Sunday, June 12, 2022

John 8:48-59; Festival of the Holy Trinity; June 12, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8:48–59, ESV)

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

What Jesus says is unacceptable. Not only does he say he's greater than Abraham, not only did he say he saw Abraham, but he also says "before Abraham was, I Am." In other words, Jesus claims to be God himself. He uses the very name God gave to Moses at the burning bush. When Moses was kneeling on the holy ground, he asks who shall I say has sent me to Pharaoh? And God answers, "I am that I am." (אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה) And so, these men of God in the temple pick up stones to throw them a Jesus and kill him. Chrysostom the great fourth century preacher asked the question, when Jesus makes himself equal to God
"Would they have ever stopped throwing stones at him?" (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, IV a, page 318)

Get out of your mind once and for all the picture of gentle Jesus. Jesus doesn't speak Facebook platitudes, pithy sayings with cute kitten pictures. Jesus confronts sin and unbelief. This is what the Word, in the Word Made Flesh, has come to do. He confronts sin, and its effects in human beings. He confronts death, and all that it means for human beings. He will not let sin have its way. He does the father's will, even if it means the cross. And that's exactly what it means.

What we have in this text today is a full-blown argument. Jesus doesn't tell the Jews what they want to hear. He tells them their relationship to God is directly connected to him. So, the religious leaders argue with Jesus about their relationship with God through their birthright as the children of Abraham. Jesus flat-out tells them they are the children of the devil because they don't listen to God's voice through him. They have already lost the argument and so they do what people do, they attacked Jesus' person. They called him the lowest thing they could think of a demon possessed Samaritan. And Jesus turns the tables on them. He says, "you dishonor me." And the implication is clear. Jesus is sent by God, if you dishonor Jesus, you dishonor God. And then Jesus pushes the argument further.

"If you listen to me and keep my word, you won't die." And the Jews think they had him.

"Abraham kept God's word, all the prophets kept God's word, but they are all dead and buried. You are mad. Who do you think you are?"

And Jesus lowers the boom. He disconnects them from Abraham. "You say Abraham's God is your God. But you don't know him. I do. I'm not a liar like you. I'm here to do what he has commanded. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad."

Now they're really angry.

"You're not old enough to have seen Abraham." He says that they wouldn't know Abraham's God if he was standing in front of them.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am."

In other words, he is standing in front of them. It's more than they can bear. Their anger boils over into action. They reached down and pick up stones to kill him. But they can't. Through a miracle, Jesus protects himself and leaves the temple.

Nothing is changed. We pretend everything is different. Jesus is fine when we hear him tell us what we want to hear. When we hear him tell us he has a great purpose for our lives. When we hear him tell us he wants us to be rich and powerful. When we hear him tell us that being a Christian is easy. But these are things that Jesus would never say. Instead, Jesus attacks our sinfulness. He tells us obeying his word is more important than our family relationships. He tells us it does make a difference which church you (and your children) belong to. He tells us we are no better than the open adulterer. He tells us we have no excuse for selfishness. He tells us when we follow him the world will hate us. When we do these things we dishonor Jesus, and when we dishonor Jesus, we dishonor The Father. So, there we stand in our sin convicted by the Word of God, in the flesh.

Now, we confess that we are sinful people in need of a Savior. But what Jesus tells us is hard to swallow. We do not see ourselves as sinful, but rather imperfect. We don't see ourselves as deserving eternal punishment but rather minor correction. We don't see ourselves as deserving death but rather rehabilitation. Jesus tells us the only way to escape, the only way to not see death, to not taste death, is to keep his word. He tells the truth. He is God himself standing before the sinner as unrelenting judge. And even though he tells you the truth, it is impossible for you to believe it. And we stand convicted of our sin, falling well short of God's perfect expectation. And so, we want him dead. That is the only place that this confrontation with Jesus can lead to death.

