1 Samuel 16:7

 

“For the Lord looks on the heart…”

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There is and must be a basic honesty about life, before God and others. Our society is concerned about “image” and yet despises the phony.  The Israelites chose the tall, handsome Saul as their king. He turned out to be a disaster. God sees the heart. Sooner of later we may also, but often it’s too late.

 The “heart” as used in the Bible refers to what we might call the whole person. That’s what God cares aboout – the whole you. God sees all and still loves. The outward appearance is only a part of you and you know it. Sometimes the outer appearance is better than “you”, sometimes it’s worse.  We are fooled by people when we only see part of them. But God is not fooled – and God still loves.

 God sees the whole person; the terrible potential for evil which we overlook in ourselves and tend to suspect in others. God also works to bring good from evil. This we often fail to see in others, for we love ourselves too much and our neighbors not enough.

 The gospel is the Good News that God is committed to us in Christ. God sees everything yet remains firm in his grace and love.  Honesty in this life does not mean wearing your heart on your sleeve at all times for all people. At the same time we can dare to be honest with Christ Jesus. He knows us as we are and wants only our good. We can dare to trust Him with what He already knows, the good and the bad.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Romans 4:25

 

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“…Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

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The ancient world was a vast field of magnificent temples. Only buildings bespeaking power, permanence, and ultimate authority could adequately proclaim the mystery of divinity. The gods deserved nothing less, or so thought the ancients.

 Then God set up a cross.

 It was forged by nameless servants of imperial authority. A bare, rude thing. A time tested instrument designed to evoke terror and coerce obedience through the application of unspeakable cruelty. Only the very worst, despised offenders suffered the fate of the crucified ones. The Romans lined roadways with them so that passers by would be forced to carry the weight of pitiful suffering and inhale the stench of rotting corpses. It was about as far from divinity as one could get. This is the symbol of God’s presence with us?

 Yes.

 God set up His cross where the four roads we travel most, meet: guilt, failure, spiritual poverty, and willful disobedience. The gift of God’s cross, the baptism into Christ’s death, is not given until I see that nothing in the world – nothing – can address my sickness unto death except this one, impossible, ridiculous sacrifice. For only by the shame, cruelty and utter godlessness of the cross can the true magnitude of our guilt – and God’s merciful love – be measured. The cross proclaims to us what our true position in life really is. No wonder we flee from it for all we’re worth.

 But Christ Jesus did not flee from the cross. He embraced it’s suffering and shame in love – for you. And three days after they laid His battered corpse to rest, God vindicated His trust and raised Him from the dead.

 Through Word and sacrament God continues to set up the cross – and the empty tomb – in the center of our lives, and through them releases faith,hope and love. And since Christ Jesus embodies hope He rightly calls us to hope – not in our efforts, our so-called free will or determination, but in Him, the crucified. This is the scandal of the gospel – Jesus appears in the defenseless form of the crucified God to put an end to our pretensions to righteousness in order that we might have a righteousness based on faith. A righteousness won for us, the ungodly, through His death on the bloody cross and His resurrection from the dead, where the true glory of God is revealed.

 

 

 

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Jeremiah 17:14

 

“Heal me ” O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved.”

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 After nearly 64 years of living my inventory of health-related problems is pretty low: chronic migraines plagued me for a while but improvements in medicine some years ago have eliminated them; minor surgery in my forties corrected  a bum knee – a legacy of high school football; blood pressure and cholesterol are kept under control by medication. I could lose some weight and the aches and pains of getting older are constant companions but all in all  I have no complaints. My prayers have been those of gratitude for health and that God would keep me from becoming seriously ill. The prayers of many others are quite different.

 Pastoral ministry has exposed me to the debilitating presence of serious health issues in the lives of many. I have prayed with a mother of four in her thirties, stricken with cancer; the parents of a college freshman who came home on break only to fall into a coma with a fatally high fever; a young father with a list of health problems, any one of which would represent a siginifcant challenge; and on and on it goes.

 To suffer with chronic illness or pain tries us to our limits. We may ask why. Perhaps we become bitter or resentful. We may even question God’s grace and mercy. When I read the Scriptures I see that God is on the side of life and health. Our Lord Jesus healed many during His earthly ministry. God’s purpose was in those healings. Sickness and death are intruders in this world. We should not hesitate in praying for health and healing, trusting God’s purpose for us.

 At the same it is important to keep illness and healing in perspective. Even those who Jesus healed, including Lazarus who was raised from the grave, did not escape death. But sin and illness will not have the last word. God has promised that one day all this will be behind us. Until that Day death is the door through which we must enter the halls of eternity. No matter how many doctors or prayers we employ, this reality will not change.  In this respect, pastoral experience has also permitted me to witness cheerfulness, patience, love and humor in many who struggle with debilitating illness. So remember, even as you pray for God’s healing presence and power, your witness to hope and grace in the midst of suffering can be one of the greatest gifts you give to those around you.

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 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

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John 14:9

“He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

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The photo above depicts the interior of a temple in Na Trang, Vietnam. The cone-shaped objects hanging from the ceiling are spirals of incense. The haze in the picture is not the result of poor exposure settings on the camera but smoke from the burning incense. There were many more of these than the picture captured, several hundred I would guess.

