Christlike Love

1 John 4:19-21 & John 15:12-17

Sadhu Sundar Singh, a Christian missionary from India born in 1889 wrote:

Once, as I traveled through the Himalayas, there was a great forest fire. Everyone was frantically trying to fight the fire, but I noticed a group of men standing and looking up into a tree that was about to go up in flames. When I asked them what they were looking at, they pointed up at a nest full of young birds. Above it, the mother bird was circling wildly in the air and calling out warnings to her young ones. There was nothing she or we could do, and soon the flames started climbing up the branches.

As the nest caught fire, we were all amazed to see how the mother bird reacted. Instead of flying away from the flames, she flew down and settled on the nest, covering her little ones with her wings. The next moment, she and her nestlings were burned to ashes. None of us could believe our eyes. I turned to those standing by and said: “We have witnessed a truly marvelous thing. God created that bird with such love and devotion, that she gave her life trying to protect her young. If her small heart was so full of love, how unfathomable must be the love of her Creator. That is the love that brought him down from heaven to become man. That is the love that made him suffer a painful death for our sake.”

Love is not an option in the Christian life.  It is the summary of what the Bible teaches.  It is the essence of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  It is the litmus test of faith—what it means to believe.  The Greek word used for love in both our readings this morning is agape.  It used 22 times in 1 John 5.  It signifies the self-sacrificing love of God in Christ.  It is the humble, self-giving, self-sacrificing love God calls us to.

Those of us who have experienced grace and forgiveness in Christ have the best foundation and motivation to share the forgiveness we have received and give grace to all others unconditionally.  

None of us loves perfectly.  We all struggle with our own insecurities and blind spots.  Yet, the more we allow God’s love to fill and influence us, the more loving and Christlike we become.  The freedom of the Gospel that we have sung about and will sing about again in a few minutes is freedom not just from sin and its punishment, but the freedom to love others the way God-in-Jesus has loved us.  

One of the things I learn from Kasey and from Kasey’s moms is the larger picture of God-in-Christ loving all people unconditionally!  Thank you Kasey! 

Four times in our readings from the 1 letter of John and the Gospel of John we have the word “command” or “commandment” which comes from the Greek word εντολη.  The writer for the Gospel of John is quoting Jesus.  Note that the section in our bulletin begins and ends with the command to “love one another.”  

Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us.  He even goes on to define that love.  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  He then goes on to say we are His friends.  We are not servants, but friends.  

Jesus also says He has chosen us and appointed us—He has called us out by name to change the world by how we live and how we love.  The fruit that Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading is the outflow of loving each other the way He loves us.  His comment about the Father giving whatever we ask in His name is directly connected with the outflow of love in our lives.  

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus says this knowing that in just a few days He will lay down His life for us.  Knowing that in three days after His crucifixion He would take up His life again—that He would be raised up.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection changes us and empowers us to live our lives in that type of selfless, self-emptying love.

This past week, as we suffered yet another school shooting, we have also read and heard the story of three young men who acted in a selfless, loving way by taking down the shooter.  

Kendrick Castillo saw the shooter pull out a gun and dove for the him.  His friends Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones joined him and took down the shooter, wrestling the gun from him.  Kendrick died as a result of being shot.  Brendan said it all happened so fast they had no time to think.  The just acted.  Kendrick died a hero.  

Jesus calls us to follow Him, to move on the planet, to make a difference by how we relate to others, by how we live.  God give us courage to love His way.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Pastor Bruce

Looking for Jesus

Luke 24:1-12  

“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!”  Who said that?  Mark Twain is reported as having said that.  He was in London in 1897 with considerable debt back in the U.S. Through confusion about a cousin of his being ill and the way rumors go someone started a rumor about Mark Twain, to which he replied something to the effect that though he had heard  on good authority that he was dead, the reports of his death were an exaggeration.  

He’s not the only one.  Exactly 50 years ago, a rumor began to fly around the world: “Paul is dead.”  The year was 1969, and many people were convinced that rock star Paul McCartney of the Beatles had died in 1966 and been replaced by a look-alike.  

Music fans played a song from The White Album backwards and heard the message, “Turn me on, dead man.”  They listened to the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and thought they heard John Lennon say, “I buried Paul.”  

There have been many rumors and theories about Paul’s death, but  according to the Beatles’ press office and  according to Paul McCartney himself, he is still very much alive and living in Scotland. 

