Saturday, May 23, 2015

Nick and Emma (Mother's Day 2015)

Sermon Summary, “Nick and Emma” (John 3:1-21) 
Mother’s Day: My Grandma Emma was the first person that I recognized as being born from above.  She was made of different stuff.  Born in 1885 in Stoughton, WI, she married in 1906 and she and Grandpop, Hakon Matson, moved west to South Dakota where they were pioneers in every sense of the word.  In addition to being a farm wife, she taught at a one room school a half mile away.

In 1917 they moved to town, were involved in the community, were founding members of the Methodist Church and other organizations.  What I remember about them was their faith. What I remember most was her Bible.  I stayed with them every Saturday night from age six to nine and after the news she would read to us from her Bible.  Grandma Emma read the redlines. 

Our Scripture is about being born from above.  Nick (who like us all had a Mother, but unlike Emma, was still in the dark (he came to Jesus by night)).  Jesus told Nick, “You must be born from above.”  The world the NRSV translates as “above” in Greek means both “again” and “from above.”  Of course, Nicodemus, still in the dark understands it as “again” while Jesus’ spiritual connotation is “from above.”  Nicodemus seems to believe in the signs, the miracles, in John but not the sign-maker.  He is in the dark.

Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that we will never see the Kingdom of God unless we are born from above (again).  We have the same question as Nicodemus, how do we become like Emma? How do we experience rebirth?  We need to choose.  Do we choose again or from above?  Do we choose the signs or the sign-maker?  Jesus tells us we have to choose.  “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness , so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Will we turn our back on the exalted Jesus, or will be believe in him?

When we believe in him we receive the gift of faith.  We become new creations as Paul put it.  We are made of new stuff.  That’s what I saw in Grandma Emma.  Without a doubt she believed in the exalted Jesus and she had the gift of faith.  If anyone had stepped into the light it was Emma, and she led others out of the shadows.

Seven years ago, Emma’s great great grandson was born and amazingly he was named Hakon.  Two years later, her great great granddaughter was born and amazingly was named Emma.  How is we could have such a heritage?  By believing in the sign maker.  By walking in the light.  By asking each day what does it mean to be a light to my children, my grandchildren, to those I’m called to love.


Friday, May 15, 2015


Sermon Summary, “Bread of Life” (John 6 (selected))  (May 3, 2015)

We’re in the Gospel of John.  One of the amazing things that John did NOT include was the Institution of the Last Supper. But when you think about it, his Greek audience would have had no knowledge of the Passover meal, no understanding of the loaf and the cup.  They needed another approach to understanding the meal that we find so spiritually nourishing.

So John builds on the story of the feeding of the 5000 which even in the other Gospels has echoes of the Eucharist (“Jesus taking the five loaves and the two fish, .. looked up into heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and gave them…) (Matt 15:19).

So John begins Chapter 6 with the feeding of the 5000, but we soon find that the crowds did not understand (Jesus later admonishes them, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (They got a belly stuffer!)  After the feeding, Jesus withdraws to the mountains.  The disciples return by boat to Galilee and encounter a life-threatening storm; and even more terrifying, they see Jesus walking to them on the water!  Jesus says, “It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  (The correct translation from the Greek is “I AM. Do not be afraid.)  I AM—words from 1400 years earlier, God speaking to Moses from the burning bush.  This appearance is far more than a miracle of walking on water, it is a Theophany, an appearance of God.  John is clear throughout his Gospel and he’s clear in this story, Jesus and God are one.

The next day, the crowds again surround Jesus, “What must we do to perform the work of God?” Jesus replies, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  Then astoundingly, they ask “What sign are you going to give us?”  They had just been fed from five loaves and two fish! 

Jesus shocks them by telling them, “I AM [there it is again] the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.  Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty...I AM the bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The crowds miss the spiritual message and the next one even more: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”  The crowds say, “This is too difficult a teaching” and fall away.  But Peter say, “Lord, where could we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”  Indeed!

See and believe.  And give thanks.  That’s what the Eucharist means, the Great Thanksgiving.  He is present with us.  Amen.           




Saturday, May 2, 2015


Sermon Summary, “Signs of Life, ” 4/26/15  John (selected verses)

Last week Sandra gave us a wonderful report on her ministry to Vandalia Women’s Prison where she and her friends ministered to over 100 women and brought 7 to Christ (I need to have her teach me to do altar calls!) Yet, the recidivism rate exceeds 50 percent.  On Tuesday at Rotary I learned of Primrose Hill Teen Challenge for addicted mothers with Children, a faith-based holistic program of 12 to 14 months with an 85 percent success rate measured over 8 years.  Faith-based, 85 percent!  That’s what Jesus does!

