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Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ ”

  16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

  17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”


Close your eyes and picture Jesus and his followers together. Most likely people either picture Jesus sitting around with the twelve disciples or standing in the midst of thousands preaching and teaching. Yet in today’s gospel Jesus has seventy followers close enough that he trusts them to be sent out in pairs to heal the sick and announce that God has come near. Seventy trusted preachers. Thirty-five pairs of preachers telling the good news of God. So telling the story is clearly not to be limited to the twelve disciples. The good news is meant to be shared far and wide by those who trust Jesus and follow him.

This is a reminder to all of the followers of Jesus of every time and place. Sharing the good news is not just the responsibility of “professionals” like clergy. Sharing the good news is the calling of everyone who follows Jesus.

Consider the assignment Jesus gives to the ones he sends. First, they are sent to cure the sick. Second, they proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near.” It has been said that “you don’t throw a drowning person a sandwich.” Jesus sends the seventy out with not only words of comfort but with acts of grace as well.

God’s people are sent out into the world to serve in the name of Jesus each time they gather for worship. In this gospel text we are again reminded that the gospel message is to be shared in more than just words. We share the message by welcoming others, sharing bread with the hungry, and offering compassion to the afflicted. Yet our baptism also reminds us that God has first come near to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—a relationship that is like a mother comforting a child. The promise that God is near in Christ compels us to live faithfully and compassionately, wherever our journeys take us.
From sundaysandseasons.com

So, I have a few questions for us to think about. First, how do we see Jesus sending us? Second, do you see sharing the gospel as the responsibility of all believers or just the professionals? Third, what can we do now to more faithfully proclaim the good news? Please respond via the comments section of this blog. I would really like to start up a conversation around each week's readings.

Pastor Ivy

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This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 6/30 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 9:51-62.

We have come to a turning point in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is on his last trip to Jerusalem, where he will be “taken up” (v. 51). This refers not only to his crucifixion, but also to the entire event of being arrested, crucified, risen and ascended. Jesus was determined to follow the way of obedience to his Father. He “set his face,” (v. 51), meaning he kept his eye on the prize and nothing would dissuade him from following that path to Jerusalem and all that would happen because of that.

I don’t know how many of you were ever in sales. I have been. But…I have to say, Jesus is anything but a good salesman. He doesn’t wrap his product in slick packaging. He doesn’t minimize costs to attract more customers. He doesn’t hide the hard stuff in fine print. He never rushes his pitch to close a deal. Jesus does the opposite. He takes pains to push potential buyers away.

“I’ll follow you!” gushes an eager customer. “No you won’t,” Jesus groans in response. “You have no clue what you’re talking about…” What Jesus is selling is rejection and forbearance, inconvenience and hardship, disruption and disorientation, along with intensity and urgency.

Now to the excuses. In our first case of buts and excuses, Jesus sends some disciples ahead to see if they can stay in Samaria. But there was a long history of bad blood between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus took the risk anyway because his love for all. The Samaritans, however, would not allow Jesus and his followers in because Jesus was determined to head to Jerusalem. Samaritans believed worship should take place on Mt. Gerizim, where Samaritans had maintained their own temple for 400 years, while the Jewish people believed the temple in Jerusalem was the special place of God’s presence. Their but and excuse was Jesus would be worshipping in the wrong place.

Here we really see the love of Christ coming into play. James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans and destroy them. Jesus would have none of it, rather reminding them to move on. Previously he had taught his disciples to shake the dust off their feet and go to another place if they were not received.

Jesus calls his followers to bring life, not death—even to those who reject and insult us. We are called to practice forgiveness and forbearance, never retribution and revenge. The call is to face others gently and with patience, because even those who make our blood boil are greatly loved by God (Thomas).

A second would-be follower tells Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go” vv. 57-58. This one seems to think that Jesus is going to some destination where he will stay at or is on his way to some place where he will live. But following Jesus means being on the road with no permanent home, the road to the cross.

Is Jesus saying part of his call to us is homelessness? I don’t know, but it’s definitely a call to inconvenience. After all, Jesus does not guarantee that the Christian life will be a comfortable one. A fat bank account, a posh career, fancy zip code or three-car garage—Jesus never promised that, but does promise a reordering of our professional, financial and geographic priorities that will feel risky and destabilizing. Jesus offers an identity that isn’t defined by what we own, what we wear, the degrees we’ve earned, our neighborhood, our friends or any other sign of status.

To the next potential follower, Jesus says, “Follow me” vv 59-60. Here is seemingly mean Jesus who won’t even let this person bury his father. But, the man may be referring to a distant time when his father will die as an old man. And it’s a drawn out process once the father does die. There is a primary burial when the corpse is placed in a sealed tomb, followed by a secondary burial after a year-long period of decomposition. Then the bones were collected and reburied in a special “bone box.” The time between the two burials gave family and friends adequate time to mourn. Who knows how long the time would be before this person would consider himself free to follow Jesus?