On Friday of Holy Week, all the acquaintances of Jesus, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a safe distance from the cross and watched Jesus die (Luke 23:44-49). A righteous man named Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus off the cross, wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb. Both he and Nicodemus took one hundred pounds of spices along with linen clothes to preserve Jesus’ dead body.  The women saw the tomb, and then they prepared spices and ointments to put on the body the following morning (23:50-56). 

Jesus was not pretending to be dead.  He was very dead.  Historically, the church has always considered any belief to the contrary to be heresy. Jesus had not fainted on the cross. He had not swooned. He was not in a state of suspended animation. 

Jesus was dead. Jesus did not have a pulse. No brain wave activity. Nothing. Jesus was dead. He was so dead that the soldiers who were about to break his legs to hasten a death by suffocation, decided not to waste their time and energy on a dead man.  

And remember, the people of Jesus’ day lived with death. These were rough times. They knew what “dead” looked like. They weren’t fooled.  

His death was no rumor. This was not fake news. Jesus was quite emphatically dead, wrapped in a linen cloth and laid in a tomb.  

Then they rolled a massive stone over the entrance to the tomb, effectively sealing it. Even if there were a strong, alive man inside, that stone was going nowhere. 

Then on that first Easter morning, as the sun was just beginning to crest the horizon, the women walked to the tomb with the spices and ointments they had prepared. They came looking for a dead body.  

But when they arrived to anoint the body, they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. When they ran inside, they were unable to find the body, which left them perplexed. 

The knew enough about life and death. They lived with the rotten reality that death rules.  There was no coroner’s report, but they didn’t need one.  They had watched Jesus that whole day.  They watched what the soldiers did to Him.  They saw and heard the hammer rise and fall as it fixed Jesus body to the wood of the cross.  The watched as the cross was lifted up and set in its hole, leaving Jesus hanging, suspended on wood by the nails.  They watched Him fight for breath and they watched and heard Him breath His last.  There was no doubt in their minds.  Jesus was dead.  The rumors of His death were not fake news.  

But now they are at the empty tomb.  The heavy stone had already been rolled away. The go inside the tomb and there is no dead body.  Nobody there.  Period.  Then while they are perplexed and confused as to what to make of this two men in dazzling clothes suddenly appeared beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their heads, while the men said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” 

Their whole world view of life and death was suddenly turned upside down.  They could not comprehend it.  The men in dazzling white—whom we know to be angels—continued…

“Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee,” the mysterious men in the tomb said, “that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?” (vv. 6-7). The women began to recall his words, and to put together how both death and resurrection were part of the plan that Jesus had laid out for them. 

They return to their fellow believers—the other disciples of Jesus who had holed up in the chamber of the upper room that had been used for the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  

We are even told the identify of the women, “it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles”. This is eyewitness testimony, says Luke, made by women who are well-known and trustworthy in the community of Jesus’ followers. Their words were much more believable than a rumor about the death of Paul McCartney, an event that had no eyewitnesses and no evidence to support it. 

But in spite of their testimonies, the women were unable to convince their friends. Their words seemed to the apostles to be “an idle tale,” and most of the men lent their words no credence whatsoever. Only Peter ran to the tomb to see the evidence for himself, and then he went home, “amazed at what had happened,” that is, that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb.

At the end of Easter morning, we are left with the question “Is Jesus dead?” Some people say yes, based on the fact that Jesus was not spotted by any of His followers in the vicinity of the empty tomb. If Jesus were alive, He would have been spotted by someone in the area. But He wasn’t (not in the Synoptic Gospels, anyway). Why? Because He was dead, that’s why. 

But let’s not ignore the testimony of those first disciples at the empty tomb. They were absolutely convinced of the power of death.  They lived that reality.  They saw Jesus die. These eyewitnesses make a compelling case for the resurrection of Jesus. Their words and actions teach us that new life is not limited to Easter morning. It bursts forth and blossoms into life every day through our words and actions. 

Think of this, the resurrection is experienced whenever we focus on life instead of death. The two mysterious men ask the women a simple but important question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Too often we look for death instead of life. People are naturally drawn to stories of bloodshed and disaster and death.  Nothing sells in the media like disasters and death, fear and bad news. But one of the signs of resurrection is a focus on life instead of death. Those courageous women that first Easter morning begin the process of our Christian witness focusing on life, not death!  

