Easter 5 – "Enduring Our 'Little Whiles'" – John 16:16-22

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The scene is the Upper Room on the night when He would be betrayed. The timer that God set before the creation of the world was ticking down to its final hours. It was time for the Son of God to atone for the sin of the world and reconcile all things to the Father by giving His life as a ransom for many.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer and again a little while, and you will see me.” ‘So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me,; and ‘because I am going to the Father’? So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by ‘a little while?” We do not know what he is talking about.”

There will come a day when they will go, “Oh yea. Now I get it.” And all the confusion and all the doubt and all the “we don’t know what he is talking about,” explodes in wonder and awe and joy. But until then, they must endure their ‘little while.’

From the Upper Room they will go to the Garden of Gethsemane. While Jesus sweats drops of blood in prayer, they will sleep. High Priests and soldiers led by Judas will invade the Garden and bind Him and take Him into their custody and – they will see Him no longer. But their ‘no longer’ will last only ‘a little while.’ Three days.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our trials and troubles and pain and suffering was over and done with in under 72 hours? It begins on Friday night. It’s all over by daybreak Sunday morning.

If only we knew how long “a little while” lasts – we could endure it, we could manage it. No matter how bad it might be, if you know how long it’s going to last we can be patient and wait. But patience and waiting is hard when you don’t know how long “a little while” lasts.

The Psalmist cries out to God, “HOW LONG, O Lord! Will you forget me forever? HOW LONG will you hide your face from me? HOW LONG must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? HOW LONG will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2). It is as though if only he knew HOW LONG, then he could wait patiently and endure it faithfully.

All of us are faced with our own “little whiles” throughout our life. Luther writes, “Here on earth, Christians experience an ever-recurring alternation of ‘a little while and again a little while.’ Now it is dark night; soon it is day again. Therefore the lamenting does not have to last forever, even though it seems and feels that way when we are in it.”

behind_the_mask_iii_by_dinemizThere has been a movement afoot in the church for quite some time that has tried to deny these ‘little whiles’ of pain and suffering and despair that we believers experience from time to time. It’s movement that has been around at least since the days of Job. It says something to the effect that if you were a ‘real believer’ and if you had ‘real faith,’ then you wouldn’t experience these ‘little whiles’ of suffering and grief and depression. Continue reading

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Easter 4 – "Who Are These?" – Revelation 7:9-17 – 4/17/16

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Rags_To_RobesOne of the elders has a question for us this morning. “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” He’s pointing to a multitude of people who are gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb. They’re “crying out with a loud voice,’ Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”

“Who are these?” It’s hard to tell if John should know THESE or not. Some questions are not meant for us to actually answer but only to help us to realize what questions we actually should be asking.

This is not a scene that John has ever seen. And neither have we. This is the one, holy, Christian church as we’ve never seen it.

The only church we’ve acquainted with is the one that argues amongst itself over position and power and “who is the greatest in the kingdom.” The only picture of the church that we’re familiar with is one that hardly gathers around the throne or stands before the Lamb and if 30% of the flock is present we call it a good day. Continue reading

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Easter 3 – Mission Sunday – Rev. Ted Na Thalang

We devoted this Sunday to our annual Mission Sunday. Our special guest was Rev. Ted NaThalang – Director of Southeast Asia – The Lutheran Heritage Foundation. He preached a beautiful sermon based on Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch – Acts 8:26-38

"Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

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Easter 2 – "Like Newborn Infants" – John 20:19-30 – 4/3/16

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Hospital Nursery
Each of the six Sundays’ that follow Easter Sunday have been given a name that sets the tone for the Church’s worship on that particular Sunday. Names like, “Misericordias Domini,” (mercy of the Lord); “Jubilate” (rejoice); “Cantate” (sing); “Rogate” (pray); and “Exaudi”(listen).
Today, the 1st Sunday after Easter, has what most be the most delightful name – it’s“Quasimodogeniti Sunday” It means “like newborn infants.”

The name comes from 1 Peter 2:2, which was the antiphon verse that we heard in the Introit this morning. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

The historical connections to this 1st Sunday after Easter are pretty rich. In the Early Church, the Catechumens were baptized on Easter Eve. Easter Eve marks the END OF THE OLD and the BEGINNING OF THE NEW. The OLD AGE of sin and death have come to their LAST DAY and the NEW AGE of forgiveness and life begin anew as Christ is raised from the dead.

