Sunday, May 26, 2019

Luke.11.1-13; The Sixth Sunday of Easter; May 26, 2019;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13, ESV)
Lord, teach us to pray…
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This text from St. Luke is the account of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray.  It is, in fact, a unique thing.  Not that Jesus is teaching but it’s the only place in the bible where Jesus is asked to teach.  The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John the Baptist taught his disciples.  They ask and Jesus answers.  Notice, too, what Jesus says:  “When you pray say…”  He doesn’t say here’s a pattern for your prayers, here’s what they should sound like, he says, “Pray these words.”  So very often we think that prayers from our hearts are more valid than written prayers.  Or that that spontaneous is real prayer and the Lord’s Prayer is just a beginner’s prayer.  But the truth is there is no better prayer than this one.  A Christian could pray this prayer every day of his life and never exhaust the importance or the depth of this prayer.  Now I’m not saying there isn’t a place for prayers from the heart, God loves those prayers too, but often we tend to think that the Lord’s Prayer is a “beginning” prayer, and that our prayers will get beyond the Lord’s Prayer as more spiritually mature.  Or that the Lord’s Prayer is just a pattern prayer that we use until we know how to pray.  Well, Jesus doesn’t say that he says, “pray this prayer.”  It is the very best we can do is to say back to God the very words that he gives us to say.  Our Church services are full of the very words that God gives us to say back to Him.  We can take great comfort in knowing that whenever we pray the prayer that He gave us to pray we have prayed for everything that we need and everything that our neighbor needs.  A Christian who knows and prays the Lord’s Prayer every day should never be heard saying, “I don’t know what to pray for.”  When you ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.”  He answers by saying, “here’s the prayer to use.”
Remember also that prayer isn’t an option for a Christian.  God commands us to pray just as much as he promises to answer our prayers because of Jesus.  The Second Commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  God gives us his name, that is, he makes us his children through faith in Jesus.  He adopts us through the Word and Water of Baptism and puts His name on us.  We are to use His name that He gives us as He tells us to use it.  … call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”(Psalm 50:15, ESV)  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!(Psalm 118:1, ESV) … whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.(John 16:23, ESV)  We pray because God is our Father, because He commands us to pray, and because He promises to always listen to and answer the prayers of those whom He has given faith in Jesus.
Of course, many of you will recognize that Jesus words here in the Gospel of Luke are just a little different than the words He used to teach the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel.  There Jesus starts the prayer with “our Father,” here he just begins with “Father.”  Either way means the same.  The word “Father” sets our prayer in its proper context.  God is our Father.  He loves us and cares for us by giving us we need.  In fact, of all the words in the prayer “Father” may indeed be the most important one.  The whole rest of the prayer, and the little parables that Luke records for us, are really expanding on the idea that we pray to “Our Father in heaven.” 
I find it difficult to say it better than Martin Luther did.  Turn to page 302 in the front of your hymnal.  Let’s read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer together. 
The Introduction
Our Father who art in heaven.
What does this mean?
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father
Listen again to some of the words… God tenderly invites us.  That’s Jesus teaching his disciples to pray.  “Say this prayer.”  Use these words that God tells you are true.  He is your Father; your true Father and we are His true children.  Jesus explains what it’s like in a way that we can understand:
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
He’s saying, “You know what it means to have a loving father.  No loving father is going to give his son poison when he asks for food.”  God is our true father.  He is God over all things. He will give us everything we need, because He alone knows exactly what we need.  And as Luther said, “God tenderly invites us to believe” this.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are confessing that we believe that God is our Heavenly Father; that He loves and cares for us beyond our understanding.  We pray that He will do what is best for us, no matter what.  And because of Jesus, that’s God’s promise to us, God’s Children.
But exactly how is it that we are God’s children.  How is it that we dare call God, “Father?”  It’s easy to lie ourselves into thinking that because we sit in our pew every week that we earn it.  We haven’t murdered our sleeping spouse and dumped the body in a dumpster.  We haven’t planned terrorist attacks.  We haven’t been attending dogfights lately.  We always think that while other people aren’t worthy of God, we are, because we give more than our fair share to the church or other charities.  We strive to not be wasteful of our possessions.  We have worked hard to earn a good long retirement.  We are clean, well kempt, non-drug users and respected in the community.  Naturally we want to think that because of these and many other things, God calls us his children.  We look like his children; we act like his children, so we must be his children.  But as I said, all of this is a lie that we tell ourselves because we really want to save ourselves.  We want our hard work, all the “good” things we do in our live to account for something more than just a nest egg, and a good reputation in our community.  But God makes it very clear.  all our righteous deeds,” He tells us through the Prophet Isaiah, “are like polluted garments.”  And as far as our relationship to God, all the good things we do, all the hard work, and self sacrifice, mean nothing.  Did you notice that God didn’t say our evil deeds?  No, He said that all the good things we do are polluted.  You see, when we hold up our good works to God as signs of why He should treat us like His children, it’s like a child offering their dirty diaper as a precious gift to their parent.  We are not God’s children because of anything we do.  Everything we do is polluted by sin.  Everything we do is for our own benefit.  Everything we do is to build our own reputation.  None of what we do makes us God’s Children.  We are God children because of what God does.  We are God’s Children because of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
The fact that Jesus calls God, “Father” is very significant for us.  Where God tells us, our good works are filthy rags, He says to Jesus, “This is my Son; in Him I am well pleased.”  What Jesus presents to God, all His good works, are perfect and perfectly acceptable to God.  The life He lived every day, the prayers He offered every day, and especially His self-sacrificing death on the cross; His whole life was good and perfect in His Father’s eyes.  His life is what ours should be, but can’t be because of sin.  But remember, Jesus invites us to believe that God is our Father too.  He invites us to believe that we have the same relationship with God the Father that He has.  He invites us to believe it.  He also promises us that it is true.  Jesus has made sure of it.  That is what his life, death and resurrection are about.  Jesus didn’t come to show us how to do good things that are acceptable to God.  He didn’t come to give us a pattern to follow for our live, just as He didn’t give us a pattern of how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus came to do acceptable things for us.  Jesus came and lived a perfect life for us.  Jesus loved our neighbors beyond our ability to love them.  His righteous deeds are perfect, so Jesus establishes a perfect relationship with God.  And then He gives that relationship to us by removing the thing that makes all the things we do unacceptable to God.  Jesus perfect life was sacrificed on the cross for our sin.  His perfect life makes our imperfect life, perfect in God’s eyes.  God makes that exchange for us in Baptism.  His perfect life is ours; our perfectly deserved death is put on Jesus.  His righteous deeds are given to us, our un-righteous perfectly polluted deeds are put on Him.  What He takes from us He takes to the cross and puts to death.  When He rises from the dead, He proves that what He gives to us is perfect.  Everything that He came to do, he came to do for us.  In the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus says, “when you pray say, ‘Father’,” He’s saying that, everything that he came to do makes God our Father, too.  Sin is removed, God is indeed our Father.
The last thing I want you to notice about Jesus teaching about prayer is this.  Do you know what the most common word in this text is?  It’s “friend.”  That’s Jesus way of assuring us that we are God’s friends and more than that even, as Luther said, “true children who in all boldness and confidence ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”  You see, we don’t pray to God for the things we need and want because we deserve anything.  We don’t ask for anything from God, our Father, because we earn it.  We ask because He is Our Father.  We can indeed ask boldly.  We can indeed ask with confidence.  We can do that because of Jesus, because of what God does for us through Jesus.  What God wants to do for us doesn’t have anything to do with our polluted rags.  He gives it because of our relationship with Him, He is our Father.  And so we pray, Our Father, in heaven…  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Acts.11.1-18; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 19, 2007

Acts.11.1-18; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 19, 2007
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Once in a small-town church on a Sunday morning as the worshippers were gathering almost ready to begin there was a huge roar outside the church.  It was the deafening and unmistakable sound of machinery, motorcycles.  The windows of the church rattled as the engines roared, and then there was silence.  The congregation all looked at the pastor who was standing in front ready to begin.  The silence was very loud.  It seemed to last for a lifetime.  The doors of the church opened and in walked two bikers.  They were dressed in leather, unshaven, dark bandanas on their heads.  The usher froze.  He didn’t know what to do.  One of the men grinned at him and took two worship folders.  Still in shock the usher moved aside, and the pair found a seat near the back of the church.  For everyone the service felt odd.  They did everything just as they had always done, and yet, it seemed different.  When everything was finished, the bikers left greeting the pastor on the way out the door.  “Thanks,” was their only comment.  The others waiting to greet the pastor stood still until the sound of engines roared again and began to fade in the distance.
“Well, what do you think of that?” said one of the faithful, lifelong members.  She was an elderly woman.  “Pastor,” she said, “why do we let people like that into the church?”
“Well,” came the answer, “we let you in didn’t we?”
This is exactly what St. Peter is describing to the Christians in the church at Jerusalem. 
“Peter, why do we let folks like that into the church?  Those are gentiles!  They are unclean.  They do things that we don’t understand.   They don’t bathe like we do.  They ride scruffy donkeys.  They wear weird cloths.”
Peter gives a simple answer.  “When I preached the Word of God to them and told them of Jesus life death and resurrection, they received the Holy Spirit.  They believed it.  They trusted in Jesus for their forgiveness.  They have faith.  I had to baptize them.”
To understand this completely I think we could think a bit about another account from the bible.  Way back in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, there was a prophet named Jonah.  He was called by God to go and preach to the Ninevites.  Now, in case you’ve forgotten, the Ninevites had a problem and it was more than just sinful behavior.  They weren’t Jews.  They were Gentiles.  Oh, they were sinful alright, and very much so.  They were blood thirsty warriors who piled up the dead bodies of their enemies at the city gates so the body could be witnessed by everyone passing by.  They defiantly had that strike against them.  But more to the point, and probably more important to Jonah, they were Gentiles.  They didn’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness; they only deserved his wrath and anger.  He didn’t want them to be saved.  So, he jumped on a boat in Joppa and headed out to sea as far from Nineveh as he could possibly get.  God had other plans.  He sent a storm to sink the boat.  When the sailors found out it was Jonah’s fault the prayed that God wouldn’t hold them accountable and tossed Jonah overboard.  I think it’s important to note that Jonah agreed with them.  He would rather die than go to Nineveh.  A great big fish (probably created for this very purpose) came and swallowed Jonah whole.  And after three days in the belly of a whale, Jonah had a change of heart… mostly.  He agreed to preach.  The fish spit him out near his destination and he reluctantly walked into the city.  “Forty days and Nineveh will be overturned.”  It was a very Lutheran sermon.  It had both law and gospel.  The law: Nineveh will be overturned.  The Gospel: forty days.  In other words, God’s giving time to repent.  And repent they did.  From the king right down to every dog, cat and rat.  They all dressed in mourning clothing and pleaded with God to forgive them.  And that’s just what He did.  He couldn’t way to forgive.  In fact, as Jesus says, God answers our prayers even before we are finished asking.  Nineveh wouldn’t be destroyed after all.  No just to show how deep the distrust of folks who are different can go, Jonah wasn’t so sure.  He sat outside of town waiting for the earth to open and swallow it whole.  It didn’t happen and Jonah wasn’t happy.  A tree grew up over night and gave him shade while he waited, but he still wasn’t happy.  The next day the tree died, and Jonah went into a tirade.  But God put him in his place.  Jonah!  You care more for that tree than you do the people of Ninevehwho I died to save…
Wait a minute!  Hold the phone pastor; I thought you said this was in the Old Testament?  Jesus didn’t die yet.  How could God have said that?  Well, of course you are right.  He didn’t say that exactly.  What he said was that they were children who didn’t know God.  But I think it is very telling they way God saved them.  Jonah dies for three days.  After he rises, he brings salvation to the whole city.  Sound familiar.  That’s Jesus and us.  Jesus died his death on the cross, stayed in the belly of the grave for three days and rose again to bring us salvation.  It’s a great story.  It’s a great story of God’s love and forgiveness.  Jesus died to take away our sins.  And through the water of Holy Baptism he brings you into the church… or should we say He “lets you in?”
The Jews in Jerusalem had a Nineveh problem with the Gentiles.  They were shocked that the Holy Spirit came to them.  It took God’s vision to Peter while he was on the roof trying to take a nap to turn even that great disciples mind about them.  Peter had to see their faith.  He had to see that they had received the Holy Spirit before he was completely convinced.  In the end he said he simply had not choice.  He had to baptize them because God had opened the door of salvation through Jesus life, death and resurrection even to Gentiles.  And aren’t you glad He did?  You and me sitting here, well there’s not a Jew in the pew.  We are all Gentiles; people who were lost until faith in Jesus was planted in our hearts through God’s Word, water and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And we’d be lost too if that same Spirit didn’t come to us every week right here in God’s Word, preached into your ears.  Our faith would die of malnutrition if that same Spirit didn’t use the bread and wine, and the body and blood of Jesus to make it grow.  When you look around the room here you can glorify God and say with the church at Jerusalem, Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18, ESV)
Ah, but there’s always just a bit more isn’t there.  In fact, we began today with a story that may have come at you in a way you didn’t like.  We think we are open to have the Good News of sharing Jesus with other folks.  But I think, in reality, we have a Nineveh problem.  Well, it’s only natural.  There are folks out there who are different.  In Sioux Falls the racial fabric is changing quickly.  How many of you have thought to yourself that you’re glad we don’t have to deal with all that kind of change?  How’s your Spanish?  Or even closer to home.  There are people right here in Grand Marais, that you’d rather would just get up and walk out.  “Why did we let them in here anyway?”  And that’s the city we’re talking about, not to mention 2017 W Hwy 61, Grand Marais, MN, 55604.  How would you react if someone like that walked into our church?  Do you have a Nineveh problem?
Of course, you do.  It’s called sin.  It comes from a sinful nature.  It lives and breathes death into you every day.  It’s not just the Nineveh issue either.  That three-letter word with “I” in the middle is part of everything you do.  You try to tackle it, but you can’t.  You try to ignore it but you can’t.  You want to do better but you can’t.  When you see that, that’s when you know you need a Savior.  That’s when you rejoice that God “let you in” to the family through baptism.  The water connected with God’s Word through the work of the Holy Spirit
…indicates that the Old Adam [that is the sinful nature] in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. [Luther’s Small Catechism]
…to quote the Small Catechism.  It’s about Jesus and what He as done for you. 
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. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:5-8, ESV)
In that life-giving water, God created a New Man that is devoted to good works.  It rejoices in the spreading of the Good News of Jesus to everyone.  So, what about those Nineveh people out there?  Well, Jesus shed His holy and precious blood for them, too.  Faith in Jesus come by hearing (Romans 10:17).  They belong here.  You might ask the question; how do we get them to come?  The answer is, we don’t.  The Holy Spirit does.  He uses you, He works through you, right where He has plopped you down to be His inviting voice.  Pray that He would open your heart to the opportunities.  Invite a biker to church, that’d be a good start.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

John 10:11-18; Good Shepherd Sunday, May 12, 2019

John 10:11-18; Good Shepherd Sunday, May 12, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18, ESV)
Dear Christian Friends;
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today I want you to get a picture firmly planted in your minds.  I want you to have it so well pictured that you can bring it up any time you need it.  It’s the picture that comes from the text.  The picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  Never forget what He’s done for you and what we talk about today.  I know what pressures you face every day.  The reason I want you to put this picture in your mind is because when you fail, when you fall, I want you to remember that you have a Good Shepherd who is there to bring you back.  He’s done everything necessary for you to be with him forever, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.  But you can forget. You can walk away from him forever.  You can reject the Good Shepherd.  Frankly, that scares me more than anything else that might happen to you.  So, picture in your mind the Good Shepherd, Jesus and remember he lived, died and rose again for you.
(a homily by Rev. Will Weedon, Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, IL)
Once upon a time (a real time, mind you, not an imagined one), there was a wolf. He was a fat old thing. You see, he had it easy. Whenever he wanted to eat, he only had to walk his door of his cave and look at the sheep that fed right outside. He’d eye this one or that one. And then he’d go after it and with a minimal struggle, he’d bring the sheep down and eat away. And the more that he ate, the bigger he got, and the bigger he grew, the hungrier he got. He was a wicked old thing; sometimes he’d just poke his head out the door and howl. All the sheep began to shiver at the very sound of him. He’d chuckle to himself. “Yes, you better be afraid, you stupid sheep because one of these days I am going to eat you, and it won’t be pleasant, oh no it won’t. Ha! Ha!” This big, bad wolf, you see, had a name. A name of fear. The sheep had only to think of his name and they’d get wobbly on their knees and some would faint outright. His name, you see, was Death. And Death was always hungry and never satisfied. Always eating sheep and always wanting more. And he stank. The very smell of him was worse than his name or his howl. He was altogether dreadful, let me tell you! He was in charge and all the sheep knew it.
There came a day when he was feeling hungrier than usual. He poked his head out the cave door to roar and he couldn’t believe his eyes. Why, right there in front of his door, on his very door-step almost was the fattest, juiciest sheep he’d ever laid his eyes on. The effrontery of it! He drew in the air to fill his vast lungs and then he let out a stone-splitting howl. All the other sheep in the vicinity turned tail and ran. They were afraid. All but the sheep that grazed still just outside his cave. That sheep paid him no heed at all. Kept on eating, just like it hadn’t even heard him. He was getting mad now. He came bounding out the door and right up to that impertinent animal. Again, he sucked the air into his lungs and this time he breathed out right in the sheep’s face. The sheep looked up and blinked as the hideous odor of decay was blasted in its face. Totally unconcerned the sheep blinked and then stared.
Now the wolf was getting himself into quite a tizzy. “Don’t you know who I am?” he snarled. The sheep looked at him and said: “Yes. I know.” Calm, at peace even. The other sheep began to creep back at a distance to watch. They couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. “Well,” snarled the Wolf, “aren’t you afraid?” The sheep looked Death, that old wolf, right in the eyes and said: “Of you? You have got to be kidding!” Now the wolf was so livid with anger that he spoke low and menacing: “You’re for it, lamb chops. You are not going to have it easy. I’m going to take you out slow and painfully.” There was a moment of silence and then the sheep said: “I know.”
The other sheep had all been watching because they’d never heard anything like this before. But the moment that the wolf pounced they turned away. A great sadness filled them. They had thought, well, they had scarcely dared to hope, but it was just possible that, this once, the wolf wasn’t going to get his way. But their hopes were dashed. It was an awful and an ugly sight. The wolf chowed down. It was slow and it was painful, just like he said. And in the end, there was nothing left. He turned his rude face, red with blood to the other sheep, and he belched. They turned tail and ran, knowing that he’d be back for them one day soon.
As the wolf went back to his cave, he took out a tooth pick and cleaned his teeth and he thought that he’d never tasted a sheep that was quite so good before. Nothing tough about that meat. It was tender and rich and altogether satisfying. The thought hit him with surprise. It was almost as though his insatiable hunger had been quenched for once. The thought was a little disturbing. Well, no matter, he thought. And off he went to bed.
When the morning came the wolf wasn’t feeling quite himself. It was almost as though he were getting a bit of tummy ache. Such a thing never happened. He always woke up ravenous and went off to start eating first thing in the morning. At least a dozen or so sheep before the dew was off the grass. But not this morning. His tummy WAS grumbling. By noon he was feeling more than discomfort. He was feeling positively ill. He who had brought such pain on those poor sheep, he was getting a taste of pain himself and it was most unpleasant. He kept thinking back to that impertinent sheep he had eaten yesterday afternoon, the one that had tasted so strangely good. Could it have been poisoned or something? It wasn’t long before he stopped thinking altogether. The pain was just too great. He rolled around on the floor of his den and his howled and yammered.
The sheep heard the sound and didn’t quite know what to make of it all. They crept cautiously nearer and nearer to the door of his house and turned their heads listening. What could it mean?
It was sometime in the dark of the night that the wolf let out a shuddering howl. Something was alive and moving inside its own gullet. Something that pushed and poked and prodded until with a sudden burst, the gullet was punctured, and hole ripped open. And something, rather, someone stepped right out through the hole, right out of the massive stinking stomach. The wolf felt like he was dying. And I suppose in a way he was.
The figure that stepped out of the wolf’s belly was totally unknown to the wolf. Why, it looked like a shepherd! He’d heard of such a critter, but had never actually met one. With a staff in his hand he walked around and stood facing the wolf. And he began to laugh. He laughed and his laugher burst open the door of the wolf’s house. He laughed and the sheep were filled with bewilderment wondering what was going on in there. He laughed and he looked the wolf right in the eye.
“So, you don’t recognize me, old foe? It was I who ate outside your house three days ago. ‘Twas I that you promised would die horribly and how you kept your promise. But what do you propose to do about me now?”
“You? The wolf gasped. The voice was the same; he recognized it. This shepherd was indeed the sheep whom he had swallowed down. “You. But how? Oh, the pain!” The shepherd smiled and said: “Well, I think you’re pretty harmless now, my friend. Go on and try to eat some of my sheep. I promise you that as fast as you swallow them down, I will lead right out through the hole I made in your stomach. And then you’ll never be able to touch them again! Ta!”
The wolf howled in fear and anger and rage, but there was nothing he could do. The Shepherd had tricked him, fooled him good! And the Shepherd then stepped outside the door and called the sheep together. They knew his voice too. They’d heard it before. They stood before the Lamb who had become the Shepherd and they listened as he told them what would happen to them. “You’ll die too. He’ll come out in a few days and be hungrier than ever. He’ll swallow you down. But don’t worry. I punched a hole right through his belly and I promise you I’ll bring you out again.”
Once upon a time, and the time was 2,000 years ago. But the promise still holds: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.” It is the comfort of the Resurrection that Christ reaches us today in his Supper. Here we may taste the body and blood that went into the wolf’s mouth, but which the wolf could not hold. As you eat and drink you have the same promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life!” Let the old wolf howl and snarl all he will. We know about the hole in his tummy. We know about the Sheep who is the Shepherd. Our Good Shepherd. Amen!


Sunday, May 05, 2019

John.21.1-14; Third Sunday of Easter; April 5, 2019

John.21.1-14; Third Sunday of Easter; April 5, 2019

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. ” (John 21:1–14, ESV)
 “Our God is the God for people who make mistakes.”
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia! Christ has risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
You’ve heard that old joke.  Earlier today I was sure I had made a mistake.  I wasn’t sure because it is so rare for a guy like me.  But upon reflection, after thinking about it for a long time, I realized that I was mistaken.  I didn’t make a mistake after all… oh wait; I guess I just made one.  Maybe the other thing was a mistake after all? 
Well, that’s not me.  I make mistakes all the time.  Lot’s of times the mistakes I make are right out in front of everyone.  Have you made a mistake this morning?  Preparing to come to church, did you use the wrong toothpaste, use too much hot water in the shower and leave everyone else cold?  Make a wrong turn?  Say the wrong thing to your spouse? 
Really though, those kinds of mistakes are one thing, we’ve all made mistakes like those, but we’ve all made another kind, too.  I’m talking about the ones that keep you up at night.  The ones you must keep pushing into the back chamber of your mind.  I’m talking about relationship destroying mistakes, bridge burning mistakes.  Things you did that change your life in ways you never liked.  The ones you say to yourself even years later, “If only I had done that differently.”  I’m talking about the kind of mistakes that eat away at you in regret.  Now they’re not always big mistakes either, sometimes the littlest thing can bubble up in your memory, like a minor offense against a long-lost friend that can now never be taken back. 
Now before we go on, I want to make a point.  It would be a mistake to classify all our sin as mistakes.  That makes it seem that all our problems are accidental, as if somehow, we weren’t to blame because (as we often say) “nobody’s perfect.”  That’s just an excuse to try to push the blame away.  Let’s be clear.  We are sinful people.  We live in the sin that we were born with.  We can point at our parents and blame them because we inherited our sad state from them, but we have plenty of blame on our own.  The mistakes that we make accidentally are only a by-product of that sin.  You have heard me talk about “not living in a perfect relationship with God.”  The First commandment says, “You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear and love God above all things.”  And we don’t.  Primarily we love ourselves above all things.  That’s the real nature of sin.  We want to be god instead of letting God be god.  When our selfishness shatters that part of the law; all the rest, all nine of other commandments, fall like dominoes.  Without a perfect relationship with God, it is impossible to have a perfect relationship with anyone else.  Mistakes, especially those in our relationships with other people, are a part of that “not living in a perfect relationship with God.”  The regret that we feel, the self-inflicted pain that we suffer is the law that is written on our hearts that tells us that things should be different.
Today’s texts are about mistakes.  Well to be more accurate they are about God (that’s really the case with the whole bible).  These texts are about the God who is the God for people who make mistakes.  And talk about regrets, St. Paul had a whole bucket full of them.  He had no illusions about where he was before Jesus met him on the road to Damascus.  He wrote in his letter to Pastor Timothy:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Ti 1:15-16, ESV)
When Paul was still called Saul, he “breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…”  He didn’t just make life tough for them; he did everything he could to cause them to be killed.  When we first see him, he is standing among a crowd of angry people, approving of their stoning of Stephen.  “I stood watching and approving.” He said later.  Paul wasn’t just an enemy of Christ’s Church; he was an outspoken and active persecutor of it.  There was real blood on his hands.  In some ways it puts our simple regrets to shame.  And he had no illusions about who he was.  And yet, Jesus met him on the road.  Paul, chief of sinners, because Jesus greatest Apostle.  Had Paul made mistakes? Yep, did Jesus forgive? Yep.  And look at the result.
Now the disciples too were plagued by mistakes.  When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, they ran for their lives like scared rabbits.  They left Jesus alone, even though they knew exactly who he was: They had seen miracle after miracle and heard every word he spoke.  And Peter even more.  When he was confronted with being Jesus disciple as a he stood outside at Jesus trial, he denied that he knew the man who he saw walk on water, and who invited him to do the same.  “I will lay down my life for you!” Peter told Jesus, but to the woman who accused him of being a disciple, he said with a curse, “I am not!”  I think you can see their regret.  Remember where they were on the first evening of Jesus resurrection? After they had heard from the women that Jesus was alive?  They were huddled together in a darkened room with the doors locked, “for fear of the Jews.”  And maybe even for fear of Jesus.  They had left him to the cross.  Peter had denied.  When the news of Jesus alive again reached them, I can imagine they really weren’t all that anxious to see him again.  “If only I hadn’t done that.”  “If only I hadn’t said that.”  The minds must have been full of regret.  Their actions, their failed courage, their running and hiding and denying, were all mistakes they must have wished they could take back.  But as I said Jesus is the God for people who make mistakes.  When he appeared to them, the very first time after the resurrection, he said, “Peace be with you.”
John tells us another account of Jesus appearing to them.  When they didn’t know what to do, they went fishing.  It sounded like a good plan.  But even though they were accomplished, professional fisherman, they didn’t catch anything.  Jesus appeared to them (even though they didn’t know it was him) and directed them to a large catch.  It must have seemed just like the old days!  Peter swam ashore, and the disciples dragged the net ashore.  Jesus allays all their fears and eats with them.  It was a sign of forgiveness and acceptance.  It was like saying “Peace be with you” again.  Jesus appeared to bring them peace, to remove their regrets, to accept them despite their mistakes.
Jesus accepts you despite your mistakes.  But you should know that he doesn’t just sweep them under the rug.  Remember the real problem isn’t mistakes, it’s “not living in a perfect relationship with God.”  That’s our real problem.  That the real nature of sin in us.  And what we deserve for that is God’s anger.  He wants to be in relationship with him and we simply push him away, for our own selfish reasons, because we want to be our own god.  Imagine how hurt you’d be if you invited someone to diner and they just said, “No. I won’t come and eat with you.”  Well, Jesus takes care of our broken relationship.  First, he did live in a perfect relationship with God, the Father.  That first commandment that we can’t begin to keep; Jesus did, and all the other nine, too.  Perfect, complete, and finished.  And then he took stood in our place as God let out all his anger against sinful people.  As Jesus hung on the cross dying, he wasn’t just suffering from nail holes and struggling to live, he was suffering what human beings should have suffered.  Eternal punishment for their rejection of God.  Jesus withstood the punishment of hell for you.   Jesus withstood the death of sinful people for you.  We are selfish, he was selfless.  In love he gave up his life and he suffered punishment for you.  Now because he suffered the punishment, we don’t have it to suffer anymore.  Through faith in Jesus we are connected to God again.  Our imperfect relationship is made a perfect, though incomplete.  You see, he doesn’t just sweep aside sin; he deals with it in the only way it can be dealt with.  The punishment is received, and the relationship is restored.
Since regret and mistakes are only a symptom of the real problem, they all go with it.  Mistakes, and regret, willful sin and accidents, hurts and pain, trouble and sorrow follow Jesus in death into the tomb.  But only life comes out again when he rises from the dead.  That’s why he can bring peace to the disciples.  The peace he brings evaporates the regret they feel from their mistakes and failures.  That’s why he can turn Saul to Paul, and along with a name change a change of heart.  Paul’s regrets are done away with and Jesus uses him.  And even you, even the regrets that you have… they are done away with by Jesus.  Those mistakes that you made are taken care of. 
You might well ask the question, why would I want to be a Christian? Why would I want to be religious?  Out there every day, and more and more every day, when you leave our little ‘protected’ corner of the world, you are going to find a world that is hostile to your faith.  You will be challenged in your faith from every direction.  You will have bosses, friends and family who will tell you that your church is old fashioned and doesn’t really know the true nature of things.  They will tell you that the world is the result of accidental forces of nature not created by any god.  They will tell you that if you believe homosexual behavior is a sin you are bigot.  Your friends and family will tell you that sex outside of marriage isn’t wrong and everyone cheats a little bit.  And you will be tempted to keep quiet when you know the truth of God’s Word.  And you know what?  You are going to make mistakes.  You are a sinful person.  Life is challenging.  Why do you want to be religious?  Why is Christianity so important to you today and tomorrow and all the rest of your life?  It’s not the reason most people think.  It’s not because you’re going to be perfect, or even because you’ll get to be better than anyone else.  It’s because you will make mistakes.  You will sin.  You will fall short of your expectations.  But our God is the only true God, He is Jesus Christ, and he is the God for people who make mistakes.  He is the only One who has taken the regret that you are going to feel and put it to death and buried it in the grave right along with the punishment that your sin deserves, right were it belongs.  The very same thing that Jesus did for the disciples and Peter on that beach in Galilee, the very same thing that he did for Saul / Paul on the road to Damascus, is what he has done for you.  And that’s what it means to be a Christian.  That’s what it means to belong to the God who is the God for people who make mistakes. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ has risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.