We’re in John tells us that Jesus performed many signs but he “wrote these that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in so believing we may have life in his name.” (v. 20:31)  That’s that what these young mothers are experiencing, life.  Jesus said, “I come that you have life and it to the full, it abundantly.” 

So John tells seven signs, more than physically miracles, each with a deep spiritual meaning.  For example, the wedding at Cana (2:1-11), “There were six stones jars standing there for the Jewish rites of purification each holding 20 to 30 gallons.” Six, a number of incompleteness, imperfection, telling us of bankruptcy of the old ways, but when the steward tasted the water now become wine, life becomes vibrant, exhilarating, and with 180 gallons of wine, extravagant!

The second sign of the healing of the royal official’s son (v. 4:46-54) is one of pure grace; of the paralytic at the pool (v. 5:1-18) of the frustration of the old and the power of the new; the feeding of the 5000 (v. 6:5-14) where 12 baskets were left over, of spiritual feeding and abundance; of walking on water (v. 6:16-24), stilling our fear when we accept him; of the man born blind (v. 9-1-7) and amazing grace (I once was blind and now am free); and of the raising of Lazarus (v. 11:1-45) to the glory of God. 

Some say the eighth sign is the resurrection of Christ, but it would not have been enough. How would we have known of life without the seven: of the exhilaration of life without water into wine; of grace, amazing grace without the story of the royal official’s son and the man born blind; of abundance of life with Christ in the feeding and in the 180 gallons of wine; of the serenity of Christ when steps into our midst; and how would we have known that the resurrection applies to us without Jesus telling us “I AM the resurrection and the life”? These were written for these women, these mothers, for us, that we may have life abundantly, life in his name.  Amen.



Sermon Summary, “Word of Life” (John 1 (selected verses))
We’re beginning a new series on the Gospel of John.  John, the youngest, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  John who 30 years following the resurrection became leader of the church of Ephesus in the midst of Greek culture.  While the other three Gospels are similar, in many ways a historical narrative, John chose to write a spiritual biography of Jesus and to do so in a way that would touch the Greek culture.

He struck on an approach that bridged the divide between Jewish and Greek culture, “word,” a creative force in Jewish literature, “And God said, “let there be light….,” and Wisdom and Reason in Greek culture.  The Greek word was “Logos.”  John begins his prologue with “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the word was with God, and the word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Jesus became the Creative Personification of Logos.  And not only that, he was about to live among us!  “The Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelt among us!”  John concludes his prologue by saying, “No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (Emphasis added.) 

You could say that the purpose, the reason that Christ came was to make God known. You want to know what God is like? Look to Jesus?  You want to know what life in God is like?  Look to Jesus.  You want to know want life, eternal life is like?  Look to Jesus.

Life is a major theme of John.  John tells us that the reason he wrote was that we might come to believe, and that through believing we may have life in his name!  Eternal life.

Jesus wants us to believe in him.  Jesus wants us to love him, and through that love Jesus wants to change the world. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandment.” There is no Great Commandment in John, no Golden Rule, only a New Commandment that we “Love one another.”  “Love one another.” These are the words of God from the Word of God.

We are simply asked in everything we do, every personal relationship and transaction, to ask “What does love require of us?”  With that, Jesus will change the world!  So be it with all of us!



