Sunday Devotion 5/24/20

Read John 17: 1 - 23
and
Psalm 33: 20 - 22
I would like you to read John 17: 1 -23. In the last couple of Sundays we’ve heard Jesus giving encouragement in the 14th chapter of John. He promised the disciples that he would send them help and comfort by giving them his Holy Spirit. And he told them even though they would have troubles in this world to “be of good cheer”  because he has overcome the world. Now in today’s passage, John 17, he prays for them. He talks to his heavenly Father, and they hear his prayer and it’s a prayer for you too, as we listen in. You might want to read it out loud. When you get to verses 20 to 23 you hear Jesus praying for you and me. That we all may be one, is his prayer. Now that’s not just saying, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Jesus said we would have struggles in the world. But he said we are in the world but not of the world. In his prayer here he asks that the disciples and all his followers “know you (the Father), the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  He said in verse 3 by knowing your heavenly father and Jesus your saviour you have been given eternal life. And in verse 4  he prays saying he has accomplishedwhat God gave him to do. He has revealed God to us. In verse 6 he says he “manifested”  God’s name to them. He has shown them, and you and me, how God works in the parables and healings and his love and compassion. In his forgiveness for sinners. When we hear or read God’s word we find Jesus revealing the truth, and love and faithfulness of God.  And then Jesus is glorified in his death where he overcomes your sins and your death. And in his resurrection when he shows the promise of eternal life is real, and it’s for you.
In this passage Jesus says that he protected his disciples during his lifetime. And now he asks his heavenly Father to protect them. He says he’s not praying for the whole world, but here he spraying for you believes. That they may be held together
even though they would soon be scattered in the darkness. “Holy Father” Jesus prays, “keep them in your name.” We feel scattered, lonely and isolated these days. But Martin Luther said when we pray “Hallowed be your name.” in the Lord’s Prayer
we are praying that God works on us to keep his word taught in truth and purity so we are lead by it and live according to it as God’s children. How does that hold us together? 
Well, we are looking forward to Pentecost Sunday next week. The Holy Spirit does remind us of all Jesus taught. And the word works on us in faith, hope and love. Faith in God and in the saving grace of Jesus. And the Spirit works through the love of Christ that he showed by dying for sinners and that we show to others as he commanded. And hope even in testing. Even in difficult times like these we have hope in Jesus’ steadfast love and grace. I heard and felt that hope while reading Psalm 33 recently. Try reading that one out loud. I’ll just share the end with you. In verses 20 to 21 the psalm writer prays:
We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 
In  him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, 
even as we put our hope in you. 
Amen. 
Thanks be to God.

Sunday Devotion 5/17/20

ANNOUNCEMENT
Pastor Aaron is doing radio devotions this week, May 18 - 23.
Tune in to KDUZ for reflections on God’s word in this Easter season.

Peace and Hope through the Holy Spirit

Our Gospel lesson (John 14:15 - 21) for this Sunday in Easter continues Jesus’ words and promises to his disciples before his crucifixion. I’m also going to touch on Acts 1:1 - 11 because we don’t have a Sunday service for Jesus’ ascension. That passage tells about Jesus’ return to heaven. He also tells his followers to wait - to wait because he would send his Holy Spirit. We are in a time of waiting. And while we wait we hope and pray, and we listen to God’s word. In both of these New Testament passages
Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit.

In John 14 he tells his followers to keep his commandments. On that Maundy Thursday he gave the great commandment “That you love one another.” To love each other so that their joy would be full. Paul wrote that this commandment covers all the others, at least the ones that are about our relationships with other people. There is no Law against loving and helping your neighbours. And John, in his letters said that if we love we know God because God is love. So that covers the first three commandments
about our relationship with God. John said you can’t claim to love God is you hate your neighbours because God loves the world and the people in it.

Here in our Gospel lesson from John Jesus shows his love for those frightened disciples, who would soon be scattered in the darkness, by saying he will send his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is called “the advocate” or “helper” like a a defence lawyer. An attorney to stand by your side and speak on your behalf. We sinners need that. And more than that the Holy Spirit also brings us faith and new life. When Jesus called out to all the people at the Great Festival in Jerusalem (John 7:37 - 39) he said the Holy Spirit is like a spring of water bubbling up and flowing in your heart. Like water that makes you clean and new, that refreshes you and gives you hope peace and new life in Jesus. And Jesus says the Holy Spriit will not leave you desolate. The Spirit will live in you. When you hear God’s word, “You are forgiven of all your sins for Jesus’ sake.” that’s a promise. The Spirit is living and working on you. Bringing you back to life.

Right now we have to wait. Like those disciples we are scattered, cut off from usual routines. At his ascension Jesus told his followers to wait. We can be cautious and patient. But he gave us the promise of the Spirit. Remember when he ascended Jesus’ messengers, angels, came. They told his followers “Don’t stand sadly, dead in your tracks. Jesus will come again.” And in these days we listen to his word and trust them as we hope for better days ahead. He gives new life in the forgiveness of all your sins. Take heart, be strong
all you who wait for your Lord. 

Thanks be to God.
Amen

Sunday Devotion 5/10/20

Blessed Assurance
Read John 14: 1-14
We are in the season of Easter. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This Gospel passage from John takes place on that Maundy Thursday night when Jesus washed the disciples feet. You probably know something about how that feels. After a long day you come in and take your boots or shoes off and it’s a relief. Or after months of winter when summer comes you can walk barefoot in the grass or feel your toes sink into the sand at the beach. Or when your feet are sore and cold you give them a soak in warm water. Maybe you’ve had a doctor examine your feet and ankles. That doctor has to have a gentle touch if you’ve sprained or broken something. Your feet are sensitive. In this passage Jesus has gently taken his disciples’ feet and washed them. Jesus’ touch was firm and personal. A doctor needs a firm grip but he also asks, “Does it hurt here?” Year’s ago when I broke my wrist I had to have it in a cast for months. Lynette is a physical therapist so she wanted to examine it when the cast came off. I told her, “You stand over there and tell me what you want me to do.” I was afraid to have her touch it. It was tender. If felt strange after months of being in a cast.
 
