Lent 1 – "God Tested Abraham" – Genesis 22:1-18


“After these things, God tested Abraham.”

testI suspect that we can get no further with this reading until we deal with this whole business of God testing Abraham. What is this all about and what is God up to with Abraham?

The tempting answer is, ‘God wants to see what Abraham’s made of. How faithful is he REALLY?’ Because that’s what we would do.

Like when a teacher wants to know how much his students have learned from all he’s taught them he ‘tests them.’ How else is he / she to know what they know?

We’re all very familiar with testing and being tested. Nations test other nations to see how they’ll respond. Employers test their employees to see how much they can produce. Parents test their children to see responsible they are. Children test their parents to see if they can trust them. Spouses test their spouses to see if ‘you really love me.’ We all ‘test’ others and we are all tested and we know the pressure of being tested and always having to prove ourselves to someone else.

But none of that FITS when we hear that “God tested Abraham.” This is God. And God knows Abraham better than Abraham knows himself. There is nothing in Abraham that is hidden from God or that God needs to discover about him.

God is not ‘testing’ Abraham to see if He can ‘trust’ him or to determine if he has the right stuff for the job that God wants him to do. Continue reading

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Transfiguration – "The Glory of God in the Face of Christ" – Mark 9:2-9


“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them…”

jesuslg1Three summers ago, Deb and I took a vacation out west and split a week between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming. Both parks are spectacular, each their own way. Of the two, my favorite was the Grand Tetons.

Only later did I learn that, at one time, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod owned a sizeable piece of property right in the middle of the present park. It gave to property to the National Park Service for free – something that, from what I hear, some old-time Lutherans in the Wyoming District have not forgotten or forgiven the Synod for doing.

The Episcopalians have always been much shrewder about these kinds of things than we Lutherans. They were given a piece of property in the Park on which to build a chapel which is there to this day. The “Chapel of the Transfiguration” was built to serve the employees of the local dude ranches in Moose, Wyoming. We visited it when we were there. It’s a rustic log cabin construction has a bell tower and wooden benches that seats about 60 people.

The main attraction of the “Chapel of the Transfiguration” is the large window behind the altar which provides parishioners with a full view of the Grand Tetons and is meant to inspire a visual object lesson of the glory that the disciples saw when they saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

No one is quite sure which mountain the Transfiguration took place on. One suggestion is Mount Hermon which rises to an altitude of 9000 feet above sea level. If that is true, it would mean that Jesus led the three up a mountain comparable to one of the Grand Tetons, which is quite the hike.

A more likely prospect is Mount Tabor, just south of the Sea of Galilee. The summit of Mt. Tabor is only 1000 feet in elevation which doesn’t sound like much of a mountain unless that area of the region of Galilee were like Nebraska or Iowa which would make it a sizeable mountain indeed. Continue reading

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Epiphany 5 – "God Comes Down" – Isaiah 40:21-31


220px-Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_NevadaAs we flew from our Old Testament reading to our Gospel reading this morning you may well have experienced a sudden drop in cabin pressure. And I wouldn’t be surprise if your ears didn’t pop. Isaiah had us flying so high we were looking down on the stars and planets. And then Mark brought us all the way down to Peter and Andrew’s house and we were looking down on Peter’s mother-in-law, lying in her bed. So just in case your ears are still stopped up so that you can’t hear right, let’s go back up with Isaiah and make a more gradual decent to Mark.

Our Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah is preaching to those who think that God is so small that He can actually fit in one of their little handmade idols that sit on a table or fit into their pocket. We can almost picture the prophet grabbing them by the shoulders and shaking some sense into them. “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”

The God whom you think you’ve got confined in your stupid little statue is “he who sits above the circle of the earth…” And suddenly we’re up in the stratosphere where you and I can’t breathe without the divine oxygen of the Holy Spirit. “The Most High God” looks down on the “circle of the earth” that divides the northern and southern hemispheres. And He sees both the North Pole and the South Pole and those for whom it is day and those for whom it is night, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Continue reading

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Epiphany 4 – "Listen To Him" – Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – 1/28/18


Listening-Icon-Image-1400x800The word “Deuteronomy” is a Greek word that literally means ‘second law.’ It’s ‘deutero’ which means second and ‘nomos’ which means law. The book of Deuteronomy is a second telling of the law that was given to the people of God through the prophet Moses. Moses RETELLS what God had spoken through him and connects it all the experiences and all the lessons learned over the last 40 years beginning with the great Exodus out of Egypt and now about to culminate in the entrance into the Promised Land.

The journey is coming to its end and Moses RETELLS it, not as reminiscence – “oh, remember that time when the sea parted and we walked through it on dry ground and we watched the whole Egyptian army perish in the same. Wasn’t that the coolest thing you ever saw?” Not as reminiscence – but as instruction on how you are to live and reminder of what you are never to forget when you come into the Promised Land.

