Featured

Seasoned with Gratitude

Thanksgiving Sunday, November 21, 2021

Focused.  He was very focused.  The problem was his focus was about a half-a-mile down the road.  He did not realize he had lost focus on what was around him.  The result?  He didn’t see the traffic light turn red.  He didn’t see the cross traffic.  Only at the last second did he realize his mistake, slam on his brakes and avoid hitting other cars! 

Focus.  What we are seeing—what we are looking at and paying attention to matters.  A lot!  

Jesus, in Matthew, chapter six, is helping us to focus.  This section is from the Sermon on the Mount, and contains a core piece of Jesus’ teachings.  Some may reduce Jesus’ teachings here to mere moralism—Do the right thing then you will be good and life will be good.  Jesus is more than a great teacher.  He is our Savior, our Lord, our Redeemer—Jesus the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, true-God-in-human-flesh.  Jesus is the One who reclaims us.  Through Him our relationship with God is restored and empowered so that we can make a difference in our world.  What Jesus has to say to us in our Gospel reading is important to hear and read again and again; to let it sink into our souls, change our values and how we live.  

“Don’t worry…” (Matthew 6:25)  

That is one of the key phrases in this part of Matthew.   He says it repeatedly in this passage.  “Don’t worry.  Be happy.”  Remember that song?  Jesus is not being simplistic here, but is challenging us to be aware of where our focus is.  

Are you focusing on what is wrong with your life?  Do you only see what you are missing? What is wrong? What you need that you don’t have?  Are you focused on how vulnerable you feel?  Most of us do not have to worry about food, clothing, or housing; the things Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading.  But we do worry, don’t we!  

A definition of worry might be, “assuming responsibility for something that we have no control over.”  What do we worry about?  Finances?  Politics?  Justice—or the glaring absence of it?  Relationships with children/parents/partners/neighbors/friends?  We worry about health concerns, whether we are okay—meaning how do others view us?  Do they like or despise us, respect us or think we are incompetent and “stupid?”  Am I good enough?  Is God okay with me?  

Worry  distorts our focus.  It robs us of peace.  It destroys our inner wellbeing.  And, like the driver in our opening illustration, worry sets us up for disaster because it clouds our vision to what is going on around us.

Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things.”  (Matthew 6:32)

Jesus tells us that God is aware of us, and knows what we need better than we do.  We don’t have to draw a picture for God to see what is going on and to understand our plight!  Rather than worry Jesus tells us to open our eyes to what God is going and to make the Kingdom of God our first priority.  Seek, strive for, make your top priority—the kingdom of God.  

“Seek/strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)

So what is the kingdom of God that we should be looking for it with all our focus?  God’s presence in us, with us, through us, for us.  God’s being in control even when life is out of control, and learning how to rest in that knowledge!  

Thanksgiving is a great time to refocus—to “wipe our lens,” to see more clearly.  A great way to do that is to practice the discipline of gratitude.  

Gratitude is life changing. Gratitude is life giving. It is more than just having good manners and saying thank you. It is more than just being naive or “pollyanna” happy.    Gratitude is a vital force in the world.  Genuine gratitude fosters and strengthens relationships, communities, and healthy hearts.

When we develop the discipline of gratitude we tend to have stronger relationships, we sleep better, our blood pressure is lower, we have fewer trips to the doctor and ER, we are less depressed, more patient, kinder, etc. Gratitude helps us to the world from a better, healthier vantage point.  It helps us to have a more positive, happier, healthier disposition. Gratitude fosters better health.

Jesus is doing more than teaching us how to be healthier emotionally.  Jesus teaches us to seek, strive, strain forward to discover what God is doing in us and in our world—to be aware of God’s presence, power and love at work—God sightings.  

There are some things we can do to build the discipline of gratitude in your life,

  1. Count your blessings.  In short, see the good.  Don’t see, focus, concentrate on what is wrong.  List them.  Say them out loud.  Write them down in a journal.  Give them back to God in prayer.  Say thank you.  Out loud and often. 
  1. Tell a friend, family member, acquaintance or maybe even a stranger you are grateful.  Write them a note.  Give them a quick call.  It doesn’t have to be a long conversation or a long letter.  Just a quick note, a quick call.  
  2. Invite a friend or family member out to coffee.  Don’t drink coffee, have tea or a soda, or ice cream.  As you converse tell them what you are grateful and thankful for in life.  It doesn’t have to be about them.  It can just simply be your saying what you love about life, what gives you joy, what fills you up.  
  1. Make you closing thoughts before you drift off to sleep thoughts of gratitude and thanksgiving.  Go through as many things as you can—people you are thankful for, gifts you are thankful for, anything you are thankful for as you look over your day, your week, your life.  And just say, “thank you” as you fall asleep.

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts

Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly

teach others (use your influence for good)

admonish (encourage others to do good)

be seasoned with gratitude

doing all that you do in Jesus (in His name) with thankful hearts

Matthew 6:25-33

Don’t worry.

Focus on serving Christ, not on the minute details of what you want and think you need.

Know that God can and will take care of you.  

That frees you tup to focus on the first priority of kingdom living—community living,  God honoring living. 

Seize the initiative.  Take the lead in seeing God, serving God, and helping others to discover God’s love, grace and power.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Easter Message 2022

Mercy in the Open Tomb 

In a cemetery in Hanover, Germany, there is a tomb which is known as the Geoffnetes Grab, or “opened grave.” It is the tomb of a noblewoman, Henriette von Ruling, who died in 1782. Her sepulcher is immense and constructed of heavy stone with a large and imposing tombstone resting on it. The stone bears an inscription written in German but translated as follows: “This tomb, bought for eternity, may never be opened.” Let me quote that inscription one more time. (Repeat.) 

In spite of this inscription, Frau Henriette’s strongly fortified tomb has, in fact, been opened. For shortly after her burial a birch tree germinated at the base slab of the monument and over the years grew larger and wider. Slowly but steadily the tree’s roots and trunk forced its way and raised the tombstone and opened the grave. So despite the claim of the inscription to never be opened, the tomb is now known as the “opened grave.” Its inscription forbidding entrance into the tomb speaks in vain above a yawning crypt. (See photos and information at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Grave,_Hanover).

