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22 October 2017
Twentieth Sunday of Pentecost
Readings: Isa 45:1 – 7
Ps 96
1 Thess 1:1 – 10
Matt 22:15 – 22

“Jesus, the one who rescues us from the wrath to come”

In Isaiah today we hear the good news concerning King Cyrus, the King of Persia. Cyrus is the overcomer who will throw down the Babylonians, and in the process free the captive Jews to return to their Jewish homeland. This is a bold revelatory statement by Isaiah. Why would the Lord God invest himself in this pagan king? It happens that the Persians will stand by the Jews more than once.

Only the Lord God could know that He would prevail on this earthly king to carry out the will of the Lord for His people. Revelation is again the means by which Almighty God communicates with his people through the willing prophet, Isaiah. Cyrus the savior king is a forerunner for another Savior king who will arise six centuries later. Cyrus will be like the great saving king of the Jews, Jesus Christ. God works in mysterious ways. These Persians are not much different than the other tyrants of the fertile crescent. Yet God prevails to persuade these pagan kings to spread benevolence to God’s chosen people. In Isaiah, I am sure he was speaking to the oppressed Jews of his day. But the prophecy he begins in the 40th chapter through the end of the Book is the fullest revelation of the messiah king that we have in the old testament. Jesus himself, when he returns to Nazareth at the beginning of His saving ministry, turns to the 61st Chapter of Isaiah to recite the words we know well, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted… To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

When we perceive the good news of the Lord, we are motivated to “Sing to the Lord a new song”, to “Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day”. This is the way God’s people traditionally responded when they received good news from their Lord and Master. Is our heart light enough to respond to the news of salvation, or are we so heavy hearted that we don’t rise up any longer to proclaim the glory of our savior Jesus? Are our eyes trained to see the things of God? We should expect to see and hear the action of the Lord in our lives. It is good to hear the Psalmist’s praises. It hearkens us back to a time when God was perceived in the simple and subtle details of the people’s lives. We must return to that same place. That is why we recite a portion of the Psalter every week. We need to experience the good news of the Lord every week. I would challenge everyone to read a Psalm everyday. Soak it in and after time, notice its salutory effect on your life. As Jesus said, I have come to give you life, life in abundance. You will find that daily in the Psalms. As you go through the Gospels in your personal reading, notice the number of times Jesus cites a portion of the Psalms. He uses them often. In a cruel and difficult world, the Psalms were balm to his soul and food for his heart. So use the Psalms to propel your spirit life to grace and joy in praise to the good news of your God.

Now if you hear the good news and we are propelled by joy, think of the great work we can do for the Lord in our lives, community, and world at large. In today’s letter to the Thessalonians, Paul commends the Thessalonian community for their reception of the Gospel of hope and their steadfast love in the face of tribulation. They stand strong to imitate Paul and his fellow evangelists in their work of faith and labor of love. This community is pivotal in the acceptance of the Gospel message on Greek soil. Little Thessalonica will play a great role in the acceptance of the Gospel message throughout the north of Greece and Macedonia. In this letter, you can tell that Paul has great admiration and love for the Thessalonians. The Gospel has taken root and sent its roots deep into the local soil, which is the hearts of the Thessalonian people. This is one of Paul’s earliest letters. Though it is early in Paul’s letter writing, many of the great doctrines of the Christian faith are on display. In the first chapter, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is cited as the source of power in this Gospel from the Jews. Also in the first Chapter, verse 10 we see the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming. What does that mean for the Thessalonians? By faith, their savior Christ will return and rescue them from the wrath to come. They are quite familiar with wrath, since Paul was only able to stay in Thessalonica for about a month due to a great persecution that started against him. Nonetheless, the message of Hope that he shared with them takes hold and is flourishing by the time he sends this letter. The Lord is with them in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has sealed them off from wrath. They have become a model Christian community for all of Macedonia and Achaia, also known as Greece. Before Paul finishes this letter, he urges them to do the following: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. For us today that means give glory to our God who sits in His heavenly throne and receive grace to carry out the work his son Jesus has called us to fulfill.

The message we receive from Isaiah, Psalm 96 and First Thessalonians seems at first to be disconnected from our Gospel from Matthew. Render to Caesar and render to God. Jesus seemed to almost pull a magic trick, a slight of hand on this response to the Jewish authorities. We have here an example of the messiah king at his best. The Psalms paint a picture of God’s anointed king as the perfect example of grace, poise, strength, a purveyor of wisdom, the example of righteous speaking. Jesus dispenses here the ultimate pronouncement on our concerns about possessions. What we receive from the world, and that means all the trappings of worldly wealth, give it back to the world at large. Every item we receive from God, should be returned to God. Later He explains in the parable of the talents that whatever we receive from God must be returned in spades. If I let God have his way in my life, that talent will double, triple, or even increase tenfold. The point is, let God have His way, and then render it all back to Him. This is actually good news and should be cause for great rejoicing. Our God is so beneficent that we get to share in His glory. The tough part is that what we receive, we must let go of willingly. Only after we have let it go without hesitation, will God come back and place us over kingdoms. This is the work that our savior, messiah king came to do in the world. He came to dispense talents to everyone, knowing there will be a time to render back to Him everything in preparation for the Kingdom to come. Are we ready to receive, to render, and to move into the Kingdom that is coming? If we are ready, then let us sing a new song of the joy and awe we have for God’s messiah king! Hallelujah Jesus!!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!!

8 October 2017
Eighteenth Sunday of Pentecost
Readings: Isa 5:1 – 7
Ps 80:1 – 19
Phil 3:14 – 21
Matt 21:33 – 44

“The image of Christ as both Vine and Vine Dresser”

In the Bible, the image of the vine, the vineyard, and the vine dresser is used prominently in both Old and New Testament. At the Last Supper, Jesus refers to himself as the Vine and his followers are referred to as branches. His Father the Lord God is the vinedresser. His job is the inspect the vine, and cut off any branch that does not bear fruit. He carries out this function in his role as sovereign judge over his creation.

As branch and fruit, our place is not to judge and carry out the sentence of judgement. To judge would be to sit on the seat reserved for God and to behave as if we were gods. The story of mankind’s fall from grace begins with Adam’s attempt to be “like god”. He is created perfect in almost every way. All his needs are met by his residency in God’s Garden. He even has the intimacy of another person while in the Garden, Eve his helpmate. Finally, he is given a wonderful job. He is given the role of chief assistant to the Head Gardener. He is permitted conversation with the chief architect of creation, the Lord God. God is both gracious and patient with Adam. He is given only a single prohibitive command, not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating from that tree is reserved for God only. The one who is over all creation is the only one who can eat the fruit of this tree and not experience death.

Adam has no physical need to eat that fruit. Nonetheless, Eve eats the fruit of the tree. Shortly thereafter, Adam follows suit. To his shock and dismay Adam does not rise to godliness, but rather falls to sin and death. The wages of sin are death. Neither sin or death are to be found in the Living God. The mark of sin and death in Adam and his offspring cause a separation between men and God that is almost permanent until the coming of Jesus. Jesus has come to put things right between mankind and God.

Jesus is the fulfillment of every man’s desire to put things right with God. Try as we may, we cannot make right the relationship which was broken by our ancestors Adam and Eve. Instead, we find that we are caught in a cycle of bad behavior and an inherent unwillingness to carry out the moral behavior commanded by our God. So let’s turn to the Old and New Testament readings for today and examine the two vineyard stories found in Isaiah and Matthew. The stories are similar, but they present different sides of the same moral story.

In the fifth chapter of Isaiah, the writer is speaking from the vantage point of God. “Let me sing now for my beloved, a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard”. From the first chapter of the Gospel of John, we know that Jesus was with the Lord God before the beginning of time and all of creation came through Him. The vineyard then represents His creation of mankind, and he did everything to assure that his vineyard would produce lovely tasty fruit. Despite His effort the fruit did not turn out well. The narrator of the story (the implication is God) in verse 5 states the following: “Judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do to my vineyard that I have not done to it?”

The narrator goes on to say that he will lay waste to His vineyard. For Isaiah the vineyard is “the house of Israel and the men of Judah”. Just as the Lord says, the people are laid waste. Both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel will fall to it’s enemies and they will be carried off into captivity. Later, the Jewish Kingdom will be partially reconstituted, but it never again is the same vibrant society of God’s chosen people. Instead, the society is captive to Persians, Greeks, then Romans. In the end, the Romans are driven in angry vengeance to dismember the nation and send it’s people to the four winds. After the first century, the Jews were unable to reconstitute themselves as a nation until the 20th century. That is quite an exile indeed!

There is a larger context for this story. I believe the vineyard is representative of all of the Living God’s followers. That means that we Christians are also implicated in the unfruitfulness of the vineyard. Rather than producing pleasant sweet grapes, many of Christ’s followers produce sour grapes. We still seem to be unable to produce the fruit of righteousness. Unless we produce righteousness in all of it’s profound glory, why would we expect a different end than the experience of the Jewish people? In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John provides a vision of the complete fall of mankind, even though God’s Christian people are in the midst. To be clear, Jesus will return in glory to set mankind back in the proper order. Righteousness will reign over wickedness. Nonetheless, we must realize that Jesus has given us everything we need to produce good fruit. We must be careful that our lives as Christians produce good righteous fruit. That has to be our primary goal in this life. If we follow after any other goal, we are likely to produce sour grapes. We invite God’s judgement and condemnation. The end for the producers of sour grapes will not be good. If we Anglicans truly believe in the authority of scripture, this passage from Isaiah should give us pause to stop and examine our behavior and practices.

