Sunday, April 23, 2017

Unlocking Doors Locked by Fear

Second Sunday in Easter
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, [3] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31 (ESV)
“Peace be with you.”
It is with these words that Jesus breaks open the locked doors.  The Disciples are afraid of the Jews, and so the doors are locked. It would not have stopped an actual raid with soldiers, but it at least kept them safe from random mischief. So they shut and locked the doors in such a way that they would have to open them if anyone wanted to come in from the outside.
And then there is Jesus. Standing in their midst. Saying peace be with you. Sending them out to do the same to forgive sins, to give the Holy Spirit and burst open doors. This is what he continues to do to this day through his church, through you the body of Christ.
This morning we baptized Ryker and we see this work happening again. Jesus Christ giving peace. Jesus Christ giving the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ breaking down the doors of unbelief even as he rolled away the stone of death the sealed his tomb, and put aside the condemnation of the law of Moses written in stone that you and I may have peace, that you and I could receive the Holy Spirit.
It's fear that locks doors. But it is Jesus who does away with fear. Peace be with you. This is what he comes to give. Probably a translation of the common Jewish greeting shalom. But with Jesus there is power in the words. It is much more than a peaceful feeling that he comes to give. He comes to give the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. He comes to declare peace the cessation of hostilities between God and man in the forgiveness of sins.
Unbelief is often nothing more than an expression of fear for that which people know to be true. The demons know that God is one and they tremble. We can’t do anything for them. But for man? We can give them Jesus. People know that they are sinners. Fear often keeps them from acknowledging it though. It’s irrational, fear. Sometimes I look at how it has worked in my life and the life of others. I remember overhearing a conversation my dad had with mom once about grandpa. He was afraid to go to the doctor because he thought he might have cancer. I thought that was the stupidest thing in the world. But in my early twenties I put off going to the doctor for three months out of the same fear. The idea is if we don’t acknowledge it then it won’t be true. People know they are sinners, and therefore know there is a God and they are afraid, because they are naked and exposed before God. They run and they hide. They put their head in a hole. If I don’t see the lion, maybe the lion won’t see me. Irrational. It locks the doors to faith.
But this is why Jesus came to the disciples. And this is why he comes to you. To dispel fear and to give us peace. That we would unlock the doors and go out to forgive the sins of others even as Jesus sent the disciples with the Holy Spirit that his church would be built and be built up through the forgiveness of sins, upon the confession Thomas shares with Peter. My Lord and my God.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesu our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Do Not Be Afraid, He is Risen

28:1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he [1] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10 (ESV)
And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” and they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”
Jesus had told the disciples earlier that they should meet him in Galilee. I don’t think they were expecting to meet him there any longer. The women certainly were not. That morning they expected to find a cold and stiff body lying on hard rock, dead in a tomb. But they found, just as the angel had told them, that he was not there. He has risen.
Instead Jesus meets them on the road as they go back to the disciples to tell them what had happened. When the women do see Jesus the grab hold of him.
They grabbed hold of him. He was real. He had a body that could be touched, hugged, and kissed. This is the hope of the resurrection. Just as Jesus was risen from the dead, so too will you be raised. Not a phantom, not a ghost, but you with your body. Oh it will be changed. Jesus’s body was changed and yet it was the same. It will be glorified and changed so that we are not vexed even by the little things that are so annoying to us here on earth. But we will have bodies with which to hug and kiss our loved ones, with which to sit down at the feast of victory of the Lamb and eat and drink and make merry and rejoice for he has risen.
They worshiped him. Oh this is where he is to be found today. Rather this is where he finds you when you listen to the words he has entrusted to his messengers. Here it was the matter of angels. The women, perhaps they still were not certain of what was going on. The different gospel accounts are filled with the confusion you would expect surrounding such an unexpected event. But they do what the angel tells them, and on the way Jesus meets them to confirm them in the faith that he might meet them and grant them peace, give them courage to continue to believe, to continue with the faith.
They worshiped him, as we do today. It was not something that happened before the resurrection as he wandered about the countryside doing good and making people well. But now something had happened. The resurrection says something about Jesus and who he is. Not was, but is. For he is risen. And that he is risen means that he is God and worthy of worship. This is the decisive thing upon which the whole of Christianity stands or falls. His resurrection. Paul tells us in the 15th chapter of Corinthians that if he had not risen we would be most of all to be pitied. We would have made God out to be a liar. If Jesus had not risen, we should continue to worship and trust in the law as our only hope. But it would be a hope that was guaranteed to disappoint. The law will leave you in the grave.
But Jesus is risen, so we have no reason to be afraid, no reason to fear.
Alright. I’m not going to act as if I never have any fears. I have a family, and all the cares and worries that come with this world. I have a sinful heart that does not want to trust these fears to Jesus who cares for me more than I care for myself, even as he loves you even more than you know to love yourselves. And he has risen from the dead. Now you have eternal life. And when this world passes away with all its cares and worries, then we will all see just how foolish our fears were.
But Jesus did not come to give us a spirit of fear. Do not be afraid he tells he women who have worshiped him.
Afraid of what? The context here indicates that perhaps the women were afraid the disciples would not believe them. Fear threatened to silence them. This is why Jesus came, to encourage them and to take their fear away. And not just their fear of not being believed. But their fear in general.
Death rules through fear, the law rules through fear. And those two rule together. The Law bringing to death. But Jesus has overcome the law, fulfilled it for us. He conquered death and rose from the grave and tells you that you too will also rise from the grave. We have nothing to fear. Not anymore. And what of it if others don’t believe us? What of it if they laugh at us? Let them laugh. For our Lord has risen and the last laugh is his.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Baptism, the Living Water that Wells Up To Eternal Life

5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. [1] 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. [2] The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”(John 4:5-26 (ESV)
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And the woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
The Samaritan woman does not get what Jesus is talking about, or is purposely trying to avoid the matter at hand. Jesus is offering her forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life that comes with faith in him. He talks about it in terms of water, living water. This is what our baptism is, living water the wells up to eternal life. This is what Jesus is talking about with the woman in an enigmatic way. It is what he just finished talking to Nicodemus about. He had just left the Judean country side where he was baptizing, well not him, but his disciples. And now John wants to talk about what this baptism means at the beginning of his gospel, so that everyone will understand its importance for the Christian life.
It’s peculiar to John’s gospel. The Synoptics have Jesus being baptized and then the temptations and then his ministry in Galilee and a person gets the impression that there was nothing else. But John lets us understand that Jesus worked for a time with John the Baptist and was baptizing, well not Jesus but his disciples. So we learn something even from that little throw away line of John, when the disciples do the work of pouring water, or dunking or otherwise applying the water and saying the words, it is not the disciples that are baptizing but Jesus. He is greater than the disciples. They do this at his command. He gets the credit then. It is his baptism. But here it wasn’t quite the same thing as the baptism that Christ would institute after his death and resurrection, but a precursor to it.
John is an odd gospel, he wants to leave a gospel that will clarify things for people to come, fill in the gaps the gnostics of the time were exploiting, the gaps in the life of Jesus that had thus far been written, Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Synoptics. But he isn’t really concerned with chronology. And he is called John the Theologian because his gospel blends his interpretation with the events of Christ’s life. Sometimes it is hard to understand where the words of Jesus have stopped and where the words of John explaining what Jesus meant start and vice versa. He doesn’t merely record events as they happen in order, but pieces the life together to give a presentation of the Christian gospel, the good news the forgiveness of sins, and all that it means. So there is mystery that remains. A person can blend the Synoptics and John’s gospel as to the course of events, but there is always a bit of mystery to doing this.
So when John remembers this discourse with the Samaritan woman, as with Nicodemus, he is realizes that Jesus was talking about this baptism that would come. He does the same thing with the Lord’s Supper from time to time. Though the Lord’s Supper has not yet been instituted, John lets events like the feeding of the five thousand stand in as opportunity to then talk about what the Lord’s Supper is. So Jesus has not yet instituted Christian baptism, and yet there are parallels between what John was doing in the desert, what Christ was doing with him, and what would become of it. Jesus is training his disciples for a ministry to come that will have at its heart, baptism the birth from above that comes with the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, a well that doesn’t run dry, grace that overflows, living water that wells up to eternal life.
And here he is offering it to everyone as if it did not matter a bit who they were or what a mess they had made of their lives. And this woman certainly didn’t have it all together, her life was almost as messed up as your pastor’s, and she knows it. Here it is the seventh hour, that would be noon our time. They started counting the hours with the rise of the sun, more or less. The sun is high, and no one is at the well. Women went to the well in the morning, and in the evening to get water. Generally, that was there job. That is when they would all gossip about the goings on in town. Probably, about which one of their husbands was hooking up with this woman now. She seems to have made her way around the village. One can only speculate as to why. We don’t really know the backstory, but she’s been kicked to the curb enough that she doesn’t really care to hear what the other women have to say about her. Feeling used and abused, she comes at noon to avoid the stares, the cold shoulders, the tongue lashings. She’s alone with no one to love her. There’s a man in her life, but he refuses to be her husband. Probably a pay to play sort of scenario, but a woman’s got to eat. It isn’t like there were girl Friday positions open at the local office pool, or employment agency. Women like her without a husband were vulnerable, and men took advantage.
Then there is Jesus, true man born of a virgin, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He stands here before her with nothing but love, love that would win for her the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He knows who he is talking to. But unlike the other men in her life, he isn’t there to take advantage of her. She doesn’t even know what to do with it. She’s shocked that he is even talking to her. Jews didn’t normally talk to women they didn’t know, and they didn’t talk to Samaritans either. She was both. And then, a man of God? She was used to the Pharisees. These were the men of God. Heads held high they looked down their noses at women like her. But here was a true prophet, who could tell her her whole life. And he talked to her as if she was a human, someone to be loved, someone to be cared for, someone worthy of eternal life. This is the true humanity of Jesus, the humanity that was created in the image of God, to share his love, his knowledge and his grace. It was a humanity so true that the rest of humanity could not abide with it but had to kill it out of jealousy, out of hate, out of evil that inhabits our hearts, sin that can’t see past our own wants and desires. Jesus was a true man, whose manliness would not be measured by the things of this world, those things with which the men of the world even men of God like the Pharisees measure a man’s manliness. It wasn’t in his beard, or his physical fitness, it wasn’t in his ability for sexual conquest, but in his love for humanity that would put all his own selfish desires aside for sinners who knew their sin, and desired forgiveness. To them he gives the living water that wells to eternal life.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all Understanding Keep your Hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Unfathomable Love of God

