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An Abundance of Blessings

Lutheran Lectionary for the Day of Thanksgiving, November 26, 2020, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (v. 8 nrsv)

Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Jennie Augusta Browncombe, 1850-1936, PD US, Wikipedia Commons

In 2 Corinthians 9, St. Paul is calling his church in Corinth to remember God’s abundance of blessings and to share those blessings with the poor saints in Jerusalem.

As we gather on Thanksgiving Day with family and friends for a delicious feast, we are indeed reminded of the abundance of blessings God bestows upon us.

In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, he explains the meaning of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed (I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.) That explanation gives us much to ponder about God’s generous goodness toward us.

Luther explained: I believe that God has made me and all creatures: that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life… Then Luther wrote about God’s divine goodness and mercy toward us.

Now that is quite a list of divine gifts for which we can be thankful to God our Father and Creator.

But after St. Paul proclaims God’s abundance of blessings, he also comments on our faithful response. This apostle wrote, that you may share abundantly in every good work.

What are some of those good works? Who could use a week’s supply of groceries? Who could use socks, shoes, or a warm winter coat? How can we help the homeless who seek shelter from icy and freezing weather? Do we know of anyone who needs some mentoring with the good reason God has bestowed upon us?

As we gather today to share a meal of abundance, we may use Luther’s words as a guide for our prayer of thanksgiving. We may also choose to say or sing the words of a familiar Thanksgiving hymn, Now Thank We All Our God.

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things have done, in whom his world rejoices.

Who from our mother’s arms have blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love and still is ours today. (first stanza)

(Words and music on hymnary.org)

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks be to God!

Jesus the Lamb and the 144,000 Believers

Lutheran Daily Lectionary for November 19, 2020, Revelation 14:1-11

Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were the one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (v. 1)

The Adoration of the Lamb, from the Apocalypse Series, 1497 – 1498, Albrecht Durer, The Met 150, Public Domain

Today’s reading from St. John’s vision in Revelation is about the 144,000 redeemed Jews who were faithful to Jesus, the Lamb. Some say the 144,000 refers to all believers in Christ. In either case, they were pure, sealed, and saved by Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The 144,000 were not marked by the Second Evil Beast with the number 666 on their foreheads or on their right hands (Revelation 13).

The 144,000 had the name of the Lamb, Jesus, and His Father written on their foreheads. They were protected during the coming tribulation on earth. They were marked in a holy way. They were identified as belonging to Christ, the Lamb of God, and His Father who sent Him to save the world from the corruption of the evil one.

In our culture today, how are we marked or identified? After this hotly contested national election, we are most likely identified as Democrat or Republican.

Beyond that there is a movement to identify by one’s gender. Some write their pronouns (he/his or she/her) after their signature to clarify their gender. That is helpful because in our society people identify as male, female, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or queer.

We have been identified in our country as rich or poor, Northerner or Southerner, blue collar or white collar, Catholic or Protestant or in the growing “None” category, or black, brown, yellow, red or white.

All of these ways to mark or identify us have been used to divide us as a people and a nation. Some people believe that we should say first of all that we are Americans to unify us and everything else is of secondary importance.

I am old enough to remember the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King and his quotation that we not be identified by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.

As Christians we have been marked with the cross of Christ on our foreheads when we were baptized with water and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. That cross on our foreheads signifies that we belong to Christ. We are His children. We are members of His mystical body. We are given the free gift of grace. And that cross of Christ is there on our foreheads forevermore.

The everlasting mark of the cross of Christ on our forehead reminds us that we are all united in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We are united with the 144,000 spoken of in the book of Revelation. That mark unites us with Christians of every time and place.

Marked with the cross of Christ forever, we can look beyond the shallow human distinctions from this broken world which divides us and cling to the unity Christ gives to all believers.

O Christ, the Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world and give us mercy and peace. May the church marked with your cross be united in mission to proclaim the gospel, serve all in need, and be a light of hope in our nation now divided by hatred, greed, and the lust for unbridled power. In the name of the Father, + the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Already Now, Not Yet

Christ and the Pharisees, Jacob Jordaens, c. 1660, USPD, Wikipedia Commons

Memorial of St. Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr, November 12, 2020, USCCB Daily Bible Readings, Luke 17:20-25

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.

Then he said to his disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. (NRSV)

The Kingdom of God is Already Now and Not Yet. Jesus ushered in the God’s Kingdom on this earth. But sadly, the Pharisees did not recognize this wandering rabbi, Jesus, was God’s only Son come to bring in God’s Kingdom with abundant love. They did not recognize that their close scrutiny or observation of Jesus would not be enough to convince them of what God was doing through His only Son.

The Kingdom of God wasn’t announced with thousands of soldiers marching in Rome or parading down main street in Jerusalem. But God’s Kingdom came:

when a Baby was born to Mary and Joseph in a cattle stall in Bethlehem;

when the 12 year old Jesus taught the elders in the temple and they were amazed;

when Jesus saved the wedding celebration by changing water into wine and only His mother and the stewards knew;

when Jesus made mud and placed it gently on the eyes of the man born blind to restore his sight;

when Jesus straightened the back of a woman hunched over for years;

when Jesus taught that He was the way, the truth and the life;

when Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well living water gushing up to eternal life;

when Jesus freely gave up His life on a cross on a hill for the salvation of the whole world;

when Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave very early on the third day defeating the powers of sin and death;

and when Jesus ascended to His Father in heaven as His disciples gazed up into the heavens where He now lives and reigns forever and ever.

In unannounced ways Jesus brought to this planet the loving and merciful reign of God. This Kingdom is still with us today in Word and Sacrament, in bible study and fellowship, in service and sacrifice for others and wherever God’s love is shared as the Holy Spirit works freely and abundantly in the hearts of so many around the globe.

Jesus didn’t need the press to hail His coming. He didn’t need tv cameras or zoom technology or the new Apple chip to usher in God’s rule of love for all of creation. As Jesus walked the roads of Palestine, entered into the humble homes of Jews and Gentiles, taught in the synagogue, worshipped in the Temple, reached out to the ill and outcast, heard the trumped up charges before chief priests, and stood firm against a Roman puppet in authority, He left the imprint of God’s Kingdom of love.

So the Kingdom of God is Already Now, but Not Yet. The Pharisees believed that one day in the future God’s Kingdom would come with the promised Messiah who will restore David’s kingdom on earth.

Jesus told His disciples that His return to earth as the Son of Man would be as obvious as lightning flashing in the sky. When Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, He will make good on His promise to take all the faithful to live with Him forevermore. There will be no more suffering and no more sin, but only the peace, joy, praise and thanksgiving in the place Christ has prepared for all who believe in Him.

So we live in this Christian tension between the Already Now and the Not Yet. God’s loving rule will never leave our side. His rule will always be among us so that we will not lose hope in the midst of temptations, challenges, and sin in this life.

I wonder why the US Conference of Catholic Bishops chose this passage from Luke 17 about the Kingdom of God for the day when Catholics remember Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr. What’s the connection? I must admit I never heard of this saint until a couple of days ago.

St. Josaphat was a 17th monk and bishop born in Lithuania. He and his parents were members of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In time St. Josaphat supported a movement to have these churches come under the authority of the Pope. For this kind of support, an angry “anti-Catholic” mob broke into his home and tortured him to his death.

I can only say that this saint believed that while on earth he enjoyed the blessings of living under the loving kingdom or rule of His Lord or why else would he be attracted to the ordained ministry and work so diligently for Christian unity.

And I can only think that as St. Josaphat saw that angry mob with weapons charging at his house to break in and do him harm, he felt reassured that Jesus would one day return to this earth and take him and all believers to that glorious Kingdom of God where death will be no more.

One of my favorite hymns I like to sing especially on the Day of Reformation is this one:

Have no fear little flock; have no fear little flock; for the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom. Have no fear little flock.

Thanks be to God!

On Jesus’ Shoulders

Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep, Luke 15:1-7, from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Daily Bible Readings, November 5, 2020 of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

The Good Shepherd, 3rd century A.D.,Christian Catacomb, Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

When he (the shepherd) has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. Luke 15:5, NRSV

When a team wins a big game, the players douse the coach with Gator Aid and then lift him on their shoulders as they parade to the locker room to celebrate the victory with even more joy.

When Jesus told His Parable of the Lost Sheep, there was a moment of joy when the shepherd finally found that one lost sheep. He lifted his sheep onto his shoulders and safely carried it back to the fold all the time rejoicing in the lost being found.

Upon arriving back to the 99 sheep in his herd, the shepherd threw an unexpected party for friends and neighbors to continue the celebration. He shouted with glee to the invited crowd, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.

Now, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, gives us a glimpse of heavenly joy when a sinner repents and returns to the Lord. The whole heavenly court of angels gathers to rejoice with their Lord.

The good news in Jesus’ parable is that He never gives up on us no matter how far we stray from him. With His abounding love, Jesus searches for us, finds us, and brings us back into the faithful’s fold.

When Jesus finds us in the darkness of our waywardness, He lifts us onto His shoulders and rejoices because the lost has been found. Jesus forgives us, enfolds us with His grace, and gives us the promised Holy Spirit to start life over again with spiritual freshness and wholeness for our souls.

Resting on Jesus’ shoulders is the ultimate moment of joy and celebration for Him…and for us.

We pray:

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, you rescue us from the abyss of sin and our wayward longing for things which cannot fully satisfy.

You pursue us when the power of despair weighs us down and whips our spiritual lives into a tailspin.

May we ever be thankful for your bountiful love and amazing grace which restores us and for lifting us high on your strong shoulders so we rejoice in your never failing mercy.

Strengthen us by the Holy Spirit to lift others on our shoulders when the weight of guilt and shame is too much for them to bear.

To You, our Good Shepherd, we give praise and thanksgiving now and forever.

In the name of God the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

Second Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday, June 14, 2020, “Mission Decision,” Matthew 9:35 – 10:1-8

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…

Matthew 10:5 NRSV

800px-Rembrandt_Jesus_and_his_Disciples.jpg
Jesus and His Disciples, Rembrandt, 1634, PD-US, Wikipedia Commons

 

Millennials on Mission:  Emerging Women Leaders is a program I watched today on the Catholic network, EWTN.  This program featured three millennial women who each told her story of faith while on a mission for Jesus Christ.

Katherine’s mission led to a career in women’s health care.  While riding a bus in Chicago, she noticed the multitude of Planned Parenthood centers on the South side. That was an enlightening spiritual moment.  It led her to be even more determined to work in this medical field.  Her mission for Christ led her to South Africa, Cameron and to California teaching women about caring for themselves and their children.

Montse, an immigrant from Mexico, became a lawyer to assist those with legal issues. When she was a teenager, her brother died.  She became angry and confused.  She left the Catholic Church.  Later when she started attending mass again and her faith was nurtured, she realized how much God loved her and how much she loved the Lord.  With this inspiration, she had clarity and committment in her mission for the Lord with the vocation of a lawyer.

Laura, a blind young woman, told of her days at Swarthmore College.  She gradually became disillusioned with her classmates’ arrogant lifestyle.  After graduation, she became a social worker in Philadelphia and helped many clients receiving medicaid who struggled each day to survive.  She later completed law school and argued cases in court. In her mission she realized there were moments of vulnerability where she had to rely on God’s strength and not on her own to move forward in mission.

Three millennials.  Three women.  Three Catholics.  Three stories of faith.  All three in mission for Christ through their vocations.

Being sent out in mission for the sake of Christ is today’s message from our gospel reading in St. Matthew chapter 10.  Jesus sent his twelve disciples out on a mission with these instructions:

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,

but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go, proclaim the good news.

‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, 

cast out demons.  (verses 5 – 8)

Jesus knew that although his disciples were not always confident and trustworthy, he nonethless sent them out on mission for his sake.  Now that’s grace.  That is a gift.  Jesus chose those disciples to represent him and his ministry to the people in the surrounding towns and villages.  Jesus trusted them enough to have the twelve carry out the mission he began.

The disciples were not sent out to raise funds to set up an endowment in a Jerusalem bank.  They were not sent out to advertize the selling of tables and chairs Jesus had made in his father’s carpenter’s shop. They were not sent out to have the Israelites sign up for the latest seminar on how to subvert Roman rule.

But on their mission, they were to proclaim the same message Jesus proclaimed about the good news of the kingdom of heaven.  They were to do the same deeds of curing, raising, cleansing and casting out that Jesus had done.  Jesus empowered them to speak and do just as he had done.

That empowerment from their Lord led the disciples to say and do things they thought they could never say or do.  Their mission was inspiring, joyful and wonder-filled. Commissioned by their Lord for mission, the disciples experienced the strength and faith the Lord gave them.

Have we ever been commissioned by our Lord to be in mission for him?  Certainly we have.  In Holy Baptism we are not only claimed by Jesus to be his beloved children.  We are not only named as members of the body of Christ.  But we are also forgiven and set free to be his people in mission.  We welcome the baptized in Holy Baptism to be “workers with us in the kingdom of God.”  As workers in the kingdom of God, we pray and discern what God wants us to be and do in this world.  We are sent out in mission.

We could say that we discern our calling or our vocation in life.  And whatever our vocation, whatever our occupation, whatever our job, we are in mission for the Lord as we faithfully use our strength and skills in our society for Christ’s sake.  More than that, our calling as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors are also missions in our lives that we lovingly and graciously carry out.

We are not in mission alone.  We do not have to rely on our knowledge or skill set alone to be in mission for our Lord.  The Lord Jesus Christ does not forsake us.  He is always by our side.  He leads us and guides us.  He strengthens and nurtures our faith with the promised Holy Spirit.

Just before Jesus gave instructions to his disciples for mission, he told them,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord

of the harvest to send out laborers into his vineyard.”  (Matthew 9:38, 39 NRSV)

Do we hear the voice of the Lord calling us to be in mission for him?  This hymn text reminds us of mission:

Hark, the voice of Jesus calling, ‘Who will go and work today?’

Fields are white and harvests waiting, Who wil bear the sheaves today?”

Loud and long the master calls you; Rich reward he offers free.

Who will answer, gladly saying, ‘Here am I.  Send me, send me.’  (public domain)

At the end of St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promised, And lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.  With this promise, we answer, Yes, Lord. I will go.  Yes, Lord, I will work for you.  Yes, Lord, fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I receive the joy of mission in your name.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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The Holy Trinity, June 7, 2020, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, ” One Equals Three – The Math of the Trinity”

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.  2 Corinthians 13:13

486px-Andrej_Rublëv_001

OK.  I admit it.  Yes, I am Lutheran, but I occasionally watch EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).  You know, it’s the Catholic world wide television network begun in Irondale , Alabama by Mother Angelica about 30 years ago.

There are some programs I like to watch on EWTN including the daily mass, Scripture and Tradition, and programs on Thomas Aquinas and a theological discussion from professors of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  And there is one more program, Journey Home, where the host interviews someone whose spiritual journey led that person to conversation and to become a Roman Catholic.

As I watched this program last week, the host interviewed a young man whose journey led him from Islam to Christianity and membership in the Catholic Church.  He said that in college he and his friends talked about religion.  They tried to explain to him the Holy Trinity where there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one God.  The young man said this was confusing.  How could three persons be one God?  That was some kind of “crazy math” for this young Muslim.

It is 325 in the city of Nicaea (modern day Turkey) where the church explained the meaning of this so-called “crazy math.”  Emperor Constantine called bishops from the surrounding countries to gather for the First Ecumenical Council to confront the teachings of Arianism.

What was the result?  The first version of the Nicene Creed explained the doctrine of the Trinity – three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one God.  It stated that Jesus was of the same substance (homoousios) with the God the Father. These three persons in one God are co-equally divine, yet distinct from each other.

Specifically, at the Council of Nicaea, Arianism was condemned as a heresy.  Arianism was a belief that Jesus was a created being and not equal to the Father.  So despite Arius’ attempt to bring clarity in the fourth century about the Holy Trinity, his teaching was condemned as a heresy.

Now I agree a little with the Islam young man who converted to Christianity and became a member of the Catholic Church.  To try to understand the Trinity is challenging.  Nonetheless, it is one of the mysteries of the Christian Church which is held dear and taught throughout the centuries.

I am sure we have heard about the examples of how to explain the Trinity.

Peter, James and John are three persons yet they are all part of one humanity.

Water comes in the forms of liquid, solid and gas – three forms of good ole H2O.

Some have used the three leaf clover to explain the Trinity – three distinct leaves and yet one clover.

All these are simple and simplistic ways to try to describe the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and its mystery.

We confess the Nicene Creed throughout the church year, but especially on Holy Trinity Sunday.  Let’s look briefly at each of the three parts of that creed.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

When we confess these words, our minds think of the story of creation in Genesis chapters one and two.  Seven times God spoke and the world was created with…

light and darkness,

water and sky,

earth and seas,

plants and trees of every kind,

stars, sun, and moon,

living creatures such as the great sea monsters and winged birds,

living creature, cattle and creeping things and wild animals, and everything that creeps upon the earth,

and finally, the crown of creation, human beings like you and me created in God’s own image.

That final part of creation tells us that all of humanity is made in the image of God.  This is important to understand in the light of the death of George Floyd.  Mr. Floyd was made in the image of God just like any other human being.  His death was so tragic and unjust and millions believe it was due to racial prejudice.  Many believe that Mr. Floyd who was made in God’s image had his life taken away from him from a police officer who is a racist.  And that violence led to protests across our country and condemnation for that ugly death.

But in the creation story, God looked at everything he had made in six days and called it very good.  Then God sat back from all that he had made and rested on the seventh day.

Sometime we forget about the beauty and goodness of God’s creation and neglect to acknowledge how God designed and created it all from the tiniest molecule to the vastness of the universe.  So, take a break, take that Sabbath day of rest and take a walk in the park, go to the sea shore, hike a trail, or climb a mountain and gaze at the beauty of creation.  Get lost in its wonder.  Contemplate its beauty and how wonderfully God made us.  It all comes from God the Father.

So in this crazy math of the Trinity, we begin with one person with God the Father.

Again from the Nicene Creed we confess, I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten – Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of  very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with Father…

Jesus is of one substance (homoousios in Greek) with the Father.  Jesus is from eternity just as God the Father and God and Holy Spirit.  And since Jesus is God himself, the Nicene Creed goes on to list the highlights of what Jesus has done for our salvation:

who for us men, and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures…

So Jesus is truly God and truly human.  His death and resurrection offers us the salvation which frees us from power of sin, death, and evil that only the Son of God could give.  As a human being, Jesus knew temptations to sin as we know them.  As a human being Jesus felt the sting of suffering and death.  And because Jesus is God, He was able to save us from our sins which separate us from God Himself.  It takes the God-Man, Jesus Christ, to offer us forgiveness, life and salvation.  He did that by dying on the cross and rising with life from the tomb on the third day.

During World War II, the Nazis occupied the Netherlands.  They wanted to deport 50,000 Jews to a death camp.  But one German, Walter Suskind, a pianist and manager of a theater, heard about the murdering acts of the Nazi, and devised a plan to save Jewish children.  He hid them in various places and found ways to secretly set up travel for them to a safe land.  With his staff, Walter Suskind, saved 1,000 Jewish children.

But when the Nazi commandant discovered that his “friend,” Walter Suskind, had deceived him and saved so many Jewish children, he ordered his soldiers to capture his wife and daughter.  As his family was slowly leaving town on a train and headed to a death camp, the Nazi commandant told Walter the number of the train car they were in.  Walter ran to that train car, boosted himself up to get in, and found his wife and daughter.  Sadly, all three of them died, his wife and daughter at Birkenau and Walter died four months later on a death march.  With his courage, Walter Suskind, a German – Jew, gave up his life to save the lives of almost 1000 Jewish children.

In the Nicene Creed, we confess Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again…  It is God’s only Son who sacrificed his life for us.  And we now live forgiven of sin and live with abundant life because of Jesus, the Messiah, who died and rose from the dead for our sake.

St. Paul summed up what we believe about Jesus in his letter to the Philippians chapter two:

Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to to the point of death – even death on the cross.

So in this crazy math of the Trinity, we add one more person with God the Son.

Who is the Holy Spirit?  What is the divine work of this Spirit?  The Nicene Creed tells us that the Holy Spirit is,

the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son…we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. 

The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life.  In John 14, Jesus promised to send to us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, or the Spirit of Truth.  In other words, the Holy Spirit will breathe life into us.  It is the abundant life which Jesus promised to all of his followers.  It is the life in which we know Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.  It is the Holy Spirit who comes to us in Holy Baptism and makes us members of the body of Christ.  It is the Holy Spirit who will give us life after death.  In the Nicene Creed we confess that the Holy Spirit promises to all the faithful the resurrection of the dead.

Scott Hahn and Emily Stimpson Chapman recently wrote a book entitled, Hope to Die – The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body.  In their section on The Breath of Life, they wrote this, Unlike bios (Greek for physical life), zoe (another Greek word for life) conveys much more than mere physical air into Adam’s nostrils; he (God)  breathed life – spiritual life, eternal life, divine life.  He breathed his own life into Adam…That life is so whole, so complete, it’s actually a Person:  the Third Person of the Trinity.  God breathed his Spirit into Adam, and that made it possible for him to live a life that wasn’t just natural, but supernatural.

So, too, today, the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts so that we have that close and loving relationship to God the Father.  In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther wrote that the work of the Holy Spirit is to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify and keep us in the one true faith.  The Holy Spirit breaths that breathe of God into our lives so that we receive the abundant life Christ promised to us.

And in this crazy math of the Trinity, we add one more person with the Holy Trinity.

In the end, there is one God with three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Each person is fully God.  Each person has a distinct role. The Father creates us. The Son redeems us.  The Holy Spirit gives us new life.

So in the crazy math of the Holy Trinity, one does equal three.

I am glad that this young Muslim man after talking with friends about Christianity and after he read famous Christian books such as The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, converted to the Christian faith.  He first became a Presbyterian and later became a Catholic because he loved the liturgy and the way the Catholic Church uses Scripture and Tradition of the early church fathers to make sense of what we believe.

And as his spiritual journey moved along, he finally accepted the crazy Math of the Trinity.  One does equal three.  That’s the divine math of the Holy Trinity.  God the Father created us and all things visible and invisible.  God the Son redeemed us by giving His own life for our sake.  And God the Holy Spirit gives us life everlasting.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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(Photo of Rublev’s Icon of The Holy Trinity, Wikipedia Commons; Nicene Creed quoted  from the 381 AD altered version; all Scripture verses from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, National Council of Churches)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day of Pentecost, May 31, 2020, “Fire in the Church,” Acts 2:1-3, Excerpts from my new book to be published this summer entitled, “Living Water – Devotions for Your Thirsty Soul”

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  Acts 2:3, NRSV

Descent_of_the_Holy_Spirit_upon_the_Apostles

I always thought of fire in the church  in that way from the Book of Acts until one day there was a fire of another sort.  It was not the fire of the Holy Spirit.  It was the fire of destruction with flames, smoke and soot.  It was the kind of fire which brought fear to my life and which I had to call the fire department in a matter of minutes to save the church building from burning down.

Now that was not the first fire I experienced.  When I came home from college one summer, a storm swept through the city with rain and lightning.  I thought I was safe in my parent’s home, but that would not be the case.  During that storm the doorbell rang.  It was a stranger.  I opened the door carefully to see what this woman wanted.  She said with a firm voice. “Your house is on fire.  I was driving by and I saw lightning hit your house”…

So fire in Scripture is associated with judgement on the last day.  But thank God the story does not end there.  There are references where fire is seen in a good light.  John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus the Messiah would baptized his followers with the Holy Spirit and fire.  That fire pointed to the day of Pentecost where tongues or flames of fire rested on the head of each apostle so they could preach about God’s saving love through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

WHAT LUTHER WROTE

But God’s Spirit alone is called a Holy Spirit, that is, the one who has made us holy and still makes us holy.  ( The Annotated Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther 1529, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2016, Kirsi I. Stjerna, volume editor, pages 358-359)

HYMN TEXT from COME, HOLY GHOST, GOD AND LORD (public domain, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #395)

Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord, with all your graces now outpoured on each believer’s mind and heart; your fervent love to them impart.  Lord, by the brightness of your light in holy faith your church unite; from ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue, this to your praise,  O Lord, our God be sung:  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

(Art image – The Descent of the Holy Spirit Upon the Apostles, Joseph Vladimirov, 1666, public domain the United States, Wikipedia Commons)

 

 

Ascension of Our Lord, May 21, 2020, Acts 1:1-11, “A Parting Gift”

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8 NRSV

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William Shakespeare was right.  In Act 2, Scene 2 of the famous play, “Romeo and Juliet, it is Juliet’s words which are so memorable,  “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Haven’t we all experienced the sorrow and the sweetness of parting?  I think of my grandparents saying good-bye to their sons who went off to fight in World War II.  When would my grandparents see them again? I think of parents who send their 18 year old sons and daughters off to college and wonder how they will make it on their own.

That’s the sorrow of parting.

On the other hand, parting brings a sweetness because we remember the love in the relationship we have with those leaving us.  Grandma and Grandpa loved the sons they reared and wanted them not to be in harm’s way.  Parents hug and kiss their children goodbye and wish them the best as they go to college.

That’s the sweetness of parting.

The Day of Ascension in the church year is 40 days after Christ’s resurrection and the reading from Acts describes the parting scene between Jesus and his disciples.  On the one hand, the disciples were sorrowful.  Why was Jesus leaving them especially after all they have been through together for three years?

Jesus taught them about the grace of God’s Kingdom.  They saw him heal the blind, the lame and the deaf.  He saved them when the wind and waves on the sea brought fear of losing their lives.  He sent them out with the power to heal in God’s name.  He washed their feet in a moment of humility.  He shared a Passover meal with them which they would never forget.  They knew of his ugly death on the cross and were filled with hope and joy when he appeared to them in his resurrected scared body in that locked room.

Oh, the sorrow of seeing Jesus leave them!

But before Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand, Jesus gave his disciples a parting gift.  It wasn’t a bag full of coins to refill their treasury.  It wasn’t a secret message to know how to gain wealth and fame.  And it wasn’t an army waiting to do battle against Rome and its oppressive power.

Jesus gave them what he had promised – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It was this divine gift to empower the disciples to be witnesses to God’s love through Jesus the Messiah to the ends of the earth.  Now that was the best gift the disciples could ever have.  The Holy Spirit gave so many gifts to them, to us and to the world.

Oh, the sweetness of that parting gift!

In his “Small Catechism,” Martin Luther wrote that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to “call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep us in the one true faith?  Doesn’t that cover it all for our relationship to Christ?  From start to finish the Holy Spirit is present in our lives with good gifts.  From our baptisms into Christ until our funerals when our baptismal journeys on this earth ends, the Holy Spirit is our constant guide and spiritual companion.  Who could ask for anything more?  What a sweet parting gift from the ascended Lord!

When I left one church and received a call to another ministry, the church I left always gave me a parting gift.  It was in a celebration lunch after Sunday worship.  The members brought delicious food for a pot-luck.  Kind and thankful words were spoken about my family and my ministry with them.  One church gave my family and me an engraved silver serving platter and another congregation sang a creative song about my ministry to the tune of Camptown Races and added a photo album with scenes from my ministry.  Those parting gifts of appreciation will ever be remembered with joy and thanksgiving.

Can you remember someone giving you a parting gift?  Maybe it was a note expressing thankfulness and love.  Maybe it was a hand-made quilt or painting or another hand-make item expressing the joy of a close relationship.  Aren’t those parting gifts something you will treasure the rest of your life?

Thirteen century philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas, said this about the Holy Spirit, “The Holy Spirit intends that the wisdom, power, and love that the Father begets to the Son, should be begotten in us.”  We find that message about power from the Holy Spirit in the words of Jesus to his disciples just before he ascended into heaven, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (1:8)

The power the Holy Spirit bestows on us is not baseball power to hit a home run, not political power to win an election, not the economic power to become a millionaire and not the power to abuse, steal, lie or cheat.

But the Holy Spirit gives us the power to witness in daily life.  The Holy Spirit gives us the power and confidence to have a holy conversation with someone down and out about the love of Christ.  The Holy Spirit gives us the power to invite someone to a bible study, a worship service, or to choir rehearsal so that a person can hear or sing the gospel of Christ’s mercy and abiding presence.  The parting gift that Jesus gives all believers is the sweetness of love, comfort and peace from the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus ascended into heaven on a cloud and vanished from the disciples’ sight, two men in white robes (angels) suddenly appeared and said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?   This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

An ascending and vanishing Jesus brought sorrow to the disciples, but the angels promised them that this Jesus will come again on clouds of glory.  That promise brought the sweetness of hope that they will behold their Lord again face to face.

So William Shakespeare was right. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Emotions of sorrow and the sweetness of love filled the hearts of the disciples on the day of Jesus’ ascension.

But until the day of Christ’s return, the promised Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the sweetness of peace and joy and the power to be Christ’s witnesses.  This sweet gift always breaks the sorrow in our lives.  This parting gift from the Lord is more precious than any earthly gift.

Thanks be to God!

The peace of God which surpasses all understand keep our hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

(Image of The Ascension, 1636, Rembrandt, Wikipedia Commons; quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas, “The Sending of the Holy Spirit,” by William J. Martin at anglicanway.org; quotation from Romeo and Juliet found at sparknotes.com; and the idea to use the Thomas Aquinas quotation comes from Father John Paul Mary, EWTN Daily Mass for Ascension of Our Lord)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020, “Saved Through Water,” 1 Peter 3:13-22

…”when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons were saved through water.  And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you”… 1 Peter 3:20-21 NRSV

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When I lived in Mobile, Alabama, afternoon thunderstorms flooded the streets of the downtown area with several inches of water.  It was no big deal.  The people were used to it and lived with it.  No damage occurred.

