John 1:14

 

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“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

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In former times the inside of church buildings were covered with pictures that told Bible stories, such as the painting above by Fra Angelico, located in the San Marco church, Florence, Italy. It tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Theologians are fond of saying that pictures were used because the people were illiterate and could not read.  Perhaps some theologians are illiterate because all they know are words as abstractions. 

Translations vary, often widely, but there are roughly 800,000 words in the Bible. How many events do these words represent? I’ve never seen a statistic for that but it is more important that the number of words. The event within the words is the thing. How many events are there in the Bible?  Are some more important than others? Where did they come from? Where do they go?  I knew a man once who closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself through the stories of the Bible. Who is the power within the event, behind the words?
 

The 800,000 words of the Bible are one event, distilled into many stories. That’s how real people live and do theology. We inhabit stories, seamlessly, then we struggle to make the story known. If you were asked to say what you believe, you would not recite disembodied facts. You would tell your story. 

Before anything was made the Word was. That’s a Bible story. How do you tell your children about the Word within and beyond all words, the Word that was and is and will be? Words always want to go to where they were before the words. All the tenses are senses that precede the words, like someone who pushes a child on a swing, or someone who pushes ink onto paper, or Someone who speaks and something is created out of nothing. What matters is the mind, the power, the reality behind, beneath, in, under and with the words and the event.

Events are words and words are events. That’s biblical. The Word in the flesh, the Word in Baptism, the Word in Holy Communion, the Word in Gospel speaking are events of the Word. They are one Word. They are spoken events, spoken against abstraction, God expressing Himself, making the story of your life and the story of Jesus one, interpreted by grace and truth.

 

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

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Psalm 1:1-2

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“Blessed is the one 

who does not walk in step with the wicked 

or stand in the way that sinners take 

or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.”

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It’s time once again for your day in court – and mine.

Martin Luther, reflecting on the Biblical picture of man and woman, recognized that we are two selves, a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One self is lawless, motivated by ego and a thousand impulses. The other, the new person in Christ, delights in the law of the Lord, finds its’ refuge and joy in Him. Luther, like Paul before him, recognized that throughout this life these two selves are at war with one another. You can see it, feel it, in your own life as well.

As a result, Luther characterized the Christian life as a daily return to baptism, a daily return to repentance, a daily return to the court of God’s law where we stand before the bench and are given opportunity to be indicted once again. The old rascal in us must be undone, condemned and lead to the place of execution, to the cross, to baptism, there to be crucified with Christ.

At the same time, even as the old sinful, self is executed with Christ so is the new person raised with Him in baptism. We are lead from the cross to the empty tomb. All things are made new. The past is gone, a new day has come. Just as the old sinner in us delights in lawlessness and the promotion of the self, the new person in Christ finds delight in love and trust. In Christ we become servants and friends of one another. Our joy and delight are in God and his grace.

The old sinner in me trembles at the thought of standing before the bench. The new man in Christ, however, anxious to be free, can’t wait to be dragged into court!  

So, as I begin this new and untried day, bring down the gavel, Lord! Send me to the cross that I may die with Christ and be raised with Christ into the freedom and  joy of Your kingdom!

 

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

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Romans 11:17

“…you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,…”

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A plum can grow on a peach tree. It doesn’t happen naturally, of course. Grafting is necessary. A twig from a plum tree is carefully inserted into a branch of a peach tree. The tree remains a peach tree but it bears plums on the grafted twig.

The Bible uses this image as an example of the relationship between Christ and believers. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says they are grafted into a Christ as an olive shoot is grafted into a good root. St. John describes Christ as the vine giving life to its’ branches.

When we are grafted into Christ through baptism we do not become divine, just as the plum twig does not become a peach twig. But the plum twig draws all its’ life from the tree.

It is a great miracle of God that we may be be grafted into divinity and partake of the very life of God though Christ.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John 1:18

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“No human eye has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the Father’s bosom–He has made Him known.”

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A late friend of mine had a word for much of what passes for preaching. He called it,  “birdwatching”.  According to birdwatching preachers and hearers, God is essentially a conundrum, a mystery to be discussed, a curiosity about whom little can concretely be said. Birdwatcher theology points off into the cosmos and says things like, ‘My, isn’t that interesting. Who knows? God could be this or God could be that. God is in everything. All religions are essentially the same.  No religion has a corner on Truth. ” You get the picture.

