Friday, February 27, 2009

The Fad Driven Church

Here's the Info on the Issues, Etc show I mentioned in my previous post.

The Fad-Driven Church
Terry Mattingly
of Scripps Howard News Service

Further Resources & Reading:
Nailing the Evangelical Fads by Terry Mattingly
The Fad-Driven Church by Todd Wilken

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ten Deadly Trappings of Evangelism by Joe Carter.

Primage ompted by an interview with Terry Mattingly ( on Issues, Etc. (2/26/9) I read this article by Joe Carter.

Carter takes shots at the "fadness" of Evangelicalism.  I think he hits the nail on the head.  I highly recommend it to your reading.  Here's a couple of highlights.

#5 Testimonies — Several years ago, during a job interview for a Christian organization, my prospective employer asked me to tell him my "testimony." The fact that I was a Christian apparently wasn’t enough. I had to have a good conversion story to go along with my faith. Now you may have a great story about how the hound of Heaven" chased you down and gnawed on your leg until you surrendered. No doubt your story would make for a gripping movie of the week on Lifetime and lead to the making of numerous converts (see #1). But the harsh truth is that your story doesn’t much matter. You are only a bit player in the narrative thread; the main part goes to the Divine Protagonist. In fact, He already has a pretty good story so why not just tell that one instead?

Evangelism - Telling the Good News isn't "Good" news unless it is Christ Centered / Cross Focused ( anyone?).  I think I've heard it before, "Let's keep the main thing, the main thing."  That's Jesus and all that he did to save sinful men.

#8 Protestant Prayers — Last week one of my fellow coworkers, a young Catholic man, was asked to open our meeting with a prayer. Without hesitation he began reciting the "Lord’s prayer." Afterward I joked that, having come up with such a fine prayer, he might want to write it down for future use. What I didn’t say what how his recitation of the prayer made me uncomfortable.

First, I’m not used to hearing prayers that don’t contain the word "just" (as in "We just want to thank you Lord…") so it had an odd ring to it. Second, it seemed to violate the accepted standards for public prayer. I had always assumed that praying in public required being able to interlace some just-want-to’s in with some Lord-thank-you-for’s and be- with-us-as-we’s in a coherent fashion before toppping it all with an Amen. Third, I thought that prayers are supposed to be spontaneous–from the heart, off the top of the head–emanations, rather than prepackaged recitations. If it ain’t original, it ain’t prayer, right? Can I get an amen?

But where did this idea come from? We have entire books to teach us how to pray yet Jesus managed to wrap up the lesson in less than forty words. Why isn’t that prayer good enough for evangelicals to use? Why do our prayers sound nothing like His example? (And if you are wondering what prayer is doing on a list of evangelistic fixtures then we are really in trouble.)

OK, lets all say it together... "Our Father, who art in heaven..."  The prayer that fits every circumstance and is always appropriate.  There is no better way to learn to pray than to pray this prayer!  It's just like Jesus said, "When you pray, say..."  (Luke 11:2-4). 

Very nice article.  Well worth your time.   What do you think?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes to Ashes...

image We stand at the edge of the grave, peering in. The pastor says those well known funeral words “We now commit the body of our brother to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” As we stand there looking at death we realize that our whole lives are spent standing right there at the edge of the grave. The funeral that we attend will be ours, too. Death will claim us.

Today is Ash Wednesday. In many churches today, repentant sinners will approach the altar to receive a sign of morality and death. The pastor uses his thumb to mark the forehead with a dark smudge in the shape of a cross. The traditional words spoken by the pastor are “Remember, O Man, that thou art dust and to dust you shall return.” Again we are reminded of the grave in our future. We are reminded in a vivid picture that “the wages of sin is death.” All who sin, die.

And yet, there is Good News. The ashes are drawn in the shape of the cross. It is at the cross that our Savior faced death. With repentant hearts we remember the price paid by our Savior to save us from our death. Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to pay the wages of our sin. Jesus dies the death of all sinners. God, the Father, heaped on him the punishment that all deserve. He was crucified, dead and buried. And Jesus Christ rises again to new life. After three days in death He rose again. Death, the wages of sin, is paid in full with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Death cannot hold him captive. He has defeated it. Jesus Christ promises new life to us, too. The ashes in the shape of a cross tell the story. Thru the cross, Jesus brings to us the forgiveness of sin we need. Thru the cross and resurrection Jesus promises resurrection for all who look to him only for salvation. The dark cross shaped smudges remind us that our death is coming, but so is our new life in Christ.

