The Power of Touch

June 27 2021 bwk

Mark 5:21-43

This is a story about human touch and what a powerful force for good it can be in our lives. It was a common thing in pre-pandemic worship services for people to share greetings with one another — to “pass the peace” — with a handshake, brief hug, or touch on the shoulder. In a time of epidemiological innocence, these greetings extended far beyond our personal bubbles. They enfolded not only those people we’d come with, but strangers. Our caring touch was a symbol of welcome, of community in Christ. Such a simple act. Such a powerful, non-verbal message.

There’s reason to believe that human touch is essential to human well-being, especially when we’re young. Frederick the Great of Prussia was a powerful ruler of the European Enlightenment, and a man of great scientific curiosity. He once conducted an unusual — and cruel — scientific experiment into the development of human language. There was a theory then that the babbling of infants was related to the ancient language of Eden, but children lost this mother-tongue as they grew and learned the language of their parents.

Frederick tested this theory by isolating newborn orphan babies from any contact with other people. Specially trained nurses would see to the babies’ basic needs, but no physical contact or exposure to language was permitted. Once the children grew old enough to speak, they would be brought into the presence of the other children in the experiment to see if they could converse with one another.

Frederick’s experiment was a failure. Not one of those children lived beyond infancy — let alone to the age when language begins to develop. The one thing Frederick did learn from his terrible, cruel experiment was that the physical touch of another human being is essential to life. If babies are not picked up, hugged and caressed, they have but a slim chance of surviving.

This Gospel reading could be about handling the pressing needs of the important contrasted with the urgent, and the tension of which to focus on.  At stake, How do we handle interruptions.  

Another approach would be to consider the celebrity affect and desperate people.  Let’s talk about that.

Jesus is very popular with the crowds.  He is surrounded by those who are amazed and want to see more stunning miracles.  He is sought after by those who need and want His loving intervention.  Jairus, a loving father who is also one of the synagogue leaders—he is a church guy with a great reputation among the religious folk.

Jairus’ daughter is at the point of death.  He begs Jesus to come quickly, lay His hands on her and heal her.  Time is of an essence.  Jesus agrees and goes with Jairus.  He is also accompanied by a huge crowd that is pressing in on Him on all sides, elbow to elbow.  No social distancing here!

Then add to this the woman with a twelve year hemorrhaging problem.  She must be a woman of status with financial means.  She has exhausted all her resources and tried every medical cure available. All to no avail.  Her bleeding continues.  That means she is unclean and not able to be in public anywhere.  She is taboo and isolated.  No friends could be near her.  No husband either.  No one.  She is isolated, lonely and desperate.  

That is when she overhears stories about the man Jesus who is able to heal people.  She hears how loving and kind He is.  So she determines, “If I can but touch the hem of His garment I will be healed.”  She doesn’t want to interrupt Him on His important mission to heal Jairus’ daughter.  She doesn’t want to be seen, heard or noticed.  She just wants to slip up through the crowd and touch His robe.  Imagine how determined she would have to have been!  The crowd is think and cutting through the mass of people is not easy.  But she does it.  And as she does so, Jesus immediately stops.

Everyone jostles to a stop.  The disciples are confused.  What’s up?  Jesus immediately spins around and says, “who touched my robe?”  The disciples think He’s lost it.  He’s been touched and jostled by dozens of people.  What’s He thinking!  He must be overworked and tired!  

Jesus then must look right at the woman who is now miraculously healed and has eye contact.  She had tried to slip back and disappear in the crowd, but now she is forced to come back toward Jesus.  The crowd gives her space.  She falls on her hands and knees before Him and tells Him she is the one who touched Him because she hoped to be healed.  She must even state that she has been healed.

Everyone—including the disciples—must expect Jesus to scold her for her interruption.  Jairus himself must be quite anxious for his daughter and now this delay in getting to her.  

Jesus, however, speaks kindly and compassionately to this unnamed woman.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace.  Be healed of your disease.”  She was healed by Jesus’ gracious mercy.  Technically she was not healed by her faith, but her faith gave her the courage and confidence to approach Jesus and to actually touch Him.  Jesus’ power healed her.  Faith trusts that power of the Lord.

Then, even while Jesus is speaking the news arrives that Jairus’ daughter has died.  Mission failed.  Don’t trouble the Master anymore!

Jesus, however, is undeterred.  He encourages Jairus.  “Do not fear.  Only believe.”

They arrive at Jairus’ home where the mourning is in full swing.  There is shouting and screams of grief.  These Jewish believers are not quiet Norwegians!  They grieve out loud!

Jesus tells them that the girl is not dead.  Only asleep.  

They deride Him as crazy, and mock His confidence.  Jesus takes the girls parents into the death chamber where the girl is lying.  He takes her hand.  He speaks to the dead girl who is asleep and says in Aramaic, “Little girl, arise!”  And immediately she does and begins to walk about.  Picture the hugs and tears of joy.  The shock of the crowd of mourners.  The stunned and numb parents who are overcome with joy!  

“Give her something to eat,” says Jesus.  Dying and being raised again works up an appetite!  

Human touch.  God made us in such a way that we need each other.  We need companionship.  We need the warmth and love of others.  Jesus’ incarnation is all about human touch, God being approachable and accessible to us broken and wounded people.  

His presence among us gives us the courage to reach out and touch others who need our love and support.  

Trust in the midst of the storm

June 20 2021

Mark 4:35-21 & 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Troubles.  Conflict.  Chaos.  Confusion.  A world that is unsafe and unpredictable.  We might know something about all this.  

Social scientists recently did a study about how trouble and distress can affect relationships.  They did this using ants, red and black ants placed in a jar together.  All was well and the ants were peaceful.  They shook the jar and observed the results.  The ants began fighting and killing each other.  The red ants considered the black ants their enemy and began attacking and killing them.  The black ants considered the red ants their enemy and began attacking and killing them.  The ants were getting along before the jar was violently shaken.  The stress of the shaking set them against each other.  

This simple experiment might be unfair to the ants, but it is telling about how stress and conflict can affect relationships.  When things go well we mostly get along.  When trouble and chaos come and throw our world into turmoil we get stressed out.  Then we look for scape goats—someone to blame for all our problems.  Friends and neighbors, even husbands and wives or parents and children then suddenly can become enemies.  You might know something about this.  

Troubles can divide and separate us from each other.  Troubles can also bring us closer together.  Tough times can cause us to doubt the existence of God, or question whether God really knows and cares about us.  Or, turbulent times can deepen our faith and confidence in God.  

Jesus has just finished teaching crowds of people about the kingdom of God—what it is like, where and how it grows, and how it can affect and change us and our world.  

It is evening.  The sun is sinking low.  Jesus has been teaching from the “pulpit of a boat” with other boats around Him.  He says, “Let’s go over to the other side.”  He does not expound on this.  They don’t wait until morning to start out.  They don’t check their weather apps on their smart phones.  They simply start rowing to the other of this large mountain lake, the Sea of Galilee. 