Jesus breathed His last (Matthew 27:50).  After ensuring Jesus was really dead, Pilate granted permission for Him to be buried.  Then the religious leaders asked to make sure no one would steal His body and pretend He had been raised from the dead.  Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb, with a heavy stone rolled in front to secure the entrance.  The governor’s seal was then placed on it and professional Roman solidiers were posted to keep it secure.  It was almost as if to say, “this tomb may never be opened!”  And that, it seems, was the end of the story.  

Yet early Sunday morning, the third day since Jesus’ crucifixion, a surprising and perplexing series of events took place.

A couple of women made their way to the tomb just as the sun was coming up over the horizon.  The word “suddenly” in our text is from the Greek, “idou,” which other translation’s render as “behold.”  Something stupendous was happening.  First there was a great earthquake.  Then an angel of the Lord came and tossed the stone aside and sat on it!  The guards who were just finishing a long boring night were suddenly terrified. They had no control over what was happening.  They were essentially useless!  

The women, too, were afraid.  But the angel spoke to them and assured them.  “Do not be afraid.  I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here.  He has been raised from the dead just like He told you.  Come, see where His body had been laid.  

The soldiers were surprised to say the least!

So were the women.  “They left the tomb with fear and great joy.” As they ran back—note they were running, not walking—Jesus met them and showed Himself alive as “exhibit A!”  Proof beyond doubt.  

The religious leaders were surprised and upset and paid the soldiers a pretty sum to not tell the truth.  Tell people His body was stolen!

Even the disciples were surprised.  They thought the women were telling stories of make believe due to grief and deep sorrow.  But eventually even they came around and believed that Jesus was alive!

Evil thought it had won the day.  Everyone knows that death is final.  But Jesus defeated death.  Jesus vanquished the grave.  

Unbelievable things happen.  The Exodus story is another example of the incredulous.  Pharoah gloats over his impending victory over the fleeing Hebrews. Exodus records: “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’” (Exodus 15:9). Yet God works a surprise there too. 

The Apostle Peter declared to those who had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). 

Paul, in our reading from Romans 6 tells us that everyone who is baptized into Christ—and therefore united with Christ, placed inside Christ so to speak, shares in what Jesus did for us on the cross, the grave and the empty tomb.  His death is our death.  His burial, ours.  His resurrection also ours.  Paul tells us to believe it and act on it as true.  Reckon—consider it to be reality—that you died in Christ, were buried with Christ and now have new life in Christ.  Sometimes our experience argues with that.  We say that we are still lost and hopeless.  We crumble in guilt and shame.  Paul again reminds us to act on the new reality, and by acting on that new reality we can begin to experience it.  Then, little by little, we let go of the “stuff.” Little by little we step out of the shadows and into the sunlight of God’s love and grace.  There is indeed mercy in the empty tomb.  

We cannot explain how a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly, but we can see it and verify that it is true.  Our tombs cannot hold us.  Our guilt and shame crumble before the power of God’s mercy and love through the cross and empty tomb. 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Palm Sunday HOPE

(mercy in palms)

Why are people acting so weird?  That is the title of an article in the Atlantic this past week by Olga Khazan.  Ms. Khazan writes about how stressed out we are, about substance abuse and gun sales spiking.  Isolation is changing us she says.  She writes about the parallel between our moral behavior and out social connections.  The less connected we are, the less moral we become.  “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings.”  That is evident when we have so many that say and act like “the rules do not apply to me.”

Stressed out.  Acting bazar. Caving into anger.  Examples are ample.  Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars; the couple returning from vacation at our SLC airport, the intoxicated husband killing his wife while she was securing their child in a car seat.  The horrific war crimes by Russia against Ukraine—hospitals and clinics bombed, a train station attacked with missiles. So many killed.  The pandemic, social unrest, stressed out medical workers, teachers, and law enforcement personnel.  We are culturally stressed out.  We are all feeling it.  

Olga goes on to say that rudeness is contagious.  When “we witness rudeness we are three times less likely to help someone.” Kindness, mercy, and hope are in short supply.  A doctor in Ukraine was being interviewed this past week about the impact of hospitals being bombed.  The journalist asked the effect of the bombings on people.  His reply was to the point—it destroys hope.  Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing, not death and destruction.

We need today’s message.  We need to refresh our memory of Palm Sunday and Holy Week’s importance.  

A poem by Benjamin E. Mays:

I only have a minute

Only sixty seconds in it

Didn’t seek it

Didn’t choose it

But it is up to me to use it

Just a little minute

But eternity is in it

Palm Sunday. Jesus rides a donkey that has never been ridden before and enters Jerusalem.  Verse 13 of John chapter 12 tells us that many people in Jerusalem “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” Other accounts inform us that they spread these palm branches on the road before Jesus to honor Him (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8). 

So why palm branches? Almost two centuries before this event, palm branches had become associated with triumphal celebrations. In 164 B.C. palm branches were used to celebrate the rededication of the temple that had been occupied by enemies. The Jews had reclaimed their city and the Temple and rededicated the Temple with the waving of palm branches. And then in 141 B.C. the Jews celebrated victory over their enemies by honoring their liberator, Simon the Maccabee, with the waving of palm branches. Indeed, the palm branch became a symbol of Jewish nationalism in the centuries surrounding the ministry of Christ. Now as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, palm branches are used to signal the people’s hope and expectation that a new liberator has arrived.  They wanted Jesus to bring about freedom and “make Israel great again.” 

Wars and conquest are a part of our human history.  The victorious conquerors would enter their city to parades.  Our country celebrated the end of World War II much the same way.  Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is markedly different.  He didn’t come in as a triumphant general surrounded by his conquering army.  He rode in as a humble servant.  Isaiah describes Him as “the suffering servant,” whom Bible prophecy foretold would be our (the world’s) Messiah. 

Instead of duking it out with physical enemies, Jesus took on evil, all evil—past, present, and future by yielding Himself to cross.  He put His fists down and let evil do its worst.  He surrendered Himself to public shame, a sham of a trial, the humility of death on the cross.  In our place. Picture this, all the evil of all the ages collectively focused on that one man and He withstood it all.  When evil had done its worst and exhausted itself, Jesus quietly whispers those three simple words that will ring out through eternity.  “It is finished.” Our redemption, the salvation of all was complete.

When Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem the crowds did not shout sounds of victory like praise God, or hail the king.  They shouted Hosanna—translated, “Lord save us!”  Yes, they hoped for physical deliverance.  Jesus gave them the better type of deliverance.  Salvation from fear, sin, death, and the devil (from all evil).  He saved us by dying in our place for us.  

Palms.  Palm Sunday.  Let this day remind us of the certainty of our hope in God. Take your palm.  Hold it.  Wave it back and forth! Look at it! Think of it as a symbol of hope, a symbol of healing and deliverance.  Jesus’ death on the victorious cross proves that love is more powerful than hate, hope than despair, forgiveness than all our sin and shame.  Because Jesus we can be people of hope that do not respond evil for evil, hurt for hurt.  

We can experience stress. We can be bummed out about all that is going on in our world.  We can be grieved and heartbroken about what is wrong in our lives.  But we do not have to be controlled or held captive by any of that.  Jesus makes all the difference.  We are people of God.  Because of Jesus and His life, death and resurrection the Spirit of God indwells us—lives in and through us.  God empowers us to rise about the stuff of life to live as people of hope who seize the day and utilize every minute for the sake of heaven and goodness and kindness and love.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Mercy in Relationships

Genesis 45:1-15

Ephesians 4:25-32

John 13:34-3

“We are all members of one another…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:25 & 32

Hanging Mobiles—several items connected together by string, balancing each other.  Touch or remove one piece and the entire mobile is affected.  We are all inter-connected.  What we do to one, affects us and all the others.  

A mother of 8 came home one afternoon from the grocery store and walked into her house and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, which is a danger sign for parents. She put down the groceries, walked a little closer and that’s when she realized that the children were playing with 5 of the cutest baby skunks you can imagine.

Mom was instantly terrified and she hollered, “Run children, run!” And they did. Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. Well, that was the wrong thing to do. Mom was scared so, she screamed louder and more frantically. Well, that scared the children so much, that they each clutched their skunk tighter. And you know what, “Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

Now and then we can all cause a stink!  We are all inter-related!

Joseph’s story.  A doting father, a spoiled son and jealous brothers.  The coat of many colors, intense jealousy and hatred; the desire and opportunity to “get even” and eliminate the cause of jealousy.  Rather than kill Joseph as they originally intended they sell him as a slave.  Joseph ends up as a house slave for a high ranking official in Egypt, Potiphar, captain of the guard.  Joseph’s troubles don’t end there.  He does well and is promoted and trusted until Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him.  Joseph resists, running out of the house leaving Potiphar’s wife holding his garment.  She lies about him and again Joseph’s life goes down the tube.  He is now a prisoner, but soon is in charge of the prison.  

Joseph spends years of neglect in prison and being forgotten. Yet through dream interpretation Joseph becomes a ruler in Egypt—second only to Pharaoh himself—and manages their countries resources through a seven year drought.

Joseph has had a hard life with lies, hatred and abuse.  He could have been angry and bitter.  He could have succumbed and died in prison as a “grumpy old man.”  Yet, somehow he rose above all that and learned how to make the best of bad situations.  He prospered and excelled because he did not let anger or bitterness control or ruin his life.  

How did he do that?  He saw the bigger picture of what God was doing and decided to be part of God’s plan rather than fight and resist.  

Life is not fair or easy.  Relationships are hard work.  Period.  There is evil in the world.  And the evil is not always out there, in others or caused by others.  Sometimes we are the ones causing the hurt and pain. We are not like Putin and so many others who cause unbelievable pain and suffering, but we do little things that pile up.  Selfish little acts.  Cutting words spoken carelessly.  Little actions aimed at taking care of ourselves without realizing how it hurts or harms someone else.  Joseph’s story illustrates that.  All three groups were wrong—a father playing favorites, a spoiled son gloating over being special, and the jealous rage of the brothers.  They all affected each other.  Yet the most damaging of all was holding on to the bitterness and anger caused by jealousy.  That is where Joseph, through years of suffering learned how to “let it go and let God” and by managing his emotions rather than letting his emotions ravage him he became a great leader and changed the course of history for the entire Hebrew (Jewish) nation.   

“You always hurt the ones you love, the ones you shouldn’t hurt at all…” Mills Brothers (1930’s)

The good news is that we do not have to give in to hurting and harming each other.  We can rise above all that.  Because of God’s love in Christ, and the Holy Spirit working in and through us we can “put away falsehood.”  We can stop giving into lying, cheating, and stealing.  We can learn how to be angry without letting that anger rule and control us.  The Apostle Paul says, “don’t give the devil a foothold in your life.”  Holding on to bitterness, anger, and grudges whether we feel we are right or not, hurts us and harms our relationships.  Negative feelings that we seem to cherish cause decay and rottenness.  

Stop rehearsing the hurts and harms others have caused you.  Don’t hold on to the bitterness.  Stop harboring anger.  Stop the wrangling and fighting.  That grieves the Holy Spirit who is working inside your heart and head to turn you away from such destructive and negative ways.  

Learn to be kind.  Learn to be patient.  Learn to be tenderhearted and forgiving.  Remember that God forgives you.  That is your motivation for letting go and forgiving others—even when you do not believe they deserve it.  We don’t deserve it either!  Let it go.  

The good news is that God promises forgiveness. God forgives our sins for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God reconstructed our broken relationship by reconciling us to Himself through Jesus. Through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, he has forgiven our corruption and restored a right relationship to him. This is divine mercy. This is God’s grace. When we have sinned against others, when we are the source of corruption in the relationship, we confess our sins to God and to those we have wronged. We are assured that we are forgiven by God, and we seek the forgiveness of others.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Mercy in Relationships

Mercy in Relationships Lent 4 March 27, 2022 / bwk

Genesis 45:1-15

Ephesians 4:25-32

John 13:34-35

“We are all members of one another…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”  

Ephesians 4:25 & 32

Hanging Mobiles—several items connected together by string, balancing each other.  Touch or remove one piece and the entire mobile is affected.  We are all inter-connected.  What we do to one, affects us and all the others.  

