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Lent 5 Sermon Help For the Harried Herald

  • March 31, 2017 - 10:38 am
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Lent 5 – A Weeping God

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Romans 8:1-11

John 11:1-53

 

This week’s readings are dominated by images death; dry bones, not-yet-animate corpses, the stink of decay, and weeping mourners parade before our eyes.  If we have lived any time in this passing away world, these are images with which we are all too familiar and if our grief has been recent or particularly poignant, these passages may be difficult to hear… to evocative for the composure of typically staid Lutheran worshippers in North America.

Even Jesus weeps, and this is perhaps the most arresting image in this series of texts.  Jesus weeps?  Doesn’t He know how the story will turn out?  No, that can’t be true; He tells us in a few verses that He knows His Father “always hears Him,” and He is going to call the dead man forth from the tomb.  Why does He weep?

At the Bible study I lead for high school students, most of the participants are from non-liturgical, Pietistic churches.  As we studied Jesus praying in the Garden of the Gethsemane on the night before His passion in the Gospel of Luke, I was surprised at the strong visceral reaction my comment that Jesus seemed to be afraid evoked from them.  Both youth and their parents objected that for Jesus to fear would have been sin, so He could not have been afraid; fear would have meant that He didn’t trust His Father.

I confess, I don’t see it that way.  I have complete trust that on the last day I will be raised by God, but if I were tasked with charging a machine gun nest on a field of battle, my pulse would still quicken, sweat break out upon my brow, and I would be… afraid.  Sometimes fear does not mean the absence of faith, only a realistic assessment of the pain about to be engaged.

How “truly human” was Jesus?  Could He experience fear?  He could certainly experience grief.  It unclear from the text whether His compassion was for Lazarus (certainly how the crowd interpreted His tears) or those gathered to grieve for the dead man, but in any event, He grieved.  He grieved for real pain, real emotion, and the very real death experienced by people He really loved.

We worship a God who weeps, for His beloved creatures truly suffer.  The resurrection of Jesus portended by His raising of Lazarus does not eliminate suffering, it puts it in perspective.  The Apostle Paul does not exhorts us not to grieve, only not to grieve as others do, who have no hope.

It is some comfort that in Jesus, God weeps too.  It is even more comforting that the God who does not forebear experiencing the same death His creatures are doomed by their own sin to experience rises again.  God does not eliminate death from the human picture (at least, not yet), but He does promise resurrection in the wake of the death we must endure.

How many “little deaths” do we and those we preach to experience on the way to the biological death that will usher us into God’s unmediated presence for judgment?  The path of spiritual growth most often leads not around the conflicts, losses, and afflictions that constitute those “little deaths,” but instead directly into and through them.  The good news is that the God we serve will weep with us in the middle of them and bring resurrection on the other side of them.

Will that preach?

 

You can subscribe to this and other resources from Lutheran CORE Board Member Rev. Brett Jenkins at www.faithconservationist.org or by clicking here.

Friday, March 31, 2017 Devotion

 

The Lament of Christ on the cross.

“But You, O Lord, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.  Deliver my soul from the sword, My only life from the power of the dog.”  (Psalm 22:19-20)

In the midst of our lament, it often feels like the Lord is far off.  That’s what it feels like.  Our feelings are not reality, only what we are thinking.  The Lord is always near.  He knows you and knows what is in your heart.  Turn to the Lord and know that in every circumstance He is there for you and His plans have not changed simply because your perspective has changed.  He knew of every moment before it happened.

Lord, help me to see that I truly am in Your hands.  You know every moment I shall live and You know what You have allowed for Your purpose.  Regardless of how I feel, help me to see in You the hope You have already given as a preparation for all that is to come.  Lead me according to Your purpose that I would see the growth You will bring in me through all that will come.  Not only in times of lament, but also in times of rejoicing, help me trust in You.