In the Gospel story from Matthew, Jesus presents this story a little differently. In this instance, the Lord is not tending the vineyard and receiving sour grapes in return. Instead, He has left the garden in the hands of “renters” and goes off to attend to other matters. The “owner” fully expects to receive the fruit of the vineyard in due season. The renters don’t own the land, they have not invested in the improvement of the grounds or facilities, and in general don’t put anything into the vineyard other than harvesting the fruit. But since the owner has gone off, the renters begin to think they can usurp his authority and take the vineyard as their own. Here we have another example of the sourness of human nature. The renters have not invested their own time and energy, but believe they can take it over at no cost to themselves. In this particular case, the renters are the religious authorities and elders. They are treating Jesus as if they are the owners of God’s people. They can order people about. They can make demands. They can expect to pocket the proceeds of the people. They have long forgotten that they are only renters and stewards, established at the whim of the owner. In this story, Jesus says that the landowner sent his son, expecting that they will respect him. But the renters plot together, kill the son and seize the vineyard, the very inheritance of the son. Can they possibly get away with this gross wickedness? The interesting element here is that Jesus does not relate the ending of the story, instead he inquires of the authorities about what the end of those scoundrels should be. This is reminiscent of the encounter between the prophet Nathan and King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Nathan relates a story about a poor man who had one lamb which is taken by a rich man who has many flocks and slaughters this lamb for his impending feast. David answers Nathan that this scoundrel should be put to death for this treachery. Nathan’s response to David is that he is the rich man who stole Bathsheba out of the hands of her husband, and then had her husband killed. So David’s condemnation comes out of his own mouth. Like Nathan Jesus asks the authorities what should be the end of the scoundrel renters. They answer that those wretches should come to a wretched end. Not many years later, the nation of Israel would come to a wretched end at the hands of the Romans. Little did they realize out of their own mouths they were sentencing themselves and their children to a humiliating end. They believed they were preserving their temple worship customs by having Jesus put to death. In reality, they brought about the demise of temple worship forever.

After almost two thousand years of Christendom, we must realize the implications this story has for us today. As followers of Jesus, He has made us stewards of His Kingdom on Earth. We are still like the renters, we owe the owner our very lives. Without his beneficence we will perish. I hear Christians today putting words in God’s mouth that he never said. They misrepresent Him, and misguide non-believers to believe in ideas that sap spiritual strength and energy. Jesus came to give humanity abundant life, that is life in relationship with the Living God. Instead there are so-called Christians who think they can steal and horde this life for themselves. I am referring to the “prosperity” Christians who have taken over the theological landscape in the modern Western world. This is the same kind of worldly thinking that Saint Paul pushed back against throughout his ministry. We need to consider our Lord’s words very carefully. He is in control. We are not, and we must act as if we truly acknowledge that the Lord is always our Provider. As our Creator, we cannot fool him, we cannot steal from Him, and we must absolutely accept that His Word is intended for our benefit.

Why is it important to understand the vineyard and the vine grower? Grapes grow on vines. Grapes when processed correctly produce wine. Within the wine there an essence which cheers the heart and causes men to relax and feel good. We know today that the essence is alcohol, but in these stories the essence that God is creating is the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Holy Communion, we are reminded that Jesus Christ is present with His Holy Spirit. He desires to find the Holy Spirit in the midst of the people. He also knows that the authentic Spirit of God creates many fine fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. When these fruits are not present in a human being their life is sour and produces, arrogance, self-centeredness, ambition, striving, jealousy, wickedness, sexual immorality, etc. God put His essence into men, His very Holy Spirit. Men rebelled against the vine dresser God, so he sent His son. The son re-established the image of God on Earth and He gave his Holy Spirit to attend to His people. If we are in concert with Him, we will produce the fruit of the Spirit and many good works will result. Without consciously realizing it, we will glorify our Creator God through our good works. That is His expectation for us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

10 September 2017
Fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost
Readings: Ezek 33:1 – 11
Ps 119:33 – 48
Rom 12:9 – 21
Matt 18:15 – 20

“The prophet as conduit of God’s amazing Grace”
In my last homily, I talked about the special relationship that our Father God has with His people through the line of communication he establishes through His prophets. In the readings appointed for that day I explained how the lives of four of God’s prophets impinged on the human world. Jonah, David, Paul, and Jesus were given powerful messages from the Lord God. When those messages were delivered, the people to whom they were directed risked great peril should they have chosen to ignore the message. In the case of Jonah, the story is all the more poignant because he tried to disobey the call the Lord had put on his life. He repented, saw the error of his ways, and saved many people from sure destruction. So there is potential risk and peril for both the messenger and the recipient. In short, it is essential to be obedient both as messenger and recipient.

Today’s readings are a very good follow-up to my message of four weeks ago. The passage in Ezekiel starts with “And the word of the Lord came to me”. Ezekiel is much misunderstood. The image of this mystic prophet is dated when considered against the backdrop of contemporary society. The book starts with a vision of the glory of God that sounds psychedelic, as if he were on a mind altering drug. After the vision, we are told he is commissioned by God to speak to the rebellious people of Israel. The Lord God tells him not to fear this people, but speak the words the Lord is to give him that they may repent. His visions are so far outside the norm that contemporary critics have suggested he encountered not God, but an alien being. Contemporary men can easily believe in aliens, not an encounter with a just and righteous God. Personally, I have always had a fascination for this particular prophet because his visions suggest a God far above and beyond the human norm, and his messages from God seem impenetrable to human reason. In short, Ezekiel allowed himself to be conformed to the transcendant image of God. It is only by the gentle power of the Holy Spirit that we may be allowed to unpack the messages he has brought to us. In this specific passage, the 33rd Chapter, we are presented with a Godly theme which reaches its climax in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Lord refers to Ezekiel as the “son of man”. We only see this title one other time in the bible. Jesus refers to himself as the “son of man”. The son of man has a very special anointing from the Lord. The prophet’s purpose is to usher in the coming Kingdom of God. He is specifically called to go to a rebellious people, a people who may or may not listen. But he is called to persist in his message all the same. His prophet must not fear the words or actions of men, for the Lord is with him. This name, son of man is important for all of us because it means that God is willing to invest his Holy Spirit, His Holy Word, and His Holy vision in a person of human flesh. He is very much like us. How can almighty God do this? As Jesus says later to his disciples, “nothing is impossible for God”. The Lord God can put His spirit into any man or woman who chooses to be obedient. So there is only one qualification to be called out as the “son of man”; obedience.

Ezekiel is faithful to deliver to the people of Israel in captivity all the words the Lord has given him. In this chapter, he reiterates the call the Lord has put on his life. He is to be a watchman for the people. These are dire times for these ancient Hebrews. They will die in their rebelliousness if they don’t listen, believe, and repent of their rebelliousness. The sword is coming into the land, but they do not have to die. Instead listen and obey my prophet, and they will live.

Here is an historical sidebar for your consideration. Ezekiel was speaking in the midst of the Babylonian captivity. After 70 years, Nehemiah would lead a portion of the captives back to Israel and Jerusalem. The nation state of Israel would be reestablished, although never like its former independent glory. Nonetheless, for reasons unknown to us, a remnant stayed behind in what is now Iraq. That community survived and even flourished until modern times. How significant was this community? Some scholars believe that at least one of the three wise men coming out of the East, came from the Iraqi Jewish community. The community had a visionary gift that was essential to the confirmation that God’s Messiah had been born. In contemporary times we see the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. In Iraq, one of ISIS’ clear objectives has been to stamp out both Christian and Jewish communities. After more than twenty-five hundred years in Iraq, it is unclear how much of this ancient Jewish remnant remains today. We must pray that God’s people are saved from complete destruction.

Whenever I read the Old Testament stories, I ask myself what the relevance would be for my current life. I will have to admit that there are times here in the Salt Lake Valley that I feel like an exile. Unlike Tulsa, Oklahoma that claims to be the buckle of the bible belt, this Valley lives under a cloud of error and deception. In my workplace, dominated by Mormons, I cannot readily speak about the influence and impact of the Lord Jesus Christ on my life. Mormons will claim allegiance to Jesus, but not faith in Him as Lord and Savior. At times, I just feel alone in my faith. Ezekiel was a remnant prophet. He knew the same feeling of isolation, but the Lord called him to be a light in that particular darkness. He heard, he believed, he obeyed that call. It is no different for me and for us here in the Valley. Hear the call to be faithful to Jesus Christ, listen to the message of reconciliation, live out the call to be conciliatory agents for Christ in a dead and dying world.

Ezekiel had hard words for his community, yet he persisted and the Word prevailed. In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus has some very hard words for us to comply with. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.” If he does not listen, don’t stop there. Widen your community of care and take two or three with you to reform your brother. If that does not work, widen the community to your worship unit, the church. Appeal to your brother to repent of his evil in the presence of the community. The larger picture here is this. In these New Testament times, every brother and sister in Christ can be and will be a prophet of the Lord God. God speaks to us about our call and how we are to assist our brothers and sisters. There is no call from God simply to personal sanctification. No, the call is through us as his prophets to His community which is often in error and rebellion. We must obey his call to heal that which is broken. How healing happens is a mystery, as such is the grace of God. As hard as it may seem, don’t fear the repercussions from a broken world. For as Jesus has told us, “I have overcome the world”.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!!