So, the Catechumens were baptized on Easter Eve as they, quite literally, move from the OLD to the NEW as they are taken into Jesus Christ Himself. As the baptized come out of the water, they were given a WHITE ROBE to wear which reminded them that they no longer wore the FILTHY RAGS that stunk of their sin. All that had been washed away and they were not to wear them any longer. The WHITE ROBE reminded them that they were now CLOTHED IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST.

They would wear that robe for a week – 7 days. And then on the 8th day, the day stands outside of time itself, they would take the robe off and put on their street clothes again. But as they did so, the Bishop would admonish them with the words of St. Peter, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Continue reading

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Easter – "They Were Perplexed" – Luke 24:1-9 – 3/27/16

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We begin where we left off on Good Friday. Luke zooms in on the cross and focuses our attention on the One hanging from it. “’Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ And He breathed His last.”

Easter GospelLuke then widens the view and we see a Roman centurion who is also there. He’s the one in charge of carrying out this execution. He reacts very STRANGELY to His death by “praising God” and making an even stranger confession, “Certainly, this man was innocent.”

And then the lens widens ever farther and we see “all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle…” Seems that people were as sick then as they are now and they enjoyed watching other men suffer and die in this most painful and tortuous way. And then Luke shows us that even they, who were simply spectators, “returned home beating their breasts.”

And then the lens widens even farther and we see “all of His acquaintances…standing at a distance, watching these things.” Not for the spectacle, but as friends and loved ones gathered around the bedside of a dying brother and dear friend.

And there were also “the women who had followed him from Galilee.” These were the ‘deaconesses’ doing their diaconal mercy work for Jesus and His disciples long before there was a uniform or badge to wear for it… standing at a distance, watching these things, no doubt already thinking about the funeral arrangements that will need to be made.

After a brief time lapse, not sure how long, but certainly no more than a couple of hours, Luke has the camera focused on the cross again. A man named Joseph is taking the body down and wrapping it in a linen burial cloth and taking it to a tomb he had purchased for himself. Luke gives us what seems like a trivial little detail about this tomb. “…where no one had ever yet been laid.” It was, if you will, a VIRGIN TOMB.

The camera lens now widens just enough to reveal the fact that there are others who are also there. It’s “the women who had come with him from Galilee…” They “followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.” The location of the tomb, the position of the body, the way it was wrapped in that linen cloth.

“And then they returned…” Luke doesn’t tell us WHERE they returned to. It’s a slow fade out as they disappear over the horizon.

Where ever it was that they returned to, it couldn’t have been too far, because before the sun is completely set on that Good Friday and no more work can be done, they have already “prepared spices and ointments” to pack around His dead body which was the reverent and deaconess thing to do.

And now the screen is totally dark. And Luke tells us, “on the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment.” And you’re free to picture that however you will. But I for one can only picture it as lying there with minds racing from one scene to the next, eyes wide open, so filled with tears that sleep was out of the question.

If they derived any comfort or consolation from their faith, it was that they believed in the resurrection from the dead. You heard me. Belief in the resurrection from the dead was a vital ‘article’ of the Jewish faith. The party of the Sadducees didn’t believe it, but the party of the Pharisees and Scribes, who represented the vast majority of Jews, surely did. They believed in a resurrection of the dead ‘ON THE LAST DAY’ when the Messiah would comes. He will raise the faithful from their graves and bring them into His NEW CREATION.

And if you listen carefully, you can hear the faithful find their comfort and consolation in their suffering and grief and suffering in exactly this article of faith.

One of oldest books in the Old Testament is Job. In his great suffering and pain, Job declares “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:24-25). Job believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day.

The prophet Isaiah preached to the people of Israel saying, “the Lord of hosts… will swallow up death forever…” (Is.25:7) Isaiah preached the resurrection of the dead.

The prophet Daniel writes about the end of time when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan.12:2). Daniel believed in the resurrection of the dead.

