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4/8/18 "The Life We Proclaim"

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.”  1 John 1:1-2; Easter 2; April 8, 2018

Grace…Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Have you ever been around someone who brought life wherever they went?  They could say the right thing or do the right thing at just the right time of the day?  Maybe it was your father, your dad, who had that sense of optimism about life, and gave you courage to face your situation in life?  Maybe it was your mother, who could give the right advice at the right time?  Or maybe it was a teacher, or someone you worked with?  Or even that special aunt or uncle?  They could just tell a funny story or they just had the right kind of personality to pick everyone else up around them.  It takes a special person to bring life to a group of people.

Sometimes bringing life to a group of people might mean, just saying the right things, in the right way, that brings a sense of encouragement, hope and joy, especially to people who are going through some really hard times.  For instance, I know that for most of us, it is really difficult to say something to a person who is going through a rough time or has just gone through a hard time, like the death of a parent, or a spouse, or especially a child.  What can you do to bring joy or hope to their life?  What can you say, or what words can you use, or who can you look to, to truly bring life to their troubled world?  Is there a word that will bring them life?

Jesus had that word of life for His disciples in our Gospel lesson today.  As He came into their room that was filled with fear and gloom, Jesus came in and gave that word of life, saying, “Peace be with you! (Shalom)”.  These disciples had been locked up, for quite a while, quite possibly even three days together, full of fear and thinking they might be killed next.  They may have even feared the rebuke that Jesus would give them for running away and deserting Him.   But, Jesus comes in, saying, “Peace be with you!”  You talk about words that would bring forgiveness, hope, and joy.  “Peace (Shalom)—be –with you!

And then Jesus went even further.  He showed them His hands and His side.  The marks of where the nails were in His hands, which connected Him to the agony of the cross.  And then the gruesome wound of the spear to His side, which was the final killing blow. The wound out of which the Gospel of John tells us flowed blood and water.  These are the marks of His crucifixion, the marks of His death, and are truly now the marks of His victory.  Not only did He speak the words of life, Jesus showed that He was the very Word of Life, Himself.  He who overcame death itself, showed now that He would bring life wherever He went.

The Gospel of John goes on to say that when the disciples heard Jesus’ voice and saw the wounds, they were overjoyed!  Death had been defeated.  Their champion and Teacher was back.  And they, at least for this short moment of time, were no longer full of fear, but instead were overjoyed.  Their sorrow was forgotten, because Jesus had brought life into their room.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

In our text from the book of 1st John, John the apostle is saying to us, “I was there!”  I saw the risen Jesus with my own eyes.  I heard His voice.  I touched His wounds!  I was there!  His life was made manifest (totally clear) to all of us and me!  Jesus not only brought life to our room, but He is the very essence of life itself!

John, through the power of the Holy Spirit, wants us to experience this life too.  He wants it to be just as if we were there too!  He wants us to have fellowship with Him.  Because very often we are like those disciples before Jesus rose from the dead.  Locked up in fear.  Troubled about life.  Hopeless about the future.  Overcome by fear.  Deadlocked in doubt.  But, Jesus comes in to us, as well, and says, “Peace be with you (and you and you!)”

And Jesus further desires to show you His hands and side, by which He died for your sins, and overcame death and the devil.  This is your Savior!  In Him you have forgiveness for every sin of your life.  You have hope for every situation. And through faith in Him you have eternal life.  John says we write these things “that you may have fellowship with us and with God.”  And that you too may have complete joy, just as the disciples were that day.

So, what would it take for you to be overjoyed in life?  Some of you might say, well, say I wish I didn’t have to work anymore.  Then I would have complete joy.  And others might say, “I wish I just didn’t have to go to school any more.  Then I would have complete joy.” And still others might say, I wish I could get back to work again, or go to school again, or that the kids would be younger, or the kids would be older, or that I would be younger…or that my body wouldn’t ache…(do you get my drift?) But, God’s Word would say, here you have fellowship with Jesus, through faith in Him, and with Him you have everything. He is your joy, your hope, your life.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we believe that this book of 1st John, was written by the Apostle John himself later on in life.  By this time, he was probably 70 or 80 years old.  Very old at this time in history.  He had seen many things in life.  He was an eyewitness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  He had heard many of the false attacks against Jesus and the Christian faith.  He had also been personally mocked.  He had by this time lost several of his friends, and all of his fellow disciples through persecution.  Yet John was saying is, “What we saw, and heard and felt was the truth!  Faith in Jesus is worth it, because He is worth it.  This is the life we proclaim!

And John asks, if you say you believe in Him, and walk in the light, why do you in darkness?  “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with Him and we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Today is a good day to think about this.  It’s just been one week since we celebrated the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  How have you been “walking” through this past week? 

In much of the Bible “walking” means “living  or conducting your life.”  How have you been walking-- living your life this past week?  Are you living like someone who has fellowship with Jesus?  Are you walking in His light?  Or are you walking in darkness?  John says, “If we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Today, we give thanks that our God is faithful.  He will never let us down.  Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin.  His death and resurrection mean everything for us.  We have fellowship with Him and the disciples who were His eyewitnesses.  His presence in our life gives us forgiveness and hope for every situation of life, and it calls for us to proclaim His life wherever we are.  Proclaiming His Life, doesn’t necessarily mean that we all preach a sermon either.  It’s how you live your life, how you walk the walk of the Christian life in your home or family, in our work or school, or out in our community.

For Christ is risen,  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

 

4/1/18 "God's Will and the New Creation"

“But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:20; The Resurrection of our Lord; April 1, 2018

 

Today, I welcome you to worship on this April Truth day!  It’s not April Fool’s Day, as some would say, for the great truth that changes everything today shines forth from the empty tomb!  It’s a fact!  For Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Today as we celebrate the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul points us to the fullness and even the end of the resurrection story, to God’s ultimate will and purpose for His creation:  He writes, “In Christ all will be made alive, but each in turn:  Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to him.  Then the end will come.”

 

So, along with our traditional Easter greeting, today, we add another acclamation of the church:  I say, Christ has died; Christ is risen; and you say, “Christ will come again!” Let’s try it together, Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!

 

That’s how the resurrection story is fulfilled!  That’s my future, and your future; that’s what’s in store for all who believe in Jesus.  Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!  It’s here now, but there’s much more to come!.