The final would-be follower told Jesus, “I will follow you Lord, but…” first let me tell everyone at home good-bye (vv. 61-62). How harsh it seems that Jesus won’t even let this person go and say good-bye to his family! Why not? Not if it causes hesitation (remember Jesus had an appointment to keep in Jerusalem), not if it takes away our sense of urgency for the gospel and the world God loves.

The Greek verb for saying “farewell” or “take leave of” implies getting family permission. In typical Middle Eastern fashion, the one leaving the extended family needs to ask permission to leave. What if the family forbids this one to join Jesus and his traveling band of followers? The one who wants to see his family has his heart tied to them, where the father’s authority reigns. “I will follow you, Lord, but my father’s authority is higher than yours. I need his permission.”

While my family and I lived in the Holy Land, my mother was still living in Rochester, NY. One time she became so sick with pneumonia, that doctors were unsure whether she would live or not. I flew home to be with her. It was very hard to leave my husband and children behind, but I had to go be with my mom. After some weeks she recovered and I returned to Bethlehem. About five years later, she was ill, in the hospital and did die. I felt horrible that I couldn’t be with her then. She passed away three weeks before our planned return to the U. S. Before this illness, we spoke often of being together again.

What made this bearable for me was that a dear family friend visited my mother frequently. On at least one of those visits, my mother told our friend that she knew we were right where we were supposed to be and she did not resent our absence. My mother’s faith in Christ was strong.

Bob Samuelson, I have a question for you, what happens if while you’re out plowing, you’re looking all around? Doesn’t this task need your undivided attention so that you don’t have all kinds of crazy, zig-zag rows in your field and someone might think you have crop circles?

Jesus also talks of being “fit” for the kingdom. None of us is worthy, so it’s not a matter of worthiness. It means suitable, appropriate and capable. Jesus requires focus on the goal ahead, just as Bob needs to focus when he’s plowing.

What is Jesus saying to us? There’s nothing easy about the faith life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyr, pastor and teacher said regarding the call of Jesus, “nothing on earth, however sacred, must be allowed to come between Jesus and the [one] he has called…Discipleship can tolerate no conditions which might come between Jesus and our obedience to him” (Cost of Discipleship).

What is standing between each of us and our ability to follow Jesus completely? What is preventing us, as a congregation, from being the best we can be? We have responsibilities in our day-to-day lives. However, we need to continually ask ourselves as we check our bank accounts, drive children to school, pick up grandchildren, help our older parents and act as responsible members of society, “Are we looking beyond our own self-or-family interest? Do we see God’s way of life in ours? We need to be willing to adjust our course to be faithful in our time and place to God’s ways.

Jesus calls us to a holistic spirituality in which all of our various “calls” and “vocations” are balanced with one another, with willingness to care for loved ones and yet look beyond family and nation, kin and allegiance, to our ultimate allegiance, God’s vision for our lives. We will need to make decisions and sacrifices too, but this is all for the good of creation and to embody our love for others as well as ourselves (Epperly.)

How many times have I had this kind of conversation with Jesus, “ Sure, Lord, I’ll follow you! My life is yours! I’ll give you everything I have, I promise. But, um, not right now. Later, after I…make a bunch of phone calls, after I finish these last few super important projects, after I get this weight off, after I’ve raised my kids, get a raise, pay off my student loans, retire…you get the picture.

We put God off in so many ways and by doing so we just shoot ourselves in the foot. Lately, I’ve been working on spending just a few minutes in quiet, meditative time, focusing on God alone, pushing aside the thoughts of all I have to do that keep rushing in. It doesn’t consist of long prayers, but just simple, “Lord open my ears. Lord, open my eyes. Jesus, Savior.” It’s hard, but I find that I’m in much better shape to tackle the pile of things that need to be done. If I do all the things on my to-do list first, then there isn’t any time or energy left for a quiet time with my Lord. Somehow, if I spend the time first (and you can even do that at a stop light while driving), everything comes out better.

What is so radical about Jesus’ words is his claim to priority over the best, not the worst of our lives. Jesus said to choose him, not over the devil, but over the family. Those who have done so, have been freed from possession and worship of family and have found the necessary distance to really love them (Fred B. Craddock, Luke, Interpretation Commentaries).

Be open to the love and flow of God. As challenging as all of today’s readings are, they present a vision of alignment with God’s vision, thereby unleashing divine power and the ability to be faithful to God in ways beyond our imagination. The challenge is to think larger in terms of ethics, social responsibility and personal empowerment. As we take up this challenge instead of coming up with excuses, we can experience a multiplied portion of grace, wisdom and power (Epperly).

Our lives of faith are like the drainage ditches many of us have in front of our houses and maybe along the edge of our properties. When it gets full of weeds or garbage or dirt and is left untended, the water cannot flow through it. To have a good flow of water, the ditch needs to be looked after. The same is true of our spiritual lives if we want God’s power and love to flow through us, we need to pay attention to them.

