John 16:33



How do we deal with pain? Sometimes we try the “silver-lining” approach. We try to convince ourselves and our friends that things are not really as bad as they seem (not unlike the comforters of Job who told him things could always be worse).

Or, we may minimize suffering, anesthetize pain, explain away sin, decorate death until it is all but unrecognizable.

Another approach is to meet pain stoically. We bite our lips, grit our teeth, steel ourselves and forge ahead. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” There must be no tears, no sign of weakness.

But we see nor hear nothing of this on the Cross. Jesus is in pain but He doesn’t pretend. There is a sober honesty in Him. There is no pretending that things are not as bad they seem. The God we see in the crucified Jesus is not a God who summons us to “suck it up” or “cheer up”. Nor is this a God who demands we keep a “stiff upper lip”.

Life at times can be hot and dry and parched, stretched to the point where it seems unbearable. What we receive at the foot of the Cross are not easy answers, quick solutions or soft speeches. What we do receive is a God who shares our pain and suffering and sin. This means, for me, that I have a God I can trust because He has been where I must go. He writes no prescriptions, offers no panaceas, invites no denial, but simply goes the way I must go, the way of mortality, sin, suffering, pain and death. He takes it all upon Himself.

In the dying form of Jesus we encounter the man who shares our need and the God meets our need.

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









Matthew 20:28



“…the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


A retired pastor once remarked to me, “Early in my ministry I used to complain that people constantly interrupted my work, until I discovered that the interruptions WERE my work.”

Our time seems to have its share of fearful, defensive, preoccupied people anxiously clinging to their property and well-worn routines and inclined to view the immediate world around them with suspicion and distrust. Even the closest relationships may be treated as unwelcome interruptions.

What a contrast we see in the life of Jesus. His days were characterized by attentiveness to those who often interrupted Him. While the religious folk guarded their morality, the wealthy their shekels, and the average people courted indifference, Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, forgiveness to real sinners and all with a graciousness that expected nothing in return.

When we live as servants of others it is not so blessings will come back to us. Among the great benefits of servanthood is the discovery that we can get along with so little.

In a world full of strangers pursuing the mute gods of affluence and the uninterrupted projects of the self, the Christian and the Christian community are called to practice hospitality and welcome. This need for community and relationship is probably why many of us were drawn to churches in the first place. It’s a good place to start but there is more. Sooner or later the mature Christian will begin to realize that “How can this church meet my needs?” is not the real question. As one who belongs to Jesus Christ I am called to ask, “How can I serve the needs of others?”

By calling His disciples to a life of servant hood Jesus was saying to all who bear his name that the unsuccessful, unlovely and unlovable who so often represent life’s interruptions are really life’s opportunities. When this awareness comes we move from ‘Me first’ to ‘You first’. And we do so because this is God’s way with us. So, St. Matthew tells us that the God’s life among us was the servant life, even unto death on the Cross.

To live these few, short years on earth in the Spirit of Jesus Christ is to reject the ethic of power, pride and indifference and to participate in the life of Him  who came “…not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.”


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










Isaiah 43:19

680c60_02f37878ce8a8e3e301065ead6daf435“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Years ago, while serving as a pastor in Northern Minnesota, I was asked by our district president to assist a local congregation with a study on mission planning. They were between pastors and it was time to look at their mission. During a break in our sessions, a gentleman on the church council of that congregation confided in me over a cup of coffee. He said, “Pastor, I don’t really know why we are bothering with this. I like our church just the way it is.”

I understood his reluctance to change. After many years of membership in that small-town church with one pastor, the idea of embarking into new areas of mission was an uncomfortable prospect.

Similar comments can be heard in many congregations. Looking, really looking at a congregation’s life and mission can be sobering and challenging. Comfort zones can be hard to leave and things put in place in previous years by the church may need to be undone or modified to serve the current mission needs of the church. Complacency can lead to obstructionism as church members attempt to hang on to a past that is no longer relevant to the present mission requirements of the congregation.

We are in the season of Pentecost, that time of the Church year when we deliberately focus on the life of the church in the light of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost reminds us that the work of the Church is God’s work, after all. The mission is God’s mission and we have no right to make of it our private enterprise, serving our needs only. When we resist change, however sincere our intentions, we must account for the possibility that we are resisting the work of the Holy Spirit, Whose work among us is not to keep us comfortable but faithful.

Pentecost is God’s call to us through His Living Word that we may dare to welcome the new breezes which are blowing, not as threatening portents of an approaching storm but as that new and renewing breath of life which the Holy Spirit most surely brings – that God’s work may be done.


