Sunday, May 29, 2011

John.14.15-21; Sixth Sunday of Easter; June 29, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21, ESV)

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

I know it sounds like a silly question, especially in light of the words of Jesus we just heard, but I’m going to ask it anyway. “Does Jesus really want us to keep the commandments?” You know it’s easy to go “all Lutheran” here and say, “Ya God wants us to keep the commandments, but we can’t so we should feel bad and turn to God for forgiveness.” And that’s true, the commandments are the law that show us our sin, they show us very clearly that we don’t live up to God’s perfect standards. Especially the way Jesus defines them. “If you are angry at your brother you are guilty of killing him.”; “If you call your brother a fool you deserve to burn in hell.” (Matt 5:21-22) Those are pretty harsh words, and if that’s what Jesus really means when he says he wants us to keep the commandments we’re all in trouble. After all, he says right here “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So doesn’t that mean that if we get angry at someone we don’t love him? If Jesus really wants us to keep his commandments, we’re all in trouble. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been angry this week.

Maybe we should look into what Jesus is saying here just a little deeper. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Are we really talking about the Ten Commandments? Or is there some other commandment that Jesus is talking about? It wasn’t that long ago we heard Jesus say something about a “new commandment.” Remember back to Maunday Thursday (that’s what Maunday means: command). He washed the feet of the disciples and then said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have love you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Does that really let us off the hook? Well actually it doesn’t. The commandment isn’t anything new in the sense of something completely different. A confirmation student could tell you that the commandments are divided into two parts. The first three are about our relationship to God. The last seven are about our relationship to other people.

Jesus was asked this very question once by Pharisees who wanted to see if Jesus really knew the law. They wanted to catch him in some hypocrisy. “Teacher,” one asked Jesus, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered by dividing the Ten into the two parts, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV) So when Jesus is talking about keeping his commandments, when he says to love one another, he’s talking about the same, The Commandments. And at first, we might think that that’s not a very good thing at all. But notice how Jesus defines them. Look at the word that he uses most in his definition: According to Jesus, keeping the commandments, all of them, is to love.

It starts with Commandment one: “You shall have no other Gods” or “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” If we could just do that one we’d also be able to do the “Love your neighbor as yourself” too. Sounds a lot like what Jesus says too, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

But our inability to completely love God isn’t our only problem. We also have a problem with understanding the commandments as love because have been affected by the definition of love that’s been floating around our culture. At the prompting of the world around us we tend to think that love is a feeling. We think it’s something that happens here… in our hearts. God makes it clear that it’s not… with all your heart, soul and mind, that’s not just an emotion that much more than that. We connect love with the euphoria that comes from personal contact with a person we want to be with. But according to Jesus, love isn’t something that’s only found here (heart) it’s something that’s found here (hands)… keep my commandments. In other words, love isn’t just a feeling. Real love is much more than emotions, real love is a promise and a choice to keep a promise.

The best example I can think of is something that you’ve all heard:

Bridegroom, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body the Church, giving Himself up for her? Will you love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to her alone, as long as you both shall live? [Eph. 5:29]

Bride, will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you submit to him as the Church submits to Christ? Will you love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to him alone, as long as you both shall live? [Eph. 5:24]

Marriage vows from Lutheran Service Book Agenda, (CPH, 2006)

Our picture of love comes from romantic movies. There’s always that heartfelt scene between parent and child… “I know you’re going to get married, but do you really love him?” Did you notice that’s not the question we ask at the wedding? That’s not what God asks a newly weds. The vows don’t say “do” you love, they say “will” you love. Love is stated here as an act of the will, a promise, a decision. There’s nothing there about a burning feeling in the bride and grooms heart. Love isn’t just here (heart) love is here (hands). Any long married couple will tell you that. If marriage is based just on feelings found in the heart, there’ll be trouble: feelings and emotions don’t last, they change frequently. In fact, this misunderstanding of love and marriage is probably why one in four marriages end in divorce (even among Christians!). Marriage that is built on feelings that are thought to be love will always falter. God wants more than good feelings between a man and his wife. He wants them committed to each other in sickness and health, good times and bad, wealth and poverty, anger and calm. The world says that lack of loving feelings is a reason for divorce. In God’s eyes divorce never acceptable and is always sinful. (Mal 2:16; Matt 5:32; Mark 10:9, 11; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10 etc.) True love keeps its promise. The love that Jesus commands us to do in marriage and in every day of our lives isn’t just found in here (heart), it is found here (hands). Ask any wife, she’ll tell you doing the dishes can be one of the most loving things a husband can do.