 

Yes, today on this Easter Sunday we remember that Jesus has already won the victory; the sting of sin and the power of the law have been removed.  The grave no longer holds terror for those who are baptized into the death of Jesus, and therefore we have also been united through baptism to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

 

And yet, the final ultimate victory has not happened, at least not fully yet….  People who belong to Jesus still struggle with sin.  People who belong to Jesus still get sick.  People who belong to Jesus still die.  And if there’s one thing that Paul wants to make abundantly clear to the Church, it’s this:  As long as even a single human body is still in a grave, Jesus isn’t finished yet.  There’s more to come!

 

Only when every gravestone is obsolete and every Christian corpse stands redeemed and restored, joined with a redeemed and restored—body and soul together, the way God intended it to be—only then will we see God’s ultimate will for His creation.  Only then will the resurrection story of Jesus reach it’s crowning chapter.  Christ has died.  Christ has risen. Christ will come again!

 

But, we’re not fully there yet, so while we wait in eager expectation, the Apostle Paul wants to clear up a few misunderstandings about the resurrection… Paul was writing to the church in the Greek city of Corinth, in about the year 55 AD.  The vast majority of the Greek people at that time were not Christian, and many believed that once you die, only your soul makes the trip across the River Styx into the underworld.  No bodies were allowed. It was just souls.

 

It’s likely that in the culture of the Corinth area, they would have been very skeptical of the idea of the bodily resurrection.  One famous Greek playwright for example wrote, “When the dust hath drained the blood of a man, once he is slain, there is no resurrection.”  Dead is dead. (They thought) Period. End of story. Even if some thought that the soul lived on in a kind of vague afterlife, no one, but no one thought that something as vulgar as a corpse had a promising future. 

 

And this thinking in the culture of Corinth had a negative impact on the Christian church.  Some in the church were thinking that they too should just simply be content with life here and now, rather than looking forward to some kind of life beyond death.  And others seem to have looked forward to a happy future for just their souls, without regard for their physical bodies.

 

But, Paul says, that kind of thinking is not compatible with faith in Jesus.  What some of the Corinthian Christians wasn’t the Gospel anymore.  It might make sense in the story our culture tells, but that kind of thinking doesn’t make sense in the resurrection account of Jesus.

 

So, the Apostle Paul takes us through a string of If-then statements, almost like a programmer cranking out code.  (Brace yourself) He says, if physical bodies aren’t raised, then Christ is not raised.; If Christ is not raised then your faith is worthless (ugh); if your faith is worthless then you are stuck with your sins, and those who have died, have simply died—period. End of story. And if, in Christ, we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

 

But, Paul has so much more to say, “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead!  The tomb is empty!  Over 500 people saw Jesus alive.  Many saw Him and touched Him!  That’s Paul’s basic message in 1st Corinthians!  That’s what Easter is about!  Jesus is alive!  He rose bodily from the dead!  Your faith is not worthless!  You are not stuck in sin!  You have a strong and powerful and certain hope.  Not just for this life, but amazingly for the life to come!

 

Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again! In fact, you have the concrete tangible sign of that coming again.  You have the resurrected body of Jesus, what Paul calls the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

 

 Firstfruits are the first evidence that there’s more to come.  They are like the first blossoms in spring.  In our area, it’s usually the crocuses.  One day the first flowers start to open, and then within a short time everywhere you look and the trees and the flowers are all starting to bloom. The crocuses are a sign that there’s more to come!

 

Or maybe you’ve been to an orchard around here or have an apple tree at home and there’s always that first ripe apple that seems to win the race:  all the other fruit is green  or tinted with a little pink , but you find that single ripe apple.  And when you take that first crisp bite,  the tangy juice runs down your chin.  The smell, the feel, the taste, the experience of that first ripe apple tells you that the rest of the harvest will be great.

 

In the Old Testament, firstfruits are part of the prescribed offering to God.  When the first grain was ripe,on the first day after the first Sabbath after the Passover…(let’s see, the first day, after the first Sabbath after Passover)…so that would be today, Easter Sunday, the Sunday of the Resurrection!  On the day Jesus rose from the dead, God’s Old Testament people would bring in the first of the harvest grain to God’s house as an offering. 

 

Paul says Jesus is like that!  Jesus was giving Himself as the firstfruit offering!  He is the evidence of more to come.  He is the firstfruits.  You are the harvest that is to come!  His bodily resurrection is the first permanent, physical New Creation resurrection in history, but it is not going to be the last!  Jesus is the first installment, the opening solo of the New Creation:  His resurrected body is part of the New Creation, even now, ahead of time.

 

It’s clear what Paul wants us to believe, and to believe it firmly without a doubt.  And it’s also clear that believing this firmly isn’t any easier for us that it was for the Corinthians.  Sometimes we are tempted to doubt, and we often give in.  Please forgive us, Lord!

 

In entertainment for young and old in our culture, Americans seem to be content with the soul living on without a body (if it’s a family movie) or souls living on in dead bodies (if it’s a zombie movie).  Even in books and popular culture, it’s all about getting wings like angels and floating on clouds when you get to heaven.  But, there’s almost no hope, no need for the bodily resurrection from the dead.  But, that’s not what the Gospel teaches. 

 

See, the foundation of the faith Paul wants you to cling to today is not an abstract principle, but a resurrected body.  The body of Jesus, that Mary Magdalene and the other disciples witnessed first hand,that once was dead, and now is alive forevermore!  Look to Him and live!

 

So take your narrow hope and your nagging doubt to Jesus.  He is the first evidence of more to come.  His resurrected body is the first installment, the first blossom, the first fruit of what is to come!

 

Your resurrection life looks, feels, smells and tastes like Jesus.  He is the firstfruits offering, set aside as holy to God, even as we, God’s people depend upon God for the rest of the harvest that is still to come.  Our life in the New Creation is full of confidence, hope, and joy, because Jesus is alive!  Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!

 

And there is more to come:  Paul says “In Christ all will be made alive, but each in turn:  Christ the firstfruits; then; when He comes those who belong to Him.  Then the end will come.  And that ultimate end is Jesus, the champion, placing His resurrected foot over the final enemy of death, and declaring victory forever and ever.  That, Paul says is the fulfillment of the resurrection story.  That is God’s ultimate will for His creation.

 

God is preparing us now for the New Creation.  This is His will for us!  He calls us to be His faith filled Easter people!  Confident in the forgiveness of sins!  Confident in His love for us!  Confident that Jesus lives for us and will come again for us!

 

Christ has died!  Christ has risen!  And Christ will come again!  Alleluia!