“Remember, O Man, that thou art dust and to dust you shall return.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mark 9:2-9; The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Jesus Christ; February 25, 2009


 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9, ESV)

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

What a wonderful sight it must have been, on that mountain, Jesus shining like the sun, Moses and Elijah there with him. The disciples never forgot it. They wrote about it in their letters, they must have spoken about it often. John wrote in his gospel And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV) And Peter said, For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16, ESV) They were talking about this mountaintop experience, when Jesus was transfigured before them. “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” we say with the collective memory of the church. Here is where human beings saw Jesus Christ shine in His full glory, as the Only Begotten Son of God.

That’s what happened there on that mountain. Jesus was “transfigured.” The word is really metamorphosized! He changed his appearance; he became brighter than any bleach could bleach clothing. It’s another mountain top thing. Just like when he gave the law to Moses for the people. It’s a people of God event. That means that the transfiguration has something to do with us! But, more on that later.

First, we need to talk about what’s happening to Jesus. I said here we see his ‘glory.’ Really what we are talking about is his divinity, his “god-ness,” shining through his humanity. We should carefully note that Jesus is all at once True-Man and True-God all together in one person. God, The Father, and Mary is his mother. He is 100% God and 100% man. You don’t get Jesus by gluing a God-board to a Man-board. Or taking God stuff and mixing it together with man-stuff to get a God-Man mixture. He’s not a hybrid. He is not a superman or a lesser god. He is God-Man. Unique in the universe. There is nothing like him anywhere, and there never will be. St. Paul said it like this. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, (Colossians 2:9, ESV) That’s what Peter, James and John saw on that day, Jesus Christ revealed, God and Man.

So what does that mean for us? We weren’t on that mountain to see it, but here we are some miles and several thousand years away. What does Transfigured Jesus mean to us? It is important to know that Jesus is God and Man together in a special way. You don’t get just a part of Jesus, ever. When you talk about Jesus it is always Humanity and Divinity. When we say that Jesus is here (because he promises to be where two or three are gathered together, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20, ESV) we mean that he is here in humanity and divinity. His humanity isn’t in heaven and his divinity on earth with us. He is not physically present “at the right hand of God” and spiritually present with us right now. He is here, among us, body and blood, flesh and spirit, God and man. The same Jesus born, in the flesh, in a food trough. The same Jesus, in the flesh, who walked and talked and laughed and cried with his disciples. The same Jesus, in the flesh, who became as bright as the sun on that mountain. The same Jesus, in flesh and blood, who bled and died on the cross, who rose again, sits at the right hand of God and rules the whole universe.

How about a little quiz? Was God born to the Virgin Mary? Did a human being shine with God’s glory on the mountain of transfiguration? Did God die for your sins on a cross in Jerusalem? Does a human being now rule over the universe? The answer to all these questions is “Yes” in Jesus Christ. God and man inseparable, undivided for all eternity.

It really answers the question: “How can the death of one man be enough to pay for the sins of the whole world?” It can be because the death of that man was the death of God. The death of Jesus was a “God-sized” death. A human life is worth one human life, but God’s life is worth an infinite amount of human lives. When God dies his death, in Jesus Christ, it is worth more than the lives of all the people that have ever lived, all that are alive now and all that will ever live. That’s how Jesus redeems us, with his holy and precious blood and innocent suffering and death, as Martin Luther put it in the Small Catechism.

Notice also that God, in Jesus Christ, deals with us through his humanity. He comes to us in ways that humans can comprehend and understand; he comes to us in flesh and blood. He comes to us in words spoken that travel through the air and strike our ears. He comes to us in water poured on our heads. He comes to us in bread and wine. All of these ways are earthly, physical and ordinary. God reveals himself to us in the ordinary, human, flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. If you want to know what God is like, all you have to do is look to Jesus.

Jesus shines there on the mountain. And it’s more than the disciples can take. Peter says something about building tents. We don’t know exactly what he means, but he must have wanted to make some way of remembering what he saw. He probably wanted to build some kind of memorial that they could return to and remember. If he had done that we could all go there and visit. There’d be a sign: “This is the place where Jesus was transfigured.” But, no one really knows where it was, and maybe that’s a good thing.

The idea of setting up tents was probably a way of trying to bring God under control. It’s something we human beings are really good at trying. We put Jesus in a box, in a church, in our hearts, instead of looking for him the only place he promises to be. We put him where we’d like him to be instead. We privatize Jesus and make our faith only personal, private faith. “Just me and Jesus on a mountain.” “I can worship God, just as well sitting out in a boat on the lake.” Lord, it’s good that we’re here. Forget everyone else. Let’s build a tent and remember the experience, the good feelings right here and now. That’s where we want Jesus to be. We forget to look for him where he says he’ll be, in the preached word, in his supper, in Baptism, and his people gathered around these things. Gathering here isn’t about feelings or experience, it’s about meeting Jesus the way that he promises to come. He is here with us in Word and Sacrament even if we don’t feel any different at all. But we are so much more impressed by visions and feelings than humble words, ordinary looking bread and wine and plain old water. Yet though these Jesus promises to forgive.

What would it be like if Jesus, and Moses and Elijah appeared standing right here and their images were burned into the walls of the church? When word got out people would come from everywhere. Our little building here would be packed to the gills and everything would change. We’d speak quietly when we entered, we’d bow our heads, and never want to leave. No one would sleep if Moses and Elijah appeared in the pulpit to tell you about the forgiveness of sins found in Jesus Christ.

And yet, we have that very thing here every Sunday. Jesus is here along with the angels and “all the company of heaven.” Every time we gather here we are standing on the mountain of God. Every time we receive the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ. Every Sunday He comes here to preach to you the Good News that you have been forgiven by his bloody death on the cross. And he comes to you in his very body and blood for you to eat and drink, right here.

You see something more than the miracle of the transfiguration happens here all the time. Jesus takes sinful people and declares that they are his saints. You can’t see it; sometimes you can’t even feel it. You have to hear it in his Word. That’s the only difference. Jesus is here for you and me, just the same as he was on that mountain for the disciples. The only difference is you can’t see him the way they saw him.

The truth be told you really don’t want to see him. The sight of Jesus in all his glory would be way too much for us. It left “the Rock” blubbering about tents. The Glory of God left Isaiah shivering in his shoes saying he was dead. And the Apostle John tells us in Revelations that in the presence of God he fell to the ground like a dead man. “No one can see God and live.” We are told. Jesus gives us a break. He is gentle with us. He comes to us in very hidden ways. So hidden, in fact, that most people pass him by without even noticing. So hidden that we even sometimes forget that where the Church is gathered around his word Jesus is truly there.

There’s something else important to notice about the transfiguration. God speaks to us there. “This is my son, whom I love, listen to him.” Everything is focused, right where it should be, on Jesus. Moses and Elijah fade away and Jesus is left there alone. “Listen to him! He has the words of eternal life.” In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. Heb 1:1-2. “Jesus alone” that’s really what the mountain of transfiguration is all about. Only Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Only Jesus shines with the Glory of God on the mountain. Only Jesus died on the cross bearing in his body the sins of the whole world. Only Jesus rose again from death never to die again. Only Jesus sits with God and prays directly to the Father for us. Only Jesus comes to you in Word and Sacrament to save and strengthen you.

St. Paul said And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV) Jesus Christ, present here with us right now in Word and Sacrament is here to transfigure you. He is changing you from the outside in, changing you to become like him. It’s a hidden thing, this work that he is about. But when he appears in His Glory again at the end of time His work then will be shown for all to see. He will who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:21, ESV) That will be a Transfiguration day to see! Come Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

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

Monday, February 16, 2009

Two Hundred Years...

Born 1809, Charles Darwin brought us the "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"  On this the 200th anniversary of his birth we would do well to revisit his theories.  Particularly in light of the increased complexity of the cell. 

Listen to the following thoughtful program on Issues, Etc.  Todd's guest Dr. Michael Behe of Lehigh University, author of Darwin's Black Box.  I highly recommend this book... and this podcast.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

About Pastor Watt

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt is currently serving at Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN.  He has previously served as pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Creston, IA (2008-2016). He has previously served also at St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, SD and St. John's Lutheran Church, Burt, Iowa. Pastor Watt was Ordained and Installed in Burt on June 17, 20 01. Pastor Watt is a 2001 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, and a 1997 Graduate of Concordia University, Seward, NE. In 2000 Pastor Watt served as Vicar (internship) at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Saginaw, MI(Frankentrost). Prior to being a pastor, he was a Computer Systems Analyst in Lincoln Nebraska. He worked at Bryan Hospital for nearly ten years. For three years he was a Technical Consultant for Personnel Data Systems in Blue Bell, PA.

Pastor Watt has three children. Joshua, born 1987, has moved out and now works for Garmin, Inc.  He graduated from  Iowa State University December 2008, and is an alum of Beta Sigma Psi Lutheran Fraternity. Joshua is married (2010) to Kristin (Noack) who holds a Doctorate in Genetics from University of Kansas. They have two daughters; Nora born in 2015 and Abigale born in 2017. Miciah Carter, born 1991 is married to Fritz Carter and living in Kansas City. They have one son, Everett, born 2017. And Hannah, born 1998. She is a graduate of Concordia University Nebraska and Martin Luther High School, Northrup Minnesota.

