Utah Lutheran

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Except your Feet

Except your Feet

A Break

Yesterday we finished up with John's Gospel. And today it is Maundy Thursday. I will probably be posting a few of my sermons, But I have a lot going on right now and would like to take a break for a bit before I start in on Acts. I'll be back not this coming Monday, but the next. Hopefully with some exciting news to share with all of you who read this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

He Gives us What we Need to Know

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (Jn 21:24-25)
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.” Thus John ends his gospel. He never intended to write down every detail of Christ’s life. It would be impossible, redundant and superfluous. What is written is written that we would believe, and if we don’t believe this we wouldn’t believe anything else John wrote. We are given what is needed. We may have a lot of questions that the scriptures don’t answer. This is usually a good indication that we are asking the wrong questions. We find it frustrating. We want to know. But in faith we trust that God has his reasons for not answering those, questions. We also trust that he has his reasons for giving us what he has. We do well to pay attention to what he has given us to know and not concern ourselves with that which he hasn’t given us to know.
Not saying here that if it isn’t in the Bible it isn’t worth knowing. Neither was the Bible meant to be the Boy Scout Handbook for life. There are many things about the world that God has given us other means for learning about other than his revelation. Science, medicine, farming, technology, the list could go on and on. For learning and exploring the world we live in, God has given us our reason and our senses. He wants us to go out and explore, experiment and learn about this world he has entrusted to our care. He doesn’t give us all the answers to everything we need to know in regard to these things in the Bible because he actually wants us to share in the joy of discover, exploration and creation.
But when it comes to our salvation, who God is, who Jesus is, what the thoughts of God and his attitude towards us men, well there we are bound to his revelation. There we are given what we need to know, what God wants us to know, and no more and no less. And there we do well to take it much more seriously than we do. Not more literally, we could probably do well to cut down on the literalness with which we read it, but more seriously. That is to take what God has given us, and chew on it, digest it, probe it, let it sit in its setting and say what it wants to say rather than what we want it to say, let it ask the questions of us, rather than asking it the questions. And when we do this we will encounter a God more awesome than our wildest imagination. There we will encounter a God who is love, who embodied love in the form of a man that he could die for the sins of the world, that we would be given life and life eternal, and have life abundantly. A God who loves us so much that he gave us his Word, that not only would it be recorded for us, but that His Word by which he gave us life, would give his life for the world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Follow Me!

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Jn 21:20-23)
“You Follow Me!” The conversation became a bit uncomfortable. Jesus was speaking of how Peter would die, that he would be crucified, his arms outstretched at the end of his life. Peter decides maybe it is time to change the subject. “What about this man?” He is pointing to the one that Jesus loved. This was John’s way of referring to himself in the third person. It wasn’t meant to say that Jesus didn’t love the others. It may indicate that John and Jesus had a special bond with one another. Perhaps Peter is merely asking if all the disciples are going to meet with such awful fates. Perhaps he is like Moses trying to pass the baton to someone else. “Here Lord, here is one more worthy.” Jesus answers to say, you don’t be concerned about the others, “you follow me!” What does or doesn’t happen to John is of no concern to you.
This is true of all of us. Humans are such social animals, political animals as Aristotle once said. We are often more concerned than we like to admit with what others around us are doing, or not doing. This is true in religious matters too. And this is a hard aspect about Christianity, it often demands that for once in your life you actually pay attention to yourself and what you are doing rather than what everyone else is doing, even if they are doing the exact same thing. This is humans as social animals. We are an awful lot like lemmings, which is why our parents would always ask us “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” (My mom would ask that question of me and I would think of all my friends jumping into the Crowing River off a bridge just outside of town. I’d shrug my shoulders and think, “well, yeah!” Only later did I realize the bridge giving rise to this rhetorical question was along the lines of the Golden Gate, from which people don’t survive…. Just urging caution on those wont to use this phrase.)
We like to think that the fact everyone else is doing it makes it right even when we know it is wrong, and despite the cost it puts on us emotionally, and perhaps physically. Of course it works both ways. We are often pressured to do the right thing by peers too. That doesn’t get near as much focus. It just doesn’t stand out as much. It has ramifications for our religious life too though. When Sunday morning services aren’t the top priority of our community, they tend to not become our top priority either. And it is sort of strange, because all the sudden as a pastor you have these people who go to church sporadically asking about how we are going to evangelize everyone else and get them to come to church. And the answer is you. What difference is it to you if Christ lets them remain until he comes? You follow him! You do what is right, and do it for you! You assess the priority of Christianity in your life!
Seriously, if everyone who went to church on a sporadic basis took heart, and decided to become regular attenders church attendance would increase across the board by a hundred percent if not more. I honestly think it would start a snowball effect of some sort that would mean a sort given the social aspect of man to do what everyone else is doing. But you can’t worry about everyone else. I can’t get everyone else to come to church, and neither can you. I can get myself to church, and perhaps my family too. But if it isn’t a priority for you, then the priority of it isn’t going to rub off on anyone you talk to. And it becomes a priority people take notice of when it is something you do because it is right, despite what everyone else is doing. Christ can let the rest of them remain. But he has called you. You are his. So he says to you. “You follow me!.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

The World has Gone After Him

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” Jn 12:12-19

“You see that you are gaining nothing, Look the world has gone after him.” Gone after him. The Pharisees mean that they have a lost cause, and everyone is following Jesus. That no one will listen to them now. They all believe Jesus is the Messiah. This is why they lay palm branches before him. The Palm branches were symbols of Jewish independence and revolt since the days of the Maccabees they were national symbols printed on Jewish coins. The people believed he was the messiah that would free them from Roman rule, because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. They were right in that he was the Messiah. The Pharisees were right in that the world had now gone after him.
“The world has gone after him.” It makes for a nice play on words in the English language. When we go after someone it isn’t that we are following him. We use the term to go after someone, meaning to pursue them, to attack them. The Pharisees use it to mean follow. In this they are correct, the whole world is going after Jesus. One way or another. But this is only because Jesus is coming after you. “Behold, your king is coming. Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
Your king, he is your king. And he is coming. He comes to you, and he comes on a colt. This is great, he comes pursuing you on a colt. It isn’t threatening. Watching a man ride a donkey is almost a funny thing. It always seems awkward to me to watch a man on a donkey. It doesn’t give you much in the way of height advantage. No one is ever told to get off their high donkey. It doesn’t even give you much in the way of speed or agility it seems. Perhaps it is more restful on your feet. But they idea of Mary journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey while pregnant invokes feelings of sympathy within me. Crowds cheering a revolutionary with symbols of national independence as he rides into battle on a donkey, well that is just funny on a few levels. But this is the way Jesus comes for us.
He comes for us as one of us, with forgiveness. He rides into his battle on a donkey, on a colt, because he means to die, to offer himself up peaceably as the sacrifice for our sins. He does not come to condemn but to save. He does not come to whip us into shape, but to be whipped for our sake. By his stripes we are healed. He comes on a donkey. But he comes, and he comes relentlessly.
Jesus doesn’t stop pursuing you, he doesn’t stop coming after you. He comes. Your king comes, he comes in peace, relentless peace. He is your king and he would have you be reconciled to him. So he comes constantly to you who sin and rebel against him, offering you if not a palm branch, an olive branch of peace. He comes to you in baptism, he comes to you in the word, he comes to you with his body and blood in bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. He comes for you, that you would be forgiven and reconciled to your king. So he comes on a donkey that you would not feel threatened.
And the world goes after him. The world goes after him, like the Pharisees, plotting, conniving, rebelling and refusing to believe, refusing to be reconciled to their king. Yes he is their king, he is your king whether you want him to be or not. This is who he is. He comes now on a donkey, unthreatening, and it seems an easy enough thing to go after him. Though rather silly. They go after him to take him down. And he lets them. They make ready for battle and he keeps pursuing them on his donkey. They kill him and he rises from the dead. He comes after them on a donkey and they continue to go after him. The world goes after him.
One way or another the world has to go after him. They can’t ignore him any longer. There is no middle ground, no neutral ground, either you go after him or you go after him. You go after him to attack him, or you go after him to follow him into battle with sin death and the devil. But one way or another you go after him as he relentlessly pursues you. And this is true of the world, because ever since Christ has risen from the dead the world has been concerned with him and him alone. He is the question the world must grapple with, this man on the colt of a donkey offering himself for your salvation, a king who comes to serve with his body, but a king nonetheless, a king who rules with forgiveness, grace and mercy, your king. After whom you shall go with the world, after whom you shall go through death to life everlasting.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Feed My Sheep

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (Jn 21:15-19)

Feed my lambs. This is Jesus admonition to Peter. He will now be a shepherd of souls. Jesus gives him this commission three times. Each time he gives him this commission he does so after having asked Peter if he loves him. It was a question asked in the wake of Peter denying Jesus three times. Peter’s answer is almost sheepish. He doesn’t make any brash claim about how much he loves Jesus. He doesn’t try to brag about how loyal he will be. Peter has been confronted with his own weakness. His true self has been exposed. He was tested and did exactly what Jesus said he would do. He denied Jesus. Now Peter only answers that despite everything, Jesus knows that he loves him. This is faith it lives in us despite our sin. It lives in us because of Christ’s love for us. And Christ’s love for us is not dependent upon any strength inside of us. Christ loves us despite our sin, despite the fact that we deny him.
And deny him we do. Each and every sin is a denial of Jesus. That’s really the equalizing effect of sin. This is the reason that sin is sin in Jesus eyes. In the same way that you break the first commandment every time you break the 9 other commandments. Every sin is in some way a manner of denying Christ, not confessing Christ with your love. And the answer to this is not more condemnation. The law tries to force love, but it never works. It’s the great catch 22 of life, of the law. Applying the law in a situation like Peter’s just increases guilt, increases resentment. The guilt and resentment doesn’t actually have the effect keeping people from sinning. Rather, it turns them away and into themselves, it causes them to lash out and sin more. And the weakness of man makes certain that there will always be plenty of sin in a person’s life to get that ball rolling in the first place. So Jesus responds not by condemning Peter but by commissioning Peter to feed his sheep.
In the context it is Jesus forgiving Peter. It is Jesus saying I forgive you, I don’t hold it against you. I still trust you to feed my sheep. Jesus doesn’t need his pastors to be sinless any more than he needs his sheep to be sinless. He only needs them to feed his sheep with the same forgiveness by which they live. And perhaps it is just that that a pastor needs more than anything, to know they live in forgiveness, their job is carried out in forgiveness, and without forgiveness it would be impossible because no one is actually above reproach. But then it is by living in forgiveness that the love of Christ is confessed and not denied.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Right Side of the Boat

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (Jn 21:1-14)
“Although there were so many, the net was not torn.”
We come to the second ending of John. John summed up everything and had a perfectly good closing at the end of John 20. Then for some reason he decides to share a few more stories any way. There isn’t a lot of reason given for this, but it causes a lot of conjecture in commentaries.
The first such story John includes is the disciples fishing by the sea of Tiberias, and Jesus appearing to them. Jesus knew the disciples hadn’t caught any fish. The question is formed in such a way, at least in the Greek, that the expected answer is no. You kind of wonder why they were fishing.
Their friend has died and is risen. He has appeared to them a couple times. Never the less, all their expectations had been dashed. Everything they expected of the Messiah died on the cross. And had he really risen from the dead? I could imagine second guessing myself on that. I know I saw him yesterday? But did I? They perhaps don’t really know what to do. What is expected of them yet. Maybe now that Jesus has accomplished everything, maybe now they can go fishing. Return to what they did before, make a decent living doing that. They were all fishermen before. One expects they were good fishermen. But now this evening they are given a sign they can’t ignore. They haven’t caught anything. This isn’t the vocation that God wants them to pursue.
It works that way at times. I know it does for a lot of guys that go into the ministry. Perhaps they have a slight notion that that is what they should be doing. But for whatever reason they go try something else for a while. I think more people should try something else for a while if they are considering the ministry at all. But often they find it really isn’t meant to be. Maybe they lose their job. Maybe they do decent at it and make a good living, but just can’t seem to shake the desire to be a pastor, and others keep sending them that way. God manages to get his will done by hook or by crook.
He instructs the disciples to throw the net on the other side of the boat, the right side. “You will find some.” It’s all in God’s hands. Sometimes you work and work in an area and see so little of a result. You rejoice with angels a few times a year as sinners repent and are baptized. But the work is slow. Then things occur, morning is breaking and it’s time to just pack in the nets. Perhaps it could even seem as if it is time to give up the ministry and go back to whatever it was you tried before going to sem. But then God sends you another call. Throw your nets on the right side he says, you will find some. God knows where the fish are that need to be caught. He will send you to them. This is his work, you’re just his tool.
The disciples catch 153 of them. That’s awesome. The nets don’t break. The gospel is that way, it doesn’t matter how many are caught for the kingdom of God, the net doesn’t break. There is always room for more.