The particular point before us this morning has to do with the role of the Prophet. Through the 40 years in the wilderness, Moses was God’s prophet. God spoke to Moses and Moses spoke to the people – mostly because that’s the way the people wanted it. They didn’t want God to speak to them directly. That was too frightening.

It was at Mt. Sinai that they heard God speaking from the mountain. And to them it was “thunder and flashes of lightening and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, and the people were afraid and trembled and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen, but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)

This is what sin has done to us. It’s not like it used to be back in the Garden when God would speak to us ‘face to face’ and it was like talking to your best friend. Continue reading

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The Conversion of St. Paul – Acts 9, Galatians 1 – 1/21/18


Today, we commemorate the “Conversion of St. Paul.” I have no idea why the church picked January 25th. I’m pretty confident that it’s not because anyone thinks it actually happened on January 25th. But if you ask me, it’s a good choice because it falls squarely within the season of Epiphany. And if there was ever a great example of bright light breaking into the darkness, revealing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – the conversion of St. Paul is certainly that. This is Paul’s ‘epiphany.’

1200px-The_Conversion_of_Saint_Paul-Caravaggio_(c._1600-1)I think that we hear this story best if we begin with a bit of the background. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with His holy breath on the Day of Pentecost, and the Apostles begin to preach the gospel publicly. And lots of people hear the Word and say, ‘what must we do to be saved?’ And within days, 3000 confess this crucified and risen Jesus to be none other than the Son of God and are CONVERTED through holy baptism.

Most of those 3000 were Jews. And as you can imagine, their conversion doesn’t sit well with the Jewish leadership at all. And because the majority has always been able to make it pretty miserable for the minority when they want to, a persecution against the Jews who have become Christians breaks out.

The first to actually die for the faith is Stephen who is stoned by the Jews. In order to throw the stone with some accuracy, you’ve got to take your flowing robes and outer garments off, which they do. In Acts 7, Luke tells us, “they laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” And when their crime was fully accomplished, Luke writes, “And Saul approved of his execution.”

At that point the CONVERTED Jews, now Christians, flee Jerusalem to safer places. The city of Damascus to the south on the way to Egypt was one of those places.

There have always been those who become convinced that persecution and the use of force is perfectly justifiable for the right cause. That’s what the practice of abortion is about. Saul was one of those. Luke writes that he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” And Saul did this in the name of the Lord. And his church, rather than confronting him and telling him to repent, actually gave him an official letter of permission and protection. Continue reading

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Epiphany 2 – Nathanael's Epiphany – John 1:43-51


0The season of Epiphany is all about the revealing of “the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul puts it. (2 Cor. 4:6). The word ‘epiphany’ literally means, ‘bring light.’ On Christmas, the ‘bright light’ of the glory of God came into this world, but it was all wrapped up in flesh and swaddling clothes and if it weren’t for those angels and their ‘bright light’ telling the shepherds where to go and what they’d find, you’d swear it was just another baby.

After the ‘Christmas rush’ dies down and all the family goes back home and the last of the pine needles are finally vacuumed up, life gets back to normal. That’s the way it was for the holy family. Other than a visit from some strangers from the East, a couple of visits to the Temple and a trip to Egypt, there’s really not much to report.

For 30 years, God was in the flesh, dwelling among us, and no one knows, no one sees it. Can you imagine growing up with Jesus and never knowing who He is? You sat right next to Him in 3rd grade. He was your lab partner in biology. Your fishing buddy, and that coffee table in your living room, he made it – and WHO KNEW?

But then 30 years after Christmas, He comes to the Jordan to be baptized, and the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends on Him and a voice from above declares, “You are my Son, with You I am well pleased.” And a strange man named John points his boney finger at Him and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And lots of people said, “Well I’ll be. I never would have guessed.” But then the light goes on. THAT’S ‘EPIPHANY.’ ‘Epiphany’ is the OMG moment that people have when they ‘SEE’ what had been right in front of them all along but they had never ‘SEEN’ it. It’s the moment when suddenly old Eli the priest realizes that the voice that the child Samuel keeps hearing is the voice of the Lord calling him. It’s the moment that Samuel hears the voice a third time and says, “Speak, for your servant listens.”

It’s ‘EPIPHANY’ moment when a man named Nathanael, who hasn’t been able to process this stranger from Nazareth, and then suddenly the ‘LIGHT GOES ON,’ “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

All along, the Corinthians had always believed, ‘it’s my body. I can do with it as I please.’ But then their pastor said to them, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?” “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” Continue reading

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Epiphany 1 – "Without Form and Void" – Gen.1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11 – 1/7/18


‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

“Formless and void.” “Tohu wah vohu” in the Hebrew, which sounds like beautiful poetry, but “formless and void” is anything but beautiful. No shape AND no content. It doesn’t get worse than that. Its chaos squared.

Even if you had ‘CONTENT,’ ‘something,’ there’s nothing to contain the ‘something’ so it goes everywhere and there’s nothing you can do with it. And even if you had ‘FORM,’ ‘shape,’ every ‘form’ is ‘empty,’ utterly ‘void.’