13 July 2017
Tenth Sunday of Pentecost
Readings: Jon 2:1 – 10
Ps 29
Rom 9:1 – 5
Matt 14:22 – 33

“The call and vision to trust in God”
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters”, Genesis 1, verses 1 and 2. The Creator God brought into existence the earth from nothing. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters of a formless earth, spoke to the spirit of Moses and gave him the vision that he wrote down and called Genesis. One of Adam’s chief responsibilities in the Garden was the naming of the creatures in the Garden. This is what the Spirit of God invested in Adam and he did it naturally without forethought. We know that Adam sinned, thus being driven out of the Garden. Nonetheless, from the bible we know that God continued to speak to Adam and the communication he had with God was very efficacious for his life. Despite the perils of the earth, he lived a long life. The important takeaway is that whenever God invests His Holy Spirit in a person, out of that person comes creativity, and above all the gift of naming. Moses received the gift of the creation story from God’s Holy Spirit. He went on to name it, Genesis. Henceforth, we associate the name or word Genesis with creation. This gift of hearing or seeing the Holy Spirit is very important as I am about to point out.

Throughout the bible story, we see a God who has decided to have relationship with his chief creation, mankind. This relationship implies speaking and communication between God and mankind. From the bible story, we learn of specific individuals who have such a close relationship with God that they are called prophets. A prophet has a very special call on his life. He relays messages from God to His people. When the Prophet says something, the people must listen very carefully. If the people fail to listen, catastrophe is waiting around the corner. In today’s readings we hear from four prophets: Jonah, David, Paul, and Jesus. One of the mysteries of God’s communication or messages to mankind is that the message has meaning and potency for all times. Do we have ears to hear the message that each of these prophets have for us in this day and time. We risk great peril should we fail to listen and fall prey to the dangers they point to in the way.

Jonah: The reluctant prophet. The word of the Lord came to Jonah saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.” But having the heard the Lord, he decided to flee in the opposite direction. The Lord’s command be ignored! It is not surprising that Jonah’s flight did not turn out well. He boarded a ship and shortly out of port it is beset by strong winds and heavy seas. As we find out, God’s wrath is not only on Jonah, but it imperils the people, his ship mates around him. Knowing the command given to him and his desire to avoid responsibility, he tells his ship mates to throw him overboard. Only then will they get relief from the storm. They hesitate, but in the end, they throw him overboard. Immediately the storm subsides and they are awed by this mysterious God. They immediately offer thanks, make vows and offer a sacrifice to the Lord. You should note that it is the unchained, ferocious forces of nature that bring about such great fear. A God who controls the forces of nature is to be feared and obeyed.

Once Jonah is in the sea, he is swallowed by a great fish. Our passage this morning is the prayer offered by Jonah in the belly of the fish. In the midst of his demise, Jonah offers up a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. As a prophet of the most High God, he knew the punishment for disobedience was death. He was expecting it. Better to die in the hands of a merciful God, than to face the merciless Ninevites and the pain he expected at the hands of those wicked people. Nonetheless, God had a much different plan for Jonah. Despite his reluctance, God would empower him for the work of salvation. As soon as Jonah’s prayers was completed, the fish belched him out onto the land. He knows he has no choice but to head for Nineveh. When he arrived at Nineveh, he carried out his mission exhorting them to repent of their evil ways, or face overthrow. To a man they heard, they repented, and they were saved, including the king of Nineveh. This was no small feat. The people listened to this prophet. They believed the message and were saved from destruction.

David: A prophet king with a heart after God. In today’s Psalm, David speaks of his great and mighty Lord God. “Ascribe to the Lord the Glory of His name; Worship the Lord in holy array.” This is an ancient doxology extolling the greatness of his Father God. Then in the next verse he goes back to the image of God from the beginning of Genesis. “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; The God of glory thunders, the Lord is over many waters.” The image of God and water is primally associated with the creation activity of God. Human beings are borne into and emerge from the waters of their mother’s womb. The sea is teaming with life of all kinds. Man in order to survive, must carry water wherever he may roam. Yet water can have great destructive power. Floods and deluges can utterly destroy life. So be sure to stay on the right side of the God who controls the action of the waters. The entire Psalm speaks to the power of God over the forces of nature. What human being can claim any power over the capriciousness of nature. Even in our modernity, we can predict a coming storm, but we can’t estimate the destructive power that will be unleashed. Right now the residents of New Orleans are in the grip of fear regarding impending torrential storms. They cannot erase the scars left by Katrina more than ten years ago. So in this Psalm, David has considerable insight into the God who made and controls nature. The Lord was King over the great flood, and yes he sits as King forever. Pay heed to the Lord and he will grant strength to His people. He will bless his people with peace, even in the midst of a storm.

Paul: An evangelical prophet with a passion for God’s people. This passage from Romans is a short introduction to the great sorrow he has for his “kinsmen according the flesh”, the Jewish people. As he goes on to say later in the chapter, genealogical descendants of Abraham do not necessarily make the Jewish people the children of God. He says in Romans 9 vs 8 that “it is not the children of flesh who are children of God. But the children of promise are regarded as descendants.” Of what promise is he speaking? The promise is the coming anointed one of Israel. The promise has come. It is Jesus Christ. He fulfilled all of the tenets of the Law, and he fulfilled all of the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. But the Jewish people of the flesh have largely rejected Jesus. Paul the prophet received a testimony from God himself and he has a message of salvation that is completely consistent with Jesus Christ. But it has fallen on deaf ears. So the Lord has told Paul to go out into the highways and byways, preaching the good news and receive all who receive the Promise. For they are the true children of God. Paul is still out on the highways proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Have you heard the news? Have you received the news? Are you obeying the command to make disciples of Christ of all men and women? Or have you turned your backs like Jonah, and simply said to the Lord, “Just take me home! This is too hard for me to bear!”

Jesus: The Most High Prophet of the Living God. In Deuteronomy 18:18 Moses says, “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Then in the 19th verse he goes on to say, “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I myself will require it of him. To paraphrase, I will send someone who will only speak My words. Hear, listen, and obey all that He has to say. If you don’t listen to him, you will be directly accountable to me, the Living God. Believe me it is far easier to bear the yoke of Jesus than the yoke of the stern Father God. Jesus will be so easy to follow, by comparison. This is where the Jewish people are now. They have a stern task master, one who will no longer listen to their excuses and entreaties for mercy. But if we are truly followers of Christ, we have a merciful Good Shepherd. Nonetheless, the requirement is to hear and listen. Our actions speak to our willingness to obey. He said the following with the utmost urgency, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus comes to you upon the waters of creation, let us hope and pray that we do not sink in dread as Peter did and face our Lord’s rebuke, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”

Let us pray, …

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

9 July 2017
Fifth Sunday of Pentecost
Readings: Zechariah 9:9 – 12
Ps 145:1 -13 (14 – 21)
Rom 7:21 – 8:6
Matt 11:25 – 30

“The call to personal discipleship”
Today, I want to pick up close to where I left off last week. That is, I want to start with the idea of soundness of mind as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Recall that I quoted this last week from Second Timothy? Without soundness of mind we will not be able to discern God’s gifts to us, or His grace, or his purposeful plan for our lives.

Jesus was very aware our minds needed renewing before the notion of the Kingdom of Heaven would make any sense to His followers. In the case of Jesus, the miracles he performed daily were proof enough that this Jesus had been given special power by the Creator. So as Jesus states in Matthew Chapter 11, verse 19, “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”. The deeds are an opening for the true pearl offered by Jesus, Wisdom. When we witness Wisdom close up, will we acknowledge it is a gift of God for us? Apparently for the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, they could not. Neither in the person of John the Baptist, who fasted from all things worldly, or in Jesus who celebrated with sinners in the joy of life could the religious authorities accept the presence of God in their midst. In addition, they could not accept the Word of Wisdom that came from Jesus’ lips. Instead, they questioned the source of Jesus’s power as possibly evil because they could not conceive in their minds the consistency of Jesus’ works with the statements of Law that they had memorized.

Thus for example, the Sabbath was reserved for rest, how could Jesus perform miraculous “works” if he was at rest. In response, Jesus replied that God’s mercy is never at rest. Mercy is a gift from God. His miracles were a gift of the Father God for His suffering people, not a work of flesh to exercise control and power. Their minds were closed since they were not open to God’s mercy and love. There was for Jesus a natural connection between the Grace of God and the miracles he performed on a daily basis. His mind was captive to the idea that God desired him to do this. So he would continue with this behavior until his Father’s mission had been accomplished. He was consistent with this plan until His Father intended to give him over to the religious authorities. From the beginning of his earthly ministry until the end on Calvary, Jesus’ mind was clear about what he had to do. His behavior consistently reflected this clear headed behavior.