But one evening lighting, thunder, and torrential rain kept me from getting into my car and driving home from my church.  I waited inside the building until I thought the rain  and lightning had let up enough for me to run safely to my car.

All was well, I thought.  I’ll just cut through a neighborhood and not drive home on major streets which were lighted.  Bad decision.  It was dark on that narrow, two-lane road I took as a shortcut to go home and I thought it really didn’t matter.  What could go wrong?

But something indeed went wrong.  I was startled and frightened when my car hit a two foot wall of water on the road home.  The darkness of the night blended into the dark pavement of the street which made for dangerous driving.  There were no street lights on that small neighborhood road so that my vision was limited.  The water from a flooded creek rushed onto the road.  Road and water merged into one black mass which jolted my car when I hit the flowing water.

Nonetheless, I kept my foot on the gas and made it safely through to the other side.  From that day on, I had more respect for the power of water and thunderstorms.  Water can severely damage and destroy.

The flood during the time of Noah covered the whole earth and swept humanity to a tragic death.  But Noah, his family, and pairs of animals were saved in the ark even though the heavens broke open and poured rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights.

As a child I loved the story of Noah and the Ark because it included a big boat, all kinds of animals, a dove with an olive branch, and the colorful rainbow which was a promise that God would never again send a flood of this magnitude to the earth.

Saint Peter makes an interesting theological point about water and the flood during the days of Noah.  He wrote that during the time of Noah when the ark was built, Noah and his family were saved through water.  The water of the flood drowned sin and the corruption of the world so there could a new and fresh start with obedience to God through Noah and his family.   And the ark kept afloat during the rain and flood and the eight in the ark were saved.

But then Saint Peter wrote that this water of the flood “prefigured baptism” which saves us.  So there is “saving water” in Holy Baptism.  In the Lutheran liturgy for baptism, a prayer from Martin Luther is included.   It is sometimes called “Luther’s Flood Prayer.”  (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, page 230)

In that prayer Luther mentioned the familiar stories in Scripture recalling water – at creation, at the flood in Noah’s time, the parting waters of the Red Sea which the Israelites hurried through for safety, the river water where Jesus was baptized by John. Finally, Luther reminds us that being baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven and raised up to new life.

So baptism with water and God’s word saves us from the power of sin and death.  In Titus chapter three we read, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  (Titus 3:4-5)

God’s gifts through Christ in Holy Baptism are rebirth and renewal.  We are born new each day as the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us and our faith is renewed.  We then live with hope and strength to do God’s will.  We live with confidence to follow in the way of our Lord.  We live as witnesses for Christ free and forgiven to let our light of faith and love shine in this broken world.

Saint Peter wrote his letter to Christians suffering from the persecution in Rome under the reign of Nero or Domitian.  The suffering could have been mild abuse and mockery by neighbors or more harsh persecution under these emperors.  No matter what kind of suffering these first century Christians faced, Peter’s letter was one of hope as he focused on the gifts from God in Holy Baptism.  (Working Preacher, Commentary on 1 Peter 3:13-22, Valerie Nicolet-Anderson)

Have we ever suffered today as Christians?  In recent years some towns prohibited creche scenes in public parks.  A Christmas tradition was suddenly erased. Some retailers prohibited their employees from wishing a “Merry Christmas” to customers.  A joyful Christmas greeting was denounced.

Perhaps people have avoided you or turned away from you because they knew you were a church goer.   But in the Middle East a dictator even drowned Christians. Suffering and persecution even happens today in subtle ways or in dramatic acts of evil.

But Saint Peter’s message about baptism brings comfort and hope in the midst of suffering for Christians.  God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s comfort, God’s renewal through the Holy Spirit in baptism is much stronger than any earthly power.

Saint Peter also included another part for being saving through the water of Holy Baptism.  There is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  (3:21).  What could this possibly mean?  The word for “appeal” in Greek can also mean “to put a question to” or to “interrogate.”  So we could say that part of baptism is “to put a question to God” about having a “good conscience.”  (Hermeneutics.stackexchange.com)

In the ancient baptismal liturgy there are questions that the candidate answers or in the case of children, the parents and sponsors answer for the child.  These question are about having a “good conscience” throughout one’s Christian life as a child of God.

When the first three questions are asked in the liturgy, the parents and sponsors of the child or the candidate himself turns to the west and answers each time with a renunciation.

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?  I renounce them.

Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?  I renounce them.

Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?  I renounce them.

Then the baptismal group turns to the East where the sun rises and reminding them of Christ rising from the dead.  The presiding minister then asks them three more questions and the baptismal group answers with the appropriate words from the Apostles’ Creed:

Do you believe in God the Father?  I believe in God, the Father almighty…

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?  I believe in Jesus Christ…

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?  I believe in the Holy Spirit…

(Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2006, page 229)

So in the baptismal liturgy there is a renouncing of all that is evil and an affirmation of what Christians believe about the nature and work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This renunciation and affirmation leads to a godly life.  It leads to the good and clear conscience Saint Peter connected to the saving water of baptism.

May we remember our baptism with water and the word in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and saving grace given for our salvation.

And when we do maybe we will even remember the story of Noah and the flood and how it points to the saving waters of our salvation through the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

(Image from Wikipedia Commons, US – PD, The Ark and the Cosmic Covenant, Anonymous Christian Author, c. 2-4 A.D, Catacombes, L’Arche de Noe et I’alliance Cosmique)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020, “What Every Seeker Should Know,” John 14:1-14

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6 NRSV

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I think it was Baseball Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra, who said, “If you see a fork in the road, take it.”  Nice try, Yogi, but left or right, north or south, or east and west.  It’s all so confusing finding the right way with Yogi.

Life has many choices.  Before making a decision on which way to go, we study and plan and then move forward expecting we made the right choice.  But sometimes we just say we’ll go this way and hope for the best.

There are many choices and decisions we make in this life.  Some choices lead to wonderful results while others lead to sorrow, pain, and the proverbial “we wish we hadn’t done it that way.”

Recently I saw a commercial from the “My Pillow Guy,” Mike Lindell, who has just written a book about his life.  His life was a mess with too much alcohol and drugs until he was converted to Christianity.  Since that epiphany, his life has changed with faith in Christ.  Now he lives with hope and direction which he never had before.  Mike made a decision to live for Christ.  Now he travels on a road still with pitfalls and temptations, but he doesn’t travel that road alone.  Christ’s presence is with him so that he does not fall back with decisions which lead to doom and despair.

Making a meaningful decision on which way to go in life was something Jesus talked about to His disciples as He headed toward the cross.  In today’s gospel reading from John 14, Jesus told His disciples to not be troubled because He would prepare a place for them in His Father’s house.  A bit confused, Thomas spoke up and asked Jesus where He was going.  Fair enough.  Thomas was seeking clarity, direction, and focus for his life so he could make good choices and wise decisions.

That’s when Jesus spoke the words we remember so well in His answer to Thomas.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So Jesus is the way.  Following in His way leads to an abundant life.  But what is this way?  It is one of belief in Him as the Word made flesh who gives us grace upon grace.  It is belief in Jesus that He is our Good Shepherd who guides and protects us.  It is Jesus Who is the Vine and we are the branches.  From Jesus we receive the juice of life which sweetens and makes meaningful the way we live.  It is following Jesus with a cross-shaped life so that we serve and sacrifice with Christ’s love in our lives.  And that love makes serving those in need and sacrificing our time and talent for others meaningful and joyful.

What happens when we don’t follow the way of Jesus?  We follow ways of life which get us in trouble – ways of greed, ways to cheat, ways to exploit – all of which end in tragedy and chaos.  In the end it is a dreary and destructive way of life where no joy and no peace can be found.  Who wants to live like that?

So Jesus is the truth.  “In him there is no darkness at all,” to quote a line from the hymn, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light.”  In Jesus there is no darkness of falsehood or deception.  Jesus called the evil one, the “father of lies.”  Lies indeed cover a multitude of sins, but in the end lies lead to no authenticity in life.  Lies lead to a life where people avoid you and cannot trust you and in the end you are miserable with loneliness and isolation.  Who wants to live like that?

Lies are in the news today.  Did former FBI Director, James Comey really lie and cover up a scheme to find General Flynn guilty of a crime against the US government?  All charges against General Flynn have now been dropped by the Department of Justice.  This certainly makes us wonder about the leadership this former director in the DOJ.

But isn’t Jesus also the truth?  Jesus is one with His Heavenly Father.  He is the One Who brings us light and life.  Millions have followed Him since His death and resurrection throughout centuries and throughout the world.  If there was no truth in Jesus, His movement would failed within a generation.

So Jesus is the life.  Jesus gave life and healing to the man born blind as He touched his eyes and they were healed.  That healed man believed that Jesus was more than a faith healer, more than a prophet, and finally he believed in Jesus as the Son of Man.

Doesn’t Jesus, the Word made flesh, give us abundant life filled with peace and joy because He gave Himself on the cross for our sake and rose triumphantly from the grave?  Doesn’t Jesus forgive us from the threatening dangers of our sins which heals our restless souls?  Doesn’t Jesus give us an abundant life as the Holy Spirit daily forgives our sins and raises us up to new life in Christ?

With Jesus there is life now which helps us to recognize His good gifts and thank Him for them.  Without Jesus there is no life; there is no making sense of our lives; and life is a meaningless journey not knowing which road to take to make the best decisions.

What should every seeker know?  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

“Christ the Life of All the Living” is an Easter hymn calling us sing of the Christ Who gives us life in Him:

“Christ, the life of all the living,

Christ, the death of death, our foe;

who Thyself for me once giving

to the darkest depths of woe,

patiently didst yield Thy breath

but to save my soul from death;

praise and glory ever be,

blessed Jesus, unto Thee.”

Thanks be to God.

Amen

(Christ the Life of All the Living” text in public domain at hymnary.com; photo of Christ Pantokrator Mosaic in Byzantine Style, from Cefalu Cathedral in Sicily, Italy, c. 1130 from wikipedia)