Sunday, May 15, 2022

John.13.31-35; Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MM;
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:31–35, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Love one another.” That seems simple enough. Jesus says we are to love one another. In fact, it seems easy enough that a little child can memorize it. “Love one another.” It was a new command from the lips of our Lord. Maunday Thursday was named after it. Maunday means “New Command” it is the night that Jesus gave this command. But we should realize that it is not new because it was different from before. After all, just look the Ten Commandments. Any confirmand will tell you that the summary of Commandments 4 through 10 is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And it is like a passage right out of the book of Leviticus,
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18 ESV)

As soon as God sets down the commandments loving one another is a part of them. It was all about who they were as God’s people. Jesus says the very same thing.

The Pharisees come to Jesus and ask, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus gives them more than they asked for. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And there’s a second command which is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. These commandments sum up what God’s Word is all about.”
And yet even though it is a simple commandment to understand Jesus sets the standard very high. “Love one another: just as I have loved you.” Youch! There is nothing like setting the bar high. “… as I have loved you.” Those are loaded words when we think about them. Right before Jesus gave this “new command” he washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus took a water basin and towel and knelt at the feet of each of them and Jesus actually washed their feet. It was not his job to do it… It was the job of a servant to do it.
“Do you know what I’ve done?” he said to them. “I’m your teacher and yet I’ve washed your feet. This is to be an example to you, wash one another’s feet.”

I think it would be quite a lesson for us if we would do this one. I mean if we all just took off our shoes and socks and wash each other’s feet. Some of you would probably leave; some of you would not want anyone to see your feet. And for most of us it is a job we would rather just not do. And that is exactly the point Jesus is making. It is exactly what the disciples were thinking. “But I don’t want to wash people’s feet!” If we cannot even do that simple thing without cringing, how are we supposed to love one another just as he did? How are you supposed to love the person two rows back? How are you supposed to love the person who just does not dress up to the occasion of church? How are you supposed to love the person who you have had an argument with?

You know that every time we use Jesus as an example, we will always fall short. Imagine how the disciples felt just a few hours later when Jesus was dead. They had denied him. They ran away when Jesus needed them the most. They did not want to wash feet, but Jesus goes way beyond pouring water and drying feet. Jesus sets the standard that is impossible to reach. He gives up his very life and suffers and dies a horrible death. We cannot even wash feet! In comparison to Jesus, we see how deep our sin really is. When we see how deep it is, how it really fills us completely, we see how great Jesus’ love is. The more we appreciate the love of Jesus the higher the standard is set, and the more we realize that we are indeed poor miserable sinners, in great need of a loving Savior. One who would serve us in such a way, that he was willing to bow down and wash our feet. One who would serve us in such a way, that he was willing to bow down his head in death for us.

Well, that is the depth of Jesus love. That he was willing to die for you and me. Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. In a way Mother’s Day can help us to see the depth of Jesus love. Mother love their children unconditionally. No matter what the offense, no matter what the sin. Mothers stand beside their children and love them. You know the saying, “he had a face only a mother could love.” That is you and me, the ones with the unlovable face. Jesus loves those of us that only God can love (and by the way that is all of us). Despite our deep-seated sin, despite the ugliness that lives right here in our hearts; God loves us anyway. God’s great love for us is shown in the fact that Jesus died. Really that is not the whole of it either. It was not just an ordinary death. Our failure to love one another is really based in our failure to love God. We plain just do not do it with our whole heart, with our whole soul and our whole mind. We have put too many other things in there to do that. We love our houses, our families, our money, our status, our… our… ourselves most! When God gave us everything for our benefit, we turn our back on him in favor of ourselves. God’s hand should reach out to us in punishment. But instead, he stretches out his hand to us in love. He stretches out his hands on a wooden beam where nails were driven through them. Jesus stretches out his hands and receives God’s punishment for our selfish love. God’s love is shown to us when we look on the cross and see God himself suffering and bleeding and dying there. Out of his great love he suffered, but it was not just physical punishment that he suffered it was spiritual also. God poured out, onto those outstretched hands, the eternal punishment of hell that was due to you and me, that was due to everyone who has ever lived and will ever live. In his great love, Jesus took it all, and suffered it all, and paid it all in full.

In the light of that, what are a few feet? Actually, I’m not asking you to start taking off your shoes, that’s not really what Jesus was talking about either. Jesus wants you to be a servant, just as he was a servant. He did the most menial job that there was, a job only “fit” for a slave. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

First, we must remember that love is not a bunch of feelings in our heart. That is not the example that Jesus gives us. His example is His life. He. d, healed, taught, ate, and laughed with people; all kinds of people, but especially people that no one else wanted to spend time with. We have been conditioned to believe that love is a feeling, a deep desire to reach out and hug someone; an irresistible magical force, or a destiny that cannot be denied. But love is not a feeling at all. It is action. It is a way of living that makes connections with people. It is a lifestyle that says that people are worth something. What did you do to show your love for your mother last Sunday? Did you give gifts, cook a meal…? You do it to show her what she is worth to you. You do that to say, what you mean to do all year. People are worth something. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection show us that.

“Love one another.” It is a tall commandment. In fact, you and I will never do it perfectly. That is why when Jesus says
By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.

The “if” there is not a condition, it does happen, we maybe should think of it as a “since” or a “because.” The love that Jesus shows you he gives you to give to other people. And there is plenty of his love to go around. You can and do love one another, even if you want to keep your distance, even if you just do not like the clothes they wear, even if you do not want to wash feet. Because you see, love does not come from in here in our hearts. Love comes from right here, in the palms of Jesus hands. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

John.10:11-18; Fourth Sunday of Easter; April 8, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:11–18, ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

You know, I do not know many shepherds. I did grow up in a family that was well versed in cattle and corn, alfalfa, and irrigation, I am familiar with farming, but I do not know sheep. My grandfather raised a few sheep, but I do not think you could really call him a shepherd. I just remember avoiding the mean old ram we called “Ramel.” I have seen sheep not too far from here, but still, I don’t think you could call anyone around here a shepherd. So, when Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd, I am not sure I really understand what that means. Do you?

I am sure you have a picture of the Good Shepherd in mind. Of course, you do, there are pictures of the Good Shepard, Jesus standing and the sheep standing around lovingly gazing at the shepherd’s face. He is usually always holding one, too. Usually a little lamb, one we imagine is too small to walk on its own, one that has been injured by the dangers of the path, or one that is tired and unable to go on. Jesus is carrying it because it is lost by itself. We love that picture. Sure, you have seen a similar picture with Jesus standing among the children. They too are standing in similar positions looking at Jesus with big dark sheep eyes. That is the Shepherd in our mind, the shepherd of Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. But I wonder is that what Jesus is talking about, is that what He is saying about himself, when He says He is the Good Shepherd, in this text.

First of all, he says that he is the Good Shepherd. He is not just a good one, the is the good one. He is the best of the best, the top of the heap. The One and Only, champion, good shepherd. But what kind of a shepherd is this Good Shepherd? What makes him a good one? What makes him the good one?

He says that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. It’s easy to let that one go by us, and not stop and think about what He’s saying, because of course we know about Jesus dying for us on the cross, that’s what He’s talking about, right? Well, probably, but really if you think about it, it’s not really very wise for the Shepherd to die? Is it? After all, if He dies who will protect the sheep? Imagine the flock out there in the rocky wilderness. They are all gathered around the Good Shepherd, lazily minding their own business, eating the green grass, and drinking the still water. Then from out of nowhere the wolf appears. The sheep get nervous and start bleating. The shepherd positions himself between the sheep and the white fangs. There is a quick struggle—but the wolf walks away and the shepherd is dead. Now what? The wolf snarls as the shepherd’s blood drips from his teeth, and is hungry eyes look over his next victim, probably that little sheep the shepherd was just carrying. If the shepherd is dead, there is no one to protect the sheep anymore. The sheep are as good as dead, too, aren’t they?

Of course, the shepherd who dies is better than the hired hand shepherd, the second hand shepherd (that's what the bible calls him). As soon as the wolf appears he hightailed it off to the hills. All he is worried about is his paycheck, and you cannot spend any money when you are dead. He does not care for the sheep. There’s no windows in the churches dedicated to the hired hand. Not picture of the hireling carrying some poor little tired sheep. If there was one it would probably have him kicking them to get them to move a little faster, and the sheep certainly wouldn’t be all around him. Instead, they would be just out of arms reach, with a wary eye on the shepherd and another on the dangerous trail. He just pushes them along the trail to get to where they are going. You would think at least when he saw the wolf he would protect the sheep, if for no other reason than to protect his pocketbook. But that is not the case. The sheep are “snatched and scattered” when he runs away to save his own skin. And again, the wolf has his bloody way.

So, what is the answer to the problem here? The Good Shepherd dies and leaves the sheep, the bad shepherd, runs and leaves the sheep. At first glance it does not look as if there’s really much difference between the Good Shepherd and the bad one. Well, that cannot be the end of the story so let us see what else Jesus says.

He says that the Good Shepherd knows the sheep, and the sheep know Him. That sounds pretty good. Back to the shepherd in the pictures, the sheep are lovingly looking up at him, they know him very well; they know him because of what he does. He leads them beside still waters. He gets them to the green grass… He knows what the sheep need, and when they need it. But there is more to knowing the sheep than just providing what they need. Knowing the sheep means that the Shepherd know the personalities of the sheep. He knows when certain sheep are likely to stray. He keeps an eye out for those who are getting a little too close to the edge of the flock. He knows the ones that like to slip away when he is not looking. He knows, so they do not get far. He knows the flock so well that he can count them without counting. He is so familiar that just a glance will tell him when one is missing, when one is hiding, when one is trying to slip away.

That really does fit Jesus. You see he knows you and me. He knows Life in Christ Lutheran Church. In fact, he knows all churches all over the world. He knows their strengths and weakness. He looks over them and knows exactly what is going on in each one, without counting he knows where they are. It does not matter that we are down up here in the tip of the Arrowhead. We are still part of God’s beloved flock. Jesus knows and cares for each of us and he knows what we need.

Do you want an example? Way back a few years after Jesus ascended into heaven from the mountain of transfiguration, the Apostle John had a vision on the Island of Patmos. Jesus spoke to him. We often hear about John’s visions of the “Last Things” in that book, but we do not very often hear about Jesus personal messages to seven little churches, seven struggling churches in way out Asia. They were like seven little lambs that Jesus was carrying. Each had problems that Jesus spoke directly to. Each had strengths that Jesus praised. Jesus knew each church by name.
“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”” (Revelation 1:11, ESV)

And he dictated a personal letter to each one. Jesus knows his flock. He knows his churches personally. He knows Life in Christ, Grand Marais. He cares and protects us right here, and right now. That is what a Good Shepherd is, that is what The Good Shepherd does.

Ok, so we know that the Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He loves and cares for them and gives them all that they need. But there is still that troublesome problem about Him dying for the sheep. Remember we wondered what becomes of the sheep after the shepherd dies. It is easy to see that this relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep is not the regular run of the mill shepherd—sheep relationship. He knows His sheep better than any ordinary shepherd does. He loves His sheep more than any normal shepherd, too. We know that because He dies for them. Jesus talks about dying for those he loves all the time
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12–14, ESV)

He died willingly for you. He lays down His life for you. But what good is that if it leaves the sheep with out a shepherd?

Remember! Jesus is not just any shepherd. He is the unique one; the one and only one; the champion; the Good Shepherd. It is not just any old kinda-good-shepherd that lays down his life. It is The Good Shepherd that gives His life for you. It is the Good Shepherd who is God himself, in the flesh. It is the Good Shepherd who can lay down His life, but who can also take it up again. He the Good Shepherd that died on the cross to save human beings from sin but rose to life again to destroy sin’s power. He proves that he is able to help helpless sheep. “Why are you troubled? He said to his disciples (and to us). “See my hands and feet, touch me, and see that I am alive again!” (Luke 24:36ff) Be at peace! This Shepherd does not leave His sheep alone. Not even death can separate Him from His sheep. Death cannot separate Him from you. He was dead but He is now alive again. No ordinary good shepherd can do that.

Remember that old wolf, the one whose only thought is fresh lamb chops. We left him as he was slowly approaching that little lamb, the one without a shepherd. But suddenly the shepherd is there; he was dead but not anymore. He grabs the wolf and flings him away. There is a great yelp as he crashes to the ground and runs away. What chance does a mere wolf have against a Shepherd that is stronger than death?

Dear Christian friends. Members of the Flock of Jesus Christ. Are you feeling alone in the world? Are the dangers of the wilderness out there threatening you? How about that wolf, the one that keeps snarling at you, and reminding you that your death is only a blink of the eye away? It is easy to think and feel that we are shepherd-less. But we are not alone. You are not alone. Your shepherd is The Good Shepherd. No matter what the danger is: weather it is inflation or wondering what is ahead in the future. No matter what the fear, weather it is a loss of tourism, or a fear of being left alone. Weather it is the danger of violent death all around us. All those dangers are just plain old wolves and what chance does a mere wolf have against a Shepherd that’s stronger than death? That is Jesus Christ for you, your Good Shepherd. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Revelation 5; The Third Sunday of Easter; May 1, 2022;

Grace and peace to you from our Ascended Lord Jesus Christ;

There is an old "blessing" that goes, "May you live in interesting times." Well, this is us. These live in interesting times. And, if I may say, I'm not too enthralled with a lot of the things that are going on in our interesting times. If you're like me, you find yourself on the "wrong" side of issues that are flying all over the place. Arguments for what's going on out there seem to be targeted right toward my gut.
• "Get Woke!"
• "Paul was a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe. Jesus says 'don't judge' 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' You can't tell me what I'm doing is wrong."
• "Don't be on the wrong side of history one."
• "That's just your interpretation of the bible."
• "God's doing a new thing."
• "The Spirit spoke to my heart. You can't tell me what I feel is wrong."

I feel it right in here. A little hard knot. A dread. A doubt. An "uh-oh." The future becomes a blur. I wonder what's going to happen as the culture heads toward the cliff at breakneck speed and I get dragged along mostly against my will.

But I want you to make no mistake about it. It's easy to blame people out there for our cultural woes. But the truth is, and you know it. This is our culture. This is our sin. This is our future. We are to blame. And specifically, I mean me and you. You love material things too much. Cell phones, new cars, new gadgets, new everything. You love your busy lifestyle that leaves precious little time for the important things. You know what I mean. Any excuse gets you away from church and bible class. The family table is covered with everything but food for eating. You greet each other coming and going. You are way to me centered. You don't want to hear about your sin from your pastor. You'd rather he tell you how good God is rather than his anger over your sin. You cower in the corner for fear of harsh words when someone mentions wokeness, gay marriage, abortion, or plans to move in together and check each other out before the thinking of marriage. And that's just in your own family. The fear is overwhelming when it comes to work, or school or the public square. You just don't want to be seen as old fashioned. You don't want to be labeled a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe.

And there you go. Doing exactly what St. Paul says to not do. Living in sin. You can expect what you earn here. There's no mistake about this either. People who are self centered are people who should go to hell. People who bow down to societies pressures, too. God doesn't tolerate his people not making a God difference in society. So, besides the culture heading on a collision course with God's law, you deserve the pit of hell and God's eternal wrath. When destruction and judgment come, and God promises it will, will you be on the right side of God’s history?

Well, the question is a good one and one of the most important you will ever hear or answer. And it seems as if the answer is "no” (and that is the case, except for Jesus). We say that we believe he has won the victory. But it just doesn't look like a victory to us. After all he ascended into heaven and left us here to struggle.

Those disciples standing up there on that mountain looking up into the clouds were wondering "now what?" It looked like Jesus was gone. An angel had to kick them in the rear to get them to move, and do what Jesus said, and remind them that he would be coming again. The ascension seems like an end, but it is only the beginning. It is the coronation of the King. St. John got to see the other side of the ascension. He wrote for us what it was like. It was a vision given to him, a Revelation. It is right here in St. John’s Revelation Chapter 5. This chapter in this book really sets out to show us what is going on. It isn't here to tell you bit by bit what's going to happen at the end of time. It isn't there to predict the future so you can sit down with the newspaper and tell what's going to happen next. It is given to the church by the Holy Spirit for the comfort of the sinner. The comfort that is found in the victory of Jesus Christ alone. It is given to remind us that no matter how bad it looks, Jesus is in control. He is the Lamb of God who rules the whole world, and all events unfold according to the plan of salvation laid out before the foundation of the world. In other words, Jesus wins. His people those who are called to faith, those who bear the mark of the cross,
"Both upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified"

will be with him standing victorious in the end. So, imagine yourself standing with the disciples looking up at the clouds where Jesus disappeared and then being transported into heaven at that very moment.
1 Then I [John] saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev 5, ESV)

The scroll that God the Father is holding is the destiny of mankind. It is the future prophetic vision, what's going to happen in the world. No one can take it, open it, and read it. John weeps because it means that all is lost. None of what is written in the scroll can happen unless someone is found to read it and make it so. And only perfection, only one who has earned the right to control the destiny of people can be it's king. John isn't worthy, he knows his sin. Even the angels in their perfection are not worthy. And Jesus appears. "Weep no more!" the angel proclaims. Jesus Christ the victor over sin, death and hell is worthy. He is the Word of God. He alone can take the scroll and lead God's future, God's people to the end of time.
The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign, Alleluia!