Well marriage is one thing. But there are other commandments than the one talking about marriage (6th). Our wife/husband might be our closest neighbor but what about all the rest. Jesus wants us to love them, too. Right? Well, yea.

There was this man traveling on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho… he got beat up robbers and left for dead. The people who were expected to help him didn’t. The priest and the bible teacher just walked by because they had better things to do. The Samaritan is the only one who stops and helps. The story tells us that this unlikely person had compassion on him. That compassion isn’t a just a feeling, it’s an action. The priest and Levite undoubtedly felt bad for the beat up man, but they didn’t do a thing for him. But the Samaritan’s compassion shows in his actions. He bound up the wounds and took the man to the inn. That’s what Jesus means. According to Jesus, that is loving your neighbor. He’s saying, love isn’t only found here (heart) but here (hands). And what’s more, love found here (hands), acts even if there’s no feeling here (heart). It takes away the idea that’s often in our heads that we’ve got to have good feelings for someone to love them. We can show love in our actions even if we don’t feel it in our heart.

Well, if that’s love, then we are going to need some help. It’s hard to put that kind of thing into practice. It’s hard to do things for people who don’t seem to appreciate it, or even abuse the help. It’s hard to do things for people who are different from us. We want people to earn our help, and deserve our help. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition wouldn’t be a very popular program if they were dealing with undeserving families. “Joe’s been on Welfare because he’d rather sit on his butt all day watching cable and sucking down beer. Good Morning Joe! We’re here to tear down the cockroach infested shack you live in and build you a multi-million dollar house! We’re here to fulfill all your consumerist fantasies.” Well, I admit that’s a little extreme but that’s how we feel on a smaller scale. We aren’t able to love that way.

But Jesus does. Jesus’ love is a perfect love. It has feelings, he wept over the people who would kill him (Matt 23:37), and Lazarus his friend who died (John 11). But he really shows his love in action. He healed, taught, fed, and forgave undeserving people who gathered around him. Remember he ate with tax collectors and sinners. (Matt 9:10-13) He got his hands dirty serving dirty people. He shows us love that’s here in his hands. In fact, Jesus’ love is shown right here (hands) most clearly when he allowed nails to be driven right through them. He took our sins into his own hands and carried them to the cross. He served us. Like the Samaritan on the road, he helped us when we were helpless. There isn’t any better description of God’s love than John 3:16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17, ESV)

And remember the word “so” at the beginning means “in this way.” “God loved the world in this way that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins and mine.”

We certainly don’t deserve the forgiveness Jesus works for us on the cross. But he didn’t die for deserving families (there are no deserving families, we are all sinful from the time we are born) he died for sinners and tax collectors. He died for people who don’t feel like giving a hand to other people, especially when they are different or dirty. Jesus death on the cross forgives your sin and mine, even the sin wanting to pass by the helpless man on roadside.

Jesus knows you need help. He puts his love into action. He knows you can’t get rid of sin in your life, so he dies on the cross to remove it. He also knows that you don’t always feel like helping other people, so he gives you another Helper. That’s the very next thing he says after he says, “keep my commandments.” “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16, ESV) Just as he promised, Jesus gives you and me the Holy Spirit as a Helper. I really like the choice of translation in this text (ESV). “Comforter” in some of the other translations makes the Holy Spirit sound like someone whose been sent to make us “feel better.” But he’s so much more than that. He puts God’s love in action in our lives. He makes the love of Jesus flow from here (heart) to here (hands). In fact, the word there (helper, comforter, paraclete) can even be translated “the one who kneels beside.” Think of the Good Samaritan kneeling beside the man on the road. That’s Jesus working through the Holy Spirit in you; helping you when you need help, and helping other people through you. Jesus makes it very clear, where the Holy Spirit is He is too. He doesn’t leave us as orphans. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, ESV) He’s right there with you when you help your neighbor who’s behind on his planting. He right there beside you when you give a can of food to the food bank. He’s there when you slap a pork and bacon patty on a bun for a biker.