 As Linda and I stood there, engulfed in the aromatic atmosphere, I could not help but reflect on how each one of these cones of incense represented someone’s hopes and dreams. Some were no doubt prayers for dead ancestors, others for health, happiness, love and success, however defined. Some offered in gratitude. I was reminded of Christian traditions who also use incense as a symbol of their hopes and dreams offered in prayer. What’s the difference?

 In one very basic sense, there is little difference. Christians, like all people, look for fulfillment, meaning, value and redemption. You do not need to be a Christian to need these things.  Some Christian people could afford to be far more charitable than they are toward their non-Christian neighbors who share the same hurts, hopes and longings.

 Martin Luther once said that a Christian is a beggar who knows where the bread line is. That’s about right. Who are we to look down our noses at non-Christians as if we did not share with them the same frail, needy humanity? If Christ Jesus, by His sheer grace and mercy, has opened your heart to see in Him the Father, it is not because of anything you have done. It is by His grace alone. if you have found the bread line, you are still a beggar.

 So, as I stood there that day amidst the incense I felt a kinship with those who were sending their hopes heavenward. And if I could I would tell each and every one of them that the crucified and risen Jesus is the face of the One who hears their  prayers. I would invite them into the bread line. This is what we want to say to those who share our need for God. 

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 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Proverbs 17:22

 

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“A cheerful heart is good medicine.”

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‘I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.’ Have you ever expressed this sentiment? God has given human beings the gift of laughter. He has also enabled us to cry. To know when to laugh and  to cry is a gift. In most cases, wherever possible, my vote is for laughter.

 Much that passes as humor in today’s popular culture is crude and viscous, taking delight either in the sufferings of others or in belittling others.  This is not the Christian way.

 People who can laugh at themselves take the world seriously but not too seriously. They are aware of the gap between what the world ought to be and the way it is, between what they ought to be and the way they are, but they do not give in to cynicism. This insight reaches deeply into our experience of life as people of  faith. We are fallen creatures in a fallen world. The entire creation, including you and me, have been damaged by the presence of evil. We will always fall short of perfection, no matter how hard we try.

 At times, if we have any sensitivity at all, we must grieve over this condition even to the point of shedding tears. That is apporpriate. At the same time Christians live in the light of God’s grace and forgiveness. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow”, the Bible tells us. In Christ Jesus God has closed the gap between what we ought to be and what we are. He declares us to be righteous in Christ, sees us as His sons and daughters.

 To approach with humor the mishaps and problems of our lives and others with charity and good will can bring a bit of healing and help lighten the load, if just a little, as we journey on toward the kingdom that God has prepared for us.

 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

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John 20:31

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“… that you may have life in His name.”

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It would not be inaccurate to characterize the verse above as the mission statement of John’s gospel. John himself tells us that this is why he wrote, “…that you may have life in His name.”

 ‘But I already have life’, you may say. And in a sense you would be right.

 God has arranged the world in such a way that we are able to invest ourselves in many modes of living and draw various dividends. We invest ourselves in marriage and the results can be among the best in life; children, a loving partner, a home where we are nurtured and cared for. The joy of real friendships can add a dimension to our lives that nothing can replace. Meaningful work provides opportunity for service and fulfillment. The wide and variable richness of the world, our temporary home, provides a bounty of experience and resources for living.

 But John does not present us with any of these. He does not send us back to ourselves, to others or to the creation to find life. We do not draw life, authentic life, from any of these, as good and beneficial as they may be. In fact, family, friendships, work and the creation itself can be the souce of some our greatest burdens, tragedies and sorrows. That’s the way it is in a sinful world. The very things that we look to for life have a way of turning on us. They can take the life right out of us.

 Jesus also found life in the things mentioned above. In the end, however, those same sinful forces that distort the good things in your life took His. But the Author of life is stronger than life-denying death. Christ is Risen!

 So John brings you back to the very Source of your life, God Himself in Christ Jesus. In your baptism, God promised to be and to remain the true source of your life through Christ so that when the lesser lights of life disappoint or are extinguished altogether, “you may have life in His name.”

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Matthew 28:19

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…”

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In the summer of 2008, my father, Rev. Carroll Norlin Anderson, and I made a pligrimage of sorts. The occasion was the 150th anniversary of my great-grandfather’s congregation, Spring Garden Lutheran Church, near Cannon Falls, Minnesota. My dad and I drove up from Madison, Wisconsin and joined in the celebrating along with many relatives who belong to that congregation.  It was moving and inspiring to be in a place where the Good News of Jesus has been proclaimed from the time the first Swedish settlers met in a small log cabin – which now sits on the church grounds.   My great-grandfather, John Norlin, served as pastor there from 1911 to 1928. As we sat in the service on Sunday morning, I imagined him at the pulpit those many years ago, proclaiming the grace that has set us free, keeping his watch in the time God gave him.  

 One hundred and fifty years ago, those Swedish settlers set up their church in what was essentially a wilderness. They had little or no competition from alternative religious communities. Today, we have no such comfort zone.  Like the first century church, we face the stifling demand for tolerance of  a ‘live and let live’ pluralism and a variety of competing belief systems. In this kind of environment, where it is intolerable to be intolerant, we are tempted to mute our witness to Christ Jesus and His Gospel or abandon it altogether.

 The message that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world is intolerable to many.  But the witness of our forebearers challenges us in this time and place, as in theirs, to present unequivocally the person, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the motivating factor of Christian life and missionary incentive in our homes and churches and society.  What is intolerable is for us not to do so.

 

 

 

 

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