Lord Jesus, You know the feelings that crowd in and keep us from seeing things as they truly are.  Help me in such times to look to You knowing that You understand my doubts, frustrations and feelings.  Guide me, O Lord, according to all that You know I shall experience that through it all I would hold fast to the promises You have made sure through the suffering You underwent on behalf of us all.  Amen.

Thursday, March 30, 2017 Devotion

The Lament of Christ on the cross.

“I can count all my bones.  They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.”  (Psalm 22:17-18)

We see that the Lord knew the circumstances that would surround His crucifixion.  None of Christ’s bones were broken, which would not have made sense when this was written, but in light of the other two beside Christ on the cross, does.  In the days when all clothing was hand made, His garment was gambled for.  See the clarity of the prophecy and be not unbelieving, but believing.

Lord, You give us such amazing insight into what shall come, but doubts get in the way and I do not believe.  Help my unbelief that I would hold fast to all that You have spoken knowing that You who knows all things also knows the promises You have for those who believe.  Guide me ever deeper into the faith You have given me that I would live in You according to Your Word.

Lord Jesus, I can only imagine all that happened that day as You hung on the cross.  Help me through all of the difficulties and doubts that will come along to see in You the hope of glory You have for those who come at Your call and follow You.  Lead me through this day to hold fast to the hope You give knowing that in You alone is grace and promise.  You are my Savior and You have sent Your Spirit to guide me now and always.  Amen.

God’s Word Brings the Light into Our Dark Places

  • March 29, 2017 - 5:40 pm
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“I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

Who could have guessed that God’s Son would walk the way of the cross, or that He would ask us to follow Him on that way?  Who could ever write a complete history of all the unexpected paths that Christians have taken as they have shared the Gospel and cared for their neighbors?

God leads His people into dark places, marked by guilt, doubt, and sorrow—and behold, He brings the light of His favor!  He calls us to walk on rough pathways, bumpy with challenges to the Gospel and the defamation of His people—and behold, He makes it smooth with the peace that surpasses understanding!

These are the things that God has done among us through His holy Word; He has not forsaken us, but works in and through us to create faith, hope, and love.  The resurrection of His Son shines a new light on the way of the cross, teaching us to see God’s salvation at work even in the midst of our sin and suffering—He sweetens even the darker paths of life with the joy of His presence.

LET US PRAY: Lord God, light of my soul: be my light in the darkness, and my guide along troubled ways.  So console and strengthen me that I would not only see and know You in every circumstance, but also that I would guide others to do the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion-Wausau

 

(c) 2017

 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 Devotion

The Lament of Christ on the cross.

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death.  For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.”  (Psalm 22:15-16)

Listen to the words.  See the Savior on the cross.  Clear words spoke a clear reality that would be witnessed one thousand years after this Psalm was penned.  The Lord gave us the prophecy that we might know that all time is in His hands.  He knows what has been and He knows what is coming.  Trust in the One who knows all things and has your future in His hands.

Lord You suffered unimaginable torment on behalf of all who believe.  Guide me, O Lord, to see in You the never-failing promises You have for those who trust in You.  Guide me according to Your Word that I would forever hold fast to all You have in store for those who love You.  Help me to trust in what You have done in order to look forward to what You will do knowing that all things are in Your hands.

In this world, dear Lord, there are times of drought and famine.  You know suffering and have promised that there is purpose in and through all things.  Surrounding us are those who taunt and jeer and do not want to see clearly the great love You have for all.  Help me to be like You and not like the scoffers, knowing that the life You have created was meant to be lived in a certain way.  Amen.

“I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE,” Devotional for April 2, 2017 by Dennis Nelson

  • March 28, 2017 - 12:01 pm
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“I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE”
Devotional for April 2, 2017
by Dennis Nelson
 
The Gospel lesson for April 2 contains the stirring account of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead. There are three elements in this story that I would like to draw to our attention.
 
