Matthew 8:24-26

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“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith? ” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”

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The late Alvin Rogness (former president of Luther seminary) once told a story from his days as a young father. He and his wife Nora had six small children. He would often lay awake at night, worrying about what would become of Nora and the kids if anything should happen to him. Did he have enough life insurance or savings? Not in those early days. Perhaps their six uncles would step in to provide. But they were all younger with concerns of their own. These anxieties burdened him and when they did he thought back to a moment when he was six years old. His father was ill during the influenza epidemic of 1919 which killed many people. While his father lay sick in another room, Al climbed into bed with his mother. He asked her, “Mommy, what will we do if Daddy dies?” His mother replied, “God will take care of us.” Then, he was able to go to sleep.

The fears eminating from tommorrow, whether great or small, can tempt us to make self-reliance our only recourse. Fear has a way of doing that. Fear of tommorrow may also loom so large that it is hard to see beyond it, to see a way through.

After my divorce almost thirty years ago, I took a two year sabbatical, moved to Denver, Colorado and worked for my brother. No longer a husband, away from my sons, friends and the minstry, the role adjustments were overwhleming. Like my friend Al Rogness, I lay awake at night, filled with anxiety over the future. Then, one day a Christian co-worker, sensing my fears, took me aside. He said, “Mark you are a pastor. Don’t ever forget something you have probably said to many. God takes care of His people.” Those words of promise opened the future for me. Fear was gone. Trust returned.

Caught in a storm, the disicples were gripped by fear. It was not that they had no faith.They had too little faith, as the Lord told them. This is where most of us find ourselves. Perhaps you find yourself laying awake at night in these chaotic and turbulent times, hounded by fears, consumed with what might be, fearful of being overwhelmed. If so, I have a word that meets you in your greatest fears and your flimsy faith: God takes care of His people. He really does, you know. It’s a promise you can trust. For it comes from Him who calms wind and sea – and fearful hearts.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Matthew 20:28

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“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”

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Interest in the virgin Mary experienced a great resurgence during the period of the Reformation in the 16th century. This renewed focus was a moment in a long history of adoration centered on Mary which continues to this day among many Christians.

Protestants have not made too much of Mary. But it is not hard to see why she became so prominent. Once the Church moved into the vacuum created by the fall of the Roman empire, both in the Latin west and the Greek speaking east, the weak, suffering, despised Jesus of the cross became the all-powerful triumphant Christ reigning over the heavens. This emphasis supported the politics of the churchmen but it left a lot of ordinary people struggling to relate to an exalted, triumphant Jesus. While the winners raised great marble mega-churches, symbolic of triumph, the losers had to look for someone to understand them. Mary was more down to earth, more accessible. Perhaps she would listen and then gain the ear of her exalted Son who was no longer cast in the role of the weak one, acquainted with grief.

The Church has always been tempted to celebrate the triumph of the empty tomb at the expense of the cross. We call this tendency the ‘Theology of Glory’. None of us have to be taught this theology. You have it in you from birth. Left to ourselves we want a God who fixes all the problems, makes everything work, tells me what to do. The theology of Glory is preoccupied with seeing the evidence of faith in the experiences and successes of our lives. The Theology of Glory wants churches filled with uplifting music and positive sermons that give me the keys to successful living. You probably have a good dose of this in you. You probably want to be a winner. If so, you need conversion.

Ministry does not move from strength, from power, from success. In a real sense, these things can obscure the cross and the faith itself. If you are to minister, you cannot be the strong one. If you are to minister it cannot be about you. You may have some apparent strength that others may lean on, but if it is not also apparent that you know weakness, it is doubtful that you can minister. A friend of mine, paraphrasing the Lord, said it well, ” Winners want to be served. Losers want to serve. Losers make the best ministers.”

 

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

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Isaiah 40:27-29

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“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hid from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”

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I don’t know if young parents today teach their kids the old nursery rhymes. My guess is most don’t. If so, it’s too bad. Take, for example, the old rhyme ‘Little Jack Horner”;

 ‘Little Jack Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie.He stuck in his thumb, pulled out a plumb and said,”Oh, what a good boy am I.”

I’ve never had Christmas pie but I am familiar with the moral of this little ditty and its logic: Little Jack concluded that the plum was his reward for being good. Goodness is rewarded with a treat.

If any country has ever said, with little Jack, “Oh, what a good boy am I!’, it must be the United States. Our abundance and success has led many to conclude that we are in God’s great favor and that our prominence gives evidence that God has rewarded us.

Ancient Israel, like its modern counterpart, was in a bad neighborhood. They enjoyed a very brief period of glory under David and his son Solomon. But for most of their history they were run over by one conquering army after another. Their little country lay in the lanes of traffic as stronger countries swarmed through the region, took them into exile, and made them strangers on the earth. Why should they have had any trust, any faith, in God at all? There was no evidence, really, to conclude they were in God’s great favor. So, it is not surprising, as Isaiah recounts, that they had questions about God. But in the end, what came to characterize Israel was not doubt but faith, faith in God’s faithfulness.

A strange fact of history is that abundance and success rarely result in faith; religion, maybe, but not faith. Truth be told, Israel’s faith was born out of weakness and not strength, failure and not success. When the crowds began to gather around Jesus, because he seemed to be popular, He cautioned them: “The birds have their nests, the foxes their dens, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” There is no security in power or might that may be drawn from following Jesus.

The Little Jacks (and Jills) of this world look at their abundance and congratulate themselves, sustained by the evidence of their deserving. People of faith look to the cross, seeing there the evidence of our spiritual poverty, our undeserving, and are sustained by the One whose power and grace are made perfect in weakness.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Matthew 25:31-46

 

“When you do it to the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me.”

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The vineyard pictured above was our backyard for a couple of days during a recent stay in the Napa valley. The vines are arranged with military precision. They receive lavish amounts of attention and no resource is spared to insure they produce the best possible grapes. Truth is, these vines receive better care than most people.

Of course, there are certain advantages to talking care of vines. They don’t complain, talk back or resist efforts to provide for them. Vines present certain challenges, to be sure, but they stay where they are put and generally do not exhibit annoying, unlikable personalities. Not so with people. That is not to suggest that some people are not provided for simply for what can be gained from them. But this is not caring.

To care is to have regard for the whole person, warts and all. And it’s not easy because most of our inclinations are in the direction of self-care. Over the centuries the Church developed into an institution that could be relied upon to care for those whom it was easy to forget. Monastaries and churches became places of sanctuary where countless lives found compassion, healing and support during some very dark and brutal times.

God calls us in Jesus Christ to be a caring community. This caring can and does run in many directions and it is not always welcome when it arrives in the neighborhood. It is good, then, to remember that our Lord’s compassion and caring was not always met with gratitude. But that was not His motivation, to be thanked. He cared for others because it is in the nature of love to do so.

Christ Jesus left His Church with a powerful image of caring that challenges the faithful of each generation. Surveying the hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned He turns to us and says, in effect, ‘When you care for them, you care for me.”

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mark 8:36

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“What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world but lose his soul?”

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Hannah was already in her nineties when I became her pastor. She was homebound so I stopped by with communion each month. Coffee was always ready and Hannah liked to remember the old days.

Just south of the small northwestern Minnesota town where we lived, an old log cabin struggled for survival in a grove of oaks and brush. Hannah was born in that cabin and spent her childhood there.

She once told me about the native Americans who came through the area each Spring, on their way from Minnesota to hunt in the Dakotas. They would stop for a few days and set up camp in the meadow near the old cabin, visiting and trading with her father and some of the other local farmers. Her parents and their guests also shared something else, their Christian faith.

During one visit I asked her the obvious question; ‘What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in your life time?’ I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe she would marvel at the space program, automobiles, the telephone, or running water at the very least. What was Hannah’s reply? “Not much has changed. People are still the same,” she said, her voice still carrying a Scandanavian edge.

I suppose I should have expected this kind of sober wisdom from a woman who grew up in a log cabin. Her life had been tuned to relationships and the Christian faith, not things. Gaining the world was not important to her. Her soul was.

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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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Luke 10:29-37

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“Go, and do likewise.”

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Are you a good, law abiding citizen? You would probably say so. The police don’t show up at your front door, your taxes get paid and you manage to find the voting booth. Oh, you might exceed the speed limit now and then or grouse about the neighbors but who doesn’t? All in all, you manage to stay within the confines of legality and are no threat to law and order.

When it comes to the law most of us play defense. We stay safely behind the prescribed fences, not unlike those who walked by the poor fellow in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He had been badly beaten and left for dead. The two men who passed him by did so for perfectly acceptable legal reasons. No one would have faulted them. To have touched this man would have made them ritually unclean.

In pressing His point Jesus tells His disciples that a Samaritan (the Jews and Samaritans hated each other) was also passing by, saw the injured man and had compassion on him. Jesus then asked, “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man that fell among the robbers? The one who had mercy on him. Go, and do likewise.”

The Samaritan did not keep the law, he fulfilled the law. The difference is huge. Those who seek to fulfill the law play offense, not defense. They actively seek the welfare, the good of the neighbor. They live way beyond the law in the realm of love, the realm of mercy, without any kind of pride, where there is nothing to fear. All of a sudden, being a law abiding citizen doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it.

Faith in Christ brings real freedom. That means we are free FOR something. And that something is love. Christians are ‘free range’ lovers, wandering through the world looking for any excuse to pour love and mercy all over everything. When our Lord Jesus says, “Go, and do likewise”, He is turning loose on a world of law keepers, a horde of law fulfillers whose aim is reckless, extravagant love – without borders. Nobody should be allowed to have this much fun!

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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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Philippians 4:8

 “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Where do such words find a voice today? Certainly not in the cultural chorus of jaded cynicism which mocks just about everything on Paul’s list. After all, worldliness is chic, hip. Vulgarity is cool. Paul’s list of terms belong to a world of Pollyannas and fifties sitcoms. We all know that in the “real world” there is no room for the language of innocence. Right?

Wrong. The “real world” is an expression which actually describes the fallen, unreal world where innocence is not at home and the most intimate of fellowships is the fellowship of sin. In that world, the language works like this:

“Whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is ugly, whatever is merciless, if there is anything debased, if there anything worthy of ridicule, think about these things.”

This is the sort of language politicians use to dig up the dirt on one another. This is the language of the “unreal world” but it is not the language of faith.

Paul knew that the freedom won for us in Christ Jesus restores a kind of innocence to living, to our thoughts, words and actions. Faith gives expression to that freedom; the freedom to love as we have been loved, the freedom to affirm, enjoy and reflect with gratitude on what is good in life, the freedom to look ahead in confident hope to the restoration of the real world, where God’s children will live in innocence, righteousness and blessedness forever.

 Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it.

 

 

 

 

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