Jesus disciples were also afraid on that Maundy Thursday night. Jesus had told them he was going to the cross. He had told them one of them would betray him. Remember their response to that? “Is it I, Lord?” They were uncertain and afraid. He had told them they would be scattered. In these days we are also troubled and uncertain. People are becoming irritable, scared. We’re not so sure of ourselves. We get doubtful about the future. So Jesus speaks a clear word to reassure us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled… Believe in me.” Have faith in me. I am going to prepare a place for you. But we hear those doubts from Thomas and Philip. We don’t know the way. If you would only show us. If we could see God. And Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Look at me Philip. If you have seen me you have seen the fullness of God. All the guidance and love and mercy that God wants you to see. And then he tells them if you are still doubtful don’t just tremble in fear and sadness; ask me. Call on me for whatever you need. God himself loves you so you can bring all your doubts and fears to him. Martin Luther had children. I think he was writing from experience when he preached about John 15:7 “Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Luther said, “Open your mouth confidently, as a little child speaks to its father.”  In our doubts and fears we can still have confidence because we see the love God in Jesus. You may be like me when I was a kid I’d call out to my mom when I was afraid of the dark. And I can remember being sick and my mother was the one bringing soft boiled eggs, or 7-Up to make me belch. On this Mother’s Day I like to remember that image Luther used to talk about God’s love for sinners like me. He said in conversation sitting around the dinner table. “You say the sins we commit every day offend God, and therefore we are not saints. To this I reply: Mother love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on a child, and so the love of God toward us is stronger than the dirt that clings to us.” You have been washed in the love and forgiveness of Jesus who gave his life for you. So do not let your hearts be troubled. But call on him for everything you need. Have faith in him and his steadfast love for you.
1) What is one memory you have of your mother's care for you?  Now imagine that the love of Jesus is even greater than that.
2) When you have doubts or fears what Bible verses give you comfort? (I recommend Psalm 91 and Psalm 121)
 

Sunday Devotion 5/3/20

Good Shepherd Sunday

Read: John 10:1 - 10
and
Psalm 23

This is Good Shepherd Sunday so it is interesting that in the first part of John chapter 10 Jesus does NOT say that he is the good shepherd. He says that later but here he says, “I am the door.” In verse 7 when Jesus is making his shepherd metaphor clear he says “Truly, truly I am the door…” and he repeats that in verse 9. Anyone who enters by him will be saved, and go in and out and find pasture. It’s helpful to  remember that in Jesus’ time the shepherd laid down in the gap, the gateway, in a wall that surrounded a big communal flock of sheep. Many shepherds put their sheep in together for the night and one guarded the gate. If anyone wanted to break in they had to get by the shepherd so they were better off going  over the wall. Part of what Jesus is saying here is a warning against thieves. This passage comes just after Jesus has healed the man who was born blind. But the Pharisess, Jesus’ enemies threw that poor man out because he put his trust in Jesus. He lost his home, his family and his community. But at the end of John chapter 9 (verses 35 - 38) it says when the man was left alone Jesus found him. In chapter ten Jesus is preaching against the Pharisees and to comfort this man he healed. Jesus says, “I lay down in the gateway, keeping my sheep safe.” And then in the morning he calls his own out of that communal herd. In Jesus’ time each shepherd had a special call, maybe words or a whistle, that their sheep recognised. Jesus takes that a step further; he says, “I call my own by name.” Elsewhere he says “Even the hairs of your head are numbered.” What that means is that he knows you intimately. Now that’s a little scary. When I hear that I feel kind of vulnerable. Somebody who loves you knows you warts and all. God chose me? I can think for myself of reasons why that would be a bad choice. Maybe God has poor taste in picking his friends. Yet like the man born blind I also have hope. Even if it sounds too good to be true.

So it’ good for me to read Psalm 23 again. To hear what David, that man after God’s own heart, had to say. He starts out with his firm confession of faith, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” Jesus has his reasons for choosing you. Why? Because he loves sinners and will not give up on you. He went through death’s dark valley to save you and he will bring you through it too. I love what one writer said, that his goodness and mercy pursue you like angels on the wing catching up to you. So you have life abundantly now, even when you struggle with all this world throws at you. Jesus is with you to comfort you. And he calls and leads you out of fears and gloom and doubt to the table he has spread for you in his kingdom. The door is open and you go in and out following the one who calls you by name.
Thanks be to God.
Amen


Questions to consider:

1) When was a time that you felt you were helped or protected by God?

2) Can you think of a time when you got a call or message that made your day, or was a pleasant surprise? How did you respond?

Sunday Devotion 4/26/20

“Our God is full of compassion.”
(Luke 24:26,27 and 32, Psalm 116:1 - 7)

At St. Matthew’s we set great importance on God’s word and how it reveals his living Word, Jesus, to us. The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emaus. They are heart broken and weary after the death of Jesus. Although they don’t know it they meet Jesus himself who ”interpreted to them in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) Then Jesus revealed himself to them when he blesses their supper and breaks the bread. Like us they say their hearts are warmed
and inspired because he opened the Scriptures to their understanding. (Luke 24: 32) In the word and sacrament they are changed from sad, hopeless people to joyful and faithful followers of Jesus.