First, in verses 5 and 6 of his eleventh chapter John writes, “Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” We might have thought that it would have said, “Because Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus he dropped everything and came immediately to Bethany as soon as he heard that Lazarus was ill.” Instead it says that even though he loved them, he waited for two days before starting the trip to see them. How can we possibly explain Jesus’ behavior? Why in the world did he wait, when he heard that someone whom he loved was gravely ill? Pastors, how would your congregants feel – how would they understand it – if you were to wait two days before going to see them in the hospital if they were seriously ill?
 
It seems to me that here is an example of how God sometimes will allow things to get worse so that he is able to give us his best. Sometimes he will allow a situation to worsen so that we will be able to experience even more dramatically his power in our lives.
 
Second, when Jesus gets to Bethany and first sees the two sisters of his good friend, Lazarus, who has died, the sisters say exactly word-for-word the same thing to him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha in verse 21 – Mary in verse 32. “Jesus, if you had only gotten here sooner, you could have prevented the death of our brother.” They say exactly word-for-word the same thing to him, and yet Jesus’ response to them is quite different. In response to Martha Jesus gives one of his greatest promises – “I am the resurrection and the life.” (verse 25) In response to Mary Jesus is greatly disturbed in spirit, is deeply moved, begins to weep, and raises her brother from the dead. (verses 33 and 35) Why the difference? Could it have anything to do with the dynamics in the account in Luke 10 where Martha is frantic about serving Jesus the perfect meal, while Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet and is listening to what he was saying? Could it be that Mary had the kind of relationship with Jesus so that her emotions stirred his emotions and her tears led him to raise the dead?
 
Lord, I want to have such a close relationship with you so that I not only receive and believe your promises but also so that my heart is in tune with your heart and so that I experience your power in my life.
 
Third, a few days later Jesus came to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom he had recently raised from the dead. John 12: 2 tells us that Martha was serving another one of her perfect meals. What does Mary do? She comes in with a pound of costly perfume, anoints Jesus’ feet with it, and then wipes his feet with her hair. The immediate outburst from Judas reveals how expensive that perfume was – three hundred denarii. The average working person would have to spend a full year’s wages on it. It might have been the most precious thing that Mary had. Why did she use it in a way that seems so extravagant and so foolish? Mary is showing us what overwhelmingly grateful love has to do. It has to express itself. Mary had to do something to say to Jesus, “Thank you for giving me my brother back.”
 
John 3: 16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave.” Love has to give. Overwhelmingly grateful love has to give. Love does not say, “What is the least I can do?” Rather love says, “What is the most I can do?” The greater the love, the greater the expression of that love.
 
Lord, give me a love like Mary had, and give me a love like you have. Lord, you gave your life for me. What can I do for thee?
 
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 Devotion

The Lament of Christ on the cross.

“They open wide their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion.  I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me.”  (Psalm 22:13-14)

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.  On the one hand, words cannot physically hurt; but on the other, words pierce.  The relentless taunting of evil wears on the soul and tears it down.  Yes, we want to hear the Word of the Lord, but the cacophony of this world gets in the way.  Look to the Lord as He lifts you up to have ears dull to the lies and open to Him.

Lord open my ears to You and give me thicker skin to the ways of this world.  Guide me according to Your never failing principles to see in You alone the hope of glory for the ages.  Lead me by Your will to do what is right in Your sight, to not speak words that are foul, or in any way harm one of Your children.  Make me upright and strong to endure the wickedness all around me.

Lord Jesus, You who endured all the taunts of the world and took them upon Your own body, lead me under the shelter of what You have done to live by Your example and endure through times of tribulation.  Help me to see that in You I have hope and that You will not fail.  Lead me, O Lord, to know that You have already prevailed and that in You I do have a future through all that may come in between.  Amen.

Monday, March 27, 2017 Devotion

The Lament of Christ on the cross.

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.  Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.”  (Psalm 22:11-12)

The wicked one offers up what seems strong things in this world to encircle, threaten and intimidate.  But the strength of this world pales in the face of the Lord.  He who has all power created the things we call powerful.  What are they to Him but His creation?  Look to the One is truly has all power.