God requires eternal death for sin, in fact, it is either you or him. This is the day that Abraham saw. This is the day of Jesus. Abraham saw what the Jews could not see. Abraham saw our hopeless situation. And Abraham saw God, I am that I am, reconciling the world to himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And he rejoiced. You see, despite your sin, Jesus stands before you in the flesh offering death, but not yours. Jesus Christ, true God, and true man, offers himself on the cross to satisfy God's punishment. Jesus is the substitute sinner. Jesus is God in human flesh dying on the cross for the sins of all people. This is how he confronts sin and death. His death on the cross is the perfect death and perfect and complete sacrifice for sin. There is no other that can be offered. There is no other that you need. The death of I Am on the cross is enough to satisfy the punishment for all sin for all time for all people. And this is all that Jesus claims when he claims that "before Abraham was, I Am." He is God come to reconcile the world to himself.

And so, he reconciles you. You and your sin. You and your lies. You and your selfishness. You and your misplaced priorities. You and your sinful nature are taken to the cross with Jesus. And there in Jesus, death receive forgiveness. Amen.

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

Sunday, June 05, 2022

John.14.23-29; The Festival of Pentecost; June 5, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. (Jn 14:23-29, ESV)

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

I remember this old movie (it’s been remade a few times), a man accidentally gets locked in a bank vault for the weekend. When the doors automatically open, he and comes to the street everybody is gone. Something terrible has happened and the whole population of the earth, every man woman and child, is gone. “Where is everybody?” he shouts at the empty buildings of the Manhattan skyline. He’s been left utterly alone.

It’s scary to be alone. It’s not the way we were created. When God breathed the breath of life into the very first man, Adam, He created for him, a helper, a woman, to be his life companion. Because even though God said the man was “very good” He also said that it was “not good that the man should be alone;” (Ge 2:18, ESV) We were created with the ability and the need to be in relationships. We were created to be in relationship with one another, but we were especially created to be in relationship with God. No one really likes to be alone, that is having no relationships of any kind. Nobody wants to be left alone forever.

In our Gospel lesson for today we see that the disciples, too, were afraid of being left alone. That’s exactly what Jesus has just told them. “I am going away, and you cannot follow me, yet.” And you can understand the disciple’s feelings of fear. Jesus was drawing the attention of everyone. He spoke against the religious leaders of the day saying they were misleading the people. It made the religious leaders angry. Jesus stormed into Jerusalem and drove the money changers out of the temple. The situation seemed to be getting worse every day. So as the disciples gathered around Jesus in the Upper Room the night that He was arrested, they were all sitting in the shadow of fear. In the midst of all of this Jesus tells them He is going to leave them. They didn’t know what was going to happen. (Jesus did) They didn’t want to be left alone, especially now, with Jesus’ enemies breathing out threats and hatred against them. Jesus knew about their fear and spoke to them promises of God’s continued presence through the Holy Spirit. Just look at the strong words of promise found here:

“will come to him and make our home with him”; “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you”; “I am going away, and I will come to you.” All of this is to assure the disciples that “I will not leave you as orphans.” (Jn 14:18, ESV)

Being abandoned and alone is a terrible experience. It just isn’t the way we were created to be. We’ve all seen News stories about abandoned children. We see people leaving one another all around us as the excuses for divorce continue to climb. Despite how we were created we continue to make a mess of our relationships. We continually push people away from us. We are constantly pushed away by other people. We all know what it’s like to be alone. We’ve all been alone. The quiet emptiness can be relieving at first, but it quickly wears thin. We need noise, or people around.

Sometimes we are alone because we leave. We get angry and stomp out of the house. We feel threatened so we run away. We become uncomfortable with someone who is different from us, so we walk on the other side of the street. We separate ourselves from other people out of fear, or anger, or hate, or even bigotry. Sometimes we even separate ourselves from God. We ignore His desire to gather us together to hear His Word. We think we have good excuses. There is always work to do. There is always more sleep that is needed. There is always something that seems more important and immediate. “God will be there next week.” We separate ourselves from God by not speaking to Him in prayer. I’m not talking about getting down on your knees before bedtime (although that’s a good thing to do). I’m talking about speaking with God during the busy moments of the day. We fail to remember that God wants to be a part of every part of our life. He wants us to speak to Him about everything that is happening, all the time. It’s not that He doesn’t know already what’s going on it’s just that God wants active communication. But we forget, or worse, pass up on the opportunities to speak. We push God from our minds during the day. We abandon Him, through our lack of prayer, our lack of communication and through our own actions we feel alone, and apart from Him.