3/25/18 "God's Will When We Are Unwilling"

“O 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 her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken, and I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.!”Luke 13:34; Palm Sunday; 3/25/18

Grace…

 

Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

What great words!  What a wonderful sight it must have been to see Jesus coming into Jerusalem and to hear the shouts and acclamation!  Today, we also join the crowd again saying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” For many of us, we’ve been here before, we’ve heard those shouts, as Jesus comes to Jerusalem, later to hear the shouts, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him”, and then to ascend to the throne of the cross, where He brings us salvation and peace.

 

Many of us, have been here so often on Palm Sunday, that the details of the scene blur and blend, it seems like one big celebration.  But if you pay attention to the details Luke gives in today’s Gospel reading, you may have noticed something that at first seems out of place.  With the crowd of disciples following and praising God, Jesus comes near Jerusalem where he stops and weeps.  He weeps for good reason.  He knows what is coming for Jerusalem and her people who have so often rejected God’s will.  Judgment is coming and no stone will be left unturned when the Romans come to destroy Jerusalem in 70AD, and lay waste to the temple of God and decimate His people.  So Jesus weeps.  But this is not the first time that He has grieved for God’s people and this city of Jerusalem.

 

Sometime before Palm Sunday, along His journey to Jerusalem, Jesus points to His coming death and speaks this lament from our text in Luke 13, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken, and I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.!”

 

It’s striking then, that on the day when Jesus finally comes to Jerusalem and these words of praise ring out, we find ourselves caught up in praise while Jesus is crying.  This lament, like Jesus’ tears as he comes near Jerusalem, is all about God’s will and his people’s unwillingness to live in His salvation and peace.  To help us understand His grief, Jesus takes us into the animal kingdom, more specifically, that of –chickens.

 

In fact, Jesus pictures the people of Jerusalem as a brood of unwilling little chickens that He wanted to shelter under His wings.  But they would have nothing to do with it.  He wanted to gather them, but they wanted to do their own thing.  They just wanted to just be left alone.

 

What an appropriate picture Jesus uses to speak of Jerusalem and his own people.  How often Jesus had experienced them as a brood of unwilling chicks. He had ushered in the gracious reign of God.  He said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, Repent and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) He healed the lame, fed the hungry, driven out demons, calmed the storms, and raised the dead.  He brought peace to His people.

 

Jerusalem, the very city whose name contains the word peace (Salem or Shalom) should have seen, heard, and understood the things that have to do with peace.  God has come to gather them into his wings, his Salem (Shalom), by the visitation of His Son, but they kept on questioning, kept on doubting, and kept on opposing the ministry of Jesus.  In doing so, they were directly opposing the will of their God who had sent Jesus to gather them, that He might be their peace.  As it was in the days of the prophets of old, so it was as Jesus approached Jerusalem.

 

Maybe as you hear all of this, it causes you to join with Jesus crying over Jerusalem, as you witness the unwillingness of God’s people to live in His will.  To keep on rejecting Jesus runs the risk of remaining apart from Him and under judgment forever.  We join Jesus in grieving that reality.

 

But, it’s always easier to see someone else’s unwillingness to live within God’s will isn’t it?   After all, we are Jesus followers, His disciples and we would never so willingly reject and oppose God’s will in our lives would we? Peter didn’t think so, but he flat out rejected God’s plan to send Jesus to the cross.  It took Jesus to tell Peter to get behind Him, even calling him Satan before Peter saw his own unwillingness.  Paul who often lamented Israel’s unwillingness to live in God’s will, had directly rejected and opposed God’s plan in Jesus and needed a blinding light and scales on his eyes to understand.  And even though Jesus’ lament in Luke’s gospel is for a specific city of Jerusalem and a specific people, He also laments your unwillingness to be gathered, as a hen gathers her chicks, into His gracious will.

 

Now you might say, “Me? Really, me???” Yes, you and me too! For some of you, Jesus sees your unwillingness to be reconciled to a person you once cared for deeply.  Perhaps you had an argument, a disagreement, and you don’t want to reconcile with them.  So, you wander further each day from the peace and protection that Jesus has come to gather you into.  How often he extends His healing only to watch you hold on even tighter to the hurt.  And Jesus weeps and laments your unwillingness to receive His peace for your life.  He knows it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

For some of you, Jesus sees your secret, the one that you wish you could be free from, the path that you try to leave before it destroys everyone around you.  As hard as you try, you can’t leave it and the truth is you don’t know what life would be like without it.  How often He has extended His transforming grace, only to watch you choose to be shackled to that burden again.  And He laments and weeps over you.

 

For some of you, Jesus sees how hard you’re trying to manage yet another situation as if you had the power to control the universe.  How often He has poured out His grace upon you when you find yourself helpless to make your plan work.  He want’s nothing more than to gather you, to see you let go of the struggle, to live in His freedom, and to rest in His peace.  His tears fall as He watches you turn your back and try to take the reins yet again.

 

We all have some place in our life where we are unwilling to be conformed to the will of Jesus.  That unwillingness is wrapped into what Jesus is up to today as He approaches Jerusalem weeping and lamenting.  How often He’s been here, with us, with His people, and with the world.  We are powerless on our own, to change our unwillingness, and to will ourselves into His healing, His mercy, His path of life, and His freedom.  No wonder the tears flow from our Savior’s eyes as he looks upon Jerusalem and His people as they praise Him.  No wonder the tears flow from our Savior’s eyes as He looks upon you as you praise Him today.

 

I think that’s why little details in the Bible make such a difference.  Jesus weeping on Palm Sunday in Luke 19 leads us back to His lament in Luke 13 where He gives us the image of a hen and her chicks to talk about our unwillingness.  He has tried to gather us back to Himself so often that it seems logical that He should just walk away and leave us to judgment.

 

And yet, the image Jesus uses is not only of the unwilling chicks, it also shows something far greater:  A hen never stops pursuing her chicks that she loves!  When a mother hen sees her chicks confused, wandering away, or in danger, there is nothing that could prevent her from spreading her wings and covering those helpless vulnerable and often unwilling little ones.  She would gladly receive in her body a deathblow to save what is precious to her.  She is unwilling to leave her chicks on her own.

 

Can you see this in Jesus?  He raises His wings higher than it seems possible to his own discomfort and anguish.  So high and lifted up are the arms of Jesus that it took nails to hold him outstretched.  So unwilling is Jesus that you should perish in your sin that he submits to the Father’s will.  Standing in the shadow of those blood stained arms on the cross, we see the full fury of divine punishment fall in a deathblow, not upon you, His helpless chick, but upon Jesus who received every last ounce of His Father’s judgment.