And the victory that he has won by his life, death and resurrection is claimed at the Ascension. This victory is yours and mine. Victory won for us. It is the victory that determines our Christian life on earth. It is the victory that guarantees our life forever with God! It is forgiveness of sins. Our sins placed on Christ on the cross. Our sin and guilt debt paid. Our living in this culture instead of God's culture. Our self-centeredness. Our inability to speak when we should. Our doubt about God's future for the world. Our thinking more about how people see us than how God sees us. Jesus, takes these, your sins, away through his cross. He guarantees your forgiveness for them. He has complete power and authority over all the earth, past, present, and future. In Holy Baptism he promises that your sin won't keep you from his future where sin, and death and pain, and trouble, and selfishness, and greed, and hate, and death, will be done away with forever.

What's written on the scroll? It is a message about the future. It tells us that Jesus Christ our savior is in control of all things. He directs the world, and his church. He has given us a mission in midst of all this agony, death, and destruction. It is the message of Jesus Christ crucified for human sin. It is the message that God wins through Jesus. It is the message of comfort because of Jesus. It is the message that he directs and controls all things, and they are for the good of his people despite how they look to us. The message of and the Revelation is this very comfort and encouragement to remain faithful even in the midst what seems like failure; even in the midst of destruction; even in the midst of persecution; even in the midst of death. What does it mean to be faithful? It means pointing all people to Christ's victory during the rubble of their broken lives; when everything is lost; when life is scattered by foul weather; when dark clouds of death threaten; when everyone is running toward the cliff, when itching ears listen to Satan instead of God. Jesus is Savior of the world. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the victory over it all.

So, it is just as it is written in the scroll, from the time of Jesus victory and his ascension until the end of time.
This is the feast of victory for our God.

He doesn't leave us in the ascension he is with us in Word and Water, Bread, and Wine. I mean really with us directing us as we teach and learn and care for the community around us. He is the resurrected one.
The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Blessing and honor and glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

John.20.30-31; Second Sunday after Easter; April 24, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
"That is a good question. But I don't have an answer for you because the Bible doesn't say anything about that."
I've said that often. Maybe even to you. Usually, I get a response that goes something like, "why didn't God put that in there?" Well, here's the answer. John says the things he put in his book, the Gospel of John, are there
"so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

And what John says here actually applies to all the Bible, everything that is necessary for you to have faith, and have that faith grow is
in there. Folks today would say something like “There’s and app for that.”
"These things are written…" Even though there were many other things that could have been written, these are written so that you may believe. There is enough here for your faith. There is enough here for you to believe. These short two verses of the conclusion of John's Gospel, sum up the gospel and the Word of God in a very simple and concise way. They tell you what the Word is all about. It's about Jesus and all that he said and did for you for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you may believe. It's no accident that John says these things right after the account of Jesus resurrection and his appearance to the disciples in the upper room on the first Easter Sunday. Jesus says, "Peace be with you." And then he sends the disciples out to bring that peace, the forgiveness of sins that he brings through his cross and resurrection, to the whole world. "As the father has sent me, even so I am sending you." It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we receive this forgiveness.
You see, this is a very important understanding of how God works. Roman Catholics believe that it takes the Pope to tell us what Scripture means and what it's about. Other Christians believe that you figure out what Scripture means and what it's about by how it makes you feel. You hear this in the question that people often ask, "What does this text mean to you?" You know, it doesn’t make any difference what the text means to you. What makes a difference is what God means to say. It makes a difference what St. John, and the other writers of Scripture, meant (led by the Holy Spirit, of course) when they wrote the text. John tells you exactly what Scripture means and what it's about. It's about having faith in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again for you. It's about having faith in Jesus so that you may have life in his name. It is
Scripture that is enough for faith. The Psalm says,
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, ESV)

You see, faith always has an object. The object of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. (Luther’s Small Catechism)

The Bible, and all its parts, is about this very thing. Although there are many other things that we can learn from the Bible about how to live our lives, that is not the primary purpose. John didn't write these things so that you can transform your society. John didn't write these things so that you could find your purpose in life. John didn't write these things so that you could be a financial wizard. He said these things are written so that you may believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World. So, our faith is centered on Jesus Christ and all that he has said and done. If we look to Popes or feelings to tell us what the Scriptures are about our faith has its object in Popes or even in ourselves. Popes have often been wrong. And your feelings are unreliable and change like the wind. It is the Word of God that is reliable and never changes. It says exactly what it means. And it says exactly what it means to you when you search the Scriptures for Jesus Christ. Jesus said this to his enemies. They didn't like the things he said and did even though they were very well-versed in Scripture. He corrected them,
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39, ESV)

Here Jesus was talking about the Old Testament. The Scribes and Pharisees knew it very well. They searched it looking for ways to save themselves. They had rules upon rules to make it doable. What they missed was that Jesus Christ had come to save them. They put him on the cross. But he willingly went there for their sins. And they continued to look in the Scriptures for other things than him. They rejected Jesus because they depended on their own ideas about what Scripture meant and why it was written.
It's easy to put ourselves in the driver’s seat. In fact, it's the oldest temptation in the world. In the garden of Eden, Satan drove this point home. He asked Adam and Eve, "Did God actually say?" (Genesis 3:1) He was asking the question, "What does this text mean to you?" It sounds so good to our sinful human nature, to hear that what Scripture is about is our purpose in life. It sounds so good to our sinful human nature that the Bible is about us. If the Bible is about us that makes us God. And this is where we want to be. This is the most basic nature of our sinfulness. Just like our forefather and mother, Adam, and Eve, we want to "be like God, knowing good and evil."
This is why we need to be reminded over and over again that Jesus is the object of our faith. The Bible is about what he has done for us. This is what our preaching is all about. St. Paul says it in first Corinthians,
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:21–25, ESV)

This is exactly why I have pointed so many times to this cross of Jesus with his body on it (properly called a crucifix). It shows us that Jesus Christ crucified is the object of our faith and all Scripture.
But don't think for a moment that what I mean is that there is nothing else to be heard in Scripture. God clearly lays out his demands on how we are to live. God clearly lays out truth and error, sin, and righteousness. And he expects us to keep his law perfectly. And so it is in the Bible that we see over and over again how we fall well short of being able to save ourselves, or please God in any way (without faith).
When the Romans crucified people, a symbol of what they had done was right there with them, it was the charge against them. A thief would have a bag of coins. An insurrectionist would have a dagger. Jesus had a titulus (in Latin it means title, or charge). “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. On the cross, our transgressions were laid before Jesus, at titulus, of sorts. Jesus is punished as the greatest sinner of all. David said in Psalm 51,
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:3–4, ESV)

At the beginning of the Psalm was a titulus of sorts,
“.. when Nathan the Prophet went to him after he had gone into Bathsheba.”