The children’s television star Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister. His Christian faith infused all of his lessons. He kept his focus on the positive, especially in situations of tragedy and suffering. He tells of a lesson he learned from his mother when watching scary things on the news. “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

If we are looking we can see resurrection people of all colors, sizes and shapes making a difference in our crazy world because they are doing good things and raising up the positive.  They are focusing on life and not death.  

We listened and sang along with the song, “I Can Only Imagine.”  I want to close with a story about a father and son story that became the basis for that song.  

It is written by Bart Millard is the lead singer of the contemporary Christian music group MercyMe. He wrote the song after his father died. It explores what life in heaven might be like. 

What the song doesn’t reveal, however, is what a jerk Bart’s father was. For years, Arthur Millard beat his boy, sometimes three or four times a week. Bart grew to hate his father, and the two became estranged. At one point Arthur converted to Christianity, and then he developed terminal cancer. Bart decided to give his father a second chance at a relationship. 

“My dad was a monster, and I saw God transform him,” said Bart. Their story was painful, and it took a terminal illness to bring the two together. But the end of the story is resurrection, including the reconciliation of a father and a son, and the creation of a Christian song that has given hope and inspiration to millions of people. 

So, let’s stop looking for death instead of life. And let’s follow Jesus Christ as we seek to understand our own experiences of death and new life.  

We believe that Jesus is alive and seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  

But we also know that Jesus is not dead, because He is alive in and through us — now and always.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

The Donkey Factor

Luke 19:29-39 & John 12:12-18

It is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem to the shouts of praise.  The crowds hailed Him as their king and Messiah.  Yet how He enters Jerusalem says a lot about Jesus and His ministry as our Messiah and Savior of the world.

It is Palm Sunday and Jesus is coming into Jerusalem.  He is riding on a blazing white stallion and kicking up a cloud of dust as he rides along. He is looking for trouble.  The people He passes on His way are in awe.  He is mounted on a beautiful and powerful animal but they were even more awestruck by the man!  He is a noble conqueror!  As Jesus passes by, you can hear people saying, “Who is He?”

Or imagine Thor, the Black Widow, Captain America, the Hulk—all accompanying this impressive Rider on a noble war horse!  

There were bad guys on the loose and they have a job to do.  They stride into town, quickly size up the situation, form a plan and capture the mastermind of evil and his band of troublemakers. His name was Diablo or Satan.  There was a short scuffle and Diablo is hog-tied and thrown into jail—forever defeated. 

As a large crowd of people gathered to see what the commotion was all about, Jesus mounted his horse and pulled on the reigns.  The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighs loudly, and paws the air with its front legs.  When it stood as tall as it could stand, Jesus leaned forward in the saddle. Holding the reigns with one hand while lifting his white hat in the air with the other, He shouted with a loud voice.  As Jesus road off into the sunset, you could hear the William Tell Overture in the background. 

Isn’t that how you would have done it if you were Jesus? It’s how I would have.

Jesus’ instructions to get the donkey shows He was in control.  It was all part of the plan for Him to go to the cross for you and me.  Jesus on a humble beast of burden…not a noble stallion.

Jesus is our humble King—our Redeemer, Savior, and Lord.  Our salvation is accomplished by letting evil win through His death on the cross.  Jesus even cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?!” a direct quote from Psalm 22, known as the Crucifixion Psalm.  Yet the devil and all the forces of evil did not understand the power of the cross—what we as Lutherans understand as at the “theology of the cross.”  J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series understands the theology of the cross when she writes that love triumphs over evil.  

Jesus rode a simple, humble donkey showing He came in peace and in “weakness.”  He intentionally went to the cross for you and me.  He intentionally yielded His life.  He was not “out gunned.”  He was not out smarted or out maneuvered.  He stated Himself that He could have called a thousand angels and been delivered.  As He hung on the cross He was not helpless.  His detractors cried out “he cannot even save Himself!”  “Come down from the cross if You are the Messiah!”  was their ignorant cry.  Yet He chose the cross and surrendered to death by crucifixion because He was dying in our place.  He was taking the punishment our sin deserved.  It is very important to state here that He was not paying the devil or “arm wrestling with evil.”  He was satisfying the righteous demand of God’s law that someone had to die for our sins.  Jesus was paying the price, the penalty our sin deserved. 

Crown of thorns

The crown of thorns given to Him in mockery of His being King of the Jews was in fact our crown of thorns.  Isaiah says He was despised and rejected by all of us, and yet He chose us and died in our place.  He is in fact, in very truth, not only King of the Jews, but King of kings and Lord of lords.  