Pastor Watt enjoys computers, fishing, hunting, movies, travel, and riding his motorcycle.

Curriculum Vitae

(update 6/20/2019)

About This Blog

I am Pastor at Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
  • I offer these sermons and other writings to the Lord's Church. Use them as you will and it is not necessary to give me credit.
  • I don’t post sermons because I believe they are great sermons… (I am an everyday, average preacher).
  • I don’t post them because they contain original exegesis or ideas; most of my ideas are clearly borrowed from others. (I try to give credit, but I must admit much credit that is due falls out as preaching time draws near).
  • I post them because this is what I do… I spend time studying God’s Word for the purpose of proclaiming it…
  • They are what they are… God’s Word interpreted for His people here in Iowa, posted to the net for public reading.
  • I’m not looking for comments… although they are always welcome.
  • I’m not looking for praise… although… I must be honest, positive reinforcement is always appreciated.
  • Lord, have mercy!

Sola Dei Gloria!
(updated 6/30/19)

Mark.1.40-45; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 18, 2009

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. (Mark 1:40-45, ESV)

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

image It was a busy time for Jesus. Preaching in the synagogues of the area; casting out demons; healing sick people. There were crowds of people everywhere he went. They crowded around him wanting to hear more about the “kingdom of God.” They crowded around him because they had seen him heal people who were sick. And there were sick people among them, too. That day there was a bold leper there too. He made his way through the crowd to Jesus. He shouldn’t have been there. He shouldn’t have been pushing through the crowd. The law didn’t allow contact. But in order to get to Jesus, contact was required. He was persistent not counting the legal infractions. The law wasn’t cruelty; leprosy is a debilitating, deadly, very contagious disease. It was incurable. This man should have kept his distance, covered himself and shouted “unclean, unclean, unclean.” He disregarded all of that and pressed his way through the crowd. He was desperate to see Jesus. He was desperate to talk to Jesus. His desperation made him disregard the law.

Finally after struggling, wedging and pushing, he came to the place where Jesus was speaking. He almost fell to the ground as he broke through the final ring of people that encircled the healer. For a long moment he stood, looking at the object of his struggle. When he realized that he was looking into Jesus eyes, he fell to his knees. “Jesus,” he spoke loudly “I know that you can heal me.” As he spoke he pulled back the cloth covering his arms to reveal the dark red rash that identified his illness. “Will you heal me?” He knew what Jesus could do. He had seen and talked to people who had been healed. They were sick, crippled, in pain and suffering before. And Jesus set them free from it all. He wanted to be set free. It wasn’t a question of ability; it was a question of will.

Jesus looked at the man. For a moment he seemed angry, as if the interruption wasn’t welcome. The leper recoiled in fear, but Jesus face turned soft and caring, and his hand came to rest on the unclean man’s shoulder. “I am willing.” He spoke softly. “Be clean.” The words had barely left Jesus mouth and the rash was gone. The man stared at his arms in unbelief. Not that Jesus had healed a leper, but that Jesus had healed him. “Jesus is willing.” He said, “Jesus is willing.” He repeated even louder as he rubbed his now smooth arms faster and faster. He jumped to his feet “Jesus is willing!” he shouted. The hand on his shoulder tightened, and Jesus spoke again. “Don’t tell anyone yet.” He said sternly. “Go to the priests and show them that you are clean. Offer the sacrifices that Moses says are appropriate.” But the words fell past the healed leper. He spun around and flayed his arms to the crowd. “I’m clean, Jesus healed me! Jesus is willing! Jesus is willing!” and off he ran through the crowed. “Jesus healed me! Jesus is willing!” echoed the voice as it fell away in the distance. Jesus returned to his place and continued to teach. A second glance looked where the man had approached. The crowded pressed in they just had to be closer to Jesus.

Can you see yourself in this story? Pushing your way through the crowd, desperate to see Jesus, desperate to have him heal you? Well, I know you’ve been there. I’ve been there with some of you, sitting beside your bed asking the question with you, “Will Jesus heal me?” “if it is your will.” We pray together. It’s a common story; we know the pain of being sick. We know the shame that seems to be associated with it, shame that comes from not being able to take care of yourself, and feeling helpless. Our faith tells us that Jesus can do something about it, if only he will.

Yeah, we know the leper’s point of view, because we’ve lived it. And it’s not just a pov we know because we’ve been sick. Oh, we suffer enough because of sickness, but there are other things that we want Jesus to take care of too. We live every day with problems, and troubles, and pain. Not the kind you can take penicillin for either. It’s the world we live in…

Maybe you’re pushing your way through the crowed to see if Jesus will heal your marriage. Why is it that what started out with such joy and promise causes so much pain? Why can’t you talk about it to the person you love more than anyone? It’s shameful what you say to each other. You try to hide it, but you’re sure people are watching you. On your way to Jesus you just want the pain to stop. Jesus I know you can do something, but will you?

The news lately isn’t very comforting, is it? “Jesus I know you can straighten out the world, will you?” Why do we have to hear every day about how bad things are? Why does evil seem to be just a step behind us? Why is future full of so many questions? Is my job secure? Will I loose everything? Will my family be ok? What will my children do for their livelihood?

It’s hard to get to Jesus, the crowed is heavy, but you and I are desperate. Everything in life seems to weigh you down. Bad decisions, wrong turns, selfish thoughts, and uncaring, unloving actions plague us. When we look in our hearts we see sin. And we can’t get rid of if. Every one piles up and causes new pain and more. “Jesus you can help me forget the sins I’ve done in my life. Will you?”

We sit with the leper, knowing how he feels, knowing his pain and suffering, knowing his disease and ours. It’s evident all around us. No matter how hard we try, the world is a dangerous place, full of pain and suffering. But the real problem is that we are a part of the problem. We try to make a difference by our sinfulness just adds to the problem. Things keep getting worse instead of better. It’s a desperate situation. We are desperate people. “Jesus, are you willing?”

“I am willing.” Jesus said to the leper. “Be clean.” And he was immediately healed he was immediately clean. Something was different here with Jesus. Jesus reaches out and touches the leper, and drags him into a place, a kingdom, a place where God rules over everything; a place where things are different. Leprosy is not a part of His world. Pain is a part of the world. Fear is not a part of the world. Jesus makes the leper a part of it. He is healed. For him now everything is different.

We are a part of this story, too. The Good News is that Jesus drags us to a place that is different. He reaches out and touches you to drag you into his kingdom. You know what the problem is; you know what causes all the pain and suffering, all the disease and the hate in our broken and troubled world. It’s sin. Sin is the real disease. Sin is the real killer. And sin is right there in the middle of your life. Sin is right here in the middle of your life. Sin is right here in the middle of your heart. It’s you trying to live life on your own terms, your way instead of God’s way. It’s you trying to solve your problems on your own, and running to God when things fall flat.

Remember the leper. “I know you can heal me.” He said on his knees. But he also said, “If you will.” Maybe he was hedging his bets just a bit. We don’t need to hedge our bets with Jesus. We say here on Sunday morning, “I know you can heal me, a poor miserable sinner. Have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life…” And Jesus does. He takes care of your sin in the only way for your sin to be dealt with. He kills you. St. Paul says it like this:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20, ESV)

Jesus dies your death on the cross. You are connected to his death in Holy Baptism. He sheds his blood instead of yours. Just like Jesus cleansed the leper, He washes you free from your sin. He does that for you, not because you deserve to be forgiven, the leper didn’t deserve to be clean. He does it because he is willing.

Jesus comes to take care of sin in the world, to bring a new world, a new kingdom. You can see it everywhere he goes. He casts out demons. He heals the sick. And he most importantly he forgives sins. That’s the real difference. Jesus forgives sins. Wherever he goes he pushes away sin and all its effects. It’s like a bubble of clean that follows him everywhere. He heals, he cleanses, he teaches. Where Jesus is the world is a different place.

That’s all good and fine for the leper. He leapt for joy and told everyone what Jesus had done for him, that Jesus was willing to heal him. I know Jesus is able to take care of the things in my life, but is he willing? Why does my sin keep bothering me? I’m still sick. My marriage still isn’t perfect. War is on the horizon. The stock market isn’t recovering. Politicians are fighting over my future. The world is still broken. Is Jesus willing to help me?

Jesus says to you, too, “I am willing.” He touched the leper, he touches you. For you, he uses water and his Word. It’s in baptism that he touches you and makes you clean. We see the water and hear the words of promise. It doesn’t seem like much, but that is God at work driving out sin and its effects in your life. Your connection to Christ on the cross is sealed in God’s promise when the water touches you and God’s name is spoken. The Apostle Paul used these words:

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:6, ESV)

When you put wine to your lips, when you eat that bread, Jesus is there, touching you and forgiving you. It doesn’t seem like much, but that’s God at work driving out sin and its effects in your life. Holy Communion tells you that everything Jesus Christ did he did for you, especially when he hung on the cross to die for you to forgive you of all your sins. Jesus blood cleanses you when you open your mouth and take the very blood and the very body that hung on the cross into you.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24, ESV)

That’s Jesus working in your life right now taking care of the sin that troubles you right now.

With these simple things Jesus touches you and drags you into his Kingdom, his place. That’s Jesus at work in your life right now. He is taking care of the things that bother you right now. You see in baptism he has made you his own, and nothing can change that.

“… neither death nor life, neither economies nor cancer, neither angels nor demons, neither broken relationships nor selfishness, neither the present nor the future, neither politicians or terrorists, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)

There’s power in all that Jesus gives you right now. But, you still live in a broken world. And the trouble of that world interrupts you and still causes you trouble. “Jesus I know you can change it all, are you willing?” “I am willing.” Jesus says. “I am coming again. Look for me. Everything I have done I have done to set everything right again, once and for all.” Come Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mark.1.29-39; Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 8, 2009


And immediately [Jesus] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:29-39, ESV)

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

Mark is a fast paced Gospel. He won’t let Jesus stand still. Did you notice that we are still in chapter one. Just glancing back to the beginning we see a very active Jesus. He’s baptized, tempted by Satan, he calls his disciples; he heals people and throws out demons. But most importantly, he preaches. In fact the very first words we hear from Jesus in this gospel are a sermon.

and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, ESV)

And all of it is laced together by the word “immediately.” It emphasizes what Jesus is doing, almost like the time is critical. Remember last week, we had Jesus casting out a demon in the synagogue (after he preached) and telling the demon to “shut up.” The demon wanted to tell everyone who Jesus was. Jesus wants to show us who his is. And immediately after that he leaves the synagogue and goes to Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law is sick and immediately they tell Jesus and she is healed. Notice too how she gets up and serves right away. It’s like she had never been sick. Her strength is back full force.

After the sun went down the town’s people begin to stir. At first it sounds strange to us but remember this is the Sabbath day in Israel. And remember for the Jews, the new day starts at sunset, so once the sun goes down the Sabbath is over so they are allowed to move about again. They have been waiting all day after hearing about Jesus casting out the demon in the synagogue earlier. Mark tells us that they brought “all who were sick and oppressed by demons.” The news has spread everywhere in town. “the whole city was gathered together at the door.” Really the way Mark writes it he gives us a picture of the folks all standing around at the front door of Peter’s house, looking at it, waiting in anticipation of Jesus doing what they want him to do. They want him to heal the sick folks they’ve brought. And Jesus does just that. He heals and throws out the demons. And again notice how he won’t let the demons speak. They know who Jesus is. They are trying to shout out “You are the Son of God, the Messiah!” But Jesus prevents them. Like we talked about last week, he doesn’t want the people to come to know who he is from the shouts of demons.

After all the sickness and demons are taken care of everyone goes to bed. But early in the morning, actually in the middle of the night, (very early in the morning) Jesus gets up and goes out to pray. When the disciples get up they don’t find him and the go looking for him. Actually, there seems to be a bit if anger in their search, the word Mark uses a word that means to track down or hunt. Apparently the crowds have all gathered again, ready for Jesus to continue doing what he was doing last night. “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus has different ideas. He doesn’t go back to the house. Instead he tells them it’s time to move on. Notice again the detail that Mark gives us. “Let’s go to the neighboring towns, so that I can preach there, because that is why I have come out.” And that’s what he does.

Again Mark seems to give us a Jesus that might make us a bit uncomfortable. Last week we saw him say “Shut up” and today we see him ignoring people in desperate need. Jesus prefers preaching. But remember the disciples don’t get it either. They wonder why he’s gone out on his own when there’s so much to do with the folks that have gathered around.

These are people just like you and me. Put yourself in the crowd, and with the disciples. You know what it’s like to be sick and suffering. You’ve come to the altar here in pray for Jesus to do something different. Remember, suffering is a constant. They had friends with cancer, sons and daughters who were injured in accidents. There were women who had lost their husbands, and father’s who were separated from their children. These were people who saw the helpless looks in doctor’s eyes. There were people in pain from the loss of a child. They were human beings, just like you and me, who had an intimate relationship with disease and suffering. And just like you and me, they wanted it to end. And, according to St. Mark, that night at Peter’s house Jesus healed them all. But that morning they were left wanting more.

We can easily think that this is all there is to Jesus. I think this is what Jesus is trying to avoid. That’s why he doesn’t go back to the house. He moves on to preach because that’s what he has come to do. It’s easy to see Jesus as a miracle worker instead of a Savior. Of course the hope of all Christians is the promise of the whole creation restored, an end to sickness and the control of Satan over people. Jesus is all about doing just that. That’s what Jesus is talking about when he preaches,

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, ESV)

God is staring you in face. He is here setting things right again. You can see the start of it, the demons go out not screaming, sickness and death are in Jesus hands. But let’s not get sidetracked from what Jesus has come to do. It involves suffering and death. The world is being set right because God has come, staring you in the face, to bring forgiveness of sins. All that pain and heartache; all that illness and death are the result of sin. In this we all have our own part. There are times when we suffer because of specific sins we have done, smoking too much causes cancer; unfaithfulness in marriage leads to broken marriages and divorce… the evil things we all do fill our lives with consequences. The world is troubled by sickness and death because it is populated by sinful people. You and I live troubled lives because we are sinful. But we even have trouble that is not directly related to our sin. Sometimes illness comes for no fault of our own. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes life runs out of control and there is nothing we have done or can do to control it.

Dearest fellow sinner, Jesus shows us what life forever with him will be like; an end to sickness and death; an end to Satan’s control over our lives. Picture Peter’s mother-in-law joyfully serving after the fever was taken out of her. Our Savior took her by the hand and it left her. She was at full strength to serve. And so it will be for you and me, but for now Jesus doesn’t go back to the house, for now we continue to live in this sinful world. We would have Jesus stay and heal.

But Jesus must go to the cross, because sickness and demons isn’t the root of the problem. They are simply the signs of the real sickness. In Jesus preaching he says, “Repent and believe the good news.” The good news is that Jesus has come to do away with sin. You see we are sicker than we realize. We are more diseased than we can see. Sin is our problem and it requires something more than surface healing. It requires the cross. It requires our death. Jesus heads for the cross to be our death for us. And Jesus won’t be sidetracked from that purpose. His death on the cross heals our sin-sickness. The healing of our sin-sickness leads to the healing of our bodies. That’s what we confessed just moments ago. “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” The Apostles’ Creed says “the resurrection of the body” not “the resurrection of the soul.” Forgiveness of sins and healing of the body are directly connected in the cross. When we see Jesus on the cross we are seeing our helplessness. We cannot heal ourselves. No where do we see our total need for salvation more clearly. It takes God become man in Jesus Christ. We lie in our sin and sickness like Peter’s mother in law. Jesus grasps us with a pierced hand and saves us. He lifts us up out of our sin-sickeness and we live. His death on the cross means forgiveness for us. This is a picture of our salvation, both now as we live every day in faith and finally, when our Lord reaches out to raise our dead body from the grave. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Mark.1.21-28; Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 1, 2009

image And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28, ESV)

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

“Shut up!” Yea, that’s what I said, “Shut up!”

Well I’m only quoting Jesus in this passage. He tells this daemon to shut up! And he’s not using it the way kids use it these days, saying something like “That’s unbelievable.” He’s actually telling this guy to shut his face and stop talking. It seems rather rude. It doesn’t seem much like the Jesus we’ve been raised on; Jesus meek and mild; Jesus only loving never harsh; Jesus the ultimate metro-sexual.

It’s a bit like when Peter was rebuked by Jesus. You remember the account. Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples give a long list of prophets. Elijah, Moses, etc. Jesus then turns the question to the disciples. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers for the whole group. And amazingly he answers the question correctly. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “Blessed are you Peter, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.” “Great job, Peter. You’ve got it right. What you are saying is a good thing. God has giving you a good word to say. This is good stuff! This is the faith that the church is gonna be built on.” Jesus then goes on to tell Peter what it means to be “The Christ.”

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21, ESV)

Now Peter reacts in a different way. He “rebukes” Jesus. “No way Lord. That’s not going to happen to you!”

“Shut up!” Jesus says. “Get behind me Satan. You don’t have in mind the things of God but the things of man. Shut up!”

These are powerful words from Jesus lips. He won’t let Satan speak. Satan whispers in Peter’s ear that Jesus doesn’t have to die. Things are going to well for that. And Peter is a good Satan listener and speaker. He speaks up for Satan. “Not this time Lord! No way Jesus! Not gonna happen. We’ve got too much at stake.”

“Shut up! Satan.”

Well, with that all in mind we need to look again at what our text for today says.

[Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:21b-22, ESV)

It is very important to know that Jesus is speaking “as one who had authority.” He’s in the church, he’s speaking with authority. What does that mean? Well, it means that Jesus taught without footnotes. He said things like “You have heard it said… but I say.” That’s not like the teachers of the day. The scribes taught by repeating the writings of other scribes. Their teaching was never original. They backed up what they said with lots of support. Jesus doesn’t. He speaks his own Word. Here’s an example:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:27-29, ESV)

The scribes would have qualified the sin. “It’s not adultery if you don’t look too long.” “Porn isn’t sinful, as long as it makes my sex life with my wife better.” God really wants’ me to be happy doesn’t he?” Jesus says “Shut up!” Adultery isn’t just activity. Adultery is in the heart. It is wanting what is not yours to have. It’s the breaking of promise you have made or promises you will make to your spouse. It’s replacing God’s Word with human words, Satan’s word.

Jesus speaks from God, because he is God. Jesus word is God’s Word. It has God’s full backing and authority. You can tell just from the way Jesus speaks it.

Ya, but… Isn’t this text just a bit different from all that? After all the daemon is speaking the truth, isn’t he? “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Shouldn’t Jesus agree with him? Doesn’t Jesus agree? Isn’t a good thing to confess who Jesus is? Jesus shouldn’t have been so harsh, instead of “Shut up!” maybe something a bit less offensive.

Well, it is like the writer of Ecclesiastes says, there is…

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; (Ecclesiastes 3:7b, ESV)

It is interesting...  Just because someone says "Jesus" doesn't mean they are telling the truth. Peter confessed "you are the Christ" he confesses from faith. The demon calls Jesus, "the holy one of God" from fear.

There are lots of preachers out there who claim to speak for Jesus. They say things like "Jesus wants you to be wealthy."  What he really means is "Jesus wants ME to be wealthy."  He speaks pretending to confess the true Jesus.  Sometimes he even says true things about Jesus.  But he speaks it for his own purposes.

The demon doesn't confess Jesus from faith but for his own purposes wanting to manipulate Jesus.  He thought that if he used Jesus’ real name he’d have power over him. He speaks Jesus full name and title, he wants to control Jesus and prevent Jesus from "destroying" him.

It’s a bit like the teenager who uses God’s name to validate the truthfulness of something. "I swear to God, Bob is gay!" Sometimes it is even used when they are lying.

And sometimes we use God's name to manipulate him. Instead of “Thy will be done.” Its “MY will be done.” This is the thinking behind things like the Prayer of Jabez. And Joel Osteen’s “Your best life now.” “Ten things to say to make God do what you want him to do.” “If you use God’s name He has to do what you want him to do.” It’s just like the demon.  "Jesus won't dare rebuke/destroy me if I speak the truth about who he is and say his name." God cannot be manipulated.

It is Jesus who speaks with authority.  He speaks the Word. In fact He is the Word.   St. John says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, ESV)

What Jesus says is always true.  He does what he says he does.  He has authority.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

And yet the demon speaks the truth. The words, “have you come to destroy us?” could also be translated as a statement. “You have come to destroy us!” It is the truth. Jesus speaks the same himself. He becomes a human to die on the cross and bring you and I forgiveness of sins. He doesn’t want us to listen to demons. He wants us to listen to him.

Jesus tells us we are forgiven.  He says "I forgive you in the name of the Father..."  These are Jesus’ words not the pastors. The words are spoken for him so that you hear them with your own ears. He uses a pastor’s voice. Through a person God delivers to you the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross. Even the poorest preacher on his worst day accurately reading and proclaiming Jesus death and resurrection has infinitely more power to change people lives than the most showy evangelist proclaiming work harder to change your life!

Jesus has given us pastors to speak for him but he also speaks privately Christian to Christian.  "I forgive you for hurting me." When we speak those words to someone who has hurt us they are true... even when we don't feel forgiving.  Our thoughts might be on payback, or anger, but forgiveness of Jesus isn’t based on our hearts but on Jesus’ Word and promise. If you find yourself saying something like “I’d like to forgive you but I can’t right now.” Or “Someday I’ll be able to forgive you.” Jesus could say to you, “Shut up! The forgiveness I won for you on the cross is also for the one who has sinned against you. Speak my words of forgiveness to them. Then turn to me with your un-forgiving heart and receive forgiveness for that sin, too.” Real forgiveness comes from the cross, without any strings or demands or false words. This is what real forgiveness is.

I like proverbs:

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10, ESV) 

The man isn't righteous because he earns it, he is righteous because God declares him to be righteous. The WORD says it is true.  Offering forgiveness is a proper use of Jesus name.  It is Jesus name spoken in faith, not fear.  In Jesus name we are safe, forgiven, and able to forgive.

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