God laid out David’s sins before him and he had no excuse. He had fallen into sin, again. The beauty of David is that when he sinned, he turned to God for forgiveness. When God says David was a man after God’s own heart, this is what he meant. David didn’t have the cross, but he had the promise of it. His faith was in Jesus. His Savior from sin.
This is what John means when he says,
These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

He wrote his Gospel (as did all the authors of Scripture), so that you could look at a Crucifix and see Jesus as your sinner. The one who died for your sin. The one who bore the pain of death for you. The one who suffered hell for you.
that by believing you may have life in his name.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Psa.118.14-24; Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord

Psa.118.14-24; Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord; April 17, 2022;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN; 14The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. 15Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, 16the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” 17I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. 18The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. 20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:14-24 (ESV)
(outline by Michael J. Redeker)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
That’s nice to hear. It’s a celebration, today. Just take a quick look at the worship folder and you can tell that. “The Festival of the Resurrection…” You know what a festival is… We have lots of them and we really enjoy them. Not all that long ago we had the “Festival of the Super Bowl.” Who doesn’t like tailgating? Food and fun. Lot’s of folks like that day who don’t even like football. At times like that we like to pull out all the stops, gather friends and family around us, enjoy their company, eat, have fun, etc. What celebrations do you have coming up this year? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take all that energy, all those great times, all those good feelings, and wrap it up in a package we could just open whenever we wanted? Wouldn’t it be great to open that package when things weren’t so great? When illness comes and troubles us. When a family member dies? When we fail at work, or even lose our job?
Really that’s what Psalm 118, it’s the victory celebration bottled up in a nice little package we can refer to any time we like. It’s a little Festival package, full of victory and rejoicing. That’s probably why it has been used during the Festival of the Resurrection from way back. In fact, I read that it was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm. If we look at it, it’s easy to understand why. There’s victory all they way through it. God’s love endures forever. God remains faithful and has delivered His people from trouble and death. He has shown his great love and won the decisive victory. This Psalm shows us the victory that comes after God has handled our struggles. And it recounts God’s victory over our troubles in the past. The psalmist is sure of God’s victory in the future because of how God has been victorious in the past. “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” It says. The right hand is the symbol of strength. Here the Psalmist is saying that the Lord has overcome by his great strength. And just so you don’t miss what he’s saying it’s repeated 3 times. “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. The right hand of the Lord exalts. The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” The Lord is my strength and my song.
God has won the victory. And what is the result of that victory?
“I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.”
When it seemed that death was coming, its threat was taken away. It was taken away by the power of God. The psalmist has seen what God has done and that is where he puts his trust. He has taken refuge in God rather than men. The Lord has been working all along. The psalmist confesses that, and says in effect, “won’t it be nicer and easier when the struggle is over, and the victory is clear?” That’s how it is for us today as well. The victory is sure in Jesus. We just sang one of my favorite hymns. “Jesus lives the victory’s won.” Jesus lives! The victory’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence.
Ah, but aren’t we tempted to forget that the victory has been won already? Aren’t we tempted and teased by the world when we put our trust in Jesus? When people see us gathered around a casket and still, we sing songs of rejoicing. Don’t they accuse us of being silly? Or confused? Aren’t we ridiculed every day in the media for what we believe? When we see our own death coming, when illness brings our mortality front and center in our lives? Aren’t we told to trust in everything but Jesus? And aren’t we tempted to do just that: “Believe in the doctors. Believe in the medicine. Believe the science. Believe in pyramid power.” And yet God came through just as he promised. Jesus Christ died but he also rose again. Our faith is an Easter faith, a resurrection faith. It is the middle of our struggles that it is most difficult to remember God’s faithfulness. It is when we are hurting, when we are lonely, when we feel threatened that is when Satan especially challenges our resurrection faith. But God uses those times, especially to draw us to himself. Those are the times when we realize that if the victory is sure at all it must be God’s victory. Because we can’t triumph against the most serious threats and struggles in our lives.
And the victory of Jesus Christ is a sure thing. It was not by accident. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.
Jesus spoke of himself in that way. The victory was assured from the beginning. I just watched the move “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson on Friday. In it, at the very beginning, Jesus crushes the head of the serpent with his heal, as if to say, I’ve already won. It’s already over with, the victory is sure. Today is a victory day, because of Jesus. This is the day the Lord has made.