You see, if you love Jesus, and every Christian does love Jesus, because they know that Jesus loves them first, with his life, death and resurrection… if you love Jesus, you will keep the commandments. Jesus makes sure of it. That’s love here (heart) and here (hands). Amen.

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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Psalm 146; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 22, 2011;

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord! ” (Psalm 146, ESV)

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

Did you ever go to camp and do one of those “faith walks.” You know how they go, one person is blindfolded and the other leads them all around… up and down steps, around corners, through doorways, maybe even outside… The whole idea is that, if you are the blindfolded person, your supposed to learn to trust the person who is leading you around. If you’re the leader then you are suppose to show yourself as trustworthy. You do it by example, by showing that you can trust someone else, or that you are trustworthy. The “faith walk” is supposed to begin to help you to develop a new relationship with another person, a relationship based on trust.

Trust is very important in life. Just think about how people react when their trust has been violated. Remember the time when you broke a promise to a friend. Remember how you felt when the secret you told came back to you from a different source. Did you lose money in Enron? Clearly that whole scandal is a violation of trust. It isn’t just feelings that are hurt when trust is violated. Life is full of placing our trust in one place or another. In a way life is a faith walk. It’s important to be able to put your trust in someone. It’s important to learn who is actually trustworthy.

Life is a faith walk…. In some sense you have the opportunity to pick who you want to lead you around while you are blindfolded. When I was young had to do a faith walk, I always tried to get next to some pretty girl, it was a chance to hold her hand… in fact I think that’s how I met my wife.

The Psalm for today is about trust. The author of this poem isn’t known. No one knows exactly when it was written either. But, some of the language suggests that it was written after the great Babylonian exile. They had lost what God had given them because of this very issue. They had trusted in themselves, they had trusted in their kings, they had trusted in everything except for their God. It cost them the land that God had given them, and they spent about a generation away from the land they loved. During that exile they learned what it meant to trust in God.

The author says here, “Don’t let the princes of this world lead you! They will fail you. They will lead you astray.” He knew it probably from personal experience. He maybe lived under a government that failed. I’m not sure that in many ways we trust our government far too much. We trust it to bail us out of poverty, we trust it to take care of us in times of disaster, and provide for us when we retire. We trust it to keep the peace, and we trust it to be just. While God has given us government we are not to put our trust in it. Governments fail the daily news is full of crumbling governments. Don’t think for a moment that our government here is so strong that it can never fail. Don’t think that this democratic form of government, this country is so blessed by God that it can never fall apart. “Don’t trust in princes.” The Psalmist says.

Don’t let mere mortal men lead you in your faith walk either. Don’t trust what human beings say or do. Don’t make glorious plans with them. Death is in their future. When they die all their plans come to nothing. Death is the great equalizer. It removes wealth, it cancels plans, it ends partnerships, and it ignores social status. Don’t trust mortal men either.

In case you forgot, you are in that category. You, too, will die. You to are not trustworthy. But, even before death, we find people untrustworthy, we find ourselves untrustworthy. We constantly make promises we don’t keep. We constantly forget to do the things that we should. There are even times when we make promises that we have no intention at all of keeping. We know who we are, and we know that other people are the same.

Life is a faith walk… but, you can’t trust in yourself, you can’t trust in other people, you can’t trust in government, who can you trust in? Well, the Psalm has an answer for that; it says God is the one who is trustworthy.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, ” (Psalm 146:5, ESV)

When God leads you around, even when you can’t see where you are going, you can trust when here leads you.

But, the Psalm isn’t just speaking in generalities, it tells us exactly why God is trustworthy. “Because” it says,

[He] made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; ” (Psalm 146:6–7, ESV)

This is First Article. I believe in God the father almighty maker of heaven and earth. God created everything, he preserves and protects is. He has an interest in how it all goes. That includes being trustworthy.

There’s more though, and here is where the faith walk becomes even more interesting. He is faithful and trustworthy forever. The psalm says. Even when ‘blindfolded’ people are oppressed, God helps them. Here the Hebrew language for oppressed means economically oppressed, the poor. He helps those who are lead through hunger. He leads prisoners so that they become free, he helps the blind to see, and the humble and people who have no place to call their own; and even the widow… He helps. You see, no matter where your faith walk leads you, no matter what condition you find yourself in… if you’re trust is in “the God of Jacob” you will find him faithful.

Sometimes we find it difficult to trust in the God of Jacob. When we are honest with ourselves we know that this is true. As you go through life, as you go on the faith walk, sometimes you trust God a lot, and sometimes you don’t feel like you can trust him at all. It’s not unusual, because our sin constantly threatens to separate us from God. While we are walking around blindfolded, we will at times try to pull our hand out of God’s hand so that we can rip of our blindfold. We don’t always trust where God is leading us. Those are the times when we God is most faithful. If you remember the Gospel lesson from last week, Jesus is the one who said that no one could snatch us out of our Father’s hand. (John 10).

But it is Jesus who shows us exactly how faithful God is. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” “I and the Father are one.” What you see me doing… you see God doing. We have many accounts of God being faithful, just as this Psalm says He is. Jesus is God being faithful. He is found among the poor, and the oppressed. Even his own disciples were working class people and despised people. He gives the blind sight, and even heals the sick people who were outcast. He feeds hungry people on the green grass slopes of the mountains around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus Christ was faithful just as God is faithful. He loves the least, the last, and the worst. It is shown to us most clearing in the life of Jesus our Lord.

Jesus Christ shows his love for us. We, too, are the least, the last and the worst. We are unfaithful; we are untrustworthy; prisoners of our own hearts and minds, and blind to the way that God would lead us. We fail to put our trust in him so very often even when our lives aren't even on the line. We panic over finances, friendships, church property, and so many other earthly things. But Jesus is faithful; He sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind, just as the Psalmist wrote. He is so faithful; the He doesn't even spare His own life. He is so faithful that He allows himself to be nailed to a cross and suffer the full punishment of our sin. Jesus on the cross is God's billboard of faithfulness. He is so faithful that he hangs on the cross not only for you and me but even those who hate him, deny him, curse him, and say no matter what they will not receive Jesus' forgiveness. This is God's faithfulness. That he forgives those who are his enemies. Just as you and I once were, as is all those who refuse to believe in him.

Life is a faith walk… Jesus Christ the faithful one, has placed your hand in his, right there next to the nail print. No one can snatch you out of His hand. He leads you on your faith walk through all kinds of interesting places. Even though you are blindfolded you can trust in Him to lead you because he is trustworthy. He has proved it through His willingness to die for you, and for your sin, but even more than that, he has proved it by rising again from the dead. Remember Death, the great equalizer; the canceller of plans, faithful Jesus defeated him. He didn’t thwart His plans. Jesus Christ wasn’t a mere mortal man; He was God and Man together, united. He alone is worthy of trust. He is God himself.

The psalm begins and ends the same way. “Praise the Lord,” is says. Praise him because of what he has done. Praise him because he is worthy to be praised. Praise him because he alone is worthy of being trusted. Life is a faith walk… Trust Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, keep your heart and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Luke.24.13-35; Third Sunday of Easter; April 8, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35, ESV)

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

There’s a painting. You’ve all seen it. It’s a beautiful landscape with huge arching trees and bright light… and a road… maybe I should call it a “Way.” On the Way are three men walking. One of them, the one in the middle, is obviously engaged in conversation. He has his arm raised in the air to animate and important point. The other two who are walking with him, are listening intently leaning ever so slightly toward the Traveler between them. The artist, a man named Robert Zünd (1827-1909) has captured a pregnant moment. You can tell in the picture that something very important is happening. Maybe it’s the majestic trees that frame the scene, or the bright light that seems to reach out of the background and envelop the Speaker. The painting is about this text for today. It’s called The Way to Emmaus. I remember seeing the picture when I was very little. It was one of the many prints that hung in the basement of my Grandmother’s church (Along with a print of Christ of St. John of the Cross). Every time I hear or read this text that picture pops into my mind. In my mind, that must be exactly as it looked that first Easter Sunday. (Never mind that the trees are grossly out of place for the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus).

Today, I don’t think it’d be very difficult to put on our sandals and walk with these brothers of ours in that picture for a while. We could join them a little while before Jesus joins them. It will be easy to join in the conversation. We know about their pain. We know the kind of sorrow they are feeling. We know the kind of doubts they have. We know about death and the pain and sorrow and doubt it brings. Let’s join the conversation: (Spoken by “Travelers” from the congregation)

“He was so young. Why did he have to die?”

“Why did he have to die like that?”

“He was such a good person he didn’t deserve to die.”

“After all the miracles he did why did those people want to kill him?”

“Couldn’t he have found a way to avoid the … cross?”

“He deserved better than that.”

“We all thought he was Messiah, but how could it be that Messiah would die?”

“The women said that angels told them that Jesus was alive.”

“That’s just wishful thinking… foolish talk.”

“He’s not alive. I saw his blood dripping on the ground. I saw pale death cross his face.”

“Why didn’t God do something to stop it all?”

“Dead is dead. But… why is his body gone from the tomb?”

The more we walk, the more we struggle. The more we struggle, the more sorrowful we become. But, we have cried all the tears that we have. We just have to get away. Emmaus seems like a good place to go. It is as far as we can bear walk in a day. A place far away from all that has happened.

The problem that our brothers on the way have, the problem we share with them is that we are unable to believe. You see, the road to Emmaus is the road away from Jerusalem. Even though we have all the facts; the words and promises of Jesus before his death, the angels announcement, and the empty tomb. We can’t believe. We can’t make a faith appear in our hearts. We can’t build a faith that is strong enough to believe that Jesus is raised from the dead. We can’t choose to believe what can’t possibly be true. We know the reality of death. We’ve carved too many names in stone monuments. We know that our names will be there all too soon. Any faith we would drag out of our own hearts, stands in the face of cold death. Any faith of our own making is full of doubt.

Ah, but thanks be to God, he doesn’t leave us to generate faith from our own sinful hearts. God gives us the faith we need to believe. And the faith that God gives is just that—the faith that God gives. It is faith to believe. It is faith that saves. That’s what’s just about to happen on the Way to Emmaus. Right there in the middle of our pain and sorrow and doubt, a Man, appears walking with us. We didn’t really notice when he joined us but he doesn’t carry the same painful expression we have. But he’s walking the same way we are. He’s come from Jerusalem, too.

“What are you talking about?” (Luke 24:17) He asks.

It’s hard to believe that someone from Jerusalem wouldn’t know what we’ve been talking about. It’s hard to believe that someone from Jerusalem wouldn’t feel the sorrow and pain over innocent death that was the center of so much of last few days. His question stops us dead in our tracks.

Cleopas, our fellow traveler says what we are all thinking, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18)

And when the new Traveler answers, “What things?” it all spills out again; Jesus the great prophet of God, crucified, dead and buried, three days in the tomb; Jesus who we thought had to be Messiah, the one who would redeem us all, turned over to the Romans and death on the cross; Jesus’ whose body is now missing, and claimed to be alive again by angels. We want to believe, but how can we possibly believe that Jesus is actually alive.

The Traveler looks at each of us with a smile. “O foolish ones,” He said, “and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26) And he gives us a gift. Well, actually two gifts, one gift to bring the other. From beginning to end, he tells us about Jesus using nothing but God’s Word. He shows us Jesus in what Moses wrote, Adam, Eve, and the fall into sin. He shows us that Jesus is the one who God promised would crush Satan’s head. (Gen 3:15) He shows us that Jesus is promised in the way that Moses lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole, so that any of God’s people who looked at it would be saved from the poison bite of snakes in the desert. (Num. 21:4-9) He shows us how the prophets tell us that Jesus is the one who is born of a virgin (Isa 7:14), suffers under Pontius Pilate (Isa 50:6), is crucified (Isa 50:13-53:12), dead and buried, and raised again to life. On and on he goes, with each step we take down The Way to Emmaus. This Traveler tells us that every word written in the bible is really all about Jesus. He opens to us the real meaning of God’s Word. And what’s more, that Word about Jesus brings us faith in Jesus. That’s the second gift that we receive as we walk along the way. As we hear God speaking to us about his promise of forgiveness of sins through Jesus, life, death and resurrection, our doubts disappear. It’s as if our hearts are burning as we learn the truth about Jesus. And because the faith that we now have comes from God through his word we know it’s faith that saves us. Faith that God gives is sure faith, it’s not filled with the doubt of sin.

Finally, we reach our destination: A small house in the village, a place to spend the night. But we are hardly finished listening to what Our New Friend has to say. And it looks like He’s going to continue traveling and not stay with us. (Spoken by “Travelers” from the congregation)

“Stay with us!”

“We want to hear more about the Messiah!”

“It’s too late to travel any farther, stay and eat, and talk.”

“We want to hear more about how Jesus is our Savior.”

Our hearts fill with joy when He agrees to stay. So we gather around the table to eat with Him. It’s funny, that as we sit at table with this Traveler, our pain and sorrow and doubt are gone. Suddenly, the most amazing thing happens. As He takes the bread blesses it, breaks it and gives it to us to eat, we all realize that all this time along the way, we’ve been speaking to Jesus. And just as we see it’s Him, He’s gone. Jesus didn’t leave us doubting. He didn’t leave us to make our own faith from deep inside our hearts. He came to us on the Way to Emmaus. He came to us in His Word, and brought us the faith we need to believe. That is, in fact, what he does every time we gather to hear His Word. He didn’t leave us alone to find the strength to live our lives in faith; He came to us in the breaking of the bread to give us the faith we need. That is, in fact, what he does every time we break bread together, and celebrate the special meal that He gave us.

You and I don’t have to generate the faith that God gives. There’s nothing that we do deep in our hearts to make it grow either. Since it’s a gift from God we can be sure of it, even when we have doubts. Jesus doesn’t say to us, “Stay away from me until you believe in me.” The risen Jesus who was crucified, dead buried, comes to us and gives us the faith to believe.

So what do we do? We live in the faith that is given. Do you have doubts? Of course you do. So do I. Life is difficult and full of trouble. Talk to God anyway. Jesus says, pray these words, “Our Father who art in heaven…” Does the death threaten you with helplessness and despair? Of course it does. It does me, too. Gather with the rest of God’s people where the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, is told in its fullness and truth. Go where the bible is proclaimed as the story of God’s love for sinful people, centered in Jesus Christ. Gather with other believing Christians, break the bread, and drink the cup that is Jesus very body and blood, there for you. Don’t look to yourself to make your faith strong. Look to Jesus who comes to you and gives the gift of faith through His Word and Sacraments. Amen.

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

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Marvelous Catch of Fish!


Literally.  Sometimes a “fisher of men” needs to be a “fisher of fish.” 

Last Sunday a member of my congregation asked if everything was ok.  I said I was a bit disheveled.  It’s understandable, Lent, Holy Week, Easter for two congregations can be quite a load.  The week after is a let down.  As the church year reaches a crescendo, the pastor’s time is at a premium.  The expectations are very high.  When Easter Monday comes it isn’t unusual for a pastor to crash.  This year, the crash lasted a whole week.  She could tell.

“Why don’t you go out to our pond and do some fishing tomorrow?  The fish are really biting.”  It was a wonderful example of Christian care.  A member of the congregation caring for her pastor.  It made my day.  I wasn’t sure I’d go, I hadn’t been fishing in years.  It didn’t really matter.  The suggestion was life giving, the body of Christ working as the body works. 

As it happened, I went.  They were biting.  After a few hours of wonderful time in the sun, a marvelous catch of fish.  I was refreshed, encouraged, revived.  Thank God for wonderful lay folk, who think about the personal needs of their pastor.

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt