As Sparks Fly Upward II

Faith — October 10, 2021

A man walking on a tightrope stretched out between two tall buildings shouts down to the crowd gathering below.  Their were shouting words of encouragement to him.  He crossed over from one side to the next and back again.  Then to add to the challenge he grabbs a wheelbarrow and  shouts to the crowd, “Do you believe I can make it across with my wheelbarrow?”  

“Yes,” shouted the crowd. 

“Do you really believe I can do it?”  

The crowd exuberantly shouts back, “We believe! Do it!”

So he shouts “Great!  I need a volunteer!” (to ride in the wheelbarrow).

The crowd is silent!

Faith.  

We all say we have faith.  And, yet, we all consider our own faith as weak and inadequate.  Do we have enough faith?  We pray, Lord, strengthen our faith!

The book of Job is about suffering, but more importantly it is about faith in the midst of suffering.   How strong is our faith in hard times?  Can we trust God even in the dark?  What if our health fails?  What if our loved ones die?  What if justice fails and the bad guys seems to win without any accountability?  The book of Job challenges our thinking about fairness.

The prologue of the book gives us as readers an a view behind the curtain when the main character, Job, and his would-be-counselors, do not hear the conversation between God and Satan.  Job never sees behind the scenes.  We are given that perspective and witness the struggle of Job as he looses everything, including his family and health.  We read the conversations between Job and his would-be-friends as they accuse him of getting what he deserves—punishment for wrong doing.  We read how Job holds on to his innocence and pleads with God who remains silent and never explains what  why all this is happening.

But, back to the prologue.  God calls a heavenly council meeting, with Satan in attendance.  God draws our attention to Job and the quality of his life and faith.  Satan wants to throw doubt on Job’s faith.  “Of course he is so good and faithful!  You protect him and bless him.  Withdraw your protection and blessing and he will curse you to your face!”  God’s desire is not to test and torment Job, but to give Job the opportunity to prove the genuineness of his faith.  

This is not a story about a spiritual chess game between God and Satan.  It is not a dual between equals.  God is Creator and Lord.  Satan is a fallen angel who is accountable to God.  It is about God’s confidence in our faith as humans even in the midst of darkness.  We live in a broken world.  We know that, but at times our idealism and romanticism of life cloud our thinking—and we forget.

Maybe you have watched “Fiddler on the Roof,” and remember Tevye’s cry to God, “why don’t You bless someone else?!” Down through the ages Jewish believers have echoed that cry, as if to say, “If that is how you bless your chosen people, chose someone else.”

Can Job trust God even in darkness?  What if God withholds His blessings and protection?  How does our faith fair when God seems silent?  or distant? or unconcerned about our welfare?  What if it seems that God has turned against us?  Will Job still trust God?  What about us?  Put ourselves in Job’s place.  That is easy to do.  How do we respond when things go south?

When things go wrong, when our health fails, when the darkness seems to crush the light can we still hold on to the idea that God is holding on to us?  When the world seems to be against us and we feel alone and abandoned, can we still trust the goodness of God?  

Job’s experience and story is not about a brutal test of faith where God and the devil play games with human lives.  It is about the genuine faith that clings to God even in the midst of this broken world.  It is about God’s confidence in us and in our faith even when we feel so weak, frail and vulnerable.

The closing chapter of the book show Job is healed and his fortunes and family are restored.  He had not sinned and was not being punished by God as his would-be-friends accused him of.  Satan was wrong.  God was right.  Job struggled and was in intense anguish.  Job questioned God and wanted God to explain Himself.  But Job never stopped believing.  Neither should we!

Maybe this little book in the Old Testament was written to help you and me see that we are not alone in our struggles of faith.  To help us see that God values our faith and believes in us!  

“I will never leave you, nor forsake you!”  (Hebrews 13:5)  

God’s promises are still trustworthy.  God will continue to hold us and keep us safe even in the midst of the darkness and night. 

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)

“And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”  (1 John 5:4)

Faith is our Spirit-enabled response to God’s grace—the God-given, Spirit-enabled ability to trust God’s goodness and love in the midst of life.  Claim it.  Live it.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Salt

September 26, 2021

Aron Ralston was doing a solo descent of Bluejohn Canyon in southeastern Utah.  He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. He was working his way down when he dislodged a 1,000 pound boulder that pinned his right wrist to the side of the canyon wall. He could not move the boulder.  He couldn’t free his arm.  He was trapped.  He waited and hoped to be rescued.  No rescue came.  After five days, with his water supply gone, he psyched himself up to do what he needed to do in order to survive.  He broke his forearm as the first step.  Then with his dull jackknife he cut himself free from his trapped arm.   Next he made a rough tourniquet to control his bleeding and then began his journey out.  He made his way through the rest of the canyon.  He rappelled down a 65-foot drop, and hiked 7 miles to safety.  Dehydrated, bloody and in pretty rough condition he was found walking in Canyonlands National Park.  He was lifeflighted from there to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado.  You might remember that story.  It in April of 2003.  

The incident is documented in Ralston’s autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place and is the subject of the 2010 film 127 Hours where he is portrayed by James Franco

In our Gospel reading today Jesus uses some pretty rough language.  He tells us to cut off a hand or foot, or rip out an eye if they offend us. He says this in the context of the danger of offending a little one, and the high price to be paid for doing so.  “it would be better to have a great millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea.”  

Imagine arriving in heaven and seeing someone who is maimed with two hands missing, a missing foot and both eyes gauged out.  And he saying, yes, but at least I made it to heaven!  Is it that hard to get to heaven? If that were true, what type of God would demand what we cannot do and then condemn us for our failure?  

Jesus is speaking in hyperbole—a form of literary exaggeration—in order to make a point.  His point?  Your soul and inner being are much more valuable than your physical being.

Mark 9:38-41

What do we do about someone doing good who is not part of us?  Let them continue to do good.  Don’t stop acts of goodness and kindness.  They are allies in life—on the same team—team Jesus!  No matter who does the acts of kindness and mercy all such deeds will be rewarded.

Mark 9:42-50

Offenses will happen.  Don’t let yourself be the cause of them happening.  Care for the weak and vulnerable.  The context of this reading tells us to include ourselves in the category of the weak and vulnerable.  How do we care for ourselves spiritually and emotionally?  Be disciplined and brutal in defending and taking care of your soul.  Your character and heart are worth protecting.  The type of offense Jesus seems to be referring to jealousy, bitterness or grudges that cause us to act and behave in offensive ways, besides poisoning our souls, pitting us against each other.

Jesus knows we are incredibly human and imperfect.  He is not demanding we perfectly earn our way to heaven.  Jesus is our ticket to heaven.  Grace is our only way of being forgiven and having eternal life.  But we should not just make excuses and get comfortable in failing.  Don’t let jealousy or bitterness destroy you.

So what does it mean to be salty, to have salt in ourselves?  Salt not only flavors food, it kills germs.  Salt serves as a preservative because it kills germs.  It keeps things from spoiling.  The type of spiritual salt Jesus wants us to have?  Know we are forgiven. Through Jesus life and the ability to start new every day.  We are empowered to live under the law of life and love.  We are not governed by the brokenness of our world.  Jesus is telling us to not let jealousy, grudges or bitterness cause us to loose our way to hurt ourselves or others in our lives.  Learn to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving.  Be salty!  Live at peace!  

You have the ability to do better and change how you live and treat yourself and others because of Jesus.  Claim it!  Live it!  Be salty!  Live at peace!

James 5:13-20 Body-life and prayer in the Church

13-15 Pray when you suffer.  Praise when you are happy and things are good.  When you are sick let the body of Christ pray for and care for you.  

16-18 Don’t underestimate the power of prayer.  Elijah’s experience is a great example.  He prayed for draught and then rain.  Both happened as a result of his prayer.

19-20 Don’t abuse prayer or try to use it as a magic wand to get your own way.  You are connected to the body of Christ.  Let the truth of Jesus’ life in you anchor you with other believers.  Hold each other close.  Care for each other and so save yourselves from spiritual death and being overtaken and overwhelmed  by sin.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Peace

“Whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me,

and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not Me but the One who sent Me.”  

Mk 9:37

“and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

James 3:18

(readings:  Mark 9:30-37, Psalm 1 and James 3:13-4:8)

Peace!  Do you long for peace in your life?  I do.  There are so many things that disrupt us and rob us of peace.  God’s promise for us, His longing for us, is for us to know and experience genuine peace.  Not the type of peace the world gives, but a peace that passes all rational thinking and human ability to create or imitate.  That peace is possible.

Psalm 1 contrasts opposites for the sake of making a point.  It is the first of the 150 psalms, and as such, sets the tone.  Listen and follow God’s truths and you will be stable and secure in life.  Don’t and you will be blown about like lifeless chaff that has no substance.  

A parallel would be Jesus’ parable about the house build on a rock or the house built on sand.  Remember that from Matthew 7:24-27.  What are you using as the foundation of your life—your values, your actions, your thoughts and words, and relationships, etc.  Foundations matter.  Decisions and actions matter.  Words matter.

James has something to say about that too.  He talks about divine wisdom.  God’s wisdom must have its impact and affect on how we live and conduct ourselves.  

“Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy…”

James tells us that bitterness, envy, selfish ambition, boastfulness and holding on to lies—all this works against peace and God’s wisdom.

There is an interesting story that comes out of the Second World War. England and Germany both had state-of-the-art fighter planes. Germany had the Messerschmitt, which was considered to be the world’s fastest fighter plane. The British had the Spitfire. The Spitfire was slower than the Messerschmitt. Nevertheless, German pilots were envious of their British counterparts.

You see, the Messerschmitt had been designed to hold the perfect German. Who was the perfect German? Who else but Der Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was little more than five feet tall. However, the German pilots who guided the Messerschmitt were considerably taller than 5 feet. So the Germans had to fly in very cramped quarters. But who was going to tell Adolf Hitler that he was not the perfect German? The Messerschmitts were faster, but their pilots were not happy men.

Jesus’ disciples were arguing about who would have the most prominence in God’s kingdom.  The three in the inner circle, Peter, James and John had just come down from the mountain of transfiguration.  The rest of the disciples had failed in casting out a stubborn demon from a desperate father’s son.  

Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances where we just feel inadequate.  Like we do not measure up.  And the irony is others do not judge us as much as we judge ourselves.  At other times we are comparing ourselves and measuring ourselves up against those who have failed or are less than us so that we can feel better about ourselves.  

We do not know what course the disciples’ argument was taking, but we do know Jesus’ response.  He turns their attention to what it means to serve others.  You want to be considered great, seek to meet the needs of those around you.  Care for those among whom you live.  

He takes a young child—baby, toddler, youth—the Greek word padaion means a young child, maybe a toddler.  He takes that child in His arms and says “whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me!”

Get that?  If we receive a child we are receiving and welcoming Jesus.  He then goes on, “Whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me.”  

Seeing Jesus in the other person, whoever that might be. What if we are dealing with someone who has offended or hurt us?  What if we are wrestling with someone who is a “sworn enemy.”  Jesus, in taking and holding a child, is helping us to see that those we view as less than us and insignificant in the eyes of the world, we must see Him.  That has the affect of changing us.  

There was a tribe of Indians who lived a long time ago in the state of Mississippi. They lived next to a very swift and dangerous river. The current was so strong that if somebody happened to fall in or stumbled into it they could be swept away downstream.

One day the tribe was attacked by a hostile group of settlers. They found themselves with their backs against the river. They were greatly outnumbered and their only chance for escape was to cross the rushing river. They huddled together and those who were strong picked up the weak and put them on their shoulders; the little children, the sick, the old and the infirm, those who were ill or wounded were carried on the backs of those who were strongest. They waded out into the river, and to their surprise they discovered that the weight on their shoulders carrying the least and the lowest helped them to keep their footing and to make it safely across the river.

Jesus is teaching us an object lesson about greatness, about servanthood, about leadership. “Have you lost the peace, the childlike joy and love and faith that once were yours?” Then hear Him say, “If you want to walk on secure ground in this world it helps to carry someone with you.”

We can experience peace when we let go of what we cannot control—all the hurts, regrets, pains, sorrow, bitterness, jealousies, insecurities, etc, etc.— and then see Jesus in the other, and be Jesus’ hands and feet for 

No one can do this perfectly.  We all fail and fall short.  But…We have the forgiveness that Jesus offers us through His cross.  We can cling to that forgiveness and focus on doing the best we can in following Him.  That is enough.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Psalm 19

Elim Lutheran Church – September 12, 2021 – bwk

Read Psalm 19.  It is another one of our favorites.  If you are like me, all 150 are favorites, but this one stands out.  Let me explain.

The key word for Psalm 19 might be “communication,” or “speech,” or “word.”  Any one of those three could work.

The heavens declare the glory of God  —  verses 1-6

The Hebrew word for “heaven” in verse one can refer to the sky, heaven or even the “highest heaven.”  I picture it as a reference to creation and outer space that we view from our tiny planet—the expanse of the stars and galaxies that envelop us.  

David is struck with awe and wonder at creation and how creation communicates God’s glory without even utter a word.  The sun, the moon and the stars, let alone the wonder of all creation that surrounds us shouts out God’s majestic glory and praise.  

We should train our minds, our souls, to soak in the wonder of creation and acknowledge God’s goodness and grace and creative imagination.

God’s Word instructs us  —  verses 7-13

Sure, David here is speaking of the Old Testament, but for Christian believers we also understand the New Testament as God’s Word to us.  David wants us to understand that paying attention to God’s creation helps us to understand a little more of God.  David also wants us to listen to God’s Word through holy scriptures.  

Let God’s Word direct us.  Let God’s Word shape, correct and instruct us.  Faith in God is not the work or result of creative human thinking.  Our Christian faith is a “revealed” faith.  It is God’s speaking to us and our learning to listen and let God shape and direct us.  

The Old Testament is a record of God’s personal relationship with humanity.  It is not about wise people striving to find and know God on their own.  It is God’s calling and revealing God’s self to a series of individuals, and then to the nation of Israel and all the people of creation.  

Pay attention.  Listen.  Let God’s love and care for us as proclaimed through creation and the Word shape and mold us.  Be humble.  Be repentant.  Be mindful.  God wants to communicate with us.  God wants us to know we are created in love.  We are cared for, special, important. We are redeemed and blessed. We are called to live lives of love as Jesus lives in and through us for the sake of the world.

Conclusion  —  verse 14

The goal of listening to God through creation and through the written Word is to have it change, shape and mold us.  

David’s response is a model for our response.  May our thoughts be ordered and shaped by God’s Word.  May we take every thought captive for Jesus.  May we not be random and careless in allowing our minds to focus on un-health—anger, lust, hate, jealousy, greed, envy, suspicion, etc.  May we focus on good, on the positive, on building up and encouraging one another.  

We become what we think.  Out of the abundance of our hearts flow our words and actions.  

David’s prayer is our prayer too.  May our words and thoughts be aligned with God’s thoughts and values.  This means change for us, because our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, nor our ways God’s ways (Isaiah 55:8).  David’s prayer means active, daily repentance.  It means being humble and teachable.  It means recognize that we always need to be accountable and response to God’s Spirit as God’s seeks to communicate with us, shaping and directing us in living in such a way that we care past ourselves and give ourselves away—to those weaker, vulnerable and our sphere of influence.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

More than a bread king

John 6:1-21

The man walked into the “Donations” entrance of a local food shelf and placed his gift on the counter. A volunteer behind the counter looked at the man, looked at the donation, and looked back to the man. “Um, it’s a can opener,” said the volunteer. The donor replied, “Several years ago when I was down on my luck, I visited this place, and you were very generous. 

When I arrived home, starving, I took out the contents of the bags you gave me: eleven cans of tuna, soup, green beans and sliced potatoes. But I had no can opener, so I walked to the gas station and bought a hot dog.”

What do you hunger for?  Food wise?  Do you love Italian or Mexican food?  German or Danish food?  How about Indian food?  What would your favorite meal be?  What would your favorite dessert be?  

Let’s shift gears.  What do you hunger for?  Attention?  Satisfaction?  Remember the song, “I can’t get no satisfaction…” Or how about excitement or an adrenaline rush?  Recognition for who you are or what you have done?  How about safety or security?

All of us hunger for something.  

Jesus knows that about us, about our human race.  He knew that about His disciples and the crowds that “crowded” around Him.  

In school we learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  When our basic needs for survival are met we can focus on more intangible needs.  Bread—food for daily living—is a basic need.  Yet Jesus wants us to focus on more than just daily bread.  He hopes we will also focus on spiritual needs, our need for salvation and eternal life.  

The setting for our Gospel reading is the approaching Passover—the Jewish festival that remembered and celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and slavery.  Part of the Passover meal was the Passover lamb and unleavened bread.  That also called to mind the forty year track through the wilderness where God fed the people of Israel with manna—bread from heaven.  

Jesus is intentional in this miraculous feeding of five thousand.  God’s Spirit is intentional in its placement in Scripture and what it teaches us.  Luther, in his Small Catechism, reminds us that when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not educating God about our needs.  He knows them before we do.  He knows our needs better than we ourselves do.  We pray that petition in order to remember our dependence upon God for everything necessary for daily life.  

So in one sense this miraculous feeding of five thousand teaches us that God can and does meet all our needs according to His riches in glory in Jesus.  He can and does take care of us.  There is no shortage of mercy and grace.  There is no lack in God’s provision.  

But more importantly this reading teaches us to raise up our eyes and be alert to our spiritual needs.  The huge crowds that gathered around Jesus wanted healings from physical diseases.  Then when Jesus effortlessly feeds thousands of people in one setting in one afternoon they quickly determine to make Him their “bread king” by force.  Like a quick popular vote for solid social security through an endless supply of daily bread.  

But Jesus is more than a bread king.  He came into our world to be our Savior and Lord.  To redeem us from sin, death and the power of the devil.  Jesus’ focus is huge.  The crowds focus in temporal and narrow.  So like us humans!  We see only the immediate, the present circumstances, not forth coming consequences in the future.  

Jesus’ words in John 10:10 “I came that they might have life—abundant life.” 

John 5:24  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

John 17:3  “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Our human tendency is to shrink God down to fit our perspective.  To “remake God in our image.”  That tendency goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis.  But it is also evident in today’s Gospel reading.  The crowds wanted a “bread king.”  We often want God to meet our needs in a way that could also reduce Jesus.  

Our prayer requests often amount to telling God what we want Him to do, and when and where!  That is role reversal, plain and simple.  God is not responsible to fulfill our wishes and submit to our will.  We are called to yield to God.  We need to remember that, even in our prayers.

What is, in our prayers, we were to listen to God more than we talk to God?  What if, in our prayers, we were to ask God to help us understand His will and follow Him?  What if, in our prayers, we were to ask God to open our eyes and ears and heart to know and follow Him?  That would change and transform our prayers.  That would result in a deeper relationship with God and a stronger faith.  Then we would grow in our experience of sensing and knowing God’s presence with us in our every day life.  That would change us.  And, that, more than anything else, is our goal in prayer. 

Jesus is not our bread king.  He is not a puppet on a string, answer-my-prayers-my-way-in-my time sort of God.   He is our Savior and Lord.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

For the life of the world

Elim Lutheran Church/bwk 8.1.2021

John 6:24-35 & Ephesians 4:1-16

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.  May God add His blessings to our time under the Word!

In silence have a member volunteer to take ashes from Ash Wednesday and make the sign of the cross on my forehead, speaking the words, “From ashes you come.  To ashes return.  Live in the light of God’s love.”

We are not beginning the season of Lent.  Today is not Ash Wednesday.  It is the first day of August and we are deep in the season of Pentecost of the church year.  The season of Pentecost is when we focus on discipleship and spiritual growth.  

During this time we strive to answer question like the following.

How do we know and understand Jesus as Savior and Lord?  How are we different because of Jesus in our lives?  How do we as Christian believers live out our faith faithfully in this secular world?

But today I have been marked with ashes as if it were Ash Wednesday.  Historically that is a time of remembering our mortality and the gift of life we have in Christ Jesus.  So, why today am I being marked with ashes?

The reason?  Today’s Gospel reading where Jesus proclaims Himself the Bread of Life.  

It is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.”

The manna God gave the children of Israel in the wilderness was a symbol, a foretaste, a type—pointing to the Incarnation of our Lord.  The psalmist who penned the words of Psalm 78 helps capture that sense.

vv 23-25

Yet He commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven.  He rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.  Mortals ate the bread of angels.  He sent them food in abundance.

The manna—the bread from heaven—was not an end itself.  It fed the people in the wilderness and kept them alive.  It pointed, however, to our Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God; God who came to us in human flesh, the true bread from heaven.  

Our bodies require daily nourishment.  Without food and water we would die in short order.  The crowds in Jesus’ day were lazy and wanted to take advantage of Jesus’ ability and generosity.  He could make a little last a long time.  They could take it easy.  Fewer trips to the supermarket.  Just stay close to this bread king and they could eat all they ever wanted!  

Jesus is teaching them to look deeper within themselves, to look closer to their real needs—the needs of their souls.  

vv 26-27

“You were looking for Me because…you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for food that perishes.  Work for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.  For it is on Him that god the Father has set His seal.”

Jesus is speaking of Himself in third person.  He is Messiah.  Jesus is the Savior of the world, God’s Anointed One.  That is the significance of God the Father’s seal on Him.  Jesus came into the world not to replace Smith’s or Safeway as a food source to answer our physical needs.  He came as Savior of the world to save us from sin, death and evil (the devil).  

Here in our Gospel reading and in the next couple of Sundays Jesus addresses the issue of partaking in His life.  Eating of the bread of life means believing in Jesus as God’s Son, our Savior.  Trusting in His grace.  Accepting His life, death and resurrection as our redemption and forgiveness, our ticket to restored fellowship with God and eternal life.  

Consider what Jesus is saying.  We live in a biological world, a physical world where we are either the eaten or the eater; the prey or the predator; the meal, or the one doing the consuming.  As humans we continue that ravenous routine.  We consume one another in our dog-eat-dog life styles of competing with one another.  We climb the cooperate ladder.  We get what is ours even when we have to take it from others in order to have what we think is enough.  We get stingy and greedy.  We think of our own needs and not of the needs of those around us.  

Those who have better health insurance and more retirement income have better access to health care and easier lives.  We live longer than those who have less.  With all the advances in science and improved health care those with more money can, in a very real sense, extend their longevity.  They can live longer.  But they still die.  We all die.  We cannot escape our mortality.  

It is to us, and to all the people of all ages down through the centuries that Jesus says, I have the gift of life—eternal life—for you.  My incarnation is God’s gift of saving you from death, from hell, from the wages of sin.  Instead of dog-eat-dog, Jesus says, “eat Me!  I give Myself to you.” 

That is comforting.  That is good news.  Believe it because it is true.  Heaven is our gift because of Jesus.  Yet, there is a scary part to this.  This principle of Jesus giving His life away to us as the bread of heaven resulting in the gift of eternal life for us is a life principle that marks us as the children of God, citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  Now we too must learn to give ourselves away.  

We need to re-learn the dog-eat-dog competitiveness of the world.  We need to let go of meeting our own needs at the cost of others.  We need to step out of the selfish, greedy, take care-of-number-one mode and learn how to put others first.  

That is what the Apostle Paul writes about in our reading from Ephesians 4.  He begs us—pleads with us—to live lives that are worthy of our calling to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Be humble.  Be gentle.  Be patient.  Put up with each other’s faults and weaknesses with an attitude of love.  Maintain our unity—our bond and connection with one another in Christ by working hard to preserve our harmony and peace.  

Unpack that.  Paul says, when you have been fed with the Bread of Life, you no longer need to eat each other up by taking advantage of those weaker and more vulnerable than you.  Instead of greed and power grabs, abuse and using each other, learn to give yourself away by focusing on meeting each other’s needs.  This is flipping the dog-eat-dog mentality of the world on its head.  It is the life style of God’s people in the kingdom of heaven.  Love each other this way and the world will take notice.  Live this way and we will discover peace and joy, contentment and harmony that will change us and those we know.  Then Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates and conservatives can enjoy harmony and peace.  Because then Jesus will indeed be Lord of all.   Grant that, Lord Jesus, to be true for us today.  Amen.

The Power of Touch

June 27 2021 bwk

Mark 5:21-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust in the midst of the storm

June 20 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now…Here are some questions to consider.

Was Jesus surprised by the storm?  

Did Jesus cause the storm?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best is Yet to Come

June 13, 2021

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

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

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

“A fork,” asked the young pastor?  

“Yes,” her family responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are glory bound saints with heaven in our souls.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

For Your Graduation

Graduation Sunday 5/23/2021 | Elim/bwk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember WHO YOU ARE and WHOSE YOU ARE.

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

USE YOUR HEAD

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

USE YOUR IMAGINATION

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

USE YOUR HEART

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

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

USE YOUR ABILITIES & GIFTS

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

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

Trust Your CONSCIENCE

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

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

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.