It was no accident. The day of victory was in God’s heart from the beginning, when human beings pushed themselves away from him and toward death. Before the sun rose today, and yesterday, last year, and even the thousands of years of sun rises, God’s set his plan in motion. And the outcome was assured. He sent his son, Jesus Christ, God and man together in one person, to win the victory. To live life perfectly on God’s terms. To make the law right for everyone. And more importantly he died to remove the barrier of sin that keeps human beings away from God. And most importantly he rose again from death, striking at the heart of sin’s result. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus Christ gives us life again as a gift. That makes sin’s punishment empty. Sin and death and the grave hold no power over those who have received the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. That first Easter when Jesus walked out of the tomb alive again was the Great Victory Day.
Now I ask you this: Is that Victory Day only a one-day event? A week? A year? The victory day that the Lord has made is an eternal day. God’s victory celebration is one that will go on forever and ever. When little children are playing and having fun, they don’t want to stop for anything. “Mom, I don’t want to go to bed, I want to play.” In God’s victorious day, the living doesn’t ever end. And in God’s heart is you and me. We are the reason for his wonderful and sure plan of victory. Because his plan for you and me is that we too shall be a part of that forever celebration.
It’s easy, really, to understand how people only celebrate Easter for one day, even though we don’t agree. For non-Christians it’s only about Easter egg hunts, and candy, and a visit to the dentist in the near future. For them it’s only about the promise of spring and green grass around the corner, or little baby ducks following their mother down the road. For those who have no faith in the Victory of Jesus, that is all there is. But why is it that for so many Christians; Easter is just a one-day event? How many Christians are not even aware that the Easter season stretches over a forty-day period that can be seen as one big long celebration day in the life of the church? How many Christians forget that God indeed brings his eternal celebration, his victory day to us every week? Through Jesus that’s what happens here when we gather to hear his word and eat and drink his victory meal, that “foretaste of the Feast to come.” “This is the Feast of Victory for our God.” And it doesn’t end when the Easter service is over. It doesn’t end after any Sunday worship service is over either. It continues every day of our new lives. Our lives given to us in Baptism. P: Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? C: We were therefore buried with him, through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have new life. P: If we have been united with Him in His death, C: We will certainly be united with Him in His resurrection. P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
That verse isn’t just for you to remember on Easter day, or when we will march a casket in this church. That is the victory chant for you for every day of your life. Because of Jesus, we live in the victory of the Resurrection forever. It is a celebration that will go on and on and on and on.
So, what’s at the heart of the celebration? It’s Jesus. Early on that first Easter Sunday, the men and women who had followed Jesus didn’t think they had much to celebrate. Their whole world had come crashing to a bloody and painful and fearful end. Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. Early in the morning, even before the sun had come up, Mary Magdalene went to be with Jesus’ at his tomb. But when she got there the tomb was open, the stone had been rolled away, and Jesus’ body was gone. In panic she ran to tell Peter. “They’ve taken the Lord’s body away!” She must have been worried that the men who had killed Jesus were adding insult to injury. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see it for themselves. And they saw that it was empty, except for the burial cloths they left with questions in their minds. Mary remained there crying. When she looked again into the tomb, she saw men in bright white sitting where Jesus had been. “Women,” they said to her. “Why are you weeping?” “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” She answered. And then from behind her another voice spoke. “Woman,” it said, “Why are you weeping, whom are you seeking?” She thought it was the Gardner, and answered, “If you know anything about my Lord’s body please tell me where it is.” But it was Jesus. He was alive and standing right there beside her. “Mary.” He said. And suddenly she knew who he was. “Teacher!” she shouted and reached out to grab hold of him. “Not yet, don’t hold on to me now. Go tell the rest that you have seen me.” And she ran as fast as she could, “I have seen the Lord! He is risen.” He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
As dead as he was, and his death is a sure thing. He is just as alive. His resurrection is a sure thing too. Death held him as it will hold you and me. Your death may be painful, or painless. It may be quick or slow. You may see your death coming or you may be taken by surprise. It doesn’t matter. Just as Jesus rose, you too will rise. And the promise isn’t just that you will rise it’s that Hell isn’t a part of the picture. Satan works every day to drag people with him into that abyss. But Jesus has made him release his grip on you and me. Death is Satan’s tool. It’s the threat of death and hell that he holds over you and me. But through baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, that threat is no threat at all. When we say, “He is risen!” He is risen indeed. Alleluia! We are talking about ourselves as well. We are talking about the promise of God that we are risen with Christ.
Today is a victory day. In fact, it is the Victory day. In the words of the Psalm This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

