Sunday, March 17, 2019

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


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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Weekday Lent Service One, March 13, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, Minnesota.
If you have a Christian friend who has fallen into sin, embrace him, but oppose his sin with everything you’ve got. Sin is killing him. Matthew Smith
Grace and Peace to You from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christians rejoice in forgiveness. Sunday after Sunday we gather together to be reminded of our brother Jesus who gave his life on the cross for our sin. Our hymns rejoice in forgiveness. The wonderfully simple words continually remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice. For millennia, and more, the liturgy proclaims again Christ’s forgiveness from the cross. Baptism and the Lord’s supper provide visual symbols connected with God’s promise that forgiveness of sins is ours. Powerful symbols, which are so much more than only symbols, provide proof positive who receives that forgiveness. Water makes our heads wet. We open our mouths and receive Christ’s very body and blood. We are brought into the family of God through the placing of God’s name on us. We are sustained in our faith in that forgiveness with bread and wine and Christ himself.
Christians rejoice in forgiveness. It is our legacy to a fallen world. Forgiveness is given freely to a broken world of sinners. There are no prerequisites. No amended behavior for the gift of faith. It is entirely the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)
St. Paul emphasizes the gift nature of forgiveness. It is not the doing of good works, it is the grace gift[1] of God. Grace is giving what is not deserved. The world deserves God’s wrath and eternal punishment for its rejection of him. But the grace gift of forgiveness comes through Jesus Christ to that hell deserving world. And that is the message that Christians have to proclaim. That is the message that Christians have to live out every day of their lives.
The word Christian means “Little Christ[2]”. What a joy and privilege it is to be compared to Christ. And there is no better way to be a “Little Christ” then to offer forgiveness just as our Lord does. And Jesus tells us so[3]. When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them the Lord’s prayer. Part of that prayer is the Fifth Petition, where Jesus says forgive as we have been forgiven. Martin Luther in the Small Catechism makes it clear.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
Answer: We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins nor deny such petitions on account of them. We are not worthy of any of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them. But we pray that He would grant them all to us by grace. For we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So will we truly, on our part, also heartily forgive and readily do good to those who sin against us. [4]
There is no better place to show that forgiveness than in the church. Because if we can’t show forgiveness with our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we expect to show forgiveness to those who don’t know him. Among believers is the best place to practice forgiveness. As Christians we have the privilege to pronounce forgiveness. And it is especially true, for those who sin against us.
That brings us to our problem. We have a difficult time with “true and hardy forgiveness” for those who sin against us. It goes against our sinful nature to forgive freely, without cost. We want to see amendment of life. We want to see restitution. We want a heartfelt apology. We want those who sin against us to deserve forgiveness. But Jesus won’t have it. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. All those things put conditions on forgiveness that deny the grace gift. All those things show that we don’t really understand God’s forgiveness.
It is as if we believe that our forgiveness has something to do with the forgiveness that God gives. We forget that forgiveness comes freely from the cross of Christ. We imagine that forgiveness comes through us to those who sin against us. As if withholding our forgiveness withholds forgiveness from them. If that was the case, there would be no forgiveness for anyone. For we have all sinned against each other in many ways. As Luther says, “For we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” And it is especially true that we most often sin against those with whom we have a close relationship, within our families, and within the church.
This simple diagram explains it. In the center we have “Adam”. Above Adam is God. When Adam was created he had a perfect relationship with God. He also had a perfect relationship with every other person on the earth (that happened to be Eve only). Those relationships are described by the 10 Commandments. First commandment, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind.” Is the primary commandment. Because Adam loved God with his whole heart, soul and mind, he loved Eve the same way. Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with one another. Everything Adam did, he did with Eve in mind. He always put the toilet seat down. He always took out the trash, even before Eve asked. Everything Eve did, she did with Adam in mind. She knew that if she asked him to do something, he would do it the first time. There was no need to nag. And Adam understood everything she said. It was a perfect relationship. There was no need for forgiveness. When the relationship with God was broken, so was the relationship with one another. There was no longer mutual trust. They had to hide behind clothing to hide their shame. And they had to hide from God. Original sin was passed to their children, and their children’s children, all the way down to you and me. Original sin can first be described as not living in a perfect relationship with God. Now there is a need for forgiveness.
Jesus comes to alleviate this situation through the forgiveness he won on the cross. That forgiveness is for all people. It comes from God through the cross of Christ to people in need of forgiveness. It comes to all people.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2, ESV)
It is a grace gift given through faith. When Christians sin against one another we therefore have that privilege of announcing the forgiveness won on the cross to our brothers and sisters. With no preconditions. It is only our sin that prevents that pronouncement. As if our forgiveness had control over God’s forgiveness. Instead, we have a ministry of reconciliation. Both reconciliation to God and reconciliation to one another. It begins with forgiveness.
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 5:16–21, ESV)
So, what do we do when we don’t feel forgiving? It is all part of the ministry of reconciliation. Sin should be taken to the cross where Christ forgives completely as a grace gift. That’s what living a life of repentance is. Clinging to forgiveness for our own sinfulness and our unwillingness to forgive. The gift of the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament, will work in us a forgiving heart. In the meantime, we are to announce Christ’s forgiveness to those who sin against us. So that they can have the peace that comes from forgiveness. The ministry of reconciliation is our pronouncement of that forgiveness.
It starts with me. Willing to recognize my sin. Willing to confess my sin at the cross and receive forgiveness there. And in turn proclaiming the forgiveness of the cross to those who needed desperately. Amen
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen





[1] “Grace Gift”, an idea given to me by Lisa Mesenbring, Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, Minnesota.
[2] Antioch is where the disciples of Christ were first called Christians. See Acts 11:26.
[3] references to the Gospels where the Lord's prayer is located
[4] Small Catechism: article III, paragraph 16; Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions

Sunday, March 10, 2019


Luke.4.1-13; First Sunday in Lent; March 10, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:1–13, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is one of those texts that is so rich, so full of meaning.  Here is the epic battle of good and evil played out.  Here is Satan making his stand against God’s Messiah.  He knows if he wins here, he wins here.  He’s confident, using the same ploys on the Second Adam, Jesus, that worked so well on the first.  And it is the same in so many ways.  St. Luke wants you to understand that.  Just to make sure, he does what the other Gospel writers don’t do.  After Jesus is baptized by John, he goes into the desert to be tempted.  But in between the events, Luke sticks the genealogy of Jesus, his family tree.  And it starts with Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam.  Listen to the last few lines, because they are very important in setting up the understanding of this text.
the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. ” (Luke 3:36–38, ESV)
Adam, the son of God.  Wow isn’t that what Satan says to Jesus.  “If you are the son of God…”?  Satan won his glorious victory over Adam in the garden, causing countless years of death and pain and sorrow.  Now he renews the attack again.  But there is a difference.  Jesus wins.  Satan withdraws.  God stands on the field of battle victorious, as he always does, and always will.  You see, this text is about Jesus.  Oh, I know, you’ve probably heard this text used as a teaching on how to resist temptation when it comes.  Just do what Jesus did.  Just throw the right scripture at Satan and he’ll give in and you’ll win.  Well, I hate to tell you this, but if you take the field against Satan, the outcome will be like the garden.  You will lose.  How do I know?  Well, let’s just look at Satan’s arsenal.
First off, he tempts Jesus with material comfort.  Jesus has been in the desert for forty days, and all that time he hasn’t eaten a scrap.  And don’t think he got anything else easy either, because Satan has been at the temptation thing here for all forty days!  Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.  Satan goes after Jesus for the whole forty days and then finally here at the end we get these three.  It all begins here with one of those great understatements of the Bible.  And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.  Of course, he was hungry.  He was famished.  He was starving.  Most people would be dead, as a matter of fact.  What Satan is putting toward Jesus is necessity.  Look at you and me.  We fail and we aren’t even faced with death.  How often do we choose our own creature comfort over other people’s dire need?  Here’s a simple example.  You walk past the homeless person on the street and don’t help.  Oh, I know, the excuse is always the same.  If you give them money, they’ll just drink it away.  And so, using that excuse you don’t help.  You see, we’ve already failed our temptation.  And we aren’t even starving.  You know God requires us to help the hungry every time we are able.  Anything less is sin.  That’s the difference.  There is nothing in us that can resist this temptation, even when nothing is at stake.  But Jesus does.  He could make the manna miracle all over again.  He stands up to Satan in his hunger where we fail.  He defeats Satan for us.  He chooses God’s way, the perfect way. 