Today’s Psalm may be one of those that Jesus spoke about to those two disciples. One commentator calls it “an intensely personal ‘Thank you.’ that is similar to what Jonah prays in the fish’s belly.” The writer remembers that God heard him when he was in trouble, and in fact that God always hears prayers (Psalm 116:1). Then he describes being caught, trapped by death. Verse two sounds like a person struggling in a huge fishing net underwater. He is overwhelmed, like those two disciples in the gospel reading, by grief and sorrow. But like us he calls out to God. And he gives us a great reminder that God is gracious, righteous, and full of compassion (verse 4). Verse 5 makes me wonder because he
says that God “watches over the innocent.” But in this Easter season we are reminded that we are made innocent by our Lord Jesus. He suffers and dies to save you. And he meets you on the road, in whatever situation you are in, doubtful, weary, fearful, sad. Years ago I studied some meditations to help my praying. One of them asked the reader to imagine being on a trail. And as you travel you meet Jesus. When Jesus looks at you what does he see? How does he look at you? Then imagine again, look at Jesus. How is he looking at you? Truly your saviour is full of compassion for you. Even as the Psalm says when you are “very low” he helps you. So your soul can rest. God has and will treat you well. In Jesus he rescues your life from death, your eyes from tears and your feet from stumbling. (Psalm 116: 6 and 7)

 

Thanks be to God.
Amen

 

Sunday Devotion 4/19/20

Grace to Thomas and to You
(John 20:24 - 33)

This passage from John’s Gospel in this Easter season has become known as the story of “doubting Thomas.” So it seems a bit odd that John concludes this episode by telling us that there are many  other signs that Jesus did which John did not write in his Gospel “but these (including doubting Thomas) are written that you may believe in Jesus.” Why include a story of a doubter to make us able to believe? That seems a strange choice to me when John has many others to choose from. At the end of his gospel (John 21:25) he writes that Jesus did so many other things during his time on earth that the whole planet couldn’t contain all the books that could be written if they were all written down. Yet he decided to include this episode about Thomas. Why?

I think it’s partly because Thomas got left out of the Easter story. He wasn’t there on Easter Sunday when Peter had gathered the others in that locked room. I think of Thomas as a pessimist which is a little different than a doubter. You can have doubts and concerns but still go forward. You can move on in spite of doubts and misgivings.Thomas when he heard  Jesus say he would go up to Jerusalem and be killed there, Tomas told the other disciples, “Let’s go with him so we may die with him.” We’ll all die together. But Jesus didn’t say that. In fact Jesus was the one who did the dying for his disciples and for you and me. But Thomas is fatalistic. “Let’s all die together!” He also missed the part about Jesus rising again on the third day. So now he doesn’t believe it. On Good Friday he ran off on his own. He hid by himself. And now when he comes back he doesn’t believe the disciples who tell him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas faith has died. Jesus’ death has shaken it. Perhaps the guilt he feels that he didn’t fight to the end has shocked him to the point that he can’t believe. Maybe he thinks they saw something or somebody but it cannot be Jesus. So Thomas says, “I will not believe unless I see the wounds that killed him!”

A week after Easter the disciples are together still locked in the room. They still fear Jesus’ enemies. We really don’t see any evidence in the Gospels that they are out to get the disciples. But those disciples don’t really got out and tell about Jesus until the Holy Spirit comes to where they are gathered on Pentecost. So they are still behind closed doors but now Thomas is with them. And again without knocking or waiting to have the disciples unlock it and invite him in Jesus is there. Again he tells them, “Peace be with you.” And he shows Thomas those wounds and has him touch them. So there in the room,Thomas is set free from guilt and fear and disbelief to make his confession of faith. He can call Jesus his Lord and his God. It’s his short confession of faith. Jesus brings Thomas’ faith and hope and joy back to life.

I think that John includes this episode because sometimes we are like Thomas. We run off on our own and end up feeling left out. Let down. My seminary professor, Jim Nestigen, said, “The devil works in isolation.” He tempts you when you are alone. Cuts you out from other believers. Cuts you away from God’s Word. So you really need to read it, or hear it, again. To hear Paul writing in Romans 8 reminding you that “Nothing can separate you from Jesus love.” Right now you can sing the words (or play the hymns on your mobile device) to those old songs, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Sing it like you’re in the shower with nobody else listening. Or “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.” Or Beautiful Saviour. Hear again the promises and comfort of God to chase away doubts and fears. Also we are like those ten disciples because there are people around us who feel cut off, and lonely. Even some among us who wonder if they are the only ones who are left out. People who think everyone else understands. Everyone else is forgiven. But they have doubts about their own salvation.They need to hear what Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed.” We are blessed even in our doubts. God sends his Holy Spirit to you to remind you of Jesus’ promises. God comes to you in his word to create and renew your faith. God comes to you in the sacraments and brings his grace and forgiveness. Blessed are  you who have not seen. Blessed are you who have faith in Jesus your saviour.

Thanks be to God Amen.

Questions to ponder:

1) Have you ever been worried about some future event? How did you deal with it? Does prayer help? Was it worth worrying about?

2) What Bible passages or words from hymns do you treasure? Are they helpful when you have doubts? In what way?

Funeral Sermon for Rita Roepke

April 18, 2020

Jesus Walks with You 
(John 11:25 - 26a, 1 Corinthians 15:51 - 57)

Dear Friends in Christ, I remember Rita from many services at St. Matthews, but better from all the meals: the snacks after church at the end of the month, and the monthly breakfasts. We eat a lot.  At those times when there weren’t so many people we could sit and talk. Years back she told me about a cruise she took. After that, each winter, I would ask her if she didn’t think it would be a good idea to take another one. Recently she told me she didn’t really need a cruise as long as she could get together with her family. She was easy to love, and easy to relax with. We could joke around; she was such a live wire. A few years back I came to visit Norrine and accidentally  pushed the door bell for Rita. I laughed and told her I had made a mistake. That I was there to visit Norrine. Rita said, “Well, we don’t want you here!” So there I was standing, laughing in the entry way. She was such fun! And so she leaves a big hole, a gap in our lives and in our church. And she left us so quickly! That comes as a shock to you and to all of us at St. Matthews. If we are learning anything from this virus pandemic it is how quickly things can change. Life can be turned upside down so soon. The familiar things are gone and new routines are strange, uncomfortable, sad.

