1 Corinthians 15:53

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“For the perishable must put on the imperishable, and the mortal must put on immortality.”

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Two kids were building a sand castle on the beach. They worked with determination and purpose but each effort, as they neared completion, came crumbling down. Undaunted they persisted but to no avail. Invariably their efforts failed them.  It was then that another kid came along, saw their dilemma and offered to help. The problem, she told them, was the sand they were using did not have enough moisture.  Moving a bit closer to the water they tried again. This time the sand held together and the castle was built. The kids were delighted and enjoyed the results of their efforts until the tide eventually carried it away.

This story has been played out countless times and points us to something simple yet crucial regarding our lives. Born into this world, each of us must build a life out of the raw material of experience. Yet as we do so it becomes readily apparent that the cohesion and integration of our life’s energies and resources that is required for a meaningful life can be elusive. How many “sand castles” have we built only to find they lack that cohesiveness that pulls everything together. As each day dissolves into the irretrievable past, in some measure all our lives are haunted by failed and misspent efforts  What, if anything, has the power to gather up the debris field our lives and make of its crumbled remnants an enduring edifice?

The forgiveness of sins that is in Christ has that power. Forgiveness follows behind the Christian, cleaning up the debris of the past even as it permeates the present, giving coherence to our faltering efforts, continually freeing us. Forgiveness also comes to meet us from tomorrow, bringing the assurance and the caveat  that the permanence and certainty we seek will be God’s gift to us, but not in this life. 

So, for a little while, we employ the life we have received. We build it out of the perishable ingredients of this world, trusting in God’s grace to provide the purpose and coherency that finally eludes us, until that day when the tide of eternity washes over this old creation and the perishable sands of this life give way to the imperishable love, mercy and grace of God.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luke 19

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“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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The text above is from the story Zacchaeus, the little man from Jericho who climbed a tree to see Jesus. It’s a good story and you may remember the children’s song based on the incident; “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he”, etc. 

Zacchaeus was a rich man as a result of his legalized plundering of the people. He was a tax agent of the hated Romans and despised by his fellow Jews. His name must have seemed to them the ultimate irony. In Hebrew Zacchaeus means ‘pure and righteous one.’

As Jesus made His way through Jericho, accompanied by the good citizens of the city, he came upon the little man in the tree. Without hesitation Jesus invited Himself to lunch at the home of Zacchaeus. This would have been a bit like your pastor sitting down to lunch with a member of the mafia. You just don’t associate with these people, let alone break bread with them.

Years ago, when I first came to Newport Beach, my guitar and I showed up every week at a local roadhouse for a blues jam. I played there off and on for a couple of years until the place closed down. One Sunday morning I was approached by a member of my congregation (who has since gone to the Lord) who expressed grave concern that I would inhabit such a place. It didn’t look good and it didn’t reflect well on the congregation, I was told. On the contrary, I replied. What better reputation could you possibly have than the very reputation your Lord acquired? 

Jesus got Himself into all kinds of trouble because He worked the margins. Read the gospels. See for yourself.  He sought out all kinds of disreputable, grungy people who were easy for the respectable folks to forget. It was scandalous that a man who claimed to speak for God inhabited the lives of sinners with such ease. It is important, even crucial to notice that the marginalized and despised ones were the very ones who responded most eagerly to Jesus. All they had known from the ‘religious’ among them was scorn and rejection. In Jesus they found a friend and a love that made possible an authentic renewal of life.

 

Postscript: On one of my last visits to the roadhouse two of us were sitting at a table nursing a beer and talking about how much we were going to miss the place. My new friend, who I had been jamming with off and on for months said, “You know, if I had known you were a pastor before we had played together a few times, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you.”  Then, for the next hour or so I listened as he spoke of an abusive childhood, run ins with the law, two failed marriages and a young daughter who he had never seen. For my part, I told him about Jesus. How he never gives up on us no matter how busted up our lives may be and that we may always begin again. As we left that night we embraced. Tears were in his eyes.

About six months later I received a note in the mail. My friend had moved to be near his child, was working at a good job and for the first time in his life, was attending a church. He had also found a local blues bar where he and one of the associate pastors were playing regularly…and taking every opportunity to speak with others about Jesus. You gotta love it!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 69

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“Save me, O God; for the waters have poured into my soul. I sink in the deep mire, where there is no standing; I am in the deep waters, where the floods cover me. I am weary of my crying; my throat is dried; my eyes fail as I wait for God…Come close to me and deliver me.”

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Our Lord Jesus Christ was never too busy to spend time with the sick and those afflicted with pain.  Countless multitudes over the centuries have known His mercy and the comfort of His presence in times of illness. 

He sustains us in moments of desperation and discouragement, when the debilitating effects of illness or pain seem  too much to bear.

The peace of His presence can turn us outward from self-pity and resentment to trust and reliance on His love.

His hand is seen in the skill of the physician and all those whose efforts support the great work of healing.

His own suffering is a reminder that we are not greater than our Master. Yet, we too can pray that God’s grace may prevail even in our suffering.

As in all things illness may serve as a means by which our faith is purified, our eyes are opened to the blessings that surround us and our hearts confirm that we are held in the firm grip of Him who provides daily for every need.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Philippians 1:3-5

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(from Nov. 1st, 2012 Pastor Mark’s blog)

“We always thank God,the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you.”

Today is All Saints Day and it has me thinking about the people who I carry along with me on this faith pilgrimage. Martin Luther is certainly one of those silent companions. And there are many, many more. You have them too. People who have been defining of the faith in some way.

Like Luther, you may carry with you those only known to you from their writings. I have any number of these. People whose reflections on and proclamation of Christ come from generations long passed away but continue to carry me along in times of struggle, joy and confusion.

Perhaps it is the influence of a mother or a father who, along with all the distracting peripherals in life, did not neglect their witness to the Word.

There may have been grandparents and other relatives whose witness to the faith complemented that of your parents, giving it roots and a richer, deeper dimension.

You may remember a Sunday School teacher or a pastor who unfolded the Bible, making it vivid and alive, telling the stories of the men and women through whom God revealed His will, His law and mercy. 

Friends in Christ have been there too; fellow parishoners, confirmations classmates, Bible study companions and others with whom you have shared the faith in worship, witness, learning and service.

I, too, am a silent companion to others. Most of whom are unknown to me. We do leave our mark and we leave it every day. Our words and deeds, spoken and done in the name of Christ, also may be defining for someone. For good, we hope. But we cannot always be sure.

So on this day, as I reflect upon those whom God has given me, through whose witness the calming shadow of the Cross continues to shield from the glare of of life’s turmoils, I offer this prayer;

 Lord Jesus Christ, fall in my footsteps, work Your goodness in my actions and be heard in my voice. Pass me along to others, a silent companion on the journey whose only prayer is to be a simple underline of Your glorious Word.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reformation Day

  ( this post appeared Tuesday, October 31st  2012, on Pastor Mark’s blog )

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On this day in 1517, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  The theses that Luther penned and posted that day set in motion events that reverberate into our own time. It is not an overstatement to say that Martin Luther has been among the most influencial historical figures of the last 500 years. There was a time when throughout the western world  the Bible was the only book read more widely than Luther’s writings. Think about that.

Luther used the door of the Wittenberg church to post his theses along with an invitation to debate because it was a well-known community bulletin board.  Wittenberg was also full of pilgrims that day who were gathering for the All Saints Day observances and a monk posting a notice would have been unremarkable. As he came and went it is likely that he went largely unnoticed. Unfortunately, unnoticed can also describe Luther in our time.

 Fast forward.

The year was 1988. I had just arrived at a Lutheran congregation here in California to begin my work as associate pastor for youth and parish education. On the first day of 7th grade confirmation class I distributed a brief, one page set of questions to the kids in order to get a sense of their knowledge of the Bible and their Lutheran faith. One of the questions was, ‘Who was Martin Luther?’ Well over half the class identified Martin Luther as a black man who was killed or had something to do with civil rights. A number of the kids answered that they did not know. Of that group of over twenty kids, three were able to identify Luther as the reformer.

At about the same time I was asked to address a Sunday morning adult class of over 50 people on the subject of Luther. To begin I described the theology of the cross and the theology of glory and asked the group for a show of hands regarding which they thought represented Martin Luther’s theology. Nearly every person went with the theology of glory. Wrong. No wonder the kids were clueless. I went home that morning in a blue funk. Not because I was surprised but precisely because after having already served three congregations in two other states, I had come to expect this.

Now, I am all for dusting off the 16th century once in a while and re-visiting the events of Luther’s life and time. It is important to do so. At the same time, I am more concerned that people today who inhabit the corridors of Lutheran churches, or any church for that matter, have some inkling as to why Luther matters. Because he does.

And he matters not because Martin Luther got everything right but because he points us to what is essential, he points us to the Cross, to Christ where our true salvation is found. Luther read his Bible and there discovered that we have no right or need to say anything or do anything for our salvation. As far as God is concerned, we have nothing to offer. Rather, as beggars in the bread line we can do no other than hold out our empty hands and receive the salvation that God gives on His terms, by grace alone, in the crucified and risen Jesus. 

 

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

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1 Corinthians 14

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“Make love your aim.”

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Many years ago while serving as a youth pastor in Billings, Montana, the high school group asked if I would arrange a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota. One of the young men who made that trip (I’ll call him Ben) was a reluctant participant and only decided to go at the last minute, after much prodding by his parents. Ben was shy, a bit overweight and found it difficult to enter in to tasks with others. He had a tendency to complain easily and it wasn’t long before tensions arose when it became common knowledge that  Ben would be going. Some of the other kids complained that Ben would not do his fair share of the work.  They were concerned that Ben would be dead weight. 

After several long days of travel we pulled in at last to our destination. Two days later our canoes slipped into the water and we were off for ten days in the wilderness.

Canoeing in the Boundary Waters is no walk in the park. Not only is there the constant paddling but there are also many portages where the canoes and gear must be carried overland, between lakes. Sometimes these portages can be a mile or more. During the first few days Ben endured a lot of ribbing along these portages. He usually took up the rear and didn’t carry much. Then it happened that one of the kids, Sandy, twisted an ankle and she asked Ben if he would carry her pack along with his own. Everyone was somewhat surprised when, without complaint or hesitation, Ben hoisted a pack on each shoulder and forged ahead. He carried Sandy’s pack every day from then on.

Something happened to Ben that day. Without being asked he began to offer his help to others in the group. He had a new kind of energy about him. No longer was he the sluggish follower bringing up the rear. The transformation was nothing short of remarkable.

One morning as we prepared to break camp I took Ben aside and asked him what had happened to bring about such a change, such a desire to help. He told me that when Sandy asked him to carry her pack he felt, for the first time, like he was part of the group. And he realized that meant not feeling sorry for himself but pitching in and helping where he could. 

Ben’s new spirit was infectious. Oh, he was still the object of bantering, but now the good will and love that surrounded him was palpable. Ben’s selfless giving became the story of that adventure and it brought everyone to life. He was a little Christ to all of us.

Fulfillment, joy and freedom are the gifts of God that sneak up on you as you go about loving and serving others. Concentrate on yourself and these things will elude you. Make love your aim and you’ll get fulfillment and everything else thrown in. 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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