A Blessed Identity

Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


On December 8th, 2019, the Coronavirus began in China.  The Coronavirus is a deadly virus that begins with flu-like symptoms.  On January 9th, the first death was linked to the virus. 

By January 28, the death toll hits over 100. 

As of yesterday, more than 2000 new cases were recorded and the death toll has now passed 300, with more than 14,000 infections confirmed.

And, it’s not just in China anymore.  Countries and territories have confirmed cases in Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, Malaysia, Russia, France, South Korea, Germany, Canada, Britain, Vietnam, Italy, India, the Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia, Finland, Sweden, Spain, and the United States.

Delta and other Airlines have suspended all flights to China.  Thousands are quarantined and also while out in public, all are asked to wear masks. 

The World Health Organization is working 24/7 to try and contain the virus.

What if…

  • What if we too are now on lockdown? 
  • What if we are not allowed to leave our homes? 
  • What if all airlines suspended all flights?
  • What if the only way that we could go to the grocery store was to wear masks – fearing that we too could potentially get the coronavirus?

Even as we sit here today, fear seeps into our hearts and minds of what could possibly happen…

Just before Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount, the people had the same fears.  In fact, Jesus had been going to each community – town-to-town, healing those with diseases – Leprosy, those with handicaps, and all kinds of ailments. 

Many lived in fear because of the brutal government, tax Collectors skimming off the top for themselves, women and children lived on the margins of society, and there was no World Health Organization – if you got sick, you most likely died. 

And, here is Jesus – proclaiming the Good News of Salvation.  It could not be a better time to hear these words of Good News. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness  

Blessed are the merciful,

Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers

But, it’s the very first beatitude that makes it difficult for me to get pass.

Just as it is in the Ten Commandments – the first commandment is the most important and all other commandments fall back to the first one – Love God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and all your strength. 

We often don’t get to pass GO because we are stuck on the very first Commandment.

This very first beatitude is the same way:  Blessed are the poor in Spirit…

In other words, blessed are those who are spiritually inadequate.  This Beatitude is the Blood for the living…It is the Holy paradox of the Gospel.

In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen is a priest, who in his discernment, asked God to give him direction for ministry.  Shortly after, a woman came up to him and said, “Go and live among the poor in Spirit…”

This really struck me hard and as I have pondered what that really means, I realize that it’s you and me.  Every single one of us here are “Poor in Spirit,” or else we would not get up on Sunday morning to come to this place! 

And, it’s not just us who are inadequately spiritual – it’s everyone out there.  Some recognize it and some do not –

It is those who feel their sin with hurt and penitence who are really righteous –

It is the dispirited who live before God, and it is the marvelously spiritual who often expire from God’s presence!

For those of us who are spiritually poor – the kingdom exists!  It’s here- right now!  It’s not something that we have to wait for!

And, in this kingdom that gives to us, there is a complete turnaround – we who here at the bottom – the bottom – as the world may see us, but not as God sees us – God will rise us up to the top on the last day! 

And so, all of the beatitudes point back to this very first one: 

Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!

Jesus continues to preach God’s blessings:

  • Blessed are those who mourn: God blesses us in our sadness – not just the sadness we experience from losing a loved one – but the sadness we feel when we witness the rest of the world – when we recognize how far away the world is from God- 
  • Blessed are the meek are those who are unaggressive but are promised to inherit the earth.

God gives us everything – first to the dependent poor, then to the grief-stricken, and now to the unaggressive – Jesus picks up the pieces for us little people in a world!

These beatitudes then are not something that you and I are called to do – but are “Givens.” 

These are not choices, but our way of life as Children of God.  We are Jesus’ Special People.

These beatitudes are for you and me – the ones who are Poor in Spirit and live among The POOR IN SPIRIT,- These are promises from God!

The Coronavirus has now spread to the United States.

A nine-year old little boy and his mom and dad have been quarantined to their home.  No one is allowed to leave their homes.

As they turn on the TV that morning, there is a news outbreak that possibly they can find the cure if they have the right blood match.  All residents are asked to hurry down to their local hospital to give blood.

So, the nine-year old boy and his parents go to the hospital where they wait in a long line to give blood.  They are told to wait to see if they are a match or not.

After sitting and waiting for a few hours, the doctors and nurses come running out screaming, “We have a match!” 

