Two Crowds

Luke 7:11-17

When something horrible happens, have you ever said, or heard it said, “It will be all right.  Don’t cry.”  “It will be okay.” Or “we offer you our prayers and condolences.”

I have heard children say that to a weeping parent.  We have heard it on TV shows in response to tragedy and misfortune.  The words may be well meaning and spoken from genuine concern.  But, are they realistic?  Is it helpful?

Sometimes we are at a loss for words—what to say, or how to respond to bad news when hearts are broken by tragedy.  Sometimes it is better to say nothing, and just be present and care, with a quiet look, a hand on the shoulder. 

In our text this morning we have two crowds of people.  Two completely opposite crowds.  One loud and celebrative!  Jesus has just healed a sick servant on the point of death.  He has been teaching and healing and proclaiming God’s Good News.  The crowd accompanying Him was ecstatic and excited.  They were unlike us quiet and reserved folk here.  They were laughing and talking and loud.  They were walking with the Lord of Life.  And all was good.  Until they come face to face with a funeral procession.

My imagination paints the picture of two freight trains colliding as these two completely opposite crowds come together.  One crowd celebrating life and healing and hope.  The other crowd mourning death and tragedy and despair.  Kind of like life in our present day.  We don’t want to be negative, but hardly have anything to be positive about.  Or at least that is what we think.  

When two polar opposites collide, which one wins?  The lessons I’ve learned from life often indicate that the evil side wins.  Only in the movies and in well written novels does good overcome evil.  Right?  

Wrong!

If you believe that, you still need to discover the good news of God in Christ!  

Consider this story in our Gospel reading.  I believe it is factual.  You can interpret it as metaphorical if you choose, but I see it as an accurate account of what happened that day.

I’ve already told you about the crowd accompanying Jesus.  They were happy.  They were positive.  They had good reason to be. 

The crowd coming out of this town called Nain was overcome with grief.  A woman was burying her only son.  And she was a widow.  Her life had turned upside down.  All hope was gone.  First her husband dies.  Yet she has a son who can support her.  Now he is dead.  There was no Social Security for her.  No welfare program or social safety net.  Her plight was one of hopeless desperation.  The whole town had come out to help her grieve.  Her friends, her neighbors, those who lived across town.  The synagogue—her church group—everyone came out.  And they were not quiet.  There was weeping and wailing and shouting that was nearly deafening.  

It must have been quiet a sight to have these two polar opposites collide at the city gates, one on its way out to the cemetery.  The other on its way into town.  

Then the amazing happens.  Jesus takes the whole situation into view and acts in an incredibly amazing way.

He tells the weeping widow who has lost her only son and lost all hope—don’t cry!  It will be okay!  

Then He does the completely inappropriate thing for a good Jew to do—He goes up to the stretcher (funeral pallet) and touches the dead man.  He is breaking one of the most important rules, the clean versus unclean law of the Old Testament.  To touch a dead person makes you unclean and then you have to go through a cleansing ritual.  Ah, but Jesus is no ordinary Jew.  He is no ordinary man.  He is God in human flesh.  He is the Lord of life.  Death has no power in His presence.  His Word triumphs over all the tragedy and death our world can throw at Him or us.

He touches the dead man and commands the dead man to wake up! Get up! Wake from the sleep of death!  Be alive!  And…the dead man obeys.  He wakes up, sits up on the funeral pallet and begins to talk!  

Talk about ruining a funeral.  Talk about a phenomenal change of events.  Death meets life and is subdued!  Grief cannot survive when the Author of Life speaks hope and comfort and life!

Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday.  November 1st is All Saints Day.  We remember that all believers—past, present and future are made saints—made holy and righteous through faith in the blood of Christ.  We are not saintly because of how good and noble we are.  We are not righteous because we have been able to overcome all our temptations and faults.  We are declared righteous by God because of Christ Jesus!  

And, today, we celebrate the promise and reality of heaven.  I’ve never been there.  So I cannot tell you what heaven is like.  But I believe on the basis of Scripture that it is real.  I don’t believe it nor hell are geographically defined.  You cannot go to heaven by flying to the moon and taking a left.  Heaven in my understanding is like a fifth dimension—just outside our physical world, yet just there.  Just a breath away.  Heaven is being in God’s presence.  And God just happens to be here this morning receiving our worship and praise.  And God’s angels are around us as well.  We don’t see them.  We don’t hear them.  We cannot always feel them.  But faith holds onto that promise and reality.

And today, on the basis of this text from Luke 7, we proclaim Jesus’ power over death and the grave.  Our loved ones who have gone before us are very much alive.  Their bodies have to wait for the Second Coming when Jesus will raise us up physically with all believers, but our souls are immortal.  When we die our souls, our spirits go to be with the Lord and are freed from the pain and misery of life on this side of heaven.  

I cannot prove that.  But, on the basis of Scripture, and the Spirit within, I believe it and claim it.  It changes me.  It empowers me to live with hope.  It gives me courage to stand up against evil and do the right thing even against all odds.  We are the body of Christ on this side of heaven and the way we live now makes a difference.  

So…what on earth are you doing for heaven’s sake?  Heaven is as real as Jesus—His life, death and resurrection.  Heaven is real as you and me and our faith to live in grace and love.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Unbounded Grace

Jeremiah 31:31-33 John 8:31-34

Have you ever been lost? Have you ever felt like you were wondering aimlessly in the wilderness of life?  With no meaning, no purpose, no direction?  Have you ever felt that the church was dying and loosing it’s meaning and purpose in the world?   

Many conversations I have had with many church going people and clergy have focused on the decline of the church in our world today.  Talk has focused on the large cathedrals in Europe that hold small congregations on Sunday mornings—places of worship that once housed large crowds and now are indicators of the lack of interest or commitment to worship.

Many mainline congregations are like ours today, more gray haired folk then families with children.  It can certainly be discouraging.  Even large mega-churches like Willow Creek in Illinois and others like it have come upon hard times.  And we wonder, will the holy Christian church as we know it survive?  Many millennials—people in their 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s consider themselves to be “nones.”  That is, no religious affiliation.  

Yet there is hope!  I believe the church is still relevant.  I believe the church is not dying out.  The holy Christian church is the body of Christ in the world today.  As such, it is God’s Church, the Kingdom of God on earth, God’s tool—God’s hands and feet in the world—for impacting and changing the world.  

As we remember and celebrate the Reformation today we call to mind the past mistakes the church has made.  We remember with humility the painful faults of “organized religion,” which has reflected more of our human sinfulness than God’s grace and truth.  

I am not sure what the church will look like in the future, but I do believe it is still relevant and important.  I do wish more of us were committed to worship—giving God His worth, taking time out of our busy lives and weeks and just saying, “thank You God!”  “Fill my heart and soul with Your Word and truth again today!”  “Let me live for You, Your honor and glory!”  “Let me make a difference in my family, community, and world by how I live out of my faith!”

So…this morning, let me say, “Thanks for being here! Thank you for making worship a priority in your life!”  

Secondly, I want to challenge us to look for evidences of grace, God’s work in and through us and our fellow humans anywhere and everywhere we can find it!  

Looking for evidence and signs of GRACE—good news—in today’s world.

In the news this week is the story of Albert Lexie who made all of $10,000 per year as a shoe shine man at a hospital in Pittsburgh, PA.  He did this for almost 30 years.  His donated tips came to $202,000.  

Mr. Lexie said, “I wanted to see the kids get well, to see they got well and got better and things like that…I made myself happy.”

The hospital’s president is quoted as saying, Mr. Lexie was a “perfect example of how just small, incremental acts of kindness can have a really significant impact over time.”

Another unusual evidence of grace comes by way of a young person by the name of Anick.  Anick’s story is covered by BBC News.  Anick is 23 years old and was born “intersex,” meaning his genitals were neither female nor male.  The United Nations says 1.7% of the world’s population fit into Anick’s category.  Anick has been told all of “his” life that he is abnormal and has had hundred’s of operations trying to “fix him.”  I say “him” because Anick is trying to be male, and now through all the multiples surgeries he has had he has a “male penis.”  

I see this as evidence of grace because Anick is in the process of learning that he can celebrate who he is regardless of what others think or say.  Anick has discovered that his experience is not solitary.  There are others like him, yet not of their stories are identical.  But that’s okay.  

There is no mention of God in either story, but I see the strong evidence of God at work in behind the scenes!  

Discovering God.  Discovering grace.  Discovering God on the move.  That is Reformation talk for me.  

Luther used the phrase, “stand on your head for joy” when he discovered and experienced what it means to be accepted, loved, forgiven and welcomed home by a gracious loving God.

He had falsely learned that God was an angry demanding God who chastised and punished us for the perfection we failed to attain.  

You and I oftentimes live in our own dungeons, our own dark caves of gloom and depression, our own self-made prisons when we falsely belief we must somehow earn or deserve the acceptance and love of other people and of God.  The world teaches us that.  We don’t learn it accidentally.

But the world is wrong.

The freedom of the Gospel, the hope and promise of the good news of God in Christ sets the world’s false demand on its head.  Forgiveness is complete.  Not simply because God is a push over and forgives us and welcomes us back home like a jolly santa clause.  God’s love in Christ, the Christ who was born as one of us—a baby, lived for us under the law, and died in our place on a cursed tree—that love in Christ sets us free.  Christ who became human so that He could bring us back into the family as sons and daughters who belong to God.  Because of Him!  Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  God’s gift of forgiveness and life in Jesus is hard won.  Yet it is a gift.  It is free.  Are you ready to rest in it.  Claim it.  It’s yours and mine in Christ Jesus.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

Change!

Change and the choices we make, from the perspective of Joshua 24.

Everyday we are inundated with the demand to decide.  We are not always aware of the constant decisions we make because oftentimes they are imbedded into routine and the routine patterns of our lives help us to automatically decide what to do in given circumstances.

Do I get up in the morning?  Or ignore the alarm and go back to sleep?  Should I go through the routine of shaving and showering?  What should I wear?  Do I eat breakfast?  What should I have for breakfast?  Have coffee or orange juice?  Do I really need to put on deodorant?  Brush my teeth?  Comb my hair?  Look in the mirror?  

When you get in the car, do you choose to follow the normal laws of traffic, i.e. stay in your lane, use your turn signal and check before changing lanes?  How about traffic lights?  Do you stop for a yellow light or step on the gas to rush through as the light turns red.  What determines whether you go through a red light or not? 

Should I greet the members of my family with a growl? or a smile?  How about the people I encounter through the day?  

What do I choose to focus my thoughts on?  Do I focus my thoughts on positive things?  Or do I focus on and look for what is wrong with the day? with my spouse? with my fiends?  with my government or church or job? or me?

Do I list the tasks I need to accomplish in the day, or do I randomly go through the day and do whatever lies before me?  

We can become the victims of circumstance when we choose by default to let circumstances determine who we are, what we are and what we do.  In other words, when we do not make our own choices, but merely react to what is going on around us.  Then our environment chooses for us.  

Joshua, in our reading this morning, is an old man.  He has led Israel for many years.  He was cultured and schooled for leadership under Moses.  When Moses died God charged Joshua with the task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land.  

At the end of Joshua’s life he is concerned for the children of Israel.  He is afraid for them, because he knows how dependent they have been on him and his leadership.  He kept them in line.  As long as he “called the shots” they were faithful to God.  What happens when they do not have a strong central leader?  The book of Judges shows us what happens then.  “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Like Shakespeare Joshua knew human nature well enough to know that trouble lie in the future.  The public—we are fickle and easily swayed by strong emotional appeal.  Leaders who appeal to discontentment, fear and a desire to bring back the illusion of the “golden era of the past” are have found they are able to manipulate and control the crowds through emotional appeals.  Mussolini and Hitler were both very successful in their leadership in that regard.

Joshua did not want the children of Israel to be vulnerable to merely following the crowd, to merely doing what came natural or instinctively.  His was a spiritual appeal, but also an appeal that said in effect, grow up.  Think through what you do and why you do it.  Be responsible adults.  Using Stephen Covey’s language, he challenges them to be proactive, not reactive.  

How so?  He wants them to know who they are and whose they are.  So he reviews their nation’s short history.  As we read through Joshua 24 you will note that he constantly speaks on God’s behalf telling the children of Israel what God has done for them.  For instance, note all the action verbs God uses.  

Long ago…I took your father Abraham from beyond the Jordan and led him…

I gave him Isaac…

and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau

I gave Esau the hill country…

Jacob and his family went to Egypt

I sent Moses and Aaron and I plagued Egypt…

I brought you out…

Your eyes saw what I did to Egypt…

I brought you to the land of the Amorites…

I destroyed them before you…

In verse 9 there is a reference to the story of King Balak and the prophet Balaam who together tried to curse the young Israelite nation.  God says “I would not listen to Balaam” and forced him to bless you… “I rescued you out of his hand.”

I gave you a land on which you had not labored and towns that you had not built, and you liven in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.  

All of this is God centered history.  A refresher course on God’s salvation—God’s activity on their behalf, leading up to verse 14:  

“Now therefore revere the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness.”

And then the clincher:  PUT AWAY THE GODS THAT YOUR ANCESTOR’S SERVED BEYOND THE RIVER AND IN EGYPT AND SERVE THE LORD.

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua wisely confronts their unexamined assumptions, their bottom line loyalties, their un-thought out priorities and values.  And through Scripture, God, through Joshua challenges us also. 

Think through the decisions we make every day.  Oftentimes those decisions are made unconsciously, based on unexamined assumptions that we believe to be true.  But are they? 

Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People challenges us to be thoughtful and to actively cultivate our wills, to work toward emotional and spiritual health by deliberately thinking in an orderly purposeful manner.  

Consider…

1.   BE PROACTIVE.  Know who and whose you are.  

Don’t let someone else determine that.  Not environment, not personal stories or histories of how hard you life has been.  You must choose who you are and whose you are.  Read God into your history like Joshua did.

2.   BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND.  Use your imagination and God given conscience to picture what that means for you, for your relationships and purpose in life.

3.   PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST.  Exercise your will.  Practice making little decisions.  Deliberately think through what you do and how you do it.  Pull out of the automatic mode.  Something that helps me is to intentionally pay attention to my breathing.  Breath thoughtfully.  Breath with awareness of yourself and your surroundings.  My nephew Lukas has suggested a book to me entitled, Just Breath by Daniel Brule.  

Little decisions impact larger decisions.  Intentionally get up at a predetermined time every day.  Practice habits of cleanliness and good grooming.  Choose to eat healthy food and drink healthy.  Practice saying no to some of your passions and desires.  Learn how to cultivate and nurture your decision making ability.  

People who let their environment and circumstances choose who they are and what they do never can discover the wonder and power of God’s grace in life.  Obedience to grace does not come automatically or naturally.  Paul deliberately tells us to “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18).  When Paul says be filled with the Spirit he is implying that we can do something to connect with God’s Spirit within us and learn how to let that Spirit influence us.  

God does not take over our wills.  God does not force us or coerce us to be obedient and to walk in the Spirit.  We have to learn how to live in harmony and in obedience to God’s leading.  We can do that by intentionally practicing little decisions, prayerfully going through our day, purposely doing things that are good and healthy.  Deliberately avoiding what is negative and unhealthy.  

These three steps Covey connects with what he calls internal or private victory.  

God through Joshua tells us that we can choose who we are.  We must choose who and what we serve.  Every day we can choose anew who we are.  Every day we can and must choose who we serve and how we will conduct ourselves.  We can learn how to walk in fellowship with God and each other.

God give us the courage and will to do so.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Living as God’s People Today/On Eagle’s Wings

Text:  Exodus 19:3-7 & 20:1-17, preached at Elim October 7 2018.

There is nothing like knowing who we are and what our purpose and meaning in life is.  There is nothing like having the confidence of knowing and understanding where we are and where we are heading in this world, like knowing we are making a difference; that we matter, count to someone, somewhere; that we are important.  That we have meaning and purpose!  That is just as important for us today as it has ever been.

So do you?  Do I?  Do we?

The above reading from Exodus 19 and 20 answers that.    

A short review.  God, out of nowhere, talks to Abram and promises him the world, so to speak (Genesis 12:1-9).  Abram believes and sets out to follow God, not knowing where and what!  

Joseph initially doesn’t see himself as part of that plan, but through the course and events of his life discovers he is very much part of the unfolding plan of God for the bigger picture (Genesis 39:1-23 & 50:19-21).  Last week we “witnessed” Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.  The children of Israel reluctantly follow Moses, end up getting trapped, fearing for their lives and crossing through the Red Sea on dry land only to find themselves wandering in the wilderness—desert area without food or water (Exodus 14).  They feel lost, betrayed, angry, thirsty, hungry, and pretty much totally fed up with Moses and his leadership.  How does Moses feel?  None to happy you could say!

Now here in our text from Exodus we see three months have passed.  The young Israelite nation is still alive.  They have not made very much headway, maybe a day or two’s travel so far.  And God begins to talk with them through Moses and gives them some definition of what it means to be God’s people in the world.

Abraham didn’t go looking for God.  God came to him and blessed him.  Moses wasn’t expecting to be in God’s service and complained over and over again that he wasn’t fit to lead God’s people.  Yet God came to him and blessed him.

The Israelites were crying out to God about their treatment as slaves, and their dismal existence in Egypt.  Their knowledge of God was very minimal yet. 

God “hears their cries” and comes to deliver them.  Their response?  They complain bitterly and make Moses’ job of leading them nearly unbearable.  The LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM would be an appropriate title for their journey and they are no where near to the end yet!  And now here we are in Exodus 19 & 20.  

God’s word to them through Moses?  

v. 4

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

That’s God’s perspective.  And the Israelites’ deliverance from their powerful Egyptian enemy was indeed miraculous!  The pillar of Cloud and Fire, the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the entire Egyptian army “dead set” on their demise and recapture for continued slavery!  That is quite the narrative.  Quite the birth story.  Quite the beginning of a young nation who has yet to discover who and what and where and why in their wilderness wanderings.  

You and I, too, have our stories.  Our battles within that we fight and lose.  Our dragons that we fight.  Our prisons and addictions and miseries.  And often even as adults we still don’t quite know who and what we will be when we grow up.  So, youth, don’t despair.  Hang in there.  Don’t get too hopeful!  Identity crises don’t end when you reach 20 or 21!

But God is active and on the move for the Israelites.  And, if you are willing to see and believe it—God is on the move in our world today!  Individually.  Collectively.  As a congregation.  As a nation.  We are the people of God—God’s treasured possession, God’s kingdom of priests, His holy counter-culture nation”—in this crazy world of ours today.  Looking at it this way, faith is much more than just a simple prayer of salvation for lone believers one at a time.  See the bigger picture.  See the evidence of God.  God is everywhere!  Grace is ubiquitous!  

“I have destroyed your enemies.  I have born you—carried you on eagle’s wings!  I have freed you from captivity.  I have brought you to Myself!”

Now, let’s give that some definition!  Unpack it.  What does it mean to be God’s people in this world?!  The Decalog—Ten Commandments— are given to help them understand their covenant relationship with God. They have a lot to learn about themselves and God.  They wander and lose their way and make more mistakes, and do a miserable job of being God’s people.  They wonder, who are we and what are we doing wandering lost in the wilderness!  Self discovery, discovering God and learning how to live for God in today’s world is not meant to be easy.  Make no mistakes—life is no picnic.

God brought the Israelites “kicking and screaming”— so to speak — to Himself.  Now He says, “obey My voice.  Keep My covenant.”  Note that God’s Ten Commandments—God’s principles of life for our relationship with God and one another as fellow humans—are part of the Covenant agreement God has brought us into through His call to us.  There is no “believer’s prayer” being asked for here.  Know God has called you and brought you to this point.  If you hear His voice, then obey His call.  Keep His covenantal agreement by living according to the life giving principles He gives us through these Ten Commandments.

The outcome, the out flow, the result of keeping God’s covenantal agreement is we will be His precious people—His treasured possession—for the sake of the world.  He will make us to be a kingdom of priests who can take His love and message to the world!  That means prayer for and caring for all the people of the world and their relationship with God.  

I can almost here someone say, “NO!” I don’t want that responsibility.  I want to play games, eat popcorn and watch movies.  Sorry.  This isn’t my word.  It’s God’s!  

The clear underlying message that permeates this whole reading is the message of Jesus and the cross.  The Israelites did not become God’s people because they were so holy, good and righteous.  Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and all the characters of Scripture were called by grace and learned how to be God’s people by discovering and following God in their midst.  They didn’t seek God.  God found and called them.

The law was never meant to be given as a way of becoming God’s people.  That is abundantly clear and obvious, even though we humans get so confused about it all the time.  The law was to show us how much we need God’s mercy and grace, and to show us how to love tangibly and really in this broken, hard, cold world.  The law points to the Messiah.  The Old Testament, over and over again reminds us of our need for God’s Savior.  Over and over again the message of the Old Testament helps us see Messiah’s mission as universal; for the world, not just for the small chosen nation of Israel.  

This text, this sermon, God’s Word, is for us.  Know God is working in your life.  Know God is working in our world today.  Look past the brokenness.  Look beyond your inadequacies.  Look through the pain and suffering, the misery and evil, the hatred and bigotry.  See God on the move.  Through the Incarnation.  Jesus became human, one of us, to break us free from our own prisons, our own Egypts, our own captivities.  And now, because Jesus inhabits us—lives in us and through us as the people of God in this world today, Jesus uses us to soften and change and redirect the world.  There is no time to wimp or chicken out.  There is no time to lick our wounds and feel sorry for ourselves.  The world is dying to hear, to know, to experience the reality of God’s love in Christ, God’s amazing grace, God’s purpose and plan.  And we are God’s messengers, God’s tool for helping them know and experience that message.   

We might feel intimidated and overwhelmed.  We might say, NO THANK YOU GOD!  So did the first disciples.  They ran and hid.  They lied and denied knowing Jesus.  They wimped out.  Yet God used them and most of the world today has at least a minimal knowledge of what it means to be a Christian.  Unfortunately many people in our own country understand that Christian message through what we call fundamentalist believers who stress legalism and morality based on their own warped thinking.  They convey a confused message.  A message that confounds grace, that hides the cross of Christ and makes the love of Jesus conditional.  

It is up to you and me to clarify that message.  To live that grace out loud and help the Church to be the welcoming, encouraging discipling fellowship of broken and healed and equipped believers.  

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Joseph

Genesis 39:1-23 & Matthew 5:11-12  (preached at Elim 9/23/2018)

Blessed or cursed?  Sibling rivalry.  Power struggles.  Feeling powerless?  Victims of those more powerful than us and seemingly in charge with no balance or checks.  Dysfunction.  Favoritism.  Betrayal.  Lying and deception.  Anger.  Revenge.  Prey and predatory sexual assault.  What!  Is this about Washington, D.C., the White House?  Our president?  No!  This is an old story from the first book of the Bible.  Genesis 39.  

Last week we spoke about Abram—God later changed his name to Abraham, Father of many—and his call.  Blessed to be a blessing.  That is one of the key take aways from Abraham’s call.  God does not call us to be special, spoiled children who have all the privileges and are loved more than others!  We are called to be God’s instruments in reaching out and caring for the world.  Called to be God’s presence—the body of Christ—in the world.  Blessed to be a blessing!

Joseph’s story continues along the same theme!

Joseph showed signs of being blessed and “special” from early on in life.  Jacob, his father favored him in an inappropriate way, causing conflict and jealousy among Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph’s dreams added to that jealousy.  

That sibling rivalry and jealousy erupted into hatred and plans of evil to kill Joseph. Joseph had been sent by Jacob to check on the brothers as they shepherded sheep, taking them from place to place for grazing.  When Joseph found them they plotted to kill him.  Reuben, one of Joseph’s brothers, talked them into throwing Joseph into a pit with the hope of rescuing him and returning him to their father.  Before he could put his plan into action the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders and sell Joseph as a slave rather than murder him.  Joseph is then sold into slavery and is purchased by Potiphar who just happens to be the captain of the guard for Egypt’s pharaoh.  Joseph’s age is guesstimated to be about 17.

Talk about dysfunctional homes and families.  This story has been turned into books and movies already, and rightly so.  The drama continues. God has chosen Joseph, but at this point I’d question whether the idea of being chosen is a blessing.  It sounds and looks more like a curse.  

But, the text reads that God blessings everything that Joseph does.  Potiphar sees that Joseph is a gifted, talented young man.  He puts Joseph in charge of his entire household.  Joseph is living a a foreign country amidst strangers speaking a foreign language.  He no longer has any connection with his father or any of his brothers.  He is alone and surrounded by people he doesn’t know and customs he is unfamiliar with.  Yet he thrives.  He is now the head butler.  The chief steward.  The household manager.  Potiphar’s right-hand man.  And Potiphar’s household thrives under his management and care.  Verse 5 says that the Lord blessed Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake.  

And the plot thickens!  Mrs. Potiphar—we are not given her name—sees Joseph and wants him for herself.  He is young, athletic, good looking and obviously confident and gifted.  She wants to seduce him for herself.  “Come, sleep with me!”  she says.  Time and again she tries to persuade him to go to bed with her.  Time and again Joseph refuses.  “How can I do this evil.  My master trusts me with everything in his household.  I have complete authority to do what I want.  He’s withheld nothing from me but you because you are his wife.  How can I do such an evil thing and commit such a sin!!”  

This has has gone on for some weeks. Then it escalates. She catches him by himself in the house when they are alone.  The other servants are absent.  Mrs. Potiphar passionately grabs him to seduce him and tells him to make love to her.  He refuses and flees from the house.  Mrs. Potiphar has held onto him so tightly that he has to tear himself away—literally—and runs off with her holding his robe.  He runs off naked or in his skivvies.  

Now Mrs. Potiphar is the jilted lover. She has his cloak.  She uses that as evidence against Joseph and gets her revenge by telling the other household servants that Joseph tried to rape her.  When Potiphar comes home, she shows him the “evidence” and says “that Hebrew slave you bought and put in charge of everything tried to rape me!”  

Potiphar is enraged and throws Joseph into the castle dungeon.  Think about this.  God blesses everything Joseph does, and Potiphar’s household is thriving because of Joseph.  And now this.  Is Joseph blessed?  Or is he cursed?!  At this point he seems cursed!

What happens next?  Joseph finds himself in prison, and again is obviously gifted and talented.  The Lord continues to bless everything he does, and the jailor puts Joseph in charge of the prison.  Verse 21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.  And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden.  Verse 23 says, “the Lord was with Joseph and caused everything he did to succeed.”  And yet he stays in that prison for more than a decade.  Cursed!  

Some things to consider.  Joseph is “taken down” three times in our text, and then picked up and blessed each of those times.  First, he is taken down by being thrown into a pit, with the plan to murder him.  Yet he is “rescued—taken up” and sold as a slave.  Then he is “taken down” to Egypt and sold again as a slave to Potiphar—captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.  He is lifted up because of God’s blessings and put in charge of everything in Potiphar’s house.  And yet again—a third time—he is taken down by an angry woman who sought to use her power and position. For her own sexual lust she tries to seduce a slave.  When Joseph refuses he is thrown into a dungeon.  No trial.  No defense.  Just accused and convicted and sentenced.  Blessed or cursed?!  And yet again, Joseph is put in charge of the entire prison because the head of the prison sees how good Joseph is at managing things.  He is a gifted, capable young man.  God blesses everything he does.  Just like Potiphar, the warden can put his feet up and not worry about anything because Joseph has it handled!  

For those of you who know this story, which takes up a good part of the book of Genesis, you know that though Joseph lies forgotten for nearly a dozen years in the dungeon, he ends up being the Prime Minister of Egypt and saving the entire country from an extreme famine.  Joseph’s father and all his family too are saved from the famine and we see the divine reason behind the scene for God’s choosing and blessing Joseph.  

The final chapter of Genesis shows Joseph’s brothers fearing for their lives. “What if Joseph seeks revenge and has us executed.  We deserve it!  He has the power to make it happen!”  Joseph tells them not to worry.  “You meant harm, yet God was working behind the scene to bring about good and the saving of many!”  

Blessed to be a blessing!  Indeed!  Can you see God’s purpose and plan being brought about in our world today?  When evil seems to reign uncontrolled; when evil people get away with murder, literally!  When the world seems to be out of control and God seems to be on vacation, look again!  

God was on the move through Joseph’s life and brought about good back then.  It didn’t happen over night.  Nor does it today.  But be patient.  Also, be willing to be chosen and to be used as God’s instrument for change and healing.  Who knows?  Maybe you are the next Joseph.  We are God’s hands and feet for the sake of the world today.  One act of kindness, random kindness can lead to another, and to another.  God can use a Joseph, or a Ruth Bader Ginsburg or you and me to bring about justice, healing and change.  Don’t despair.  Pray.  And then in holy boldness act!  God is on the move. Through us!

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Finding Your Heart

Luke 12:13-34

This could be the story of Nemo.  Nemo in Latin means “no body.”  As such, it could mean nobody and everybody.  All of us.  

Jesus has a way of telling stories that cut to the quick, get us.  Get down and personal.  This story certainly does that for me.  Probably for all of us.  It is the story of someone who has more than enough and decides to take life easy.  And in the language of Ecclesiastes 9:7 “eat, drink and be merry.”

This story also reminds me of Steven Covey and his Seven Steps of Highly Effective People, the second step:  Begin with the end in mind.  As an introduction to this principle Covey has us imagine what people would say at our funeral.  On the basis of what you know about this un-named man—Nemo—nobody—what would you say about him at his funeral.  What defined his life?  If you could use a phrase or word to define him what would you say?

“Short sighted.”  “Narrow minded.”  “Small view of the world.”  “Narcissistic.” “Self focused?”  

He had amassed a wealth of grain.  He lacked nothing.  He was set for life.  He could take his leisure and retire.  The problem was he died that very night.  Ouch!  

Then Jesus sums up this short parable with the zinger:  “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” Luke 12:15.  And again: “Life is more than food and the body more than clothing” Luke 12:23.  And again:  “do not strive for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying…strive instead for God’s kingdom and you will have all you need!” (indirect quote—Luke 12:29-31).  And the gem of this passage, “Do not fear little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

We can go through life trying to find something worth living for, something to pour our selves into.  Something that would make us feel like we mattered and were making a difference in the world.  

A factor that affects that desire is the fear of not having enough, not succeeding, not being or doing as well as others like us.  The result of course is that we feel like we are failures.  We feel inadequate.  

In today’s gospel reading we have two brothers whose father has died.  They have an inheritance to split and one brother is cheating the other—or at least that is the sense we get from our reading.  We do not know the circumstances.  Maybe the one brother is more responsible and has taken care of dad through an extended illness.  Maybe the one brother worked harder on the family farm.  Maybe the other brother was a slacker and irresponsible.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that one of the brothers comes to Jesus with the request that Jesus force his brother to share the inheritance.  

It is a fair request isn’t it?  Share and share alike.  That’s what we learned in kindergarten.  Don’t be greedy.  Share.

Yet how does Jesus answer this jilted brother?  How would you have answered him?  

In so many words He says that is not why I’ve come into this world…to be an arbitrator.  Do not let greed get hold of you.  Life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions!

Jesus then goes on to tell a parable about this rich farmer who hoards his excellent crop and decides to kick back and enjoy life—eat, drink and be merry!  (Eccl 9:7)

In the parable Jesus quotes God as saying, “You fool! Tonight you die!”  Then who will benefit from all that you have accumulated for yourself?  

We do not know anything about this rich man.  Did he have a family?  Next of kin?  Some sort of will?  Those bits of information are not important here.  Jesus draws attention to the idea of hoarding what we have rather than sharing it with others.  

Life is more than clothing.  Life is more than good food.  Life is more than the possessions and things we gather around us.  

Jesus draws attention to the birds and flowers and comments on how God cares for them—making the point that God will also care for us.  

Why seek to accumulate more and better things in life?  We have more than enough to share!  Strive (seek, pursue) God’s kingdom.  Be different than the world around you.  Strive for God’s values.  Sell your possessions.  Give to the poor.  Accumulate treasures in heaven.  

Heaven, by the way, is not a distant place in the sky here, rather the place where God’s rule and reign have sway.  The kingdom of heaven is a way of life that we can live in the here and now.  Do not let fear rule you.  Be generous.  Don’t live for the future.  Live to make a difference now.  Live generously.  Live God’s way!  

You want to find your heart?  Find your passion?  Find something worthy living and dying for to make your dent in the world?  Then strive to be kind and generous and good.  Strive to be like Jesus in the midst of this crazy world.  Let that be your passion. 

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Easter Joy

Easter Joy—John 20:1-18

Lungs gasping for air.  Arms pumping.  Feet pounding on a dusty trail.  Rays of early sun light breaking over the horizon.  It is Easter morning, the day of the resurrection of our Lord.  Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (presumably John?) were rushing to the tomb.   

Heartbroken women had made their way to the tomb through the predawn light. They had been startled by an unexpected turn of events.  The stone had been rolled away. Instead of the dead body they intended to finish caring for, they find an empty grave and the unbelievable message that Jesus has been raised from the dead!

The women rush back to where the other disciples had spent the night and share the incredulous news.  Peter and John run to the tomb. John outpaces Peter, but doesn’t go in.  He peers inside but doesn’t enter.  Peter—breathless from running—catches up and goes inside.  

The linen wrappings that had held Jesus’ body were lying flat and empty.  The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head had been folded neatly and laid aside by itself.  John sees and believes.  We are not told what Peter thinks.  They go back to Jerusalem.  This is all recorded in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John.  

Those early disciples did not easily believe that Jesus had defeated death.  They were too familiar with mortality and the violence of this crazy world.  They had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion.  They knew all-to-well the power of death.  They had not yet been convinced of the power of life!  As these two men struggle with doubt and belief, the story continues with “But Mary…” (John 20:11).  Grieving Mary is suddenly back at the tomb weeping.  She is still convinced someone has taken Jesus’ dead body.  Belief in God and Jesus’ victory over sin and the grave did not come easily for her or any of the disciples.  Yet, she too, came to believe in Jesus’ victory and power over sin and death.

The early disciples struggled with doubt and belief.  They believed, but their faith had a lot of growing to do.  Knowing their struggles with doubt and belief encourages us.  Our stories, our struggles and our wrestling with what to believe can be a source of encouragement and strength for each other.  The stories of others encourage us.

The lesson in this?  Do not struggle alone.  Do not be a lone wolf Christian.  Stay connected and active in your worship and fellowship life.  Stay involved.  And, cut yourself some slack when you struggle with doubt and faith.  They are intricately connected.  The benefit of Christian fellowship is we don’t struggle alone.  We need each other.  So, let’s press on together!

Pastor Bruce Kolasch