And then of course, there’s that memorable scene from John’s gospel when Jesus comes to the tomb of His friend Lazarus who has died, and tries to comfort Lazarus’ grieving sister, Martha. “Your brother will rise again.” And how does Martha reply?
 ‘Resurrection from the dead? I’ve never heard of such a thing.’ No.
 ‘Resurrection from the dead? Don’t expect me to believe in that MYTH that was invented to comfort people who need to believe in something, even if it is just a myth?’ No.
 ‘Rise again? No Jesus, when you’re dead you’re dead. That’s all there is.’ No.

Martha says, ‘I know that he will rise again – in the resurrection on the last day.’ Martha believed in the resurrection from the dead on the last day when the Messiah comes.

But the revolutionary thing is what Jesus says next. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (that’s the resurrection FROM the dead) and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (that’s the resurrection TO eternal life.)

And then He asks Martha the critical question, “Do you believe this?” And Martha said, “Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:24-27) How close to the truth dear Martha was.

So, sure the women believed in the resurrection of the dead when the Messiah comes on the last day – as did the disciples. But what they weren’t expecting or prepared for was that the last day HAD COME. And now a NEW DAY has dawned that is both the 1st day of the week and the 8th day that begins a whole NEW TIME that is BEYOND TIME.

This Jesus, whom everyone said was a ‘prophet,’ is more than a prophet. His is the Christ, the Messiah, in whom THE PROMISE OF THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD HAS BEEN CARRIED OUT, and in whom the NEW CREATION has begun. A NEW CREATION that for a while, exists simultaneous with the OLD. It is PRESENT but still FUTURE. It is NOW but NOT YET. And it is all wrapped up in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul declares, “If anyone is IN CHRIST, he is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

If you’re old enough to remember the old T.V.’s, remember how when you shut it off that little, white dot got smaller and smaller until it was finally gone. As Luke tells it, no sooner does that little dot of light disappears than the screen comes back to life and it’s “the first day of the week, at EARLY DAWN.” Only the smallest dot of light coming over the most distant horizon and the woman are already up and out the door, making their way back to the tomb “TAKING THE SPICES THEY HAD PREPARED.”

Luke tells us nothing of their journey or the conversation along the way as some of the other gospelers do. No time for any of that. Luke just wants to get there. “And they FOUND the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did NOT FIND the body of the Lord Jesus.” It’s what they DID NOT FIND that will prove to be THE GREATEST DISCOVERY IN THE WORLD.

But they’re still not ready to celebrate. Luke writes, “they were PERPLEXED.” It’s a fascinating word in the Greek. “aporeo.” It comes from the word, “poreo” which is a common word in the New Testament that means, “to set out,” “to depart,” “to go,” like when you “set out” on a journey or go somewhere. When you put that little ‘a’ in front of it, it makes it negative. “aporeo” – they couldn’t MAKE THE JOURNEY in their minds TO GO FROM what they are seeing to UNDERSTANDING what they are seeing. They were at a complete loss. “They were PERPLEXED.”

And maybe you know exactly what that word means. Maybe you have been PERPLEXED too – totally unable to process the events that have happened, at an utter loss as to how to SET OUT or MORE FORWARD with your life. I think we have all been there at one time or another.

But if there is one thing in this world that you should NOT BE PERPLEXED about, IT’S WHY THIS TOMB IS EMPTY. You can be PERPLEXED about a lot of things – but not this.

But there are some things that we are not able to understand on our own. The mystery is too deep. The wonder is too high. We have no EXPERIENCE to relate this to. And that’s where angels tend to show up, just as they did to Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds.

And that’s what happens here at the tomb. “And behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.” But in almost every place where angels show up, their first words are, “Fear not!” “Do not be afraid.” But they don’t say that here. And so Luke writes, the women “were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground.” Now these poor women were PERPLEXED and FRIGHTENED.

And the way Luke describes it, it’s almost as though the two angels are PERPLEXED as to why these women are PERPLEXED. “WHY DO YOU SEEK THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD? HE IS NOT HERE, BUT HAS RISEN.” CHRIST IS RISEN! “He is risen indeed – alleluia.”

And then these angels give these women the remedy for their PERPLEXITY – and yours too. REMEMBER.

“Remember what He told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be CRUCIFIED AND ON THE THIRD DAY – ARISE.”

It’s His resurrection from the dead that confirms that His Word is true and worthy of our trust and our obedience. Easter is the Father’s stamp of approval on all that His Son has said and done.

