
      My help comes from the LORD,
            who made heaven and earth.
      He will not let your foot be moved;
             he who keeps you will not slumber.
      Behold, he who keeps Israel
            will neither slumber nor sleep.
      The LORD is your keeper;
            the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
      The sun shall not strike you by day,
             nor the moon by night.
      The LORD will keep you from all evil;
            he will keep your life.
      The LORD will keep
            your going out and your coming in
            from this time forth and forevermore.
Our help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth. Though all these be shaken. We have the promises of the crucified one, the ascended one. He sits at God’s right hand able to everything that is necessary.
So we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is coming back soon. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

John 9; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 22, 2020;


John 9; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 22, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Since our text is a whole chapter, I'd like to read it through making a few comments as we go.
1 As he passed by, [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth.
Jesus "saw" a blind man. He sees people in need and he does something about it. After all he comes in human flesh to suffer and die on the cross for your need. He sees the forgiveness you need and does something about it.
2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The disciples ask the natural question. "God must be punishing someone!" Think Job's friends. Jesus corrects them. He talks about purpose. He talks about God's purpose. After all it's not your purpose that should consume you. It is God's purpose. This man is blind so that God has the opportunity to show this sign of healing from Jesus. To show everyone exactly who Jesus is.
4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Jesus doesn't only give the man physical sight. He gives spiritual enlightenment to those who "see" him for who he actually is. If you look back to the beginning of John's Gospel we see John talking about this light in the world.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:4–9, ESV)
There is a conflict here between light and darkness. And it will come out even more so in the rest of the reading.
6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Now Jesus uses very earthly, physical, common elements to heal the man's blindness. God doesn't deal with people internally. Rather, he uses external means. In, with, and under the spit and mud, Jesus word from outside the man heals him of his blindness. God often uses ordinary, everyday, physical things to work in the lives his people. After all he used ordinary, everyday, physical human body hung on a cross to bring forgiveness into the world. And he chooses to bring that forgiveness directly to you through water, bread, and wine.
8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
It is fair to say a dispute arose. The man's neighbors wonder if he's really the same man. Blind men didn't every day receive their sight back again. Even the Pharisees are divided. "He can't be from God, because he doesn't obey the laws that we've made about the Sabbath. They argue about whether Jesus is "from God". Truth is when Jesus comes on the scene there is always division. With Jesus the primary question is always who he is. Since they can't believe, they turn on the man's parents.
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
They say clearly this is the same man, therefore confirming the Jesus indeed was the one who heal him. Also saying that Jesus is the Messiah. But the Pharisees our firm against Jesus. And the parents know it. They won't speak any more than is necessary because they know they will be excommunicated. And so they return to the formerly blind.
 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
The Pharisees are openly hostile. They hate Jesus. They do not want to be Jesus' disciples. They can't abide that Jesus is actually "from God". The question is right there, "is Jesus, from God, the Messiah of God, or just a common everyday sinner?" The Pharisees actually take the position of the disciples. They accuse the formerly blind beggar of being a great sinner. When God speaks the truth, people will work very hard to justify themselves. They cast the man out of the synagogue. They remove him from the church. They don't do it out of love, but out of hate. They do it so they don't have to listen to him anymore.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Jesus finds the man speaks to him again. "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "It is me, the one you saw and heard."
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17, ESV)
St. Paul says. The man rejoices in what God has done for him. He sees who Jesus is. He calls him "Lord". He was blind, now he sees. Jesus says this is the very reason he's come into the world. To bring spiritual light, faith in him for the forgiveness of sins.
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
This text shows us that when Jesus comes, no matter how it is, there is always division. God's word divides. Sinful people, you and I included, do not like God's judgment against our sin. We would rather hold onto it, excuse it, brush it under the carpet. Jesus is from God, he is not from the world. It is a struggle against God that is only resolved by God judging the world. "For judgment I came into the world." Jesus has come to cast out the ruler of the world. That is, Satan's time, sin's time in the world has come to an end. But it is also true that Jesus comes not “to judge the world but to save the world” (12:47)
Jesus does both at the cross. He takes on the world's darkness and judgment. He becomes the sin of the world. He submits to the darkness, "he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and was buried." He sacrifices his perfect life for the sake of the whole world. Sin is judged in Jesus' death on the cross and his burial. This is Good Friday…
But there is also Easter. God raises Jesus from the dead. He walks and talks and eats with his disciples. He shows that sin is done in. He shows that he is indeed the one who is from God who brings God's light into the world. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

