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.

Wonder

Read the Bible in a Year

1 Corinthians 15:35-50

I have a friend who just lost his daughter.  With having four children of my own, I cannot fathom or even comprehend the pain he must be in at this time.  When I asked him how he was doing, his response was, “These are very dark days.” As believers in Jesus Christ, we know in our hearts and with the faith that God gives to us, we have the promise of eternal life.  However, what we don’t know is what that place looks like; what our human bodies will be like, and what that life will consist of when we no longer live here on earth.  It is the not-knowing that makes it difficult for us when we think of death and those we love who have died.

When St. Paul developed the Corinth Church, his congregation had the same questions that you and I have today.  We not only would like to know for our own sake what heaven will be like, but also for the sake of those we love so much.  And so, in their wonder, they ask him, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body do they come? (1 Cor 15:35).  Paul goes on to explain to them that just like we have a physical body here on earth, we will have a spiritual body in heaven!  

Paul then compares what it will be like by comparing a seed that is sown.  It’s first just a seed and when it comes from up from the ground, it’s a stunning, beautiful flower!  While I think gardening is a good example, think also the birth of a child.  A tiny seed is planted in the mother’s womb and within just only nine months, a beautiful child is born!  

The point here is that only God can take something (like a seed) that appears dead and give it life! No human being on this earth has that capability!  And, so that to me is what our resurrection will be like – We will be dead.  It is our God who will take our dead bodies and souls and give us new life!  It’s unexplainable – just as a seed that turns into a magnificent plant and the seed of human life turns into a beautiful child, we too will somehow be glorious – stunning, and beyond belief of anything here on earth!

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who morn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).  These are dark days.  But, the days are surely coming, thus says the Lord, “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for tomorrow.”  (Jeremiah 31:13).  The wonder of our eternal life is in the mystery of God who created all that we and all that we will be when we are with Him – finally!  

This is the Good News! Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, went to the cross – just so all these promises are sure and written on our hearts. Thanks be to God!

Let us pray.  Lord God, heavenly, glorious, and mighty! Only You can take something that appears dead, raise it up, and give it new life!  We can’t understand it.  We cannot begin to imagine what that looks like or will be like.  However, we do know it is your promise to give us our final destination.  We pray for those who are mourning the loss of loved ones.  Give them Your peace and comfort of knowing that you have them in Your loving arms.  We pray this in your Name.  Amen.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31

[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”


Her name was Teresa.  She was an African American woman who grew up in New York City.  She lived in government housing in the big city with her mom, dad, and three children.  At that time, the oldest child, a son, was about 6 years old, a 4-year old daughter and an infant, not quite one.

The day her life changed forever, her parents were bed-ridden, and her infant daughter was sick.  The child needed a doctor.  She couldn’t put it off any longer.  Without really quite knowing what to do, her parents – though sick and in the bed, thought that they could manage the two children while Teresa took her baby to the emergency room in New York City.

As each of us can imagine, a visit to the emergency room in New York city would most likely mean it would be hours of just waiting.  And, while Teresa knew this could potentially mean she would be gone for a long while, Teresa made the best decision that she thought possible – to leave her 4 and 6 -year old, at home in the hands of her sick parents.

She left that day for the emergency room – and what she found when she returned, was an absolute horror story that changed the trajectory of her life forever.

Parable after parable, as Jesus sits with his disciples, the Pharisees, and crowds of people who surround him.  And, with each parable that Jesus tells the Pharisees, the angrier they got! 

Just after Jesus had told the parable of the dishonest manager, they ridiculed Him.  They were lovers of money and Jesus had just told them that they could not serve both money and God.  No doubt, Jesus stroke a chord with them. 

But before we criticize the Pharisees too much, I believe that it’s important to remember that in the Jewish Law and particularly in those days, wealth and money was seen as a blessing from God.  In other words, you were living righteously – in the right way, if you had money.

So, not only were the Pharisees lovers of money, but also saw themselves righteous in the eyes of God!  In their minds, there was a legitimate reason they had what they had…

But with each parable, Jesus seems to get more and more blunt and doesn’t hold back…He’s running out of time – His face is set for Jerusalem…and there is this chasm that cannot be broken…a chasm – a tension between heaven and hell

A rich man – who is just like the Pharisees – is a lover of money, living high on the hog, dressed to the hilt, and had everything you could possibly imagine.  This rich man is so important that Jesus doesn’t even give him a name.  He’s just called the “Rich Man.”

But this rich man sure does know who Lazarus is – He’s that guy that just won’t go away and keeps hanging out right outside his door.  What a nuisance he is – always wanting something…uggg…and he smells and has these sores all over him, which attracts the dogs because they just want to lick his sores.  

The rich man most likely thought to himself that he just wished he would go away and go bother someone else…

But he doesn’t just go away.  He’s there right outside this rich man’s house until the day that he dies.  And, not long after Lazarus dies, the rich man dies too – even is buried and has a proper funeral. 

Jesus points out to the Pharisees who are listening to this parable…But, you see, in the Kingdom of Heaven, there is this great reversal –

Whoever is first here, will be last.

Whoever has received good things here on earth, will receive evil things.

Whoever lived in agony here, will now be comforted in their eternal home. 

In the Kingdom of Heaven, everything is turned upside down – reversed, and not what we would ever expect…surely not what the Pharisees would have expected.

The rich man sees Lazarus and recognizes Abraham who is with him.  “Help me,” he says.  I’m in agony.  I’m being tormented in these flames.  Can’t you just send Lazarus over – tip his finger in the water over there and just cool my tongue? 