His throne, our cross

As He hung on that despised cross, He pronounced our judgment.  His words, “it is finished,” speaks the truth that all our sin, past, present and future has been paid in full.   No one, no power on earth or under the earth or anywhere in all creation can accuse us or confront us anymore with our sin.  We have been declared forgiven and righteous.  God’s righteousness has been purchased by Jesus and given to us.  We are completely free.  Heaven in now open to us and all believers!

The Theology of the Cross

Winning by losing, absorbing sin—taking on our woundedness, our brokenness, our disappointments, our losses, our sin and our death.  Saving faith is the trust and belief that Jesus really did accomplish what He set out to do.  Good Friday is good news.  Easter Sunday proves and proclaims it.  

He who is the Lord and Master of the universe—who deserves all the honor and service of all living creatures—took upon Himself the form of a servant. He became the Servant of humans—not only of God, but the servant of humans. Imagine!

⇒ The Lord whom we are to serve, came and served us.

⇒ The Lord whom we are to love, came and loved us.

⇒ The Lord whom we are to adore, came and adored us.

⇒ The Lord whom we are to wait upon, came and waited upon us.

⇒ The Lord whom we are to minister to, came and ministered to us.

⇒ The Lord whom we are to seek, came and sought us

Repentance

Repentance ELC / bwk   March 24 2019

There’s a powerful scene in a novel written by the South African writer Alan Paton. The story centers on a young police lieutenant, husband, and father named Pieter. Pieter struggles with depression, he has what we would call “father issues,” and he’s on the verge of an affair with a younger woman. His wife and children are out of town so he goes to see his good friend, a man nicknamed Kappie. Among other things the two friends share an interest in the hobby of stamp collecting.

Pieter shows up intending to humble himself, to repent, and to make a full confession of his struggles, his temptations. As Alan Paton writes, Peiter knows what he should say: “[Kappie], I am here to tell you of the deep misery of my life, and you must help me … before I am destroyed … you must tell me something in God’s name.” But he said none of those things. Instead, Pieter nonchalantly lies about why he really came: “Kappie, I’m sick of the empty house, and I’m wanting to see some stamps.” So they listen to music and look at stamps. Kappie knew that his friend had something deeper on his mind. So when Pieter started to leave Kappie said, “You can come every night if you wish.” But Pieter walks out and does not return. And Alan Paton writes, “Ah, if he could have told … And yet he could not tell.” Pieter wants repentance without risk, without cost, without vulnerability.

Greeting

Questions

Do bad things happen to good people?  

Why do they happen?

What should our response be?

When people of Jesus’ day tell Him about bad things happening to certain people, the question they seem to be asking is “did they deserve that?”  “Was God punishing them?”

That is a question I hear on a regular basis.  It is a question our culture asks.  And, unfortunately it is an assumption that even some religious teachers promote.  You might recall Hurricane Katrina and the conservative pastors who said it was because of the sinful people in New Orleans and the areas hit by the hurricane.  

Righteous retribution is what some call that.  It was part of Job’s friends’ thinking in the book of Job.  Bad things wouldn’t be happening to you Job, if you had not sinned.  Confess you sin and God will heal you!  But that proved wrong.  

The people Pilate killed while they were sacrificing to their god, and the people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them were not being punished by God.  God did not cause the evil to happen.  The fifty people killed and the fifty injured by the white supremest terrorist in New Zealand were not being punished by God.  God is not the author of evil.  We are.  

We cannot even blame it on the devil.  Those of you my age might recall Sammy Davis Jr’s famous line, “the devil made me do it.”  Satan might be behind evil, but we cannot avoid our responsibility.  We humans are the ones at fault.  Sin came into the world because of us.  Human greed, human discontentment, human pride and abuse, etc. are all our problem.  We cannot pawn it off on anyone else.

So, what should our response be?  

Jesus said, “unless you repent you too will perish.”  

Does that mean Jesus considered God was punishing because of the evil they did?  No!  What He is telling them, and us through them, is that repentance needs to be a part of our spiritual posture.  We need to always be examining ourselves before God; “constantly turning” as some might say.  Turning away from ourselves and turning towards God.  

But more than that, Jesus, through the story He tells about the fig tree not bearing fruit, is reminding us that we need to bear fruit.  