In the seventh Chapter of Romans, Paul tells us the linkage between what I do in the flesh and what I think I want to do is not present for mortal humanity. Rather there is a war between the evil desires of the flesh and the good intentions of a man’s mind. This had been essentially true since the fall of mankind in the Garden. It was this conflict in mankind between evil actions and good intentions that barred the Kingdom of Heaven from mankind. As Paul put it, “wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death”. Why was he dead? Because he was separated from the life of God. This warring nature did not exist in the life of Jesus. As such he was the first man to live a life dedicated in every respect to the purpose of God. By his righteous life, his death became the balm that transforms the disconnectedness of human life. His death set Paul’s life free from the deadly cravings of his flesh. Now Paul’s behavior became consistent with what he purposed to do in his mind. What Paul has done here is to help us understand why there is such a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Jesus knew about the warring between the flesh and mind. That is why he did not condemn the authorities. Instead he called them to repentance. He exhorted them to witness the goodness of his acts and to see a loving Father God behind each positive miraculous outcome. In turning to Jesus, in following Him, there will be no “pound of flesh” to be paid as duty. As Paul states it so aptly, “ Therefore there now is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

After a life filled with internal struggle, flesh against mind, what will I face should I turn to Jesus? Listen one more time to what Jesus says in the Gospel today. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Jesus was a bond servant of the Father. His entire life was dedicated to the Father’s work. It was easy work filled with the enabling Holy Spirit. The burden of responsibility is not heavy because the Father is there in the midst of the endeavor, every step along the way. It is pure delight to labor for the Father. What Jesus has is what we receive when we choose to follow him. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him”.

According to Paul, Jesus has the Law of the Spirit of Life. We receive this as a free will gift of His Holy Spirit. We are no longer subject to the law of sin and death. The warring between flesh and mind ceases. Now our mind is set on the Spirit which is life and peace. Once our minds have been renewed, we set our thinking on the things of God and how they can be accomplished in the life we now live. With soundness of mind we can receive the revelation of who Jesus is, what he came do, why he came to a life in the flesh, and how we can continue to carry out His reconciling work in the world around us. In this way, our lives identify with the Psalmist’s words for today.

“The Lord sustains all who fall and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

2 July 2017
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost
Readings: Isaiah 2:10 – 17
Rom 6:1 – 11
Matt 10:34 – 42

“Baptism in Christ is the only way to eternal life”
Before I go into a consideration of today’s readings, I want to state something given to us by Paul in his second letter to Timothy. “He did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7)”. Paul said this to Timothy as he prepared him to minister to the churches he had established in Greece and Turkey. What power was he talking about? The power given by the Holy Spirit to be ambassadors and witnesses for the living God. What we do as ambassadors of Christ is extend the rule of love and mercy over foreign lands and territories. Finally, we allow our minds to be cleared of the fog of deception and misdirection given to us by the world around us and focus with laser clarity on the work the Lord has given us to do. We should ponder with a clear mind the words the Lord has given us and obey them without delay. That was Paul’s counsel to Timothy, and I believe these words are appropriate to us today as we consider the biblical content appointed for this day.

It is with a sound mind that we must consider the words given us today in Romans and Matthew. These lessons are not easy to absorb. Consider first the statement that if we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death. Having been baptized as a baby, I don’t remember the feelings much less the thoughts that came over me in that experience. I have to admit that as an adult, infant baptism is one of those rites I struggle with in our Anglican tradition. At baptism, without an adult mind I could not ponder the implications of this momentous event. Instead I am forced as an adult to look back and consider what happened at that time in my life. It truly requires soundness of mind to get back to that event and realize what was happening. In the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul brings us to the understanding of what was happening at our baptism. By baptism Christ takes each of us into his death on a cross. In death, our body of sin and corruption is destroyed. The stain that keeps us from the embrace of a loving God is removed. Then we are prepared to be remade, “regenerated” as it were into a new body in Christ Jesus that is free from sin and death. Must we die? Until the life of sin and corruption dies, we cannot share in God’s life of grace and glory. Grace and glory is in Christ, the prophet/teacher who died as Jesus and rose as Christ, an incorruptible body. Jesus knew he had to die. He understood the significance of a death from a life lived perfectly in unity with the living God. Unlike us, He did not die for sin because he was not a sinner. Instead, his unblemished life was a sacrifice for our sins, the perfect blood paid for the sins of all humanity. He did this at the time appointed by the Father. While obedient to the Father, He did this by willful choice. He did not do this in fear. He did this in love and in soundness of mind. His death was the first fruit of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now we too may enter into His death by a willful choice. When we are baptized, we choose to die to sin so that we may rise in Christ to His grace and glory. As an adult we can experience this exquisite transformation from death to life. With a sound mind, we can look back at our infant birth and see the same death to life transformation!

Baptism is a beginning, not an end. Prepared by baptism, we are ready to live out a life poured out for the reconciliation of God’s creation back to himself. We can love selflessly because we know the source of all we have comes from a limitless God. By baptism we have placed ourselves in the midst of a limitless source of joy for God’s creation. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of His righteousness, and all of these things will be added unto you”. The Kingdom comes by baptism. The provision comes from the limitless supply of the Father. It will come not just for a season, but for eternity. This is the knowledge that impassioned Paul. He was once dead to his sins, but then alive to an eternity in Christ through baptism.

If we have been baptized in Christ, do we also have a sound mind? The soundness of mind needed to cope in a dead and dying world comes from the Holy Spirit. Our Pentecost is when we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus says in John Chapter 14, verse 16, He has asked the Father on our behalf for a helper, the Spirit of Truth that He may be with us forever. By the Spirit we are given the soundness of mind necessary to hear, receive, and accept the hard words of our Lord. In this way, I come to Jesus’ message in the Gospel appointed for today. Peace on earth is not His goal. If we simply had peace would we desire to die to self in baptism? Would we work to reconcile our brother and sister to God? What about the relationship we have with our earthly parents? If I am baptized and they are not, should I be at peace with their state of being? So I must necessarily be at war with the spirit within the unsaved, even if they are mother, father, brother, sister, children, aunts, uncles because that spirit is against God, and even at bottom for their everlasting destruction. Let me be clear, that the struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the evil spirit that holds loved ones captive. That spirit is death itself. The antidote to the disease of death is love. The weapon we employ is compassion to help them find the way to the Truth. The way to life is always through death first. The compassionate death is through baptism. It will be a struggle. People rarely go to baptism without a struggle. The really hard work is done through prayer. Don’t lose heart even when all the forces of death are arrayed against your effort, for Jesus hears our prayers for loved ones. Be confident in the knowledges that Jesus has your back. Jesus is the water of life. You will always have Him as your source of refreshment. Give a cup of cold living water to your loved ones. By this work you will receive your reward in heaven as a partner with Christ, our Lord and Savior.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

14 May 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 17:1 – 15
1 Peter 2:1 – 12
Ps 66:1 – 11
Jn 14:1 – 14

“The spaciousness of God’s dwelling places”
In the Gospel of John today, we see that Jesus realizes that the race he has run is almost over. In the thirteenth Chapter he has washed the disciples feet. He has cleansed and prepared them as only the Good Shepherd can. He has given them a new command, “to love one another as I have loved you”, after their foot washing. And he has upbraided Peter for saying he would lay down his life for Jesus right now. Jesus looks at Peter straight on and tells him that before the dawn of the next day, Peter would deny him three times. With truth comes irony. This encounter probably led Jesus to say what would come next at the start of the fourteenth Chapter. “Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me”. Jesus is being quite intimate with His disciples here. He is saying, I have established relationship with you. I have chosen you. You have decided to follow me. You have seen my miracles, I have taught you, I have explained all manor of heavenly wisdom to you. Now, though I say I am going, I will never leave you. But from their perspective, they wonder how this can be. How can you leave us, but not leave us at the same time? This is the mystery of a life hidden in Christ. For Jesus says, “believe in God, believe in Me.” I will be with you, just like God is with you. True, you can’t see God, but you are witness to the marvelous acts of divine Providence carried out for your sake. This is what Jesus is saying. Just as you have experienced the providence of God in your life, I am here for you too.

What kind of providence does Jesus have for us? He says the following in verse 2 of the 14th Chapter. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus was not just saying this to his disciples gathered there at that time and place. He is saying that since I have connected with you my follower, I have gone ahead into heavenly places and have a prepared a special place for you. This statement was not just for the disciples, but for all His followers to come. Until then, in the Old Testament the place of death was a dark, foreboding place. It was not a place where a follower of the Living God could glorify and praise God. Praise came from the living, not the dead! Nevertheless, we know the end of the story. Jesus was saying to his disciples in a veiled way that He was going to His death. Death was no longer a place, simply a transition to a place of glory and praise. This is amazing Good News. I don’t think they caught the significance of this at the time. Nonetheless, after his resurrection, the significance came rushing back to them. John contemplated this for a long time before he finally wrote this down. Jesus has prepared a special and unique place for each of his followers. We may not see Him in the flesh again in this life, but in the life to come, he will be there to welcome each of us with open arms.

Jesus says, “as you believe in God the Father, believe in me.” Now in later chapters, John fleshes this out. For Jesus goes on to say that He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him. The Father and I are one and the same. And He commits this to a prayer there in the upper room. See Chapter 17, the entirety which is a prayer from Jesus to the Father on their behalf.

This is powerful stuff. These are words that we can rely on through the troubles and difficulties of our lives. Some years ago, my family suffered through a tragic death. My 38 year old brother-in-law died in his sleep suddenly a couple of weeks before Christmas. It was a shock to his wife, family and community. He was such a giving, kind, considerate person. It stopped me short. Why would the Lord take someone so full of life, someone who gave and gave and never asked for a return. I didn’t have an answer. Despite his gracious personality, he wasn’t a particularly spiritual or religious person. It just seemed to be his “nature”. I asked the Lord in prayer if Chris was with Him in heaven. The response I received was John 14:1 and 2. It was paraphrased to me this way. “Don’t let your heart be troubled. The Lord has gone ahead to prepare us a place. In my Father’s house are many mansions.” The word mansions is an alternative translation of dwelling places which is to say the Lord’s dwelling place for us is very large and spacious.