 

How often, Jesus meets us here in this church, this sanctuary to gather you and remind you that you are His, marked by His powerful name in Baptism.  How often He hears your confession and gathers you under His wings of forgiveness and mercy.  How often He gathers you to Himself at this altar, at His supper where He brings you into His presence and seta a banquet table of life and forgiveness before you.  How often He sends you out with His blessing, promising peace and His nurturing presence with you!  This Jesus is unwilling to give up on you.

 

So, if you see a pathway of unwillingness that you’ve walked down too many times—bitterness, control, hiding in the darkness of sin—and you feel helpless to do anything about it, lean into what Jesus is doing today, because you can’t change it on your own.  As you lean into Jesus, you experience the tender wings of grace that are already covering you.  You experience His unwillingness to leave you on your own.

 

Under these wings we’ll find that we are not alone either.  We lean into Jesus’ love and peace today and discover again, that His wings are already covering us.  They’ve been covering us all along.  And under His wings we find that we are not alone in this struggle.  Today, on this Palm Sunday, as we sing and celebrate the coming of the King into Jerusalem, who ascended the throne of the cross, we confess our own unwillingness, but even more, we trust that the love of God in Jesus is relentless in pursuing us. We lean, then, into His arms of love and peace again!

 

God grant it…

3/18/18 "God's Will For the World"

“This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Lent 5; March 18, 2018

Grace…

         (On this Sunday that we remember our youth and family life ministry)

God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth!…Isn’t that truly amazing!  All people to be saved!  That’s what God wants!  That’s His will!  I mean, we ought to put that statement on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.  Really!

 

It would be awesome, because the world thinks that we Christians hate them.  For many, Christianity stands against so much that people don’t know what it’s for.  Christianity is just so offensive to them,  they say.  But, a saying like this might change things for us, right?  It might make our lives easier.  And that’s what bumper sticker Christianity is all about right?  Making life easier?  For you and me?

 

But, that’s the challenge we sometimes have with this text from 1st Timothy.  Because it lends itself to a bumper sticker kind of mentality.  And the minute we can reduce Christianity to something we just can stick on our car, it usually is no longer something that stays in our heart.  It just becomes a pious platitude. You know, some kind of little saying that we can stick up somewhere, but we really don’t believe it.  Kind of like some other ones like, “Time heals all wounds.”(Really?)  or “Age is just a number” (uh-huh?) Well what about this one again, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

 

So, what does this passage mean for us as Christians?  How are we to respond to this desire of God?  If we want to put this truth of God not just on our cars but in our hearts, how will it change the way we live in our world?  That’s the question I would like for us to consider today as we read and meditate on this text:  What does it mean for us that God desires all people to be saved?

I would like to suggest, three types of conversations that would take place.

 

Well, first, it means that we might need to have a good conversation with ourselves.  If you let God’s will have it’s way with you, guess what happens?  The next time that you run into someone who really makes you mad, someone who has violated the way of God, someone who has done something so horrible that you wish Judgment Day would come and they would burn for eternity for what they have done you need to stop and ask yourself if they can be so easily written off.

 

You see, the Bible is filled with examples of God’s judgment and anger, and we can sometimes turn to those examples when we want to write people off.  When people’s lives have been so dangerous, their actions so disastrous their words so despicable, we turn to stories of God’s judgment to make them disposable.  We pull out stories of God’s destruction of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, and Sodom and Gomorrah, the Great Flood and the destruction of the world, except for little Noah and his ark, and we take our place beside Noah, and wait for judgment to come.  People become disposable to us.  But, is that what they are to God?  Dear Lord forgive us!

 

I am sure that the Apostle Paul had some of these same thoughts, as he was writing down this inspired text from 1st Timothy.  Think about his experiences.  He once stood there, when he was known as Saul of Tarsus, watching and approving as Christians were being persecuted and killed.  He went from house to house ravaging the Church, dragging Christians to jail.

But then…it happened.  God met him on the Damascus road and spoke to him from heaven.  God had a word about Paul, and a word about people that opened his eyes to see just how vast was God’s love.  In killing those people, Paul was persecuting God!  Because God desired all people, even Gentiles, (outsiders) to be saved!  And God was going to change Paul, and use him for His instrument.  For this word of God, this truth of God, went straight to Paul’s heart and changed how Paul viewed the people of this world.

 

So also for us:  What people is God calling us to reconsider today?  What people have you written off your list?  You know the list, I’m talking about.  The list of those you want to be saved and the list of people that you stopped caring about.  There really shouldn’t be that second list.  No matter how horrible the person, no matter how heinous the sin, in heaven God’s heart desires that all people would be saved.  That’s what Jesus came to this earth for!  He came for the outcasts, the people the rest of the world didn’t care about any more—the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the zealots, the abused and the abusers, the adulterer, and the murderer.  And you and me too!  And He died for the sins of all people of all times!  Get that!  God forgives sin, all sin, and when all sins are forgiven, then all people are invited by God to the salvation and joy of heaven!

 

What does it mean for us that God desires all people to be saved?  It means that we should have a good conversation with ourselves, and confess our sins to God.  We take this sin to Jesus and today Jesus forgives our sin.

 

But if that is where it ends, notice that we have just reduced Christianity to simply a matter of the heart. We also (second) need to have a good conversation with God.

 

Unfortunately when we see the evil that occurs in this world and find ourselves angry at others, we often do have a conversation with God.  But, it may not be the right conversation.  We ask God, why He doesn’t do anything about this evil.

 

The Apostle Paul could have felt that way when writing to Timothy.  Think about all the evil that Paul endured in his missionary work, how he was thrown in prison for telling people about Jesus.  How he was beaten to a pulp and chased out of towns for telling the people of the Good News of the Gospel.  In Ephesus, where Timothy lived and was now a pastor, there was a man named Demetrius the silversmith who once had started a major riot, because Paul’s message about Jesus was hurting his business.  Does God want those people saved who did such evil?

 

So the question is addressed, Paul tells Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions. (1 Tim. 2:2)  Paul desires that God’s people be in conversation with God for the sake of others.  Since God wants all people to be saved, God desires us to be praying for all people. 

 

In prayer you will draw near to the heart of God, through your mediator, Jesus Christ, and he will take care of you there, and He will change the rhythm of your heart, to match His pulse for the world.  He will change the way you see, and live, in this world.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever (whoever) believes in Him will have eternal life.