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







Hebrews 13:5

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”


What do we mean when we speak of the presence of God?  To attempt an answer it may be helpful to look at human relationships, then we’ll look at Scripture.

When we use the word ‘presence’ in reference to someone we usually mean he/she is here or was there. The person was physically present. If we push it a bit further we can speak of someone as having a certain presence about them. I’ve known people, and you probably have also, who can walk into a room and somehow their presence dominates, stands out. If you’ve been in a small group and one person is remote or distant for some reason, you might say that so and so just wasn’t present. They were physically present but that’s all. Or someone in the small group may have a dominant presence which causes the others in the group to be diminished in their presence. And there are those relationships of consequence, spouses, deep friendships and so forth, that will have varying intensities of presence.

The point is that when we speak of the presence of God, our language may slip a bit if we are not careful. What are some things we can say about God where presence is concerned? Based on what we read in Scripture we can assume that God is eager for closeness. God is eager for intimacy. God wants to be as close as possible to those He loves. We can be sure of that. At the same time we might say that God is always having to work with the human need for varying intensities of presence and with the human desire to resist His presence.

Where the Lord’s Supper is concerned we speak of the “real presence” of Christ in the bread and wine. By “real” we mean to say that there is an intensity to Christ’s presence there with us. When we look at the Scriptures we find that there is a range of intensity where God’s presence is concerned.

In the opening verses of the book of Jonah we are told – twice – that Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. Now, Jonah knew that God created the world and that God is present everywhere. So, it was not God’s presence, per say, that he was fleeing. It is the intensity of that presence in the direct command of God’s Word that he go to Nineveh.

When Jesus prayed a portion Psalm 22 on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, He was acutely conscious of God’s absence while, at the same time, He WAS praying. So the sense of God’s presence was there. Forsakeness did not mean absence.

If we equate God’s presence only with those aspects of life that are pleasant, affirming, comfortable and so forth, we are going to miss the God of the Bible. For, the person whose trust, whose faith is in the God of the cross, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, who lives by God’s intimate and ever-present Word, there will always be a Nineveh to which we are summoned. This does not mean that God does not provide us with signs of the resurrection every day. Baptism, after all, is the Spirit’s promise of God’s intimate presence in all suffering and all joy through Christ.  

This does mean that while we may experience God as forsakeness or a Word that calls us to paths we would rather not walk,  God is never absent. To the contrary. God is there, shepherding His people through the valleys of shadow and death, leading them to the cool, still waters of his amazing grace.


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







Galatians 2:20

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”


What is Christianity. We can formulate an answer to this question in any number of ways; who is Jesus? What is the Christian faith? However the question is framed the question really is, What’s the hub of it all?

I would have to say that the Christian faith is a personal relationship with God. Or a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. Or a personal relationship to God in Jesus Christ. However we say it, one thing we want to say is that the Christian faith is not impersonal, it is personal. When I was a boy the The old hymn” In the Garden” was sung routinely in worship. Perhaps the most familiar line in that hymn says ‘He walks with me and talks with and tells me I am his own.’ Some find this language too intimate, too personal but I don’t. The Christian faith is an intensely personal thing. It’s a very common and appropriate way to talk about the faith.

Mick Jagger – who isn’t your ordinary, garden variety theologian had a song lyric years ago which went something like, ‘Don’t want to hear any more about Jesus, I just want to see His face.’ Enough talk, I want to see Jesus. He wants this Jesus business to be personal. That reflects what an awful lot of people in the Church would want to say; enough talk, enough theology, we just want to see Jesus. And of course, we find this in the new testament. A man came to the disciples and said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” So, it’s a personal thing.

We can look at the Bible, and if we pick it up with that handle, we can see that the Biblical story is a series of personal relationships, encounters with God.

God goes to Noah and says it may be dry now but rain is coming, lots of it, and you need to build a very large boat. Noah’s not too sure but he builds it anyway. He wouldn’t do that unless there was something very personal going between God and himself, and everything hangs on that personal relationship between god and Noah.

God comes to Abraham and he says, Abe, I want you to pack up and leave this place, leave your land and kinfolk and just take off. Oh and by the way I’m not going to tell you where you are going,maybe later. Just go. Well that’s not the kind of thing one does on the basis of test tubes and calculators. Abraham did that because he was overwhelmed by this very personal word from God.

Isaiah. God appears to him and he has a great vision and he is overwhelmed by being in the presence of the Holy One, and he is stricken, smitten and afflicted – the Bible says – and he realizes his guilt. It’s an intensely personal encounter.

God speaks to the prophets. And this also seems to be intensely personal because they seem to be the only ones that know what the message is. And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. The word of the Lord came to Isaiah, etc.

