Sunday, May 15, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 08, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 01, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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