Sunday Devotion 5/3/20

Good Shepherd Sunday

Read: John 10:1 - 10
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.

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 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 5/17/20

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.

Sunday Devotion 5/24/20

Read John 17: 1 - 23
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. 
Thanks be to God.

Sunday Devotion 5/31/20

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 

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