Jesus, the rotten salesman, knows the cure for our malaise, our boredom, our hunger, our angst. He knows our restless souls, how we ache for purpose and meaning in our lives, for a life we can pour out in love. The life of the Holy Spirit in us is a life no ad can capture. Our hearts cry out for transformation, renewal and resurrection. Nothing else will do. Nothing the world tries to sell us can compare. So, Jesus bids us come and die so that we can really live.

Amen.

References

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Bruce Epperly, pathos.com
David Ewart, holytextures.com
Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke
Gail Ramshaw, sundaysandseasons.com
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com
Debie Thomas, journeywithjesus.net
Harry Wendt, crossways.org
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Here are some thoughts on this coming Sunday's gospel that were sent out to the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. Any thoughts? I'd like to enter into a dialog with anyone interested. Just use the comment section at the bottom of this post.

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
51When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
 
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is single-minded. He is on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross, to his death. It seems like everyone in this passage has excuses. Can’t you just hear someone saying, “But, but, but…?” Even from the beginning when the Samaritans didn’t want Jesus. He would have been welcome, but it was his determination to go to Jerusalem! If it wasn’t for that…but…

But fear not, Jesus comes across some people that want to follow him BUT. The first man seems quite enthusiastic, but does he know what he would really be getting into? Following Jesus means persecution. Following Jesus means uncertainty about where one would sleep. Did he know what he was promising?

Jesus calls the next person to follow him…but…he had to bury his father. What’s so unreasonable about that? This was an obligation that was binding upon all devout Jews. They were required to care for their parents for the rest of their lives. Doesn’t Jesus’ response, “let the dead bury the dead,” seems harsh? Jesus’ words are better understood as, “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. ”Those who were not following Jesus could discharge that responsibility.

The next man wants to say good-bye to his family. That seems fair, doesn’t it? Jesus warns that excessive concern for family ties (looking back) will [diminish] the priority of God’s rule in one’s life. The image is graphic, for who can plow straight ahead toward a goal while looking back? Discipleship cannot be double-minded  (NET notes).

The kingdom of God, God’s rule in our lives changes everything. As we saw with these excuse-filled would-be followers of Jesus, former allegiances are reorganized. These two men called Jesus “Lord,” but by attempting to delay obedience, we see the hollowness of their affirmation.
  
God’s call to discipleship is a call that supersedes all others. It’s a matter of priorities; whether the concern is care for self, care for the dead or care for family.

What prevents us from wholeheartedly following Jesus? I dare say it’s not a matter of us struggling to choose between good and bad. Our problem is choosing between what’s good and what’s best.  

Is Jesus saying he doesn’t care about our family obligations? No! But the issue is if they become more important to us than our relationship with God. Good things that take the place of God in our hearts are idols. God wants us to set our faces to fulfilling God’s purposes for us.

How are we supposed to know what God’s purposes are for us? Spend time talking to God and listening as God answers you: through scripture, through the family of God, through worship, through prayer, through the Lord’s Supper. Just like any other relationship, there has to be give and take for it to grow. Any thoughts?

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This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 23 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 8:26-39.




In the 1980s, going to live overseas as missionaries with small children, people worried about us, especially those that didn’t understand what it meant to follow God’s call. We were crossing several boundaries, including that of religion. Those Muslim terrorists—aren’t you afraid for your own lives and those of your children? The call to prayer five times a day was something we really had to adjust to since the mosque was close to our apartment. I came to love it.

And the boundaries of culture took a while to learn! You do not cross your legs, showing the bottom of a shoe because that means you consider the other person no better than the dust on your shoes. Women’s shoulders are considered sexy, so you can’t wear sleeveless outfits. And if you wore shorts—you were surely a prostitute because only someone of that ilk would dress in such a way.

But these were some of the most meaningful, marvelous years of my life. The Arab culture is one of total and complete welcome. No matter how busy one may be, if you came to their home expected or unexpected, they would drop whatever they were doing to spend time with you. That is what was supremely important, to make a guest feel welcome.

We are not the only people who crossed boundaries. Jesus did so as well: going places and doing things he shouldn’t have, at least according to some people. He made a clear distinction between the Jewish community and the wilderness and Luke offers us several occasions where this boundary is crossed, which is good news.

Jesus’ first boundary crossing was traveling to the country of the Gerasenes, a place inhabited by Gentiles. You can tell this by the fact that people there made their living as swine herders. Pigs are considered by the Jews as unclean and Jewish people are forbidden to eat pork. This is the only time in Luke where Jesus goes into Gentile territory to bring salvation. Earlier prophetic voices declared Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles (2:32) and that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (3:6).