3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus [1] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [2] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [3] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You [4] must be born again.’ 8 The wind [5] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you [6] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [7] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, [9] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:1-17 (ESV)
For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
In order that the world might be saved through him, his only begotten son, Jesus Christ. This is the unfathomable love of God. That he actually loves this world. Oh, we love it too, don’t we? Except for when we don’t. Our love is so conditional. I loved yesterday. Sunshine, greeting good friends at Bible Study, an afternoon listening to the hum of a chainsaw, and well it was the day after pay day, so the living was easy. Somehow I managed to spend a whole day without the news. It was glorious. Of course it’s when we turn on the news that we begin to see the other side of the world. The side we don’t love. Would be axe murderers in Germany, terrorists all over the place, invasive pat downs at the airports which we suspect don’t do anything for our safety no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel. Rapists, Child abusers, pornography, and protesters looking for something to picket. Yes, it is being confronted with that world, that one begins to wonder how it is God can love this world. Or maybe it is when we start searching our own souls. There is a world of hell packed away down in there, isn’t there? Sins of the past just screaming. I mean this honestly, there are times I search my soul and I hate myself. I can’t imagine how it is God could love such a person. Oh, not the person I present to the world. That selfish person inside of me that can remember two million times where I broke some social rule, blew missed opportunities, flew into unwarranted fits of anger, conned others into degrading acts of depravity all in the name of a good time, broke taboos before I even really understood why they were a taboo. I think of the pain that I must have caused others, second guess parenting decisions, wonder if I have ever made a right decision in my life. Then I begin to wonder. That’s the unfathomable love of God, that he so loved this world, this fallen sinful world full of hate, sin, and ungodly people, that he sent his only begotten son, that the world might be saved through him.
His only begotten Son. As a kid I memorized it that way. Newer translations figure not only do you not know what begotten means, you have also lost your dictionaries. I mean sometimes, it is in the contemplation of Bible translation that I have the hardest time fathoming, comprehending the love of God for this world, and people who are so flippant with his word, and so condescending towards his people that they try to dumb his word down to make it more comprehensible. God himself is beyond comprehension, it stands to reason that perhaps his word should require study. The word they translated only is monogeneis, mono meaning only as in monotone, and geneis being the same word from which we get Genesis, often translated the beginning, but also generate, and generation.
Only begotten is an important distinction in my estimation. It specifies in which way Jesus is God’s only Son. This is important because there is another way in which you are his children, his sons, his daughters, and in that manner of speaking Jesus is not God’s only Son, but we might say that Jesus is God’s only natural born son, if there was anything natural about God begetting God from all eternity, outside of time and place, and encompassing all of time and place. There is mystery there beyond all comprehension, but it does have comparison. It is comparison that fathers comprehend when they look at their children. Incredible love, and it does not come close to the love of God the Father for God the Son, and it does not even come close to the love of God for you. God is perfect, holy and without sin. Our love is always tainted with a degree of selfishness. We see this in even the best father/child relationships. It is what causes strain and estrangement in this sinful world. The sins of the fathers are visited to the third and fourth generation of those who hate God. And in our sinful nature that is what we do, we hate God. Every sin ever committed is an act of hate for God. Hate breeds hate, generates hate, begets hate. But love begets love, and God is love so he begot a son who is love. And love overcomes hate, conquers hate, swallows up hate, and begets love within the haters.
So love comes to save, the only begotten Son of God, that he might save the world through him. The perfect love of God taking upon himself all the sin of the world. He most certainly did not come to condemn the world. There isn’t a person who has ever lived in this world that hasn’t understood that it is condemned, that it is broken, that it is not as it should be. It insults even the shadow of divine justice that lives within us.  But it was precisely this world and everyone in it that the Father wanted to save when he sent his only begotten son to die for you, that you would believe in him, and believing would not perish but have eternal life. And so that you could believe in him, this is why Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to baptize us, the whole dialogue that precedes this deals with baptism, being born again, being born from above in water and the Spirit. To believe in Jesus Christ is to be baptized, because it is in baptism that we are buried into Christ’s death and raised again to walk in the newness of life, life that is further sustained, eternal life that is sustained even today in the forgiveness of sins that we receive as the fruit of the cross, the body and blood of the Son of Man raised up for us, that we would live in the love of God.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Your Father in Heaven Who is Perfect

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, [7] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
 Love Your Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, [8] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)
“You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Jesus started this section saying that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes.  Then he talked about what that would look like. It would mean to be like Jesus who in his love for you fulfills the law. It would mean to turn you other cheek when someone strikes you. It would mean to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, as when Jesus cries out from the cross and says “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was his prayer for you that in his forgiveness you would be made perfect.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s present tense. People think that Jesus is giving them a goal to work towards here. No, he is giving a command that is beyond your ability to fulfil. It’s present tense. Right now you must be perfect. And that’s the thing. If you aren’t perfect you are not going to become perfect.
It echoes our Old Testament lesson about being holy as your Father in heaven is holy. There God speaks about what it means that God is holy, how God’s holiness is shown in this world, and therefore how that holiness is reflected in the life of those he has made holy. In Leviticus he talks about the sojourner and leaving food in the field for them to eat. Caring for those less fortunate than you. It most often did not happen. A person can hear it here in the words of Jesus. You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor but hate your enemies.”
Yes, they had heard this said. They had never heard that read, not from scripture. It was the reaction that we men have. We hear God tell us to love our neighbor and we think we are doing pretty good when we do love our neighbor. But we are like my confirmands who think this extends as far as the front steps on the house across the street where your neighbor lives.
People tell me love comes naturally. Jesus talks about this love. We love those who love us. We greet our brothers in the market place. Who doesn’t do that? Sure, there is a shadow of love there, but it isn’t the love of God who causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, who makes it to rain on the evil and the good. Well, really he just causes the sun to shine, and rain to fall on the unrighteous. From his perspective there is not much difference between any of us, we are all imperfect. None of us reflect the holiness of God. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
And Yet, God still loves you. Not because you are perfect, not because you are making so much progress in becoming perfect. No God loves you for the same reason he loves your neighbor, for the same reason he causes the sun to shine on your enemy. Not because they are perfect, or better than you, or any other such thing. No, God loves you, and God loves them for one reason and one reason only. He loves you because he is perfect, because he is holy.
So it is that his holiness is reflected not in righteous anger striking out against sin. It does that. God holiness has little tolerance for sin, it is burned in his presence. But that is because sin kills those he loves. Sin kills you. Sin is hate. Hate is sin. This is true even of the hate you have for your enemies those who persecute you. But God’s holiness is shown in love. So it is that while you were still enemies of God, he died for you, to justify the ungodly, that is he died for those who were not perfect, who were not holy, that you would be given life, love and forgiveness in his perfect son who prayed for you from the cross, saying “forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Do not Swear an Oath

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37 (ESV)
“But I say to you.” Jesus peppers this portion of the Sermon on the Mount with this seemingly innocuous phrase, “But I say to you.” It’s not as innocent as it seems. Jesus is making a claim here. He’s commenting on the Law of Moses given by God himself. Only one greater than Moses, that is, only God himself has the right to take the Law of Moses and make it more intense. His listeners would have understood this if we don’t. God’s law, we aren’t to add or subtract. It’s his law, it is perfect. Don’t touch it, it will kill you if you do. But touch it? That’s what we do. We take complete liberty with it in our efforts to come out smelling like roses. Only God has the right to do with his law what we do, and here he comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.
“But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.”
How often do we do that? I swear to Jerusalem! Ok, that isn’t one of the oaths a person hears all that often. We are more likely to say “I swear to God,” or perhaps, “I swear on my mother’s grave.” And we don’t really think much of it. Perhaps we make a pinky promise. Jews would never swear to God. And if they did they wouldn’t take it near as lightly as people do today. We ascribe more weight to the bodily functions of the bed and bathroom than we do to the name of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. It’s a societal neurosis that we consider those things to be more sacred, so sacred that their true Saxon names can’t be used in company of the polite.  
The Jews of Jesus’ day used the word Lord in the place of the name of God given to Moses through the burning bush. That ground was sacred, holy ground, Moses had to remove his sandals before he approached. It was sacred because God was there, and he was in the presence of God. That which God touches is made sacred by his touch, and cleansed by his fire.
But now Jesus seems to go even further than the Law of Moses. Don’t swear by anything that is sacred, not even your own head for it too is sacred and you have no control over it.  
Jesus seems to go even further, but what he really does is point up the problem for us. Here the laws upon which Jesus works are the civil codes of Israel. These laws were about limiting and controlling evil within society. Jesus isn’t recommending laws for society. But he is showing us that knowing right from wrong isn’t enough. He is showing that following the law as it is prescribed for society is all well and good if you want to stay out of jail, but really what is wrong with your heart that the law needs to be there in the first place?
I’m often told that we are born with love, but we have to learn to hate. It is said in different ways by this world that has a vastly different view of our hearts than that of Jesus who believes all forms of evil come out of the heart. That the evil is naturally there, and at its root is selfishness. I don’t know my experience has been one completely different. It’s not an easy thing to admit. But when I compare my life to the life of love that Christ lived I see a fundamental difference between the love with which he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and sacrificed his life even for those who hated and hate him, and the love for which I might buy roses for Laura on Valentine’s Day, or even the love with which I try to improve the lot of people in my community. Not that there is anything wrong with those sorts of things. But I often find that whatever love I may have for my fellow man it is often rather deficient when it comes to practice. I know I shouldn’t be angry, but I find myself quashing anger in my heart and working overtime to do so when things aren’t going my way.  Sound familiar? I find myself thinking if not calling people outright things much worse than fool, it would have been raka in the Aramaic and meant Godless, because only the fool says in his hear there is no God.
And yet not even the atheist is godless. Oh they may not care to recognize God, but they have a God. Their God is your God. Their God is the God who says do not swear by anything sacred whether Jerusalem or your head. Yes, that’s right, your head is sacred, your head is holy, So God considers it and so it is. It is sacred because when you, like the atheist were still enemies of God, still loveless, still selfish and only loving where your own best was concerned, well then this God showed selfless love and died for you, and died for the whole world that no one would be raka, no one a fool but that all would be sanctified by his blood, and no one godless. And in that God let his yes be yes and his no be no, and the oath he swore to Abraham was fulfilled entirely. 

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

That's How He'll Always Be

 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-20 (ESV)
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
Thankfully for you, your righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. His righteousness exceeds, it far surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. His righteousness does not relax the commandments not does it teach anyone to do the same. Rather his righteousness fulfills the law and the prophets as only the love of God can do. His righteousness fulfills the law with his atoning death for our sins on the cross. It is this love he shares, it is this righteousness he gives in the forgiveness of sins that imparts its saltiness to us. Indeed it is this love that salts us for sacrifice and makes our entire lives a pleasing aroma to the Father in heaven. Lives that are no longer lived for us, but for him because as Christians we live everyday knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain. So it is that in Christ you are the salt of the earth, and the kingdom of heaven permeates everything you do.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.” It perhaps jars our ears a bit to hear this. The scribes and the Pharisees were such bitter enemies of Jesus Christ it is hard for us to imagine them as righteous, or to see them as so many did in the first century. They were men zealous for the law, careful to make sure that they upheld the law. They fell into every trap known to man, but traps that still catch so many who try to make their righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They prayed constantly, three times a day at a minimum. They fasted every week. They kept the Sabbath in strict fashion. They never touched anything unclean. They never ate a thing that wasn’t kosher. When Jesus said their righteousness had to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees the poor farming and fishing folk in hearing must have died inside. Oh, they knew the faults of the Pharisees better than anyone. But they also knew their accomplishments.
Most of the people in hearing would have been those that quietly gave up on the pursuit of righteousness and felt they had all they could do to try put food on the table and raise their children to be passably decent human beings and not get sideways of the law, end up crucified outside of town. They were the kind of people described in Tim McGraw’s song “How I’ll always be,” Talking about taking the backseat on Sunday morning after a Saturday having a couple beers with his friends.  The kind of people we colloquially call the salt of the earth. It’s just a nice thing to say about someone. They struggled with their temper, When Jesus launches into the rest of the sermon and talks about hating one’s brother, lusting after their neighbor’s wife, not making oaths and loving your enemies. Then they began to understand how far they fell short of the mark, and perhaps even how far short of the mark the Pharisees and Scribes fell short.
The biggest problem is love. How many of us find that lacking? How many of us wonder that if perhaps we had just had a little more we wouldn’t have an ex to cut us to the core? How often do we wish we could actually love our enemies and perhaps even imagine we do as we pray for the conversion of Afghanistan but feel as if our heart has been stabbed with an icicle when that testy customer comes through the door, or the coworker we can’t stand decides to nuke pink salmon in the lunchroom again? Perhaps that Pharisee that is always trying to give you unwanted advice for how to live your life?
See this was the problem of Scribes and Pharisees. I mean it’s a little problematic to throw up your hands and say “that’s how I’ll always be” even if it is more or less true. Though always is a long time, and the Holy Spirit is on your side. It’s even more problematic to go the route of the Pharisees, to think that perhaps you can cut here, fudge there and emphasize this and that. Don’t erase the jot and tittle, just move them around a bit to suit yourself and think you have accomplished God’s law. Then pass by on the other side when life has bludgeoned your neighbor and left him crying for water on the side of the road.
Then perhaps we realize how lucky we are to have Christ whose righteousness far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets. He didn’t remove a jot or a tittle from the Old Testament, but he fulfilled it all in love. In love he came and died for you who were enemies of God. In love he saved you from the law whose jot and tittles were enough to kill and shut you out of the kingdom of God like so many foolish virgins pounding at the door. And even now it is with this love he salts you in baptism. It is with this love he never tires of sharing the forgiveness of sins because that is how he’ll always be. And with that love he lives for you and in you and through you in everything you do, the salt of the earth just trying to get by.

Now the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen