An Answer

John 13:31-35 (Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6)
 
 
Living, as we are, in Florida, all of us say more goodbyes than we’d ever wish to.  Goodbyes at airports, on driveways, and the end of telephone calls. And, we grow expert at swallowing hard, controlling the tremor in our voice, and the discrete wiping away of a tear before it’s noticed by others. To be a Floridian is to know much about leave-taking. 

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Voices

John 10:22-30 (Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17)
 
 
The story is told of an agitated street preacher who declared, to all who walked by, that he believed passionately in life after death. To which a passing scholar of John the Evangelist replied (just as loudly) “I believe in life before death – and so does Jesus!”

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Return to life

John 21:1-19 (Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30)

The disciples are finally out of the locked room in which they’ve been hiding.  It took two appearances by the risen Lord (they were still there after Thomas returned, so one appearance by Jesus seems not to have been enough!).  Now, in Chapter 21, the disciples are back in Galilee; back where it all began. There’s no denying that there is comfort to be found in familiar surroundings.  And Peter takes that familiarity one step farther, by declaring, “I’m going fishing” (21:3); and off they all go.  Some scholars have opined that this passage suggests that the disciples have given up; that they’re not only home to catch their breath, but have fully reverted to their old, pre-Jesus life and livelihood.  I’m not so sure.  The disciples may be slowly experiencing their own “resurrection” in stages: find the courage to leave the locked room; go home to reconnect with loved ones; learn again what it means to be fishermen.  This is a return to the world, a return to life.

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Let’s Talk – Staying in Touch

 
 
Now that the Day of Easter has passed, our seasonal members are wending their way north, and our year-round folks are looking towards the arrival of their grandkids, or journeys towards their families now that summer is almost here.  In other words, lots of movement!
 
 

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Faith of . . .

I saw a wonderful meme on Facebook the other day, it read:

If you want to experience a truly authentic Easter worship service

hold it at first light, and only invite women!

Reading Luke 24:1-12, all I can say is, amen.


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From Palm Sunday to . . .

Luke 19:28-40 (Luke 22:14–23:56) Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Palm Sunday. 
 
Luke’s account is a wee bit different from John’s: no palms, for one thing.  But also, no crowds coming out from Jerusalem to greet Jesus, just the disciples – meaning The Twelve, the women, and followers of Jesus who have been with him on his journey from Galilee.  Do the lack of palms and adoring Jerusalemites rob Luke’s version of meaning and impact?  Not in the least.  And, here’s why…

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Let’s Talk – Really, Call Me.

I have shared this message with you a few times since I arrived at SAKLC, but it is so important that it bears repeating… I frequently hear, directly or indirectly, folks say that they were sick or hospitalized, but that they didn’t want to bother me “because I know you’re busy.”  Some folks have been disappointed that I didn’t visit, but they didn’t tell me that they were sick. And so I again say to you:


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What and to Whom?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

It is my custom each week, to pour over several academic publications in search of sermon material. Perhaps a thought about particular Greek or Hebrew word. An illustration that resonates. A common misperception that may be debunked. And, in the course of living with – and praying over – the text itself, ideas emerge that can be shared with this community, in this place, at this time. That’s what lies behind the art of preaching.


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Life is brief . . .

Luke 13:1-9 (Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13)
 
 

No matter how often we speak about God’s amazing grace; about God’s extravagant love for us in Christ Jesus; and about the promise of life eternal; we still harbor a quiet superstition that it actually is all about us (that what we do or achieve ultimately matters).  And so, when bad things happen, we ask the age-old question: who sinned? Was it me, or a family curse, or some other form of divine retribution?  The same question is asked in John’s Gospel:

As he [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…” (John 9:1-7).

 

I think of that encounter when reading Luke 13:1-9, for they share a geographical reference point: the Pool of Siloam.  In John 9, Jesus tells the blind man to wash there; and in Luke 13 he tells of eighteen deaths resulting from the fall of the tower above the pool.  In each instance the issue is the same: whether the guilt or innocence of the sufferer caused the suffering.   “Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4).  Jesus’ answer is an unequivocal, “No, I tell you” (vs. 5).  The same response applies to the example with which today’s text opens: “Do you think that because these Galileans [whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices] suffered in this way because they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” (vs. 2).
 