Jesus comes to Matthew in the toll gate, singles him out and talks to him. Zacchaeus up in the tree is called down by Jesus and they go to lunch.

The Samaritan woman at the well – Jesus asks for a drink of water then begins to speak of the intimate details of her life.

One to one stuff, personal encounters with God.

At the end of the day there can be no substitute for this personal dimension. “For God so loved the world…”means God loves you and me. Theological reflection on the faith is fine, even necessary. But if it does not lead to the proclamation of the Word of the Gospel as a personal, gracious encounter God, it has missed it’s point – and purpose.


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


Matthew 5-7

The Sermon on the Mount


The sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel contains a portion of what has been called ‘the Sermon on the Mount’. In that chapter there are three verses in which Jesus speaks of praying, fasting and almsgiving in secret. So far, so good.  The King James translation, however, adds a word to the end of these verses. That word is ‘openly’. The formula in which the word appears can be represented by verse 4; “…and thy Father which seest in secret shall reward thee openly.

Modern translations do not contain the word ‘openly’. In fact  the earliest manuscripts, from the second, third and fourth centuries upon which modern translations are based, do not contain the word openly. it was added at a later date. Why?

I believe it has something to do with the perpetual need to resolve the tension between hiddenness and openness in the Christian life. Consider this. Our society was profoundly shaped by what has been termed the ‘ Protestant ethic’. The Protestant ethic states simply, to use Matthew’s words, if I pray, give alms and fast (as sincere acts of Christian piety) I will be rewarded with prosperity. Therefore you can tell who the serious Christians are by how prosperous their lives are. This is simple but it makes the point. God openly rewards the sincerely pious. This permeates the churches like ink in the water. It’s everywhere.

But a careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 in Matthew) reveals that openness and hiddenness are in constant tension. And this tension is reflective of the very nature of the Incarnation. Jesus was visible. He walked and talked, ate lunch, did miracles and so forth. Some saw Him and confessed, ‘He is the Son of God!” Others took a look and dismissed Him as another cheap street magician. The divine presence was not obvious.

So in the sacraments we have very visible elements; water, bread and wine. You can feel them, touch them and taste them. But hidden within them are the Holy Spirit, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And if you talk about the sacraments as invisible you’ve missed it. At the same time if you talk about the sacraments as obviously proving the presence of God you’ve also missed it.

What all this means for me is that  the Christian has no reason to expect that our living of the Christian life is going to be any more obvious than was Jesus’ own life. For the world is not going to look at the Church and exclaim, ‘My you are so absolutely gorgeous, I must sign up. Count me in.’ Among the many implications of this awareness is one that stands apart. If the Church is going to bear witness to the faith, then it must speak the name of Jesus Christ and tell the story of what He has done for a sinful world. Attempts to resolve the tension within the Christian life only result in taking the focus off Jesus and placing it on ourselves. This we cannot and must not do.


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









John 1

“And the Word became flesh…”


In the Old Testament God is the one who led His people out of Egypt. In the New Testament God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. In both testaments God is revealed as the God who acts and is involved in what we call history, in temporal time and space.

The progress of the Gospel throughout human history has had real and demonstrable effect not only on individual human beings but also on the whole range of human reality. Institutions, cultures, ideas, etc. have been shaped by the Gospel and its implications. This has often been not because of the Church but in spite of it. For the perpetual temptation of the religious impulses that we naturally associate with Christianity (which is not a religion) always want to spiritualize, internalize or spatialize the Gospel. The Bible, on the other hand, reveals the God who is temporalized in the real world of people and events, including sacraments.

Non-sacramental Christianity which emphasizes reason and the internal character of faith, skates dangerously close to the brink of gnosticism which discounts the temporal for the sake of the spiritual. Martin Luther ran into this mentality among the ‘anabaptists’ of his day. The following is a quote from Luther on this score as it applies to infant baptism.


 “The  anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Spirit to grown persons, he can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith comes of the Word of God, when this is heard; little children hear that Word when they receive baptism, and therewith they receive also faith.”

– Martin Luther (1483-1546), Table Talk CCCLIII [1569] .


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


1 Peter 1



“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,…”.


The Boston bombings were a volcanic moment of chaos erupting out of the the deep lava flow of human sin. The magnitude of the event was shocking. The fact that it happened is not. Chaos and mayhem are scattered across the world on any given day in ways great and small. How do we respond?

Some argue cynically that ‘Life is one darned thing after another.’ History moves in a circular motion from Herod to Hitler to Mao to Bin Laden. Nothing really changes. The best you can do is find your little haven of safety somewhere, look after yourself and let the world be damned.