Mari, in his short hand style of writing cuts to the chase.  A “mega storm” arises.  The boats are taking on water due to the high waves driven by the fierce gale strength winds.  Mega storm, according to one commentary, could be translated as a hurricane type storm with strong, violent winds and high tumultuous waves.  

Most of the disciples are fishermen.  They are familiar with water, storms and survival.  Yet these stout men are realistic too.  They panic.  The Greek word Mark uses to describe their panic often is interpreted as cowardly or timid.  Jesus was with them.  But He was exhausted from the high energy demand of teaching to the crowds.  He was fast asleep in the bow of the boat.  How could He sleep through the tossing and pitching motion of the boat?  Who knows!  He was very tired, and He had no reason to fear.  He trusted God.  He trusted His own ability to handle tough circumstances!  But the disciples were terrified and convinced their doom was at hand!  

They wake Him and demand, “Don’t You care that we our death is imminent?  We are dying here!”

Again, Mark’s writing style is short and to the point.  

Jesus woke up.  He rebukes the wind and waves with three words, “Peace! Be still!”  “Be silent and be muzzled!”  A literal English translation might be “Knock it off!  Shut up!”  And then in that moment, immediately, the wind was gone and the sea was calm.  

Then He looked at His disciples who were still shaking with fear and terror and now were staring at Him in unbelief.  He simply asks, “Why are you so cowardly? Do you still have no faith?”  

Those disciples are like you and me.  Each new situation is a new learning experience.  When our circumstances change, when our health goes to pieces, when everything around us is in turmoil and chaos, we loose our sense of bearing.  We loose our focus.  We start believing the worst about each other, ourselves and God.  We stop trusting.  And we accuse God of not caring.  

Mark’s purpose in writing his Gospel about this strange and awesome Man—Jesus—is to help us discover Jesus is God-in-human form, who has power over demons, all manner of sickness and even death itself.  Jesus has power over the forces of nature.  This man Jesus is God-in-human form!  With Him in charge we have no reason to doubt or fear.

Now…Here are some questions to consider.

Was Jesus surprised by the storm?  

Did Jesus cause the storm?

Did the devil cause the storm as an attempt to kill Jesus as he had done with King Herod?

How was the decision made to “go over to the other side?”  Did Jesus know what was going to happen and used this incident to teach His disciples about trust?  

Did Jesus trust God the Father and was therefore able to sleep without tossing and turning in fear?  

One more question.  Why find blame at all?  Rather than asking why and trying to blame God, the devil, or own poor decisions, maybe we should accept storms as a part of reality on this side of heaven and recognized God’s presence and power with us in the storm.  Sometimes things just happen for no reason at all.  But God’s love and presence with us remains a constant truth.  

(Side note:  Nothing is said about the other boats and the other occupants.  Picture yourself in this story.  Imagine the peril of drowning at sea.  Imagine your life passing before your eyes, and the sense that “this is it!”  What goes through your mind?  Then imagine the sudden change.  The immediate response of the fearful forces of nature being quelled and stopped.)  

Can you know, that no matter what your issues are, no matter what your circumstances, God really does know and care for you.  You may feel alone, isolated and abandoned by everyone else, but God has not abandoned you.  Trust God!  Believe God is not letting you go.

Paul believed that.  Even when he experienced troubles and difficulties that were piled high and were overwhelming.  Yet he believed and trusted God and continued to do what God has called him to do.  

The lesson for us?  Don’t loose focus.  keep on keeping on.  Keep trusting.  Keep on doing good.  Keep on seeing the best in others, not the worst.  Recognize that we are all in this together.  Even our enemies are not our enemies.  They too, need Jesus.  Lord, help us to see that and act on that belief.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The Best is Yet to Come

June 13, 2021

text: 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 (Mark 4:26-33)

A dear woman of a small church had died.  Her family was meeting with the new pastor and going over the notes she had prepared for her funeral service.  Special hymns were noted, as were her chosen Bible verses and a poem.  

Then they came upon an unusual request.  This dear saintly woman wanted to be buried with a fork.  

“A fork,” asked the young pastor?  

“Yes,” her family responded.

“Why a fork?  That is an unusual request.”

“Mom loved to entertain.  She would spend hours in the kitchen preparing special meals.  She would set an elaborate table with china, linen table clothes and napkins.  She did everything special.  She had many favorite recipes that she would prepare. 

“Her favorite part of every meal however was dessert.  She always looked forward to that part of the meal.  She would clear the table and tell us to save the fork, the best is yet to come.  And then she would bring out a specially prepared dessert for all of us to enjoy.”

This woman was a devout believer and knew that life on this side of heaven is not always easy.  But she always believed in the reality and promise of heaven, and that “the best is yet to come.”  So, in demonstration of that faith, she asked to be buried with her fork in hand in the coffin!

Our readings from Mark’s gospel remind us of the mysterious, mystical way God’s kingdom is at work in us and in our world.  The seed of faith is planted when the Gospel message is proclaimed and lived.  Every word of kindness, every patient and gentle thought, every bit of joy and excitement that is sparked when we see the evidence of God at work in us, in our children and families, and in our world—these are like seeds that grow invisibly and hidden from our sight.  And, then, suddenly, those seedlings sprout, bursting forth through the earth and reaching for the sun.  

Small acts of kindness, little words that express hope, faith and love in Jesus never go to waste.  Little seeds can bring forth huge change.  Believe that.  Trust it.  Act on it.  Let God do the work in secret.  God is at work in our world.

That is why the Apostle Paul could express confidence and courage in life and in his writing.  Our reading from 2 Corinthians 5 states,“So we are always confident…” (v. 6). The word confident can also be translated courageous.  We can have courageous confidence in God’s work and activity in us and in our world because our vision goes past the physical reality and things we see—drought, social upheaval and political chaos, war and violence and conflict, besides the distress and angst we carry in ourselves—we see past all this.  We see behind the curtain.  “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (v. 7) The word walk implies how we live and conduct ourselves in this life.  As followers of the Lamb, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are governed by higher values and principles than the world is ruled by.  We move past selfishness and self-centeredness.  We don’t give in to pride or prejudice, fear or lust, greed or hatred, bigotry or intolerance, etc.  We are governed by the love of Christ.

Our faith in God goes past the present “realities” and trusts in the stronger and more certain reality of God’s goodness and love as proven through the cross and empty tomb.  

The Apostle Paul could write to us about being “at home in the body,” that is, in our physical flesh and yet know that we are “glory bound saints with heaven in our souls.”  This broken world with its violence and unrest is not our real home.  Heaven is.  Yet, through God’s grace and mercy, we are also able to be “at home” on this side of heaven and at home in our bodies.  

When we think of this we might think of being at home in our own skin.  Accepting our bodies, our unique personalities, strengths and weaknesses—what it means for us to be human, to be who and what we are.  That is important because sometimes we don’t like being who we are and struggle with self-hatred.  Don’t.  Don’t do that.  Learn to be at peace with being human.  

Consider this old phrase, “I am me and I’m good ‘cause God don’t make junk.”  Corky and quirky maybe, but true.  Sin and brokenness have affected us. There are certain things about ourselves that we can change; such as our attitude, words and actions, how hard we work, what I do with our lives, etc.  We can treat others with more respect and patience.  There are, however, things that are unchangeable.  Those things we need to accept and make peace with.  Instead of despising who we are, we need to learn to accept ourselves as created by God.  

Paul reminds us that our eternal destiny is life in heaven with God.  So we learn to live confidently and courageously, striving to please God in all we do, think and say.  We remember there is a day of reckoning where we “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.”  (v 10)

The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “the love of Christ compels—urges us—on because we are convinced that One has died for all; therefore all had died.  And He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them.” (vv. 14-15)

When we really believe this, it changes our perception of reality.  We see ourselves differently.  We view others and our world differently.  

Paul is courageous enough to say we don’t see people the same old way anymore.  Our vantage point is not through the eyes of the flesh, but through Christ’s perspective.  We see Jesus in ourselves and in “the others” around us.  

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view.” (v. 16).   The Greek word for “human point of view” is the word for sinful flesh—sarx.  

Now, because of God’s love expressed through Jesus death and resurrection, we see ourselves and each other differently.  

We are new creations.  Entirely, completely brand-new.  Again, the Greek here is not new in the sense of washed and clean, or remodeled, but completely new, as never having existed before type of new.  

So… when we look at ourselves and see our brokenness, our faults and failures, our sins and mistakes, and see that as the sum of who we are, God sees us differently.  We are new.  We are brand-new.  Each and every day can be fresh, clean and new because of Jesus.  Leave the past behind.  Make a new decision.  Do the next best right thing.  

We can do that because heaven has already started to take shape in our souls.  And we are bound for a better place.  Grab your fork.  Be ready for dessert.  The best is yet to come.

We are glory bound saints with heaven in our souls.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

For Your Graduation

Graduation Sunday 5/23/2021 | Elim/bwk

John 16:13-14 (also Ezekiel 37) | Pastor Bruce Kolasch

Job 33:4 “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.”

You are graduating! Wahoo!  You are probably excited and also a bit anxious.  That is normal.  You have aspirations and hopes.  High School graduation is one step on the journey of life.  You have many more steps, challenges and opportunities ahead.  Can you do it?  Will you measure up?  Will you let others or yourself down?  What does the future hold?  Today we are celebrating you and the future God has in store for you.

Today is also Pentecost Sunday—the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the church and all believers, including all of us here this morning.  The story of the fall in Genesis records how God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  He also withdrew His Spirit and presence from us because unholy people cannot hold a holy God within themselves, nor be in God’s presence.  But even back then God made a promise to redeem us through the Promised Deliverer.  That Promised Deliverer is Jesus.  Jesus is God in human flesh—true God and true human who died and rose again in our place.  And because He was successful in His mission to take away the sin that separated us from God we now have free access to God’s presence, and God Himself can dwell within us.  

Pentecost is the celebration of the return of the Holy Spirit to us individually and collectively as the body of Christ, the Church on earth.  Pentecost comes from the Greek language and means fifty.  It is a Hebrew (Jewish) festival that occurs seven weeks after the Passover and celebrates the end of the harvest.  Christians celebrate Pentecost which occurs fifty days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven—hence the name Pentecost.  

Pentecost is exciting.  It is the return of the Holy Spirit to live within us as I just mentioned.  It is God’s original plan and design.  Pentecost means all is well and that God is with us, in us, strengthening and empowering us to live as God’s blessed, beloved, chosen people in this world.  That is important because sometimes we forget who we are and whose we are.  Sometimes we get distracted and side tracked.  

So, this morning, for you Lydia, and for all of us here, remember these things:

Look up.  Never loose your sense of wonder and awe.

We live in an amazing world.  Nature is filled with things that we are continuing to discover. There is so much we don’t know.  Today as we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit in us and in our world, let the Spirit of God lead you.  Ask God to open your eyes and fill you with awe at all the beauty and wonder around you.

Remember WHO YOU ARE and WHOSE YOU ARE.

God created you to be you.  God knows your full potential.  You have been baptized in the name of Christ.  You are God’s child.  God lives in and longs to live through you.  That is a core part of your identity as you go out from here today.  You have been “bought with a price.”  Live the knowledge of that forgiveness and God’s empowering in you.  Today we celebrate God’s Spirit being poured out on you and us.  Let God’s Spirit guide you through the choices you make and the direction you go.  God’s Spirit lives inside you.

USE YOUR HEAD

Your are an intelligent girl—young woman.  We see and celebrate that!  God gave you a brain.  Continue to use it.  Be brave enough to differentiate yourself from others around you.   Do your own thinking.  Set goals for yourself and your life.  Make plans.  Pursue them.  Think through the consequences of your decisions before you act.   Think your options through.  Make your momma proud.   Be prepared.  Be alert.  Think.  

USE YOUR IMAGINATION

You have heard the phrase, those who aim at nothing hit it every time. So we say to you, dream big.  Aim high.  Have goals.  Pursue your dreams.  Use your imagination to picture what you would like to be and do.  Think big.  Be creative. Then make those dreams and possibilities reality by how you live.  Thank God for the gift of imagination and be bold enough to let God lead you with the Spirit in thinking creatively and imaginatively for the future.  

USE YOUR HEART

God gave you a brain.  He also gave you a heart.  God made us relational.  We are not made to be lone wolves.  We need each people.  We use our heads to make rational decisions, to plan and problem solve.  We use our hearts to examine who we are relationally.  Connect with other people.  Connect with God.  Don’t take people for granted.  Life is too short and unpredictable.  

You have cared intensely for your brother Jonathon.  You have partnered with your mom and been a responsible adult already in your young life.  Branch out now.  Don’t forget your home and home relationships, but don’t be afraid of stepping into new relationships either.  Be bold and courageous.  Take some risks in getting to know others, and in allowing others to know you as a young woman!  Protect your heart, yes.  But don’t hide it.  You are wonderful young woman and we celebrate you.

USE YOUR ABILITIES & GIFTS

Your abilities are gifts from God.  Trust that God gave you your gifts on purpose.  Claim them.  Develop them.  Use them. Use them for God’s glory and for the benefit of humanity.  Determine to leave the world better off because of how you live your life. 

The Bible tells us to “fear God and do good.”  You are continuing your education.  You will be developing your gifts and abilities. God’s Spirit within you will teaching and guiding you as well.  May God give you a hunger and thirst for knowledge and wisdom.  Be a student of life.  Never stop learning.  Knowledge is the accumulation of information and facts.  Wisdom is knowing how to live and use the knowledge you gain.  

Trust Your CONSCIENCE

Because of Jesus and the cross we do have the gift of God’s Holy Spirit again.  God’s Spirit is inside you.  God’s Spirit empowers you and teaches you.  Be alert to God’s internal voice through His Spirit.  A part of that voice is your conscience.  Like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio let your conscience be your guide. Always keep your conscience clean.  Spiritual breathing is like exhaling the bad—confession—and breathing in the good—God’s grace and forgiveness.  Differentiate between God’s gift of conscience and the guilt and shame of the world.  You are a young woman of significance and worth.  Celebrate who you are. Learn to hear God’s voice through all the noise and cacophony that surrounds us.  Trust God to guide you and He will.

You have God’s Spirit within you.  You are “marked with the cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  You are God’s daughter, blessed, beloved, chosen, empowered.  Today we celebrate you and send you forth with God’s blessings and leading.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

The Transforming Power of God’s Love

Elim LC | May 2 2021 | bwk

1 John 4:7-12 & John 15:1-8

Jesus Loves Me and That’s That!

Rosemary Brown is a highly respected minister in Tennessee. She has been featured a number of times on The Protestant Hour National Radio Broadcast. She tells a story about a little girl in her church named Mickey. Mickey is four years old. She is a precious, adorable, out-going little girl who loves to sing.

One Sunday morning, Mickey ran down to the front of the Sanctuary just before the start of the morning worship service and with great excitement, she said: “Miss Rosemary Brown, can I sing a song this morning?” Not wanting to say “no”? or to be a stumbling-block to this vivacious little girl, Rosemary said: “Of course you can.” Then, Rosemary announced to the congregation that four-year-old Mickey would sing the call to worship to start the service.

Rosemary Brown picked up Mickey and stood Mickey on the front pew. Little Mickey turned and faced the pews of smiling faces and belted out with her little voice:

“Jesus wuvs me dis I know for da Bible tells me so. Yes, Jesus wuvs me.” She sang what she remembered of the song, and then, abruptly threw her hands straight up in the air (like she had just scored a touchdown) and with a triumphant smile she shouted: “And, dat’s dat!” And then sat down.

Simple truths are hard to beet.  Simple truths that even a child can grasp.  Yet because of life, because we live in a fallen world and things get confused and mixed up, and people get hurt, or neglected, or overlooked, or judged or abused…we lose sight of that simple truth.  

But Mickey was right on target.  Jesus says, have the faith of a child.   

Our readings this morning continue on the theme of love—agape love.  

  • Do you feel loved this morning?
  • What do you love most in life?
  • Who do you love?  
  • Is it fair or safe to ask who helps you feel most loved?

Here are a couple more questions.

  • What does it mean for you/us to be loved?  
  • How do you define what love is? 
  • What it looks like in action?  How does it affect us?

So what are we afraid of?

John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love…perfect love casts out fear.”  

  • What are you most afraid of?  
  • What makes us afraid/fearful/anxious?

Fear is one of the most powerful motivators in life.  Political personalities use and abuse the power of fear in controlling and manipulating the public.  

God, in the Bible, over and over, tells us “do not be afraid.”  “Fear not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed for I am thy God” (Isaiah 41:10).  The angel to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth, “Fear not for behold I bring you tidings of great joy which is for all people…” (Luke 2).

We can be afraid of heights; of bugs and spiders, of snakes, of closed in spaces, of being in crowds of people, of water, of death, of the process of dying.  What we fear the most seems to be being judged, coming up as inadequate, incomplete, flawed.  That fear causes us to hide and be dishonest about who and what we are.  We let fear control us.  

There is one fear that God says is good and strongly recommends.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Proverbs 1:7).  Fearing God, respecting and loving God—giving God prominence and priority in our lives is good.  That equates to the level of trust the Bible calls us to and the Luther teaches us in his writings.  Fearing anything else is to give ourselves and our loyalty, our attention, our focus to whatever it is we fear.  

God’s love—when we experience it in all its fullness and breadth—frees us from fear of judgement and punishment.  God’s love frees us to love ourselves and others to a depth we never knew possible before.  

The Apostle John experienced that type and quality of love.  That is the love he writes about in todays reading from 1 John 4.

The word love is mentioned twenty-four (24) times in this short passage.  All of them are variations of the Greek word agape.  

Love is the defining mark of a Christian.  God’s call to us is to without qualification.  The reason or motivation for loving is God who is the source of love.  Love defines the essence of God.

If someone does not love this way they do not know God because God is love.  Period.

God’s love is revealed, made known and real through Jesus who is God-in-human-flesh, Immanuel, God-with-us, who died in our place to give us forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God.

Since God has loved us so completely through Jesus we are called to love each other without restraint.  

No one has seen God, but if we love each other God lives in us and His love is perfected (completed) in us.  

The proof of God’s presence in us and our living in Him is the gift of God’s Spirit within us.  We are proof that God sent Jesus into the world as the Savior of all.  God’s lives in all who confess Jesus as God’s Son.  This is the divine union of the believer in God and God in us collectively and individually. 

John cannot state it simply enough, nor enough times or in enough ways—God is love and when God’s love has been made complete in us it results in our boldness and confidence in the world.  We no longer have to be afraid of punishment or of the consequences of our brokenness and sin.  We no longer need fear separation from God.  All that has made us feel ashamed, guilty and inadequate should no longer has power or control over us.  Jesus has set us free!  

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, John 15:7 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  

To be honest, many of us abide in anger, or jealousy, or fear.  We dwell in the past with its regrets and hurts and shame.  We cannot let it go.  Don’t live there!  It is a dead end street.  Instead, abide in Jesus and learn to let His love change and most you to be more Christlike in how you treat yourself and others.  

We cannot say “I love God,” and not love those for whom Christ has died.  To love God is to love people.  To love people is to love God.  We cannot love God without loving people. 

We Are Never Alone

Columnist Sheila Graham did a compelling interview with Ruby Bridges Hall sometime back. Maybe you don’t recognize that name. This is what Ruby went through as a child.

She was a typical first-grader for her first day of school. She had a big bow in her hair and lunch box in hand.  She climbed the steps of William Frantz Elementary School. But little else was typical about that day in November 1960. Though she wasn’t aware of it, Ruby had been chosen to be the first African-American child to integrate this particular New Orleans grade school. Every day on her way to school she had to be escorted by armed federal marshals.  This little first grader braved angry adult white folk shouting at her as she entered an empty classroom. White parents had moved their children to other schools.  A little boy told her why he couldn’t play with her.  Her skin was the wrong color, she was the reason for all the commotion.

In her interview Sheila Graham noted that even in this stressful situation of having mobs scream at her, little Ruby prayed every day.  She prayed before school.  She prayed after school. She prayed for those who were verbally abusing her. 