In that passage from John’s Gospel that Emilie Theis read, Jesus is talking to Martha whose brother has died. And he tells her about big changes too, completely turning things around. “Those who believe in me, though they die, yet they shall live.” You might have heard similar words from Jesus if you got to listen to a Good Friday message. Jesus tells the thief who is dying on the cross, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today! Right away! It’s a promise from God. Paul repeats that in the passage from 1st Corinthians. He talks about Jesus coming to claim us “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” Like a quick change of clothes. Like throwing on a jacket when you got out on a chilly spring day. “This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal life must put on immortality.” Elsewhere Paul says in putting on Christ you are a new creation. You are quickly given new life in Jesus your saviour. But it doesn’t feel that way to us. After the first shock of Rita’s passing grief is a slow road to walk. It takes a lot of time. Years ago I was talking to a counsellor who had some experience of grief of his own. I told him I thought I should be feeling better after a year. He asked, “Who told you that?” Some people feel like they’ve got their feet back under them in a year. But often it takes longer. Sadness recurs and can feel overwhelming.

Today I want to remind you of some other grieving people. They were walking home after a burial. They were telling stories about how wonderful the one they had lost was. Talking about the shock they had suffered at his death. It was a long, slow walk. They were so sunk in grief they hardly noticed a stranger walking with them, until he asked, “What are you talking about?” And then they told of their sadness and how their hopes were dashed. And then he began to tell them all about God’s promises from way back in the Old Testament. How God had planned to save his people. He said, “Wasn’t it necessary for Christ to suffer and die, and then enter his glory?” One of our older members years back, Velda Quant said, “We’re slow learners.” But God is very patient, and a wonderful teacher. Little by little those sad people began to listen to this stranger. They are captivated by what he says. So much so that they look up and notice that it is getting dark when they get home. They said, “Please don’t go. Come in with us and have supper. Stay with us for day is now far spent.” And he came in with them and even said grace over the food. And then they knew that it was Jesus who was alive. And they went out and made the trip all the way back to Jerusalem to tell his disciples, “He is risen!” Jesus died to save Rita and you and me. And he rose again to open Paradise to us. Listen to him as he said, “I will not leave you desolate. I will come to you.” And he promises to be with you even in the valley of the shadow of death. To lead you in paths of righteousness. Day by day, little by little he gives you his comfort and peace. Until that day when we join with him at the great feast, and you we see him face to face.

Thanks be to God.
Amen

Easter Sunday Devotion 4/12/20

Set Free as Jesus’ New Creation
(Read John 20:19 - 21, Psalm 124:7, Psalm 126)

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

I chose the Gospel passage from John 20 for today because I think it fits the current situation. “… the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” We are under a stay at home mandate. We cannot go out. We can’t gather together. You have to keep a “social distance” for fear of catching a virus. If found something similar in Mark’s account of the resurrection. When the women are on their way to Jesus’ tomb they worry “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to his tomb?”
Like those disciples they see a problem that is too huge for them. They don’t have the strength to deal with it. In John’s Gospel the disciples are overwhelmed with fear, and with sadness. Peter is caught up in his own thoughts of how he betrayed Jesus. Thomas isn’t even there. He found some other place to hide. And their fear doesn’t go away quickly. Remember a week later when Thomas is with them they are still locked into that same room. For us too fear of disease grinds on. If may even come back to haunt us. We too fear for our health and for the future. But in both of these cases from the Gospels their fears were not realized. Their worst fears did not happen. The women came to the tomb and the stone was gone. An angel tells them, “Yes, Jesus was crucified but he has risen! See this empty place, his grave, and then go tell Peter and his disciples.” And for the disciples trapped behind the locks, in the dark with their hopes dashed to pieces, Jesus just suddenly is right there with them saying, “Peace be with you.” He breathes the Holy Spirit into them, and tells them he’s sending them out and the Father sent him.

For you too Jesus comes to bring you his peace, to give you new life through his Holy Spirit. And he creates faith and joy through hearing his word. He gives life to the dead, to the sad and despairing, to the fearful because he is alive. When I was reading the Gospel from John how the disciples were so happy they couldn’t quite believe it, I thought of Psalm 124. Dave writes that the danger he and his people feared was like a flood that would have drowned them. It was like white water rapids or a
whirlpool that would have dragged them down killed by panic, despair and deep fears. But then in verse 7 he says, “We have escaped like a bird from a fowler’s snare and the snare has been broken.” You see that same image of deliverance in Psalm 91:3 applied to a deadly disease. Trapped! But then set free. It’s that joyous picture of a bird taking off. Flying free! That’s what Jesus did for you. He set you free so your death, all of your sins cannot drag you down. The huge stone and locked doors of the devil and hell cannot trap you. Because Jesus died for you. And indeed he is risen.  He gives you his Spirit of faith, peace and joy. So David praises God at the end of Psalm 124, “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” It is Jesus who has set you free to breathe deep and live in his grace.

A pastor friend of mine posted a question asking “What are the challenges going to be when this crisis is finally over?” What will happen when we don’t have to be afraid of getting sick anymore? I responded, “I think we’ll be kind of rusty. We won’t be used to our freedom. We will need to adjust, to get our land legs back after being away from worship or any other kind of gathering.” Maybe a better image is like a person after an operation or recovering from broken bones. Years ago my mother slipped on some steps and broke her wrist. Later after the cast came off she was having physical therapy. There was another out-patient in the therapy room dong exercises. As he was working his bones and joints he said, “Ow! Ow! Ow!” because they were still tender from lack of use. I’m sure he might have been tempted just to stay at home or in a hospital bed. We too will have to adjust to being out. We’ll have to get used to to being on our feet and the habits of praise and joy.

One more wonderful of resurrection picture came to me for this Easter. I was reminded of Psalm 126 when the people of God were set free from captivity. The psalmist writes, “…we were like people who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. The Lord as done great things for us and we are filled with joy.” Jesus died for you and indeed he is risen! Today and all through this Easter season may you, who are his new creation, be filled with his peace and joy.
Thanks be to God  Amen

We pause briefly for prayer and reflection.

Good Friday Devotion 4/10/20

Set Free to Follow Jesus

Read Luke 23: 26 - 49

On this Good Friday in the year 2020 I was thinking about sin. Something that we reflect on during the season of Lent. But I wasn’t thinking about the glaring, terrible things we think of as sinful: hatred, stealing, lust, killing, lying. I was thinking about the things we take for granted, the things we are comfortable with: our pride, laziness, white lies, prejudices, bad habits. Things we are comfortable with even though we shouldn’t be. We give ourselves a pass on these things. What got me thinking
about these things was the verse in Luke 23, as Jesus is crucified he says, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Many people were crucified in Jesus’ time. In fact he was one of three people crucified that day. But this time the Son of God was dying for your sins and mine, all of them the horrible ones and the little ones that we get comfortable with over time.

During Lent on Wednesdays we were looking at the Lord’s Prayer before this virus messed up our schedule. But because it did we never got to the part where we pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We know that as our Good shepherd Jesus is leading us. Yet you and I as sheep often wander off, or go our own way, even go dashing off ahead instead of following him. So we need Jesus to come searching for us even when he has to go into the valley of death to find us. And he sends his Holy Spirit to you to resist the devil’s temptations, and gives you his Word to call you back to follow where he leads. And he does deliver from evil, from your own sins, the ones you grow comfortable with and the ones you struggle with. Also Jesus delivers you from the evil one, from the devil who would love to make you his prisoner, a slave. Jesus did all this by dying on the cross so you “may live under him in his kingdom.” He took your sins to the grave with him and set you free. He leads you from death to new life as a Christian a child of God.

I found a great modern image of what Jesus did on the cross for you in the TV series Chernobyl. It’s a recent series you can watch on Good Friday, but it is harsh, very grim, and true. One lady in that incident had a husband who was a firefighter at the scene of the nuclear accident. He got a massive dose of radiation but she stuck with him at the hospital even though she was warned not to. It turns out she was pregnant. But she was with her husband right up till his death and was exposed to radiation.
Sadly her baby died. She was told she’d never be able to have kids. But at the end of the program it tells what happened to some of the people in it. This lady lived to a ripe old age and even has a son. Here’s the part that reminded me of Jesus on the cross. The doctors told her that she lived because her unborn baby absorbed all the radiation that should have killed her. That’s what Jesus did for you. The innocent one died to give you life. The sin that should bring you eternal death was taken by Jesus when he  died on the cross. He took your sins small and large into his body and died to set you free to live and follow him.

Isaiah prophesied about your Good Shepherd. In Isaiah 48:8 - 10 he tells how Jesus leads you. He says evil will not overpower you like the heat of a blazing sun or slow starvation because, “He  who has compassion on you” will lead and guide you beside the cool waters of his grace and love. Stay in that steadfast love and unchanging grace of Jesus your saviour.


Somethings to think about for Good Friday:

1) When have you felt the peace and forgiveness that Jesus gives? In worship? Private prayer?

2) Read Psalm 51: 6 - 9. Then read it again out loud and see what sticks with you.

3) Read (don’t sing) Psalm 51:10 - 12. Then read it again out loud and see what sticks with you.
Let one verse from your reading be a start for your prayers.

Maundy Thursday Devotion 4/9/20

The New Command and Jesus’ Steadfast Love: Maundy Thursday 2020

Read John 15:9 - 13

This Maundy Thursday is a good opportunity for a three point message.
Three things happened on Maundy Thursday:

First Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. He turned the Passover Feast, the commemoration of
when the Jews were set free from slavery in Egypt, into Holy Communion, where you are set
free from your sins, your death and Hell’s power over you. Now you belong to Jesus.
We cannot gather at this time to celebrate Holy Communion. Martin Luther had to deal with this
too in the times of the plague. People were too sick to come to church. Now we say we and
many other churches are “fasting” from joining in communion. We are giving something up, but
not for our own benefit. This is for the benefit and health of other people. But Luther told people
not to worry about missing communion. They still had God’s word. And they got the benefits of
communion in hearing or reading the Word of God.They could find the promises of God in the
Bible. The benefits of communion, forgiveness of sins and eternal life are for you in reading God’s
word, the promises of Christ in the Gospel or in the Psalms. The Gospel is God’s grace given,
proclaimed to you.


Also in the current situation some people are doing the rite of communion virtually. By hearing the
words on-line or live streamed and then sharing the bread and wine or grape juice with each other
at home. Perhaps you have done this, as I have, at church conventions or gatherings where you
receive communion and then give it to the person next to you. The very first Holy Communion was
instituted by Jesus on Maundy Thursday.

Secondly, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. When Peter refused Jesus said, “If I don’t wash your feet
you have no part in me.” Jesus washes your sins away. In his death you are washed clean of sin. And
Jesus told his disciples, “Now you should also serve one another.” You are servants to your neighbours.
You are Jesus’ witnesses. Again now that we are staying home, you cannot be hands on in this. But
you can still serve. You can make a phone call, or send an e-mail. Tell somebody you are thinking about them. Without touching you can keep in touch. Even if we are scattered like sheep the Good Shepherd keeps us connected as the body of Christ.