Jesus, speaking to the crowds, speaks to them collectively, “unless you—plural—repent…”  It is good for us to remember that we not only repent for individual, private failures and faults, but that we also repent for our collective sin.  Repent for our lack of caring for the foreigner and alien in our midst, our inadequate care for the poor, our collective abuse of power and inaction in protecting the vulnerable and at-risk in our world.  

What sort of fruit might God be looking for in us?  

The fruit of repentance itself.  The fruit of faith—our God focus and God conscientiousness.  Maybe more than that, God might be looking for our ability to see others and consider others and not just ourselves.  None of us live in a vacuum.  Everything we do and say, or don’t do and don’t say does impact others.

Are we kind and generous?  Do we pay it forward?  Do we care for the marginalized and disenfranchised?  Do we see how we are privileged beyond others?  Are we willing to help share that privilege with others? 

Over and over again Jesus and Scripture charges us to see and think past ourselves.  Don’t give in to fearful thinking.  Don’t let politicians push you into fearful thinking and voting.  Don’t give way to protectionist politics and posturing.  Don’t build walls.  Build bridges.  Learn how to care and communicate with others different than ourselves.  Reach out.  Reach over.  Learn to be welcoming and inclusive.  

If we really believe in the Good Friday and Easter, if we really believe in the Incarnation—that God became one of us in order to live and die for us, to give us hope and life and freedom and heaven—then we need to follow Jesus and be like Him in His attitude and work by reaching out and loving others the way He loves us.   

Maybe that is the repentance God is looking for in us.  That might be the fruit God seeks.

Remember the words of Isaiah 55.  God’s ways are not our ways.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.  We need to give up on our assumptions and narrow minded thinking and open ourselves up to God’s thinking and God’s ways—as terrifying as that might be.  That is the call of grace.  That is the call of the Gospel.  That is Jesus’ clarion call to us today.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-9

Introduction

“To live in the past and future is easy.  

To live in the present is like threading a needle.”

-Eugene Peterson, Reserved Thunder, quoting Walker Percy 

Late one afternoon a five-year-old boy climbed an oak tree in his family’s yard.  As he scrambled up close to the top, he looked down…and panicked!  He grabbed the nearest branch and hugged it for dear life.  He was so paralyzed with fear he could not move back down.  He just held on for dear life.   For at least 30 minutes.  Finally a fire truck arrived and a rescuer climbed up to the boy.  He said, “Don’t look down.  Just look at my face.”  AS the boy’s eyes focused on the face of his rescuer, he was able to relax.  His rescuer was able to take him from his perch and carrying him safely back to the ground.  

When we are paralyzed by fear—of the future or the unknown; when we wallow in the past; when we are frozen in our problems of greed or bitterness or worry, we need to allow God’s Spirit to redirect our gaze and look at Jesus, and listen to Him through His Word once again.  We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  The story of the transfiguration helps us do just that.  

The Transfiguration is a special vision, a divine revelation and as such a significant account in the New Testament.  

Both Peter and John allude to it in their writings—2 Peter 1:16-21 and John 1:14.   They were there.  They are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ unveiled glory.

There are several points of significance that we might connect with the Transfiguration.  

  • It parallels Moses’ experience on Mt. Sinai from our Old Testament reading where he spends six days waiting and then is engulfed in a dense cloud from which God speaks.  
  • The words God spoke, “This is My Son, whom I love.  With Him I am well please”  are the same words spoken at Jesus’ baptism.  It seems that Jesus’ identity and mission are being clearly focused on; Jesus is God’s “Anointed One” our Messiah, the Savior of the world.
  • Moses’ & Elijah’s appearance embodies the Old Testament Law and Prophets.  Luke tells us the three, Jesus, Moses and Elijah talk of Jesus’ approaching death in Jerusalem.  The clear message here seems to be that the Old Testament points to Christ and its prophecies regarding the promised Messiah are fulfilled in and through Christ Jesus.  This is emphasized by the cloud enveloping Jesus, Moses and Elijah along with the disciples and God’s voice booming from the cloud repeating the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism: 

“This is My Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased” and then the added command:  LISTEN TO HIM!

The witness of the New Testament writings clearly affirm Jesus as God’s Son, our Redeemer, the Savior of the world. 

Peter’s response is probably not that different from what you and I might have done.  He wanted to DO SOMETHING.  He was so taken back, so impressed (let alone so groggy with sleep) that he wanted to do something for God.  The building of three booths (or tabernacles) seems to reflect the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness where they lived in tents and worshipped around the tabernacle of God’s presence. 

God’s instruction to Peter, James and John applies to us today.

“This is My Son…Listen to Him.”  After God spoke the disciples see only Jesus (Moses & Elijah are gone).  He touches & comforts them.  

Jesus instructed the disciples not to tell anyone until after the resurrection.  

The application for us—

Christian worship is when we focus on Christ, His Person; and on the cross, His suffering and death on our behalf.  Transformational worship takes us to Golgotha and Calvary, the empty tomb and Pentecost.  

Sometimes we think we have to do something, but it is our focus on Christ—on what He has done—that changes and transforms us.  

Christian worship is when we get ourselves out of the way.  

Christian worship is when we surrender our own agendas and demands at the cross and allow God’s Spirit to focus us on Christ.  Christian worship is when we hear Jesus speaking to us through the Word, when we hear the Spirit breathed words breathing God’s breath and  New Life in us.  

Christian worship under the cross and at the empty tomb are the best preparation for being able to tell others about the great things God has done for us in Christ.  No wonder Jesus said to wait until after He had been raised from the dead.  When we have experienced the reality of the crucified and risen Savior in our own lives, then we can speak from personal experience.  

God give us that clarity of focus in our worship this morning.  God give us that clearness of proclamation as we share the reality of God’s love for us in Christ by how we live and speak our Spirit empowered faith.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Risk Taking

Matthew 14:13-33 (especially 22-33)

In Yosemite National Park stands a 3,000-foot wall of granite known as El Capitan. It’s long been a rock climber’s dream, but it’s a daring dream. Reaching the top “used to take days to complete with the aid of ropes, safety gear, and a partner,” Olga R. Rodriguez reported in TIME. “In the past few decades, speed climbers working in tandem and using ropes have set records in reaching the top of the steep cliff.”

On June 3, 2017, Alex Honnold smashed those records, taking about four hours to summit El Capitan—without ropes, safety gear, or a partner.

Honnold, a native of Northern California, is 31 years old but has 20 years of climbing experience—at 11, he started indoor rock climbing. He left the University of California Berkeley in order “to conquer major summits around the world.”

He prepared for this El Capitan climb for two years. While the climb is certainly an extraordinary physical challenge—at one point “2,300 feet off the ground … there are very small holds where only a thumb can fit”—Honnold said that the “mental hurdle” was even harder.

“To walk up to the base of the climb without rope and harness, it just feels a little outrageous,” he said. “Getting over that side of it was the hardest part.”

In our Gospel reading we have two incidents of risk taking on the part of the disciples.  The first is when Jesus challenges them to respond to the need of feeding the masses (10,000 plus people?).  They had instructed Jesus to send the crowds away because it was getting to be mid to late afternoon and the people needed food—and the disciples wanted a break!

Jesus tells them, “You feed them.”

We cannot, they respond.  All we have is a couple of fish and five loaves of bread.  

Without argument or discussion, Jesus takes charge.  He commands the people to be seated in groups of fifty.

He takes the lunch.

He blesses the lunch.

He breaks the lunch apart and it miraculously is multiplied.  

He gives it to His disciples who in turn distribute it to the crowds. 

Afterwards, when all have eaten their fill the disciples gather the leftovers and fill twelve baskets with the plenty God has provided.

“He Giveth More Grace”

We give in to fear—fear of those different than us, fear of someone taking what is ours, fear of not having enough, fear of being responsible for someone when we can hardly take care of ourselves.  That fear causes us to build walls of division.  That fear causes us to arm ourselves with weapons to defend and keep what we think is ours alone.  We give in to greed and selfishness, we give in to division and evil thinking that under normal circumstances we would never cave into. 

God’s grace breaks through that painful part of of pathetic humanness.   When our hoarded resources give out, then God’s resources kick into gear!

That is the first part of risk taking.  Seeing past ourselves.  Seeing past our limitations.  Seeing past our fears and negative thinking.  Not giving into selfishness and greed or laziness!

The second part is after the multitude has been fed.  Jesus sends everyone away—His disciples by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowds back home.  Then He goes by Himself to pray in solitude.  John the Baptist has been murdered.  His ministry was to point to Jesus, and now he is dead.

Jesus responds like us when we experience loss.  He doesn’t ignore the crowds or their needs, but He also goes off by Himself to pray and recenter Himself.  

After He has spent time alone in prayer He rejoins His disciples who have only made it halfway across the lake.  They have experienced opposing winds and have made no headway for hours despite arduous rowing.  They are tired and exhausted.  