They call out the name of the nine-year boy. 

When the doctors and nurses realize that it is a nine-year old little boy that is the perfect match – their smiles turn into glum.  As his parents, they ask, “How much blood do you need?”

Now being very serious and sad, the doctor tells the boy’s parents, “All of it. 

It will take every single drop of his blood in order to save the hundreds of thousands of people from this virus.”

These parents were devasted.  And, as they take the boy away, the little boy is asking his parents questions as to what is about to happen.

Fast forward to a couple of months later…The cure has been made.  And, already, the people have forgotten about the nine- year old little boy that gave his life for the sake of theirs –

You can imagine the grief-stricken parents as they have lost their son for the sake of others who now, many people do not even acknowledge ever happening.

Imagine if it were your only son…

You see…those people who survived the virus would not have life without that nine-year old boy.

And so it is also, we would not have LIFE without Jesus Christ!

These Beatitudes that Jesus preaches to the people merit God’s Grace.

These Beatitudes that Jesus preaches to the people are the gifts that are given to his very special people that give us LIFE!

As we live among the POOR IN SPIRIT – in community with each other – we seek a right relationship with God –

And, we give it all we got to put God at the center of our lives –

We come to the table in hopes of a clean and pure heart –

And, the blessing is unimaginable – We will see God!  Not that we hope to see Him, or we MIGHT see HIM – WE WILL SEE HIM!

We are children of God and we cannot help ourselves to be spiritually poor, meek, and mournful.  It’s who we are as Christians and followers of Jesus Christ.

And, if Jesus Christ had given His blood for each one of us –  

We know we do not have the capability to bring ourselves comfort us in our difficult days. 

We cannot bring ourselves the Kingdom of Heaven…

We cannot give ourselves our own salvation.

Only God can give us a pure Heart – through His Body and Blood –

We cannot have hope of a place where we will be on top of the world without our Lord who first died for us. 

It is only Jesus Christ who can give us grace-upon-grace and everlasting mercy because of the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection. 

It is only Jesus Christ who can give us the peace that passes all our understanding.

These beatitudes then point us to Christ – and the One who Saves us.

Jesus brings us to our knees in faith, and then puts us on our feet in LOVE. 

It is then that we are able to have compassion and bring justice, because Jesus showed us how.

We are then able to have mercy on the homeless and less fortunate, because Jesus demonstrated that mercy.

We are then able to proclaim the Good News to those who are POOR in SPIRIT because Jesus leads us.

And, we are then able to love others because He has first loved us.

Amen.

What Are You Looking For?

Sermon on John 1:29-42

John 1:29-42

29[John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).


Flip Wilson, a comedian from back in the 1960’ and early 70’s.  He hosted his own variety show and was often a guest on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and was named by Johnnie Carson as one of the funniest comedians on television.

He coined several phrases you may have heard before:

 “When you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not you’re not.” 

“The Devil made me do it.”

And, “What you see is what you get.” 

But if you ever watched Flip Wilson, or read about him, that was really not always the case. 

What you see wasn’t all you got. 

If you were to watch Flip Wilson, you would see a man who was funny and entertaining, but that was really not the man he was –

Flip had dark side to his life.  When he was about 7 years old, his mother took off with another man, drained the family’s bank account, leaving him and his nine siblings.

His father couldn’t raise the children, and after living in basements, tool sheds and coal bins, the children were placed in foster homes.  To make a long story-short, Flip had a horrific childhood.

The funny and entertaining man had a “not-so-funny” and entertaining life.  His private world was driven by substance abuse, selfishness, and distrust.

What you see is what you get – is not really always the case –

Our lives – who we are – and what drives us – are often hidden and sometimes buried deep into our souls. 

What you see is NOT always what you got! 

And, I wonder if that wasn’t the case for these new disciples that followed Jesus that day.  I would love to know what they were thinking that day when John the Baptist yells out…There’s the man!  There’s the One who will take away our sins.

We are in this story with these new disciples.  We have four consecutive days, in which if we were to close our eyes, we can be there, walking along with John the Baptist and these disciples.

Day 1: The Jews sent priests and Levites to come and question John the Baptist about his identity.  Who are you?  Are you the Messiah?  Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet?

And, John responds, “No!  I am the one who has come to prepare the way of the Lord.  I baptize with water, but the one coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit. 

The Next Day…Day 2: “There He is!  Here is the Lamb of God!  He is the one who take the sin of the world! 

The Next Day…Day 3:  Two of John’s disciples heard John say that “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and they begin to follow him.  And, when Jesus notices that they are following him, he turns around and asked them, “What are looking for?”

They respond, “Where are you staying?”

And, Jesus says to them, “Come and See.”

And, so they do…until about 4:00 in the afternoon. 

The Next Day…Day 4:  They head to Galilee, these new disciples and Jesus, where Jesus gathers more of his disciples and then his ministry begins.

Here we go…we are on this journey with them. 

But It’s the profound question that Jesus ask these young boys and the dialogue that takes place as they begin to follow Jesus that intrigues us…

What are looking for?  Where are you staying?  Come and See.

Jesus invites them to the place he is staying.

What did they talk about that afternoon?

What did Jesus tell them?  What did he say and how did he say it?

What did he stress?

What impressed the disciples the most?

But, for me, it really begs the question, “What did they see?”

Jesus invited them to “Come and See.”  What did they see?

I met a woman the other day and her story has stuck in my mind. 

She said that she had always been a Christian – grew up Catholic but has now been in the Lutheran church for the last 50 years or so.  Like many young adults, she said that she fell away from the church for a few years and didn’t think about God or her faith very often.

However, not too long after her daughter was born, she found herself back in the church and so she began church shopping.   That’s when she ended up in the Lutheran church.

She said she loved her church.  And, on one Sunday, as she sat down in the pews just before worship started, she felt someone standing behind her and he put his hand on her shoulder.

Thinking it was someone she knew in the church, she turned around to see who it was standing behind her with their hand on her shoulder…

And, she said when she turned around, looked up, and she saw Jesus. 

Without a doubt…there He was…He was the Man!  The Lamb of God – looking down at her and smiled at her.

She said, “I smiled back turned back around.”  As she told her story, her tears demonstrated how overwhelmed she was with what had happened.

What are looking for?  What is it that you are seeking?  What is it that you are hoping to find?

Let’s face it…this life we live is hard. 

This question that Jesus asked is the heart of the human condition.  Is it not?

We live in a society that is becoming increasingly allergic to faith.  The mantra in the air we breathe is, “What you see is what you get.”

But, I believe that everyone has a craving for depth, but too often people live their lives as if God doesn’t even exist.  The world in which, we live pushes us – pushes humanity – for the desire for something more – something deeper and something more meaningful.

What are you looking for? 

I believe the answer for each and every one of us – is LOVE.  We all want to be loved – truly loved.

And, to be truly loved is to be forgiven for all the mistakes we have made along the way. 

No wonder the disciples followed Jesus that day…

Here is the Lamb of God…the One who takes away the sin of the world! 

Jesus was LOVE.  Jesus is LOVE! 

What is it that you are looking for? 

Well, I’m going to tell you…I’m very envious of the woman who turned around, looked up and saw Jesus, who then smiled at her…

She saw LOVE – Pure LOVE.  She saw the One who died on a cross just for her – Just for you – even though not a single one of us deserve it.

Come and SEE!  Come and SEE the Lamb of God, the Savior of the World, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the CHRIST Child…

I believe that the disciples did not get what they saw – but more than what they ever dreamed possible…

When we come into this place to worship, we see each other, but what we get is a church family that binds us and unites us in profound ways.

When we go to the baptismal font, we see the water and the font – but what we get is the HOLY SPIRIT that descends from heaven and abides in us the rest of our lives and into eternity.

And, as we come to the table, we see bread and wine, but what we get is Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

What we get is LOVE. 

What we get is Jesus Christ. 

The One who died for us.

The One who loves us so much that He emptied Himself of God – became fully human just so that He can stay with us – abide with us in our hearts forever.

What are you looking for? 

Because if you are looking for the Christ who died for you.  He is here!

Where are you staying?

If you are looking for the place where Jesus is staying.  He is here.

Come and See!

Come and See the One who is revealed to us through each other, the water poured out for us, and in the breaking of the Bread.

Come and See is to experience God’s Amazing Grace.

Come and See is to look up and see Jesus – pure Love.

Amen.

Who is the Greatest?

Day 301: Matthew 18:1-10

Our youngest daughter will often try to put me in a position that will make me accidentally say that she is my favorite child out of our four children.  In complete honesty, I do not have a favorite.  Each one of our children are so unique in their own ways.  If they only could know how much I love them, I really think it would be more than they could bear.

In Matthew 18:1-10, I see the same kind of thing going on between the disciples.  They basically corner Jesus, and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  I believe their hopes was that Jesus would say that they were the greatest…and possible even put them in order.  But, of course, Jesus doesn’t do that and does the totally unexpected.  He takes a child and puts the child in the middle of them, and says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  That is bothersome to me, because I am getting up in years and far from being thought of as a child.

Jesus then goes on to say that we are not to put stumbling blocks before any of these little ones.  In fact, he says, “It would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”  (v. 6).  A millstone was a large circular stone used to crush grain into flour.  In other words, if we keep someone who is new in the faith of Jesus Christ from growing in their faith or coming to Jesus in a time of need, we may as well, put an anchor around our neck and drown. 

So, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Honestly, we only have a chance of entering the kingdom of heaven, if we are to own up to our sin and the mistakes we have made in our lives.  In this Advent season, John the Baptist comes to us and preaches, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is Near!”  The Kingdom of Heaven is right in front of us – ready or not…It is here! 

We are children of God and because of Jesus Christ, we have a gift of grace that saves us and gives us a hope of our eternal life – A LIFE in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Expectations…

Matthew 11:2-11

2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
  7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, 
 ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
  who will prepare your way before you.’
11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”


GAP Ministries is a wonderful ministry that is just right down the road from us that helps people in our community to obtain their birth certificates, I.D.s and also have a food bank –

The Director there told me a story about a young man who wanted to be baptized. 

“That’s wonderful,” I said.  She went on to tell me that there are some problems associated with some of those who expressed the desire to be baptized.

Anxious to hear what the issue was, she began to tell me that this young man wanting to be baptized but, had expectations that his life would get better – that he would not have to live out on the street anymore…

Things would be different, and life would be good…he said.  She said she had to explain to him that it didn’t necessarily work out like that –

This young man had the expectation that his life would be good – better than it is now –

Maybe he could find a job that would support him.

The street would no longer be his bed. 

He wouldn’t have to be cold at night.

He would sit at the table and eat a warm meal.

All I could think about as she was telling me about this young man…was that his expectations of what life is about…I take for granted!

We all have expectations.  We expect the sun to come up in the morning.  We expect that we will have our jobs and have the opportunity to retire one day.

We expect that we will see our children grow up and grow old.

And, when our expectations are not met, we become disappointed.

And, for John the Baptist, it was no different for him.

He knew his mission in life.  He knew that he was called to pave the WAY for the Messiah…

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is Near!” 

Ready or Not…Here He is…right in front of you! 

And, so for us…right from the get-go…You and I would never EXPECT a man like John the Baptist to be the one to come before Christ –

A man who lived in the wilderness with clothing made of camel’s hair and who ate locusts and honey every day! 

But yet, there he was, and people flocked all around him from all of Judea, Jerusalem and all up and down the shoreline of the Jordan River –

And, now because of his proclamation of the Messiah, John is sitting in jail.  – Certainly, not at all what he expected he would be doing as the one to ‘prepare the Way for the Messiah!” 

He had heard that Jesus is out there teaching and proclaiming his message in the cities…

And, here he sits – in a prison cell. 

Well, we all know that when you are all alone – day after day, your mind goes crazy with all kinds of thoughts…

And, in his case, he’s thinking:  Maybe I got this all wrong.  Maybe Jesus isn’t the one – maybe he isn’t the Messiah…

And, so he calls for his disciples to go and talk to Jesus and ask the question: 

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

Jesus tells them to report back to John:  Tell John what you HEAR and SEE –

The blind received their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 

In other words, people have been transformed, made whole again, brought back to life,  –

And, the poor – They have Good News – they too can EXPECT a Life beyond their imaginations

And, by the way, also tell John:  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.

You know, Jesus could have said, “Blessed are you John, who never doubt if I am the Messiah…”. But instead, Jesus says:

God bless you John, if you do not throw the whole thing over because I am a different kind of Messiah than you were expecting.

Blessed is ANYONE who takes no offense to me – I believe to be the crux of this text…

Come on…let’s face it…If we are to think of a king, the one who was to change the world…the one who could take everything that is wrong and make it right…the one who could give us life – not death – the KINGDOM of HEAVEN –

A GOD that could have anything, do anything, and be anything –

Would be a man born in Bethlehem, asleep in a barn and laying in a trough – A trough that is used to feed livestock – like cows, goats, and sheep.

Could we not too – wonder, doubt, and question:  IS Jesus THE ONE or should we be WAITING for another?

BLESSED IS ANYONE WHO TAKES NO OFFENSE TO ME –

Blessed are you for not throwing the whole thing over because I am a different kind of Messiah than you were expecting…

And so, in John’s doubt of wondering if Jesus was the One, Jesus gives him an excellent recommendation –

He is a prophet – more than a prophet!  And, he is a prophet because he has been prophesized! 

And now, we have to wonder, is Jesus talking about John or Himself?

Because if John is the Messenger, then it begs the question:  Who are YOU, JESUS? 

If John is more than a prophet, than what does that make you, JESUS? 

John, I am the ONE who is to COME!  I AM the MESSIAH! 

Look around!  What do you hear and see? 

See the transformed lives of those living in wholeness, joy, love, – the crippled can walk, the deaf can hear, and the blind can see!

Hear this Good NEWS!  Believe.  And, most of all – EXPECT IT! 

Blessed is anyone who takes no offense to me –

And, you are right – John – I am not at all what you expect –

I am more than you expect – I am beyond your imagination –

I mean, can you imagine John when he received the news of what Jesus was doing in the world? 

I vision his jaw dropping…

Raising people from the dead?  Healing the sick?  The blind can now see?  The lame can now walk?  The deaf can now hear? 

It’s unbelievable.  It’s unfathomable.  It’s feels too good to be true! 

That young man who wanted to be baptized hoped for a better life.  He believed or at least wanted to believe, that if he was baptized, his life would be better –

His expectations were high – but Jesus is higher –

Because through his baptism, Jesus provides the WAY for transformation and a means of being made whole –

He does raise from the dead and brought to new life! 

Our expectations are high – but Jesus is still higher –

We await this advent season, expecting the Messiah to come again…

Like John, we may doubt and wonder – Is Jesus the ONE?

What do you HEAR and SEE?!

Through our HEARING of the Word of God and SEEING our lives transformed into the likeness of Christ through our own baptism– We are led to our faith.

A faith that transforms us into believers of Christ that loves us so much that not only comes into the world, fully human, but yet fully God – and is willing to die to HIMSELF for the sake of US

Our salvation.  Our eternal Life.  A life that brings joy and peace – no matter what our circumstances may be –

We await this advent season, expecting the Messiah to come again…

I have a feeling it will not be at all what we expect…but beyond our imaginations…

Amen.

A NEW BEGINNING!

Sermon on Matthew 3:1-12

Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
 “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
 ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
  make his paths straight.’ ”
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


I had a parishioner in Pennsylvania who was homebound.  I loved going to visit him because he was just such a unique individual. 

I really think he thought I came to visit to cheer him up, however, for me it always felt the other way around – He had a way of making me laugh and smile and when I would leave his home, I always left in good spirits.

He loved telling me jokes.  So, this joke I will tell in memory of him…

Three pastors in a small town would get together every so often… A Catholic priest, a Baptist preacher, and Lutheran pastor.

They decided that they would go out on the river and go fishing together.  And, so they did.

As they were in the boat together, the Catholic priest said to the other two – “Since we are out here together and no one else is around – this would be a really good time for us to Confess our Sins.” 

And, so they all agreed and began to confess their sins. 

The Catholic priest said, “I will go first since I made the suggestion.  And, so the confession begins…I confess that I have an issue with gambling.  With every chance I get, I go to the casinos or the machines and gamble. – I now owe quite a bit of money.”

The Baptist preacher then says, “I’ll go next…I drink too much.  In our tradition of faith, we are not supposed to drink at all; but I just cannot help myself.  My congregation drives me to drink!”

And so, as the confessions continued and there was discussion among them, there became a great silence.  The Catholic priest looks at the Lutheran pastor and says to him, “It’s your turn.  What is your confession?”

The pastor looks solemnly at the priest and the preacher and finally confesses, “Well, I have a problem with gossiping.  And, honestly, I cannot wait to get off this boat!”

Repent, says John the Baptist.  Confess your sins! 

(You just might want to be careful who you confess your sins to!)

Repent – we often think about “saying you are sorry – or to be sorry.” 

The word “Repent” is not a good English translation for the Greek.  The Greek word for “Repent,” is “metanoia.”  But, the problem is that there isn’t a good translation.  When translating into the English, we lose the real meaning – which is:

I think the best translation out there: A RADICAL RECOGNITION OF GOD!

And so, this begs the question:  How do we do that!?

John the Baptist “Makes his appearance.”  And, he does so in all four of the Gospels.  He is an important dude.

He is indeed, that I’m thinking, if we were to actually meet him, we would never forget him!

He is wooly and wild.  Wears clothing made from camel’s hair, a leather belt around his waist, lives in the wilderness where his food is locusts and honey.

You and I would not give him the time of the day.  I feel certain of it.

But, he makes his appearance – comes out of the wilderness – preaching loudly and boldly –

Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near!

Prepare the Way of the Lord! 

People from everywhere come to hear and witness this new preacher in town.

And, I mean EVERYWHERE – from all of Judea, the city of Jerusalem, and all along the region of the Jordan River. 

Something really big is about to happen here!  This isn’t just about going fishing and confessing our sins to our friends…

This isn’t about just saying we are sorry.

This is huge!  There is a guy here who has made his appearance from out of the wilderness – “OUT of the BLUE” – “Out from the WOODWORK.” 

There is a great urgency here! 

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.  In other words:

TURN YOUR LIVES AROUND BECAUSE HERE COMES THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!

Ready or not…Here He comes.  Change the direction of your life!  Turn around.  Turn towards God!

Turn around and face it!  Here comes God’s new world! 

John’s message of Repentance is a “RADICAL RECOGNITION of GOD.” 

In other words, It’s about our relationship with God and our need for the ONE in whom we are not even worthy to carry His sandals.

I had been to the eye doctor and picked up my new glasses.  I was now running late for work.  I had a meeting to get to and was a good 10-15 minutes out.  I was so focused on getting to work and thinking about what I needed to do next, that I didn’t even notice that I flew by a police officer. 

Of course, it was just moments after that I saw the blue lights in my rear -view mirror.  I pulled over and as he came to my car door window, I admitted that “I must have been speeding.” 

That’s when he informed me that I had passed him speeding.  Obviously, not a good thing.

He asked me where I had been and where was I going.  I explained to him that I had just picked up my new glasses, and in my nervousness, I asked him, “Do you like them?”

He ended up just giving me a warning. 

But, meanwhile, I was convicted of the Law – I didn’t mean to speed.  I wasn’t even paying attention to what I was doing wrong. 

John the Baptist is like that police officer.  He calls us to be convicted of our sin.  He points to our need for forgiveness. 

Just like the police officer is the Law of our Secular World, John the Baptist is the LAW of GOD!

He sets the stage for the coming of Christ!  Christ’s Kingdom is set up!

TURN YOUR LIVES AROUND BECAUSE HERE COMES THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!

And, so the question:  How in the world do we do this?

And, then John even tells us how– Be baptized and bear fruit.

But, there is one problem here and John the Baptist knows it!

“I can baptize you with water – but, I cannot forgive your sins.” 

Repent:  A Radical Recognition of God! 

And, to recognize God is to recognize God’s Son, Jesus Christ! 

Jesus Christ – the One and Only who can liberate us from our sin!

It is only through our relationship with God…Because God towards humans, our new turn – our new beginning…our new way of life to turn  towards God is possible! 

Our relationship doesn’t depend on whether we are Lutheran, Catholic, or Baptist – but depends on our acknowledgement of sin! 

The Law and the conviction of Law- the conviction of our sin is the threshold of the Gospel! 

We…you and I heed the message of repentance!  We prepare the Way of the Lord and turn towards the Kingdom of God when we admit how hard of time it is to change and that we want to change.

God’s wrath does not contradict God’s love for us – It proves it! 

God sends Jesus Christ into our world to redeem us and save us from the Law – the Law that is impossible for us to follow and get right every single time. 

The LAW cannot give – but Jesus can, and He does. 

This message of telling us what to do, telling us to change, telling us to even live a good life and to love – can only show us our need –

Our need for Jesus Christ to come –

Come Lord Jesus…

Amen.