Ruby Bridges Hall explained it this way: “One thing my mother always said to me was that when she couldn’t be with me, if I was ever afraid, I should say my prayers . . . Even at night, if I would wake up from a nightmare and want to get up and go to her room, she would immediately ask, Did you say your prayers?’ That’s where that came from and it sort of stuck with me.”

Ruby’s mother wanted her to know that no matter the situation she was never alone. She was connected. To be connected is to have power. It is to have an eternal presence in your life. It is to know Someone cares about you and empowers you to be different—to be changed by the transforming power of love, God’s love in Christ Jesus.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Jesus with skin on

April 25, 2021 | Elim Lutheran Church Ogden UT

1 John 3:16-24 & John 10:11-18

Life.  It is full of things that make us nervous and anxious.  We have times of joy and excitement when all is good.  But hard times come.  Circumstances and events can quickly turn foul.  Then we find ourselves adrift at sea with no rudder and no sail. And we are afraid.  We want to believe and be positive.  We want to claim we are strong in faith and that nothing can shake our confidence in God’s ability to care for us.  But we struggle.

You may have heard the story of a young boy who was afraid of the dark.  He was also afraid of storms in the night.  One dark, stormy night his mom discovered this little boy by her bed side.  He was shivering with fright and cold.  

“Mommy,” he said, “I am afraid.  Can I sleep with you tonight?”

His mom assured him that all was well, letting him stay for a little bit.  But then she told him he needed to go back to his own bed and bedroom.  She reminded him of how close their rooms were.  She also reminded him of God’s love and said, “Jesus is with you.  You are okay and safe.”   

“I know Jesus is with me.  But I want Jesus with skin on,” was his son’s response!

Jesus with skin on.  That is what we long for too.  There are times when we need and long for that personal presence and assurance.  

George Floyd died last spring as Derek Chauvin placed a knee on his neck and a knee on his back as George lay with his hands handcuffed behind his back, face down on the pavement.  As Mr. Floyd lay gasping for breath he called out to his mother.  And Mr. Floyd died without intervention.  Was Jesus there?  Where was God?

Where is God when children die suffer and die, or are abused and mistreated?  What about all the people who have died in all the ravages of war and violence through the ages?  Or the countless victims of all the crimes of slavery and brutality where no one intervened or seemed to be able to make a difference?  What about the millions killed in gas chambers, interment camps and so called ethnic cleansing that has mar and defined our human history?

Where is God in all this?  You might recall a book entitled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” written by Rabbi Kushner.  His premise is that either God is all loving or all powerful, but couldn’t be both.  If God were both God would intervene and rescue the at-risk and vulnerable.  Since God seems silent and invisible God cannot be all loving, or if all loving God cannot be all powerful.  The big problem, the challenge is why does evil go unchecked and unanswered?

Have you ever questioned that?  Have you ever lost faith in your struggle to make sense of all this?  Many have!

If our faith—our faith in Jesus based on God’s revelation to us through the pages of Scripture—cannot answer that then maybe we should question our faith.  Maybe we should question the existence of God.  Can God be both all loving and all powerful at the same time and allow suffering to go on?  

But consider this.  The Bible does wrestle with and answer the question of evil and God’s response.  God does care. God has taken action and is actively involved in our world.  Jesus who is God-in-human-flesh is tangible proof.  Jesus, true God and true human came into our broken world and defeated sin, death and the devil—all evil and all brokenness through His life, death and resurrection.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  That is the core of our faith.  

Jesus, in our Gospel reading tells us that He is the Good Shepherd.  He is not a hireling, a hired hand, who has no investment in or care for us.  Jesus willingly came into our world and took on our brokenness.  He laid down His life for us.   He victoriously destroyed all evil. He took up His life again as our victorious Lord and Savior.  And, Jesus—God—is actively involved in our world in mysterious ways we cannot see, but also in visible tangible ways.  

Consider what Jesus says about the Church.  

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.  So there will be one flock and one shepherd”  (John 10:16). 

He is describing the universal “holy Christian Church” that transcends time and space.  We tend to draw lines and build walls that exclude and separate those different from us.  God’s love is larger than our narrow, frightened focus. Jesus’ flock is much larger than you or I know.  

What we do know is this:  that our Lord Jesus commands us to love each other the same way He loves us.  He gave His life for us.  He died for us.  How much do we love each other?  The other?  The different?  The ones who don’t fit our comfortable box of normal and okay?  Jesus’ death and resurrection are love-in-action that breaks all the walls land barriers we erect.  He calls us to follow Him in doing the same!

The author of 1 John tells us that we need to put feet to our love.  We need to love through our hands and checkbooks.  

Little children, let us love, not in word or in speech, but in truth and in action” (1 John 3:18).  

In the verses preceding this “love in action” verse, John tells us to share the world’s goods with those in need.  He does not tell us to judge those in need as lazy or shiftless.  He does not condone our calling those different than us terrorists or rapists.  He does not give us permission to judge others’ worthiness of help or love. He does not approve of our caving in to fear and “circling the wagons” in self protection.   God through John tells us to share what we have and make our love known through our actions.  Don’t just talk the talk.  Walk the walk.  

We are Jesus’ hands and feet.  We are Jesus-in-the-world, the body of Christ.  If we want to see God as not caring and indifferent to the suffering that goes on around us we need to wake up and realize God is amazed at our indifference and calloused uncaring inactivity.  

We want Jesus with skin on.  Indeed!  We want God in the mix.  We want an answer to unchecked evil.  And God has!  God has acted in and through Jesus.  God has given us His indwelling Holy Spirit.  God has taken away the barriers that divide us form God and each other and given us the gift of forgiveness and new life.  Now God is waiting for us to act on what we have received.  We are Jesus’s skinned out flesh, His hands and feet, heart mouth, ears, eyes, etc.  That takes courage and motivation.  God grant us both!

In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

Parade or Funeral Procession?

Palm Sunday Sermon March 28 2021 bwk/ Elim Lutheran Church, Ogden, UT

Mark 11:1-11

Celebrity Parade—Jesus is immensely popular with the populace.  He is kind, warm, accepting.  He has healed countless people and raised the dead.  His understanding of God is radically different.  The welcoming crowds are happy and noisy.  There is a party atmosphere.  Coats and palm branches are strewn in front of Him.  Jesus is the celebrity of the day.  The would-be-king.  The hoped-for-deliverer.  And He was riding a donkey, the foal of a donkey—unbroken, yet willing to let Jesus ride on it.  

It looks like a celebrity parade.  Party time.  And yet…and yet… something else was going on that the neither the crowds nor the disciples could comprehend.  Is this a parade or a death march—a funeral procession? 

Death March—Funeral Procession—a captured Messiah beaten and tortured and then marched to the place of His crucifixion as a common criminal?  In just a couple of days Jesus would be arrested at night while He was praying.  He would be taken under the cover of darkness and tried by the power brokers of the day; a fake trial, on trumped up charges.  Because He was too popular.  The power brokers were jealous.  Their edge of control over the people was threatened.  So they conspired to kill Jesus.  And, with the help of the political powers of Rome they succeeded.  

How could that happen?  How could evil win the day?  How could the innocent  succumb yet again and be overpowered.  Where is God in all this?  How could God let this happen?  

Consider our current world.  Chaos on the southern boarder because thousands flee violence and terror in their home countries. Violent weather due to climate change, dictators, evil gangs and governments have ravaged and destroyed the safety of thousands.  Where can they turn?  America, their last desperate hope. What of the mass shootings; senseless killings and death? Yesterday’s shootings leave the count of mass shootings for our country for this year at 105.  

Plus a year of pandemic isolation and economic fallout, the needless death of numerous black and brown citizens and the resulting national protests against police aggression.  Black and brown lives do matter.  And, yes, blue lives matter.  However, until black and brown folk are equally as respected and safe as white people, then all lives do not matter. We still have a ways to go.  

Our world is a mess.  But that is not new.  Consider all the wars and violence down through the years.  Our own civil war, World Wars I & II, the Serbian violence, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  And what about all the innocent children?  And then just when hope was growing, Jesus is killed.

No wonder the hopeful disciples caved in to despair as they watched this week unfold.  They had believed that maybe finally God was on the move and that Jesus would defeat evil once for all.  But the bad guys won.  Again.  And hope died with Jesus on the cross.

Today is Palm Sunday—Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  This week is the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  And to the disciples nothing makes sense.  Evil wins.  Hope is shattered.  

Some might say, but wait.  we know the rest of the story.  We’ve read the last chapter.  We know about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  We know Sunday is coming.  Yet, so many I talk with struggle just like the disciples did.  We see all this evil and we wonder, where is God in all this?  Why doesn’t God do something? 

Some of the people I have listened to have responded to all this by saying, “come, Lord Jesus!”  Rescue us.  Bring all this to an end!

That is why we need to revisit the story of Jesus; why we need to remember Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and then Easter Sunday.  

God has done something.  God, in Christ, came into our world as One of us.  Jesus took on our broken, frail humanity.  Picture this.  God-in-Christ took all our “stuff,” all the worst, scraped it all together in a huge pile.  All the evil, sin, brokenness and violence of all the ages—past, present and future—all of it and took it on Himself.  

When Jesus stepped out of the waters of the Jordan River at His baptism He was clothed with our humanity.  He carried all of humanities inhumanity, all our evil, all the abuse, shame, greed, guilt and pain on His shoulders.  For three years He carried it.  For three years He healed the sick, cured the lame, gave sight to the blind, speech and hearing to the mute and deaf.  He even raised the dead, confronted hypocrisy, challenged the power-brokers of His day and helped people discover the loving and gracious side of God.  

And now, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, He enters it as our Savior and Lord, our Redeemer, our Deliverer—not as a conquering King, but as our Suffering Servant.  

Then He says to the prince of darkness and to all the evil of all time and eternity, “Here I am.  You can have Me.  Defeat Me if you can. I won’t resist.”  They took Him, tortured Him at will, and nailed Him to a cross and thought they were done with Him. They thought they’d won the day.  No one could ever challenge their right to control and abuse and cause pain and hurt at their will and pleasure.  

BUT…Jesus wasn’t killed.  Yes, He died, but He gave up His life.  When the payment for all the sin of the entire world was satisfied by God’s blood—Jesus’ blood on the cross, He breathed His last and gave up His spirit.  He died as victor.  Death was defeated.  Satan’s power was broken and destroyed.  The hour of darkness was shattered by the light of God’s love in Christ.  

Jesus stayed in the grave to prove that He really did die.  He did not stay in the grave because He was defeated and powerless.  He rose again on the third day to prove sin, death and the devil were forever defeated.  This is absolutely phenomenal!  

But, some might say, why does evil still prevail?  We still struggle with our own sinfulness.  Our world is till broken. We wait because God is waiting.  Waiting for what?  Peter tells us God is waiting patiently for “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  

So, do we just have to give in to evil in the meantime?  Are we stuck and powerless?  Not at all!  Now we are the body of Christ in the world.  Jesus lives in and through you and me.  We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16 & 6:19-20).  We can make a difference  because God lives in and through us.

When we demand that God do something, God says to us, “You do something!  You are My people, My body, My presence in the world. I am counting on you to make a difference in society by how you live. You hold the fort until all have had a chance to find life in Me.  Then I will come.”

Holy Week reminds us that life is not easy.  We struggle with our own brokenness.  We are affected by the sins of others.  Relationships are hard work.  Misunderstandings and miscommunication happens.  Bad things still happen.  Evil still seems to win.  But it doesn’t. Not really. God has the final word.  Jesus is God’s final Word.  Love really does win.  We are forgiven and empowered.  God lives in and through us.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Keep on believing, living and trusting in such a way that we make a difference, albeit seemingly small, in the lives of those we know.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

To Tell the Truth

March 21, 2021 BWK, Elim Lutheran Church

John 12:20-33 (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Madeleine L’Engle’s quote:  The Frightening Truth! (see the ending)

Some of us might remember the old television series “To Tell the Truth” that goes back to the 50’ and 60’s.  There is a new version of that now.

Hosted by “black-ish” star Anthony Anderson, “TO TELL THE TRUTH.” It is a funny reimagination of the earlier version.  In each round, the panel is presented with three people who all claim to be the same person with the same incredible talent, job or achievement. One is sworn to tell the truth while the other two use every trick they can to deceive the panel. The panel of celebrities has a chance to grill each participant before taking turns deciding who they think is telling the truth. 

How do you decide who is telling the truth and who is pulling your leg?  What makes someone believable?  Unbelievable?  Have you ever fallen for a line? Have you ever been taken in by a con-artist?  Scammers and con-artists are having a hay-day during these tumultuous times.  I know over numerous individuals who have been tricked and lost money.  It is embarrassing.  

A couple of pieces of advice:

  • Never give any information over the phone to someone who is calling you.  Some tricksters pretend to be a grandchild who is in trouble and ask for money, or a gift card.  But they are imposters.  Don’t believe them.  
  • Never click on a link someone sends you when you do not recognize the sender’s email.  Clicking the link can take you to a risky website or give a stranger access to parts of your computer.  I never click on links even from companies that look familiar before I check the sender’s address.  It is always best to go to the website you are familiar with.  Play it safe.

Unfortunately there are hucksters and tricksters in the spiritual and religious realm too.  “Qanon” has many evangelical followers who believe in these crazy, outlandish conspiracy theories.  There are even “evangelical preachers” who claim to be prophets making political and end-time predictions.  Don’t give them credence.  Don’t believe them.  There are false prophets today just as there were in former days.  

