Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jesus Provides for Our Greatest Need - July 29, 2012 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - Text: Mark 6:45-56

This morning we continue following through the Gospel of Mark, picking up where we left off last week. And again this morning we continue to see and hear one of the trademarks of Mark’s Gospel, that is that something is always “immediately” happening. Mark’s Gospel does not move along slowly, but as you read and hear Mark’s words you have the distinct feeling that things are moving rather rapidly as everything seems to happen “immediately.” And so, this morning after Jesus fed the crowd, now “immediately” we are rushed off to our next narrative.
Before we rush, “Immediately” into today’s text, we want to take a moment to remind ourselves of our context. So, previously, as in last week, we were brought to the point of Jesus attempting to give His apostles some Sabbath day rest which was truly to no avail as the crowds saw Jesus and the apostles, recognized them and then ran ahead to the place where they were landing the boat. Jesus had compassion on the people and instead of getting their much needed rest, He cared for the people, teaching, healing and the like. Finally, at the end of the day Jesus feeds the five thousand, plus women and children perhaps over 15,000 people in all and then sends them home.
Notice that it was the crowd that came seeking Jesus. They came looking for Him, but let us not get carried away thinking they are looking for Him to be their Savior. They sought to make Him king or better said to make Him a bread king, in other words, they were wanting to make Jesus king so He would take care of them. They are truly no different than people in our world today, even many so called Christians. Because we are conceived and born in sin, our nature is not to seek for a Savior or Messiah, but our nature is to seek for a bread king, someone to take care of us. Today we hear false teachers and preachers encouraging us to believe that God wants us to be rich and prosperous, what we call a prosperity theology. We hear false preachers telling us that we can be the people God wants us to be because Jesus lived as an example to show us how to live in such a way, what we call a theology of glory. And we are told that if you are not rich and prosperous or living as God would have you live it is because you simply do not have enough faith. These are false theologies and will lead you either to believe you can save yourself or lead you to despair.
As our narrative continues, Jesus sent the crowd away and He sent His disciples away and He went up on the mountain to pray. Certainly this is a good example to us all of our own need to be in prayer and in communication with our Lord. While He was praying we are told that Jesus saw His disciples having difficulty on the sea because of the winds. Here again we see Jesus as true God being able from the mountain through the dark at about 3 am, to see several hundred yards or more perhaps even two or three miles out on the sea.
Now, interestingly enough we are told that Jesus walked on water and that He meant to pass by them. What does this mean that He meant to pass by them? After reading several not so good explanations, it would seem the best explanation for Jesus meaning to pass by them was that He was testing His disciples. Remember, His disciples were ordinary sinful human beings with their own backgrounds and perhaps superstitions. When they saw Jesus they were terrified and believed they were seeing a ghost. So much for their believing in Jesus as true God in human flesh who came to save the world. Jesus, as Mark says, immediately spoke to them reassuring them of His presence. He then got into the boat and the wind ceased and the sea became calm.
We are then told that the disciples were utterly astonished. They did not understand, at least not completely, who this Jesus is and what He came to do. Certainly, again, they are like many in our world today who do not understand who Jesus is and what He came to do. Too many in our world and even in the Christian church believe Jesus to be someone who provides for our physical and bodily needs. They do not understand their greatest need nor how Jesus came to fulfill their greatest need.
For many in our world, Jesus is just a good example. And yes, Jesus is a good example, but He is so much more. Jesus is a good example because He knows human need from experience, after all He is truly human. Jesus knows what it means to be tempted. He knows what it means to be hungry, to be tired, to be sleepy. Jesus knows what it means to lose a loved one through death, to be sorrowful and sad. Jesus knows what it means to be human.
Jesus also knows what it means to be God, because He is truly divine. He showed His divinity through His miracles. Through His feeding the multitudes, through His casting out demons, curing the sick, making the lame to walk, and raising people from the dead, Jesus shows He is truly God because only God can do the things He was doing.
As true God and as true man, Jesus lives a truly perfect example for us. Even as true God and true man, Jesus went up the mountain to pray. Jesus understood and shows us the importance of our relationship with God the Father, indeed our relationship with Himself. Our greatest needs in life are not our physical bodily needs. Certainly we need food and drink and daily bread; certainly we need clothing and shoes, a house and a home; but these are not our greatest needs and without excess, our Lord provides for all our needs, not in a manner of greatness or prosperity, but in providing for all that we need. Yet we have a greater need, one which we often over look or fail to see, or even admit.
Mark again shows us that the world of Jesus’ day is not much different that the world we live in today. In the world of Jesus day people recognized Jesus or at least people thought they recognized Jesus and many brought other people to Jesus. In our world today many people recognize Jesus, or at least we think we recognize Jesus and very often we work to bring others to Jesus. In the world of Jesus’ day, as He continues to do today, Jesus healed the sick, the only difference is that in our world today Jesus tends more to healing through the means of medicines and doctors. And as in His day Jesus did not always heal everyone, cast out all demons and raise all people from the dead, so it is today, not all people are healed nor does anyone resist physical death.
So, what do we take from our text for today? We are reaffirmed in our faith that Jesus is who He says He is, He is true God who took on human flesh. Jesus is the one who was promised in the beginning who would come and take care of the greatest need of all people.
Jesus showed Himself to be truly human and divine. Jesus had to be truly divine in order to be born in perfection. Remember, God’s demand of us is perfection, we are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Jesus was also truly human and He had to be a human in order to be our substitute, that is in order to be able to trade His life, His perfect life for our imperfect life.
Jesus came, not simply as an example and not to be served, but to serve and give His life. If Jesus were merely an example, because we might think we can keep His example as is the case of those who think they can be the people God wants them to be, meaning be perfect, this would lead to works righteousness or better said, this would lead us to think we could save ourselves and would have no need for Jesus, thus leading to eternal spiritual death. Or if Jesus were merely an example and one that we know we could not emulate then we would be lead to despair thinking that since there is no way we can be like Jesus we might as well simply live life as we want. No, Jesus came to serve and to live His life for us and to give His life for ours.
And yes, Jesus does provide for all our needs and notice I said needs, not wants. Our wants are indeed quite great and certainly any thoughts of God’s desire for our prosperity would fall in the category of wants. For God to provide for all our needs means that He does provide us with clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, and all we need to support our body and life, and not necessarily in excess.
And finally, first and foremost, Jesus provides for our greatest need, even when we refuse to acknowledge our greatest need and even when we refuse and reject our greatest need. Our greatest need is forgiveness of sins. Jesus came to this earth, giving up the glory that was His in heaven as true God, in order to take on human flesh and blood. Jesus lived perfectly for us because we cannot. Jesus took our sins upon Himself, freely because of His great love for us. Jesus suffered the torments of hell, eternal spiritual death, for us on the cross. Jesus died and rose for us. On the cross of Calvary Jesus earned and paid the price for our sins, our greatest need. And yet, that forgiveness which He earned is not distributed on Calvary, but is distributed through His Word and Sacraments. Our greatest need is to make regular and diligent us of His means of grace. Our greatest need is forgiveness of sins which is distributed through His means of grace. Our greatest need is to remember our baptism, to remember that with water, God’s name was put on us, faith was given to us and we were given forgiveness of sins. Our greatest need is to confess our sins and hear our Lord’s words of forgiveness, your sins are forgiven. When we hear those words of forgiveness we know that is what we have, what His Word says, forgiveness of sins. Our greatest need is to read and hear God’s Word, on our own, through private and family devotions, in Bible Class and Sunday School and indeed in the Divine Service, because we know God’s Word is efficacious, that is it does what it says, it gives the gifts of which it speaks, faith, forgiveness and life. Our greatest need is to come to the Lord’s table to partake of His body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. As we come to the Lord’s Table, the gifts Jesus earned on Calvary are delivered to us. As we come to the Lord’s Table and partake of His Holy Food, His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death, and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
God loves you so much. Jesus loves you so much and He has shown His love for you. God has so much He wants to give to you. Jesus earned forgiveness for you and His desire is that you desire His gifts. My prayer for you continues to be that through His means of grace, as you make regular and diligent us of His means of grace that you might be made assured of your forgiveness, be strengthened in your faith, and be ready to stand before the Lord’s throne, robed in His robes of righteousness and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Lord’s Compassion - July 22, 2012 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Mark 6:30-44