Joy of Easter
(Cor 15:3-6; John 20:11-18) (4/5/15)
My growing up Easter experience was pretty much what you might call was the mild, mid-west, moderate variety.  The local hatchery had purple colored chicks.  Lent was something the Catholic Church did.  Holy Week was just another week.  Good Friday was pretty much just another day. 
When I was in the first grade the movie, Easter Parade with Fred Astaire came out.  My mom loved Fred Astaire.  I think between Easter Parade at Easter and White Christmas at Christmas, in the late 40s, we began entering a new less than devout era.  Fred Astaire may have come to signify all that is secular about Easter.
I do remember a couple of the church services from my grade school years because the preacher used the Easter passage from the Gospel of John where Mary Magdalene calls Jesus, “Rabbouni.”  I thought that was a good word.  But it brought little passion or joy to me.
God’s act of sacrificial love for me and for my salvation did not come through nor did the joy of Easter.  It was not part of my mild, Midwest, childhood experience.
Today’s secular society doesn’t do much better. 
Easter is a Hallmark Sunday.  “When you care enough to send the very best” right?  It’s become another of those marketing holidays.  We’re not selling colored chicks any more, but there’s a great market in chocolate eggs. I love the Reese’s variety with the peanut butter inside. 
And while we may see some sincere expression of faith as the Pope moves along the via delarosa in Jerusalem on Good Friday, if you’re on the east coast of America, the biggest processional in America is the Easter Parade in New York City taking place right now.
Of course, none of us are exempt.  Here’s a couple of the Hallmark items that have found a way on to our shelves.  This hen is at least PG rated, but you get the idea.  This Easter chick asks if you want to do the chicken dance?
Now, lest you think I’m an old fuddy-duddy that doesn’t appreciate Easter eggs, or Easter egg hunts, or the Chicken dance, I do, But…
I wonder what the Apostles did on the first anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection, or the tenth?  Don’t you wish you could have been in Jerusalem to see? Don't you wish you could've been there with all the apostles and all the disciples when they gathered on those first anniversary of the resurrection to see what it was like?
There may not have been any parades.  Fred Astaire wasn’t there.  Fred Astaire that symbol of secularism wasn't there. (That’s catchy.  You may not remember anything else, but you’ll probably remember that.)  Fred Astaire wasn’t there.  No parades, but we do know what there were thinking about.
About twenty years after the resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians and in it he included a creed that was already well established within the Christian community.  It probably dates to within months or at the very most a few years of the real Easter.
This is what he said: “ For I handed on to you as of first importance..”
First importance.  Here it is folks, if you don’t believe anything else about your faith, this is of first importance.
“that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive,”
This is what the Apostles believed.  This is what this weekend is all about.  Things of first importance. First you understand that when the disciples proclaimed this it was not about history, for them it was about current events.  The witnesses to the crucifixion and the resurrection were still alive!  If it hadn’t been true, it would have been shouted down.
First the why?  Hear this people.  This whole weekend is for us.  For our sins, for our salvation.  Christ died for our sins. 
Second, it was in accordance with God’s plan.
The third element is the proof that Christ died.  Unambiguous.  Christ died.  And there is proof.  The proof was that he was buried.  Jesus was put in the tomb.
The last element is that he was raised on the third day.  That too was according to God’s plan, according to the scriptures.  And there too is proof.  He appeared to Peter, to the other apostles and to as many as 500, most of whom are still alive.  (Then Paul says, last of all he appeared to me.  That was when he was on the road to Damascus, the conversion of Saul.  Another sermon.)
Now, if you want to be a Christian, this is what you need to believe, really all you need to believe: That Christ died for our sins according to God’s plan, and was buried.  That he was raised on the third day, again, according to God’s plan, and that he was seen.  This is what you must believe.  This is the grounding of our salvation (that he died for our sins) and the grounding of our hope (that he was raised on the third day)  This is of first importance.  This is what Christians believe.
Now, not only did the disciples believe it, they lived their lives as if they believed it.  You want to believe in the resurrection?  Then simply look at the lives of the apostles.  Peter, Paul, James-Jesus’ brother, Andrew, martyrs all.  John the only apostle who did not die a martyr’s death was scalded in oil for what he believed.  Hear this folks, in all of recorded history, there is never a murmur of denial of the resurrection by the apostles, never an intimation by any of the apostles that it was untrue.  And hear this, no one, no one, would die for what they know not to be true.  Christ was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. If it were not true and they knew it, no one would die for a lie.  The apostles believed it.  The apostles lived it.  The apostles died for it. You can know it to be true!
And it is through this truth that you can have hope.  The cross and the resurrection are a package deal.  The cross is what Christ did for us.  The resurrection is what God will do for us.  (repeat).  || Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me even though they die will live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  And I believe it and I’m counting on it.  This is all a gift of grace, all a gift from God.  There is nothing I can do, there is nothing you can do but open this gift of grace, and to say yes.
So why isn’t Easter the greatest celebration on earth?  Why isn’t it the greatest opportunity for thanksgiving ever?  Why is it that on Monday morning, tomorrow, it will just be another day?  As if Easter never happened?  I think it’s because we’ve lost the connection between Friday and Sunday, between Good Friday and Easter.  We have no joy on Easter, because we forget the Passion, the despair, of Good Friday.
That brings me to the story of Mary Magdalene. Hear these words from John 20, beginning in verse 11.  11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