 

So, we need to have a conversation with ourselves, and a good conversation with God; but it may also mean that (third) we are called to have a conversation with others

 

For the past five weeks we have been studying and looking at one part (the third petition) of a prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer.  “Thy Will be Done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We have looked at God’s Will and His kingdom, God’s Will and our expectations,-- as a Potter looks at the Clay.  And last week, God’s Will and our Sufferings, our thorns in the flesh, as God promises that His grace is sufficient, for His power is made perfect in weakness.  Today, we remember God’s will for the world.  God wants all people to be saved!  He calls us, now to move outward, to have conversations with others about God.

 

Today we lift up and pray for our Youth and Family Life ministry.  We all know people, who do not know Jesus, or only know Him from a distance.  They may be walking right by your house, or by our building (our church) every day of the week.  That’s why I think it’s such a great thing that Joel, you’ve started this student hospitality for those young people, that they would know that you represent, Jesus, and find in Him salvation that is for all!

 

I pray, that God would help all of us to have those conversations.  A conversation with yourself.  A conversation with God.  And a conversation with others, so that they might know God’s good and gracious will for the salvation of all people. 

 

God grant it…

3/11/18 "God's Will and My Sufferings"

‘But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9; Lent 4; March 11, 2018

Grace…

Five people sit on the floor in a semi-circle.  It’s dark and they are in the upper room of an abandoned house in Crestwood, Missouri.  They have come to hear one woman speak and they are mesmerized by her story.  Week after week they return for about an hour, and she tells them about her near death experiences.  She has died (she said) and was brought back to life again and again and again.  As she tells her story, they learn about the other side.  This is the basic premise of “The OA” a 2016 drama on Netflix.  

If this seems strange, like something that only happens out there in the world, don’t forget that some Christians themselves have published stories of those who have returned from experiences of life after death.  In July of 2010, you had “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.”  The story of a boy named Alex who visited heaven after a tragic car accident.

Then four months after that you had “Heaven is For Real”, the story of Colton Burpo, who visited heaven when he came close to death in an appendicitis operation.  There he met his great-grandfather and an older sister he never knew he had.  Whereas Alex  later recanted his story, Colton Burpo’s story was made into a major motion picture.  Whether it’s fact or fiction, whether it’s the Church or culture, there has always been interest in the afterlife.  Wondering if heaven is for real.

The reason I bring all of this up today is that it helps us understand what is so amazing about our text from the Apostle Paul this morning.  As Christians, we are familiar with Paul’s words about his “thorn in the flesh”: a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me…three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We are familiar with these words, but we are not always familiar with their context.  When you hear these words in their context, you can’t help but be amazed at the spiritual wisdom of the Apostle Paul. 

Paul had an amazing story to tell.  He had visited heaven.  To be more specific, the “third heaven.  His way of saying “The place where God lives.”  Fourteen years before he wrote this letter, Paul was taken into the heavenly realms.  Whether it happened in His body or out of his body, he writes, he is not sure.  What he does know is that he was taken into this Paradise and heard things from God. Although he says he can’t say what was said in heaven.  He can tell you about the experience.

And Paul had good reason to tell it.  The Corinthians who Paul wrote to, were troubled by false teachers.  They called themselves, “Super Apostles”.  Apostles beyond measure.  They were false teachers, preaching a different Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel.  They boasted in their visions.  In fact, they used their visions and their extraordinary experiences as proof that they were indeed sent by God.

And now Paul had the perfect opportunity to tell about his vision, about his experience of heaven, about the time when God took him into Paradise and spoke directly to him.  Paul has the perfect experience to point to.  He had been to heaven, in the presence of God, heard His voice, been told mysteries, and he could reveal what it was really like. 

But, even though Paul had an amazing story to tell and even though Paul had good reason to tell it, he chose not to talk about heaven.  Instead Paul talks about earth.  His thorn in the flesh.  Imagine that!  That would be like Neil Armstrong (the first man to walk on the moon) going back to a 5th grade science class and talking about the rocks in his back yard.   That would be like going to the Grand Canyon and spending the day taking pictures of the trash in the dumpsters.  It doesn’t make sense.  You have had this amazing experience of the heavenly realms and you want to talk about your earthly troubles?  Why?

Because the Apostle Paul knows something.  Well he knows someone.  Jesus, the crucified Lord.  By dying on the cross, Jesus experiences death and delivers us from it.  By rising from the dead, Jesus defeats Satan and brings life to his people.  Life that cannot be defeated though sin, death, and the devil do the worst they can do to us.  In Jesus Christ, there is nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God.  Jesus took the thorns in the flesh for us, and pours out His life to us.  His death on the cross means forgiveness for all.  His power is made perfect in our weakness.

That’s what Paul knew.  Although he had a struggle, called a thorn in the flesh, He knew that God’s power was made perfect in weakness.

At a conference on Theology and the Arts, an artist once made this visible.  She was painting Psalm 23.  You know, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…He makes me lie down in green pastures…”  But this painting didn’t look like Psalm 23, at least not the opening verses.

As you looked at the canvas, you couldn’t see any shepherd and you couldn’t see any sheep.  There were no green pastures, and no still waters.  Instead, on a large canvas, before an audience, the artist was painting with harsh strokes of black paint.  On one side was a mountain.  Dark and foreboding.  On another side was another mountain.  Darker and more foreboding still.

In between the two mountains was a very small pass, and in that small pass was standing the figure of a very small child.  A child abandoned in the darkness.  It was hard to keep looking.  But as you watched, you began to see that the child was not alone.  Within the dark figure of the mountain, what formerly had looked like ledges, now appeared to be a hand, leading the child.  And what had previously looked like a rock formation jutting into the sky began now to look like the curve of a shepherd’s crook.  In the darkness of this valley of the shadow of death, appeared a figure.  It was a shepherd.  Leading a child.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  That was the verse that the artist was focusing on.

After the painting, the artist talked about her work.  Psalm 23 was one of her favorite Psalms she said.  “But I was always struck by what I didn’t think belonged in the psalm.  You start with such a wonderful vision of green pastures and peaceful waters, but then you come across the valley of the shadow of death.  Why does that have to be there?

But then one day I noticed something.  When you read the psalm, you start out with a shepherd and sheep.  When you get to that part of the psalm… when you get to the “valley of the shadow of death” suddenly this shepherd is talked about in a personal way.  Psalm 23 doesn’t say, I will fear no evil for the shepherd is with me.”  No, it says, for you are with me.  Suddenly the shepherd is “You”.  God becomes personal in the midst of suffering.  That’s what it’s like in that psalm and that’s what it has been like in my life.

This is what the Apostle Paul is teaching us today.  God makes His strength known in weakness.  God’s power is perfected in weakness.  It comes to its fulfillment there.  You see, God’s power is not for Himself alone.  It’s a power that is used in love for the sake of His people.  When you reach the point where there is nothing left to hold on to you discover that there is someone holding on to you.

That’s why Paul refuses to talk about his glorious visions and instead focuses on his gracious experience of God who works in the midst of suffering, in the midst of thorns.  Rather than inviting us to think with him about the rich realm of paradise that he saw in his vision, Paul asks us to see instead the wonderful realm of grace that he constantly experiences in daily life in this world.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself in love for His people on the cross, rose from the dead and now rules, and comes again and again into our daily lives to make His wonderful love known there.  Just as Jesus reveals Himself to His disciples by showing them His wounds, He continues to reveal Himself to His people today in places of weakness and suffering where His love is at work.

Eight years ago, I received a phone call from my sister on Valentine’s Day.  It was not a normal Valentine’s Day kind of phone call.  You see, my mother hadn’t been feeling very well lately.  She had trouble eating, and she was having a lot of pain in her back.  She told her doctor about it, and after a couple of weeks of treatment with medication and a few other things, the doctor had decided to do an exploratory surgery.  But, when he looked, it confirmed his worst suspicions. My sister told me, “Mom has pancreatic cancer.  It’s stage 4.  And the doctor says has two to three months to live.   It was like a punch to the gut. Talk about a thorn in the flesh!

I remember praying, “Lord, take it away!”  Please! Please! Please!  I don’t really remember a whole lot more about the rest of the day, just a lot of tears, as I told the rest of my church leaders and my immediate family.  But, God provided in all of it.  In our prayers in our family, and in my congregation, there was a profound outpouring of love for each other.

I made it my goal, and my family and my congregation were very understanding of it, to make the six hour visit to see my mother each week for the next months—just even for one day, to give my dad a break as he was the major caregiver.  So each week I took the drive up from Chicago to Bay City.  There were a lot of prayers on the way up.  Lots of conversations asking God, why.  But, God always provided.  I felt so weak and my mom was far more weak each time.  But, God provided His strength. 

We had a lot of laughs, and some tears too, in those three or four months.  But, you know what, God’s grace was totally sufficient!  We all had some deep heart to heart talks.  God brought our family, my brother, and my sisters and our families, far closer than even ever before.  And although there was no earthly cure for my mom, God brought about the greatest heavenly cure, as He took her, through faith in Jesus into His heavenly arms.  God’s grace was made perfect in weakness.

And now today we have come to the 4th Sunday of Lent.  Here we especially remember the passion of our Lord Jesus as He made His way to the cross.  Here we see God’s strength in the midst of weakness.  Hope in the midst of heartache.  Help in the midst of despair.  Here we receive once again the assurance of God’s love and the knowledge that no matter how great our needs and no matter how strong our suffering, God’s grace is greater and His love is stronger.  For God makes His strength known in our weakness.

God grant it…

3/4/18 "God's Will and My Expectations"

“Has the potter no right over the clay?...Romans 9:21; Lent 3; March 4, 2018

Grace…

Nestled among towering spruce and fir trees at the base of the Chugach Mountains in south-central Alaska sits a rustic cabin.  It’s a modest structure.  Not really much to look at.  Those who fish in the nearby salmon stream probably don’t even know it’s there.

From the outside, this cabin looks like any other.  But, inside, it’s different.  It isn’t filled with hunting or fishing gear.  It’s not furnished for the weekend explorer.  It is the home of a potter.  Peter Brondz is his name, and he’s been throwing pottery in this cabin for more than three decades.

There are many different types of potters who produce many different types of pottery.  Some craft fine and fragile works of art.  Other potters are interested in durability and functionality.  That’s the type of potter, Peter Brondz is.  But, make no mistake.  Peter Brondz is an artist.  His pottery is not merely functional.  It’s also beautiful.

Imagine a man in his late 50’s pulling up his stool to his well used pottery wheel.  Before him sits a lump of clay.  He sits there for a time, quiet and thoughtful, looking at the shapeless lump.  Gradually he begins to see something. 

Notice his hands.  They are strong, yet gentle.  Steady and deliberate.  Scraps from yesterday’s work still hide under his nails.  He’s thrown thousands of pots with those hands.  They know how much pressure to apply, and when to let up.  With those careful and caring hands, the potter picks up the clay.  The wheel begins to spin, and the shapeless lump is transformed into something beautifully useful.

It’s an inspiring image really.  A reminder that behind every piece of pottery there is a caring and capable craftsman.  In the ninth chapter of his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul calls to mind just such an image.  It’s an image of the potter and his clay.  But, Paul doesn’t use this image to inspire.  No, he calls to mind the potter and his clay to actually rebuke.

Paul wasn’t the first to use this image.  Potters and clay have been around a long time.  The prophets of the Old Testament weren’t afraid of using them as illustrations.  Isaiah describes a potter and his clay to emphasize our accountability to God (Is. 29:16); to call out those who question the ways to God (45:9) and to highlight our complete reliance upon God (64:8).

Jeremiah in our Old Testament lesson takes it a step farther.  There God told the prophet to visit a potter’s house.  As the potter spins at his wheel, Jeremiah watched him work a piece of clay that isn’t turning out right.  So, the potter changes His plan, starts over, and reshapes the clay into something entirely different.  This led Jeremiah to speak.  The people of Israel he said are as dependent on God as clay is in the hands of the potter.

When Paul describes our relationship to God with this image in Romans, he continues a long tradition of prophetic vision.  God is the potter.  He’s in charge.  He decides what to make and how to make it.  And we?  Well, we’re the clay!  Now this is a fine image to us, as long as God does what we think He should be doing.  But, when He doesn’t, this image is really distressing. 

Some of the Roman Christians were looking at the ways of God and they took offense.  God isn’t fair they claimed.  And they found plenty of examples.  Take Pharaoh, for instance.  God used Pharaoh to demonstrate His power and glory, but then He punished the same Pharaoh, as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.  How is that fair they wondered?  Or consider Jacob and Esau.  Jacob was a liar and a thief, a conniving little brother.  And yet God gave him the blessing that belonged to his older brother.  Where’s the justice? 