I pondered this as I traveled to Connecticut to be with my family for the funeral. At the funeral, the priest’s homily was specifically on this passage from John! After days of grief and doubt, I knew the Lord had confirmed His message of grace to me. After the service, my mother said she could not understand how God could let this happen. I was able to share with her how the Lord did not hurt Chris or abandon us. Even in death there is divine providence, grace, and hope. For me, when I heard that homily, I knew Chris was in the Lord’s arms. He knew no further pain or suffering. He had gone home to dwell with the Lord. He was dwelling in a place of abundant life, not abject death!

Jesus’ words in the Gospel today may seem mysterious or ironic. He is like that with us because we can only catch the significance by faith. We have to enter into relationship with Him by faith. We have to cultivate that relationship by faith in prayer. And we have to live out the life of grace he has put into us by obedience to his commands. “Love one another as I have loved you”. He will not leave us alone. He is with us now by the action of His Holy Spirit. Through His Holy Spirit, He is as palpable now as he was in the upper room washing his disciple’s feet. As you leave here today, contemplate the following as a banner over your week. “In my Father’s house, there are many spacious mansions to dwell in.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

30 April 2017
Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalms 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
1Peter 1: 17-21
Luke 24: 13-35

(Adapted from a homily by Fr. Charles Irvin.)

Last Sunday’s Gospel account was about the disciples who were huddled in the Upper Room behind locked doors out of fear, and Jesus’ appearance among them. Today’s Gospel account is about another appearance of Jesus, this time with other disciples who were dejectedly walking from Jerusalem to a nearby hamlet called Emmaus.

St. Augustine along with others of the Fathers of the Church suggest that Jesus didn’t want the disciples to recognize Him right away, that He wanted them to recognize Him in “the breaking of the bread.” Moreover Jesus, they believed, wanted the disciples to see and understand what the Jewish prophets had foretold in Scripture about how the Messiah was to be recognized. Hence Jesus spent some significant time opening up the Scriptures so they might see them in a new light, His light, and then recognize Him.

(This passage has always puzzled me. How could the disciples “fail to recognize” someone they had known, and spent time with daily, for years?)

To me, the thing that is the most important point in today’s account revolves around how the disciples came to recognize Jesus. We find this group of disciples at first failing to recognize Jesus and then in the end coming to recognize Him. What happened? Why did they at first think He was a stranger and later come to realize who He really was?

You and I have had the experience of hearing what someone is telling us but not really listening to what they are saying. Similarly we have had the experience of seeing someone, looking at him, but not recognizing him for who he really is. This can be due to our own inattentiveness, or it can be due to the fact that the one we are looking at doesn’t want to be recognized in the way we expect.

What we’re talking about here is God’s way of revealing Himself to us. This is not simply a matter of blindness vs. sight; it’s about revelation and understanding.

You and I are much like those disciples on the road to Emmaus talking as they were about all of the terrible events they had experienced during the previous days in Jerusalem, about the betrayal of Judas, the hatred the religious authorities held against Jesus, and perhaps even about Pilate’s question: “Truth? What is truth?”

We need to, as they needed to, pay attention to whether we are hearing what people tell us vs. really listening to what they are saying. Additionally, we need to ask whether we are seeing those around us without recognizing who they really are.

We are presently living in dark times. We are awash in changes, sweeping over in this still-new millennium, drowning us under a deluge of fears.

All of these events have profound effects on our feelings and emotions, particularly the feelings of fear that can hold us hostage. We all need to pause, to reflect, and ask ourselves what we are really hearing and what we are really seeing.

We are much like those disciples walking along on the road to Emmaus, concerned over the events in our lives. What brought them to recognize Jesus was “the breaking of the bread.” Their minds were immediately taken back to the Upper Room and the Last Supper, connecting that with the broken and bloody body of Jesus hanging on His cross.

Can we learn to recognize Jesus in human brokenness? That’s the key; that’s what opens our eyes to His presence among us. When we encounter people with broken hearts, Jesus is there. When we try to offer comfort to someone with a broken spirit, Jesus is there. When we encounter someone who is experiencing loss, pain, and suffering, Jesus is there. Isn’t that what Jesus was telling us when He taught us about the judgment we will receive when we die? He will ask us if we recognized Him in human brokenness. In Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

The mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection isn’t something that simply took place long ago. No. It is ongoing; it is going on in our days. True, we live in times when men and women have sinned, and our own sins have obscured the face of Christ. At times He is not recognized in our world and at times even when He is recognized there are many who seek to get rid of Him. Nailing Him to the Cross is something that is still happening

But it is there that He reveals Himself. It is in suffering and broken humanity that He is present. It is there that He is to be revered. And it is from there that we receive the promise of Easter – resurrection and new life.

We are all walking our own roads through life. Can we — will we — like the disciples, recognize that Jesus is walking with us? Will we recognize Him in “the breaking of the bread”?

12 March 2017

Second Sunday of Lent
Readings: Gen 12:1 – 9
Ps 33:12 – 22
Rom 4:1 – 5 (6 – 12) 13 – 17
Jn 3:1 – 16

“God’s Covenant with the elect”
In today’s reading of Genesis, the Lord’s covenant with Abraham is recounted. We actually learn at this point that this man’s name is Abram. It would not be until years later that the Lord would change Abram’s name to Abraham. First, he had to prove Abram’s worth. The covenant with Abram consisted of three parts. First, he would be the father of a great nation. This nation would be the Hebrew people we know as Israel. Second, Abram received 4 personal blessings: a blessing of numerous descendants, a personal blessing of possessions, a blessing of honor, and Abram himself would be a channel of blessing to others. The third part, and most important to us, Abram is given a promise to the Gentiles. “I will bless those who bless you”. The counter to this promise is that the Lord would curse the ones who curse him. Finally, Abram would be a blessing to all the families of the earth. From what I can gather, you and I are part of the families of the earth. This covenant is so important that the Lord God repeated essentially the same set of promises to Abram three more times. The repeat takes place in Chapter 13, Chapter 15, and finally in Chapter 17. Nonetheless, on each occasion there is a difference. In Chapter 13 Abram hears the Lord. In Chapter 15 Abram is first given a vision and then hears the Lord speak. On the last occasion, the Lord appears to Abram, He speaks to him, and He changes his name to Abraham. Why the name change? I believe the Lord changes his name to reflect the fact that He now imparts his Holy Spirit, his Ruah upon Abraham. With His Holy Spirit in Abraham, the Lord is ready to do his greatest work in his man of faith. He will create life out of nothing, that is the conception of Abraham’s son Isaac in the womb of his barren wife, Sarah. For this to happen, the Lord changes his wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah, and now she is given the Lord’s Ruah as well.

In Chapter 12, Abram was 75 years old. By Chapter 17, Abraham has now become a 99 year old man. In 24 years a great deal has happened. First, and foremost, upon receiving the initial covenant, Abram leaves his home in Haran, located in northern Syria and travels hundreds of miles to the land of Canaan. At the age of 75 he leaves a certain present and pursues a very unknown, uncertain future based on the word of an unknown God. He could have continued in his father’s trade making idols and receiving a very sure livelihood. How many gods was this Abram familiar with? Why believe this one? Yet to our eternal gratitude, Abram heard, he believed, and he was obedient to this particular God. He packs up his entire family and heads for the foreign eastern hills of Canaan. He settles not far from Sodom and Gomorrah, apparently considerable towns in that day. He fights in wars, struggles against famine and has to move his entourage from time to time. He even ends up in Egypt for awhile. Why does he do these things? Because he continues to hear from this God who he now embraces as his own.

Abram is blessed through this period many times over with wealth and possessions. But what of the mighty, promised nation? After 24 years he still has no offspring. He is an old man and his wife is 90 years old! Where is the promise in old age? Still the man of faith believes that his God will fulfill his promises. The Lord God breathes out his holy spirit on this couple, and much to their mirth and happiness a son is born a year later. Abraham does become a mighty nation and to this day, the Jewish nation is a great blessing to the world. By faith, we learn that mighty works can be performed through the reception of the Holy Spirit into the lives of simple men and women who believe.

Many years later, a descendant of Abraham would pen the following words “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”. The blessings spoken by the Lord God to Abram in Genesis would find their expression in the words of the Psalmist. This particular Psalm is a cry of joy that an omnipotent and righteous God would find a place in His heart to shepherd the nation of Israel. There are times when I am overwhelmed by the rush of feelings I have when I have witnessed a mighty act of God. Why me? Who am I to deserve acts of mercy and love from a righteous God. I am unclean and unworthy. What I have experienced is grace in action. It is no different than the way the Lord God treated Abram. Keep that in mind folks. He loves us out of the overflowing goodness of His heart. Dispensing grace is His nature. His only requirement is that we accept unmerited grace of our own free will, and we respond in obedience when He calls us to act.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it very clear that this 24 year period of Abram is very significant to us. He is not a circumcised man during this period. He hears God’s call, he moves into action, he responds by faith through one challenge after another. Only after 24 years, having received the Holy Spirit does the Lord then call him to circumcise himself and his entire male household. His faith has been proven through many trials, and now the Lord is ready to call him into “sanctification”. I don’t want to go into detail on this, just suffice to say that the Lord has made it clear to Abram, now Abraham that the fulfillment of his promise of offspring is now at hand. Abraham catches the significance. He doesn’t hesitate to suffer circumcision in obedience to his God. Because Abraham has been faithful, we the gentile have been blessed. He is not just the father of a great nation, he is the father of all people of faith in the Living God. No human being comes before him in the sight of God.

