Thursday, February 28, 2013

Friday: Did I Not Tell You That You Would See the Glory of God?

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."  Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"  John 11:38-40

Questions to Ponder:  When have you waited for God to answer a prayer, or had God answer a prayer in an unexpected way?

As I write this I have a friend who is caring for his wife's recovery from surgical removal of a brain tumor with more procedures on the horizon.  I can only imagine what thoughts and prayers he is offering to God during this time.  The basis of our faith is the resurrection to eternal life but we are so concerned about the present time and our fear of what the future might bring. 

Yet, Jesus reminds Martha that the glory of God will be seen.  As Christians we have a hope in a future.  Our faith joins us with God in the present time and yet connects with that eternal promise so we won't give up.  We do pray for healing.  We do pray for comfort.  We do pray for strength.  And all the while we are calling on God, acknowledging that God is here and is listening. 

And all the while we are surrounded by the many believers who also share this faith.  Those in this present day and those who have gone before us.  Bearing with us.  Praying for us.  Helping us.  And I might even add, cheering for us, because of the greatness of God to fulfill all that God promises. 

Christ is with you Lauri, Keith, and Tyler. 

Thursday: Do You Not Believe That I Am in the Father and the Father Is In Me?

Philip said to [Jesus], "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."  Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?  whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?"  John 14:8-10a

The author asks us to ponder this question, "Does it bother you that you can't have God or Jesus your own way?"

At staff this morning we spoke to the incredible gift of multiple churches that gather the many faithful followers.  While we may not be able to 'have Jesus our way' we are certainly given a number of options by which to gather and worship our risen Lord.  Some are concerned over church hierarchy.  Others have difficulty hearing a message that "tells" them what to believe rather than helping them to understand it.  Some like tradition.  Others prefer newer and fresher approaches to faith.  Some are simply content to sit in the pew no matter the faith expression.

In reality, the fullness of God will only be experienced the our resurrection.  I like a quote from St. Augustine that was shared on pg. 43.  "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."  Faith has us trusting that, in Jesus, we experience the fullness of God as we can best understand in this time and will more fully understand when we get to our heavenly home.  Our present day journeys will have us encountering the risen Christ in a number of ways and that is the work of God in our midst. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Busy week

We are in the midst of a number of funerals and activities at church the last week or so.  Hopefully things will slow down and I can get back to the daily routine of commenting on this blog. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tuesday: Whom are you looking for?

Read John 18:1-8.

Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "whom are you looking for?"  John 18:4

I like how the writer takes this passage which leads to Jesus' death then juxtaposes it with Mary's grief at the tomb where Jesus asks her the same question "Whom are you looking for?" leading her to life. 

Are we looking for the things that give life?  Often the chaos and dysfunction in our lives keep us from looking for things that are positive and life-building.  We are reminded that the question Jesus asks rests in the pursuit of a relationship with him.  Relationships are in it for the long-haul with an eye to a life well-lived. 

Monday: Do you want to be made well?

Read John 5:2-9a.

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" John 5:5-6

Our reading today shares the story of a woman's struggle with alcoholism.  There is a lot of pain around this disease with the individual, their family, their co-workers, and their friends.  It is so difficult to know what to do for someone who struggles with this.  We want to help but Jesus' question is forthright for any of us who struggle with any brokenness in our lives.  Do you want to be made well?

Wholeness and restoration perhaps can bring healing for us when we start asking different questions.  I liked what Bill Wilson wrote in today's devotion.  "I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Saturday: "Do you wish to go away?"

Read John 6:51-69

Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"  John 6:67

When everyone else is leaving, isn't it difficult to stick around?  Doesn't it seem that when things are getting difficult or encountering resistance, that is when people start backing away?  Jesus is addressing his disciples as many other followers are leaving because the journey was getting too difficult.  

"It's a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you're trying to lead and find there's no one there," Roosevelt lamented to one of his top advisers, Samuel Rosenman, back in 1937, back when war raged in Spain and Japan had invaded China. 

I think Jesus was asking this question, not to condemn his disciples, but rather to identify with what they were feeling.  Indeed, our faith journey is often filled with comments like "Do I have to?  But this is hard!  It is too much to bear."  At times what we need is someone to simply acknowledge what we are feeling, to give us courage to rise up and keep moving forward where Jesus calls us.  

Friday: "What can you give in return for your life?"

"For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?"  Mark 8:36-37

The writer, Eric Burtness, lifts up that most people approach life in one of three ways:  survival, success, or significance.  Our humanity gets caught up in any one of these approaches depending on the circumstances surrounding us at any given moment in our lives.  I'm reminded of "the love chapter" in Paul's letter to the Corinthians.  If I do many things but have not love, I'm only a noisy gong or clanging symbol. 

Living in the presence of Christ, we can live faithful lives in each of these circumstances.  In survival, we seek the risen Christ to give us what we need.  In success, we acknowledge it is the risen Christ working through us.  In significance, we humbly remember the life, death, and resurrection of Christ to empower us to be lights of hope in the world.  It's all about God!

Thursday: "Who touched me?"

She came up behind [Jesus] and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.  Then Jesus asked, "Who touched me?"  Luke 8:44-45a

In this reading of this encounter of the healing Jesus, I am struck by the outreach of Jesus' actions.  The large numbers of people that gathered around Jesus would make an anonymous touch of his clothing seemingly inconspicuous.  But Jesus, knowing that a healing had taken place, wanted to know more about this person in need.  Jesus wanted to take time to identify and to relate to someone who was hurting and who, by faith, reached out to God. 

The good news of God in Jesus is that God wants to know the person who seeks out God.  Too often people think they have to make their lives "right" before approaching our Lord.  Whether this woman knew it or not, her redemption was already there in the presence of her faith that reached out.  The working out of her redemption (and ours) goes hand in hand with the risen Christ who carries us through that process assuring us of the promise of God by the power of God's grace. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ash Wednesday Sermon

At Trinity we are using the Lenten Journey study guide entitled Beyond Question.  Each Wednesday night we will be looking at different questions that Jesus asks his followers.  For Ash Wednesday the question is "What are you looking for?"

John 1:35-42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?"

What are you looking for?

Reading the gospel of John, it is interesting that these are the first words Jesus speaks in addressing the disciples of John the Baptist who have begun to follow Jesus. 

What are you looking for?

A few months back, Pr. Jo invited people to write down on a slip of paper a question they would want to ask God.  You can imagine the questions:  Why is there suffering in the world?  Why are people hungry?  Why am I so sad?  Why is Grandma in so much pain?  What is your plan for my life. 

What are you looking for?

It is a reflective question.  It is a question that causes us to think about our lives and the decision we’ve made; partners, children, work.  What’s next for my life even if my body creaks with old age?  Where am I at in terms of my faith - a faith that is ever-evolving, hopefully growing, and giving life to my existence?

Socrates boldly said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” 

Socrates believed that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life. As another philosopher, Santayana, observed, "He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it."

Examining our life reveals patterns of behavior. Deeper contemplation yields understanding of the subconscious programming, the powerful mental software that runs our life. Unless we become aware of these patterns, much of our life is unconscious repetition.

A psychotherapist once said, "I see so many tragic examples of the effect of an unexamined life. I remember Melissa, a sensitive, attractive woman in her late forties who realized that a series of repetitive, doomed-from-the-beginning relationships had used up so many years of her life that it was now very unlikely that she could still manifest her dream of a husband and children of her own. I recall Donald, a caring, hard-working man who neglected his wife and family emotionally for too many years. By the time he came to see me he was divorced, depressed and living alone in an apartment.

If only Melissa and Donald had taken the time to examine and reflect upon their lives as they were living them, they could have made changes and had a different experience during their lifetime."

And so we come to Ash Wednesday as we begin our Lenten Journey together.  Lent is an intentional time of spiritual reflection.  Our foreheads are marked with ashes, a sign of death, one thing we all have in common.  On Ash Wednesday there is no distinction between rich and poor, advantaged or disadvantaged, privileged or despairing.  We all are as good as dirt.  But then look at what great things God does with simple dirt. God warms the soil and brings it back to life causing growth to erupt all over the place.  But always in God’s time and in God’s way. 

On Ash Wednesday there is a heavy emphasis on repentance.  The word repentance means simply to turn around.  To repent is to turn away from those things that take away life and turning towards our Lord who gives life, both in this world and the next. 
What are you looking for? 

The good news is God is always looking for us.  God wants us to ask questions.  God wants us to turn to him especially in those despairing moments of life because in calling out to God, we acknowledge that God is there.  The questions might be incredibly simple or terribly complex but God wants to hear them.  And as we process that one question, God promises to accompany us on that journey of discovery in our quest for an answer.  That is why Jesus instructs us to pray in a private room.  God wants us all to God-self.  God wants us turning totally towards God.  God wants us entirely.  In the symbolism of ashes and repentance, we are stripped from all the things that would keep us from being totally with God as God embraces us with a love that would sacrifice God’s own son to prove that love for us.  In Jesus, grace is embodied and shared in Jesus Christ. 

And so we are not left floundering on our own.  Jesus accompanies us on this Lenten Journey of discovery.  What are you looking for?  We may not have an answer to give but this we can trust, that Jesus knows and Jesus journeys with us.  In the receiving of the Lord’s Supper we take in the sacrifice of Christ strengthened for the journey ahead as we explore and engage and expand in faith and hope to live in this world. 

What are you looking for?

In Jesus you will find more than you ever imagined.  If only we will take some time – to think, to pray, to be alone with the risen Christ.  Jesus is more than waiting for us.  Jesus is here, now, to bless and to inspire, to heal and to forgive, to offer hope and life.  And along the way we will find that which we are looking.  God simply calls us to trust God along the journey and to be open to the new discoveries we will find along the way.  Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friends Reunion

I recently attended Luther Seminary's yearly Convocation. This year's theme was "Worship in a time of change." Very well done. Great speakers. Terrific worship experiences. Fun to be on campus to see the changes and see familiar faces.

The best time was getting together with old friends. Had not seen Steve since his chemotherapy a number of years ago. Fun to see him healthy and vibrant in personality and vocation. We met another friend, Curt, for dinner and rehashed old times and past acquaintances. Before we knew it, three hours flew by along with many visits by the waiter to see if we had yet put money in the check folder. We shook our heads many times over the crazy things that have happened to us and we somehow got through it all.

Amazingly, God has been so faithful to us. We are truly blessed by God's presence in our friendships that we can only give thanks and praise.