The Christians in Rome looked at the ways of God and came to their conclusion;  God isn’t fair they thought.  But God didn’t take kindly to this criticism.  (He says)“Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”  Has the potter no right over the clay?”

To those who presume to know better than God the image of the potter and the clay is a sharp and stinging rebuke.  God is in charge.  We are not.  It’s that simple.  We have no more right to object than the clay in the hands of a potter. And yet, there is something else in this image.  Something more than a rebuke.  Something deep in the heart of the potter that led him to create each piece of pottery in the first place.

Surrounding and overshadowing the rebuke in Romans 9 is a heart of mercy.  “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,” God says.  “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Rom. 9:15) It all depends, Paul says, “not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

Out of mercy, God made this world and everything therein.  Out of mercy, God came to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob with a promise to bless the nations.  Out of mercy God remained with His people even when they rebelled against Him. 

The story of God’s dealing with human beings is a story of overwhelming and recurring mercy.  It’s the story of a potter who mercifully chooses to turn shapeless lumps of clay into beautiful and useful works of art. And it’s most obvious when we look at His hands. The hand of Jesus, I mean.  Jesus hands were strong, but gentle.  Steady and deliberate.  They were the hands of a carpenter, a craftsman.  But more than a craftsman.

Jesus lifted His hands above the storm, and the storm dissolved.  He placed His hands on the lepers and the lame, and their health was restored.  Jesus reached out His hands to the little girl who died, and He lifted her from the bed.  With His hands Jesus blessed the children.  With His hands Jesus welcomed sinners.  With His hands Jesus broke the bread and gave us Himself.

And Jesus was not afraid of getting those hands bloody either.  Those same hands healed the cut off and bloody ear of the high priest’s servant, just before those same hands were arrested and tied up.  Those same hands were then nailed to a cross and put in a tomb.  Three days later, those hands calmed the fears of His disciples, nail holes and all.  God the potter was unwilling to give up on the clay that would not turn out right, and so He sent forth His Son to reshape and reform and recreate us.

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (God says)  God the potter had mercy on the Romans, and dear brothers and sisters, He has had mercy on you and me.  Thy will be done.  We say those words every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  And I think we mean them.  As children speak to their dear Father, we trust that God knows best.

But there are times—in our lives, yours and mine when God’s will doesn’t seem right to us.  At times like that this image of a potter and His clay is hard to accept.  But, it’s precisely then that the image of God as a potter is so comforting.

God the potter makes beautiful pieces of pottery.  Beautiful and useful works of art.  Every single one of us is the evidence.  Our very life, our presence here this morning, our coming together as a body of Christ—it’s all evidence that God the potter has been at work.  He has shaped us and formed us to this point and he continues to shape and form us according to His will.

What is His will?  In a word, it’s mercy.  Mercy to us, and mercy through us. God’s will begins with mercy to us.  Through His Son and in His Spirit, God comes to us in mercy.  He comes to forgive our sin, and receives our prayers.  He brings us into His presence and seats us at His table. We haven’t turned out right in so many ways, and yet God the potter does not throw us to the scrap heap.  He takes us again in His strong and gentle hands, and in mercy He steadily and deliberately recreates us.

But, His mercy doesn’t stop when it comes to us.  It continues as He has compassion on others through us.  That’s actually why He continues shaping and reshaping us throughout our lives-so that we might be useful to others.  And sometimes He uses us in unexpected ways.

Her name was Pam.  By the world’s standards, Pam was no longer beautiful.  Neither would some call her useful.  Four decades of battling cancer had left her a shadow of her former self.  For the last ten years of her life she was confined to the hospital or the home in great pain and greater weakness.  Finally at the age of 67 (and probably the same weight) Pam died.

She was fairly new to her congregation, so it was a bit of a surprise when the sanctuary was packed for her funeral.  It wasn’t that she had so many friends.  Indeed, many of the people at her funeral had never even met her.  But, they had heard from her.

You see, Pam refused to let her pain and confinement prevent her from caring for others.  Because she couldn’t get out to visit anyone, Pam had made it her mission in life to write notes. Not emails.  Not texts.  Not posts on Facebook.  But, notes.  The old fashioned kind that require an envelope and a stamp.  She would send cards and letters of encouragement, written carefully and lovingly (and painstakingly) by hand.

If you were friends with her children, or if you worked with her husband, or if you joined her congregation, Pam would write to you.  The notes must have taken hours to write.  But with those shaky letters she sent out messages of hope and joy and love that she found in Jesus.  That was her ministry. 

During the sermon at her funeral, the pastor described a note he had received from Pam.  He talked about how her joyful words in difficult circumstances had inspired him in his ministry.  Then he asked the congregation if they had received one of her encouraging notes.  Almost every hand in the sanctuary went up.  The pastor was clearly surprised and visibly moved.  He had no idea how useful she had been as a vessel of God’s mercy.

Often times, life does not go the way we expect.  We face difficulties and disappointments, hurts and heartaches.  As a result, our plans and ambitions fall far short.  At such times, it seems that God’s will is either left undone, or has left us completely out.  But, make no mistake, brothers and sisters in Christ, God is a careful and caring potter.  He shapes us and molds us according to his merciful and compassionate will.  He makes us and remakes us, again and again—even here today—into beautiful and useful instruments of his mercy.

Even in the midst of our confusion that wants to call God unfair.  He remains the potter:  the faithful, compassionate, and merciful potter, who shapes in you again and again renewed trust in His will and mercy.  He won’t give up molding us.  Because we are His dearly loved clay—the beautifully useful work of His hands.

Today, as we close…

God grant it…

 

 

2/25/18 "God's Will Not My Will"

“And going a little farther, He fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, not as I will, but Yours be done.’” Matthew 26:39; Lent 2; Feb. 25, 2018

Grace…

Nevertheless, thy will be done.  It’s a beautiful, but dreadful prayer.  “Thy will be done” is the most freeing, enslaving, constricting, liberating prayer we can pray.  “Thy will be done,” brings both anxiety and peace.

On the one hand, it’s incredibly freeing to be released of the burden of running the world.  But on the other hand, it can be terribly frightening when you realize you’re not the one running the world.  Nevertheless, thy will be done, all depends upon the one to whom you’re saying it.

Because what if you’re Rapunzel up in her tower?  How many of you have ever seen “Tangled”?  The Disney movie from back in 2010.  The infant Princess Rapunzel is stolen by the wicked Gothel and is imprisoned in a tall tower.