As Paul says, Abraham is our forefather according to the flesh. Where is Jesus in this story? Is he a man according to the flesh? No, I believe Jesus is someone greater. As Jesus says to the woman at the well in John Chapter 4, God is spirit and the true worshipper will worship in spirit and truth. “I and the Father are one” says Jesus, so he is not a man according to the flesh. He is en-fleshed spirit, the new Adam. I fully believe that when God appeared to Abraham in Chapter 17, he encountered the visage of Jesus. When Moses encountered God in the holy Tabernacle, he encountered Jesus. When Elijah encountered God in the wilderness, he encountered Jesus. Jesus is to be found over and over again in the Old Testament whenever God’s mighty men experience the Living God.

As we look at the Gospel of John appointed for today, we hear of the encounter of Jesus and Nicodemus. So much has been made of the passage of John 3:16 that I think we miss the more important lesson here. Nicodemus was a great leader and teacher of the day. Yet he is afraid to encounter Jesus in the light of day. He is afraid for his reputation. He knows about Jesus’ mighty deeds. He knows in his mind that only God bestows healing. There has to be an important connection between Jesus and God. But what could it be? Nicodemus in this encounter shows himself to be a teacher without knowledge. The knowledge he is missing is a simple encounter with the Living God. Unlike Abram, whose mustard seed of faith is enough to propel him into relationship with God, Nicodemus doesn’t have faith. How do we know this? Because Jesus shares this simple statement that throws Nicodemus into intellectual turmoil, “Unless one is born again, he can not see the kingdom of God”. Nicodemus counters with “How can a man be born when he is old”. This question is not much different than the question Abram poses in Genesis Chapter 17 when he says “Will a child be born to a man 100 years old”. God’s counter is this, “Sarah your wife will bear you a son”. For nothing is impossible for God of creation. So it is that even an old man or woman like you and me can be born again. It is by God’s creative act of grace that we can be born again, despite our fleshly faults. To receive this born again experience, we have to be willing to surrender our very selves. This is what happened to Abram when he was a man of 75. He was born again and surrendered everything to this unknown God calling to him out of the darkness. As a result, he dropped everything and started down a new path toward a new day and a new future. He was never the same person again. As followers of Christ, we have the same call. Will we drop everything and follow Jesus? If we do not, we will not see or enter the Kingdom of God. Despite the difficulty of making a commitment like this, remember that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Believe in Jesus and you will receive what Nicodemus found impossible to understand, born again life.

In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit.


29 January 2017
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Readings: Psalm 37:1 – 11
1 Cor 1:18 – 31
Mt 5:1 – 12

“Blessings come to God’s elect”
Almost exactly two years ago I was on the Mount of Beatitudes listening to our tour leader explain the beatitudes to our tour group. Our tour leader, Dr. Jan Dargatz is an amazing teacher and witness for Christ. Formerly on the faculty at Oral Roberts University and close confidant of founder Oral Roberts, Jan has studied extensively the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we know as Jesus Christ. For a number of years she led a foreign exchange program with Hebrew University in Jerusalem. As a result, she is a treasure trove of experience and learning regarding Israel and its rich history. It was one of the high points of my life to be on a tour of the Holy Land led by a teacher of her renown. The site marked as the Mount of Beatitudes is a lovely location at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. That day dawned sunny and bright. We could see for a long distance out onto the lake. Today, it is a beautiful, peaceful place to be. The site is owned and managed by Franciscans. There is a lovely chapel there designed by a famous architect whose work adorns several famous Christian sites in Israel. There are signs within the chapel urging silence as worshippers use the site to pray and reflect. Before we entered the chapel, Jan took us aside to discuss the beatitudes. First and foremost, she asked us what we thought a blessing was. For me I see the bible talking about blessings starting early in Genesis. Each of the Bible’s significant characters received blessings for righteous acts. In Genesis, people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph received blessings that formed the foundation of a people set aside for the purpose of a righteous God. They lived lives faithful to the word they received from their Lord and God. Later, Moses would codify the blessings that would be received when the people were obedient to carry out the commands of God. There was also the flipside to blessings called curses that would come to all who were law breakers. So when Jesus proceeded to state the beatitudes to his followers on that peaceful hillside some two thousand years ago, he was following in a long and ardent prophetic tradition.

Nonetheless, we must ask ourselves anew, why are God’s blessings significant? I feel like American evangelicals have betrayed God’s trust in their misuse of the term. Prayers are so often directed to expand property and wealth. “God must really love me since I am being enriched” is the basic sentiment. But how is this being received by the unchurched? Is this attitude really glorifying the Lord? At bottom, our purpose as followers is to glorify the Lord. Do we really believe getting rich and having material comfort is glorifying the Lord? This to me is the great pitfall of contemporary American Christianity. Yet it is to be admitted that in our humanity we are subject to this ethical pitfall. If God does not intend to bestow material riches, what does He really intend for us?

For Jan Dargatz, blessings are received when we are in the right posture with our God. That posture is like a funnel, where God can pour his grace into us and we not only receive, but we give forth blessing to the community of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus, the Lord’s anointed is saying not that being rich is a blessing, but that a state of poverty is a blessing. How many modern Christian teachers and preachers are exhorting us to fling off our riches, arrive at a state of abject poverty and then receive the ultimate blessing, citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Why poverty? How can that be? Because in our lack, in our poverty we can then realize how much we need God for our very being. If I receive God, I am transported into His Kingdom. Is there anything better in life than a sure position in the Kingdom of eternal life? Returning to the funnel analogy, God does not want us to just contain or hold blessings, He wants us to gush it right back out. It is intended to encourage, strengthen, and fortify others. It is only then that our God is glorified. Did you realize that by being poor in spirit, or pure in heart, gentle, or insulted and persecuted, that you are a blessing to those around you? We may not in our humanity see or realize this is the case, but our Father who sees all things never fails to acknowledge these acts of righteousness. Beyond this section of Matthew 5, Jesus outlines the contrast between God’s way and ways of this world. At the end of the chapter Jesus says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can that ever be? Is he just pulling our chains by leading us down a path of impossibility. First and foremost, Jesus is showing us that he is the example of perfect humanity. He is always, and above all in the midst of his humanity, one with the Father. That is why the Apostles call him in their Gospels and letters, the perfect man. Jesus modeled every single one of the beatitudes. He never asks us to act and behave in ways that he did not show in his own earthly life. Second, we have to go to the Gospel of John to find out how this state of perfection is attained. Jesus says in chapter three that we must be born again by the Spirit of God. It is God’s act, not ours that brings us to perfection. Since Jesus is the only perfect man, it is indeed the spirit of Jesus himself that is poured into the born again, regenerated man. Jesus says we must be regenerated. Later before He ascends to heaven He promises to send his Holy Spirit, and then in the Second Chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends on human flesh like a rushing wind. He said it, He meant it, and He carried out the great day of blessing.

I want to say one more thing. The Beatitudes are the lesson appointed for this day. Nonetheless, behind the text, Jesus is talking about himself and His Holy Spirit. Each of the Beatitudes is a window into the heart of a loving God. Jesus was blessed, and in his blessing He was showing us how the blessed person acts. Blessings are sure to come to those who are perfect in their posture before God. The chief blessing in living out a Christ-like life is oneness with God. That will not relieve us from pain, suffering, deprivation, disappointment, but through all the trials we will always have the certainty that God himself is our partner in these trials. So don’t despair, but rejoice in hope. He closes this teaching section with the following promise in verse 12, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


1 January 2017

First Sunday of Christmas
Readings: Psalm 147:13 – 21
Isaiah 61:10 – Isaiah 62:5
John 1:1 – 18

“The Revelation of Light”
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

John, at the beginning of his “good news” proclamation makes a statement about reality. He states that Jesus is both the word and life of God. A man born of a fleshly woman was the essence of a creator God. All things have come into existence through the spoken word of God. This creative word is the essence of all life. And Jesus as the word of God gives birth to all creatures in God’s created universe. In that time, John was aware of a world teeming with creatures. How God could inhabit creatures with His life essence and birth a person who was essentially himself is a profound mystery. John made this statement because the truth of it had been revealed to him by Jesus himself. John, much like Isaiah in the passage from the sixty-first chapter proclaims that he must give witness to God’s plan for Salvation. This salvation is like light coming into a dark place. The life of Jesus is a light coming into the darkness of mankind.