Second, as Jesus enters this foreign land, the one who met him was demon-possessed, embodying the alienating wilderness of despair and fear. This man was afflicted beyond belief: naked, beyond the bounds of civilization, homeless—living with the dead in the tombs. He was tormented physically, shackled like an animal, isolated and abandoned by his community. Even here, among the tombs, Jesus is unafraid of bringing wholeness into chaos. Religious Jews shouldn’t be hanging around places of the dead. This too would make Jesus unclean, prohibiting his access to the Temple in Jerusalem.

There is a cost to restoration—not only to the one healed but to the community as well. For example, a church might find that reaching out to the poor and needy can be costly when those who socially and economically differ from regular worshippers attend worship, fellowship or other church activities. Being inclusive is likely to cost social comfort, financial resources and perhaps even reputation. We know something about that, don’t we?

Jesus’ third border crossing is that between the isolated man inhabited by demons and the united community. He who was so out of his mind by the habitation of demons that had invaded him and could not be contained crossed a boundary as well. He crossed the border from chaotic craziness to being clothed and in his right mind (v. 35).

The last boundary crossing was that of the man returning to his own community, in obedience to Jesus’ command to “Return to [his] home, and declare how much God has done for [him],” (v. 39). Crossing this final border demonstrated the restoration of this man’s full humanity. Here he is the first missionary to the Gentiles! He is the witness of God’s boundary-crossing, demon-exorcising, life-saving grace.

What does Jesus do for us? We may not struggle with demons, but there are things that likely plague us. There are desires, attitudes, issues of health, relationships, time and many other things in life that we struggle with, that show how much we need Jesus to set us free.

How many of us feel overwhelmed by voices raging at us from inside and out, driving us to places of loneliness and despair? There was a time in my life when I reeled like everything was swirling around me and I had no control over anything happening. I was in the middle of a divorce with my first husband. Relationships were outside of my control, finances (my ex-husband was not good with money), my health (I was out on disability after knee surgery) and my work. I thought I had no control over any of these parts of my life and that I had no choices. I later learned that we always have choices.

Martin Luther struggled with depression and needed reminding that he was a child of God. When Luther felt oppressed by the devil, he would shout, “I am baptized!” This reminded him that his confidence in salvation and healing were grounded in God’s external act of making him part of God’s family through the water and word of baptism.

Are there things that haunt you, that seem impossible to shake? Remember the healing power of God Almighty in our Lord Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. It is only in Christ that we will experience true freedom. The grace we see in this story is not just for outcasts, but for each and every one of us.

The names and claims of the voices of this world do not have the last word. We too can declare that we have been made God’s own beloved children in the waters of baptism. When the church council last met, I shared a devotion about our being God’s beloved—each and every one of us. Then I asked them to tell each other that they are beloved. We all need to hear this. Please take a minute and tell at least two people that they are beloved of God.

How shall we respond to the power and grace of God? Shall our response be like the people of the land of the Gerasenes who were afraid and asked Jesus to leave because “they were seized with great fear?” (V. 35). They did not rejoice in the wondrous change in one of their countrymen but rather found that this could be costly for them. They knew how to manage the man when he was driven by demons. It was a matter of the devil they knew was better than the freedom they did not know. Change is scary. After all, Jesus had already destroyed their livestock and the livelihoods of some of them. What else could happen if the people let Jesus stay and proclaim and demonstrate the power of God?

These words are a death knell to any system, “We haven’t done it like that before.” But if we put a comma where the period is, things change. “We haven’t done it like that before, but why don’t we try?” The comma is the difference between rejecting the life Jesus offers because of the changes it would mean. I like the tagline of the United Church of Christ, “Don’t put a period where God put a comma.” That leaves us open to change and to life and to all the good things God has planned for us.

Shall we be like the man Jesus freed? He wanted to follow Jesus so badly and to literally go with him. That was not what Jesus had in mind though. There was a city in need of the gospel, the good news. This restored man was just the person to bring it to them. He chose to serve Jesus in a way no one else could.

Can we follow Jesus even if it means doing what we may not want to do? While some of us may be excited to travel to far off places for Jesus, others of us are more homebodies. From the time I was 15, I wanted to serve God overseas as a missionary. It was hard for me to wait. God may challenge you in totally unexpected ways to share what he has done for you. Just ask any of your fellow congregants who have been to Honduras to share Christ’s love. Just ask any of your fellow worshippers who have shared their story of what God did in their life right here!!

I like the way author and pastor, Frederick Buechner writes about witness:

And in the meantime, this side of Paradise, it is our business (not like so like many peddlers of God’s word but as men and women of sincerity) to speak with our hearts (which is what sincerity means) and to bear witness to, and live out of, and live toward, and live by the true word of his holy story as it seeks to stammer itself forth through the holy stories of us all. (From A Room Called Remember). 

Amen!

Resources consulted
David G. Forney, Feasting On the Gospels—Luke, Volume 1
David Lose, Feasting On the Word: Year C, Volume 3, Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1
Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember
Sundaysandseasons.com
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Here are some thoughts regarding this Sunday's gospel that were sent out to the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church.
 Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
  32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
  34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

For those of us with today’s sensibilities, it is hard to imagine a scene such as this: a man controlled by demons, living in tombs, naked and with absolutely no control of anything in his life. Demons, today? Really? What people of Jesus’ day attributed to demons we may think of as mental illness or some other kind of sickness. Wouldn’t we just send this guy off to a specialist of some sort who would prescribe the right meds and all should be well, shouldn’t it?

Let’s apply this gospel passage to ourselves. Have you ever felt like your world was spinning out of control when it came to your health, your relationships, finances, your job or any number of other issues? If so, I think that in a small measure, we can understand the man in the tombs. I vividly remember a time in my life like that where I felt like I had no control over the circumstances of life. I’ll tell you more about that on Sunday.

There are lots of questions to be asked of this passage, but I think the gist of it is that Jesus encountered a man in need, living a very fragmented life. Jesus brought God’s shalom, God’s peace and wholeness to him and healed him. Then, when the man wants to follow Jesus, literally go with him like the disciples, Jesus tells him to return home and tell the people what he’s done for him.

God comes to us over and over again, just as we are, with the offer of wholeness and healing. Each of us has some area of our lives in which we need healing from hurts of the past, healing of disease of body and mind—we know our own needs—those things that get in the way of clearly hearing what the Lord would say to us. One thing is for sure, we too are called to “declare how much God has done for [us]” (v. 39).

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This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Trinity Sunday, 6/16/19. The text was John 16:12-15.
This is Holy Trinity Sunday. What comes to mind when you think of the Trinity—questions, confusion, a puzzle, a mystery? It seems to me that just when you think you have a bit of understanding, it all starts to unravel as you think of something else. This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. For centuries, the early church struggled with a right and proper interpretation and understanding as they formulated the doctrine of the Trinity.

The more I read, the more I see the wisdom of Dr. Jerry Christianson who taught The Early Church and its Creeds my first year of seminary. He explained the Trinity as a love relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as God is all about relationship, so too the Christian life is all about relationship: our relationship with God, our relationship with each other and our relationship with our community.

John’s gospel gives us a portrait of the three persons of the Trinity. Jesus speaks of himself, of the Spirit’s activities and of the Father. This is not some exclusive club or fraternity, but a dynamic love relationship that longs to be shared.

God invites Jesus’ disciples into the dance of Trinity. Jesus’ ascension was not the end of his time with his disciples. That is because of Jesus’ promise of the coming Holy Spirit, who would ensure they were not left alone. The Holy Spirit would be like Jesus to the disciples because of the Spirit’s work and relationship to Jesus and the Father.

What are the benefits the Holy Spirit would bring? Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came, he would do three things for the disciples and later for us. The first benefit is that he would guide the disciples into all truth. Earlier, Jesus had told those who believed, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John. 8:31-32). This would ultimately be realized in the ongoing ministry of the Spirit to the disciples after Jesus’ departure.

The second benefit is that the things spoken by the Holy Spirit would not originate with the Spirit. “He will not speak on his own” (v. 13). Jesus is the source, and he continues to speak to his disciples through the Spirit which dwells within them. The Father speaks to Jesus, who speaks to the Spirit, who guides God’s people into all truth. Jesus might as well be saying to the disciples, “It will be just like having me around.”

The third benefit is that the Spirit “will declare…the things that are to come” (v. 13). This doesn’t mean that the disciples would know everything that would happen in the future. The Holy Spirit would proclaim the teachings of Jesus to the disciples in the new and changing circumstances of their lives. In other words, Jesus’ words are not locked in the disciples’ past, restricted to a particular historic time. The promise is that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community of faith will ensure that all our futures are open to fresh proclamations of Jesus’ word.

What does this all mean for us today? The descriptions of the Holy Spirit for contemporary Christian communities of faith point to ways in which the Spirit enables past, present and future to converge in the life of the church. The Spirit enables the words of Jesus to become fresh in ever-changing circumstances. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the words of Jesus will always be available as fresh words for any and all kinds of futures. And so, we are not alone.

I cannot help but think of Bishop John Macholz and his wife, Linda at this time of the passing of their younger child, Barbie. I’m sure this is not the future they envisioned for her as an adult when they dreamed of what she would one day become. I’m also sure that this is not the future Barbie and her husband, Matt envisioned as they dreamed together about their future life. I cannot imagine the pain the entire family is experiencing, especially that of the bishop and Linda, that of parents losing a child. So, we continue to pray for Barbie’s family and friends as they adjust to yet another new normal. May God surround them with his love and care in the coming days. They are not alone. 

God gives us all we need to do and live the way God wants us to live. We don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of God or the Trinity or theology in order to partake of God’s wisdom and power. However, we do need to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to face the issues of our time, many of which were unheard of in Jesus’ day. What would Jesus say to us today about gun violence, drug addiction, seemingly endless war, partisan politics, immigration, towns leveled by tornadoes…you name it. Our world seems hopelessly long on woes and woefully short on hope. We need to trust the Spirit to give the believing community, not necessarily the individual, the words Jesus would want us to hear.

The future is open and requires our discernment, our listening, watching for and trusting so that God can continue to reveal Godself through the Spirit of Truth. We can trust that this God Jesus has shown us is still at work for our enlightening and strength to continue on. There may be truths we cannot bear, but in our journey, God accompanies us along the way.

God calls us beloved because of what Christ has done for us. God desires that we be in relationship with God, just as the members of the Trinity are in relationship with each other. It’s like a cosmic dance of inter-relatedness into which God calls us to participate because God loves us so very much.

How shall we respond? Will we keep God at arm’s length or shall we jump into the joy of the dance of the Trinity? If we enter in, will we allow our joy to spill over so that it touches those around us or will we keep it to ourselves?

Let us celebrate this relationship into which God has invited us, which makes us who we are as God’s beloved. May we declare this message of right relationship and love to the entire world. How might our world look different if we were to do that as a congregation, as the ELCA, as all of God’s people throughout the entire world? “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world” (Songwriters: George Weiss / Robert Thiele).
Amen.

Sources consulted
Sarah Heinrich, workingpreacher.org
David Lose, workingpreacher.org
New English Translation, notes
Gail R. O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX: Luke, John
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com
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This is the reflection that was sent electronically to the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. Any thoughts?



Gospel: John 16:12-15
 [Jesus said,] 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Sunday, we celebrate the Holy Trinity. Scripture only hints at the nature of God being one in three and three in one. Each of the readings for Sunday portrays these various aspects of God.

In our gospel reading, we have Jesus, the second person of the trinity speaking of the Spirit, the third person of the trinity and of God, the Father, the first person of the trinity. The Holy Spirit plays a crucial role in the lives of God’s people. According to Jesus, the Spirit guides us into all truth and will declare to us the things that are to come. The Spirit will also glorify Jesus and will take what is Jesus’ and declare it to God’s people.

Aren’t you glad we are not left on our own in the Christian journey? Not only do we have our sisters and brothers in the faith, but we have the faithful companionship and direction of the Holy Spirit.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around the concept of the Holy Trinity. For centuries, the early church struggled with a right and proper interpretation and understanding of this as they formulated the doctrine of the trinity. In seminary, a wise professor of mine said the best way to understand the trinity is to think of it as a love relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As God is all about relationship; even so the Christian life is all about relationship: relationship with God, relationship with each other and relationship with our community.

This Sunday and always, let us celebrate this great relationship with God that makes us who we are! May we declare this message of right relationship and love to the entire world. Can you imagine what our world would look like if everyone embraced such a life? Let’s make sure they have the opportunity!

Let us pray.
Dear Lord, life in and with you is mystery and yet, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to your truth. May we have hearts turned to you and at the same time, turned to the needs in our community. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen!
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This is the sermon I preached on Pentecost, 6/9/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Acts 2:1-21.
In high school, I had a dear Jewish friend. Desiring her salvation, I happily told her that we Christians also celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. She had never heard of it! It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that what we call Pentecost, which is from the Greek, is the Jewish feast called Shavuot. Had I referred to it in that way, by its Hebrew name, then I suspect she would have had a better understanding.

Shavuot began as an agricultural feast, originally celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the grain harvest (Deut.16:9). Later on, it celebrated the giving of the Law, being celebrated fifty days after Passover. Still, my friend and I would have had very different understandings of what we call Pentecost. For us, it’s about the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit and how that power launched God’s work through the church. In Acts we see the beginning of the church moving outward to the ends of the earth, that all may hear the good news.

Finally, the day had come, just as it had been promised. On the Day of Pentecost, we read of the mighty beginning, what some call the “birthday” of the church. The crowd had never experienced anything quite like this—the supernatural thundering of a mighty wind of the Spirit and the fiery tongues. These phenomena were not unheard of in scripture. But still, it’s no wonder the crowd asked, “What does this mean?” (V. 12). Just what does all of the excitement mean?

It means that God is fulfilling the promises made long ago through the prophets and through his Son Jesus. The miraculous events seen in Jesus’ ministry will now be seen in the church.  God promised this day would come. It did. God is faithful.

This day had been promised by the prophet Joel. Luke cites him to authenticate the power of God among leaders of the church. He wants readers and observers to understand the connection to the promises of old from the Hebrew scriptures. This was no new idea.

Luke demonstrates through Peter, the continuation from the Old Testament to the new: “…this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel…” (v. 16). For Joel, the signs of the outpouring of the Spirit were a prelude to disaster, the day of the Lord.

Joel prophesied of the coming day of Pentecost. The promise is fulfilled. God is faithful.