When we are children it seems as if time crawls by, especially as we wait for important events, like our birthday and Christmas. As we grow older and as we become involved in more and more things we realize how true it is that time is relative and the more we pack into our lives the faster time flies and the quicker life runs past us. And even when we take time off, it seems we get so involved in doing so many things that life still is rushing past. Many people pack so much into their weekend that when the weekend is over and it is time to go back to work, they need more rest. As we rush through life we are reminded of how true the cliche is, ‘we need to stop and smell the roses.’ The reason our Lord has given us the day of rest, the Sabbath day is so that we will rest. In our text for this morning we even have Jesus showing us what He means as He gathers His disciples for a time to rest.
This morning we pick up in our Gospel reading where we left off last week. Last week, maybe you remember, we had the account of the beheading of John the Baptist. Remember John? He was the one who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. He was the one who spoke openly against Herod who had taken his brother’s wife, his sister-in-law, as his own wife. And remember Herod? He is the one who threw the big party, drank too much, watch his step-daughter’s seductive dance and then promised her anything up to half his kingdom. When the step-daughter, at her mother’s prompting, asked for the head of John on a platter, Herod felt remorse, but not wanting to have his reputation tarnished, he had John beheaded.
Two weeks ago our Gospel lesson was the account of Jesus sending out the twelve for some on the job mission work training. Our narrative this morning picks up with Jesus gathering His apostles after they had returned in order to give them an opportunity to get some needed rest and to debrief them. They had just had some exciting things happen and they needed a chance to unload, to debrief. We all know how that is, after a tough day or an exciting day, we just need to tell someone about it. And that is what Jesus is trying to do, give His disciples an opportunity to talk about all that had been happening. To put it into the language of today, we might say that Jesus was trying to have a nice family dinner with His disciples. The problem was, the people did not want to leave them alone, there were too many distractions. Mark tells us, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” And so Jesus tries to get them to a private, quiet place. And that is what they did, or at least, tried to do, go to a private place, yet, again, Mark tells us, “Now  many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.”
Jesus saw the people and He had compassion on them. Our text tells us that Jesus described the people as they “were like sheep without a shepherd.” They were wandering aimlessly, looking for someone to follow. That was then, and now is today and the same thing happens. People are like sheep without a shepherd. We are like sheep without a shepherd. How often do we find ourselves wandering aimlessly through life. When we are young we wander from school to school. As we get older we wander from job to job. Many times through life we wander from relationship to relationship. Continually it seems we are wandering from one problem to the next. We wander about in the haze of business. We find ourselves wandering aimlessly involved in so many activities and things of this world. It would seem we have time for everything except what we espouse to be the most important things, family, church, and a relationship with Jesus. And the temptations get greater as our children get older and as we get older. So many new, exciting and different things of which to be a part. We are like sheep without a shepherd because we have left our Good Shepherd to follow all these other shepherds of the world. And this is sin and this can and does lead to greater sin. The fact of the matter is that if we continue to follow all these other shepherds, the ultimate conclusion is death, eternal spiritual death. There is only one Good Shepherd, Jesus, and He is the only one who can save us.
We live in a country where people pride themselves on their busy-ness. We hear people brag about how much time they spend at work and then they wonder why they always feel so tired and unfulfilled in life. I have to tell you, I have never heard anyone on their deathbed say, “I wish I had spent more time at work.” Our work, our careers, our accumulation of stuff, our busy-ness has for too many people become a great idol.
Many, too many, in our world are wandering from one spiritual leader to the next spiritual leader, from one guru to the next, from one religion to the next, from one cult to the next. I would suggest that there are even times when we find ourselves wandering in our own faith. We wander about, at times, feeding on the wrong things. We feed on the false teachings and lies of this world rather than always feeding on the truth of God’s Word. How often do we find ourselves believing the theologies of the world; prosperity theology, theology of glory, theology of self improvement, and so forth, instead of the theology of God’s Word? The talk show hosts on television will tell you that “their god is not like that.” “I worship a loving god, a tolerant god,” someone else tells us. Designer religion is the wave of today and we are told that this is something good. Yes, we are very much like sheep without a shepherd.
And just as Jesus had compassion on the people of His day, so He still has compassion on us today. His greatest compassion is seen in the giving of His life for ours, but just by saying that, too often, we miss a lot of the Gospel. The Gospel is not just that He died. The Gospel is that fact that He lived. He lived perfectly for us, in our place. He lived the way the Law requires us to live. He lived for us so that His life, His perfect life, is our perfect life. He lived in perfect relationship with us and with His Father.
He lived perfectly for us, in our place, something we cannot do, something all of humanity could not do. He spent all of His time here on this earth for us. He did not busy Himself with anything except with what needed to be done for us. He lived perfectly, then He freely took our sins upon Himself, not by coercion, not because He had to, but because of His love. He took all our sins, all your sins, all my sins, all the sins of all people. He took all our sins upon Himself, and He suffered. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell, the wages of sin, the cost of sin, the price for sin. He suffered eternal spiritual death and hell. And died for us in our place.
But death and the grave could not hold Him. We know the story. On the third day He rose from the dead. For forty days He showed Himself to be alive. We have eyewitness account after eyewitness account of those who saw Him alive. Then, on the fortieth day He ascended into heaven where He is today, seated at the right hand of the Father, where He is watching over us, ruling over us, and interceding for us. He still has compassion for us.
He continues to show His compassion for us through His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. He continues to gather us in order to encourage us. Unfortunately our only option is to refuse and reject His gifts which is what we do when we do not make time, take time, and schedule time, to come to His house in order to hear His Word and be given His gifts. When we do come to our Lord’s house for Divine Service, as He moves us to come to His house, we come to be given the gifts He has to give and  to respond to His gifts with hymns of praise, with words of encouragement to one another, in order to be lifted up. We come to His house to gather in this solitary place in order to be re-energized to face the week which lays ahead of us. We come to His house to be reminded of our Baptism, that is that His name has been put on us and faith has been given to us. We come to His house in order to confess our sins and in order to hear the most beautiful words in the world, those words which tell us, “Your sins are forgiven.” Yes, those words are the most beautiful words in the world and we know that when we hear those words, that is exactly what happens, our sins are forgiven. We come here to hear His Word and to be given His body and blood and forgiveness through His Holy Supper. Not only as we come here, but as we read His Word on our own, as we have personal and family devotions, He comes to us through these times and means in order to give us His good gifts and blessings, His gifts, faith, forgiveness and life.
He comes to us through His Word and through His Sacraments. As we remember our baptism we are reminded that God has claimed us as His own. God has put His name on us. We are His children. He has washed us and made us free from sin. As we partake of the Lord’s body and blood in His Holy Supper, we participate in His life, death and resurrection. His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Through His Sacraments we are given His gifts, faith, forgiveness, life.
The old cliche is true, seven days without the Lord makes one weak, that is “W” - “E” - “A” - “K.”  We see that in our own busy lives. We are weak from running around, weak from missing out on the most important relationships—with family, with friends, with the Father. We can live full, carefree, worry free, happy lives, but only as we begin with Him. Jesus loves us. He loves you. He looks at us, He sees us, and He has compassion on us. He wants to draw us to Himself and comfort us. He does that through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments. Not only does He have time for us, He makes time for us. And He is there ready to help us to make time for Him. Jesus wants to give us time to be a family. He wants to give us time to be with each other. He wants to give us time to encourage one another and to be a family. And He does that, as He stirs in us to make time to be His family. I have heard too many people tell me, “Pastor, as soon as we get our lives together, we will get our church life going.” That is backwards and you know what, they will never get their “church life” going. It is only after we get our life with Jesus going that we will get our own lives together, that is how it works with Jesus and that is how Jesus makes it work for us. My prayer for each one of you this morning is that as you have come here to this divine service that you may be encouraged in your own faith life so that you might be able to go out and encourage others so that we might all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Battleship, the Movie a Glimpse at Pop Culture