For us today, the message of light coming into the midst of darkness is not so strange. We face such dark and foreboding events in the world today. The world is exploding in the Middle East. Europe is struggling with a massive number of refugees from the Middle East, in addition to terrorism from an emboldened Islamic State. We here in the United States face terrorism and random violence. Our political world both locally and nationally seems to be in constant turmoil. Where do we go for answers? Is our spiritual life up to the assaults from a world gone haywire? For me personally, every time I return to the scriptures, I receive a balm which relieves all of the stresses of a world gone terribly dark. In the Old Testament I find Isaiah, a song of hope for all of the world’s exiles and outcasts. A victorious God is coming to save His people from desolation. He will come and embrace His people as a groom embraces his bride. He will show delight in his eyes as he brings his bride into his heavenly courts. This God of grace and peace will rejoice over his bride, the crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord. In these passages, God is speaking to you and me. We shall suffer desolation no more. All our fresh springs will be in Him (Ps 87:7)! From the New Testament, I have testimonies of people who walked with him, ate with him, talked with him, were loved by Him. He loved so much. What better friend could there have been than Jesus, the one who died to be a covering for their disobedience against a loving God. Jesus was that and more to them. He was light and life releasing them from eternal bondage to darkness. How wonderful it is, that Jesus calls each of us into the very same relationship. We have been released from bondage to darkness by faith in Christ Jesus.

Paul brings this thought to us in Galatians 3:26 thru 29. By faith in Christ Jesus, we are all sons and daughters of God. Through our baptism, we have been clothed with Christ. Thus by baptism we have taken on the light and life of Christ by which we are justified as heirs in the Kingdom of Heaven. This light, the light of Christ cannot be overwhelmed by the powers of darkness. Rather this light has the power to overwhelm the darkness in order to bring life to a dead and dying world. So have patience and endure the struggles that must come. For our Christ has overcome the world. His message of grace, peace, and hope is winning the day. Let us by faith come close to this light and pursue with confidence our hope in Jesus. Thank you Jesus!


December 11, 2016
Third Sunday of Advent
Psalm 146
James 5:7 – 12
Matt 11:2 – 19

The Revelation of Truth

Is Jesus the son of the Living God? Is He the Lord’s anointed one? If Jesus is “Christ” what difference does that make?

Every Christian is faced with those life changing questions. Does it change how I see the world, or operate in the world, or expect out of life in this world? Here is another related question, that Jesus asks directly of his followers. Who do you say that I am? If He is Christ, do we believe everything He says into us?

In Matthew’s gospel today, we hear Jesus asking his followers and all those hanging on in anticipation, why did you go out to see and hear the man called John the Baptizer? There was something about John that distinguished him from other teachers and preachers of his time. For one thing, he spoke the truth. The truth was more precious than his own life. Though it cause him harm, he was compelled to speak truth into his followers and all that came to follow him. Truth was above all, and the end all, of his life. He told men and women to repent, turn their lives around to the only one who could save them, the Lord God most High. The Lord was faithful to him, showing him his ultimate plan for the world’s salvation. The Lord had revealed deep in his heart the truth of a savior to come.

Finally, after such a long time of waiting, the Lord was sending his anointed one into the world to declare the acceptable time of the Lord, when men would be released from pain and suffering once and for all. Many believed.

But the religious authorities denied the truth. How could that be? Because in the pecking order of this world, the Lord would send his Christ to topple the order that had ruled since time immemorial. The great and mighty would be brought low; the humble, the innocent, and the disenfranchised would be lifted up. Why accept a truth that would bring your downfall? To accept the truth would mean the downfall of reputations, of ambitions for glory in this world. For protecting the truth, John would be rewarded with death. Nonetheless, he knew the Lord’s Christ was on the move and he would be willing to step aside to see the day of the Lord’s righteous unfolding of saving truth. In the person of Jesus, he found the fulfillment of truth. Still there was a doubt. In prison, John experienced a darkness that brought him to the brink of doubt. Was Jesus truly the long awaited Christ? He saw the breaking open of heaven, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this man Jesus who was his cousin. So he sought the Lord in his moment of doubt. If he was to die in prison, he needed to know if his quest for truth was in vain. So he asked a simple, yet profound question, “Are you the expected one?” Jesus’ truthful answer was simple, “The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Good News preached to them.” The truth about the Christ, first revealed by Isaiah hundreds of years prior was now being lived out by this Jesus. Praise God and Amen for believers everywhere!

Jesus goes on to say more, this John was someone very special in the history of the world. He was like a triumphal entry into the City of the Living God proclaiming the full salvation of the Lord. But first and always our entry into the City of God is through repentance from dead works, then we can enter into the full inheritance of life in Christ. Come what trials and tribulations we may face, not even death can separate us from the saving love of this Christ.

Jesus would not deny that John spoke the truth of the life to come. Yet John was only the messenger. He was not truth, and from time to time the truth would elude him. His message was about the life to come. If only we repent, we could experience a life in union with the Living God. Jesus was the pure and simple embodiment of the truth come down from heaven to God’s subject people. Though there had been a long period of violence against the Kingdom of Heaven through spiritual wickedness and the folly of indifferent humanity, Wisdom would win out through the grace of a holy God in the person of Jesus. His deeds of healing and salvation would cleanse this ailing world. The message of Christ and the truth of God are one and the same.

Here is the irony, Jesus asks questions about John the Baptizer because many doubt he was sent as a prophet of God. Jesus testifies that he is prophet and more. The irony is that Jesus knows that if the people can’t accept John, how can they ever accept the one who is pointed to by John, that is Jesus of Nazareth. People then would find a thousand reasons why Jesus is not who he claims he is. Has anything changed in two thousand years?

Jesus comes asking us probing questions. Ultimately, He desires to know if He will find faith in this world. I ask you this question. If Jesus is who he says he is, why do we drag our feet to carry out his command to us, “Love one another as I have loved you”. If I believe him, and I am faithful to carry out His command, why would I hesitate even for a minute to carry out His Great Commission, making disciples of all nations to the saving grace of the cross of Jesus? So, in this season of Advent, prepare within yourselves the way of the Lord. Rediscover the spirit the Lord put within you for the community of God. Re-commit through prayer, fasting, reading of the scriptures, to be messengers of truth in a world which is dark, broken, and suffering. Let the Holy Spirit rekindle once again the sense of awe which awaits those who seek after the truth.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit I ask for the fulfillment of this message in each life gathered here today. Amen!

Nov. 27, 2016
First Sunday in Advent
Psalm 122
Romans 13:8 – 14
Matt 24:29 – 44

I am currently reading a book by Philip Yancey that is called “The Jesus I Never Knew.” I found it in a used-book store. I was attracted to it mainly because I have read some Philip Yancey before. In fact, in 2011, this church used one of Yancey’s books for a Sunday morning study. He is a very insightful author.

This particular book was cited by J.I. Packer as “honest, vivid, down-to-earth,” and Billy Graham was quoted as saying, “There is no other writer in the evangelical world that I admire more.” The book was published in 1995, which might seem to make it outdated. But in many ways, it is as fresh and contemporary as any Christian title we could pick up today.

The book is a soul-searching look for the “real” Jesus. He examines the saccharin and fuzzy images that many of us receive as children that claim to portray the image of a loving God through a bland and accepting Jesus. For Yancey, he attempts to reexamine the gospel stories of a Jesus who says challenging things, who does not accept the status quo in any form, who forces us to accept union with the living God through pain and suffering.

Jesus does not just accept the pain and suffering, he claims that if we push through the pain there is healing and new life. He was not like his contemporary Jewish teachers, nor did he accept the philosophical worldview of his contemporary power structure. This is the person of Jesus that Yancey finds over and over again in the Gospel. In the final analysis, he suggests that accepting the real Jesus is transformative in the lives of individuals and ultimately brings the transformation of society and nations.

Today is the beginning of a new church calendar. We are at the beginning of a new church year with its round of Christ-centered events, celebrations, and challenges. This year the Gospel takes us into an immediate challenge, the end times apocalyptic vision of the return of Christ. Great calamities and disasters will take place, and “then will appear the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

We think of Advent as the coming of Christ in human form, a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Yet within this baby is the power of the risen Christ, who will come to cleanse the earth of evil and malice once for all. He is come to reestablish the image of the living God. The mild and serene child of peace will unleash a process of redemption that will continue until all humanity have heard the message of God’s saving grace. Once all have heard and accepted or rejected the Prince of Peace, surely it will be a great and sorrowful day as his holy angels come into this world to gather up the elect. The child which is so meek and mild contains a ferocity which is unlike any other created being.

Advent here in this passage is about the coming of a righteous God who loves us through the transformation of a fallen world back into His good grace. This image is given by Jesus as the “true” desire of a loving father for his fallen children. The fear here is palpable. Mourning hardly describes the feelings of the children of perdition as their evil plans for the world are thwarted.

To those who believe, Jesus says, “blessed is the servant whom his master will find so doing when He comes.” That is, blessed are those set over the household who give “food” at the proper time. We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The faithful servant provides spiritual food faithfully throughout trials, tribulation, pain and suffering for the people of God. This is the true work of the people of God as they patiently await the imminent second coming of the Christ.

Returning to Yancey for a moment, in his book he realizes that his belief system is full of folklore and myth about Jesus, but it is not the real Jesus that he has been holding close to his heart. Instead, as he re-examines the Gospel stories, the real Jesus explodes these myths. Isn’t today’s Gospel explosive in its warnings about a coming disaster for the world? But not for the true believer. No, the true believer has been pushing back against a fallen world constantly by living out the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Take care of your neighbor no matter the circumstances, no matter the personal loss.

Paul in his letter to the Romans knows he has run the good race. His body will die, he will be overtaken by pain. Yet in his vision, he sees that the night is ebbing, day is coming, and the light purifies the soul that is given over to works of righteousness: “Salvation is even nearer now than when we first believed.”

So the Advent message for us to embrace today is that the Lord God, our very own Father God has appointed a time for the final completion of His redemptive work. Jesus coming as a fleshly child is the sign that His plan is fully in motion. At the end of His plan, we will see the Christ in His glory as a conqueror and King. For his followers that day will be a day of all-consuming joy. Amen!