Jesus comes out to them walking on the water.  A bit unusual you might say!  The disciples are certainly caught off guard and give in to fear and superstition.  They are seeing ghosts and cry out in terror.  Mind you, not fear, but terror.  They are petrified.  

Jesus responds immediately by saying, “have courage eimi egow,” the last phrase literally translated is “I am!”  You might recognize that as the translation for the Hebrew name for God, Jehovah or Yahweh, which literally means “I am.”  

Jesus is more than a mere human.  He is not a superhuman, or elevated man with extra ordinary powers.  He is God-in-human flesh.  Fully human and yet also fully God.  The disciples were slowly getting to see and understand just who this Man is they were following and learning from.

Peter, impetuous, compulsive, out-spoken Peter, says, “If it really is You, Lord, invite me to come out to You on the water.”

Jesus’ response is simple.  “Come!”

He doesn’t lecture or give instructions.  He doesn’t warn or caution Peter.  He says simply, “come!”

And Peter does.

All goes well as Peter steps out of the boat and begins to make headway toward Jesus walking on the water.  Faith overrides fear.  Realistic thinking takes a backseat to Peter’s desire to meet Jesus out on the stormy waves.  

But then “reality” hits.  Walking on water is impossible.  Look at the size of those waves.  I am going to lose my balance.  And then he loses his focus on Jesus and goes down into the water that a moment ago contrary to science had supported him.

He cries out as he sinks below the waves, “Lord, save me!”  

Immediately Jesus is there.  Immediately Jesus grabs hold of Peter’s arm.  Immediately they are back at the boat.  They are on top of the water again and step into the “safety” of the boat.  And immediately the wind and waves cease. 

Do we trust God above all things?  Or do we trust circumstances?  Can God’s presence hold us in good times and in bad? Or do we only trust God when things are going our way? 

What about when we experience opposing winds, circumstances that go against us and rob of us comfort and peace?  What about when the wind and waves of life swamp us and swallow us whole?  

Can we walk on water?  Can we see Jesus as the Great I Am with us, no matter what?  

God, give us courage to see You as You are, Almighty God, with us even in the midst of life with its storms and pressing needs that overwhelm us.  Don’t let us give in to fear or greed, or selfish thinking, words and actions.  Give us courage to be like You and to follow where You lead.  In Your name we pray.  Amen!

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12

A number of you might recall Art Linkletter’s show “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  Here are a number of quotes from an old email that circulated the internet years ago on children’s definitions of love.

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”
Rebecca- age 8 

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.  You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
Billy – age 4 

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.”
Karl – age 5 

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”
Chrissy – age 6 

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”
Terri – age 4 

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.”
Danny – age 7 

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Bobby – age 7 

“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.  He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.”
Cindy – age 8 

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.”
Clare – age 6 

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”
Karen – age 7 

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
Jessica – age 8 

One more.  Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.

Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said,  “Nothing, I just helped him cry.” 

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Love.  How would you define it?  How would you describe it?

Here are some well-know Bible passages on love.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

John 3:16 (and 17)

The story of God’s love for us in and through Jesus—His birth, His life, His suffering, death and resurrection—is the greatest story of love ever.  Jesus’ love teaches us that true love is not in what we receive from others, i.e. how they make us feel, but in our words, attitudes, thoughts and actions given for the welfare and benefit of others.  

You might recall the saying, “The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay.  Love isn’t love until you give it away.”   Genuine love is when we get ourselves off of center stage, get past our feelings of hurt, abandonment and loneliness and reach out to others past ourselves.  

The key verse in our worship bulletin this morning is Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Parallel to it is the summary of the Decalogue that Jesus gives us in Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love.  Thursday is February 14th, Valentine’s Day.   

Love is something that you and I know something about.  There are many examples of love here in our congregation.  The love of a couples having celebrated decades of life together, and you can see the love and warmth in their eyes as they look at each other, and care for each other through sickness as well as in health!  Today we even have one of our coupes celebrating their love by getting married.  

The best way to deal with our feeling empty and incomplete—lonely—is to focus outside of ourselves.  Give yourself away like Jesus does for you and me.  This type of love is not romantic, sexual love.  It is love that is rooted in honoring and caring for those around us and treating them as we ourselves would like to be treated—with kindness, gentleness and respect.  That type of love makes life worthwhile.  It is the real key to being a Valentine.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.