Others see life as a slippery slope. The best is behind us. What lies ahead is degrading, without prospects. They look longingly back to the ‘good ol’ days’ when life was as it should be. The future is bleak, despairing. It is best to live without expectations.

These views are common and perhaps even understandable. You and I may even resort to them from time to time. But they can in no sense be called Christian.

The Christian response to the broken world takes its language from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It is the language not of cynicism or despair but of hope. 

Coventry cathedral was destroyed during the second world war. When the new church was built, adjacent to the old structure, it included a magnificent wall of glass. On the wall are the images of saints and angels, gathered together in a glorious celebration. Through the glass wall one can see the remains of the old buildings, grim reminders of the effects of human evil.

But that’s just the point. The opaque wall does not block out or deny the chaos. It is a symbol, a vision of hope in the midst of chaos. And it is this vision of hope in Jesus Christ that is to shape Christian speaking in response to suffering and death. Our calling, in this respect, is to invite those who are singing in the chorus of cynicism and despair to sing a new song, the song of the crucified and risen Jesus. To turn from singing the world’s lament, ‘In the midst of life we die’, to the new song of hope in Jesus Christ, ‘In the midst of death we live!’

So, Christian, grab your trumpet, warm up your voice and let’s celebrate that great and glorious future God is preparing for us, even as we give ourselves in service to the suffering and broken world. For God has promised that one day wars will cease, tears will be dried and we’ll be swinging on the chandeliers of heaven!


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











1 Corinthians 1:21

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”


 ‘Actions speak louder than words’. So the saying goes. Or, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me’. Someone once said, ‘Your actions are speaking so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.’  If we say thing like this often enough and loud enough the impression is left that words are not that important. 

The Church is also caught up in the problem. We hear the same kinds of comments within Church life. A personal experience with God is more important than doctrine. Faith means one does not need to understand, just believe. But believe what? Faith accepts certain things are mysteries. But what mysteries? Somehow or another we thrive on anti-verbal religion.

Faith, belief and mystery do not mean muddle. They do not imply that the Christian can say anything where God is concerned. For faith words are attached, for us, to what has been revealed and made known about God in Jesus Christ.

At the same time words are fuzzy – all words. We may prefer those who ‘say what they mean and mean what they say’ but that’s just an expression. Communication is not that simple. The basic problem, therefore, is that our words are both important and fuzzy.

Finally, it is important to note that words ARE actions. Try yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded room and you’ll find out quickly that words have real effect. Martin Luther was so convinced that words equal action that he called the church a “mouth house”. For it is through the Church’s words that the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens sanctifies” us in faith.

It may seem odd to us that God would choose words to be the vehicle of the new creation but should it? After all, the old creation, as Genesis tells us, was spoken into existence. If God could use a word to bring something out of nothing, then He can certainly use the spoken word of the Gospel to create the new life of faith.


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









Colossians 1:18

“He is the head of the body, the church;…”


Our faith is personal and corporate. Both are well-represented in the Bible. Noah, for example, was commanded to build an ark – in the desert. Needless to say, his reaction was less than enthusiastic. Why did he do it? Obviously, his relationship with God was something intense and personal. So much so, he overcame his reluctance and set to work.

At the same time, Noah was commanded to fill the ark with critters and to bring the family. A new beginning would emerge from the flood for the creation and the covenant people.

Isaiah had a profound, personal  vision of the Holy One. That vision brought him face to face with his sin. “I am a man of unclean lips”, he was brought to confess. 

At the same time, Isaiah’s vision brought him to see the larger implications. “…and I dwell among a people with unclean lips”, he concluded. Sin is personal and corporate.

The prophets, generally, were perceived to have a unique word from God. At the same time, that word was always for the people of God. The word was personal and corporate.

Our Lord Jesus called Matthew at the toll gate, the first of twelve. Each disciple was singled out. At the same time, Jesus made of them the nucleus of a new Israel. Twelve disciples, representing the twelve tribes of the covenant people.

St. Paul was singled out on the road to Damascus. Christ appeared to him, called him, set him apart. At the same time, bearing witness to this experience was neither the burden nor the focus of Paul’s message.  He rarely mentions his dramatic, personal encounter with Christ. His letters were written, in large measure, for the sake of congregations, Christian communities, the body of Christ.

We have just celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord. We believe He lives. But this risen Lord is not the private property of the individual. Through Word and sacrament He makes us His own, one by one, to be sure. At the same time, Christ Jesus never leaves it at that. He makes us members of His body. That’s what the Resurrection looks like here and now; persons called by the grace of Christ into community. We are each a unique, living member of the body. This means faith is personal but not private. Like it or not, we belong to one another.


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