As the infant grows, the wicked woman claims to be Rapunzel’s mother.  She claims to be protecting her and providing for her.  But the reality is that Gothel is keeping Rapunzel locked up for her own selfish purposes.  Poor Rapunzel doesn’t know any better:  she is deceived and kept in the dark.

And when Rapunzel asks about leaving her tower, she gets a lesson from her “mother” in the form of a song. 

“Trust me pet, Mother knows best.; Mother knows best; listen to your mother

It’s a scary world out there.”; Mother’s right here,

Mother will protect you; Darling here’s what I suggest:

Skip the drama, stay with mama; Mama knows best!”

Actually, it’s a pretty catchy song, it stays with you.  And in principle, I agree with the premise.  Kids should trust their mother, they should trust their father.  That’s a good thing.  But not in this case.  Gothel is not to be trusted.  She’s selfish.  She’s deceptive.  Gothel’s desire, her plan, her will is not for Rapunzel’s good.  And Rapunzel has no way of knowing it.  Gothel ends the song with a treacherous kiss and a veiled threat: “I love you very much dear…Don forget it.  You’ll regret it.  Mother knows best.”

It makes my skin crawl to think of such a wicked woman pretending to love and protect—pretending to be a mother—when she is only keeping an innocent and somewhat naïve girl captive. 

So, it’s scary to entrust ourselves to someone else’s will, because it might not be for our good.  But, even when we do trust someone else’s will, it’s more about trusting the person rather than knowing all of the particular details of their plan.

It’s like when your young kids are arguing in the other room.  By the time you get there, the toy is broken, both kids are crying, neither one claims it’s their fault. The other was entirely wrong and both want you to deliver swift justice against the other. 

You separate the kids.  You talk to them one on one.  You ask what happened.  You hear one side of the partial truth and blatant exaggerations.  And then you offer the resolution.  Without getting into the details you say, “I’ll take care of it.”  And then the debate begins…

But, are you going to make them pay for it?  “I’ll take care of it.”  But, it was their fault, they should be punished.  You don’t have to worry about it.  I’ll take care of it.  I’m not worried, I just want to know.  Do you trust me?  Yeah, but… Then you can trust me.  I’ll take care of it.”

And in that moment, you don’t need to convince your child that your proposed punishment is the most logical, or that the steps you’ll take to correct the situation are based on the soundest reasoning.  You don’t need to convince them to buy into your plan; you don’t even need to share a single detail about what you intend to do.  In that moment, it’s not about the particulars of your plan.  It’s about a relationship in which a child can trust their parent.  When we are able to say to someone else, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” it’s more about trusting the person rather than their particular plan. 

What if we looked at God’s will with trust like that?  There are situations where I don’t have all the information.  I’m kind of like one of those kids with a broken toy: when someone else offends me; and things don’t go my way, and I want to cry, “it’s not fair!”

But, if God is a loving parent who can be trusted, then maybe I don’t have to demand that things go my way.  Maybe trust isn’t naïve if it is placed in a trustworthy person.  If God knows me and loves me, and knows the whole story in a way I cannot, maybe I don’t have to have all of the details of the plan as long as I know, “He’ll take care of it.”

There are then, two very different ways of seeing God:  it could be that God is like Gothel, Rapunzel’s evil captor.  Maybe our prayers fall on deaf ears, and the selfish people who pretend to speak for a pretend god are manipulating our naïve trust.

But, maybe, just maybe there is a God and He is loving and His will for us is good, even when we don’t understand it.  And maybe this good God deserves all the trust we can muster.  Nothing in this world is as important as deciding between those two radically different views of God.  So, how do you decide?

If you look to people, you run the risk of being taken in or disappointed when they turn out to be self-centered and sinful like the rest of us.  If you look to circumstances, your view can change drastically based on whether you are getting what you define as a good life or a life of suffering.

Looking at other people or at your experience can always leave you questioning, am I being taken in?  Is this all a hoax?  So instead, look at Jesus in the Garden.  Here again the Gethsemane prayer.  Jesus has been betrayed by the sinful religious leaders of His day.  The suffering Jesus faces would make anyone question the reality of a good God. 

But Jesus prays a prayer of faithfulness, a prayer that helps us enter into His decision to see God not as a distant, selfish, manipulative God, but instead as a Father to be trusted even in the face of things we don’t understand.

Jesus takes a deep breath, exhales with a sigh, looks up to heaven and with a confident nod He says, “Nevertheless.” He’s just made His bold request to the Father.  “Let this cup pass from me.” Father, you’ve prepared a table before me.  You’ve filled this cup.  You’ve poured your wrath into this cup and the sight of it is awful.  Let this cup pass from me.

The cup before Jesus contained God’s burning anger against everything rotten in your life,  All of the sin of this world of all time.  And if Jesus drinks that cup, it will kill Him.  And so He prays.  He prays for another way.  Take this cup away!  But, He also prays, “Nevertheless.”  It’s the pivotal moment in this powerful prayer.  “Nevertheless”.

In that one word, Jesus not only prays to the Father, but He proclaims to you and to me.  In that one word, nevertheless, Jesus declares to us:  God is a good Father.  You can trust Him.  His good will is life and love for His children.  His good will is life and love for you!

God is a good good Father.  You can trust Him.  Even when your situation seems full of darkness and suffering.  God is going to take care of it in ways beyond your understanding.

And so Jesus prays “Neverthelessl”  Jesus drinks the cup down to the last drop.  With innocent trust, He commends Himself into the Father’s hands, into God’s will,  with His final breath—though that final breath turned out to be not so final in the end. 

Because God’s good and gracious will is life and love for His children.  Beginning with His only begotten Son, God began a new work that would be for all His children:  resurrection, New Creation life.

As we live that life of faith today, even before our final resurrection, we lean into the “Nevertheless” of Jesus prayer.  Seeing Jesus trust His Father, helps us trust our heavenly Father too.  We cling to the will of God even when it is hard to see. 

God help me to do well on this assignment.  Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.  God, I need a better job.  Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.  God help me make friends.  Nevertheless not as I will, but as you will. 

God bring more people to our church.  Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.  God fix what’s broken in our nation.  Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.  God show this person their fault.  Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will. 

God help us conceive a child.  Nevertheless not as I will but as you will.  God take this cancer from me.  Nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus points us to His good Father, a Father whose good and gracious will can be trusted, even when we can’t see the big picture. And so we pray, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will be done!”

 

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