The Father has sent His beloved Son into the world through a VIRGIN WOMB to bear the sin of the world in His body and atone for it completely. And then He raised His crucified Son from a VIRGIN TOMB, that the whole world may know that “WITH HIM HE IS WELL PLEASED” and through Him, a new day has dawned and the NEW CREATION has begun.

Luke writes, “AND THEY REMEMBERED HIS WORDS…” And in remembering His Words, they go from ‘UTTER LOSS’ to ‘WONDERFUL DISCOVERY,’ from ‘FEAR AND FACES TO THE GROUND’ to RELIEF AND JOY, ready to go; ready to set out on a journey. “And returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.”

It’s the same for us – only better really. We too need to REMEMBER HIS WORDS. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” REMEMBERING “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death… in order that just as Christ was RAISED FROM THE DEAD, we too may walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4)

But it’s not angels that come to us to remind us of what He said. It is the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ Himself who comes to us in person. “Take, eat – this is my body. Take and drink – this is my blood. Do this in REMEMBRANCE OF ME.”

And as we eat His body and drink His blood, REMEMBERING His words we too go from ‘UTTER LOSS’ to life in the NEW CREATION – that is so good, that “the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.”

‘Christ is risen.’ “He is risen indeed. Alleluia”.

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Palm Sunday – "The Death March to Life" – Luke 19:28-44 – 3/20/16

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Picture1A borrowed donkey. Crowds of spectators and enthusiastic supporters lining the roadside. In their enthusiasm, surrendering their cloaks to the road to cushion his ride. Banners made of palm branches waiving. Loud singing a familiar hymn – “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

THIS IS PALM SUNDAY.

Palm Sunday has all the thrill and excitement of a triumphant, victory parade such as Roman citizens were used to throwing for their conquering Caesar upon his return from a successful military campaign. This is what the enthusiastic crowd of supporters thought this was all about – hoped that this was all about.

BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT THIS IS.

We all want someone to ride into town and be our conquering hero. We’re ready whatever candidate we think can demonstrate that he’s got what it takes to do what we think ought to be done to make THIS WORLD a better place. Alright, THIS NATION a better nation. Alright, MY LIFE a better life.

They all thought Jesus was their man. Well, NOT ALL. The ‘establishment’ was in the crowd too. We’re not sure why they were there really. Maybe they were just making the daily commute into the city and got caught in the traffic. But you can bet they weren’t waiving their banners and you can really bet that they still had their cloak on. They were pretty disgusted with the whole thing. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”

But the rest thought Jesus was their man. They had either seen the incredible things He had done or had heard about them. He healed the sick and gave sight to the blind and cast out demons. He even raised the dead. Or at least that’s what I heard. We could use a king like that. Continue reading

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Lent 5 – "Surely Not" – Luke 20:9-20 – 3/13/16

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horrible-tenantsIf we were to compare all of the parables of Jesus we would see that they fall into two broad categories. They are either based on examples from nature or people. Interestingly, the parables that are based on nature, lilies of the field, birds of the air, sheep and their shepherds, all have a certain innocence and peace about them and typically have a happy ending. But the parables that are based on examples of people, a father and his two sons, a wounded man lying half-dead on the road, an unjust steward, these all have certain darkness to them and include points of conflict and tension and even violence.

That is certainly the case with the parable before us this morning. In fact, of all the parables that Jesus tells, this one may be the MOST violent and upsetting. It ends in cold-blooded murder.

Before we explore this story in detail, let’s be sure to notice that one detail that’s not actually in the story itself, but that hangs over it like a dark cloud. Jesus tells this parable on either Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week. By the end of the week, He will be taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and murdered by the tenants of the vineyard.

The story certainly begins on a bright and positive note. “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to the tenants and went away into another country for a long while.”

So far, the story has a familiar ring to it. There’s an echo of Genesis 2 here, where God plants a garden in a place called Eden, and He makes a man to work it and keep it. The Lord soon sees that the man needs a helper to keep up with the work, and so He gives the man a helper which adds a wonderful measure of intimacy and joy to the whole business. Continue reading

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Lent 4 – "The Father's Foolish Love" – Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 – 3/6/16

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“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes grumbled saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

It’s not that they thought that they weren’t sinners. They would have been perfectly comfortable joining in with our ‘Confession of Sins’ at the beginning of the service. In fact, they would have probably said it loud enough so that everyone could be sure to hear them say it. They knew that they were ‘sinners’ because that’s what God’s Word says they are.

They would however, have had a difficult time identifying any ‘actual sin.’ They wouldn’t know what to do with that thing before the Confession in italics about “self examination.” They would have drawn a blank trying to identify any specific sins to confess.

As for “THEM” however, well, it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? “Tax Collector.” “Prostitute.” “Leper.” “Gentile.” “Woman.” It’s like there’s a big, red “S” tattooed on their forehead. Anyone can see it. Certainly He sees it. So, why doesn’t He avoid them? Why doesn’t He steer clear of them? “They grumbled, ‘Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

And Jesus responds to their “grumbling” with three, wonderful stories. One is about a shepherd who searches for one, lost sheep BECAUSE IT BELONGS TO HIM; another is about a woman who searches for a lost coin BECAUSE IT BELONGS TO HER; and then, the one before us this morning, about a father who longs for the return of his TWO lost sons BECAUSE THEY BELONG TO HIM.

We sometimes call this parable “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” But that only covers half of the parable – the half addressed to the ‘tax collectors and sinners.’ But there is also that part of this parable that is addressed to the “Pharisees and Scribes.” They’re all ‘LOST.’ And Jesus wants them all to come home. BECAUSE THEY ALL BELONG TO HIM.

A much better title for this parable would be, “The Loving Father.” That directs our attention to the real subject of this story. Jesus gives us a picture of a man who has what we will call, ‘A FOOLISH LOVE’ for his two sons. ‘FOOLISH,’ because the Father takes a dangerous and unnecessary risk for the sake of His stupid and foolish sons. But He does it. Why? Because, what kind of Father would He be if He didn’t? Continue reading

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Lent 3 – "Why Will You Die?" – Ezekiel 33:7-20 – 2/28/16

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“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How can we live?”

They were listening. That’s good. The prophet had done his job and preached all the words that the Lord God put into his mouth. Words of Law, that convicted them of their transgressions and sins, not that there’s any real difference between the two. You can call it whatever you like, just don’t call it ’okay’ or ’acceptable’ or ‘not as bad as it could be,‘ or ’something you can live with.’

The prophet didn’t give them any ‘wiggle room.’ No chance to blame it all on the government – “did you hear about what Pilate did? If only we had a better government.” And no chance to blame it all on God – “did you hear about those 18 who died with the tower in Siloam collapsed on them? If we only had a better God.”

Every time they tried to wiggle out of their guilt, he’d say something like, “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

And they listened. That’s good. Because not everyone does, you know. Lots let the warning to REPENT, go in one ear and out the other without it ever making a connection in between. They say, ’it’s not that bad,’ or ’it could be worse’ or ’I can live with it.’ They shift the blame onto the government, society, parents, spouses, peers; you name it, even God. ‘But it’s not my fault.

But Israel listened, and the Law did its job, and they were convicted of their guilt. “You are the man!” And they confessed. They did not deny but confessed. “Surely our transgressions and sins ARE UPON US…” Not UPON someone else or something else.

And their guilt was ‘eating them up.’ “And we rot away because of them.” The Hebrew word is “makek”. It means to ‘decay‘, ‘rot‘, or ‘fester‘. They’re guilt before God was like gangrene or leprosy or cancer. Continue reading

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Lent 2 – "Jerusalem, Jerusalem" – Luke 13:31-35 – 2/21/16

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“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under he wings, and you would not!”

Every city is known for something. Kansas City is known for great bar-b-q. New Orleans is known for great music. New York City is known for its diversity. And San Diego is known for great weather. Jerusalem is known as the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. Not exactly the slogan you want on your web site if you’re the president of the chamber of commerce.

With that kind of reputation, what prophet would ever want to go there? Woe to the one whom God calls to be His prophet and to whom He says, “By the way, I am sending you to Jerusalem.”

Strange isn’t it that a city like Jerusalem would respond to the Word of the Lord like that? You might expect that kind of hostility to a prophet of the Lord in a city like Babylon or Baghdad, or Tehran or Cairo or Beijing. But Jerusalem? Continue reading

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