Ok what about the second temptation?  Satan takes a different tact.  He shows Jesus the whole world.  And he lies.  Well, it isn’t a complete lie.  He has control of the world.  He has it through fraud.  He has convinced people that his way is the best way.  He gives them what they want, power and authority.  It is appealing, too.  But he never lives up to his promises.  Just look at Eve.  He promised she’d be like God.  He promised she’d know good and evil.  She took what wasn’t hers to take and death entered her life.  It should be mine, I deserve it.  She thought.  He played on her pride.  How about you?  Could you resist this temptation?  No.  You have failed this one already.  Ever told a little white lie?  You know the kind that never hurt anyone.  It’s easier, than earning someone’s respect.  After all you deserve to look good in other peoples’ eyes, right?  The worst part is most of the time you don’t even have to lie.  But you do.  I’ve done it, too (but of course never to any of you!).  You’ve done it for such little gain.  Now, you know what God requires.  He says even one time deserves death.  You have to never lie to gain an advantage.  Anything less is sin.  That’s the difference.  Jesus the temptation was the same.  Why should God have to go to the cross to have what was already rightfully his.  He could brush the cross aside and get what he deserves.  But he doesn’t.  Listen to Paul’s description.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8, ESV)
Then there’s the last temptation.  Scholars have been arguing over this one forever.  But it is quite simple.  Jesus uses scripture.  Satan mis-uses scripture.  The temptation is this.  Jesus, God’s Son, trusts God to provide all that he needs.  He trusts because of God’s word of promise to him.  If Jesus is such a great, trusting son, he should prove it in a bigger way than just going hungry for forty days and trusting that food is at the end.  If God really wants us to trust him shouldn’t he do it in a big way, rather than such a simple way?  Throw yourself down, if you really trust God to catch you.  Now we have it.  We claim to trust God, don’t we?  And yet, our trust fails at the first sign of trouble.  The paycheck runs a little thin and we wonder where the money to do what we need is going to come from.  My sister-in-law won the Nebraska lottery.  $100k.   Boy, could I use that kind of money.  God wouldn’t it show folks your power much better if a pastor got that kind of cash?  God we’ll really show your power if we all pray and you heal my friend of cancer.  Ok, how about this simplest of examples.  Every Sunday, God promises to make faith grow right here through the simple words of his servant.  Often at this altar he provides food for faith, bread and wine, Christ himself, for you to eat and drink.  We take it for granted.  We think we’ve got to do something, anything to make what God does here better, bigger.  It’s just too simple a miracle.  It isn’t attractive enough to my friends.  We don’t trust that God will do what he promises, in these simple things.  Of course, we don’t trust God perfectly in all things.  And yet, he requires perfect fear, love and trust in him.  Anything else is sin.  Anything else deserves his anger and punishment.  That’s the difference.  Jesus trusts God, the Father completely.  He even trusts him to allow Satan to take him to the top of the temple.  He could have jumped.  He would have been saved.  Satan wasn’t lying.  But Jesus chooses instead the way of trust even though it means the way of the cross.  Jesus wins with a word.
Do you see the drama here?  Do you see how easily we are drawn into the story?  Even though God’s struggle against Satan isn’t even a fair fight, what a story it is.  It is your story and mine.  Jesus isn’t out there in the desert for himself.  He’s out there for you.  He’s fighting and winning against Satan for you.  When we listen to St. Luke’s telling we should really come away with a couple of thoughts.  We should despair in our ability to do anything to be able to resist Satan.  I like that saying, “when Satan bugs you, all you can do is flea!”  Yea, flee to Jesus.  He’s got Satan right where he belongs, hell bound.  This is just chapter one in the story.  There is more to come, more drama, more struggle, more Jesus!  He wins.  He dies on the cross for you.  If you think Satan is tough in the desert, just look at Jesus deserted on the cross!  When Satan departed from him until an opportune time, that was it.  Just listen to him speaking there. 
