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 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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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