Before the End…

Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

A few months ago, I was talking with our young people in Sunday School one Sunday morning. 


Sermon: November 17, 2019

Somehow the subject of 9-11 came up in our conversation.  I realized at that moment how old I really was when the very ones I was speaking with only had heard stories about that day when airplanes purposefully crashed into two of our tallest and largest buildings known as the World Trade Center. 

And, so I cannot say to you today: Everyone remembers that day on September 11, 2001 –  where they were and what they were doing.  Because some of us here were either too young or maybe not even born yet!

But for those of us who experienced that day – it seems like it was just yesterday…

But, here we are -19 years later…

When the United States was attacked by terrorists who crashed two passenger airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City – killing about 3000 people and 25,000 injured. 

But here was what was totally unexpected…

It only took 1 hour and 42 minutes for both of the 110-story towers to collapse.

I don’t think anyone – not even the engineers who designed the buildings or those who built and constructed them, would have ever been able to imagine that such horror could have ever taken place – so fast…1 hour and 42 minutes both buildings nothing but a pile of stone –

Not one stone was upon the other…

No doubt, the day was devastating and horrific –

I feel a little sorry for the ones who were talking about the Temple that day as they were standing there with Jesus –

“Look how beautiful this building is!  It is adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God!” 

Thinking that Jesus would chime in with them and emphasize how beautiful the Temple was – He says, “Well, guess what?  This building is going to be all thrown down – Not one stone will be left upon another.”

Just think if someone had told us that within 1 hour and 42 minutes, our beautiful 110-story World Trade Center would come tumbling down – Not one stone will be left upon another –

We would be devastated.  In fact, we were devastated!  It’s difficult to imagine that such a thing could really happen and even harder to hear that prediction.

And, the disciples respond just as you and I would most likely respond…

Seriously, Jesus?  How could this be?  When is this going to happen? 

Jesus gives them a list:

  • Beware of false prophets.  There will be those who say, “I am He.”  But, don’t go after them. 
  • You will hear of wars and insurrections – Don’t be terrified though – the end will not immediately follow…
  • Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.  – Meaning that there will be some kind of sign or warning that something really bad is about to happen…

Well…what do you think?  Does this then not beg the question, “Is the end near?” 

But wait…it gets worse…because also before the end – Jesus says:

  • You will be arrested and persecuted
  • You’ll be handed over to the synagogues and prisons – and brought before Kings and Governors.

Well, here is the thing…we may not have experienced this kind of persecution in our community – However, it has happened…

In fact, there have been those who have had a gun pointed to their head – “Convert from Christianity or die.”

On April 20, 1999, before the 9-11 in 2001 – there was a gun shooting at Columbine in Colorado where a gun was pointed to her head and then killed when she confessed that Jesus Christ was her Lord and Savior.

But, not to worry, Jesus says.  I will give you the words to say in your defense.  A defense that in no way will they be able to withstand or contradict. 

Be prepared…to perhaps even be betrayed by your own parents, siblings, and other relatives and friends – all because you believe in Me.  They may HATE you and even want you dead. 

Do not be afraid.  Do not be terrified. 

You know, I’m going to be honest, if I had been the one who brought up how beautiful the building was – I may be wishing I had just kept my mouth shut! 

No doubt, I believe we could go through the list and check off the boxes.  Without hesitation, I wonder if we are just before the end…

Nations against Nations and Kingdoms against Kingdom –

Division even right here in our very own government.

Earthquakes, Forest Fires, Catastrophic hurricanes, and tsunamis…and horrific devastation in parts of our world –

People who are starving and hungry – and we don’t even have to go far to find that – There are those right out our front door –

And, insurrection…Just recently in New York city, the NYPD were belittled and disrespected by  being doused with water – Videos even show where they hit them on the head with a bucket.  Sadly, onlookers and bystanders stand by and watch – laughing as if a side show –

And, while we – here in our community are not necessarily violently persecuted for our beliefs in Jesus Christ – I have to wonder, “Why then…do we still find it difficult to proclaim Christ to others?  Why then is Evangelism so hard?”  What then are we afraid of?

But yet, we have the promises from Jesus:  I will give you the words that you need to say.

But we are afraid.  In fact, we sometimes may even feel terrified.