Lord, I am often frightened by the things of this world which seek to intimidate me.  Help me hold fast to Your strength which You demonstrated by conquering death through weakness.  Help me to see that in You alone is there the hope of the ages.  Lead me through every trial and travail that I would grow stronger in commitment to You and all that You have in store for those who love you.

Lord Jesus, as You hung on the cross You could see those who taunted You.  They were all around You with derision and hatred, yet You continued and did what needed to be done for all our sakes.  Though I do not fully understand, help me see clearly the great love it took for You to do this for even for those who were taunting You.  May I learn from You to be faithful in all circumstances.  Amen.

Sunday, March 26, 2017 Devotion

The Lament of Christ on the cross.

“Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.  Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.”  (Psalm 22:9-10)

Before you were in the womb, the Lord knew you.  He knows those whom He has created.  You are a part of His eternal plan.  Cherish the gift God has given.  Know that you and all others have been given life in His purpose.  Whether it is for yourself, or for Him, that is the trial of this age; but ultimately, never forget that this is His creation and the truth is that you were created for Him.

Lord, I become absorbed in self and do not see the simple truth that You are the One who has created all things.  Create in me a clean heart and renew in me a right spirit that I would see life through Your eyes and delight in all that You have made.  Guide me, O Lord, according to Your purpose that in the truth I would dwell, knowing that it is You who brings all things together according to Your will.

Lord Jesus, You understand the lament of distance that sin has caused in our lives.  You have seen the dismal fog that clouds our brains and know the distance we need to come to live in the fullness of life as You created it to be lived.  Help me every day to see more clearly and learn from You how to go forward into this life You have created for the Father’s glory.  Lead me to live according to the purpose for which I have been created.  Amen.

Hermeneutics for the Harried Herald –Lent 4

  • March 25, 2017 - 8:37 am
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Lent 4 – A Whole New World

Isaiah 42:14-21

Ephesians 5:8–14

John 9:1–41

 

What would it be like to be suddenly gifted with an ability you had never had before?  How many superhero stories begin with someone having powers bestowed on them they could never dream of?  How many ugly ducklings dream of the day they will wake up a swan?  What would the world be like if all sudden it were not the world we know because we were aware of dimensions of it we could never be before?

For someone blind from birth, a great deal of human language is just words with referent; what does it mean to see the sun rise or to have the gloom dispelled by the drawing back of a curtain?  Why is better to be “enlightened” than “in the dark?”  Why is the condition we experience all the time universally referred to with scorn and yes, even fear?

I am an adult convert to the Christian faith from a rather severe form of atheism.  When I was an atheist, I could marvel at the vastness of creation, but live with assurance that no matter how far I traveled, whatever I encountered there would be explainable using the points of reference I already possessed.  No matter how vast the universe was, I could rest assured that it was just “one damn thing after another.”

When I came to faith (or faith came to me?), I became aware of whole other dimensions of existence.  To be sure, I could not penetrate those dimensions by investigation or imagination, but I knew they were there, and suddenly, the world was a much bigger place than even the vastness of “light years” could make it.  The world was not the same because I was not the same.

The blind man in today’s Gospel reading experiences the same thing.  The bestowal of sight upon him results in the reordering of his family life, his relations with his neighbors, and his view of the spiritual realm.  Messiah—the Son of Man—was no longer someone to be awaited with eschatological fervor but someone to be worshipped, for he has been touched by Him.

It is the responsibility of the preacher to preach not sophisticated theological essays (save those for your blog), but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  We are to preach Christ so that our congregation encounters Him as a living reality through our preaching.

Of course, we don’t really have the power to do this—to broker an encounter with God—but we must remember that this is the goal whether we preach to a seminary, a rural congregation, a mega church, or in a downtown storefront.  Fortunately, to our best efforts (however meager) God has promised to add the power of His Holy Spirit.  Praise be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for such a rich blessing of grace!

You can subscribe to this and other resources at Rev. Brett Jenkins’ blog www.faithconservationist.org or by clicking here.