John 4:5-26; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 15, 2020;


John 4:5-26; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 15, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
So [Jesus] came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”” (John 4:5–26, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This sinful woman has an encounter with God. She has questions. He answers them. She has no illusions about who she is, a sinful, mortal person looking for the hope of eternal life through the coming Messiah. It starts by Jesus asking for a drink of water. Already, she knows something is different. No Jewish Rabbi would speak to a woman in public, let alone ask her to do such a task for him as fetch him water. Jesus initiates the conversation. It is a conversation about who he is. "If you knew who was speaking to you…"
She doesn't understand. She sees a tired Jewish Rabbi sitting by a well. She is there doing a daily, menial, never-ending task. She goes to the well as thousands before her had done, to fill up pots of water and take them home. She goes in the morning early (or it could be during the midday sun) to do a task that she must do every day.
Jesus turns the conversation into a spiritual one. "I have 'living water' to give you. If you drink of my water, you will never be thirsty."
After her walk, carrying water jugs, she must've been thirsty, but Jesus was talking of spiritual thirst, her sin. "How is it that you have water? I don't see anything for you to get water out of this deep well."
Jesus answers, "The water I have is not from this well. If you drink my water you will never be thirsty again, and you will live forever."
"That's what I want!" She says. "Then I wouldn't have to keep coming to this well every day."
Jesus is about to drive the point home. He is opened her heart to listen to what he has to say. He's about to show her exactly who he is. "Go get your husband and bring him." Jesus knows exactly who she is, and exactly what her situation is.
"I have no husband."
"Yes, that's true. You don't have 'A' husband. You have had five. Now you're living with someone who is not your husband." The woman's life, her heart, her sin, is all an open book to Jesus. He opens the wound of her sin. The true nature of her thirst is all laid out before him.
Now she sees more in Jesus and she saw before. He has shown that he knows a part of her she already knew. "Sir, I see that you are prophet."
Jesus is drawing her in. He's revealed to her, her thirst. She has a need for forgiveness, and he is about to show her exactly where she can find it.
She continues, "I am a Samaritan." She believes she is on the outside. She brings up one of the primary differences between Jews and Samaritans. They are standing in the shadow of Mount Gerizim, the holy place of the Samaritans. They believed that true worship happened only there. The Jews had their temple on mount Zion. Jesus makes them both irrelevant.
"It's not the mountain, it's me! Salvation is from the Jews." A little bit later Jesus will say it this way, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV)
Jesus has laid it on the table. The woman is about to reveal her faith. "I know that Messiah is coming."
Now, there are two issues with the readings for this morning. The first is the gospel lesson that ends right here. We miss her reaction to coming to understand who Jesus really is. She can't wait to tell people that she has found the Messiah. She runs through the town.
The second is that I have an issue with the translation. According to the ESV text Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”” (John 4:26, ESV) and while it is technically correct, it misses a major point. A much better translation would be, "I am is the one speaking to you." The whole discussion that Jesus has with the woman is about exactly who he is. He shows her, her sin and points her toward the salvation she expects in the Messiah. The statement of Jesus here is one of the "I am" statements of Jesus. "I am the bread of life… The water of life… The gate…" The Greek is ἐγώ εἰμί. It's an emphatic "I". It's the language from the burning bush. Moses is a about to go free the people from slavery in Egypt. He asks of God, "Who shall I say has sent me?"
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14, ESV) It was at that point that God gave his people that name, "I am" to his people.
Jesus is being very explicit. He is saying, "I am God in the flesh, the Messiah you expect, the one who has come to bring you forgiveness. I am here, the way, the truth, and the life. If you see me as the Messiah, if you bring your sin to me for forgiveness, you know the truth."
The woman's reaction was to leave her water jug there at the well. She had received the water of life promised by Jesus. The water from the well is not nearly as important as it was moments ago. She runs to the town asking the real question about Jesus. It is the question that must always be answered if we are to understand what Scripture has to say. The question is "Is Jesus Christ the Messiah."
Don't be fooled. There's so much noise about today. So many people declaring who Jesus is. So much in popular culture that denies "the truth." Movies that try to tell you that heaven is real and popularize God story of salvation through the flood and make the story of the Bible about the purpose of your life. When the truth is so much simpler than that. Here in this simple account we see everything we need to know about Jesus. In fact, he tells us what we need to know. He is God and man together in the flesh. We see his human nature, tired sitting at the well and thirsty. He declares that he is God by using God's very name. He tells us he has come to bring forgiveness, which is living water for thirsty people. Your sin and my sin is no less than woman at the well. It's not sex that's her problem. It is her sinful nature.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, ESV)
Our sin condemns us. There should be no living water for us to drink. That is exactly why Jesus is who he is. It is exactly why he goes from Jacob's well to the cross. The sin that is laid bare by the piercing of the Word, the thoughts and desires and intentions of our hearts, is carried by Jesus. One who knew no sin became sin for us. The living water that he has to give is that which comes from his pierced side flowing with blood and water. It is forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness from the Messiah. Forgiveness given to the woman at the well. Forgiveness for you and for me.
The Bible, the Word of God, is an encounter with God, in Jesus Christ. It is about that, more than anything else. We have questions, God answers them. Don't have any illusions about who you are. You are a sinful mortal person looking for the Messiah to give you eternal life. In the Word, Jesus offers you that very thing. He offers himself, his sacrifice, his forgiveness, his living water, to you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Gen.12.1-9; Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020;