It’s like being in a room that is completely dark because there is no such thing as a lightbulb to hold the light and even if there was, there’s no light to put into the bulb. Oh, and there’s no room either and so there’s no way to be ‘in’ the room – or anywhere.

“Formless and void” is ‘disorder’ multiplied by ‘meaningless,’ because how can there be any ‘order’ where there’s no ‘form’? And how can there be ‘meaning’ when everything is ‘empty.’

And for a lot of people, this is beginning to sound like a description of their life – and maybe you’re one of them. “Without form and void.”

So, what do we do when ‘without form and void’ is the assessment of my life? We do what king Solomon did. We create ‘form’ and then fill that ‘form’ with as much content as we can possibly stuff into it, because we do not like to be “without form and void.”

For Solomon, the ‘FORM’ he tried to create was something like, “the perfect life” however you define that. We define the ‘perfect life’ by all those “perfect lives” on your Instagram and Facebook accounts. “They look so happy and their lives seem so perfect. Not like mine that is for sure.”

Then Solomon set out to FILL the FORM with as much “wisdom” and “self-indulgence” and “work” and “wealth” and “wives” as he could cram into the FORM.

But in the end when Solomon examines his life, it was ‘tohu wah vohu.’ “Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” Which is just another way of saying, “Without form and void.” Continue reading

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Christmas 1 – New Years Eve – "Living By Faith in the The Fullness of Time" – 12/31/17


41cEZElvVwL._SL500_AC_SS350_In our Epistle reading, we heard the Christmas story according to St. Paul. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who are under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal.4:4,5).

On Christmas Eve, we heard St. Matthew’s countdown from Abraham to “Jesus who is called Christ” – each generation filling the glass a little bit more until it finally reached “fullness.”

We heard St. John extend the countdown all the way back to ‘the beginning’ when “the Word was with God and the word was God.” Time reached its FULLNESS when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

And we heard St. Luke remind us that it was “in those days in which a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” that the time reached its fullness. (Luke 2:1)

It is remarkable when you think about it really. All four agree that the entire history of the world, from the great ‘world changing’ events to the most mundane thing that no one ever noticed, the almighty God was moving ‘all things’ along the course that He determined in the beginning, even from eternity to send His Son into the world “to redeem those who are under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

I remember from my days in business that there was always a lot of emphasis on effective time management. And the emphasis was always on doing those things that actually matter and not getting distracted by those things that don’t really matter, even though we may prefer to do those things because they’re easy and we like to check the boxes.

But here we see that God is the ultimate ‘time manager.’ He’s not controlled by time – He controls time. He IS involved in all of the little details of life – even the ones that may seem to us to be so trivial or insignificant that you might say, ‘what’s it matter?’ He is involved and directing all of those global, epic events that seem like they change the course of history but that actually all work to the end and purpose that He has set. Continue reading

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Christmas Eve – "The Christmas Story" – Luke 2:8-12, John 1:1-14


Grace and mercy and peace be to you on the Christmas Eve, from God our Father and the baby born of Mary in the little town of Bethlehem.

nativity“I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This evening, we have come here to hear once again the Christmas story. And as familiar with it as we may be, we never tire of hearing it because of its sublime beauty.

Tonight, we heard the Christmas story from three perspectives. In the Old Testament readings from Genesis and Isaiah, we heard the Christmas story as it would have been told to those who lived before it happened.

They were like little children who waited anxiously for Christmas day to finally arrive. Their parents and grandparents would have told them the story over and over again about how God had promised that an offspring from the woman would come into this world to crush the head of the devil who had brought darkness and gloom and suffering and death into the world.

Year after year, on nights a lot like tonight, the Old Testament saints 0would have read the Christmas story from the Isaiah’s prophetic telling of it… “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” “To us a child is born, to us a son is given…” Continue reading

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Advent 3 – "A Witness to the Light" – John 1:19-28 – 12/17/17


A little boy wanted to land a part in the school play. He was so excited that his parents were concerned how he would handle it if he didn’t get a part. So when he came home from school they anxiously asked him how the auditions went. The boy was ecstatic. He joyfully told his parents that his teacher had picked him out of all of the other kids to sit in the audience and clap as loud as he could.

I think that John the Baptist would have been wanted to land a part in his school play like that one too.

John was “supporting cast” and definitely not the “lead role.” He was the announcer whose part it was to declare that the time had fully come and the curtain was about to rise. He was the light man whose job was to shine the spotlight on the lead man when He came onto the stage. John’s big line in the divine drama was, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Artwork from the early Church depicts John the Baptist with an overly large mouth and a hyper-extended index finger pointing to Jesus. John was perfectly content to be known as the guy with the “big mouth and the big finger.”

John was born to be a witness. “He came as a WITNESS to bear WITNESS about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear WITNESS about the light.” Continue reading

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