 
As I mentioned last week, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem followed – and was closely connected to – the preceeding chapter which focused on repentance.  This week’s text is that very chapter.  And so, it comes as no surprise that just as soon as Jesus says “No, I tell you,” he says, “but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did” (vs. 5).  When this is followed immediately by the parable of the barren fig tree (vs. 6-9) you can be forgiven for experiencing spiritual whiplash.  Isn’t the answer no?  Well, the parable seems to say “yes!” But…
 
 
Remember what Luke means by the word repentance.  As one Lukan scholar points out, repentance is an acceptance in faith of the saving word of God which Jesus has come to announce.  The fruit of that faith is a reform in one’s life, through the overflowing of God’s extravagant grace.  And what does that extravagant grace look like?  It looks like a gardener who despite its three-year barren spell refuses to dig up and burn the fig tree.  The gardener says to the landowner, “See here!” (vs. 7).  The gardener is the advocate for the tree (he is our Advocate).  Moreover, rather than give up on the tree, the gardener will loosen the soil around it, carefully feed it, and tend to it personally (vs. 8).  This is therefore a parable of mercy.  Yet, time does indeed run out in life.  The lives of the Galilean pilgrims were cut short in Jerusalem by the murderous actions of Pilate (as will Jesus’).  The lives of the Jerusalemites ended abruptly when the Tower of Siloam fell on them.  All of these died as a result of external factors.  Jesus’ warning to his listeners has an implicit contrast: don’t lose your life because of your own procrastination.  In other words, don’t put off repentance.
 
The Kingdom of God – God’s reign on earth – has come and is growing.  (It’s no coincidence that verse 18-21, just beyond this week’s text, tells the parable of the mustard seed.)  The parable of the fig tree is Jesus’ call for us to grow with and through it!  But life is brief and time is short: repent.


Jesus with us

Luke 13:31-35 (Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27)

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’   (Luke 13:31-35)

A short gospel text this week, but one packed with meaning.  Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem and has just shared several parables and sermons related to repentance, including “repent or perish” (13:1-5); “the barren fig tree” (13:6-9); and “the narrow door” (13:22-30).  The opening words of this week’s text (“at that very hour”) link this text to that which preceded it.  So, the call to repentance continues. Before the next call to repentance is issued, Jesus draws a contrast between earthly power and divine love.  The earthly ruler, Herod Antipas (son of Herod the great) acts like a king but holds his position only at the behest of the Romans.  Herod is merely a Tetrarch – a ruler of a quarter of territory – and serves at the pleasure of the Emperor.  Jesus call him “the fox” (vs. 32).  Through Aesop’s ancient fables, and modern literature, we think of the fox as sly, manipulative, and violent.  This is reflected in the Old Testament also: “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards (Song of Songs 2:15).  Such an image is the anthesis of the Kingdom of God – God’s rule on earth – which Jesus proclaims and Luke conveys.  (This is also the reason that Jesus avoids Herodian cities such as Tiberius: they are symbols of Herod’s attempt to Romanize the Holy Land, and of temporal power.) The stark contrast with divine love is made by the image Jesus uses for his love for Jerusalem: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (vs. 34).  The fox raids the henhouse: Jesus protects his brood.  Remember, the hen’s wings do not merely form a barrier.  Rather, the hen “gathers” – pulls the chicks against her breast – in a saving and loving embrace, even at the cost of her own life.  And, Jerusalem knows how to take life: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (vs. 34).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus laments over Jerusalem when he sees it for the first time (Matthew 23:37-39).  In that context, the lament is a judgement against the city.  In Luke’s gospel, the lament comes on the journey to Jerusalem, and in the context of repentance parables and sermons (as noted above); and so the lament takes the form of a call to repentance.  Even so, we know that Herod will not kill Jesus; Jerusalem will!  It is there that Jesus will “finish my work” (literally, be brought to an end).  In one sense, this means that Jesus will reach his geographical goal – the Holy City.  In a deeper sense, it is in Jerusalem that he will reach the goal of his incarnate life.  But, until that day comes, Jesus continues to demonstrate what God’s reign on earth looks like: human beings freed from evil. (“Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures…”)


Social Ministry

In January, the congregation passed a budget that significantly changed the way that our social ministry team does its very important ministry. 


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To be a comfortable messiah?

Luke 4:1-13 (Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13)
 
Lent has begun, and in the series of appointed scripture texts (the lectionary), we rewind a wee bit; from the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the beginning of his fateful journey to Jerusalem, to Jesus’ baptism.  In the Jordan, the father declared: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 2:22). Now, Jesus is led into the wilderness by the same Spirit which had descended upon him at his baptism. Why? To reveal what “sonship” means. As I have written and preached before, the temptations that Jesus faced are not related to his power or lack thereof:
 
Jesus could turn stones into bread (he fed the five thousand with loaves and fish).
 