John 12:20-33; Palm Sunday; April 10, 2020;

John 12:20-33; Palm Sunday; April 10, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:20-33, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You know, the whole world is looking for something spiritual. I have heard that the fastest growing religion in the world right now is Islam. It’s growing in Africa, South American, Canada, and yes even in the United States. It is a part of the human psyche to want spiritual things to be a part of life.
People especially look for God, as a higher power, in times of trouble. There have been surges of people going to church in times of trouble. Think about times of trouble in our country. Times when we see people crying out to God for help and understanding. People want God to be a part of their lives. They want God around when stuff isn’t going well. But the question could well be asked “What God?”
The term god that is used in the public square is very generic and it is meant to be that way. Sometimes you might even hear it said like this; “Let us each pray to god, using whatever name we know him by.” The truth is there is no generic god. There is only one true God. He is the one we should seek. He is the one we should pray to. He is the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel today finds some “Greeks” looking for Jesus. These guys were, presumably, people who believed in the God of the Jews. They were in Jerusalem for the Passover; they saw that Jesus was there and wanted to know more about him. “We want to see Jesus.” They asked Philip. Of course, they didn’t just want to look his direction, they didn’t just want to stand beside the road and watch him walk by. They wanted to look him over and see what made him so different. They wanted to talk to him. They wanted to get a chance to get to know him. They wanted to see what everyone else saw when they saw Jesus. Here was a man who brought a crowed with him as he marched into the city in a parade of palms looking to everyone like the next King of the Jews. Here was a man who had the guts to go into the temple and clear out the moneychangers and their overpriced sacrifices. He was a man who had raised a three-day-dead-man to life again. He was a man who drew crowds with him everywhere he went. He was a focus of public attention and they wanted to know what every one else saw when they looked at him. They wanted to see what they would see when they looked at Jesus. These curious men came to Andrew and Philip to take them to see Jesus.
Philip and Andrew were not new to bringing people to Jesus. Andrew brought his brother Peter. And Philip brought Nathaniel. “Come and see, we have found the Christ!” they said to their brothers. “Come and look at what we have found. Come see him for yourself.” And now they brought these Greeks to Jesus, “These Greeks, these gentiles, want to see you Jesus. Is it ok?” They asked.
What do you think those Greeks saw when they looked at Jesus? It would probably be easy to describe Jesus, that is what he looked like. How many pictures have you seen? How many pictures do we have all around here? Unkempt hair, smiling face, beard… Halo around his head? Eyes that burn into your soul? Smiling, crying, frowning, and laughing? When these men came to Jesus, did they see what they though they’d see? Was Jesus what they expected?
Maybe I should ask the question of you, I think it’s a legitimate question to ask Christian people: What do you see when you look at Jesus?
Think about today, Palm Sunday. The Jews that followed Jesus to Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna!” saw a powerful king. They must have been overjoyed when he flushed the corruption out of the temple. It was a very powerful and king like thing to do. That’s exactly what they wanted; someone who would get them out from under the thumb of the Romans; someone powerful to take their biggest problems to and let him take care of them. When they looked at Jesus, they saw someone who was going to make everything better. He did, just not in the way the expected.
Do you see Jesus that way? Is that the first thing you think of when you see Jesus? My God is an awesome God! I think we all do at times. “If I just have faith in Jesus everything will be alright.”
Susan stood beside here father’s bed. He had been wracked with pain for 3 months. “It’ll be ok dad. We just must have faith and Jesus will heal you.” She is all smiles and confidant. When Susan sees Jesus, she sees healing for her failing father. That’s the awesomeness of God in her life. Her faith is about Jesus making her father right again.
Ray was successful. Business was great and despite the failing economy he was still doing well. He was often asked about the secret to his success. It wasn’t a secret as far as he was concerned. He just followed the principals found in the Bible. If he did that, Jesus would make sure he was successful.
“Lord,” cried Amy. “Give us the victory over these evil people who only want to cause us pain and suffering. Show your glory in their defeat! You promise that we will be victorious over sin. Make it so now.” As she prayed the crowd around her murmured their approval. They were sure Jesus would show his power and defeat their enemies.
I wonder if that’s what the Greeks who came to Jesus saw? Jesus powerful. King Jesus. Jesus making a glorious stand against everything that was wrong in the world. I think Jesus wants them to see something different.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Jesus isn’t talking about throwing out the Roman Legions. He’s not talking about healing every disease, he’s not talking about establishing a glorious earthly kingdom based in Jerusalem. He is talking about death and suffering. He’s talking about having a troubled heart. He says following him isn’t about being healed and successful. It’s about hating one’s life and being a servant. None of that sounds very glorious to me. It’s not what I want to see in Jesus. I don’t think its what the Greeks expected to hear or see.
The truth is faith in Jesus isn’t about being successful in life. It’s not about being healed from every disease. It isn’t about triumphing over our enemies. Faith in Jesus is about seeing Jesus lifted up on a cross, bleeding and dying, suffering and crying out in pain. Faith in Jesus is about that Seed dying and being buried. The Passion of our Lord is all about. It is a day to think about Jesus Christ crucified, and what it means. Our faith is in Jesus Christ who was crucified, lifted up. It’s what he did there on the cross that is so important to everyone. It is there that he “draws all people to himself.” It is there that he gets our attention as he dies.
Jesus is in his full glory on the cross. He is the one who hates his life for the sake of us all. What we mean is that he loved us more than himself. He willingly hung on the cross out of love for you and me. It’s been said that nails didn’t hold Jesus on the cross, love did. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, to be lifted up on the cross and suffer, and die, for the sins of the whole world. Our God is an awesome God. We see just exactly what that means when we stand at the foot of the cross.
What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see Jesus crucified, dead, buried and raised. We see Jesus dying for us, and our sins. We see Jesus paying the penalty for all that we do wrong every day; the things that hurt our friends and family; the things that cause us pain and suffering. We see Jesus’ suffering for all that we don’t do that we should. Ignoring the suffering of others and passing up opportunities to share the love of Jesus with other. We see Jesus taking all our punishment to the grave, and packing it all in there to stay, freeing us from it all.
And there’s something else. This seed dies, but it springs up again and bears many seeds. Jesus rises from death and the grave. The punishment of sin is taken care of; the guilt of sin is washed away. Good Friday sorrow leads to Easter joy. But there is no Easter, no resurrection with out death and burial. There are no “many seeds” with out the death of the One.
Do you want to know who God is? The world is looking for Him. They want to see him as a god who will make their nation successful in war. They want to see him as a god who will give them a happy and healthy life, and a booming economy. But God isn’t necessarily found in those kinds of things. But he is found in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. That’s where he shows his love for the world. That’s where he shows his love for you and me. That’s what we see when we look at Jesus. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

2 Corinthians.5.14-21; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 27, 2022;

2 Corinthians.5.14-21; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 27, 2022;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 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 5:14–21, ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Love... What is it? People everywhere are searching for it. Dating services, personal ads, singles bars, and of course, don't forget the internet. Ask fifty people what love is and you'll probably get fifty different answers. From I love my Harley Davidson ... my dog... my wife...

I'd love to be an Oscar Meyer Weenier,
that is what I'd truly love to be,
because if I was an Oscar Meyer Weenier
everyone would be in love with me.