A mother of 8 came home one afternoon from the grocery store and walked into her house and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, which is a danger sign for parents. She put down the groceries, walked a little closer and that’s when she realized that the children were playing with 5 of the cutest baby skunks you can imagine.

Mom was instantly terrified and she hollered, “Run children, run!” And they did. Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. Well, that was the wrong thing to do. Mom was scared so, she screamed louder and more frantically. Well, that scared the children so much, that they each clutched their skunk tighter. And you know what, “Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

Now and again we can all cause a stink! We are all inter-related!

Joseph’s story.  A doting father, a spoiled son and jealous brothers.  The coat of many colors, intense jealousy and hatred; the desire and opportunity to “get even” and eliminate the cause of jealousy.  Rather than kill Joseph as they originally intended they sell him as a slave.  Joseph ends up as a house slave for a high ranking official in Egypt, Potiphar, captain of the guard.  Joseph’s troubles don’t end there.  He does well and is promoted and trusted until Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him.  Joseph resists, running out of the house leaving Potiphar’s wife holding his garment.  She lies about him and again Joseph’s life goes down the tube.  He is now a prisoner, but soon is in charge of the prison.  

Joseph spends years of neglect in prison and being forgotten. Yet through dream interpretation Joseph becomes a ruler in Egypt—second only to Pharaoh himself—and manages their countries resources through a seven year drought.

Joseph has had a hard life with lies, hatred and abuse.  He could have been angry and bitter.  He could have succumbed and died in prison as a “grumpy old man.”  Yet, somehow he rose above all that and learned how to make the best of bad situations.  He prospered and excelled because he did not let anger or bitterness control or ruin his life.  

How did he do that?  He saw the bigger picture of what God was doing and decided to be part of God’s plan rather than fight and resist.  

Life is not fair or easy.  Relationships are hard work.  Period.  There is evil in the world.  And the evil is not always out there, in others or caused by others.  Sometimes we are the ones causing the hurt and pain. We are not like Putin and so many others who cause unbelievable pain and suffering, but we do little things that pile up.  Selfish little acts.  Cutting words spoken carelessly.  Little actions aimed at taking care of ourselves without realizing how it hurts or harms someone else.  Joseph’s story illustrates that.  All three groups were wrong—a father playing favorites, a spoiled son gloating over being special, and the jealous rage of the brothers.  They all affected each other.  Yet the most damaging of all was holding on to the bitterness and anger caused by jealousy.  That is where Joseph, through years of suffering learned how to “let it go and let God” and by managing his emotions rather than letting his emotions ravage him he became a great leader and changed the course of history for the entire Hebrew (Jewish) nation.   

“You always hurt the ones you love, the ones you shouldn’t hurt at all…” Mills Brothers (1930’s)

The good news is that we do not have to give in to hurting and harming each other.  We can rise above all that.  Because of God’s love in Christ, and the Holy Spirit working in and through us we can “put away falsehood.”  We can stop giving into lying, cheating, and stealing.  We can learn how to be angry without letting that anger rule and control us.  The Apostle Paul says, “don’t give the devil a foothold in your life.”  Holding on to bitterness, anger, and grudges whether we feel we are right or not, hurts us and harms our relationships.  Negative feelings that we seem to cherish cause decay and rottenness.  

Stop rehearsing the hurts and harms others have caused you.  Don’t hold on to the bitterness.  Stop harboring anger.  Stop the wrangling and fighting.  That grieves the Holy Spirit who is working inside your heart and head to turn you away from such destructive and negative ways.  

Learn to be kind.  Learn to be patient.  Learn to be tenderhearted and forgiving.  Remember that God forgives you.  That is your motivation for letting go and forgiving others—even when you do not believe they deserve it.  We don’t deserve it either!  Let it go.  

The good news is that God promises forgiveness. God forgives our sins for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God reconstructed our broken relationship by reconciling us to Himself through Jesus. Through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, he has forgiven our corruption and restored a right relationship to him. This is divine mercy. This is God’s grace. When we have sinned against others, when we are the source of corruption in the relationship, we confess our sins to God and to those we have wronged. We are assured that we are forgiven by God, and we seek the forgiveness of others.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Mercy in Suffering

Numbers 21:4-9, 1 Peter 2:21-25 & Matthew 8:14-17

“…by His wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24

Benjamin Franklin once quipped that there are two certainties we all encounter—death and taxes. But I would add another certainty—suffering. We all face suffering in life! 

We seem to be on the downside of our pandemic.  We hope!  Yet six million people have died from it.  Many are suffering from long term covid which has a serious impact on health.  Russia, through Putin, is aggressively and brutally attacking Ukraine.  Their missiles and bombs indiscriminately aimed at hospitals, women and children, and civilians fleeing from the violence.  We are seeing history repeating itself yet again!  How many Syrians fled as homeless refugees.  How many times has this happened in our world.  And now we have over two million Ukrainian refugees fleeing from their homeland.  We are stressed out.  

But we do not need to go to Europe to look for suffering do we!  Disease, cancer and injury become our uninvited companions. Lost dreams and depression plague us.   

For the most part we can endure our own suffering.  It is the suffering of others, especially children, that bothers us. Famous voices such as Bertrand Russell and Steve Jobs regarded the reality of pain and sorrow to be the clinching argument against the idea of a loving God. But the Bible does not ignore the messy reality of the world. Nowhere does Christianity deny the existence of pain and suffering. Indeed, the Bible unequivocally declares that this is a fallen world, a broken planet.

Lent provides us with a new lens through which to view suffering. That is through the lens of God’s mercy. In it we see a God who entered into our suffering to bear our suffering and to bring healing to us.

Why is there suffering in the world?  We can say suffering is part of our existence on this side of heaven because of our fallen condition. God created the world without suffering. But then we rebelled against God’s perfect plan.  Our relationship with God was shattered. Our world has been broken ever since. 

The root problem is sin and its consequences.  Pain and suffering are symptoms, not the root cause. 

Philip Yancey quotes from the book Migrants, Sharecroppers and Mountaineers, in his book Where Is God When It Hurts © 1999. Zondervan, p. 222.  He shares the story of a poverty-stricken mother describes an incident in which her husband lost his temper at a preacher who was speaking on the topic of suffering in a church service:

“Then [my husband] did the worst thing he could do: he took the baby, Annie, and he held her right before his face, the minister’s, and he screamed and hollered at him … He told him that here was our little Annie, and she’s never been to the doctor, and the child is sick … and we’ve no money, not for Annie or the other ones or ourselves … Then he told the reverend he was like all the rest, making money off us, and he held our Annie as high as he could, right near the cross, and told God He’d better stop having the ministers speaking for Him, and He should come and see us Himself” 

This grief stricken father was angry about his suffering children and his inability to help them.  He puts words to our frustration and anger.  Why are there sick children, and why is there no money and little hope among so many?

Then he demanded that God come down and see for himself the suffering in this world. And that is exactly what God did. Jesus entered our broken world.  Jesus took on in His flesh and bones our brokenness and bore it physically to the cross.  And on that cross He took all the punishment for all the sin of all the people, past, present and future—all humanity—and He absorbed the evil and hatred, the violence, the greed, the prejudice and bigotry, the abuse; all that the evil of all the world focused on that moment and He broke the power of sin and evil.  His suffering and death was not just that of His own.  It was all the suffering of all the world piled on Him while He bore it silently on the cross.  

He could have complained.  He could have retaliated against His false accusers.  He could have pushed the blame and guilt and shame back on us.  He could have asked God to deliver Him from such an unjust death.  But He didn’t.  

He knew of all our suffering.  He knew of all the suffering of all the people; men, women and children from down through the ages.  And He knew our only hope was to stay the course.  

Consider the irony of the phrase, “by His wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24.  Jesus’ wounds free us from curving in on ourselves.  Jesus’ wounds heal us from selfishness and greed.  Jesus’ wounds free us from being afraid of suffering and pain.  Jesus’ wounds give us the freedom and strength to see God’s hand in blessings even the suffering as a way of shaping and molding us as His beloved children. 

We do not suffer as a result of God’s anger and punishment.  We do not suffer because God does not care.  No one on this side of heaven suffers without God’s knowledge and care for them individually and personally.  

Maybe the challenge for us is to see God at work even in the darkest moments through people who do not give in to the evil; through people who overcome the darkness with the light of God’s love despite the evil that surrounds them. God has entered our world through Jesus.  And now Jesus lives in and through you and me. Do not forget God’s ultimate promise is to make all things right when Jesus returns at His final Second Coming. Our call, our job, our challenge is to hold on to love and let God’s love in Christ fill us, shape us, embolden us and use us in our struggles against the powers of sin and darkness.  

Corrie Ten Boom provides us with a powerful example of the transformative power of suffering in view of God’s mercy. Corrie’s family was persecuted by the Nazis for protecting Jews during World War II. Corrie and her sister Betsy suffered incredible hardships in the concentration camp in which they were unjustly incarcerated. In the midst of all that misery, however, Betsy proclaimed a message of transformative faith. When Corrie lamented about the pit of suffering they were in, Betsy replied: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Betsy knew that life is painful but God’s mercy is even more powerful.

“By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

source: David Peters, Creative Communications for the Parish

Mercy in Temptation

1 Corinthians 10:13

The story is told of four high school boys who couldn’t resist the temptation to skip morning classes. Each had been smitten with a bad case of spring fever. After lunch they showed up at school and reported to the teacher that their car had a flat tire. Much to their relief, she smiled and said, “Well, you missed a quiz this morning, so take your seats and get out a pencil and paper.” Still smiling, she waited as they settled down and got ready for her questions. Then she said, “First question—which tire was flat?”

C.S. Lewis quote:

”A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is . . . A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.”

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.”

Our common experience.  Shared humanity.  We are not alone.  So don’t think poorly of yourself because of your temptations.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Can you accept yourself as human and vulnerable, the same as others?  Or do you make yourself out as worse off than anyone else.  That is a mistake.  Don’t do that.  Thank God for allowing temptation to remind you that you are human, and imperfect.  Quit fighting that.  Accept it.  Be glad to be reminded of it because that keeps us humble and aware of our need for grace.  It helps us to listen to God’s voice and depend on our Good Shepherd.  And that is good.  

When we think of temptation we might think of food, booze, sex, drugs, pornography, stealing, etc.  Yet, one of our most common temptations is the issue of control.  Think of the Garden of Eden and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  “If you eat this fruit you will be like god…”  Why do we always have to be in control?  Our control is only an illusion, a myth.  We are not in control.  Why is it so hard to trust; to let go and let God be God?  

“God is faithful.  He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.”

You are never isolated and alone in your temptation in human terms.  But also know you are not isolated and abandoned by God because of your temptation.  God does not judge or condemn you because of your humanness and frailty!  Jesus came into our world to deliver us from evil.  We pray that in the Lord’s Prayer!  That doesn’t mean we don’t experience temptation.  It does give us hope that even though we are tempted there is a way out.  First, God doesn’t give up on us when we fail and fall flat on our face.  Forgiveness in Jesus is real!  Second, God can use the temptation to teach us a little more about ourselves.  Learn to listen.  

Why are we tempted?  Oftentimes temptations that we face—if we listen—help us to discover our brokenness and our insane attempts to heal ourselves through addictions and finding comfort in what become traps and snares.  When we listen maybe we can discover the root of the temptation. Are we fleeing from inner pain and suffering? From being abandoned, rejected? From being inadequate, not okay? 

Don’t run from the pain and suffering.  Look beneath it and let it guide you to the Savior’s mercy and love.  Jesus meets us where we are most broken and vulnerable.  Discover mercy in the temptation.  Discover God’s love and care for you as one of His children—a beloved child whom God desires to bless.  

Finding mercy in temptation is also a way to find hope.  Hope that you are okay, and that you will be okay.  Our journey through Lent to the cross is not about finally measuring up.  It is about discovering God’s mercy in Jesus.  It is about discovering the hope that is defined by love—God’s love given us in Jesus.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

Be Like a Tree

Luke 6.17-31, Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17.5-10

Red Skelton.  I remember watching Red Skelton with my siblings and family growing up.  Our mother’s comment was that we would watch the entire show straight faced, not cracking a smile, and then after the show was over look at each other and say, “that was funny!”  

Laughter is the best medicine.  Happy people tend to be more positive and healthier.  Similar phrases might include, “look on the bright side,” or “stay on the sunny side of life” (which is an old Bluegrass song).  

What makes you laugh?  What makes you smile?  What gives you hope and brightens your day?  Laughter helps us forget our troubles.  We can laugh easier when we feel safe and secure.  When we feel and experience true love, God’s love, the best love of all!

Listen to these quotes from a first grade class our member Bonnie (Mrs Rembacz and Julie Anderson) back in May of 1990.  These are popular phrases or colloquialisms that they asked the children to complete.  Think of how we answer them, and listen to their answers.  It will make you smile.

never underestimate the power of… power lines

laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you… are sad

do unto others what you would… do unto mom

time heals all … people

do unto others who you would … be nice to others

strike while the … baseball is there

there’s a time and place … at McDonalds

We all want happiness.  It is the American Dream, the pursuit of happiness.  How do we define happiness?  What does it take for you and I to be happy?

  • good health
  • success—having enough money to be provided for
  • to be safe and secure, to know we are loved and valued 

Jesus’ definition of happiness in this Sermon on the Plain in Luke is balanced between current unhappy circumstances and future resolution of those circumstances.  Happy are those who are poor and hungry and sad because you will be rich, fed and joyful in the future.  Happy are those who are mocked and marginalized because of their identification with Jesus. 

Then Jesus balances these blessed statements with a series of “woes.” Woe to those who are rich and well fed now. Woe to those who have all their needs met now because the time will come when the tables will be turned and you will be in want! 

Jesus sums up this part of the Sermon on the Plain with the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” Luke 6:31 which will be in next weeks Gospel reading.  It can be summarized as “treat others the way you want to be treated.”  It is as if Jesus is saying, think past yourself.  Be concerned about others.  Open your heart and mind.  Think about what you are doing.  Would you want to be treated the way you are treating others?  True happiness is when we love others the way God loves us in Jesus. 

Now look at the readings from Jeremiah 17 and Psalm 1. They contrast trees and chaff.  Trees are alive.  Chaff is lifeless.  Trees are grounded and stable.  Chaff has nothing—no stability, no roots, no substance.  Trees have a steady source of water through healthy root systems even during times of drought.  Chaff is dry.  Wind may affect trees, but most trees can even survive strong winds.  Chaff gets blown around by even slight breezes.  Trees are interconnected.  Trees support and strengthen each other through root systems and providing wind break, etc.  A tree in a grove or shelter belt is stronger and healthier.  

Which do we want to be?  Be like a tree or be chaff?  

We can choose to be one or the other by how we think, act and live.  God does not choose who will be chaff or a like a tree.  We do. 

When you give in to peer pressure and allow others to have more influence on your values and life you will be like a desert shrub lifeless chaff.  Psalm 1:1 talks about letting wickedness or sinners guide and instruct us.  When we become negative and scornful we have succumbed to false thinking.  That is like being windblown and lifeless chaff.  The same is true if we are greedy or stingy and do not share with others.   

If you want to be blessed and have genuine happiness—if you want to be like a tree then be kind and generous, live past your narrow self and see your connection with others.  A tree has deep roots.  A tree is grounded and shares the shelter and root system of other trees—we are interconnected!  We are not independent.  We are inter-dependent.  We need each other.  A tree bears fruit—has meaning and purpose in life and does good for those around it—and produces oxygen while taking carbon dioxide out of the air.  Trees benefit the whole environment.  They are life giving.  Chaff is lifeless and useless.

Do you want to be safe and secure in the storms of life?  Do you want stability when the winds of chaos and change disrupt and torment us?  Christians are not protected from the stuff of life.  We have troubles and disease too. We get sick and die like anyone. But we have an anchor and source of strength that the world cannot offer.  Look for the bright side of life.  Focus on God’s presence in, with and through you.  Listen to God’s Word.  Get God’s input into your life.  Worship with other people in a setting where you are not isolated or alone or cut off from others.  Be humble.  Be teachable.  Be flexible and let God bend and shape you, mold and fill you.  We are interconnected.  Be in the Word.  Being in the Word with others keeps you from bending God’s Word to fit your own purposes and designs.  It keeps us centered and balanced.  Stay in worship and fellowship.  

Jeremiah 17:9-10.  

9   The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, 

and desperately wicked. 

Who really knows how bad it is? 

10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts 

and examine secret motives. 

I give all people their due rewards, 

according to what their actions deserve.”

There is grace and mercy in these verses.  The prophet might be talking about our unexamined sub-conscious self.  We can “tame the tiger” within by letting God speak to us through His Word and through the context of fellowship with other believers.  We can find the courage to be honest and open; to accept ourselves rather than hide who and what we are.  Through the process of dialog with others, through honesty, openness, confession and forgiveness we can accept our humanity and brokenness and finally be at home in our own skin.  We can experience happiness and contentment, have the strength and stability of a tree by accepting God’s love for what it is.  Unconditional love.  Empowering love.  Life-giving love.  When we accept the power of that love then we can be lovely people.  When we accept the power of that love then we can change, adjust our attitudes, change our actions and grow strong like a tree.  And that is a lovely thing indeed, the source of true happiness and joy.  The best Valentine gift ever.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Ready for 2022

I released this article earlier in January in our church’s newsletter, but thought it worth sharing through this medium as well. Continued “Happy New Year to you.”

Who’s that?  I looked again.  Had to smile.  The guy looking at me was not as young as he used to be.  He had a twinkle in his eyes; eyes that showed a little wisdom and sagacity with age, lessons learned from failure and challenges faced.  I thought I recognized him.  I chuckled.  The key there is I thought I knew him.  The humor is I was looking at myself! The inverted image was my reflection in the mirror.

How well do we know ourselves?  We are all works in progress.  And the work of knowing ourselves—let alone others—is never complete.  

Maybe one of our challenges in 2022 could be to pay attention.  Listen to what’s going on in us—our inner being, emotions and rambling thoughts.  Can we see past the surface and understand who we are, who we are becoming?  Are we brave enough to face our fears, question our assumptions, examine our motives, etc.?  Can we get past denial, pretending and hiding, be honest with our faults, failures and fears, and embrace our hopes and dreams?  

Consider Shakespeare’s quote from Hamlet, “to thine own self be true.”  We have to be honest with who we are in order to be true to ourselves.  Coupled with this is the challenge to rise up to be our best selves.  Recognize God’s work in and through us as new creations.  

This year recognize the person God created you to be. Intentionally, deliberately, prayerfully let God’s love shine in and through you.  That takes honest confession and recognizing God’s forgiveness in Jesus.  It also includes claiming and connecting with God’s powerful love expressed through you.  

The world is a better place because of you, because of God’s love shining through you. 

Colossians 3:12-14 (The Message)

12 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. 13 Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. 14 And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Messiah Jesus

Luke 4:14-21

Back in 1998 the graduating class of Harvard University heard the unvarnished truth from the Rev. Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard and the author of several books on the Bible. Doctor Gomes took no prisoners that day. He began: “You are going to be sent out of here for good, and most of you aren’t ready to go. The president is about to bid you into the fellowship of educated men and women and, (and here he paused and spoke each word slowly for emphasis) you know just – how – dumb – you – really – are.”

The senior class cheered in agreement.

“And worse than that,” Doctor Gomes continued, “the world – and your parents in particular – are going to expect that you will be among the brightest and best. But you know that you can no longer fool all the people even some of the time. By noontime today, you will be out of here. By tomorrow you will be history. By Saturday, you will be toast. That’s a fact – no exceptions, no extensions.”

“Nevertheless, there is reason to hope,” Doctor Gomes promised. “The future is God’s gift to you. God will not let you stumble or fall. God has not brought you this far to this place to ABANDON you or leave you here alone and afraid. The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical. Thus, my beloved and bewildered young friends, do not be afraid.”

Today consider, who you listen to.  Who influences your thinking and values.  Where do you get your “truth.”  What version of “truth” do you hold on to.  Another way of saying this is, “who or what is your truth source—the authority that you yield to and allow to shape your inner being and life.

Most of us would like to say that truth source is God and God’s Word.  And while I would like to believe that is true, the reality is most of us listen to and follow sources.

Psalm 19 which we read responsively this morning tells us that God’s voice—language—can be “heard” through nature.  Even though no language or speech is used.  I believe you and I have witnessed that.  The created world of nature fairly well shouts out God’s majestic wonder.  Hymns like, “How Great Thou Art” and so many others are our human attempt to say, yes, God speaks to us through creation.

Over the last couple of weeks we have witnessed Jesus being baptized into our humanity.  As He stepped out of the water of the Jordan River, God spoke and the Holy Spirit descended on Him.  As He stepped out of the Jordan River He was cloaked with our humanity,  bearing our sins on His shoulders.  He took our place under sin so that He could give us His righteousness through His life, death and resurrection.  The Israelites were baptized through the crossing of the Red Sea as they fled from Pharaoh in Egypt.  They again were baptized as they crossed the Jordan into the promised land.  Jesus, symbolically and literally was entering into our human story so that we could enter His new reality.  

He was tested by the devil in the wilderness for forty days.  This is another evidence of His stepping into our role.  The children of Israel were tempted in the desert forty days.  They failed over and over again.  They complained and rebelled against God.  Jesus resisted the devil’s ploys in our place.  We will read that again in a few weeks when we go through the season of Lent.  

Last week we witnessed the turning of water into wine as Jesus’ first miracle reminding us of God’s presence and abundance and desire to give us hope and joy.  

Today in our reading from Luke, Jesus goes to church—Sabbath worship on Saturday.  He’d grown up doing that in Nazareth.  In our text He is back in His home town of Nazareth, in worship, on the Sabbath.  He stands up.  The scroll of Isaiah is handed to Him.  He unrolls it and finds the passage that talks about Messiah’s ministry and call.  He reads it, sits down, and proclaims that He is the fulfillment of this passage.  

Jesus is Messiah.  Messiah is the Hebrew word for “anointed one.”  Christ is the Greek word for Messiah.  Our Gospel reading for today tells us Jesus in anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim freedom, liberty, and healing.  Jesus is the answer to our brokenness.  He brings the Year of Jubilee to us.  Every fiftieth year in the Old Testament God’s people would have everything reset back to default.  Debt was forgiven.  Slaves who had sold themselves were set free.  The consequences and bondage of past mistakes were erased.  

Jesus reads this passage from the Prophet Isaiah.  He sits down.  Then says this is happening now in your very presence, as you are listening.  

Jesus is God’s “living Word,” God-in-human flesh.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises.  He is Messiah, Christ, the “Anointed One” of God who has come to communicate by word and action God’s true nature and care for us as God’s people.  Amazing, He does this by reading from Isaiah 61 which unpacks what might be called our spiritual Jubilee.  God instructs the Israelites in Leviticus to hit the “reset” button in life every fiftieth year.  Land goes back to the original owner.  Slaves were set free.  Debt was forgiven.  Jesus is telling us that as our Savior and Redeemer, He sets us free and helps us all to start fresh and clean, to start over again.  That is hope.  That is God’s love for us lived out.  That is God’s call to us to follow His truth and let His Word change and shape us in our relationships, values and living.  

Many of you will recognize the name of Eli Wiesel, the renowned Jewish theologian and prolific author. In his book, All Rivers Run To The Sea he tells of his family, living in Hungry during the dark days of the WWII. His family was waiting for their time to come, for the Nazis to arrive at their door and take the to labor camp.

He tells about a peasant woman by the name of Maria. Maria was almost like a member of the family. She was a Christian. During the early years of the war she continued to visit them, but eventually non-Jews were no longer allowed entrance to the ghettos. That did not deter Maria. She found her way through the barbed wire and she came anyway, bringing the Wiesels fruits, vegetables, and cheese.

One day she came knocking at their door. There was a cabin that she had up in the hills. She wanted to take the children, of which Eli was one, and hide them there before the SS came. They decided after much debate to stay together as a family, although they were deeply moved at this gesture. He writes of her:

Dear Maria. If other Christians had acted like her, the trains rolling toward the unknown would have been less crowded. If priests and pastors had raised their voices, if the Vatican had broken its silence, the enemy’s hand would not have been so free. But most thought only of themselves. A Jewish home was barely emptied of its inhabitants before they descended like vultures.