It has been said that if you want to know what is going on in popular culture, watch the movies and such is the case with the movie Battleship. As far as this movie watcher is concerned, Battleship was a good movie, and a lot better than the previews made it out to be. The story was another story of our world defending itself against a seemingly superior enemy. The game of Battleship, from which this movie gets its name was seen in the strategy of defeating the enemy and there was a bit of a War of the Worlds imagery in the weakness of the enemy. The story included the usual coming to terms of what is right by our hero who of course, got the girl in the end. As for a look at popular culture, the view of the culture as perceived by the movie makers of Hollywood and what is actually believed by society outside Hollywood, perhaps they are not the same, as we will see and make note.

As we will outline in this review, the movie Battleship bears the Hollywood perception of popular culture as one in which everyone believes the theory of evolution, everyone believes there are more advanced life forms on distant planets, and America has no right being the greatest country in history. The presumption of the belief of molecules to man evolution is shown to be proven by the fact that other life forms have evolved on other planets in much the same way as they evolved here on the planet earth. Interestingly enough, however is the concession that for other life forms to have evolved on other planets is the fact that the other planets would have to have a similar atmosphere. In other words, they would have to have evolved on a planet that would be in a solar system in which the planet would be a similar distance from the sun of that system. And also, is the thought that they would have evolved to look a lot like humans. From a purely “scientific” standpoint, the “facts” presented in the movie (suspending my disbelief) might be better explained as the universe having a master designer or creator who created the universe with a similar design throughout, such as might be the case with an architect who has a certain design pattern in all his designs.

The belief that there is intelligent life, or more intelligent life on other planets is an unproven theory, yet because of a great campaign of presenting this scenario over and over, and despite any evidence, people eventually will believe anything, if it is said often enough and loud enough. American is a bit schizophrenic in its nature, believing that we are so simple we cannot be the only life forms in the universe and so proud we believe we can control the weather on our own planet.

An interesting aspect of history is the fact that unless you know your history you are doomed to repeat it. Another interesting fact of history is that it is our history which has brought us to the point of where we are at this time. For some reason the powers that be in Hollywood would like to beat up our modern culture, seeming to suggest that the sins of peoples, cultures and societies of the past should and can be correct by a people who had no part in the past. Interestingly enough, this same culture reviles in the freedoms and advances made by those who have gone on before. In other words, biting the very hand that made possible what they want to disavow. History is history, and we are the greatest country in history because of our history. We cannot change our history and really we have no reason to apologize for our history, yet we can use our greatness to pull others up and that has been what has made our country great. Perhaps if Hollywood would spend more time getting history correct and espousing the greatness of America and less time judging and condemning the past they might actually make movies that are more inspiring for building a brighter future yet.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thoughts on Higher Things 2012

The theme for the 2012 Higher Things conferences was Twelve. Twelve for the twelfth year of Higher Things Gatherings, Twelve for the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles, that number twelve times twelve times one thousand, the total number of saints in heaven. The two plenary speakers focused our attention on numbers in the Bible and their meaning. This year our youth were privileged to one of four gatherings, the one at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I believe this was the smallest of the four gatherings with just under 500 participants.

One of the greatest features of the Higher Things gatherings is the fact that along with beginning and ending the conference with Divine Service and the Lord’s Supper, we are in worship as a large group three times a day beginning with Matins in the morning, Vespers after lunch and Evening prayer after dinner. Each group individually concludes the day with Compline before bed. It is amazing to see and hear all these young people participate and chant much of the liturgy and do so joyously.

Another little know fact about the Higher Things Gatherings is that every evening after Evening Prayer pastors are available for private confession and absolution. This year, I heard, one youth group decided to avail themselves of this awesome privilege simply to experience and better understand what great thing private confession and absolution truly is.

As a pastor, I was offered the opportunity and taught two sectionals on debunking the theory of evolution. Although I did not get a “head” count, I would estimate that between the two sectionals I was able to teach between sixty and eighty youth and adults. And along with teaching I was able to attend sectionals as well. I attended informative sectionals on angels, on stem cell research, and on Revelation chapters twelve and thirteen.

Finally, one of the highlights for me personally was that I was able to assist in the Evening Prayer on Thursday evening as the Lucifer, which is Latin and means the Light Bearer. In other words I served in carrying the candle for the service of light.

What a great joy and privilege that we as a congregation have been able to make attendance at these youth gatherings available for our young people. I pray that you will see the benefit of these gathering and continue to support (especially financially) our youth who would like to attend and our adults who would volunteer their time for these gatherings.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Given and Sent - July 8, 2012 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 09) - Text: Mark 6:1-13

Much like our text from last week as the Lectionary committee deemed it appropriate to combine two readings, so this week we have a similar situation in which the Lectionary committee again deemed it useful and fitting to combine two readings into one. So, instead of simply reading of the people of Jesus’ hometown taking offense or reading of Jesus sending out His twelve apostles with authority, so we have both readings for this morning. And again, much like last week as we saw the wisdom of the Lectionary committee, so I believe there is wisdom in the combination of these two readings this morning as well and as we will see. This morning we will come to see Jesus being rejected and yet not giving up and we will see how He gives His apostles His authority to bear witness of Him and in the same way even today, we will know that Jesus gives us His authority to bear witness of Him as well, not as apostles, but as priests in the priesthood of all believers, living lives of faith, as living sacrifices for the Lord.
Our text opens with a scene from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Jesus had been away for a while and when He came back into town, what was thought to be His hometown, remember He was born in Bethlehem, they asked Him to preach on the Sabbath. And preach He did. Jesus did such a good job preaching that the people were amazed at Him. But actually, I do not think it was a good amazement. You see, they listened real close as Jesus preached. And He did a great job. They listened, and they even acknowledged that He was a wise man, but they took offense at Him. And please notice, it was not that He was trying to be offensive, but that they took offense at Him. They did not like acknowledging His wisdom because they grew up with Him and thought He was no different, no better than they were. Of course, Jesus was not trying to present Himself as being better; He was simply proclaiming to them the Word of God. We know He really was better than they were, because He is God. I do not know; maybe they were jealous of Him. You know, “small town boy does good” and all. Maybe they were thinking, “That could be me.” “I could have left town and become a famous person, but I stayed here to help out with the family business.”
Their attitude reflects that of many people today, us included, as we take offense at one of our peers who might speak to us concerning their faith, or ours. We are kind of touchy,  are we not? Although God warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, I think sometimes that is exactly what we do. We would all like to think, “What an important person I am,” but unfortunately we do that to the extreme, and we often end up hurting other people. I guess sometimes we are all “legends in our own minds.”
In Jesus’ day, the people were amazed at Him. But just the same, Jesus was amazed at the people. Well, He had shown Himself to be the Messiah. Through His preaching and teaching, through His healing and feeding the multitudes, through the signs, wonders and miracles He performed, He showed that He was the Messiah, yet the people would not and could not believe. They could not believe because of their confusion. Many were confused because they knew Him as a child, at least in their own minds they thought they knew Him. They had an image of who He was and what He was like as a child. “This is the carpenter, the son of the carpenter.” “This is Mary’s son.” “His brothers and sister still live here with us.” Of course, we know He is God, and we know that He was perfect, even as a child.
Too many people were confused because of their misunderstanding of who the Messiah would be and what He would do. Many people of Jesus’ day were searching for an earthly Savior, someone who would free them from their bondage to the Romans. Someone who would bring them back to the glory days of King David and King Solomon. Someone who would make them rulers in the land. Likewise there are many people today who are confused about Jesus. They are confused because Jesus does not meet with their expectations of who Jesus should be and what He should do. The problem is that their expectations of Jesus do not match what the Bible tells us about Him. Too many people today expect Jesus to be a problem solver, a star maker, a money giver, a power broker, a bread king. Too many people today are expecting Jesus to be the Savior they envision Him to be, and too often that is a vision of an earthly Messiah, Savior and King.
Jesus had a hard time sharing the message of the Gospel in His hometown and to His own family, but the same things can be said about people in our world today. There are many of us who have a difficult time sharing our faith with our own families. For some of us our difficulty comes because of the previous knowledge of what we were like as a child. Yes, I confess, unlike Jesus, I was not a perfect child, but I do not think that should discount my faith nor my being able to share my faith with others. And there are probably some that cannot and will not accept our confession of faith because of their jealousy of our salvation. The devil works in many and in mysterious ways.
I am convinced that Jesus remains amazed at us today. People today continue to reject Him because He is not the Messiah they perceive Him to be. People today are looking for a Messiah who will make them famous, a star, who will bring them prestige. Some people are looking for a Messiah who will bring them riches. If only their god would help them to win the lottery or make it rich quick without any work on their own behalf. Some people are looking for a Messiah who will keep anything bad from happening to them. Surely their god is a god who triumphs over evil, otherwise, what good is he. Some people are looking for a god which they have designed. Their god is a god of mixed religions. Take what you want from each religion and make up your own god. Too many people have created their own god in their own image. Unfortunately not too many people are looking for God on His terms, as He reveals Himself to us.
Yet that is what Jesus continues to do. He continues to reveal Himself to us as He really is. He shows Himself to us through His Word and Sacraments. He shows that He is the genuine article. As we make use of His means of grace, reading His Word, the Bible, He shows Himself in His living His life for ours. He is the one who gave up the glory that was His in heaven, as God. He took on human flesh and blood, being born of a woman, being born in a stable and placed in a manger. He lived a life of relative obscurity, at least until He was thirty. He lived perfectly, obeying all of God’s laws, perfectly. He fulfilled all God’s promises concerning the coming Messiah, perfectly. And then, freely, He took all our sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty, the wages, the price for our sin. He suffered hell for us in our place. He showed Himself in giving His life for ours. He died so that we will not have to die. He died so that we might have life, eternal life, heaven. On the cross Jesus earned our forgiveness.
Thus, we are compelled to believe because He compels us. The key to our text is verse five. In verse five we are reminded that there were a few who Jesus could touch and heal. We are a part of those few who believed. We believe because He gives us faith, He brings us to faith. He brings us to faith through His Word. As we read His Word; the Holy Spirit works through that Word to work faith in our hearts, to give us forgiveness of sins, to bring us from death, and to give us life, eternal life. He brings us to faith through Holy Baptism. At our Baptism water is put on us with God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God puts His name on us. He puts faith in our hearts. He washes us clean with forgiveness. He makes us His children.
And we are compelled to respond, because He moves us to do so. We just cannot help it. We are among those who have believed and whom He has touched. Because of what He has done for us we cannot help but to respond with works of service. Not that we always do works of service or do them perfectly, but we cannot help but to want to be an active part of God’s family. We want to come to the Lord’s house to divine service to be given the gifts He has to give, to hear what He has to say to us through His Word, to be reminded of our Baptism, to have His Word of forgiveness spoken to us through Holy Absolution, to eat His body and drink His blood at His Holy Supper, and to respond in worship of Him, to sing praises to Him. This is something which happens because God makes it happen. God gives, we are given to and He moves in us a response of faith.
Thus, we have the second half of our text, that Jesus sends out His twelve apostles with authority. So, indeed, we are sent out, with authority. As we leave our parking lot we see the sign, “Entering the Mission Field.” So, we come here to this house of worship for our divine service. We are reminded that Jesus earned our forgiveness on Calvary. And we are reminded that it is here in divine service, through the means of grace, though Holy Baptism, through confession and absolution, through our hearing God’s Word, and through His Holy Supper that the Lord distributes and gives out what He earned, that is we come here to be given the gifts the Lord has to give, the gifts He earned, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We come here to be strengthened and kept in faith. We come here to be given His authority so that we might go out into the world made ready to give an answer, a defense of our faith.
We are moved to live and speak the good news to others. You know how it is when you get something new; you just cannot hide it. You have to show it off and tell everyone about it. When you get a car, you do not park it in your garage. No, you drive it around, hoping, waiting to see someone, anyone, so they can see you in your new car. When you hear some good news, some exciting news, maybe you were given a raise or a new position at work, maybe you and your spouse are expecting a child, or a grandchild, whatever the good news you cannot keep it to yourself. Such is our faith as Christians. We do not hide our faith in the garage. No we drive it around, we look for people to show it off, we cannot wait to show and tell others of the hope that is in us.
In our text for this morning we are once again given the council of God, that is we are given the gifts our Lord gives; faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, the gifts He earned for us on Calvary. We are given His authority as well as we are compelled to live lives of faith always being ready to give an answer for our hope and faith in Jesus. And truly we moved to respond by saying, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What Does Feng Shui Have to Do with It?

I had a friend come to visit, and while we were visiting he kept looking at my house, kind of in a weird way. He kept mumbling about how things are not really laid out very well, at least not very efficiently. He said my couch and recliner were not in good spots. He said my bedroom furniture was wasting precious walk room. He even said my patio furniture was not place right to get the most out of my yard. He said he had come across this wonderful system of how a house can be laid out for maximum efficiency. He said it was called Feng Shui.
My first thought, after he told me about this Feng Shui, was that I had heard about Feng Shui, or at least I thought I had, and if memory served me correctly, it was some sort of Chinese belief about “how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.” When I suggested to him that “Feng Shui is based on the Taoist vision and understanding of nature, particularly on the idea that the land is alive and filled with Chi, or energy,” and I felt that as a Christian perhaps we should not be dabbling in these other religious beliefs. He laughed and said I was being silly.
My friend developed a plan for better organizing my house according to the teachings and belief of Feng Shui all the while assuring me that by simply putting into practice some of the styles of Feng Shui, in no way would this be interfering with the substance of my faith. As a matter of fact, he went on to suggest that it might even help me better my faith practice.
After a few weeks my house was completely Feng Shui-ed. At first I thought it was pretty good, I did have more space or at least it seemed so. But one thing I noticed. Whenever I would have guest, they would always remark about my new decorating. They would inevitably ask about my decision to redecorate and why I decorated the way I did. I would then explain about this Feng Shui concept.
Interestingly enough some of my friends decided they wanted to Feng Shui their own homes and apartments. It was almost like I was a Feng Shui evangelist. And after a while my friends and even my acquaintances asked me about my religious affiliations, some even asking if I had leanings toward Buddhism. Even more fascinating is the fact that some of my friends began visiting Buddhist temples and becoming more and more involved the Buddhist culture.
I never realized and would never have guessed how changing one’s style could have such an effect on changing one’s attitudes and beliefs. I guess it is true that we do practice what we preach, that our actions to show what is in our hearts and that how we act does affect how others perceive us to be.

In the book of Leviticus God gives His people a way to worship Him. God gives His people various rites which serve to point to the ultimate Savior. In the New Testament the One that was promised and the One to which all the Old Testament pointed was born. After His ascension one’s “birthright” especially as one of the children of Israel, was no longer important, yet what was important was the continual worship of the One who saved all people.
Although the ceremonial law of the Old Testament was fulfilled in the One to whom it all pointed, Jesus, the moral law of observing a day of rest was never negated. Through time the worship practices of the Old Testament were reshaped into the worship practices of the New Testament. In the church of the Old World, before the discovery of the Americas, the practice of worship continued to carry on those same aspects that God had originally given His people in Israel, such practices as Confession and Absolution.
At the Reformation, Martin Luther took great care to retain the worship practices of the Church because he knew they were an important part of what we call “Divine Service” or God service. Such important practices today include making the sign of the cross at the invocation and so remembering our Baptism; confessing our sins and hearing the words of absolution; speaking back the very Word our Lord has given us in the liturgy; hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed; and of course, being strengthened through our participating in the Lord’s Supper.
Unfortunately, there are many in our world today who have either completely abandoned what God has given or simply have disregarded much of what has its roots in what God has given in Leviticus. And interestingly enough, those same people have born witness of another belief system that is not all together what God has given. Thus, there is often the question concerning one’s denominational identity according to the worship practices one exercises. It should be of no surprise that as we practice what we preach and we preach what we practice, and then when preaching and practice do not correlate, one or the other must change. If we change our style of worship it affects our substance, and if we change our substance it affects our style. It is no wonder many people are confused about what is happening in our own churches. May the Lord forgive us for mucking with the Divine Service He has given to us and through which He comes to give us all the gifts and blessings He has to give.
Please quit trying to Feng Shui my Divine Service!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Jesus Heals - July 1, 2012 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: Mark 5:21-43

Our lectionary series used to call for either the reading of the healing of Jairus’ daughter, or the healing of the woman. I would suppose that as the years have passed and as the lectionary committee continued looking at these text, rather than simply giving us one or the other of the text, they have seen fit to put both readings together, and well they should as I believe they both fit well together. I will also contend that the reason they fit well together is for the purpose of showing us that Jesus is who He says He is, that is that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, even God in human flesh. As we will see this morning, He shows His humanness through His compassion for the people and He shows His divinity through His power and authority over the world.
Our text begins with the request. Jairus, the synagogue leader comes to Jesus to request that Jesus would come to heal his daughter. His daughter is sick and is near the point of death. Certainly Jairus has heard about Jesus even if he has not actually heard Jesus preach and teach. Perhaps He has even seen Jesus do some miracles. Certainly there is some foundation for his coming to Jesus to make a request for healing for his daughter. Or perhaps this is the last desperate act of a desperate man. His daughter lay sick and near the point of death and there is nothing he can do. Certainly Jairus knows that Jesus has a reputation and any good member of the synagogue would have nothing to do with Him. Yet, under threat of being expelled, Jairus is a father who loves his daughter and will do anything to save her, even risking his own position in the synagogue.
Jairus’ actions show he has faith. He has faith in Jesus. He actually believes Jesus can heal his daughter, that is why he is coming to Him. He may even have faith in Jesus that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. It may be that out of fear he is unable to admit such faith. Jairus has faith in Jesus and so he approaches Him, falling at His feet, begging Him to come and heal his daughter. His is the cry of a desperate man who desperately loves his daughter. Jesus’ response is that He agrees to help him and so He went with him.
On their way to Jairus’ house there is an interruption, quite a lengthy interruption and the second narrative in our text. There is a woman who is ill. She has been to see many physicians and they have all used up all her money and not one of them has been of help to her, if anything, they have even made her worse. She too has either heard of Jesus or heard Him preach, and she too, like Jairus, believes that Jesus can help her. Perhaps she too believes that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world, the Christ, but we are not told. We are only told of her faith. The woman’s faith is such that she believes that if she can just touch Jesus’ clothes that she will be healed. Her’s too is the last desperate act of a desperate woman.
So, as the crowd pushes against Jesus, this woman sees her opportunity. While the crowd is pushing against Jesus, certainly He will not feel an extra touch, a touch of His garments, at least that is what she thinks. So, she reaches out and touches Jesus’ clothes and she is immediately healed. What a sigh of relief. What a great feeling, finally, after all these years to be free, to be healed. As for Jesus, He immediately senses her touch, as our text puts it, “Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from Him.” Of course, Jesus is truly God and so He already knew what was going on in this woman’s mind and He knew the moment she touched Him and that it was her.
And so Jesus makes an issue of what happened. He confronts His disciples and the crowd. He wants to know who touched Him? Who drew power from Him?  As the seconds tick by, the woman knows she is caught. She knows she can hide no longer and so she comes forward and confessions that it was she. She approaches, humbly, falling on her face, prostrate before Him. She fell down trembling in fear and humility and tells Jesus the whole truth of her life, why she did it. Upon her confession, Jesus reassures her that her faith has made her well. She will remain well and she may go in peace. This whole incident certainly could not have lasted too long, perhaps a few minutes at the most, yet this interruption which meant life and healing for the woman, meant death to Jairus’ daughter.
While Jesus was completing His words to the woman, one of Jairus’ friends comes with a dreaded announcement. Jairus’ friend approaches him and suggests that he not bother Jesus anymore because it is too late, his daughter had just died. It is interesting that one’s faith in Jesus was such that Jairus and his friends believed that while his daughter was still alive, Jesus could heal her, but they did not believe that He had power over life and death.
Jesus turning His attention back to Jairus assures him and tells him, “Do not fear, only believe.” Interesting that Jesus had just healed this woman, as He had healed many others, continually showing Himself to be truly God and yet, there is such doubt and fear when it comes to His ability to bring back to life. Again, it is almost as if they believe Jesus has some power, but not all power. Their faith reflects our own faith at times. How often do we find ourselves believing that Jesus has power, power to forgive, power to heal, power to do some things, but we fail to believe that He is all powerful. We show this in our thinking that there is something we must do to help with our salvation, to help Him with His work or whatever. Too often we neuter God in our unbelief.
Jairus’ shows his faith. He does what Jesus says. He believes and they continue going back to his house. When they get to his house the professional mourners are already there. There is weeping and wailing and quit a commotion. Jesus tells them that the child is not dead, but is sleeping and their reaction is to laugh. Again, it appears that theirs is a lack of faith of Jesus ability, not to heal, but not bring back from the dead.
Jesus sends everyone out of the room except Peter, James, John, the girl’s mother, and Jairus, the girl’s father. Jesus takes the daughter by the hand and speaks to her. He says, “Talitha cumi,” which we are told means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately, the girl got up and began walking around. Certainly this was an amazing and an astonishing site. Mark tells us that they were overcome with amazement. Jesus brought her healing, bringing her from death to life. Jesus brought her complete healing with no lingering side affects. She got up immediately and she began to walk around, immediately.
Through this miracle, as through others, and as through all His works, (sign, wonders and miracles as John calls them), through Jesus bringing back to life, He shows His power over all creation. Jesus is who He says He is. He is the Christ. He is the Messiah. He is God in flesh. He is God with power over all creation and He continues to show that power, even if only on a limited scale. Remember, as a human, while living on this earth, Jesus does not always, nor fully, use His divine powers.
Finally, we are told that Jesus’ charges them to tell no one. And we know how this usually does not take place. It does not take long for the word to get around that Jesus has healed another person, that He has now raised this young girl from the dead, that He has done another miracle and so people everywhere are hearing the good news.
Okay, so there are two exciting narratives, but what do they mean? What does all this healing and bringing back to life mean? As I have said before, Jesus is truly God. He continues to show Himself to be truly God. He does this through the sign, wonders and miracles He performs. It is important that He is truly God so that He might be perfect, so that He might be able to raise Himself from the dead. Not only is Jesus truly God, He is also truly human. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit through the human woman, Mary. He was born as human in the usual human way. He had to be human in order to take our place, to be our substitute.
As His creatures, as His creation, as sons and daughters of the Lord, we are Jesus’. We are His, purchased and won by Him. Even more, we were sick in sin. We were dead. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. And Jesus comes to us to reach out His healing hand to us. Jesus calls to us to rise, from eternal spiritual death to life, eternal life in heaven. Jesus continues today, while He is seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling over us, guarding over us, interceding for us, He continues also to be with us. He continues to bring healing to us. Sometimes He brings physical healing through the means of doctors, nurses and medicines. Sometimes He brings healing immediately. Sometimes He says to us as He said to Paul, “My Grace is sufficient,” and we remain in our sickness. Whatever the case, we do know that He is with us. Even more than physical healing, He brings spiritual healing. He brings healing through His means of grace, through His Word and sacraments. He brings forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness always comes life and salvation.
Is anything to hard for God? Certainly not. And even if He chooses not to give us physical healing while we are in this world, we know that we yet have the ultimate victory. Death and the grave have no power over us because Jesus conquered death and the grave and His victory is our victory. So, either way, by faith in Jesus and His work for us, in our place, we will see Him and we will live with Him forever in heaven for eternity. And so, ultimately we will stand before the Lord’s throne robed in His robes of righteousness with all the saints and rejoice and say, “To God be the glory.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.