Gen.12.1-9; Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. (Genesis 12:1-9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And God said to Abram, “Go Now!”
You know, I just don’t think I would have done it.  Oh I know, it’s not really good for a pastor to say he wouldn’t do what God commanded.  But really, look at what Abram is leaving.  God couldn’t be more specific.  Leave your country, your family and your father, leave everything behind that gives you any stability, any sense of belonging.  Most of you live pretty close to your family, and even I live not too far away.  Even if we are at quite a distance we can get reach out and touch our loved ones in a second.  That’s what cell phones do for us, keep us connected at all times to those we love.  Not Abram (his name is later changed to Abraham).  His doing what God told him to do cuts him out of the picture.  His family will go on doing what they’ve been doing.  Abram just won’t be a part of it.  He won’t inherit his father’s land, he won’t see his cousins, or nephews, or nieces, grow up.  He won’t be doing anything for the rest of his life with his family.  God’s command to leave is one sided.  It isn’t just leave.  It is leave everything.  What God does to Abram is disconnect him from his past.  I just don’t think I could do it. 
And the funny thing is that although we consider Abram a great man of faith (and he surely is that!), he doesn’t seem to have been able to do either.  There’s a clue to that here in the text.  Something that tells us Abram’s trouble with doing what God wanted.  God said,
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house…”
That sounds simple enough, there’s just a little more dramatic force in the original language, God said, “Go now!”  And how does our hero react? He reacts by following God’s command, right?  Well, not exactly. 
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.
Oops, what’s this with Lot going with him?  Why did Abram let that happen?  Isn’t Lot one of his “kindred” that he’s suppose to leave behind?  As it turns out, Abram would regret taking Lot along.  Lot would be no end of trouble.  Lot would be a guy that Abram would end up baling out of trouble again and again.  If Abram would have listened to God, he would have spared himself a Lot of heart ache.  But that’s always the case.  If we listened to what God tells us in His Word, we spare ourselves a lot of heartache too.  Well, we are all cut from the same cloth aren’t we?
And there’s another thing.  It isn’t just us who see Abram’s lack of ability to do what God commanded.  In Joshua 24:3 God tells the people,
Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan(Joshua 24:3a, ESV)
You see, God made it happen.  You might say that God pushed Abram out of his homeland and dragged him around the land of Canaan.  Over and over again Abram showed he was weak in doing what God wanted and trusting that God would do as he promised.  Here is just a few points to remember:
ü  Abram was given the most beautiful woman in the land (possibly the world, but don’t start thinking swimsuit model here, our sense of beauty is very different from theirs).  Sari was not only beautiful but she the way that God had promised to deliver His promises to Abram.  She would be the mother of the great nation.  And yet, Abram lent her out to two kings as a sex toy just to save his own skin.
ü  God promised that he and Sarah would have a son, the first born of a great nation.  Abraham took matters into his own hands, literally, by sleeping with another woman.  If God won’t give me a son through Sari I’ll get one this way.
Over and over again, Abraham shows himself to be doubtful of God’s promises.  That’s what we heard St. Paul say too, isn’t it.
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (Romans 4:2, ESV)
In fact, Abraham had nothing to boost about before God.  Everything that God asked him to do, he did imperfectly.  If God hadn’t stepped in over and over again, Abraham would have screwed everything up, over and over again.  Now there’s something to keep in mind.  Abraham may have his doubts.  He didn’t always do what God told him to do, the way God wanted it done.  God may have to slap him over the head with a 2x4 again and again.  But, in spite of Abram, God still kept His promises.  You might even say that it was God’s promises that kept everything going in Abram’s life.  In fact, God’s promises that make things happen.
Abram wasn’t a different kind of person than you are; He had faith in a faithful God.  He didn’t dig up the faith to believe what God promised; it was God’s promise itself that created faith in Abram.  All the mistakes that Abram made were his own; when he is faithful it’s his faith acting.
Remember God said, “Go Now!”  God also said Go Now to Abram when He told him to take his son, the son you love, your only son, Isaac and sacrifice him on the mountain.  There’s no backing out of this one.  He’s very deliberate in carrying out God’s instructions.  Even though Isaac is the only way God’s promises are going to happen, Abram does exactly what he’s told.  Abram believe that God would stop him, or raise his son from the dead.  It’s a difference of years and years of God’s promise being active in Abram’s life.
On that first time God talked to Abram God made him 7 promises.  It’s the last one that’s most important to us.  That all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abram.  The interesting thing about is the word earth.  It’s Adama that same word as in Adam’s name.  Adam came from the Adamah.  A translation that gets the gist of the pun is Dusty came from the dust.  God’s promise to Abram was God’s promise to you and me.  We are children of Adam the one from the Adamah.  Now remember it’s God’s promise that make things happen.  It’s God’s promises that create faith.  That’s important because just like Abram we are quick to modify what God tells us to do. 
ü  He tells us to go now and make disciples and we sit on our hands… and our checkbooks.
ü  He tells us to love our neighbor and we cheat him out of his land.
ü  He tells us to pray for those who persecute us and we pray for them to “get what’s coming to them.”
St. Paul tells us
to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, (Ephesians 4:1, ESV)
That’s hardly doing that.  But we’re going about it all wrong if we try to muster up the strength to live as we’ve been called to live.  The strength doesn’t come from our own will power. Our will is so often influenced by our sinful nature.  Instead it is God promise that makes things happen.
St. Paul also talked about that.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:29, ESV)
Our faith doesn’t lie in ourselves but God’s promise to bless all the people of the earth. 
God makes that promise true in Jesus.  It is Jesus who is told Go Now! Just like Abraham.  But there is a difference.  Jesus doesn’t falter as Abram did.  Jesus didn’t falter as you and I do.  There’s a hymn by Martin Luther Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (LSB 556. v5-8, text and music in the public domain.)  We don’t sing it too much because it very long, but right in the middle of hymn is these verses.