Take just a few minutes to think of how love is portrayed on Television... or music... or how about the movies... Lovers embracing on the beach as the tide washes in, blissfully unaware of it. How many times have you heard love described as some kind of magic? Have you ever seen, Sleepless in Seattle? It is a movie all about the search for love. A woman who seemingly has everything, falls in love with a widower, on the other side of the country because she hears him talking about love on a call-in talk radio show. And somehow, like magic, true love brings them together. Over all the miles true love wins out because they were meant for each other. Instantly, miraculously they are in love when they meet for the first time. Movies like this one seem to say that love is a supernatural force that has a plan for those that are 'meant' for each other. This movie tells us that love, this magic force that draws to people together, is rare and for the lucky few who happen to be destined to it.
For most people love is feeling. “I love you,” is a phrase of feeling. Something that warms the heart, or causes sweaty palms, or sleepless nights. That 'I can't bear to be away from you' feeling. Human feeling is fleeting... changing... love quickly swings to indifference. Just think about all the books written on the subject, 'How to rekindle the fire of love in your marriage.' The feelings of love come and go... like the changing of the seasons. Love that is only based on feelings won't last.
Some people say that love is blind. If you want to see that just talk to any young couple planning to get married. You will quickly learn... their fiancée is the best human being to ever walk the earth. They don't see any flaws in each other. All they see is their 'perfect' marriage... their perfect children... their perfect lives together. But the blindness will fade away, and sometime later they may begin to wonder what happened to change their spouse. They will begin to see the imperfections that their blind love didn't allow them to see before.
Many times, love is said to be the opposite of something else. Love is the opposite of loneliness. Being alone is the ultimate rejection. The unwanted, unloved child is surely better off to have never been born. Lonely elderly people have little to live for, life alone and without love is life without quality. Surely it is better not to live at all.
Love... we love it. It makes us feel good to see it, it makes us feel good to feel it. We all want to be in love. We all want to be the center of love. ... if I were an Oscar Meyer weenier... everyone would be in love with… ME. We always place ourselves at the focus of our love. I love her because she makes me feel whole. I love him because he accepts me for who I am. In our picture of love, we always place ourselves in the middle.
God's picture of love is different. God's picture of love is a picture of death. A man hanging on a cross, with nails piercing his hands. A man suffering... in agony... tormented and mocked. A man rejected by men, a man alone... and dying... In this picture of love this one suffers... yet, he doesn't deserve to suffer. He suffers in the place of others. While he suffers, they get off scot-free. In this God’s picture of love... this one dies, and that too, he doesn't deserve. He dies in the place of others. He dies, they go on living. But the most amazing thing about this picture is that the ones who live get credit for dying. It is as if they themselves hung there broken and bleeding, suffering, and dying. But they have escaped it, even though they were the ones who should have been hanging there, and the one who was there shouldn't have been. This is a picture of love is one that we don't understand. It doesn't match our picture at all.
This is the love of God for us. In the 1st Letter of John, we read:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16, ESV).

Jesus Christ was the one who laid down his life on the cross for the sins of all human beings. He did it for every human being that has ever lived, every human being that is alive now, and every human being that will ever live. Such is God's love for all people that even this suffering and death of Jesus was a price he was willing to pay.
This is the love, Paul tells us in the text today, that 'controls us', some translations say compels us. This is the love that drives him to live for the one who made the sacrifice: The sacrifice of death for all people. Because what Paul realizes, what has been made very clear to him, is that he is among those for whom Jesus Christ suffered and died. He, Paul, has gotten off Scot-free, while his Savior suffered. Christ hung on the cross in place of Paul, for the sins that Paul committed. And Paul escaped to live. So, having been saved by Christ, Paul now is motivated to let everyone know that Jesus Christ died for them, too.
You know... what is true for Paul, is also true for us. It is very true that Christ's love for you, each and every one of you, motivated him to death on the cross. When the bible tells us that Jesus Christ died for all people... we are all included. We, too, have gotten off scot-free, while our Savior hung bleeding and dying in our place. And, just like Paul, we have escaped death to live.
The question for us is this: Are we motivated by Christ's love? Does the love Christ showed for each of us have an impact on our lives? Are controlled by Christ's love for us, like Paul, to tell all people of God's great love for them?
It's a good question. Are we controlled? What does that mean to be controlled? Does it mean to drop everything, and go and stand on the street corner screaming out the truth of the Gospel? Maybe. Does it mean quitting your job, packing up your family, suffering through four long years of Seminary to become a pastor? Maybe. Does it mean speaking out the truth about sin, and the human condition? Picketing Planned parenthood? Posting on your Facebook in support of traditional marriage? Maybe.
Paul says he thinks of no one from a 'worldly point of view' any longer. What he means it that the people out there, living from day to day, those with whom you have daily contact, have been affected by Christ's love. They are all people for whom Christ suffered and died, each and every one of them. His death will either mean for them eternal life, through faith in him, or eternal punishment because they have rejected him. Paul is controlled by Christ's love to tell them, driven to inform them of Christ's love, so that they can believe in Him. When we see people, all people, in the light of what Jesus Christ did for them, we too are controlled in a way, to tell them of His love.
"I'm not so sure about that." you say. "I don't have the guts to go out there and tell people about my faith. I've never been able to stand on the street corner, I've never spoken about Jesus at work... I just don't feel compelled." Well, guess what. There are examples of being controlled right here at Life in Christ. We show Christ's love and how we deal with one another and solve our problems. Maybe you haven't shouted from the street corner, but have you ever held the hand of a friend who was grieving over the death of a loved one, and shared with them the sure hope of the resurrection? Have you ever taken the time to invite a neighbor to come to church with you and offered to pick them up? I've seen that here. Have you ever given sacrificially to this church, for its mission work? I've seen that here, too. I could go on and on with even more examples... You see, it isn't hard to find examples of that kind of love here because you do them, sometimes without thinking. You do for them, because you can't help it, you do it automatically... it's almost as if you were compelled to do it. Well, that is just what Paul is talking about. Look around you at your friends and family sitting here in the pews. Think about how you have seen them compelled to show love to you. The motivation that prompts them... the motivation that prompts you to care for those who are sitting here, is the same as it takes to speak out about your faith at work or on the street corner. It is the motivation that Jesus Christ won salvation for you... that he died for you... that he loves you. And what he did for you, he did for others too.
Jesus’ love isn't like the love that people have. His love isn't like the love you see in the movies. His love isn't a feel-good self-gratifying love; difficult to find and reserved for a few. His love is the love that caused him to die for all people. That is where his love is focused.
The Love of Christ, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and motivated to serve him always. Amen.