CHILD – “No can do,” says Abraham.  For you see, there is this great chasm that cannot be crossed over – What is done is done.

And, what does the rich man say?  Hurry – please go warn my five brothers.  Maybe if they see you – Abraham – risen from the dead – they will listen to you and change their ways. 

Abraham tells him, “They already have Moses and the prophets.  If they won’t listen to them, they aren’t even going to listen to someone who has risen from the dead.”

So, what’s the point of this parable?  Was Jesus trying to scare the Pharisees into obedience?  Is that what Jesus is trying to do to us?

There is hell and there is heaven.  Want HEAVEN?

“Go sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

“Pick up your cross and follow me.”

“Show Mercy!  Have Compassion!”

“Follow me!  And, if you don’t…There is this Chasm that you cannot cross over…Once it’s done, it’s done…”

Your opportunity to do the will of God is over. 

In our human nature, as sinners in which we know whom we are, may be sitting here concerned about this  CHASM we cannot cross over…

Who LORD, is this parable for?  Because you see, I’m not sitting at the door of someone’s house hoping for just a crumb to fall from their table and sores all over me, in which the dogs come and lick…

Are you talking to me, Lord? 

Well, here is the thing…I believe Jesus is talking to me – to us.  But my Lord loves me, and He loves you.  My God doesn’t manage by FEAR.

He doesn’t point the finger and say, “IF YOU DON’T DO THIS, THEN YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!” 

Jesus, why in the world are you telling us this parable? 

Well, Teresa took her daughter to the emergency room.  And, yes it was hours later before she was able to get back home to her two children and her mom and dad. 

But, something bad happened while she was gone.  Because she was gone for so long, the two children got hungry and decided it might be a good idea to try and cook something to eat.  They turned on the stove and the apartment caught on fire. 

Her 4-year old and both, her mom and dad were killed in the fire.  Teresa, devasted, was now homeless, and both of her children were taken away from her.

I met Teresa in Atlanta while in seminary.  I was placed in a homeless shelter for women and children, where Teresa was with her 8-month old son – Jeremiah.

While homeless, Teresa had other children, all taken away from her due to homelessness.  She came to Atlanta, hoping and praying she could get feet back on the ground.

When I met Teresa, she had just been placed in government housing and reunited with her other 3 children, who had been placed on foster care for 5 years.

I was there with her that first Christmas they were all a family together for the first time in five years. 

You see, I got to know Teresa.  I visited her every week.  I witnessed her poverty, her struggles to survive, and her desire for her children to have a good education.

I thought I could help Teresa.  I could change her.  I could lead her into making good decisions about her life.  I could have a positive influence on precious Jeremiah…

But, something entirely else happened.  And, it was not at all what I expected…

It was the GREAT REVERSAL!

Something happened to me.  I was the one who began to change.  My perspective on homelessness changed.  I began to realize that for many who were homeless was due to circumstances in their lives.  Believe me – they don’t want to be homeless!

They don’t want to sleep in the post office every night!

They don’t want to worry if they are going to have something to eat this day.

They want jobs!  They want a home.  And, for some, they had those things…but they made mistake, they may have made some bad choices; It may even be how they were raised and they don’t know how to get out of the cycle…

I took Teresa and Jeremiah to lunch one day.  As I listened to her stories, I realized that she was no different than me.  She wanted all the things I wanted – her children to have a good home, a good education, and a promising future.

But, I had something that Teresa didn’t have.  I had the capability to better my life.  I had a loving and supporting husband.  I realized that for Teresa, maybe cleaning hotel rooms was about all she was capable of doing.  Her issues with her children were enormous.  As I heard what she was going through as a parent, I could not fathom how in the world she was dealing with all the problems.

That day as she got out of the car from going to lunch, I gave her two dollars.  I knew she smoked, if given the opportunity.  I told her, “Go have a cigarette on me.” 

Because in all honesty, if I was going through what she was going through…I probably would want more than just a cigarette.

You see…Jesus doesn’t want us to go out and feed the homeless, give clothing to the poor, and participate in outreach, because they need help!

We are the ones that need help! 

We are the ones who are sitting at the gate…begging for God’s grace and the Chasm to be broken…

Jesus knows that when we help others – turn the focus away from ourselves, it is our hearts that are transformed!  We are the ones who are changed in amazing and profound ways!

I always say, “If you want to see Jesus – Go be with the homeless. 

He’s the one sleeping on the park bench.

He’s the one walking down the street with everything he owns in a grocery plastic bag.

He’s the one who needs a shower from being in the heat all day long.

He’s the one who just needs a drink of cold water. 

If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me…

Teresa’s life changed drastically for her that day she came home from the emergency room. 

It’s her life that changed my life –

She opened my eyes and my heart to see the world differently.  To experience God’s grace in such a profound way that changed my heart…

And, so you see…this parable is told to us because as believers in Jesus Christ – because we are the ones who have heard and listened to Moses and the Prophets…

Because we believe in the Resurrection – the Risen Christ – we can know and experience the Love of God every single day of our lives. 

We experience God’s grace – We come to the table willing to accept “Even just a crumb from the Table!” –

And, it’s Jesus who sits in the center of Chasm – and we break through to the OTHER SIDE! 

And, it’s about GRACE!  This GRACE that Jesus gives to us is the same GRACE we are to extend to others –

God’s grace that was only made possible for us because of the CROSS. 

We may think those who are homeless don’t deserve our love, our food, or even our leftovers –

But, CHILD – nor do you deserve God’s amazing GRACE and all that our Lord has done for you! 

But, He did it anyway – AND WHY?

Just so the trajectory of your life would be changed forever!

Amen.