[God] spoke to His beloved Son:
'Tis time to have compassion.
Then go, bright Jewel of My crown,
And bring to man salvation;
From sin and sorrow set him free,
Slay bitter death for him that he
May live with Thee forever.

This Son obeyed His Father's will,
Was born of virgin mother,
And God's good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my Brother.
No garb of pomp or power He wore,
A servant's form, like mine, He bore,
To lead the devil captive.
To me He spake: Hold fast to Me,
I am thy Rock and Castle;
Thy Ransom I Myself will be,
For thee I strive and wrestle;
For I am with thee, I am thine,
And evermore thou shalt be Mine;
The Foe shall not divide us.

The Foe shall shed My precious blood,
Me of My life bereaving.
All this I suffer for thy good;
Be steadfast and believing.
Life shall from death the victory win,
My innocence shall bear thy sin;
So art thou blest forever.

This is God being faithful to his promise.  You see, it is God who is faithful, not me, not you, not Abram.  He promised to bless you and me through Abram and he did it in Jesus Christ.  It is that shedding of His precious blood that wipes away every part of sin in all that we do.  Back to the Epistle Lesson
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,   and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin." (Romans 4:5-8, ESV)
That’s the promise, our lawless deeds are forgiven.  That means we are free to do what God commands.  That means when we do what he commands imperfectly, we are forgiven.  And when it comes to doing better?  Well, we look to God’s promise in Jesus.  We hold on to Jesus. God’s promises make things happen.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Matt.4.1-11; First Sunday in Lent; March 1, 2020;