October 30, 2016
Twenty-fourth Sunday of Pentecost
Psalm 32
2 Thessalonians 1:1 – 12
Luke 19:1 – 10

Our Psalms recently have been full of hope and blessing. The Psalm for today is a great example of a prayer that provides hope and blessing.

Psalm 32 starts out this way: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” From the Old Testament, we know that the ancient Jews did not live as if their sins were forgiven. The Law required daily blood sacrifices and an annual round of even greater sacrifices to cover the sins of the people. If they did not make these sacrifices, how could they face a righteous, sinless God?

Despite the many sacrifices made on the people’s behalf, they just kept on sinning. Were they forgiven after all? Apparently not, because the pattern of sinful behavior carried out by the Jews continued unabated until the birth of Jesus.

Periodically, the Lord God would send a prophet who would convince the people repentance was necessary. There would be wholesale conversions for a period, and then the people would lapse into the same wrongful patterns. There is no evidence in the Old Testament that the prophets tried to convince the people to increase blood sacrifices. Sacrifices could not bring about the forgiveness of sins. Instead the sacrifices were intended to be “outward and visible signs” of the repentant state of the people. In fact, the sacrifices were intended to demonstrate the effect of repentance, but they could not cause righteous behavior. So then how is it that a man’s sins are “covered”?

The clue to the covering of sin or transgression is found in Genesis 3:21: “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” Having sinned, Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness. They were vulnerable before the Lord God and attempted to hide themselves. The Lord found them and He himself fashioned clothing of animal skins to cover their nakedness. He provided the protective covering they needed. This was a sacrificial act on the part of the Lord because He had to slaughter an animal to provide the covering they needed. Blood was shed because of their sin so they could be covered and acceptable before the Lord. Thus, starting with the eviction from Eden until the 2nd Century A.D., Adam’s descendants offered animal sacrifices continually.

Adam’s sin was not forgiven. He would die for his transgression. Nonetheless, he was given the gift of sacrificial offering, and to the extent that he practiced its ministrations, the Lord would protect him, his family, and his offspring from the predations of an adversarial world. He was given a covering until forgiveness could be given once for all. His descendants waited a long time. Forgiveness, and with it, restoration into the presence of the Lord God, would come in the form of a messiah king.

The ancient rabbis believed that only a righteous God can forgive sins. Jesus, a man of the flesh, was an open scandal to the rabbis of his time. He not only displayed authority in healing people of impossible infirmities, but he dispensed forgiveness. In Luke 7:36-50 he encounters a harlot in the house of a Pharisee, who wipes his feet clean with her tears and kisses his feet continually. She loves him and he loves her back by forgiving her sins. Luke relates this interaction between the Pharisees and Jesus in Luke 7:49, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” This man is the Christ, God’s anointed who would bring lasting forgiveness for sins. How do we know this? Because Jesus was the last blood sacrifice, offered by a Holy God for the sins of an unholy humanity. By His blood we have lasting forgiveness and a complete covering for the work we are called to do in this world, reconciliation of all things back to our Father God!

Before I close, I want to touch on today’s Gospel story, the story of Zacchaeus. There is no indication in the story that Zacchaeus sought to see the Lord in order to secure his salvation. Instead, like so many others he was an interested bystander who wanted to get a look at this strange, but fascinating, itinerant rabbi. It is possible that he had just heard about the miraculous healing of Bartimaeus on the way into his hometown of Jericho. Whatever the case, he was another curious onlooker trying to get a glimpse of Jesus passing by.

What a surprise that Jesus notices him and call him out by name! This chance encounter would change his life irrevocably. When he receives the call from Jesus, he answers in spades. This type of encounter is how Jesus chooses to interact with many of us. Out of curiosity comes a complete conversion.

Zacchaeus, the loathsome tax collector, is inspired to give half of his wealth to the poor on the spot. He pledges to Jesus an oath of personal integrity, promising to give back up to four times whatever he has defrauded from the people. This is how Zacchaeus chose to receive Jesus: “gladly.” What a powerful example of what it means to receive salvation. For it is truly a blessing to receive forgiveness for one’s sins through the acceptance of a loving God. Deep in his soul Zacchaeus realized that on that very day he received a covering from the Lord that would sustain him for the rest of his earthbound life.

We are coming to that time of the year, where we must make a recommitment of our time and talent to the Lord. When the call goes out for pledges, please consider what the Lord has done for you, for your family, for your community. Having received forgiveness and covering through our Lord Jesus Christ, what is your gladsome response back to Him. Amen.

October 2, 2016
Twentieth Sunday of Pentecost
Psalm 37:1 – 17
2 Timothy 1:1 – 14
Luke 17:5 -10

Earnest Service Is Our Duty
Friday night, I heard a talk from an amazing woman, Gianna Jessen, whose mother tried to abort her. By the grace and will of the Lord, she survived to become a passionate witness of the power of the living God to transform lives.

Her story regarding the love of the Lord God for her is a captivating one. She made two very important points that I want to pass on to you this morning.

First, nothing is impossible for God. Her life story is an example of God doing the impossible. The odds of her surviving the abortion carried out on her mother were next to impossible. Then, she suffered a form of cerebral palsy that should have made walking impossible. Despite that history, she walks! The best part is that she has realized her need to glorify God for the miracles she has received in her life. Her story should be inspiring for all Christians who feel the odds of making a difference in life are impossible.

Let me tell you why I was particularly impacted by this part of Gianna’s story. As the leader of St John’s Prayer Team ministry for more than five years, I have said to folks over and over again, nothing is impossible for God. If it seems impossible, offer it up to the Lord in prayer. He wants to hear our “impossible” cries for help. When we do, He responds. He makes that which is broken whole and new again.

In addition to the point, “nothing is impossible for God,” Gianna laid out another that needs to be heard by all Christians in contemporary America. She is speaking out to dispel the myth of the “cocktail party Jesus.” This is the Jesus that we hear is nice, doesn’t particularly challenge us, lets us have our way, is not controversial, and secures our present life and lifestyle against the powers of hell. We probably encountered this Jesus in our Sunday schools. If we just work hard we’ll be rewarded rightly in this life. Shouldn’t we be rewarded with the good life of home, possessions, marriage, children? Does Jesus in His life and teachings tell us that?

In fact, he does not even begin to take us down that road. Instead He says that if we are to follow Him, we must deny ourselves daily and take up our cross. To follow Him means to take up the instrument of our death every single day. Where is the “goodness” in that?

And didn’t Jesus also tell his followers that He didn’t have any place to lay His head? What kind of a home is that? Did He have any possessions or children? In fact, he went to the cross with only the clothes on his back. His executioners got to fight over those clothes.

Where were his children at the time of his death? They all took flight. Only John among his closest was at the foot of the cross to see Jesus die a death of utter human humiliation. If Jesus did not model the “cocktail party” life, how is it that we believe Christ wants us to live a middle-class, contemporary lifestyle? This is where we get stuck, somehow trapped between the life society says we should live versus the life of the “coming kingdom” spoken and lived by Jesus.

There is only one single reason why we should follow the real, authentic Jesus, and not the cocktail-party Jesus. The real Jesus rose from the dead. No one in history has ever been permanently raised from the dead. Jesus the Christ is the only example.

The disciples knew that their teacher Jesus died. When this same person showed up before them glorified through His resurrection, then everything He had told them took on a completely new meaning. All of the hard things he taught them took on new clarity. Among the hard things he taught was this. “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23). The disciples responded “Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:26-27).

So Gianna put two things into focus for me. What I have shared so far is a preamble to today’s Gospel and New Testament readings. In Luke, we have Jesus talking about having a mustard seed of faith. With even the smallest particle of faith we could cause a massive tree to be uprooted and transplanted in the sea.

He gives us another example of the impossibility of God’s actions. Immediately after this passage in Luke 15: 7-10, Jesus goes on to explain earnest service as our duty. What is the service Jesus speaks of? He says that we must dutifully carry out all that our master commands. What has been commanded does not even require a “thank you” from the master. When asked why we do as we do, our response should be “We are unworthy slaves: we have done only that which we ought to have done.”

Where is the connection between duty and faith? I believe the very understanding of Jesus’ hard sayings requires a minimum of faith. There is no amount of reasoned thought which will gives us the reason why we obey the master’s command. In fact, the faith of which Jesus speaks requires a particle of love as well. For the true follower of Christ, they obey out of love for the one who has done the impossible for them. What is impossible? The fact that a righteous God can love and embrace fallen sinners like us.

When we proceed to 2 Timothy, we are given the example of a loving spiritual father, Paul encouraging his son Timothy to live out the teachings that Paul has modeled for him: Timothy, don’t be ashamed of the testimony given both by Christ and Paul. Be encouraged by the God who has not given him a spirit of fearfulness, but of “power, love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Then Paul goes on to say, guard these gifts given through the Holy Spirit who dwells within followers of Christ. How impossible it must be that the living God’s own Holy Spirit would dwell within us. It is the presence of that Holy Spirit which empowers us to live a life in service, not expecting anything back for oneself, but simply expecting the glorification of God through that service. Serving God in Christ is not easy, nor will the world ever give us a just reward for this dutiful service. But when we have completed the race, that is a life in service to Christ, we will encounter our risen Lord saying the words we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”