I think of Maria often, with affection and gratitude, he writes, and with wonder as well. This simple, uneducated woman stood taller that the city’s intellectuals, dignitaries and clergy. My father had many acquaintances and even friends in the Christian community, not one of them showed the strength of character of this peasant woman. Of what value was their faith, their education, their social position, if it did not arouse their love. It was a simple and devout Christian woman who saved the town’s honor.

May we hear God’s Word today.  May God’s love in Jesus shape us and change us, so that God can use us in this world for the good of all people.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Invite Jesus

If You Are Going to Have a Wedding, Make Sure You Invite Jesus!

John 2:1-11

An old priest was driving down the road sipping wine that he had put into his water bottle.  He had sipped a bit too much and his car was weaving a bit as he drove.  A local policeman noticed the erratic driving and pulled the priest over.  Noticing the water bottle that the man was holding the policeman asked what was in the bottle, “what are you drinking?”  

The old priest answered, “water.  This is my water bottle.”  

The officer asked to examine the bottle. The priest obliged and gave it to him.  Opening the bottle and smelling the contents the officer confronted the priest, “this is not water.  It is wine!”  

The old man exhibited a shocked look and exclaimed, “He did it again!”

There is a legend which states that in the late middle ages, the Russian Czar had come to the conclusion that in order to unite his country, there would have to be one state religion to which everyone should belong.

He considered carefully all of his options. Finally, he settled on a short list of three, Islam, Buddhism or Christianity. He called representatives from each of the three religions to his court in Russia, and asked them each to state the case for their religion before himself and his advisors.

The Muslim representative spoke first. He spoke of the humaneness of Islam, of its tolerance for others, its respect for science and culture, and how it came with a complete legal system that had been refined and perfected through the centuries. When he had finished his pitch, he asked the Czar if there were anything else he would like to know. “One thing,” the Czar told him, “Does Allah look favorably upon Vodka?”

The Muslim emissary shook his head and told him no, that alcohol was an abomination to Allah, and was not permitted.

So the Czar, commanded that the Buddhist missionary be ushered in. The Buddhist monk explained the basic teachings of the Buddha, how all of life was suffering and how the Buddha showed the way to end suffering. Finally the King was getting bored and said, “I’ll tell you how I stop suffering. Vodka! What does your Buddha have to say about that?”

The Buddhist monk told him that intoxicants were a hindrance to enlightenment, and were not permitted in Buddhism.

“Next!” cried the Czar, and a Christian Orthodox monk was ushered in. But before he could even begin teaching his elementary catechism, the Czar stopped him short. “Just tell me one thing, does your Jesus allow vodka?”

“Are you kidding?” the monk said, “We will give you wine and bread at every service of worship.”

The Czar knew his choice was clear!

Turning water to wine.  

(cf. Don McLeans’s American Pie lyrics… “the day the music died…” & the wine ran out.)

Jesus is invited to a wedding feast. Mary, His mother also attends the wedding.  Jesus’ disciples come too.  This is a typical Jewish wedding that lasts over the course of a week with a lot of food, dancing, laughter and wine.  All is good until the wine runs out.  Mary tells her Son, “the wine has run out.” She must know what Jesus is capable of doing.  And maybe wants to set the stage for Him to show Himself.  Jesus doesn’t seem to like the idea, but when Mary tells the servants, “do whatever He tells you,” He takes charge.

Close at hand are six large mason jars that are used for Jewish purification rites.  Each holds between twenty to thirty gallons.  They are huge.  And, they are empty.  Jesus tells the servants to fill the empty jars with water.  They do.  Then Jesus simply tells them to take some of the water—now turned to wine—to the host of the wedding.  A very simple, yet stunning miracle.  It is not magic.  It is Jesus’ first public display of miraculous power.  

The servants do as instructed. The host or chief steward, who is like the head butler, is amazed.  He calls the bridegroom and compliments him.  “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper more inferior wine after people have become drunk.  You have saved the good wine until now.”

Mary knew what happened.  The servants who served the wine knew.  Jesus’ disciples also knew, but no one else knew about the miracle.  This is Jesus’ first public miracle.  What did it mean?  What is its significance?  Is it fable, fiction or fact?  What do we make of it today?  Why did Jesus choose this setting and this miracle as His first?

Some thoughts.  

  • Maybe Jesus wants us to see possibilities and abundance instead of problems and shortages.  We can be overwhelmed with problems and negative “stuff.”  What do you think?  
  • Maybe Jesus wants us to know He cares about the little things of life, not just the life and death crises we find ourselves in.  He even intervenes in a simple wedding feast for an unknown couple and their families and friends.  We matter.  We are important to God.  And even the insignificant details of our lives are important.  That should help us know God cares even when everything seems to crash and burn around us.
  • I believe in miracles.  Don’t you? I believe that the God who created heaven and earth—no matter how we believe that creation took place—has power over the natural world that is creation.  To be sure, it is a miracle for grape vines to draw water and nutrients from the soil, draw it up into the stem and plant above ground and produce grapes.  It is also a miracle for grapes that have been harvested and turned to juice to go through a fermentation process to become wine.  Maybe our call is to pay attention and have our eyes open!

Jesus’ miracle sped up the process.  More than that, He instantly made good quality wine from simple water.  Better than Boons-berry Farm wine.  This is top shelf wine.  Maybe Jesus turned water to wine as His first miracle to show the extravagant abundance of God.  One hundred and eighty gallons of wine when the wedding party was running out of wine.  God’s love is extravagant.  It is beyond measure.  It is past our ability to comprehend.  God’s love also gives us joy and pleasure in life.  Joy beyond our human comprehension.  Joy that can transform our bored and dehydrated human relationships where we have become tired and weary of each other.  We need Jesus in our lives!

Years ago when Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show he interviewed an eight year old boy. The young man was asked to appear because he had rescued two friends in a coal mine outside his hometown in West Virginia. As Johnny questioned the boy, it became apparent to him and the audience that the young man was a Christian. So Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school. When the boy said he did Johnny inquired, “What are you learning in Sunday school?” “Last week,” came his reply, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.” The audience roared, but Johnny tried to keep a straight face. Then he said, “And what did you learn from that story?” The boy squirmed in his chair. It was apparent he hadn’t thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, “If you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!” 

Invite Jesus!

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.