Remember Jesus’ warning to us:

23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.  Matthew 24:23-25 (NIV)

Moses told the children of Israel that God would send a “prophet like him” (Deuteronomy 18:15-22).  This is a messianic prophecy regarding the coming of Jesus.  Connected with that promise is the warning that if a prophet said they spoke for God and that prophecy did not come true, then that prophet was a false prophet.  Moses then says do not be afraid of that prophet.  Don’t listen to them.

Jesus is no false Messiah.  He is the One we need to focus on and listen to.  Jesus, in our Gospel reading says, “very truly I tell you…”  He is saying, “I tell you the truth…” and then speaks about the necessity of His approaching death on the cross on our behalf.  He is our Messiah; the Savior of the world.  He knows His purpose for coming into our world was to go to the cross and die in our place.  He was taking away our sin that separates us from God.  He restores our broken relationship with God through His death on the cross.  Through Him we have life!  

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain (seed); but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Six times through John’s Gospel Jesus has used the phrase “my hour has not yet come…” Jesus was very aware of His purpose in life and the timing of His death on the cross.  When the Greek believers come wishing to see Jesus it is as if Jesus knows the stage is set.  He is Savior not for Jews only but for Greeks and all people of all nationalities.  The time is now!  The time has come! 

And this is where we get—or at least should get—uncomfortable.  

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves Me must follow Me, and where I am, there will My servant be also.  Whoever serves Me, the Father will honor…(vv. 25-26)

Jesus then says, “Now is the judgment of the world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (v. 31)

What darkness do we wrestle with? 

Selfishness, greed, pride, arrogance, bigotry, lust, hate, self-serving and power grabbing, abuse, addiction, enslavement, shame, be lost and confused…the list is almost endless.  Jesus is saying all that “stuff” no longer has the upper hand.  Satan’s power—the ruler of this world—is defeated. Jesus, through His life, death and resurrection satisfies our deepest longings and need.  He gives us freedom from despair, shame, and guilt.  He gives us a reason and purpose for life.  He gives us hope and meaning.

Jesus is the Savior of the world.  The truth is His life, death and resurrection makes all the difference in the world for us.  Truth be told, Jesus gives us hope, freedom and strength to love others the way He loves us.  

When we discover His love and power over our sin and shame He gives us freedom to live past ourselves.  He gives us strength to be different and to make a difference.  He changes us.  His love transforms us.   Then through us the world can see Jesus too.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The Frightening Truth

Madeleine L’Engle

Truth is frightening. 

Pontius Pilate knew that, and washed his hands of truth when he washed his hands of Jesus. 

Truth is demanding. It won’t let us sit comfortably. It knocks out our cozy smugness and casual condemnation. 

It makes us move. It? It? For truth we can read Jesus. 

Jesus is truth. If we accept that Jesus is truth, we accept an enormous demand: Jesus is wholly God, and Jesus is wholly human. 

Dare we believe that? If we believe in Jesus we must. And immediately that takes truth out of the limited realm of literalism.

Source: The Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth

Focal Point

Focal Point March 14 2021 Elim LC

text:  Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21

The story is told of a young man who entered a very strict monastic order. It was so strict that members were permitted to speak only two words per year to the abbot. At the end of year one the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke his two words, “bad food.” At the end of the second year the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke two more words, “hard bed.” At the end of year three he came to the abbot and spoke his last two words, “I quit.” The abbot responded, “Well it is about time. Complain, complain, complain — that’s all you’ve done since you came here.”

Complaining.  Grumbling.  Discontentment.  What have you, what have we complained about today?  This past week?  This past month?  This past year?  COVID-19 was declared a pandemic one year ago.  We have gone through physical distancing, face masks, shut downs, job losses, isolation, loneliness, sickness, stress, and on and on.  Many of us have what I term “the COVID affect,” a low level of anxiety and depression that has masked and colored how we view ourselves, our relationships and our world.  

This past year has tried and tested us.   

This story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, learning to trust God’s leading, care and provision is good for us to review.  They struggled to trust and follow God.  All their grumbling and complaining is not just about them.  It is a human story.  Our story.  

< Count your troubles, you’ll be sad.  Count your blessings you’ll be glad.  > 

I find it fascinating that God gives Moses a cure that is emblematic of the curse.  God’s punishment of the Israelite children for their grumbling and complaining was fiery serpents.  Many died from the poisonous bites.  The cure God gave was a brass serpent on a pole that has become medical symbol of healing for us today.

I wonder, was God teaching the Israelites that they had to look at the consequence of their negative attitudes and grumbling ways—their inability to trust God love and care, always seeing the glass half empty—as destroying their relationship with Him and each other? Like poison in our souls and communities? Fear and distrust, and conspiracy theories are destructive!   We do not always see a direct connection to our choices—what we say, think and do—with the outcome, the consequences of our choices.  

Where is our focus today?  What do we see individually and collectively?  When we see only what we don’t have or are afraid of losing then our lives are miserable. We need God’s intervention and help to refocus.  God, through the Bible seems to be saying, I will give you the gift of evil consequences that bite and kill to help you seek and seethe cure.  Looking at the symbol of the consequence is what healed the people of God in our Old Testament story.   “Look and live.” Check your focal point.  Learn how to see differently.  Learn to be grateful.  Learn to give thanks.  Learn to trust and follow our God who created and sustains us in all of life.  That, in turn will shape and change your thinking and redirect your lives.  It is not naivety or empty positive thinking, but rather seeing God in the midst of all of life and knowing we are not alone.  

It is amazing the difference this can make.  It is also significant that Jesus would help us to see that wilderness experience pointing to His reason and purpose for coming into our world.  

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15).

“And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32).  

Why did Jesus come into our world?  Why did He have to suffer and die a gruesome, painful death on the cross?  The brass serpent reminded the Israelites of their brokenness and constant negative attitude, their failure to trust God and God’s provision of love, care and protection.  It also helped them to see that God was the source for their healing and hope.  And all that points to the reality of the cross—Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—for us.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that who soever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Note also verse 17:  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

God created us for life.  We in so many ways chose death.  Yet, God is not willing to give up on us, nor does God force His way upon us.  Just like in Moses’ day the command is “look and live.”  Even so for us today, it is “look and live.”  Jesus came to give us life.  

Fred Craddock tells the story of his father, who spent years of his life hiding from the God who was seeking him out:

“When the pastor used to come from my mother’s church to call on him, my father would say, ‘You don’t care about me. I know how churches are. You want another pledge, another name, right? Another name, another pledge, isn’t that the whole point of church? Get another name, another pledge.’