Matt.4.1-11; First Sunday in Lent; March 1, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Mt 4:1-11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Last week we talked about Jesus’ transfiguration.  There on that mountain he shines like the sun.  We very clearly see Jesus as God there.  We hear the voice of God booming out of a cloud, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  It’s Jesus in glory showing himself for who he is: Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and God in human flesh standing on the mountain, having come to take away the sins of the world.
For today’s Gospel we have a strong contrast.  For those spending 40 days with Jesus by reading the Gospel of Matthew you read all about the temptation of Jesus on Friday.  Jesus’ temptation by Satan happens at the very beginning of Jesus ministry.  Right after Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  If John’s Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus ministry, the Temptation is the first major event.
Before I was a Pastor, in my previous life, I used to travel all over the US.  I still love it.  Especially if flying is involved, the bigger the airplane the better.  There’s just something about getting into a huge metal beast, that doesn’t look like it belongs anywhere… I mean, it’s too un-gamily on the ground, and actually too big to fly.  But you sit there in your seat as the jet engines thrust the thing forward and you are pushed back.  One thing I learned, that I was told by the pilots, is that the first five minutes and the last five minutes of flying are the most dangerous.  The beginning and the end of the flight are where the most dangers lie, where the most can go wrong. 
That seems to be the case with Jesus, too.  If he forsakes his baptism, by failing the temptation of Satan, or by fleeing his death on the cross, we are lost.  Thankfully, and this is the great joy of all Christians, Jesus didn’t abandon us in his temptation or at the cross.  It’s at the very beginning of Jesus ministry that Satan’s attempts to turn him away from his task.  But he fails; Jesus goes to the cross the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  And everything that he gained by his perfect life, and perfect death and resurrection are given to us, freely in the gift of faith.
I said that today’s text is a strong contrast from last week’s Transfiguration.  It’s true.  Last week we saw Jesus clearly as God.  Today we see Jesus in a way that shows us his humanity.  And in fact, today we see Jesus in a way that brings his life very close to ours.  Here we see Jesus dealing with something that we deal with every single day.  Satan blows lies into our ears and very often we give in.  That doesn’t mean that we are not to blame.  Flip Wilson’s “The devil made me do it” isn’t an excuse.  We give in to temptation because we are sinful people.  We are accountable for the sin we commit.  We deserve the punishment.
So today we have Jesus being tempted.  We see him in a situation like the ones we face every day of our lives.  But sometimes we might think that it really doesn’t mean anything at all.  After all, isn’t this “temptation” really just a sham, a shadow play, because Jesus is going to win anyway?  I mean, if what we said last week was true, and Jesus is fully and completely God, and God can’t sin, then what we’re seeing is a real temptation, is it?
Well, to answer the question we only have to look at the text that we are given.  It begins; Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  It’s said a little differently in Mark’s Gospel.  The ESV translation there is: The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  (Mark 1:12 ESV)  Another way to translate it could be “he was thrown out into the wilderness.”  One seminary professor said, “Jesus was willing, but did not go of his own accord.” It reminds us a little bit of Jesus prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as he waits to be arrested. 
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39, ESV)
Jesus does the God the Father’s will, at the cost of his own well being.  Out there in the wilderness there was nothing to eat.  And at the Spirit’s leading Jesus remained 40 days and nights.  All that time he fasted, the text tells us… and adds this little understatement, he was hungry.  You see, the hunger of Jesus was real hunger.  He is human just like you and I are human.  He eats and doesn’t eat, he sleeps and doesn’t sleep, and he laughs and cries, just as you and I do.  Jesus is completely human.  That’s the point of telling us that Jesus was hungry.  The hunger was real; the temptation to do what Satan says is just as real.  There is great comfort in Jesus humanity and his temptation.  When we say, Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted, we can be sure it is true, because Jesus is fully and completely human.
As for Satan, he isn’t a fool.  He knows whom he’s dealing with.  In fact, that’s exactly what he’s using against Jesus.  The question he asks is the same one he used with great success before.  “If you are the son of God…”  Really it could be read like this: “Since you are the son of God…”  He’s saying to Jesus, “This hunger is beneath you.  You’re better than this.  You can do something about it.  Make these stones into bread and save yourself.”  But even more subtly he’s telling Jesus something else.  “You know what’s good for you.  You don’t have to tolerate this hunger just because God wants it.  After all, you are here, you know how best to take care of things.  You can do it your own way.”  What Satan was saying was true to a certain point.  Jesus was above hunger.  He was above temptation and he was able to do exactly what Satan asked.  But Jesus passes on the temptation because he has faith in God’s plan for his life.  Not that he thinks God’s way is going to end up the easy and painless way either.  Jesus sees the cross in his future.  What is in his heart is you and me!  If he does what Satan asks, you and I would belong to Satan instead of Jesus.  And Jesus response tells Satan just that.  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  “I choose to listen to God and not to you.  I choose God’s plan for my life, even though I know exactly where it is going.” 
Satan had used the same question before.  It’s in our OT lesson for today:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Ge 3:1-5, ESV)
“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened…”  Satan said.  “Don’t you think you should decide what’s best for your life?  Aren’t you better than to be controlled by God?  Don’t you deserve to know everything?  What’s God up to that he would keep this thing from you?”  Eve ate the apple and Adam let her.  Their answer to Satan wasn’t the same as Jesus’ answer.  They looked to themselves to determine future instead of leaving it in God’s hands.  They failed, just as you and I frequently fail.  It’s not enough just to say God is in control, we have to leave it to him, but that’s not what we want to do.
Just think of all the times in your life when you thought you could get along by yourself.  If only I work a little harder, I’ll get through this.  We let our own self interest drive our business practices; easily setting aside the right thing to do because we don’t really trust God to take care of us.  And how easy it is simply to give to the church only to meet the churches needs (the budget), instead of giving what we could give from the heart. 
The mistake we fall into is in thinking that we have the option not to sin.  Human beings are not morally neutral.  We are sinful people from birth.  We are born with sinful hearts.  We cannot help but sin.  When we actually do pass up on temptation we think we have accomplished a great thing and what we have done is going to make God proud.  But the truth is weather we are tempted or not we sin.  It’s in our hearts to begin with.  We can’t help but sin because it’s a part of who we are.  That’s what happened there with Adam and Eve.  They pushed God out of their heart and sat themselves there as the final authority.  And that’s how we are born, with our own self interest at heart, instead of depending on God for everything.  God doesn’t want us to be independent; he wants us to be in-dependence to him and his will.
Jesus wasn’t morally neutral either.  His heart was bent on the Father’s will from the beginning.  When he was a fetus in his mother’s womb; when he lay crying in the manger; when he worked with his earthly father; when he was baptized in the Jordan River; when he set aside Satan’s whispered lies; when he healed and preached; when he suffered the Roman whip at the scourging post and nails at the cross; when he breathed out his last.  In every single aspect of his human life he had a perfect relationship with God.  He followed God’s will for his life.  It is the very thing you and I are totally unable to do.  It would be easy to look at the temptation of Jesus as an example to help us do better, but we’d never live up to Jesus’ example.  Eventually, no matter how strong we think we are, we fall to Satan’s words.  That fall leaves us completely without hope… if it weren’t for Jesus.
That’s also the point of God’s Word to us.  That’s the Good News about Jesus.  It’s not that he’s an example for us to follow.  Jesus temptation in the wilderness is Jesus doing battle with Satan for us.  It’s Jesus turning down Satan’s offers, in our place.  It’s Jesus following God’s perfect will for us.  It’s Jesus living and dying for us.  That’s what Paul is talking about in the Epistle reading today (Rom 5:12-19 ESV):  by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  (Ro 5:19, ESV) You see, it is one man who does it.  Jesus is completely human remember.  If he wasn’t, his living a perfect life wouldn’t mean a thing.  But it means everything for you and me.  Because that perfect life he lived and that death for sin that he died, is ours through faith in it as a free gift of God.  That free gift is as sure for you as God’s promises have always been.  As sure as your head got wet in the shower this morning, as sure as your head got wet with God’s promise into you in Baptism.
You’ve heard that phrase; “If temptation bugs you; flea!”  I have another one.  If temptation bugs you, tell Satan off.  Say, “Be gone! Jesus has already defeated you for me.  I’m depending on him to take care of me.  I’m leaning on His life and death in my place.”  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



Wednesday, February 26, 2020

John.1.37-51; Ash Wednesday; February 26, 2020;


John.1.37-51; Ash Wednesday; February 26, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN;
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:37–51, ESV)
(From a Sermon by Norman Nagel)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Nathanael asks a good question. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" You see, Nazareth was nowearsville.  One of my seminary professors said, "Nazareth was of one-donkey nothing of a town." Nothing good or notable had ever come from there before. It wasn't in the history books. No famous people claimed Nazareth as their home. It was in the middle of nowhere, and you can't get there from here. So, Nathanael's question stands, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
His friend Philip was from Bethsaida. He doesn't waste any time arguing with Nathanael, instead he takes him to Jesus straight away. "See for yourself!" There is nothing wrong with Nathanael's question, in fact we have it on good authority that Nathanael was a good man (the best authority indeed). When Jesus sees him, he says in him is no deceit. Nathanael had spent time studying God's word. That's what it means to be "under the fig tree". Nathanael must've spent plenty of time there reading The Book. It's possible to read the Bible and never see Jesus. It's possible to read the Bible and think it's something like "Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth". That is a manual on how to live and what to do in every situation. In other words, how to be a good person to make God happy. There wasn't a problem with Nathanael's question, there seems to be a problem with the way Nathanael thought about God. What he meant by the Nazareth question was "that's not the way God is supposed to work. Nazareth is not even mentioned in the Scriptures (for Nathanael that was our Old Testament). That's not the way God should be doing things."
Nathanael's understanding of God had to change. The God he had made for himself reading under the fig tree had to die. And the God from Nazareth had to be born. Nathanael needed a new heart created in him that could see not a God of his own making, one who couldn't do anything from Nazareth, but the one who came from Nazareth who was going to do everything, that is bring salvation in new life to him and all people.
This is the way of all people. It's even our way here at Life in Christ Lutheran Church. We have ways we think God should work. We have standards that we think God needs to meet. We need money to run the church, volunteers to fill our boards, new bodies sitting in the pews, and Sunday school classrooms full of little children. And if he can't do that, well, we just throw him out and make up our own God. One that can fulfill all our expectations. We want our God to point out the sins of other people and hold them to account, but not point to our sin is deadly, and damning. There are ways, we think, that God should work, and ways that he should not. When we place our expectations on God, we are not dealing with the living God but were working with the God that we have made and put in his place.
Jesus knew how ridiculous it is to deal with God this way. Maybe he's even poking a bit of fun at Nathanael. Maybe you think he would never do such a thing. But he shouldn't have come from Nazareth. He shouldn't have been a plain old carpenter. He shouldn't have been born in a stable, either.
Nathanael wasn't seeing what God was really supposed to be like. He read under the fig tree, but he missed the point. He wasn't seeing God while he was under the fig tree, but God was seeing him. And, the question isn't whether you believe in God, the question is whether God believes in you. The question isn't whether you accept Jesus, the question is does Jesus except you. Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree. Nathanael came to Jesus of Nazareth. And he doesn't just see Jesus, he sees God in Jesus. He blurts out the truth. He sees with more than just his eyes. "You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
But notice that Jesus doesn't use any of the titles afforded him by Nathanael. Instead he uses the title "the Son of Man." As St. John always wants us to see, Jesus is true God and true man together. Jesus uses the title that makes him interchangeable with all people. He walks and talks and breathes and lives on the Earth as a son of man, a person. He walks and talks and breathes and lives on earth for anyone and everyone. Jesus says later "the hour has not yet come for the Son of Man to be glorified." He is speaking of his death on the cross, being lifted up from the earth. And there too, he is interchangeable with all people. He suffers, he bleeds, and he dies. And he does so according to God's perfect will. The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, true God, is glorified and lifted up on his throne of the cross. This is indeed the greatest thing that Nathanael will ever see. If he didn't think that God could come from Nazareth, he certainly didn't think that God should die on the cross. But this is exactly what happens in Jesus Christ. With all his weight bearing down on the nails, he bears our sin, especially our sin of replacing him with our own god. And there bleeding out of his head, hands, feet, and side he is not the God we think he is, or even want him to be, but he is the God that we need. For in his life, suffering and death he brings to us the forgiveness of sins, and as Martin Luther says, "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation."
So, this evening, Ash Wednesday, you bear on your forehead a charcoal cross. It is a sign of death. What has been put to death in you is your old nature that wants to make its own God. A God that will do things the way you want them done. A God that will tell you that your sin is small. A God that will excuse your sin and the sins of those you love, and tell you you have no other way to go. That's the ashes. They remind you that you are dead to sin. But it's also a cross. And even though the cross is a deadly instrument, and it brings death to you through Jesus Christ, it also brings life. It brings life because in his death on the cross, Jesus, the Son of Man, is interchangeable with you. Your sin goes the way of death. Your sin goes the way of forgiveness. For you the cross is also life. And although it's not the way we think that God should work, thank God he does. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.