He could throw himself off the panicle of the temple (he was raised three days after the crucifixion).
 
He has glory and authority (clearly seen in his transfiguration, resurrection and ascension).
 
The temptation consists of the seductive call to exercise that power without the cross: to be a comfortable messiah. The same seductive temptation faced the Israelites in the Wilderness, to which each of Jesus’ three scriptural responses refer:
 
In Exodus, the people complain that they are hungry, and miss the fleshpots and bread of Egypt. So, God provided manna (Exodus 16). In Deuteronomy we learn the lesson: “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”(Deuteronomy 8:3).
 
When Moses ascended the mountain to speak with God for forty days, the Israelites backslid while left behind and cast a calf of gold which they worshipped. Thus the rebuke in Deuteronomy 6:13: “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall    swear.”
 
At Rephidim, the thirsty Israelites put God to the test by demanding water. God commanded Moses to strike the rock at Horeb and water came out. The place was renamed Massah, which means “test” (Exodus 17:1-7).
 
In Deuteronomy comes the admonishment, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (6:16).
 
When tested/tempted, the Israelites failed/succumbed; but Jesus is obedient to the Father’s will. In the Wilderness, where Moses’ and Elijah’s ministry began; in the Wilderness where Israel was birthed; there we find out what being the Son of God truly means. And it is not at all comfortable.
 
May I be so bold as to suggest that we Christians ought to ask ourselves why it is we yearn for a comfortable gospel; an easygoing savior; a smooth faith path to walk upon; and simplistic answers to deep questions.  The scriptural evidence seems to suggest that such a human yearning, is indication of a seduction at work; and the danger sign of a yielding to temptation.


A Disciplined Lenten journey

 
The other day, Pastor Herb invited me to address the folks attending his class, to outline the Lenten worship schedule at SAKLC. After I presented the outline, I pointed out to the group that Lutherans do not believe that God will not love us more if we attend all the Lenten worship services – we don’t subscribe to a doctrine of works righteousness! However, I pointed out that we experience the promise and joy of Easter in a qualitatively different way after deeply entering into a disciplined Lenten journey. That journey includes almsgiving (giving to others) and works of love (a labor of love) to the benefit of others. The disciplines of Lent also include the examination of one’s conscience, and the leaving behind of those things that separate us from God and neighbor. And yes, the journey of Lent also includes worship!  So, here are a few of the opportunities for you to journey together – as the SAKLC family – through this Lenten season:

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Jesus is the Chosen One

Luke 9:28-36 (Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99)   I am amazed each and every time I encounter a well-known biblical text and see something I had not seen before – not in a life-time of textual engagement. The same is true of the making of connections (joining of the dots) which help the text come alive. Here are a few examples in Luke’s account of the Transfiguration:
 
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28). The Transfiguration comes a week or so after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (9:20); and following Jesus’ declaration that “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God: (9:27).  So, Peter is on something of a spiritual “high” at this point. No wonder he gets the wrong end of the stick in this encounter in which he sees not the kingdom but Jesus’ glory! (v. 31)

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Pericope Group

As Ash Wednesday approaches, and with it the season of Lent, I encourage you to be aware of the multiplicity of worship services and concerts offered at this very special (and powerful!) time of the year. Believe me when I tell you that the Day of Easter is particularly wonderous following a time of preparation.
 
Starting in Lent, I’ll lead a weekly lunch-time pericope group at SAKLC. The word pericope means
an extract of text, and refers to the study of biblical passages rather than whole books; in particular the scriptural texts for the coming week. The group will meet each week, and continue year-round. And, while participants will benefit from regular attendance, each week is somewhat stand-alone, and so folks may come and go as schedules allow. Handouts will be provided, along with a printout of the passages under discussion a week in advance. I’ll lead the group, but mutual conversation and the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and discoveries is absolutely encouraged. Bring your lunch with you. And, during Lent, stay for the Lenten concert series at 1pm! If you can’t join us in person, you may join us via Zoom Videoconferencing. And so:
 
 
Pericope Group
(Weekly study of the forthcoming Sunday’s Bible readings)
Each Wednesday, Beginning March 13th
SAKLC Fellowship Hall
Noon-1pm



 
 

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