Sunday 8/9/20

Faith While the Waves Roll
(Matthew 14:22 - 33, Job 38:4 - 18)

What do you do when things go from bad to worse? If you say, “Pray!” that’s a good answer. I do that too. But sometimes it seems like things get worse, and it seems doubtful that they will get better. Things go from bad to worse. 
That is certainly what Job experienced. If you have read that Old Testament book lately you know it’s all about suffering. These days it’s probably one we can relate to: disease has turned our daily lives upside down, and now as
we inch our way back to normal we hear that a spike it coming. It will probably get worse. I think Job could relate to this. Bit by bit his happy home crumbles. When his servants come rushing in it’s always to deliver more bad news.
And when his three friends show up they don’t console or comfort him. They are there to judge him and force a confession out of him. The passage we have in our Old Testament reading this morning happens while Job is still sitting on the 
junk heap, the broken brick pile of what used to be his home, where his family once lived. Now he’s alone, sick and he’s been arguing with his accusers. What’s the saying, “When things go bad you find out who your friends are.”? Or you
find out who is supportive and who IS NOT. Things sometimes go from bad to worse. And Job has been crying out to God. “Why did this happen? Is it ever going to get better? Did we do something to deserve this? Is God even listening?”

I suppose the disciples in our Gospel lesson thought the same thing. They had just experienced that great miracle: the feeding of a huge crowd of more than 5,000 people. So they were riding high. But then Matthew’s Gospel says Jesus made
them, or commanded them to go off across the Sea of Galilee. I read one commentator who said that John’s Gospel explains that the crowds wanted to make Jesus a king. And the disciples thought this was a good idea too. But Jesus breaks up
this bunch. He sends the crowds home and the disciples off in a boat across the sea. You recall from last week that this happens after Jesus’ relative John the Baptist was killed. Now Jesus goes off by himself to pray and to mourn for his friend. 

But the disciples are in a bad way. Half way across the in-land sea a storm blows up. It wasn’t that Jesus intentionally sends them into the storm. In fact earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we read that Jesus did give his disciples authority and send them out
ahead of him. He sent them out to tell about the Kingdom of God and cast out evil spirits in all those towns that he would eventually come to himself. And sudden storms often took people by surprise on the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus is coming, following the disciples. In fact he’s taking the same route. He’s just got another means to get there. But the storm has brought the disciples’ boat to a stop. Our Gospel lesson says they are a long way from land, beaten by the waves and the wind
is against them. Remember in those days some 2,000 years ago wind power, a boat with sails, was the fastest way to travel. But now they are stuck. Stalled and bailing water like crazy.

And then they see something coming, walking slowly along the water. Well things just got worse. They yell out to each other, “It’s a ghost!” and they scream with fear. It seems like it’s all over.  There’s no hope. Things were bad, and then they got worse. Except jesus isn’t there to terrify them. Over the roar of the wind and the crashing of the waves they hear a voice they know. A voice calls out, “Take heart! It is I. Do not be afraid!” They’ve heard that voice before. But they can’t believe what they’re seeing. Nobody ever heard of anybody walking on water. So Peter, who is always sticking his neck out calls, “If it’s you Lord command me, and I’ll come to you.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter stepped out and came to Jesus. See my thought is, that faith is easy is if you’re walking on the water. You can be all about peace and love and courage if you’re Jesus walking on the waves. Or if you’ve got Peter’s energy and courage, and Jesus even called you to come out; then faith seems unshakeable. I like how Jim Nestigen describes the scene: Peter looking around and saying, “Hey, look at me! I’m Peter, walkin’ on the water!” But then suddenly a big blast of wind hits, the kind you have to lean into to keep from falling over. And 
Peter is afraid. They are in the middle of very deep water and Peter isn’t in the boat. “What was he thinking?!” And he starts to sink down. So he cries out, “Lord save me!” And Jesus doesn’t waste a second. He reaches down and yanks Peter up.
I mean they are both in the same storm so I can see Jesus shaking his wet head, saying, “Why did you doubt?”

Well, we doubt for all kinds of reasons. Things don’t work out the way we hoped. Our plans do not prosper, or people we know meet with disaster. Now days the news you hear is generally bad, and it seems like we’re stuck. And the really frightening doubts come, “What if it gets worse?” Well, I’m sure you’ve heard in devotions or sermons that Jesus is always ahead of you, meaning that he knows the road you’re on and nothing takes him by surprise. But I like today’s Gospel lesson: when the disciples are stuck and beat up by the waves Jesus comes walking up from behind them. It took him a little longer to get there but he was on his way. Job cried out, and argued with his accusers, that’s most of the book of Job, but in our Old Testament lesson God shows up. Jesus came walking to where the disciples were stuck going nowhere. When Peter wants some proof Jesus calls him out of the boat. And when Peter is sinking down Jesus plucks him up, saves him from drowning. And when Jesus gets into the boat with them the wind stops. They were stuck in that boat. Far from land. Far from any kind of help, and then Jesus came walking on the water. Not to terrify them with judgement but to save them. In the  end they worship him.
“Truly you are the Son of God.” they say. That’s what we say too in our confession of faith.

I don’t think shouting, “It’s a ghost!” and yelling in fear sounds like much of a prayer. But God does hear us. I was reading our adult forum Bible passages from Exodus when God sent Moses to his his people who were trapped in Egypt. God says, “Tell ‘em I heard them. I heard their cries for help. I will bring them out of slavery.” Jesus heard the disciples yelling in fear. He called out, “I’m coming. Do not be afraid!” When you cry  out in the depths of your heart, “Lord save me.” It’s Jesus who answers, “That’s what I came to do.” Sometimes it seems like we are stuck in the storm with the wind roaring and no way to go, no path to follow. There’s no help in sight and things go from bad to worse. But I read Psalm 77. The psalm writer Asaph said even though he was fainting. Even though he felt hopeless, he would remember what God had been able to do in the past. Even though he couldn’t find a way to go, he ends Psalm 77 by saying “God’s way was through the sea, your path through the great waters, yet your footprints were unseen.” And he decides God was leading just as God leads you and me.

We are not lost with no hope and no particular destination. You are on your way to meet Jesus. Your saviour is coming to gather you up. Take heart! Even through the dark valleys, even in the presence of your enemies Christ hears you. He has saved you. He is your comfort and your guide, so you too can worship and say, “Jesus, you truly are the Son of God.”

Thanks be to God.

Sunday 8/2/20

Jesus Has Compassion on Us
(Matthew 14: 13 - 21, Psalm 145:14 - 16, Malachi 3:10-12)

“I believe that Jesus Christ -true God, Son of the Bather from eternity, and true man, born of the virgin Mary - is my Lord.”
I was reminded of those words when I read our Gospel lesson for this morning. Matthew records that Jesus was truly human and truly God in telling of the miracle of how Jesus fed this great crowd of people. And I discovered that this is the only miracle that is also reported in Mark, Luke and John. So in all four of the accounts of Jesus’ life you have all four Gospel writers make sure to give us this  one. As much as I love the Gospel of John he does not record The Last Supper. But he makes sure to include this incident where he tells how Jeus took the loaves of bread and looked up to heaven blessing them and then breaking them to give to the people. 

Here in Matthew’s Gospel we see first the human face of Jesus - his heart and mind. That he felt sadness just like you and I do. He hears about the death of John the Baptist from John’s disciples. Remember he didn’t hear simply that John had died, but John was executed, killed as an act of revenge. So the “voice that cried out in the wilderness” has been silenced. The hands that baptised Jesus in the Jordan river are cold. In the verse just before this it says John’s disciples took his body and buried it, and then they came and told Jesus what happened. So Jesus goes away to mourn. It doesn’t say that his his disciples are with him. The first verse of this reading says he withdrew by himself. He went off in a boat. The disciples aren’t even mentioned until verse 15. My pastor friends pointed out that Jesus sometimes went off to desolate places to pray. I can picture him sitting in a boat, maybe in some secluded cove to pour out his sadness to God. As one commentator said here you see the humanity of Jesus “a man acquainted with sorrows.” And sometimes even reduced to tears.

But Jesus doesn’t remain in his own sadness for long. When the great crowds came looking for him he goes ashore. And it says he had compassion on them. They weren’t seeking him because he was a celebrity. They weren’t after him like King Herod who wanted to be entertained by seeing Jesus do something miraculous. And they didn’t think he might be an interesting guest speaker like that Pharisee who invited him to dinner. Matthew says he had compassion on them and healed their sick. They hope in Jesus because their friends or their family members are sick and Jesus has the power to heal. I suppose he also proclaimed the good news of God’s forgiveness as well. Often in the Bible we see those two things, healing and forgiveness go together. Jesus said, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to the lame man, ‘Get up and walk.’ And he did both of those things. In this passage in Matthew’s Gospel there must have been many sick people. There were 5,000 men not counting women and children. So it is getting late in the day when the disciples came to him saying he should send the people away to find food.

Then we see that Jesus is both human and God. Because he does the miracle that God does through out the Bible. Your Heavenly Father feeds his  children. Think of the manna, the bread from heaven that God gave the children of Israel in the wilderness. And remember the huge flocks of quail he sent when they wanted meat. Psalm 145 is another good example where the psalmist says God opens his hands and satisfies the desires of every living creature. The verse that pinches us a bit here is verse 16 when Jesus tells the disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Well, we know it’s not that simple. You have to calculate and figure out how to feed all those hungry mouths. We aren’t having a Fall Fest lunch this year but usually we have to decide how much pulled pork? How much sour kraut? How many bars? How much food will we auction ff later? So you can feel for the disciples when the look at the crowd and then back to Jesus and say, “We have only give loaves here and two fish!”

Now some people looking at this passage have said, “Well in Jesus’ presence after all those hearings the people just felt really generous. They reached into their bags and pockets and pulled out more food and everybody shared.” That idea has been around for a long time. But no, I read a very fine commentary that said the reason Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” is so we see clearly just what the disciples saw. There is no way to  feed this huge crowd. And what little they have makes it plain that they do not have nearly enough. But Jesus says, “Give it to me.” And he took the bread and gave thanks and broke to and gave it to the disciples to pass out. That that must have taken a long time. And little by little I imagine it dawned on them, “Hey the food is not running out. There is more and more.” And in fact there were twelve baskets of left overs after everybody had eaten their fill. A miracle happened and five thousand men (about) besides women and children were fed. A friend of mine said that word “compassion” is used only for Jesus in the Gospels. He felt for the people not just because they were sick and hungry. One writer said Jesus saw “their spiritual hunger was even more desperate than the hunger in their stomachs.” I suppose that’s why they came looking for him, why they gathered, and then why they stayed all day to hear him. Hunger of the spirit. A deep need for forgiveness and blessings and the mercy of a saviour. 

When I was looking up passages like Psalm 145 about the generosity and the giving that God does I came across one that was highlighted in the old Bible up here. I’m not sure whose it was but it’s interesting to see what passages somebody else thought were important. One was marked in Malachi chapter 3. God is scolding or challenging the people. He says he will open the store houses of heaven and rain down blessings. God says “Bring the full tithe and test me. See how I will bless you.”
I wondered what God was asking ? When I hear tithe I think we all imagine money, right? Even I think of one tenth of my money, that’s a tithe. But here God doesn’t mention money he talks about food. Like in the Old Testament when Joseph gathered the grain in Egypt against the coming famine. And I also thought of those offerings of grain in the Bible. The first fruits as it says of the fields and the orchards. But then I thought of our Gospel lesson. What did that crowd of people, that huge crowd bring to Jesus? What did they have to share? What offering or sacrifice could they bring? Not even the disciples had an answer as to how they would all eat. They brought nothing to Jesus. They had nothing but their sickness, their hunger, and their emptiness of spirit. But Jesus truly human, sad and discouraged by the death of his friend John, but also truly God, whose steadfast love and mercy endure forever, Jesus looked on them and was filled with compassion. And he looks on you and cares for you, and he gives himself, pours himself out completely for you. He took the bread and looked up and blessed it. And he says to you, “This is my body I give for you. This is my blood I shed for you. My blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Take it and eat and drink and live in my grace and compassion.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday 7/26/20

The Priceless Gift
(Matthew 13:44 - 52)

To understand these parables of Jesus from today’s Gospel you probably have to think back to Christmas, or maybe Easter when you were a kid. Of course if you remember back far enough you may recall the possibility of getting a stocking full of coal on Christmas Day or a basket full of switches on Easter Sunday. I don’t think that happens anymore, but I know the switch basket did happen to an uncle of mine, and from what I’ve heard he probably deserved it. But except for the last parable about the net full of fish Jesus isn’t talking about punishment here. These parables are about being amazed, even in fear and awe at the discovery of God’s kingdom. Jesus wraps up the parables in Matthew chapter 13 with these three teachings to his disciples. Later in this Gospel he has a few more but these three are about the surprise and joy of discovery. Even the one abut the fish describes a full net, like the disciples saw when Jesus did that miracle for them twice. You remember on one of those occasions the net was so full they called for help from another boat because they were afraid they’d sink under the weight of fish. And that was after they had caught nothing under their own power.

Well, even if you’re not a fisherman you can recall Christmas seasons when there were stacks of gifts under the tree. But you had high hopes and dreams for one in particular. You were looking for your own name written on the “From Santa” label. It wasn’t always the biggest package. Maybe your parents had stashed it away among the other gifts. Sometimes Mom and Dad even had a present that wasn’t under the tree. They brought out the special one after everything else was unwrapped. Or you maybe have run around the church grounds on Easter Sunday looking for the eggs and chocolate rabbits hidden here and there in the spring grass. We had eggs hidden in our home one year in Wisconsin when it snowed on Easter. Those coloured eggs would have been easy to find out in the snow. And there was the joy of finding where they were hidden behind the curtains or peeking out between books on the bookshelf. In the Gospel lesson Jesus says the Kingdom of God is hidden. It’s like buried treasure in a field. But a person stumbles across it. Quite by chance he discovers it. And it is far better than chocolate Easter eggs or a Christmas present. In fact it’s worth everything that man has. Truly it’s worth more than all his possessions. He doesn’t have to weigh the value of it in his mind. If this were an auction he wouldn’t have to think twice about bidding on it. He can’t believe his luck! He takes a quick look around to make sure nobody else has noticed and then covers it back up. And in the last part of verse 44 Jesus says, “Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has to buy that field.” He’s overjoyed by the discovery. “What have I stumbled on?!” His joy sweeps him up.

The second man is like him, except he’s a professional merchant. He has spent his career looking for fine pearls. In his time I suppose he has weighed and assessed the value of hundreds and hundreds of them, checking their lustre and finding some that are really beautiful. And then one day, just doing his job, he sees one that takes his breath away. He sees a pearl that is like none of the others. This is a pearl beyond price. And he gives his entire fortune to own it. The fishermen in Jesus’s third story also have a great catch. Maybe you’ve been fishing and you know the feeling of getting something on the line. Something really heavy. But you’re not quite sure what you’ve got. It might just be a snag, or an old boot. Well, in this parable Jesus is talking about net fishing. And here he says this is a parable about the end of the age, when Christ returns. In this parable we are the ones in the net. The angels sort out this great catch. Last week Jesus said the good grain is gathered up into his barn. Here he says the good are gathered into containers, but the discards are tossed aside to burned.

When he has finished these three parables Jesus asks his disciples, “Have you understood these things?” And they say, “Yes.” If you read all of Matthew chapter 13 again you see that they do come and ask him to explain his parables. And Jesus did. He told them about the weeds, the temptations that choke out faith, and he explained about the poisonous seed that gets tangled up with the good seed. He also told them how the  Kingdom of God is so small as to be almost invisible. Yet it grows to be a refuge and home for all kinds of people. He said it’s like a little yeast that a baker works into the dough so the bread rises, as faith fills the heart and we give praise to God and trust in him. So the disciples can say they do understand these things because Jesus explained them. Here he’s told them about treasure. But they don’t understand everything about that yet. Because Jesus hasn’t gone to the cross for them yet. The hidden treasure, the pearl of great price is Jesus’ death on the cross. The treasure is Jesus himself. And there is no way for you to buy him, or trade for him, or to win his grace and mercy. Instead God hid him, stashed him like a Christmas gift, or tucked him away like a basketful of chocolate eggs. Jesus took on human form. Isaiah the prophet says he wasn’t handsome or beautiful. In fact Isaiah said God’s servant was “so marred” so disfigured that we didn’t want to look at him. He didn’t look like a treasure. In Isaiah 53:3 the Bible says, “Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.” Yet he saved you. He died for you.

Yes, the disciples have understood Jesus’ teaching. But Jesus says the master brings out treasures old and new. As Isaiah prophesied speaking for God, “The old things took place and now before they happen I declare a new thing to you.” God is sending your saviour. So Jesus comes to revive you and make all things new like a treasure discovered. Back in the 1970s when the evangelical churches were growing you may remember seeing some bumper stickers on cars. I believe those were the days when the huge megachurches like North Heights had their beginning. Those bumper stickers were everywhere. You saw the slogan a lot. It simply read: “I found it.” That’s not a creed. But it is a declaration of faith. It’s a response to Jesus’
call, “Seek and you will find.”

A couple of years ago after my parents passed away we were cleaning out Mom and Dad’s house. We had a big sale and brought out all the kitchen ware and furniture and things that had been in closets or stored down in the basement. All the stuff we didn’t really want. My cousin was out in the garage on the first day of the sale looking over things to see if there was anything she wanted. And she came to me and said, “Hey, did you want this to be sold?” What she had was a decoration, a wall hanging made out of wood. It was a flat outline of a Dutch windmill made from cut pieces of wood stained dark, with a little wooden shelf to set some knick knack, some little figuring or maybe a small framed picture on. For years that thing hung in my grandparents house, off in a corner. I had forgotten all about it. I didn’t put any special value on it. But my cousin turned it over and on the back is written “Oscar Albrecht, Herrington High School, 1937 - 38. It’s from Dad’s wood shop class. He got a B- on it. It’s hanging on the wall of my office now. That day was kind of like Christmas morning for me, or Easter Sunday when you find a great treasure. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22 and 23, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The Father has given you the treasure that was buried in a field. The Father has given you the pearl of great price. Jesus is worth everything. Paul practically bursts out in song about this gift. In our second reading from Romans 8 he wrote, “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us?” Can anything take this treasure from you. No. Nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus your Lord.

Thanks be to God.


Sunday 07/19/20

God’s Field and God’s Mercy
(Matthew 13: 24 - 30, 36 - 43)

Our message from Matthew’s Gospel for this morning is another parable about planting and harvesting. Last week we heard the parable of the Sower. Where Jesus said
that many things choke and destroy faith in God. But the sower is still creating faith for those who hear God’s word, so sometimes the Kingdom grows even to one hundred times
more than expected. Today the story again is of sowing and harvesting but this time a disaster happens.

In today’s lesson Jesus says he himself, the Son of Man, sows the good seed, the Word of God’s truth, the Gospel of the mercy and Grace of God for sinners. But in his explanation he 
says something different than last week. This time the seed is you and me, the children of the Kingdom of God. But what happens is overnight something other seed got sown. I didn’t realise
how serious this was. I’ve seen fields of wheat and thistles or other weeds growing up in them, and it’s pretty obvious where the bad seed got planted. But the situation Jesus describes is 
different and enemies really did this in his time. There was seed that looked very much like the good, wholesome wheat seed. But enemies sowed this impostor after dark. What grew up looked just
like the wheat. It wasn’t possible to spot the bad plants until the ears or heads of grain appeared. Then it was obvious. And one commentator said this was an agricultural and economic disaster
for the farmer who owned that field. It was a sneak attack. You can think of Pearl Harbor. Or our current situation when this virus came along and just blind-sided us. I was reminded of the story
of the Garden of Eden. When the serpent comes whispering to Eve in that passage from Genesis the Bible says the serpent was more “subtle” than any creature in the garden. He was sneaky and
sly and he sounded rather reasonable. “Don’t worry. You won’t die. You want to be like God, don’t you?” That’s gotta be a good thing, right? Subtle because this grain looks like it would be good to
eat but the results are disastrous. These tares that are planted are poisonous. You might as well burn the whole field.

But when the workers come and ask, “Should we get rid of these poisonous plants? Should we pull them up by the roots?” Jesus says, “No. For the sake of the good seed- for the children of God-
let it all grow together until the harvest. When harvest time comes I will direct my angels to gather the weeds first and tie them up for burning. But the good wheat I will gather into my barn.” What struck
me is that this parable is not about how we plant the crops, or water them or the fertilizer we use. It’s not even about weeding the fields. All the servants do is to report in to the master. When Jesus explains
the parable in verse 38 he says the good seed is the children of the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s you. And he says, “On a day that no one knows, not even the Son but only the Father, on that day when 
Christ returns the children will shine like the sun in the Father’s Kingdom.” Until that day you have this treasure, the shiny gold and jewels of God’s word, of the promise of God’s grace and mercy and truth
in clay vessels. We aren’t too shiny. We don’t shine like the sun yet. 

I was talking with some pastor friends a couple of years ago and one of them was complaining about the church where he served, because he was worried about it. There weren’t any terrible problems or
shocking disasters there. Just the usual difficulties: parents who dropped their kids off for Sunday School but didn’t come to church; people who wanted some changes in the church but when the annual meeting
came they didn’t show up to vote; he took youth out to work camps but he said those kids wouldn’t come to worship on Sunday morning. So he worried about the future of the church. He asked, “What can we do?”
And another pastor friend said, “We are called to be faithful.” That’s what God calls us to be. To be faithful as God calls even to grow up among the weeds. We listen because God is working to bring in his 
Kingdom - to create faith in you and me. 

When  you hear how rotten people can be you know that sin is not just an abstract idea. Some people say, “Just let it all go down the tube.” But I had a hopeful reminder from a seminary student who is studying with the North American
Lutheran Church. He’s not a pastor yet but he wrote a sermon where he said, “In this age when people are yelling across the aisles at each other Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies and even for those who
despitefully use us.” The workers in parable didn’t do, much but they did talk to their master. When you hear how bad things are it’s tempting just to think,  “Let it just go to chaos. Let anarchy rule.” Or you may
wish for God’s flaming judgement. Let God miraculously wipe out the evil like at the Red Sea with Pharaoh, or when the earth open and swallowed the Golden Calf and many worshippers in the wilderness. 
That would be an amazing miracle. But God works a different miracle. Several years ago I heard a bishop speaking. One thing bishops have that we as individual churches don’t is an over view of the church.
They can see the larger picture. What this person said was, “In this day and age the individual churches, the gathering in each congregation is a miracle.” You are part of God’s miracle. You who gather to worship
and confess your sins and your faith. The miracle God works is to send his son. I was thinking about Psalm 8:3 and 4 earlier this week as I was searching for a comet. The Psalmist says “When I consider the heavens the work
of your hands what is all of humankind that you care for us?” Yet once long ago God sent a star to shine where he wanted people to find his baby son. So they could come and worship Jesus their saviour. He became a
human being to give his life for you.  You who are part of the body of Christ. You who have faith in Jesus, you together are part of God’s miracle. For God sent his son to you, not to judge the world, but that so you
and all who believe in Jesus and his saving grace may have eternal life. 

Thanks be to God.

Sunday 7/12/20

The Fruit of the Word
(Matthew 13:1 - 9, 18 -23)

Mark Twain the writer of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts I do.” There are troubling passages in the Bible. I heard one of 
our pastors from this area telling about a teacher had at seminary. That professor told the students when writing a sermon or reading the Bible you should pay attention to where the words pinch you. Notice the passages
that make your eyes smart like a bee sting, or one of the prods that Paul talked about. When he told of his experience of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus he said a voice said, “Why do you kick against the prods?”
Like a sharp stick the word of God has passages that poke you and make you kick. The one we heard from Romans in our second reading this morning is a good example. Verse 14 says, “If you live according to the flesh
you will die.” Well that is a sharp poke to us. It’s a clear word of Law, “The wages of sin is death.” We are blessed because we know that that’s not all Paul has to say in Romans 8. Here he talks also about the Spirit we have
that freely calls out to God. But those earlier works do poke like a cattle prod and give us warning. 

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is filled with those images that warn us. They may have lost some of their pinch because we have become so familiar with them. But you will notice that we have two separate parts of Matthew 13
here. The first part is the parable that Jesus preaches from the lake front to a huge crowd that comes to hear. It’s the story of the sower throwing out his seed far and wide. And the results of that planting. And Matthew told them many things
in parables. The Gospels also say that often they didn’t understand what he taught. Earlier in Matthew 13 verses 10 and 11 the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables when he talks about the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells them,
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of Heaven.” To everyone else it’s a mystery, like a story that goes in one ear and out the other. But here in chapter 13 verses 18 to 23 Jesus explains to his disciples and to you and me. If fact
in verse 16 he says, blessed are your eyes that see and your ears that hear - you followers, or little children that listen to Jesus. 

And he does tell them some painful truths. God is the sower. Jesus himself is the teacher bringing the word, the good news of the Kingdom of God to all. He scattered it all around. You might think of Martin Luther who translated the Bible into
the spoken language of the people. Or Sunday school teachers who taught it to you in stories and songs. Or parents and grandparents who had the Small Catechism in their hands to teach you. If you’re very fortunate you got to hear Pastor Craig
Koester, or Jim Nestigen, or Gracia Grindal teach the Bible. The word gets broadcast, put out now days even over TV and the radio, podcasts and computer websites. Also quite a few pastors have climbed up into this pulpit to throw it out there.
The part that pinches in this story as Jesus explains is that it doesn’t always take root. And he tells us why. In the first case he says there is seed that alls on the path. But for anyone who doesn’t understand the word of the kingdom it is easily 
snatched away. We can dismiss it, or say it applies to other people. Or you can say that you meed to be a Bible scholar to figure it out. But that’s not true, although the devil tempts us to  believe it. Remember last week Jesus prayed and thanked God for revealing to little children what was hidden from the wise and understanding. But here the painful truth is that the word is snatched away from some.

And then there are those who hear about God’s Kingdom and receive it with joy, but Jesus says they have no root in themselves. The word does not take hold. It’s nice enough for Christmas Eve or for Easter Sunday. Or maybe it’s like a movie that you really enjoy: good enough for a couple of hours. It’s a good distraction. It’s a feeling that lasts for awhile. My mother told me and expression she had from when she was young for unhealthy or sickly children: they didn’t thrive. They didn’t have
the necessary strength or energy to grow up. Here Jesus describes it as when tribulation of persecution comes because you believe God’s word, when times are rough because you believe that Jesus is the living word and king, then some quickly fall

And there is more painful news, in the third example Jesus says some of the seed fell among thorns. When he explains this to us he says some hear the word but, on one hand our worries and our cares get the best of us. These days we have 
more to worry about than usual. You don’t hear many people telling you what Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. Take heart! It is I.” Or what God says in the words of Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be calms and at peace, because you know
God in your saviour.  Or as Jesus said in the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount “Do not be anxious about your life.” God knows just what you need. This third example in the parable has another temptation that goes with it. In verse 22 Jesus also says that the deceitfulness of riches choke the word. Your wealth can lie to you. Riches can get a stranglehold on you. “I’ve worked and saved all my life.” You’ve heard that expression. Maybe you don’t think of money or savings as an idol but here Jesus
says it chokes the plant so there is not fruit. You remember the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus with a  sincere desire to learn from him. He wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. He sounds like a great guy, sort of like
a lively puppy. He comes running up to Jesus, kneels at his feet and calls him “Good teacher” when he asks his question. He sounds like he’ll make a great disciple. And when Jesus reminds him that he knows the commandments, numbers 4 through 10, God’s Law about treating your neighbours with love and care, the young man says, “I studied these from when I was a child and put them into practice.” And in Mark 10:21 it says Jesus looks at him and loves him. So he tells this young man, There’s only one thing you lack. Sell your treasures; give to the poor. And come and follow me.” But the man went sadly away. All he had, all he was keeping had become an idol. He had been tricked, deceived into a false sense of security in his treasure. Mark says, “He had great wealth.” And in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says both lying wealth and fears and works can strangle the word. Choke the seed so it doesn’t bear fruit.

But that’s not the end of the story. Remember Jesus is explaining this parable to his followers who will go and tell of his coming. They will spread the word so he wants them to know the whole story. And he wants you and me to know it too. So he ends his parable by saying there is also the seed that finds good soil to grow in, and it will produce fruit in abundance. Sometimes it’s a hundred times or sixty times or thirty times more than what was sown. And he finishes the parable not with the moral of the story but with a call, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” The lesson was to be heard to get in through the ears. It’s different from a philosophy book or a math problem that you pour over and look at till your eyes are sore. Or even a scripture passage, maybe something in Revelation that you have to wrestle with in hopes that the meaning will be revealed. This is a word to hit you right away. So you’d walk away from this as you would feel when somebody says, “Watch out! or “No, don’t touch that hot burner.” or even, “Be still and know that I am God.” Or “This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you.” Or  “Come to me all who are thirsty.”

Last week I was preaching about being yoked to Jesus. I said it was like being tied to a work horse or a rugged Indian pony.  I was looking for good images of horses in the Bible. Honestly I didn’t have that much success. Usually the Bible says, while it’s true that horses are strong, do not put your hope in the strength of horses. That not going to be enough to help you. Even the power of a big Clydesdale work horse will not save you. But I did find one Bible passage that praises the horse. It’s in the book of Job. And the quality God praises is that the horse hears. It’s ears perk up at the sound of the trumpet from far away. It hears the call of the commander.  In the parable the seed that gets planted is God’s word. When the disciples heard it they came to Jesus and said “Tell us more.” Martin Luther talking about John’s Gospel says, wrote that we should “Simply hear what the Son of God says. Hear his word, and stick to it. … He has to promised to give his Holy Spirit to anyone who hears the son.” And as Luther taught the Holy Spirit calls gathers and enlightens you. Not just you along, but sometimes 100, sometimes 60 and sometimes 30 even sometimes just two or three who gather. There Jesus comes to be with you. As the Father says of Jesus, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased listen to him.”

I love what the Psalmist says in Psalm 85: 8, “I will listen to what God the Lord says, surely he declares peace to his people.” And so Jesus gives you his word. He speaks to you in his still small voice and says, “Peace be with you. I have died for you to make you children of the Kingdom of Heaven. Your sins are forgiven. Come and follow me.”

Sunday 7/5/20

Free to Walk with Jesus
(Matthew 11:25-30)

I met with my friend Dave the other day. He was sharing some memories of his Swedish grandfather. He said he could still hear his grandpa when he’d say, “David! It’s not good to be too smart.” His grandpa wanted Dave to grow up to be a minister so he was not against education. But Dave said what he meant was, “It’s not good to be a know it all. You need to keep your heart and mind open or it will petrify. You’ll become paralysed, proud and set in your ways.” In our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus starts with a prayer of thanksgiving. I was saying last week that the expression “little children” is an affectionate term that Jesus uses for his followers. Here he prays, “Thank you Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth. You have hidden things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”

This takes place after Jesus’ disciples have returned. You’ll recall he sent them out to all the villages and places where he would come to cast out demons and heal people and proclaim the Kingdom of God. And they came back rejoicing because they were able to do those things in Jesus’ name. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 10:17 - 20) also reports they’re return and how happy they are. But it’s here in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus says this prayer of thanks that God has revealed his presence, and power and His grace to these “little ones”, the followers of Jesus. And Jesus repeats that it is the authority that he has from the Father that he has shared with the disciples. In verse 27 of our Gospel lesson he says the Son reveals God, reveals the Father to anyone he chooses. 

And then after praying Jesus again calls out to all the people around him. “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden.” He calls to those who are loaded down with too much to bear. I was reading one of the Psalms, Psalm 81:6 that reminds the people of their days as slaves in Egypt. The writer thanks God for “taking our hands from the basket.” That doesn’t sound so bad if you’re thinking of an Easter basket, or a full shopping basket from Target, or one full of canned goods you won at the Fall Festival auction. But what the writer of the psalm is talking abut is the slaves’ basket, filled with mud to make bricks. If you’ve worked for a brick layer you know about  the loads of concrete that you carry hoisted on your shoulder and run with so the brick layer can put it down before it dries to set the bricks. Back in my high school and college days I worked landscaping and we would unload trucks for sod and roll it out. You do the rolling out on your knees. It gets you in the back. You’re sore at the end of the day.  Here in Matthew 10 Jesus calls  out to all weary, hurting people. It’s like he did to those gathered at the temple, “Come to me all who are thirsty.”

But now Jesus says this peculiar thing. He says, “Take my yoke on you.” It sounds like more weight to me. Now I have sung the words from this passage at the beginning of worship several times in a song that combines them with what Peter said in 1st Peter 5:7. The song goes, “Cast your burdens on me you who are heavily laden. Come to me all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads. For the yoke I give you is easy and my burden is light. Come to me and I will give you rest.” I have always pictured the yoke Jesus describes as a double yoke. Like one of this you see in pictures or movies of the pioneer days with two oxen or two plow horses slowly pulling covered wagons or plowing the fields. So you see two horses side by side. But there’s the young horse that is not used to the job. Next to that one you yoke the older, experienced, stronger one. Like one of those big Clydesdale work horses you see at the state fair. A horse whose strength and sense of direction is certain. That one is Jesus. He is the one who bears the weight and knows the way to the Father.

When I was rewriting this sermon I thought about that comparison. You and me and the yoke connecting us to Jesus like horses. And I thought, “I’m probably being way too generous to us.” It sounds like we can carry our own share of the load. That is misplaced optimism I think. We like to talk a lot about our freedom. Our right to be free. And now days it seems that has come to mean totally unrestricted, reckless and on the loose. Probably a better horse image for us is a bucking bronco at the rodeo. We want to be free! To throw the saddle and the rider off our backs. To live independent lives. Go back to the beach and call the whole crowd together. Swing by the bar and gather the gang to sing, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.”
But Jesus says, “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble, lowly of heart. Let me lift that load of sin, pride, despair and selfishness from you and take every ounce of it on myself. Take it all to the cross.”

When I was in grade school my mom got me a horse. Oh, it wasn’t a pony. My mother went to garage sales and one day she brought back a statue of a horse. It a parody, an ugly cartoon version of what we used to call a plug horse. It was all sway-backed with the ribs showing and it has big snaggle-teeth. I didn’t like it at all. My mom could see it wasn’t a present I wanted. So she said, “Let me tell you about this horse. Everybody has forgot about her. She has no friends. Nobody loves her because she’s old and used up. Nobody wants this horse anymore, but she wasn’t expensive so I bought her for you.” Well, that night after us kids had gone to bed my mom looked in on me. I was young enough that I had some stuffed animals. I remember a rabbit and a little pillow I liked. We even had a live cat that I’d drag into bed sometimes. But Mom found me curled up hugging that horse up against my face. It was made of concrete so it was leaving dents in my face, so she took it out of my arms. But it joined the ranks of all the stuffed toy animals I had. 

See you are the plug horse. That’s you and me. Not pretty or lively at all. In fact Paul says While you were dead in sin Jesus found you. Took all your sins and gave you an easy yoke. Gave you faith and his Holy Spirit. Gave his innocent life, his body and blood for you. And you know when you are tired, and discouraged, ready to quit. When you are terrified, overwhelmed by the world. When you realise you’re really not as smart as you thought, or too smart for anybody’s good. Then how wonderful it is to realise you are walking right next to your friend and saviour. In his death he yoked himself to you. How wonderful to hear him say, “Children come follow me. Listen to my word because you are bound to me. I have purchased you with a price. Come to me and I will give you rest.”

Thanks be to God.

Sunday Devotion 6/28/20

As Humble Children
(Matthew 10:34 - 42

I said last week that one of the things you get in the teachings of Matthew’s Gospel is a challenge.
When you read Matthew chapter 10 you are confronted with the question, “Are you sure you want to be part of the body of Christ?” “Are you sure you want to be a child of God and a follower of Jesus?” Because it will be a challenge. In your bulletin this morning the editors make it clear in the first verse of today’s Gospel that Jesus is talking to the disciples as he sent them out to the towns and synagogues, to their own people. But I was saying last week that the purpose of Matthew’s Gospel is to teach you. It’s not just a history lesson of Christianity and those disciples of long ago. In fact the commentators I read agree that Matthew 10 combines two teachings of Jesus. The first is Jesus sending his disciples to the towns where he himself was coming later. And the second, the passage we have today, might be connected to the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to all his his followers to go into all the world,
to all nations. Both of those things are true and we learn from both of them. In today’s reading we also hear two things. Again this is a challenge but there is also God’s promise of rewards.

Jesus told his disciples they were going out as sheep among wolves. But here he says it is not just the people you meet out there you need to worry about. He says the wolves might be people you know very well. They hit you right where you live. In verse 36 he says, “A person’s enemies will be those in his own family.” You have probably had the experience of being shocked and disappointed by those you love the most. In Psalm 55 David wrote that if it was an enemy attacking and insulting him he could endure that, or hide from his enemy. But in verses 13 and 14 of Psalm 55 he says, “It’s you, my close friend and companion, you have become my attacker. We were best friends. We even went to worship God together. Now you are close enough to stick a knife in me.” You remember Jesus’ own brothers and sisters didn’t believe in him. They came looking for him one time because they were embarrassed  by his forgiving sinners and all his talk about the Kingdom of God.

Here in our Gospel lesson Jesus says the word of God can have this result. It separates people, cuts them loose from each other. It challenges you to consider what and who your priorities are. When I was rewriting this sermon I thought about what Pastor Dave Wollan and Pastor Scott Grorud said in one of their adult forum studies. When you look at these verses you wonder, “So is separation and hatred God’s will?” What those pastors from Faith Lutheran said was, “Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, or that you should do it.” The Bible describes sinful people, who want their
own way and who do wound others. But we have the 4th Commandment, the only one that mentions a reward. It says, “Honour your father and mother that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” Paul quotes that very passage in his letter to the people at the church at Ephesus. And then he adds that parents should  not provoke their children to anger. But you should instruct them, teach them what it means and why it matters to be a follower of Jesus. Martin Luther told parents, “Do not terrify your children because you’ll break their spirit and crush their hearts.”

So Jesus tells his followers, “Yes it could happen that those of your own house will cause you tears and frustration.” But this is not the passage where Jesus says, “Just shake the dust off your feet and leave them in the road.” Look at how Jesus lived, what he did. When the blind man who Jesus healed was dragged before the council he was left alone. Not even his own parents would stand up for him. He was thrown out of the city. Everybody had turned their backs on him. That’s when Jesus came and found him. And when Jairus that important, high official had no one else to turn to, when his daughter was deathly ill, Jesus went with him. And when Jairus’s servants came to him with the bad news, “It’s
too late. She’s already gone.” Jesus didn’t stop. Everybody else laughed at him. Professional mourners who thought they knew everything about dead people laughed because Jesus said something else. So he tells her, “Little girl, you get up.” And he gave her back to her Mom and Dad. And let’s not forget those parent, mothers and fathers bringing their kids to Jesus. But they ran up against the disciples  who said, “You know Jesus is a busy guy. Do you have an appointment? Because really matters of faith that’s for grown ups. So don’t bother him  with your kids.” It says Jesus was indignant with them. “What?! You let those kids come to me. The Kingdom of Heaven is for such as these.” And he took little ones in his arms and he laid his hand in blessing on big kids, teenagers even if you can believe it! He blessed toddlers and teens and those in between and you know their parents were blessed too.

Before we decide that Jesus is a home wrecker we would do well to remember Paul’s words that God gave the church the mission of reconciliation. Just look at the Old Testament stories of God’s people: Joseph throwing his arms around his brothers who sold him into slavery. Seeing his little brother Benjamin and asking them to bring his father to Egypt so they can all live together. He says, “You meant to do me evil, but God turned it into good.” Or Jacob who ripped off his bother Esau; robbed him of his birthright when his brother was starving half to death. But when Jacob returns full  of fear, dreading the justice his brother will dish out, Esau greets him with a big bear hug and invites him to live next door. So Jesus works on us, and God’s word and grace do work on us.

This passage from Matthew is very dramatic but it ends on a quieter note. It is a challenge to answer Jesus’ call but it also talks about the reward of humble service. He says even a cup of cold water offered to these little ones has it’s reward. Now when I did my homework on this passage I found a Bible scholar who said, it might be that Jesus is not talking about kids there. Little children is a phrase he uses for his followers. Maybe he is talking about those disciples and you and me. Those who offer you care and comfort. Those who have simple gifts to give to you are seen and rewarded by God. His eye is on the
sparrow. So Jesus comes to save you and me. To humbly care for you. In his death he reconciled you to God. In deep compassion he calls orphans into his family. He calls you home. Calls prodigal sons and daughters to be at the feast in his father’s house.

He calls you his friends and his brothers and sisters.

Thanks be to God

Sunday Devotion 6/21/20

Abiding In the Father’s House
(Matthew 10:5a and 22-33, Psalm 91)

Matthew’s Gospel is called “the teaching Gospel.” In the early church for new members of Christ’s church this is the gospel that was used to teach about Christianity. When I looked at the passage for this morning I tried to think, “If I were a person learning about the church what would be the message for me?” There are a few different things you can learn from this passage but what struck me was a question it would ask, “Are you sure you want to do this?” “Are you sure you want to be part of the family of God?” “Are you sure you want to be part of the body of Christ?” Because this all sounds pretty terrible. Jesus says families will put each other to death. You will be hated. And he recommends
running away - flee from one town to another. This is how they treated Jesus, the master, and they will also hate you. He says they will “malign” those of God’s household. That means back stab, slander and even tell lies about you. When I was doing my homework on this passage I read of a Roman historian who wrote that Christians were a cult that had “hatred for all mankind.” That was the official word recorded about the early church.

And Jesus was right; the church did go through terrible persecutions and not just back in the early days. Martin Luther reported similar things in the 16th century. Now days they say the church is no longer loved or respected. In recent memory even if you didn’t go to church you still thought that Christianity was a good idea. If it wasn’t for you it would still be good for you children. Some say that attitude of respect and care has changed here in America.

But in this passage with all its bad news Jesus does give his followers some hope. For one thing he repeats the message that he often had for his followers. “Do not fear.” and “Fear not.” Even while this storm rages, even with hatred and contempt around you, you are not forgotten. And then he gives them a couple of concrete images. He says your heavenly Father knows everything you are going through. You are under the watchful eye of your Father in Heaven. He can see and count the number of
hairs on your head.And he can spot even those small birds that are sold two for a penny. Just common sparrows and yet God’s heart is touched  when one falls. And you, you are of much more value to your Father.  When Jesus wanted to tell people about God he told them about a man whose younger son left home. I figure that father was old, because the young son was tired of waiting for his dad to die off. So he took his half of the inheritance and left his home and his father behind. And he found out that this old world really will beat you up. So he decided to drag himself back home. But even though his father was old that elderly man still had clear vision, amazing eyesight. He could see so clearly that he spotted his son a long way off and came running to welcome him back home.

On this Father’s Day I was looking at the psalm we read, Psalm 91, that talks about our Father’s house. This week was one of those when this passage kept popping up in daily devotions and other places. Seems like God was putting it right under my nose. Also since I’m getting older I decided awhile back that I’d memorize it. My brain isn’t so young anymore so I run into trouble when I get to verses
8 and 9. I can’t remember exactly where they fit but I’m still working on it. This Psalm talks bout living in the shelter and protection that God gives. But it also says that the Father IS the place where we live. As Luther wrote in his hymn “A mighty fortress IS our God.”

That’s the picture we get in verse one of Psalm 91. It says those who live in the shelter of the Most High. Another translation is “in the covert” or secret place. When you were a kid maybe you set up house in your closet, or took the covers off your bed and built a fort, a snug, safe place for yourself. That’s the picture here. I’ve got  photo of my dad and Cassidy from years ago when Dad set up a little collapsible tent inside the house. And there they are inside sitting there smiling at each other. That’s what the psalm writer is talking about, being tucked away, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. Living in the grace and favour of your heavenly Father. In verse 2 he calls God a refuge for you. And there is the picture of the Father who spreads his wings over you to cover you. In verse 4 the Father is a shield, his faithfulness is your shield and defense like a roof over your head.

I thought about my dad’s house: over the years Mom and Dad’s place was a home base for me. I went off to Africa and came back there and to seminary and to Japan twice and came back there. Even when I was between jobs with a family moving from one apartment to another here in Minnesota when things were very uncertain we went home to my father’s house. A few years back when I did my father’s eulogy I reminded some of my relatives how when things were tough in their lives they came and lived in my father’s house as well. It was a refuge for them when they needed a place to live.

Psalm 91 talks about God as your dwelling place where you live in the grace and mercy of God. And like Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel the psalmist also talks abut those dangers and the persecutions of the world: terror by night, violence by day, the deadly pestilence and the plague that stalks in darkness. But where you live is with the father who is faithful, who has his eye on you. In verses 8 and 9 the psalm writer repeats that you have taken refuge in the Lord and the Most High (God) is your habitation. In architecture we call this part of the church the sanctuary. Traditionally sinners could come here, it was a refuge, and be under the protection of the House of God.

Psalm 91 ends with the Father speaking. I like my translation of vs. 14 better. It says, “Because he cleaves to me in love…” I’ve got a picture up in my office where I can see it. It shows a kid, you can’t really see if it’s a boy or girl  but they are holding on to their dad’s big shoulder, tucked in close to his neck. That’s cleaving, holding on and resting in the arms of the one holding you. As Pslam 91 ends the Father says, “I will deliver them and hear them when they call on my name. I am with them in trouble, and I will show them my salvation.

And the Father did that. He sent you the best picture of himself in his beloved son. The fullness of God is what we see in Jesus. He told his followers, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” And “The Father himself loves you.” And even more he promised, “I am going to my Father’s house
and there I will prepare a place for you.” There you will live in the peace, joy  and everlasting love of your heavenly Father.”


Thanks be to God.

Sunday Devotion 6/14/20

The Authority Who Has Compassion
(Matthew 9:35 - 10:20, Exodus 9:4)

Pastor Scott Grorud once said sometimes it’s hard to see any connections between the passages from the Old Testament and the ones from the New Testament when you look at the Bible verses that are given to us each Sunday. They seem to be random selections from the Bible each talking about a different subject sometimes. I think that’s true of the ones we have this morning. But if you pay attention week after week in the case of the Gospel readings you do see a message. Last week we heard the end of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus gave the Great Commission, “Go and teach and baptise all nations.” And he told his people, and you and me, “I am with you always.” Today again in Matthew’s Gospel he sends them out. In both cases he gives his followers authority. He tells them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and he tells them he has the authority to send them. In the passage from last week he sends them out to all nations. Bring the good news to the Jewish people and to everybody else too. Tell everyone that Christ is King.

But todays’ passage is earlier in the Gospel of Matthew. Here Jesus makes a point of saying, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” And again, as in The Great Commission from Matthew 28, he gives them authority over unclean spirits, and over sickness and even over death. If you look at verses 7 through 9 you see that Jesus knew really well how this authority would be a temptation for human greed. He gives this
wonderful message, “The King of Heaven is at hand” and the authority to heal and cast out demons and raise the dead. He gives the authority that comes straight from God, and then immediately he says, “You are receiving this without paying for it, give without being paid.” And in verse 9 “Don’t acquire gold of silver in your own belts, for your own money bags.” Jesus sees that if you have this amazing power from the King, human sin and greed will quickly say, “Wait a minute, I can make some cash here. I could be rich.” Jesus knew the temptations that would come from having this kind of authority.

And he also knew the doubts and fears that would come with this commission to go out. There is the fear of being not good enough for the task. Well, for the most part Jesus’ followers were not highly educated, or people of great skills. We might think Simon Peter is there, but remember it was Simon who sank down into the Sea of Galilee after Jesus gave him power to walk on the water. And you will notice that Judas Iscariot is also part of this group. And there is another Simon, Simon the Zealot who is listed. Why would Jesus choose an extremist, somebody whose main hope was that the Romans would be thrown out of Israel, for this mission? It looks like Jesus has made some odd choices in the people he is sending. Then again he chose you and me to be his own. So we have to trust that he knows what he’s doing.

Also in todays’ lesson he doesn’t send his people out to the ends of the earth. I suppose they would have been overwhelmed to even think about that. At this time he sends them to their own people. In verse 5 he says, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” They don’t have to be able to speak in foreign languages. And their message is simple, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It always worries me that Jesus says don’t take much with you. No extra shirt or sandals, and not even a walking stick. You know the travel advisor, Rick Steves, even he says you can take a back pack, or a little suitcase on wheels. So you can have a couple of changes of underwear and some spare shoes in case the one pair gets wet. Jesus says just carry the message. When you enter a house say, “Peace be with you.” “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” See Jesus had a plan for his followers. They could depend on the hospitality of their own people. That was a characteristic that God had taught his chosen people. Even that they should welcome strangers. Later Paul would remind us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality because sometimes angels come in disguise.” Or if you read King Solomon’s dedication of the first temple in Jerusalem he prayed that it would be a house of prayer that even outsiders and strangers could come to. It would be a place where everybody could find a home. I also like the story of Elijah the prophet. In 1st Kings 17 when there is a terrible drought and famine in the land God tells Elijah to go live by a brook and the ravens will bring him food. Eventually the brook dries up so God says, “Go to Zerepath of Sidon. A widow there will take care of you.” The one in authority is taking care of his people even in hard times.

When I was looking for a connection between our lessons for this morning the one that struck me was Exodus 9 verse 4 and what Jesus says when he sees the crowds that were harassed and helpless. The Gospel lesson says he was filled with compassion. He sends his disciples out and tells them to pray because he had compassion on people who were wandering, afraid, thirsty for the good news. And God in Exodus is speaking to his people after he has set them free from slavery in Egypt.   God says, “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” He is the one who has strength when you don’t have any. It isn’t by your own power that you have faith, or hope, or love for your neighbour. It is by the grace and mercy of God. And because God loved not just his chosen Jewish people but you as well he sent his son. To show his compassion for you. Jesus is the king, the one in authority, who died to make you inheritors of his kingdom. He will raise you up on the wings of his grace and make you shine as children of the most high. He gives you a place to live so you may say, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” It is through the Spirit that Jesus sends that you are lifted up out of doubt and fear, set free to be sons and daughters of God.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday Devotion 6/7/20

Jesus Gets Closer
(Matthew 28:16 - 20)

How close are you to dying? How soon will it be before your life is over? These days we see numbers every day that tell us how many Americans
are dying from Covid-19. And if the news doesn’t make you think about that, there are the advertisements to tell you what drugs to buy to stay alive.
So dying has become a daily reminder. Today we are celebrating new life in Clyde Hansch’s baptism. And yet little Clyde is in the high risk category.
For that matter so am I, though I don’t put a lot of thought into it. But I do have my kids to remind me of it. For awhile there I’d lay down to take a
nap and they’d ask, “Dad are you okay?” “I’m just taking a nap! Naps are healthy.” Mark Twain who had a dark sense of humor sometimes, once
said, “Don’t worry too much about life. It ain’t no how permanent.” Jesus put it better in his parable of the rich fool. That rich man had big projects in
mind for the future to completely rebuild his farm from the ground up. He would tear down the old barns and build bigger and better ones. And then he
planned to enjoy his harvest and his life for many years. But God said to him, “Dream on. Tonight is all you’ve got. This night your soul is required of you.”

Well, I’m not trying to join the TV newscasters with their body counts, or the advertisers who say, “Buy yourself some pharmaceuticals so you’ll live a little longer.” Baptism is all about new life. But some churches do show us the drowning part of baptism. Even with babies. In the Orthodox Church down into the water they go from head to toe. And they come up with a big gasp - eyes open wide. Last week we talked about the birth of the church - Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. That new life came because Jesus kept his promise to send his Spirit - the same one that comes in baptism. I said last week that’s the Spirit Jesus talked about with that tired, thirsty woman at the well. Nobody else wanted to talk to her but Jesus told her that God wanted people to worship him in Spirit and in truth. See we are more than people just doomed to die. Because God wants you and has put his Holy Spirit in you. There’s a reason that when we confess our faith in the Apostle’s Creed we say “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” and then right away “…and in the Holy Christian church.” God wants you to have life, and faith
and to know the truth that sets you free. So God calls you together so the Spirit can work on you.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus’ followers all came together at a place Jesus had appointed. I was doing my homework on this sermon, and every Bible scholar I read agreed it was the eleven disciples and many more of Jesus’ other followers who came to that meeting. Jesus appeared to quite a few people after he rose from the grave. John in his Gospel says there are many other incidents of Jesus appearing - John just records three after the resurrection. He says I wrote these so you can believe and have life in Jesus’ name. Well, it was a crowd of followers who came to meet Jesus here at the end of Matthew’s Gospel to hear Jesus’ words.

Also after his resurrection it seems that Jesus was not so easy to recognize even for his friends. Mary didn’t recognize him. She was sure he was dead. Mary was so sad crying by the tomb, she didn’t even recognize his voice. But then he said her name. The eleven disciples in that locked room didn’t recognize him. He said, “Come and see my wounds in my side and hands. Let me have something to eat.” That he was back from the dead? That’s unbelievable! Too good to be true. Until Jesus comes close.

Well, in today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew when the people gather it says they came and worship, but some doubted. I love the way the Bible doesn’t leave things out. It would be a lot smoother if Matthew had said they all believed when they gathered. In the Word here in Matthew’s Gospel we see that people have doubts. Is that really Jesus? He died and he was buried! These are real people. Now days the news is just beating you up with terrible reports. There’s a daily death toll and then on top of that you can’t trust the authorities. It has been decades since I first heard the phrase “police brutality” but it’s still around. And then we get rioting. If you don’t have some doubts and fears I’d be surprised. What kind of world will your children and grandchildren grow up in?

So what happens in this Gospel lesson? Jesus comes near and tells his followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.” He says I am the final authority. And he is different from the authorities that make the news. He is the king who was glorified by dying for you. To those who serve faithfully that’s not a big news story. And good news isn’t a real goal for television. When I was doing my homework on this sermon I found one wonderful scholar who said in all of his appearances after the resurrection, when people had doubts and fears and couldn’t really believe that Jesus was alive again - what does Jesus do? He gets close. He comes right up to them.
He tells Thomas put your fingers in my hands and side. Do not doubt but believe. He called Mary by name, called her out of her deep sadness so she could say, “Teacher! It’s you!” She was ready to grab him. He said, “Don’t hold on to me. I have to go to my Father. You go and tell my disciples that I’ll see them soon.” You remember those two sad people on the road home to Emmaus that told that stranger that their hopes were gone. But he opened the Word of God to them so their hearts came back alive. They took him right into their homes, and when he prayed and tore that loaf of bread to give them, they recognized him. No doubts. Just joy that sent them running back
to Jerusalem.

The Psalm says the Lord is near the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit. I asked before how close are you to dying, to giving in to despair? That’s when Jesus comes near. So the next question is how close are you to life in the Spirit, to eternal life? As close as water poured on your head. As close as Jesus’ promise, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” I guess nobody told Jesus about social distancing. Jesus comes right up to you with the big bear hug of his mercy and grace. He told those disciples, “To and teach and baptize.” and then he said, “I’ll go with you. I am with you always to the very end.”

The Bible says that John was Jesus’ best friend. He was the one at the foot of the cross. And later John wrote to the church for those who had fears and were tempted to despair because of their sins and failures. In his first letter John said, when your hearts condemn you, God is greater than your hearts. God’s grace is greater than your fear and sadness. Because Jesus comes near where two or three gather together. Jesus goes searching for the one who is lost and afraid until he finds you and me and brings us back carrying us on his shoulder. Luther did his homework too. He was quoting somebody about the Holy Trinity. How God makes us and saves us and makes you holy. Luther wrote, “God did not create things with the idea of abandoning them after they had been created, but he loves you and expresses his approval
of you. So he is together with you. And you can rest here in the presence of Jesus your Lord and savior.

Thanks be to God.