Third, and perhaps most important is that Jesus gives the new commandment. “This I command you, as I have loved you, so you should love one another.” You are held in the love of Jesus. John writes that God first loved us. Jesus showed the greatest love of all by dying for you. You are held in that steadfast love. Maundy means “command” and Jesus word to us is that we live as people who are loved by God, so we are set free to love others.

In our weekly Wednesday services we were looking at The Lord’s Prayer. One part that we never did get to is the conclusion, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.” In Martin Luther’s explanation he said that God loves our prayers. So we can play with confidence. We can come with all our cares and requests, not in fear but as children come to their loving father. Because Jesus died for you you are made children of God. We live in that promise. We serve others because Jesus has shown us his steadfast love and grace. Whether we can gather together or we are alone he continues to hold you and care for you. His is a love for you that endures forever.


Things to consider:

Who is somebody who would be helped by a call or a card from you?

Put somebody on your prayer list and pray for them this holy week.

Sunday Devotion 4/5/20

Thoughts for Palm Sunday


(read John 12:12 - 19)

I feel a special love for this passage this year. When I read about Jesus
entering Jerusalem and the crowd gathering around it reminds me of what I miss
about worship. It’s a wonderful scene of people gathering with joy and hope. There
is singing, even familiar words from a psalm (probably a familiar tune too since the psalms were
sung) . And they have a picture from the scriptures, a prophecy of a
king riding in humble, but in triumph. I miss our gatherings, as David said in Psalm 51
“Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness.” So the people praise and honour Jesus together
as he rides on his way to the temple. Perhaps they expected him to go to the palace or
to the headquarters of the Roman Governor. Like the wise men from our Christmas program
they could have gone to the wrong place and asked, “Where is he born king of the Jews?”

But Jesus is on his way to the temple. He has been here several times before. When he was
twelve years old he even stayed behind to listen to the teachers there. This time he cleans out
the money changers and the ones selling sacrificial animals in the court where Gentiles were
trying to worship. And during Holy Week the Gospels say “daily he was teaching in the temple.”
In John’s Gospel we read of some Greeks (people who were not Jewish) come to his disciples asking
to see Jesus. I suppose they had to meet them out in that noisy courtyard. But soon things will
be different. When Jesus is crucified the curtain in the temple will tear in two. Nothing will separate
God from his people. Jesus will be king not just of the Jews. Not just in Jerusalem. He will be
your God and saviour.

Jesus did go to the temple and to the synagogues to teach and preach. But he also taught on a mountainside
and to a huge crowd on the prairie, on a plain. He also said wherever two or three gather in his name
he is present with you. And in his parable of the good shepherd he said even with a huge flock he goes
searching for the one who is lonely and lost. At this time when we are not able to gather perhaps we
get some idea of what Christians feel like in countries where they are forbidden to worship. But remember
Jesus advised people to pray by going into a private place. He often went alone to pray in quiet places.
I was hiking the other day in Fort Ridgely State Park. It was quiet and peaceful. Then when I stepped
out from the camping area on the path where the prairie is I was suddenly surrounded by the songs
of birds. I remembered the Psalmist saying, “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of
the Lord.” Until we can gather again you can pray, have devotions, even sing hymns at home or outdoors.
 And let’s look forward in hope to the day when we gather together again to hear Jesus’ word, pray, praise and give him thanks.
Thanks be to God.
Amen

Some things to think about:

1) What is some worship experience you’ve had that made you happy? (singing a favourite hymn, gathering with special people, etc.)

2) What is something you look forward to when you gather for worship or for a Bible study, or in time of private prayer?


Wednesday Devotion 4/1/20

 A King of What Kingdom?

The Second Article
“Your Kingdom Come.”

Read John 18:33-37, John 19:19-22

Many years ago I was teaching a class of people who were mostly not Christians and I asked what I thought was a simple question: “What do you need to have a Kingdom?” Nobody answered. I suppose they started to think about systems of government and how a monarchy would work. But sometimes the answer is so obvious that you think, “No. It can’t be that simple!” I wasn’t trying to ask a tricky question. So I told them the answer. “Well, to have a kingdom you have to have a king.”

Looking at the Lord’s Prayer during this season of Lent we come to the 2nd Article, “Your kingdom come.” The first thing to notice is that it is “your kingdom” rather than my kingdom. I think we as Americans instinctively cringe back when hear this. In fact long ago our ancestors came to this country to avoid kings and queens and all the rules, taxes and obligations that they could impose on us. We wanted the freedom to elect our officials rather than have them appointed by “divine right.” But as Christians we are probably okay with Jesus as our king. However, I think we’re happier with the picture we get of him on Palm Sunday riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. People are waving palm branches and children are singing and many lay their cloaks on the road and the crowd sings “Hosanna in the highest.” Everybody is happy with that image. But it’s different than the picture that is the focus of Lent.

I am jumping ahead to the events of Good Friday with the Gospel readings from John. Jesus has already been tried by the Jewish council. If you recall they could not get two witnesses to agree on what crime Jesus had committed. Finally in answer to the High Priest’s question as to whether he was the Christ, Jesus said, “I am.” That was all they needed to convict him of blasphemy. He was telling a lie that dishonours God. So the High Priest says, “We don’t need any more witnesses! We’ve got him!”

So early in the morning they drag him off to Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor. He asks them what charge they have against Jesus. The council answers, “If he were not a criminal we would not have brought him to you!” So Pilate questions Jesus himself. He asks, “Are  you the king of the Jews?” That would be a crime. The Romans rule over Israel through their puppet king Herod. Pontus Pilate is the local authority. The ultimate power lies with Caesar back in Rome. So if Jesus claims to be the king of the Jews he is a criminal. But Jesus explains, “I am not a king like you think of kings.” I’m not a threat
to your power or the power of Rome. In a way I am a king but my kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.  I don’t have an army to fight for me. My purpose instead is to testify to the truth. Pilate responds very sarcastically by saying, “What is truth?” But he seems satisfied that that Jesus is not a criminal.

In fact as the Passion Story goes on in John chapter 19 we read that Pilate works very hard to set Jesus free. When he brings Jesus out to the people after Pilate has had him beaten Pilate thinks maybe this was sufficient punishment to satisfy Jesus’ enemies. But the crowd shouts, “Crucify him!” And he asks them, “Shall I crucify your king?” And I’m sure he was shocked by their response. These chief priests scream out, “We have no king but Caesar!” Well, Mark 15:10 tells us that Pilate sees that “it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” But he also knows that this crowd won’t be satisfied with anything less than blood.

So Pilate turns Jesus over to be crucified. That brings us to a less comforting image of Jesus as king. We see him hanging on a cross. The sign above his head reads “Jesus, of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” It not also makes us uncomfortable but it had that effect on Jesus’ enemies too. They say, “Don’t write that!” But Pilate says, “It stays as it is.” In spite of this upsetting image of the suffering Jesus there is comfort for you in it. This king is what Luther called a “true David.” This king (as Paul wrote) did not count himself as equal with God but humbled himself and was obedient even to death on the cross. This is the length that your king will go to save you. This is what it takes  for all your sins, and your death
to be swallowed up forever. The one who was more than the king of the Jews was willing to do it for you. To die and open up his heavenly kingdom for you. He is your king and the king of all who follow him.

In his explanation of the 2nd article Luther said “God’s kingdom comes to you through the power of the Holy Spirit, so you believe in Jesus. “ So you have faith in this king who went to the cross. So you believe that truth he came to tell, that his grace is truly sufficient for you. And he truly has a place for you in his kingdom of paradise. We hold on to his promises, to the word from Jesus, our king who died for us. And even in hard and lonely times you can look forward to Easter light shining. Because that forgiveness, love and comfort that Jesus has for you… well, as Luther often said, “This is most certainly true.” Thanks be to God. Amen

Suggestions:

Read Psalm 91. Pick one verse to focus on as you begin to pray.

Sing or read aloud hymn #495 Lead On, O King Eternal! Choose one verse as a prayer focus.

Remember we are still collecting favourite Bible verses. You can mail them to the church with your name
and why they are favourites.

God bless you and keep you in his love and grace, and let’s pray that we can gather again, safely soon.
Rev. Aaron

Sunday Devotion 3/29/20

 

 

Hope in Christ’s Resurrection
(Thoughts for Sunday, March 29)

Read John 11: 1 - 45

I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
(The Apostles’ Creed)

“My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial
because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
(Acts 23: 6b)

The Man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his
face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
(John 11: 44)

The passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead is a tipping point
in the Passion Story. If you read on in this chapter you find that many people believe in Jesus after this event.


Also after this Jesus’ enemies really set their sights on killing him.


For us too, although in a different way, we see this as a momentous event.


Here we see that Jesus really has the power to conquer death, and not only that but also our sinful natures and the devil’s power over us. When I read the text this time I was struck by the fact that Lazarus is still tied up in the funeral cloths, the clothes of a corpse, when he comes shuffling out of the tomb. You and I too were captives, tied up and under sin’s control. But in the death and resurrection of Jesus you are set free and made a new creation in Christ. Paul even refers to this as “putting on Christ” in our baptisms (Galatians 3:27).


And “putting on immortality.” (1st Corinthians 15:53 - 55) In dying to save you and rising again Jesus tore the corpse bindings off of you. Through the power of the Holy Spirit he dresses you in faith in him
 and puts you in the new clothes of eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

If you have a hymnal handy sing as many verses as you’d like of hymn #352,I Know that My Redeemer Lives.

 

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Questions to think about:

1) We experience different kinds of resurrection even in this life (finding hope in a sad situation; starting a new chapter in life, etc.).  When have you had a resurrection experience? Sometimes you can recognize them because you give a sigh of relief, or even say some prayers of thanks.

2) Who are you looking forward to seeing in Jesus’ Kingdom after your resurrection?

 


God bless you and yours,
Rev. Aaron Albrecht

 

Sunday Devotion 3/22/20

Seeing and Being Blind (Read John chapter 9)

 

Jesus said (to the man who had been blind) "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"

"Who is he sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."

Jesus said "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."

Then the man said, "Lord I believe," and he worshiped him.                   

--John 9:35b-38)

 

 

 

Recently, I found my dad's old pair of anti-glare sunglasses.  They are very handy for driving at the time of day where the sun hits you right between the eyes.  Without them the glare of the sun is blinding.  Martin Luther once said if you try to discover God in his glory the light will blind you, and even burn you up like a consuming fire.  You must seek God whee he wants to be found, in the man Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel story of man who was born blind, the man doesn't see Jesus even after he has been healed.  It isn't until the end of the story after everyone else, his own family, and his community, has deserted him that the man meets Jesus.  The man has some faith in Jesus even before he sees him.  But when he hears Jesus say that he is the Messiah then John's Gospel says "he worshiped him."

 

This story reminds me of Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain top (Matthew 17:1-9.)  When the disciples saw Jesus shining with heavenly light and heard God speak they were terrified.  But after the blinding light was gone they saw only Jesus.

 

And they followed him down from the mountain.  We need to hear God's word so that faith can grow in our hearts.  Often God gets to us not by what we see but by what we hear.  The man in the passage from John's Gospel believed and worshiped when he heard Jesus.  We also need to read and hear God's word to rekindle and keep faith alive in our hearts.

 

God bless you and keep you in his love and grace.

 

Pastor Aaron Albrecht

 

 

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Questions to think about:

  1. What Bible passages or words of Jesus are especially helpful to you during hard times?
  2. For you, what makes it possible to see Jesus and his grace more clearly?
Pentecost Sunday

Come to Me All Who Are Thirsty…
(Read John 7:37 - 39)

I was surprised and glad to see this Gospel lesson from John for this Pentecost Sunday.
I have been seeing it again and again,  in the Wednesday Bible Study and preparing for
the radio devotions. It seems that God wants me to hear it and pass it on. I wondered why it’s not as famous as some others from what Luther called this “blessed Gospel.” It’s a beautiful passage for the birthday of Jesus’ church - this Pentecost Sunday. I suppose we usually miss the Gospel lesson on Pentecost because we are focussed on the passage for Acts 2: 1 -21 where Jesus’ promise is fulfilled and he does pour out his Holy Spirit on people: young and old, men and women,  your sons and daughters as Peter proclaimed at the birth of the church in Jerusalem. That’s a wonderful scene from the history of God and his people. But this passage from John is Jesus’ rallying cry.

Picture Jesus standing on the Temple steps. John tells us it was the last and greatest day of the festival. So the crowd would be thick there - like an Easter Sunday or a Christmas Eve service, except people were not sitting down. Picture a good day at the Minnesota State Fair. The crowd would be moving, coming and going. Picture Jesus on the steps of the Temple. I imagine him on the edge of the courtyard where the Gentiles were allowed to gather. They were restricted, prevented from going inside the Temple. You remember in John’s Gospel long before this Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables in that courtyard and he drove out the sellers of sheep and cattle and doves, and their livestock. See that was the place where you and I would be allowed to gather, people who were not Jewish, but they were called God-fearing people. They believed in the God of Abraham, the one true God even though they couldn’t go into the temple. At that time many Jewish people were going in. This was their harvest festival, like Fall Fest or Thanksgiving Day. I imagine all those money changers and sellers of animal sacrifices that Jesus had kicked out were back. And there was another group, guards from the Jewish Council who had been sent to arrest Jesus. So I think Jesus picked a spot where everyone could hear. People like you and me, non-essential, and other sinners who were just out to make a buck, and people keeping the tradition, honouring God by making sacrifices for their sins and giving thanks for God’s blessings. John’s Gospel says Jesus stood up so they could all hear and cried out. I’d say he mounted the steps and shouted. So people stopped what they were doing. Some probably wondered, “Uh-oh! Is he going to be whipping cattle and sheep again?’ But what Jesus calls out is, “If you are thirsty come and drink.” “Come to me!” he says. 

Come when you are dried out, and tired. Come to me if you feel left out and alone. Whoever believes in me, even if you’re a dimly burning scrap of paper that is about to give up. I won’t snuff you out. Or if you’re one of those bent cattails like I heard used to be all around Lake Marion. Jesus says I won’t break you off. I’ll blow gently on the smoke of you tired soul with my word and my Holy Spirit. I’ll bind you up with a strong garden stake, my amazing grace and forgiveness, so you grow. I’ll give you new life. 

Jesus says the scripture says “the Spirit will flow for you like rivers of living water. In your heart.” I read that scholars have searched for that passage. They found a couple that could be bundled together but they can’t find it exactly as Jesus said. But I got to thinking that the image does come up regularly all throughout the Old Testament. It’s in Psalm 107 which starts out “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” In verse 35 it says “He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.” In the dry season, or in a drought when you are worn out, frightened and dried up, God sends refreshment and new life. Isaiah the prophet proclaiming the future of God’s people, their return home after being in exile says, “The wilderness and the dry  land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly.” (Is. 35: 1 and 2) And that happened for God’s chosen people. From a burned out desert there was a super bloom of joy, like flowers in Death Valley. Or an artist friend of mine who’s 91 and lives in New York was telling me he missed the Easter Parade. I asked what he meant he said he used to be able to look down from his apartment on Easter Sunday on the streets of New York. And suddenly when church services were over it looked like a garden. Every color you can imagine with all those Easter bonnets of everybody who had been watered by the Word of God. They came out wearing their Easter best.

Well, Jesus was talking about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. His rallying cry was a promise that he would not leave his people desolate. And he kept that promise when all those people  young and old, men and women went out on that first Pentecost proclaiming the mighty acts of God. Of course there were detractors. Some said, “These people are drunk.” So Peter had to set them straight. He said God promised to do this. But when he sent his son, What did you do? "This Jesus whom you crucified is God and Lord.” When we come up against that, like those people we are cut to the heart. Like them we say, “What can we do?” Repent! Believe the good news. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for you. He works on you so you believe. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. He died for your sins. He died so you can move into the future forgiven, looking to a better day. The promise is for you and for your children. 

On that first Pentecost Luke, in the book of Acts, says about three thousand people were baptised. In John’s Gospel Jesus rallying cry also had results some believed and some wanted Jesus arrested. But the Bible says the Word of God is never without fruit. To me the punchline of this story is when the guards went back to the Jewish Council. The went back empty handed to Jesus’ enemies. When they had to say why they didn’t obey their orders they said, “No one ever spoke like this!” That promise had touched their hearts. The Holy Spirit opens your heart so you hear Jesus’s words, “Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.” The words get to your heart, “I do not condemn you.” “I will not leave you desolate.” “Take heart. It is I!” To you he says, “Come to me all who are thirst.” To you he gives his spirit of comfort and truth. The Holy Spirit who is at your side, who keeps you in God’s word and in true faith.

Thanks be to God 
Amen

Special music for prayer and reflection:
hymn #161    O Day Full of Grace

Sunday Devotion 5/31/20