Look!  Look how beautiful the Temple is – adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God…

…You know…Here is what I think….

Those people were so in armored with the building that was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts that were dedicated to God- but yet, they didn’t see GOD who was standing right there in front of them! 

The Kingdom of God is Near!  In fact, the Kingdom of God is here – right now! 

I believe that is exactly what Jesus was trying to say here…

God is right here! This life is temporary.  Buildings are temporary!

And, in Jesus’ frustration, “I’m right here!  The Kingdom of God is right before you!

And, here is the thing…You may love the building and even the things inside the building…

But, it’s not that building that is going to save you…

It’s not the building that will give you the words to say in your defense.

It’s not the building that can take your suffering away.

It’s not the building that will give you LIFE.

Jesus stood before the people that day – His face set for Jerusalem – and all they saw was the Temple – adorned with gifts dedicated to God –

And, it was God who stood there amongst them –

These are the signs of the times…

…wars, starvation, the poor among us, Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, and fire! 

Kingdoms will rise against kingdoms and nations against nations –

And, a whole lot of suffering…

If you have never been to the 9-11 Memorial in New York City, it is worth your time to visit.  I think what I loved about it is that there is a large pool of water flowing exactly where the towers sat –

For me, it was a reminder of who we are and to whom we belong –

Because you see, Jesus comes to us through the waters of our baptism – the WATER and the Word of God – transforming us from an ordinary to an extraordinary child of God – HIS CHILD!

Here is the thing…Here is what I think Jesus wants us to know more than anything…

Buildings may tumble down where not one stone will be left upon another – Many of us even witnessed it that day on September 11, 2001 –

1 hour and 42 minutes two 110-story buildings in New York City crumbled to the ground when terrorists attacked the United States.

But the ONE who stood before those people that day as they talked about the beautiful building –

That same ONE  – that same JESUS CHRIST is here today – Stands before us –

The ONE who had His face set for Jerusalem –

The ONE who was beaten, spat upon, and flogged –

The ONE who climbed up on the cross –

The ONE who died – went to hell on our behalf – just so you and I will NEVER have to –

The ONE who Saves us and now promises that our eternal life is safe and secure –

God is HERE!  And, God stands before us!  He was here with us yesterday, and He is here with us today, and will be with us tomorrow.

As a Child of God, Suffering is inevitable…

but a Life with Christ is unfathomable;

and more glorious than we can imagine.

Amen.

In the Twinkling of an Eye

The Bible in a Year: 1 Corinthians 15:51-58

In 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, St. Paul states, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”  (NRSV).  He then goes on to explain that our mortal bodies will no longer be perishable.  In other words, when we die, we are changed into something new!  Our bodies must put on immortality and imperishability – and when this happens, the victory of death has been fulfilled! 

However, here is the thing…Jesus does not think of death the same our human minds think of death.  I believe that one of the hardest things about Christianity is that nothing is as it seems or the typical way we would think about things.  In fact, our human minds have difficulty thinking with the mind of Jesus Christ and seeing the world through His lens.  It’s a flip and takes intentionality, practice, and being in the Word. 

The meaning of death for Jesus is Sin.  St. Paul states, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor 15:56).  Sin is the number one barrier between us and God.  We cannot follow God’s Law!  Jesus would say that sin is death.  However, when we acknowledge our sin and repent, our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us on the cross!

So, here is what I do know and believe:  Because of the Cross- Jesus Christ, we are forgiven daily; therefore, we are changed in “The Twinkle of an Eye,” right here – right now!  We are changed and transformed into the likeness of Christ through the waters of our baptism and when we partake in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!  It happens – In the “The Twinkle of an Eye!”  We can know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we will never die!  We can know that right now!  We can have “imperishability and immortality” right now while living here on earth!

St. Paul is absolutely right!  It is a mystery.  We will never understand it.  We will never be able to figure it all out.  But, Jesus Christ does it!  He does it to us, through us, and within us!  And, at the “last trumpet,” we will be standing face-to-face before our Lord! 

ILet us pray.  Lord Jesus, death is a mystery.  Help us to focus on this LIFE – right here and right now!  Help us to acknowledge our sin and come to you for your grace and forgiveness that you so abundantly give to us.  Change us!  In the twinkle of an eye, give us the life you want us to have– and on that last trumpet, we will look forward to standing before you face to face!  Amen.