My nervous mother would run to the kitchen, crying, for fear somebody’s feelings would be hurt. When we had an evangelistic campaign the pastor would bring the evangelist, introduce him to my father and then say, ‘Sic him, get him! Sic him, get him!’ My father would always say the same thing. ‘You don’t care about me! Another name, another pledge. Another name, another pledge! I know about churches.’

I guess I heard it a thousand times. One time he didn’t say it. He was at the Veteran’s Hospital. He was down to 74 pounds. They had taken out his throat, put in a metal tube, and said, ‘Mr. Craddock, you should have come earlier. But this cancer is awfully far advanced. We’ll give radium, but we don’t know.’

I went in to see him. In every window—potted plants and flowers. Everywhere there was a place to set them—potted plants and flowers. Even in that thing that swings out over your bed they put food on, there was a big flower. There was by his bed a stack of cards 10 or 15 inches deep. I looked at the cards sprinkled in the flowers. I read the cards beside his bed. And I want to tell you, every card, every blossom, every potted plant from groups, Sunday School classes, women’s groups, youth groups, men’s bible class, were from my mother’s church—every one of them. My father saw me reading them. He could not speak, but he took a Kleenex box and wrote something on the side from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. . . . He wrote on the side, ‘In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.’ I said, ‘What is your story, Daddy?’ And he wrote, ‘I was wrong.’”

It is not until you know God is seeking you in love, not in condemnation; it is not until that moment that the gospel becomes Good News for you.  (Fred Craddock, adapted by James Fitzgerald, Serpents, Penguins, and Crosses)

One more story that comes out of the Bedouin culture. “Bedouin” is the Aramaic name for “desert dwellers.” These people live much as the characters of the Old Testament did. During a heated argument, according to this story, a young Bedouin struck and killed a friend of his. Knowing the ancient, inflexible customs of his people, the young man fled, running across the desert under the cover of darkness, seeking safety.

He went to the black tent of the tribal chief in order to seek his protection. The old chief took the young Arab in. The chief assured him that he would be safe until the matter could be settled legally.

The next day, the young man’s pursuers arrived, demanding the murderer be turned over to them. They would see that justice would prevail in their own way. “But I have given my word,” protested the chief.

“But you don’t know whom he killed!” they countered.

“I have given my word,” the chief repeated.

“He killed your son!” one of them blurted out. The chief was deeply and visibly shaken with his news. He stood speechless with his head bowed for a long time. The accused and the accusers as well as curious onlookers waited breathless silence. What would happen to the young man? Finally the old man raised his head. “Then he shall become my son,” he informed them, “and everything I have will one day be his.”

The young man certainly didn’t deserve such generosity. And that, of course, is the point. Love in its purest form is beyond comprehension. No one can merit it. It is freely given. It is agape, the love of God. Look to the cross. At the cross we encounter love in its purest form.

God’s love is tangible and real.  Jesus is living proof.  We become living proof when we receive that love and live it out loud in gratitude and faith.  Shout His fame for all the world to see and hear! 

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Crossed Eyed Vision — seeing the way God sees

Mark 8:31-38 & Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

There is a story about two young brothers who were caught stealing sheep. The punishment back then was to brand the thief’s forehead with the letters “ST” which stood for sheep thief. As a result of this, one brother left the village and spent his remaining years wandering from place to place indelibly marked by disgrace. The other remained in the village, made restitution for the stolen sheep, and became a caring friend and neighbor to the townspeople. He lived out his life in the village — an old man loved by all.

One day a stranger came to town and inquired about the “ST” on the old man’s forehead. “I’m not sure what it means,” another told him. “It happened so long ago, but I think the letters must stand for saint.”  Learning how to see things differently; maybe the way God sees things!  

Off the coast of the Island Mauritius, over the peninsula called Le Morne Brabant in the Indian Ocean is what has been called an underwater waterfall.  It is not an underwater waterfall, but an optical allusion that can be seen from the air.  It is trails of sand and silt deposits on the seafloor being washed by currents over the edge of an ocean shelf.  At first glance, however, it appears like a spot where the ocean is dropping off a cliff and flowing down a huge sink hole or drain.  

I mention it because sometimes what we think we see is not what actually is.  Optical allusions can fool us.  They can play games with our minds.  Sometimes our world view, in the same way can fool us into thinking we see clearly when we are actually being mislead or fooled.  Our world view is our way of looking at reality.  That is what happens in our readings for the Second Sunday in Lent. 

Jesus tells Peter, you are not aligned with God’s way of thinking!  God, through the prophet Isaiah says the same thing, Isaiah 55:8-9 (GNT) 

8 “My thoughts,” says the LORD, “are not like yours,

and My ways are different from yours.

9 As high as the heavens are above the earth,

so high are My ways and thoughts above yours.

Abraham and Sarah had to learn that God’s ways and timing do not always match our human thinking and time frame!

Peter has just confessed Jesus as being Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  And, now, Jesus, speaks plainly about what will soon be taking place in Jerusalem—He will suffer at the hands of the religious leaders there, be rejected as Messiah and then be killed.  Three days later He will rise again, alive from the grave.  

Peter reacts to the idea of Jesus’ suffering and death.  So he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Him.  We can almost fill in the words for Peter.  

“Stop talking nonsense!  You’re not going to suffer and die.  Don’t be foolish! You are the Messiah, Israel’s long promised king!”  

That is when Jesus stops Peter, turns to the disciples who are there and who agree with their spokes person Peter.  

“If anyone wants to follow Me, they will deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me.”  

Living a life for others (and not just to protect ourselves) is more in line with God’s values.

Mark’s recording of his Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “it is necessary,” the Greek word is “dei.”  Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, His being rejected and killed by the religious establishment and government authorities is the core piece of the plan of our salvation.  Jesus is going to the cross, bearing our sins on His shoulders as the “lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”  

Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes in his Gulag Archipelago, where he described life in a Siberian prison. At one point he was so physically weak and discouraged that all he could hope for was death. The hard labor, terrible conditions, and inhumane treatment had taken its toll.

He knew the guards would beat him severely and probably kill him if he stopped working. So, he planned to help them by simply stopping his work and leaning on his shovel. But when he stopped, a fellow Christian reached over with his shovel and quickly drew a sign of the cross at the feet of Solzhenitsyn then erased it before a guard could see it.

Solzhenitsyn later wrote that his entire being was energized by that little reminder of the hope and courage we find in Christ through the cross. It was a turning point. Through the cross and a fellow believer, he found the strength and the hope to continue.

Seeing ourselves and our world through God’s eyes, through the perspective of the cross can give us the encouragement and strength we need to keep on keeping on, to keep going when we feel like giving up.  Through the cross God turns death into life, despair into hope, shame and guilt into forgiveness.  He gives us light in our darkness, love that is more powerful than any hate and evil this world can throw at us. 

So, my fellow believers, don’t give up.  Lift up your eyes and fix your gaze on Jesus and His cross.  Let that view from the cross give you clear vision and a strong faith in God’s redeeming love.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.