There is no doubt that except for Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene is the most famous woman in the New Testament.  Luke casually mentions her in his chapter 8, “Mary, called the Magdalene, from whom seven demons were cast out” and he describes her as one of the women who followed and supported Jesus.  We know little about her except that she was there at the crucifixion, that she watched the burial, that she was the first to tomb on Sunday morning.
But this we do know.  She loved Jesus.  Jesus had somehow captured her heart.  Maybe it was he had rescued her from her demons.  Maybe her love for him was that her love was unrequited.  We don’t know.  But she loved Jesus.
And on that fateful Friday, she had had to stand there as close as this and watch Jesus be brutalized and die.
You know we’ve sanitized the crucifixion.  We Protestants even display plain crosses instead of crucifixes.  We don’t want to remember the brutality.
Regardless of how you deal with the flaws of Mel Gibson, I think he did us a service in his movie, “The Passion of Christ,” by making us come to grips with the magnitude of the sacrifice that Christ made for us.  I had a friend tell me recently that until that movie he had no idea what was meant by “By his stripes we are healed.”  The brutality of the scourging, of the flogging, of the whipping is unimaginable.  But yes, “By his stripes we are healed.” 
Can you imagine the Good Friday despair of Mary Magdalene as she watched Jesus die? Can you imagine the depths of her emotions as they tormented him?  Can you imagine her weeping that Sunday morning when she said, “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him.”
And then, and then! can you imagine the joy she felt after seeing Jesus and running to the disciples to say, “I have seen the Lord,” and telling all that he had said to her.  Can you imagine the joy?
Let me read that passage for you…14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
““I have seen the Lord.” And she told him all that he had said to her.”  Can you imagine the joy?
Good Friday and Easter are a package deal.  We cannot experience the joy of Easter without understanding the cost of grace.  The incomprehensible cost of God’s sacrifice in Jesus Christ for us.  Jesus chose to die on the cross for us to show that there was no limit to how far he would go, no limit to show his love for us.  Then God showed the promise and the hope of that love by raising him up three days later.  The crucifixion and the resurrection are a package deal.
How is it that we can experience the great joy of the resurrection?  I think it is impossible to do without a personal relationship with Jesus.  To some degree we need to be Mary Magdalenes.  Because Mary was human, I’m sure her love was a mixture of physical love and pure gratitude for what Jesus had done for her.  We can at least experience the gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice for us.  “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture.”  It was clearly a human act, and he chose to do it.  To express our gratitude, we need to become friends with Jesus.
How is it that we become friends with Jesus, with anyone really?  We spend time with them, we listen to them, we share with them.  Spiritually, we do that in prayer and in reading about him in Scripture. (Raise the Bible)  With anyone, if we want to be friends with them, we want to find out anything and everything about them.  We find it here.  With our best friends, we make it a life time endeavor. Friendship changes us.  We become new beings in Jesus Christ.  We see the cross, and we allow our friendship with Jesus to change us, and we experience the joy of Easter.
Last week I told those here about a text I had received from my cousin.  A week later, about three weeks ago, I received two more.  She had seen a “Passion of Christ”-like show on TV and was coming to grips with the brutality of the crucifixion.  In the first text she asked, “How could God let his son die such a horrible death? Couldn’t we be saved if Jesus had died of old age?”  Good question.  In the second text, she said she “felt unworthy of that kind of horrible sacrifice.”
Her last question, the second, about our unworthiness goes the heart of the cross.  We are unworthy, yet, yet, Christ chose to die for us to demonstrate his unfathomable love for us; to show that there is no length, no limit, no end to how far God will go to show his love for us; to show that grace is unlimited.
That is part of the Passion, to come to understand that God’s love is sacrificial even though we are unworthy, undeserving, and without merit.  Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “God showed his love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Even though we are sinners, even though we are unworthy.
But you know what?  If God would do that for us, if God would love us that much, He believes we are of infinite worth.  You are of infinite worth.  You are of infinite worth.  You, too, are of infinite worth.  If God would love you that much, you, all of you, are no longer unworthy. It is grace. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more.  God loves you, and you are worthy of that love.
Then her first question: “couldn’t we be saved if Jesus had just died of old age?”  Somehow his death, his untimely death, his horrible death figures in to our salvation. Christ died for our sins.
Whether we believe Jesus took the burdens of the whole world upon himself and then took them to the cross.
Or he died in our stead, a substitutionary sacrifice.
Or whether it was simply his unsurpassable love that could only be shown through such a sacrifice.
and without demonstrating that unsurpassable love, God could not have changed you and could not have change the world.
Whether it was any of these things or all of these things,
What we know it was, was that it was of first importance.  I handed over to you what was of first importance: that Christ died for you according to the Scripture and was buried.
And if Christ had died of old age, without the cross, this thing of first importance never would have happened.
And second, if Christ had died of old age there never would have been a resurrection, there never would have been an Easter!
“And that he was raised on the third day according to the scripture.
There never would have been an Easter, there never would have been the hope, the promises, the joy of Easter.
Because if God can raise Jesus from the dead to eternal life, he can raise me, he can raise you, he can raise those you love too to eternal life.  That’s the hope, that’s the promise of Easter.
And if Christ had not been raised, the resurrected Christ would not have appeared to Peter, to the apostles, to the 500, to James and finally to Paul. 
And do you know what people?  Do you know what? When he appeared to them, “Fred Astaire wasn’t there.” 
Happy Easter!  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!