The Biblical witness is not so timid  – or spineless – where God is concerned. Every page of the Bible concerns itself with revelation, with making God known. In fact, the essential meaning of the Bible is this: God has spoken.

For those who genuinely seek God this ought to come as good news. Light has entered the darkness. God has expressed Himself in such a way as to be beyond all ambiguity. This revelation culminated in the coming of Jesus, the human face of God.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”. But it is precisely the concreteness of the revelation in Jesus that offends the generosity of our reason, which we use to keep God at arms length.  

My late friend went on to say that we should expect this from the world but when the preachers of the Church demonstrate this same offense it’s time for them to seek alternative forms of employment. Finally, he had a suggestion. Every pulpit should have a sign clearly visible to pastor and people which reads, ‘No Birdwatching Allowed”.

 

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

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Psalm 127:1

“Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

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My grandfather on my mother’s side was a building contractor in Minneapolis for many years. After coming here from Norway early in the 20th century he worked building barns in North Dakota. Eventually he moved to the Twin Cities and started his own construction business.

All my grandfather’s carpenters were Norwegians and for many years every house was built by hand – no power tools were allowed.

My mother’s cousin was one of those carpenters and he told her once why he liked working for my grandfather; “Where other builders use three nails”, he said, “your father uses five.”  All the homes they built are still standing, sturdy as ever.

In a temporal, transitory life even our finest efforts cannot stand against  the ravages of time. After all, my grandfather’s houses, as well-built as they are, will one day have to be torn down. 

The Psalmist, reflecting on the work of the Lord, recognized that only those plans laid down by the Living God will endure. And God has made this plan known: through the power of the Gospel the framework of faith, hope and love are built upon Christ, the sure foundation. In baptism God has established us upon this foundation, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John 1

“The true light has come into the world.”

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This week I am in the state of Wisconsin visiting my folks. The other evening, just after dusk, a lone firefly made its’ appearance among the shrubs near my father’s house. I watched for a few minutes but no other fireflies appeared, the result of the dry weather this Spring and summer.

That one small light was enough to penetrate the gathering darkness of the evening but its’ erratic course, as it flitted here and there, made it impossible to follow. Eventually it faded from view and was gone. All that remained was the darkness.

Many have come promising light; Adolf Hitler spoke of a brilliant future for the German people and proceeded to plunge them and most of  the world into darkness. The Marxists promised a bright future to the Russians, Chinese and others and gave them terror and subjugation on an unprecedented scale.

John writes of the “true light” that has come into the world. That true light is God’s Living and abiding Word, Jesus Christ. For now, we follow Him in faith traveling a course that is unerring, straight and true. No darkness can overcome it. One day we live fully in His light. No lesser lights will be required. The one, glorious light of Christ will be enough to flood the eternal vistas of heaven.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Philippians 1:2

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“Grace and peace be unto to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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The year was 1969. The song was “Give Peace a Chance” written by John Lennon of Beatles fame. The context of the song was the contentious atmosphere occasioned by the Vietnam war. 

Although ultimately futile in its’ appeal, Mr. Lennon’s sentiment is hard to quibble with. Peace, like many things in life that are worthy of our efforts, is worth a try. At the same time peace tends to be one of those things that most people think is a good idea but don’t really want to do much about. Human beings have a way of talking  – or singing – a good game when it comes to things like peace, love, justice, etc. If we were serious, however, the world and our lives would not look the way they do. After all, for most of us, peace is nothing more than the absence of open conflict. And that is not true peace.

The church has also been doing some singing. If I were to give a title to the great anthem of the Church universal it would be this: ‘Give Grace a Chance’. It’s grace that we need. “Grace and peace”, Paul wrote. The order is important. Peace is a by-product. All the tangled contentions of the world are a result of humanity’s refusal to live by grace, to receive in humility and gratitude all the gifts of God. Jesus came, full of grace and truth, and we killed Him. This is evidence enough that we rather prefer a graceless world.

So, we can sing all we like about giving peace a chance. But know this, there is no peace apart from the Prince of Peace and the grace that is in Him alone.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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