Sometimes we feel alone because we are real victims of other people sinful actions, their rejection or hatred of us. You know what it is like to try to repair a broken relationship, but no matter what you do, nothing works. Families are often lonely places, where people are isolated instead of being full of the loving relationships that should thrive there. We don’t have much cause to feel alone because of racial prejudice, but class prejudice is certainly alive and well in Creston, Iowa. Many people are on the outside, and won’t ever be let in.

Well, it really doesn’t matter weather we are at fault or not. All of us have at times felt alone and abandoned. All of us have been alone. That is when God tells us that even if we are responsible for our being alone He is still with us. Weather we push ourselves away from Him, or weather we are rejected by other people; God promises to be with us always. Jesus words to the disciples speak the promise this way… “we will come to [you] and make our home with [you.]”

That promise was backed up by the very fact that Jesus was there with them in flesh and blood. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14, ESV) The word became flesh and pitched His tent with us. The Word became flesh and made His home with us. He became one of us, a living and breathing person. The sin of Adam and Eve, the sin of the disciples, the sin of you and me, pushes God away. But Jesus closes the gap by becoming a person. Right there in Jesus is God and man without any separation. "What if God were one of us? Just a slob like one of us?" Joan Osbourne's song says. That’s Jesus, taking on everything it means to be human; breathing and eating, sleeping and laughing, crying and walking and dying. Jesus closes the gap, the separation between God and man, in the only way that really makes a difference, by living and dying to bring an end to the wages of sin by taking on himself the punishment we all deserve. Sin is what separates us from God, and sin is what Jesus destroys in his life death and resurrection. When God promises to be near, He makes it true… in Jesus. His Word of promise is true because He is God’s Word Made Flesh that “dwelt among us.”

That’s what’s important to remember about the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples. They are a promise. And all the promises of God, in Jesus, are true. They are made true by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection. The one who gives his life on the cross and rises again from the dead can make any promises he makes true. And here He promises the Holy Spirit as an advocate and comforter, who stands with us. To… teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s Word, God makes His presence known and felt. He brings peace even to people who are troubled and feeling alone. That peace comes from knowing that we are not alone and abandoned. And that’s not peace as the world gives but God’s sure peace that can only come through His presence and through His Word. Just think about it, the very same Word that was spoken in the beginning “let there light… and let us create man in our own image”… the very same Word that brought life to Adam, brings life to you. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Those Words of God bring life and give you identify you as a Child of God. And those words give to you all the promises of God. So, no matter what you think separates you from God… how ever far away God feels is really just an illusion. God’s work in you doesn’t have anything to do with how you feel how you think. God’s work is true because it comes to us through His Word, through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, and through the promised comforter, the Holy Spirit, sent to you and me just as Jesus promised.

God’s presence with you makes all the difference. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to shape and form you. As you go about your life, even when you feel alone, God’s Word works to comfort you. God’s Word works to tell you how to live your life in service to other people. Yea, that’s talking about not being separated from them, that’s talking about not being alone. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit’s work right here, as He puts God’s Word into you from right there. You and I live and show God’s love to one another. Because even when we feel separated from each other we know that God, in Jesus, is where “two or three are gathered in my name.” Anger and trouble among Christians doesn’t need to separate, doesn’t need to make us feel alone. And The Holy Spirit also works to show us ways to share God’s love out there, with people who are not members of this church, even people who don’t know about God’s love for them in Jesus.

We can freely love other people, that is be with them and end our separation from them because the Holy Spirit makes our lives His home. Because God is always with us through the Holy Spirit, our lives are really a place of refuge, a place where we aren’t ever alone. Amen.

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