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39, ESV)
But he stays on the cross.  Deserted by God the Father, he is our sin.  He is our punishment.  He wins by dying and rising again from our death!  That’s the other thing you should see here.  We are such great sinners, but we have such a great Savior.  He
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. ” (Titus 3:5–7, ESV)
My dear Christian friends, Satan is out there and he’s going to try to put you through the ringer.  But he is like a dog without teeth.  He has no power over you anymore because Jesus has defeated him.  He’s all growl and no bite for those whose faith is in the one who stands on the battlefield alone and victorious.  That’s Jesus your Savior. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Sunday, March 03, 2019

Luke.9.28-36; The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Jesus Christ; March 3, 2019


Luke.9.28-36
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, March 3, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
Today we’re remembering the Transfiguration of our Lord.  The word “Transfiguration” means changed. On that mountain with Peter, James and John Jesus’ appearance changed right in front of them.  What’s happening here is that some of God’s glory in Jesus is poking through to be seen.  Although Peter didn’t understand what was going on at the time, he was so impressed by what he had saw that he wrote about it in his second epistle (2 Peter 1:16-21).  There he calls it God’s majesty.  When Jesus began to shine there on the mountain of the transfiguration Peter was basking in it.  “Lord! It’s great to be here in your glory, with Moses and Elijah.  Let’s make this last a while.  Let’s just stay right here.  Let’s build three tents.  This is just what I’ve been looking for in you.  Now we’ll really be able get things done.  Now life is going to be good.”  Luke tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying.  Maybe Peter had visions in his mind of an end to the Roman occupation with the Roman Legions running from Jerusalem with their tails between their legs.  Or maybe he was thinking about knocking the Pharisees, the “holier-than-thou” religious leaders of the day down to size. Or maybe he had visions of mountains of fish being carried to market from his fishing boat and the new house he would be able to build with all his new-found profits.  When Jesus was glowing on that mountain, when his clothing became dazzling white, Peter was looking at God the way we all want to see him.
That’s right, if you and I were standing on that mountain with Jesus… and Moses… and Elijah… we’d have said it something like this: “Now this is what I’m talking about! Jesus, this is more like it. Here’s the real stuff, the power, the dazzling white I need for life.  Here’s a god that will make my best life now.  Here’s a god who can heal me, fix my finances, straighten out my wife, make my husband a better lover and fill my life with driven purpose.  Here’s a god who can teach my obnoxious neighbor a real lesson in humility.  Here’s a god who I can use to make my life better.”
But just like Peter, we don’t know what we are talking about.  Just like Peter when we think about our Lord Jesus in that way, we’ve got him all wrong.  It’s easy to be that way, in fact, it’s impossible for sinful human beings not to be that way.  We focus on the here and now.  We focus on our needs.  We focus on our wants and desires.  But just like Peter on the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration, we’ve got God all wrong.  We don’t know what they are talking about. 
Martin Luther wrote about this.  He explained this way of thinking about Jesus in a very interesting and easy to remember way.  First, understand that no matter who you are you are a theologian.  We don’t all think of ourselves that way, but it just means that everyone has a way of thinking about and talking about God.  The word theology means simply “god-talk.”  Dr. Luther said there were only two types of theologians:  Theologians of Glory and Theologians of the Cross.  Theologians of Glory use god to make life easier for themselves.  They see god as a means to shape their world and change hard questions into easy ones.  They see god as someone that you do good things for and then in response, he does good things for you.  Live the right kind of life and god will reward you with wealth, health and happiness; pray real hard and god will take away cancer; tell god how great he is in song and he’ll respond with good feelings of peace and happiness; put enough money in the collection plate and god will keep your checkbook in the black; follow these ten biblical principals on marriage and god will bless your relationships with pure joy.  The truth is that every human religion in the world works this way.  Appease the gods and they’ll reward you.  It’s a theology of glory, and it says that I’m the center of attention. If I’m happy and healthy and wealthy, then god is pleased with me and the world is a good place to live.  God is just a way to shape my world and make it happen for me.  That’s god not as he is found in scriptures, but a god invented out of human imagination.  One pastor I know calls this a theology of self glory.
And, if you’re honest you’ll admit that much of the time that’s the god you want too.  God, make my life easy, take away trouble and suffering from my life.  God, give me good things for my life.  You and Peter (and me too!) are all, in our sinful nature, theologians of [self] glory.  Our lives are filled every day with thoughts that put us first.  That is the way with all religions; they focus on human beings and what human beings can do to get god on their side.  Well that is all religions except Christianity.  In our faith, Jesus God’s only beloved Son, does it all.  He reconciles us with God without us doing anything for him.  Jesus tells us what that’s all about.  In fact, it is really what this text wants us to understand.  It starts out Now about eight days after these sayings… What sayings?  Well you just turn back a page in the bible and read what Jesus said.
And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:21-27, ESV)
When Jesus says, deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me he’s discussing what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross.  It’s not something we do to appease God, like other religions but something that God has already done for us.  That’s exactly what Jesus and Moses and Elijah are talking about up on that mountain.  St. Luke says,
And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
It’s that word departure.  They are talking about Jesus death in Jerusalem.  They are talking about the cross.  Actually, I don’t really picture Moses and Elijah saying much in the conversation.  I picture Jesus saying something like, “OK boys, this is how it’s going to go down.  I’m going to Jerusalem to suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, dead and buried. I’ll descend into hell. On the third day I’ll rise again from the dead and then ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God, the Father.”  And then the voice in the cloud booms out, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
God’s glory isn’t seen in the success of those who claim to be doing his will on earth.  Instead, God’s glory is seen most clearly when we are looking at a dead Jesus on the cross.  There’s God willing to kill his only son for the sake of sinful human beings who think first about themselves.  There’s God willing to suffer the agony of eternal punishment for the sake of people who want easy lives instead of what is best for them.  There’s God willing to bleed not out of selfish motive but giving everything, he is for you and me.  There is no contradiction between the shining Jesus on one mountain and the bleeding and dying Jesus on another.  They are one and the same.  That’s God’s love shining through.  That’s God’s real glory being shown in a way that we can see, in a way that we can really understand.  Jesus said it like this Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV)  Well, that’s not very glorious according to the way people think, but that’s God’s glory shining through.  That’s not very glorious according to our thinking.  That’s not very glorious according to the world’s way of thinking.  But that’s how we can know that the God we worship is the true God.  He’s the only one who shows love in this way, by forgiving our sins through his own suffering and death in our place.
The theologian of the cross sees God’s glory in the cross of Jesus Christ, but that’s not all.  Christians (aka Theologians of the Cross), see the cross of Jesus Christ in their own suffering.  One thing I’ve learned in my very short time of being a Pastor: you and I see Jesus most clearly not when things are going well, but when life is hard, when pain is present and when death is very near.  Jesus said that we should take up our cross and follow him.  He’s not really talking about everyday suffering; he’s talking about suffering for the sake of the cross.  You know, having other Christians questions our practice of closed communion and tell us we are unloving because we tell them that Jesus says they can’t commune at our altar.  You know, pointing to Jesus suffering and death on the cross when others only want to look at how Jesus “makes my life better.”  You know, insisting that Jesus and the cross are at the very center of our faith and worship every single week instead of some feel good program like 10 steps to financial freedom.  That’s the cross Jesus is talking about.  But he means too that when we hurt, when life presses in on us from all sides, when we are threatened with illness and loneliness and separation, when we see our own weakness, that’s when we see most clearly that we are lost without Jesus, that is when we cling to the only thing that we know can save us, Jesus our Savior.  And when suffering and trouble come, Jesus doesn’t tell us to buck up and tough it out, he tells us to look for him; he promises to be with us right in the middle of our suffering. 
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Jesus whose glory shines out on the mount of Transfiguration went to the cross for you.  There in his bleeding and dying he suffered sins punishment for you.  That too is a showing of God’s glory.  When he rose again from death, which he also did for you, he showed God’s glory once again.  And he is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  And the amazing thing is that that story of God’s glory in Jesus is your story, too.  You are connected to all that Jesus did. 
We see it right here at this Font.  You can use this Font to remember your baptism. Jesus and you connected by water and the Word.  God’s promise that the glory he showed in Jesus will be reflected in you.  Let’s say it like this:  Today God’s glory shines in you as they are given the name of Jesus.  All through your life weather it is long or short, God’s glory will show in the suffering he goes through.  That’s because God has promised to be with you through it all and because the punishment for your sin was washed off of you and on to your Savior Jesus, none of your suffering is because God is angry with you but only to draw you closer to Jesus.  Someday in the future when Jesus comes in glory, you will rise from death and receive a new glorious body.  That is all promised to you here.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Genesis.45.3-15; The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; February 24, 2019


Genesis.45.3-15; The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; February 24, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, Minnesota;
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.” (Genesis 45:3–15, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that forgiveness is at the center of our faith. All the creeds, the Athanasian, the Apostles, and the Nicene, place forgiveness at the very center. And our Lutheran confessions do the same. The Augsburg Confession Article IV states very clearly:
Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21–26; 4:5]). (AC: I, art. iv, par. 2)
Because of the Work of Jesus Christ for us, his active and passive obedience, his life death and resurrection, his keeping all God’s commands perfectly, we have forgiveness. It is forgiveness won for all people and given freely through faith.
St. Paul especially tells us that forgiveness is needed within the family of Christ.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)
Our issue as sinful human beings is that we often want to hold God’s forgiveness hostage to our own feelings and desires. We want to be in control of who is forgiven and who is not forgiven. While God has indeed given the responsibility to bind and forgive sins to the church, he expects Christians to forgive one another freely. And to speak that forgiveness out loud. The church has the responsibility to speak about forgiveness connected to faith. It effectively says, because of your public actions your faith is in question and forgiveness is connected to faith (But that’s a discussion for another time). For us, Christians, forgiveness is a way of life. You’re not allowed to say things like, “I can’t forgive you now, maybe later.” …as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. So just as we have been freely justified, we are to forgive not based on the strength, merits, or works of those who sin against us.
Let’s look at the case of Joseph. If anyone had a reason or a right to withhold forgiveness it was Joseph. He was a dreamer, and he told his dreams to his brothers and parents. His brothers hated him for his dreams that told them that he would rule over them. That hatred went so far as to plot his murder. But his oldest brother, Ruben, saved his life by suggesting that they sell him to a caravan heading for Egypt. Joseph suffered many things because of his brothers. In Potiphar’s house he was put in charge of the household. But Potiphar’s wife had eyes for him and tried to seduce him. When he refused her, she accused him of attempted rape and Potiphar through him in prison. In prison Joseph was housed with the Baker and the cupbearer of the King of Egypt. When they had dreams they couldn’t interpret, Joseph told them what the dreams meant. The baker would be hanged, and the cupbearer would be returned to Pharaoh’s service. The cupbearer promptly forgot Joseph’s interpretation. Joseph spent two more years in prison, before the cupbearer remembered what Joseph had done for him. When Pharaoh had a dream he couldn’t interpret the cupbearer brought Joseph’s gift to the attention of Pharaoh. Joseph was brought before him and interpreted the dream. Its meaning was that there would be seven years of feast, and seven years of famine. Pharaoh believe Joseph and put him in charge of preparing for the famine. All these things showed God’s hand in Joseph’s slavery. And yet, he was still a slave sold by his brothers. Of course, they thought he was dead. So, when they came to Egypt in search of food during the famine, they didn’t expect to find Joseph in charge.
Now the dreams that Joseph told to his brothers before they sold him had come to be true. He was in control of all that would happen to them. He could have had them killed. But instead he vows to take care of them during the famine. They would come to Egypt and be protected under his authority. Their families would be protected and live in the best land of Egypt. Joseph’s words tell of his forgiveness:
And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:5–8, ESV)
But even more telling is what happens later when Jacob died. All the time that they were in Egypt the brothers feared Joseph’s retaliation. They believed Joseph’s anger was still, while their father was still alive. They come before Joseph pleading forgiveness.
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19–21, ESV)
“… Am I in the place of God?” Joseph reveals his understanding of forgiveness.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” (Luke 6:37, ESV)
He forgives his brothers great sin of plotting his death and selling him into slavery. Just as he was forgiven his great sin. His arrogance and pride when he told his brothers and his parents how he would be ruler over them and is great many sins since. God had forgiven him, he could do no less for them.
Joseph understood that forgiveness came from God. He was forgiven freely through faith. Forgiveness flowed freely from God through him freely to his brothers. He did not deserve forgiveness neither did they. But that is the nature of God’s forgiveness. He gives it freely without any merit or worthiness on our part.
For our part, we are required to do the same. Our forgiveness flows freely from Christ on the cross. Our sin is that we want to withhold that forgiveness from other people. We want to receive forgiveness but withhold that same forgiveness from those who sin against us until they show their repentance. We want them to be worthy of the forgiveness we offer. In this, we show our lack of understanding of what forgiveness is. We measure our sin as small and forgivable, but the forgiveness of those who sin against us as large and unforgivable. We place ourselves in the place of God by judging faith. But it is God alone who judges faith in the heart. We go by public confession of faith. We offer forgiveness freely to those who confess faith in Christ.
So, what do we do when we don’t feel forgiving? Well, we don’t go to, “I can’t forgive you now, maybe later.” Instead we offer the peace that comes with forgiveness. We declared God’s forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross to our fellow Christians. It might go like this, “God forgives you your sin on the cross. I’m having trouble with that forgiveness but that is my sin.” And then we turn to Christ, confessing our sin to him. And the Holy Spirit will bring us comfort that that sin also is forgiven. And over time our feelings of unforgiveness will fade and evaporate. And we too will know the peace that comes from forgiveness. Amen.

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