The day of Pentecost and its happenings was promised by the Lord Jesus. Repeatedly, before his crucifixion, Jesus taught his disciples that he would be crucified, raised from the dead and ascended to heaven. He made it clear that they were not being left to their own devices. Jesus would give them the Holy Spirit. After his resurrection, on the day of his ascension, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were filled with power from on high (Luke 24:49). He had promised them the power of the Holy Spirit for the work of spreading the good news and growing God’s church. And boom—here it is! The word for power in Greek is the word that we get dynamite from in English, dunamis. God gave the disciples the tools, the power to do all that God had asked of them.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come. The Holy Spirit came in power. God is faithful.

What does this mean for the people of that day? The behavior of those who had received the power of the Holy Spirit was unlike anything the crowd had ever seen. Everyone was amazed, but some sneered, accusing the newly empowered of being drunk, even though it was only morning.

It means that everyone was included and heard the gospel, not just the Jewish people from Jerusalem. Luke’s list of those at that first Pentecost includes those who no longer exist. God can restore what is completely, unquestionably, irrefutably lost. God will and does restore those who have always belonged but have been pushed out. God’s grace includes the restoration of those who were never, ever part of the story of salvation. The list of nations includes the Egyptians, Libyans, Turks, Romans and Arabs—an incredible list of outsiders. (Aileen Robinson)

For Peter, all wonders are fulfilled in Christ, Christ himself the greatest of all God’s wonders and their purpose. Christ’s purpose was the redemption of humanity (v. 22). The Spirit has invaded human life in ways that shatter old expectations then and now. New life is experienced—unmerited, irresistible new life instead of death.

What does it mean for us today? As we await the end of all things, we are now those who prophesy, see visions and dream dreams. God is still in the business of performing miracles. The Spirit that we experience is that of the risen Christ, a spirit of service, a spirit of love, a spirit of resurrection. It is not just some warm feeling we get, but Christ with us through the Holy Spirit.

Remember that funny word “ubiquity” that I mentioned last week? God is in heaven. At the same time, God is in and with us through the Spirit and Jesus is with us in the bread and the wine. Ubiquity is the everywhereness of Christ.

God refuses to remain in our boxes. God cannot be confined to the meager scope of our idea of salvation. The Spirit is on the loose and will speak to whomever it wills. Children shall prophesy. Teens will see visions that will guide us. Old people will dream dreams that will direct the future. The lowly, the poor, the marginalized shall prophesy. And all will hear the story and “’everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (v. 21).

That is the beauty of the miracle of Pentecost—not that there were flames and wind but that everyone—insiders, outsiders and those on the fence were touched by the Spirit and able to hear in their own language God speaking to them.

Just like on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, the Spirit speaks to us so that we can speak to others. We become prophets of God’s word, messengers of the good news of Jesus. The last days of Peter’s Pentecost sermon are not about an end or destruction of creation, but rather bring a prophetic mission to the church that continues in the here and now.

Who in our lives needs to hear that prophetic word spoken in their lives? Is it my new neighbor? Is it the coworker at the next desk or cubicle? Is it a sister or brother or grandparent who has lost interest in being part of the church? Is it the friend you meet on the third Monday of the month?

God’s work of restoration happens in the here and now in and through us. God’s work continues as we listen to one another from oldest to youngest. God’s work continues when we open our mouths and share the good news of Jesus for all people, as we help our friends and neighbors, as we feed the hungry, as we mend the divisions between us—as we are Jesus to all those we meet.

God promised to work through God’s people in the past and present. God did and does. God is faithful.

Acts chapter 2 is also a promise of God. It is a message from another time, when people are unified by the Spirit. It is a message to us. The Holy Spirit has a way of turning things upside down. Acts is all about how the lives of disciples got turned upside down—and so how the world was turned upside down by this new, Spirit-filled faith. On Pentecost, we invite this disruptive presence of God into our own lives.

Today, can you think of any time in your life when you experienced the work of the Spirit and the faithfulness of God? Perhaps it was through the warm greeting of a friend when you weren’t feeling well, or just that gift of a smile you needed on that dreary day, or that gracious embrace you received just for being you. Or maybe it was a moment in your life that could only happen by divine power, or a miraculous healing that seemed impossible, or that good news of new life suddenly made real in your heart. How did it make you feel when you realized God’s nearness and trustworthiness, that God had done exactly what God had promised?

Let us pray.
Faithful God, help us to see you at work in the variety of circumstances we experience in our lives. May we understand and know you to be always faithful. Empowered by your Spirit, may we share that great good news with others.
Amen.

References consulted
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary
Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-
Year C
Aileen Robinson, Midweek Musings, Upstate NY Synod ELCA
Eric Smith, Lectio, patheos.com
Sundaysandseasons.com
Dave Westphal, 2019 Easter Devotions, Tuesday, June 4, Acts 2:14-21
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These are some of my thoughts on Sunday's epistle sent to the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church.


First Reading: Acts 2:1-21
1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
  5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
  14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
 that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
  and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
 and your young men shall see visions,
  and your old men shall dream dreams.
 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
  in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
   and they shall prophesy.
 19And I will show portents in the heaven above
  and signs on the earth below,
   blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
 20The sun shall be turned to darkness
  and the moon to blood,
   before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”

On the Day of Pentecost, we read of the mighty beginning, what some call the “birthday” of the church. The crowd had never experienced anything like this and so they naturally asked, “What does this mean?” (v. 12). What does this mean? Peter tells them that it means that God is fulfilling the promises made long ago through the prophet Joel. In other words, God is faithful.

On the day of Jesus’ ascension, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were filled with power from on high (Luke 24:49). He had promised them the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work of growing God’s church. And boom—here it is! That word for power in Greek is the word that we get dynamite from in English, dunamis. God gave the disciples the tools, the power to do all that God had asked of them. God is faithful.

On this day, can you think of any time in your own life when you experienced the faithfulness of God? How did it make you feel when you realized God’s nearness and trustworthiness, that God had done exactly what God had promised?

Let us pray.
Faithful God, help us to see you at work in the various circumstances of our lives. May we understand and experience you to be always faithful. Amen.

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This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Sunday, 6/2. The text was Luke 24:44-53. 
Tag--you're it!  Luke's closing section of the gospel is like a holy game of tag in which Jesus tags followers, saying, "You're it. Now you're me in the world."  These are words we gather in worship to wait for, and we don't have long to wait. We're a part of Christ's family. When we meet at the table, we taste promises. We become Christ's body.  

Today we are celebrating Jesus' Ascension. Jesus leaves his disciples with instruction, a commission, and a promise of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus' time of instruction with his disciples serves to bring closure by recapping major themes of the gospel and to set the stage for the coming of the Sprit and the work of the disciples as witnesses in the months and years following his Ascension. Jesus' training consisted of teaching the necessity of the things that have come to pass. Initially, Jesus  reviews the key events in Luke's gospel and shows them to be a necessary fulfillment of scripture. He reminds the disciples that "everything written about [him] in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled (v. 44).

The gospel is in continuity with what God has been doing and planning in the Jewish scriptures. This is repeatedly underscored by Luke. This was no long, dry history lesson of the Jewish people. Instead, Jesus "opened their minds to understand the scriptures" (v. 45). There in a nutshell, is how Jesus interprets his death, resurrection and their significance as the fulfillment of scripture. It was this understanding of Jewish  scriptures, that the disciples bore witness to Jesus, which constituted the heart of the earliest preaching.

When God calls God’s children to do something, God gives them the means to do it. Jesus calls God’s first followers to be witnesses. Jesus does not dwell on the past, but turns his focus upon his followers, calling them to be "witnesses of these things"  (v. 48). This will not be a mere spectator sport. It is not simply about what they had seen in the past, but the disciples are being given a comprehensive call to testify about Jesus to "the ends of the earth" (v. 48).

But the disciples are not left on their own to figure out how to accomplish this task.  Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come and help them to understand all Jesus taught. They were to be "clothed wIth power  from on high" (v. 49).  The gist of this promise is Jesus' followers will have the capacity to be Jesus' witnesses in every way that is called for. We see this illustrated throughout Luke's second volume, the book of Acts.

Jesus gave his followers the promise of the Holy Spirit.  We need to understand that God is not through with God’s church, with the gatherings of Christ's people--with us.  As we get to the end of Luke's gospel, it is not the end of Jesus' ministry. In Luke's second book, Acts, we see a Jesus still engaged with the world by healing (9:34), associating with his followers (9:4; 22:7; 26:14), and working through those who act in his name (3:6,16; 4:10, 30; 16:18). After Jesus' Ascension, Jesus works in ways that are more hands-off.

What Jesus' Ascension signifies has less to do with geography (where Jesus went) than with his exaltation (who Jesus is). Jesus' ascension establishes him as the Lord and Messiah, exalted at God's right hand in ways that go beyond the physical (Acts 2:22-35; 3:26; etc).The Ascension  of Jesus speaks volumes about who Jesus is without limiting him to any particular time or space.

As he ascends, Jesus blesses his followers. The disciples did what Jesus told them to do--to go back to Jerusalem. There, they were continually in the temple blessing God (v. 53). The ending of Luke's gospel implies how Jesus' followers are to live: worshipping God, waiting for Jesus' promises, and do this "with great joy"  (v. 52). 

What does this mean for us? Today's gospel is a powerful message for those of us who recognize that not all is right with the world, but who live in a holy hope that God's purposes will be fulfilled. Our God is on the loose, desiring to use us to proclaim the good news, to heal our hurting world.  When we get to the tomorrows of our lives, God is already there, and God's grace is sufficient.

As we come to know Christ and the hope to which he has called us, may we have open minds, enlightened hearts, and be clothed with power from on high!
Amen.

Resources referenced

Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year C
R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, Luke
Sundaysandseasons.com

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