Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Breakfast on the Beach

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 4/10/16 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church--two very flexible congregations which I have the privilege of serving. The text is John 21:1-19.

Something that continues to puzzle scholars-- and the rest of us --is just how dense Jesus' disciples could really be. How is it that they never recognize Jesus in his post-resurrection appearances?  In today’s gospel, this is the THIRD encounter the disciples have had with Jesus since his resurrection—and they still did not realize it was Jesus talking to them.
Peter and the others who had left their nets to follow Jesus, have now returned to fishing, but without success. We don’t know if they were trying to go back to business as usual. Some scholars suggest that.
The men had been fishing all night with no results. Now Jesus comes along and tells them to fish on the right side of the boat. They were probably wondering, what difference does it make what side of the boat we fish on.We’ve been doing this all night! Suddenly, their nets were filled to the breaking point.
Now that the task has been completed, Jesus issues an invitation to breakfast on the beach...but not UNTIL the disciples acknowledged that it was the Lord directing them.
Have you ever noticed how much eating happens when Jesus is around? Throughout the gospels, Jesus not only eats with, but feeds people—and something exciting always happens—whether it’s teaching, feeding the multitudes or preparing his disciples for a future without him.
Jesus never did things in a small way. He was not stingy. He always provided more than what people needed to get by--whether it was healing the sick, feeding the hungry, or the giving of his very life for our salvation.
In the setting of having breakfast on the beach with Jesus, true to form interesting things happen. Jesus has the fire ready and has already started cooking breakfast. Jesus invites his disciples to participate along with him by contributing some of the fish they caught. In joining what they have to what Jesus provides, the disciples are brought back into the fellowship of those who not only see, but also believe.
The only one who had not denied Jesus was John. Everyone else needed to have their relationships with Jesus restored so they could be recommissioned to reach others with the good news of the gospel.
Jesus even spent some one on one time with Peter, who was still stinging with the shame of having denied his Lord three times. Three times Jesus asks Peter to confess his love for him and recommissions him to service.The three confessions in effect wipe away the three denials.
What does this mean for us today at St. Timothy & St. Mark? Our Christian lives follow much the same pattern as that of Jesus' first followers. At baptism, we are commissioned to let our light shine so that others may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. We fall short and lose sight of God’s calling for us. God picks us up, forgives us and recommissions us.
We may become discouraged after trying and trying to witness to others about Jesus. Like the disciples, we have to get back into the boat and follow Jesus’ directions and calling. Following the call of Jesus means putting our nets back into the water even when we have previously had no success.
Jesus not only calls us to try again, but invites us to share what we have with others and gives us meaningful work to do.
We don’t have to be great evangelistic powerhouses. Our lights may be small, but together with the light of Christ, there is more than enough light to dispel the deepest darkness of this world. We show others who Jesus is by letting him live his life through us and we invite people who we meet to share a meal with us.
Jesus showed himself to his disciples by abundantly providing for their needs. In the case of the disciples, it was successful fishing followed by Jesus feeding them.
How can we reach out and feed those in our world? One thing God is calling us all to do is to share the love of Jesus with everyone.When someone shares a need or concern, tell them you’ll be praying for them--and then do it!
We all have gifts that God has blessed us with so that we can be a blessing to others. For the grieving, provide comfort and a listening ear. For those lacking mobility, provide a ride or go shopping for them. For the hungry, contribute food for the community food pantry and maybe even work there. Wherever we see a need, God is pointing the way for us to get involved!
In the early church, “eating together was an occasion for experiencing the presence of Christ” (Fred B. Craddock). The communal aspect of faith strengthened them--and It strengthens us.
We are fed wth the bread and wine of the Eucharist and we are fed as we eat and drink together at fellowship after the service.
Jesus reveals himself to us, nourishes us by Word and sacrament and equips us to be God’s hands and feet. We just have to listen when he points out which side of the boat to fish from.

David Lose,
Brian   Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes at
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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Jesus Breathed on Them

Image result for John 20:19-31

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 4/3 at St.Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The gospel is John 20:19-31.

What comes to mind when you hear today’s gospel? Doubting Thomas, right? After all, it is a story about Thomas and he has a hard time believing, doesn’t he?
One of the greatest lessons I learned in seminary is that in scripture God is always the One who is acting. Look at Jesus’ interaction with Thomas: Is Thomas and his lack of faith the center of the story? 
Or is Jesus and his gracious offer of himself to Thomas the center of the story?

Let’s look at what God is up to in today’s gospel. The gist of today’s text can be boiled down to these three words: breathe, receive and reveal. Jesus BREATHED on his disciples for them to RECEIVE the Holy Spirit so that he could continue to REVEAL himself.

However, before Jesus can breathe on his disciples, he needs to calm them down. They are scared and locked themselves behind closed doors. The disciples were not in any shape to receive Jesus’ breath, so he gives them the promised gift of his peace.

“Peace be with you” means “Peace is yours.” This is more than a mere greeting. It is an impartation of divine peace. Such peace is not a feeling as much as a description of a relationship between people.

This gift of peace was not just to give the disciples the warm fuzzies about their connection with Jesus.It was so they could participate in God’s mission on earth.

Jesus comes to people who are locked in fear, locked in grief and locked in darkness—people like the disciples, people like us, and people in this broken world.

Jesus breathed on his disciples. God’s breath is creative: In the beginning, God’s breath brought life to creation. In the book of Ezekiel, God’s breath brought life to dry bones. Jesus breathes on his disciples so that they receive the Holy Spirit. This is a new kind of creation. Like God’s peace, the gift of the Holy Spirit was not the private possession of Jesus’ first followers.

The purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit was so that Jesus would be revealed. Have you ever noticed during children's time, that when a group of children is asked who did something in scripture, the answer is always, “Jesus.” ? It doesn’t matter if the story is from the Old Testament or the New—whether it’s related to the ark, the 10 commandments, or who gave us the Lord’s prayer. The answer is always, “Jesus.” At least they know they’ll be right some of the time.

Like the children, we need to remember that the answer is always Jesus—and his revelation in our world. We have an amazing message to share— the good news of God revealed in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, is able to break through locked doors of fear AND through the limits of time and space.

Like Thomas, we were not among the disciples who first saw Jesus after his resurrection, but that doesn’t matter. We have God’s word that is written so that we may believe. We are to bear witness to that word of God’s identity revealed in Jesus Christ.

Another way to describe the church’s mission is: by loving one another as Jesus loves—God’s people reveal God to the world. By revealing God to the world—the church makes it possible for the world to enter into relationship with our God of limitless love. Our mission is to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ for which the Holy Spirit has empowered us.

There is a pattern that exists throughout the gospel of John. God sends Jesus. Jesus sends his disciples. Just as Jesus’ commission extends to the disciples, it extends to us as well. God BREATHES on us and we RECEIVE the Holy Spirit so that we may REVEAL Christ to the world.

The revelation of Jesus is ever present, ever new, and ever available because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What Can We Count On?

This is the sermon I preached on Easter Sunday, March 27 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church. The gospel text is Luke 24:1-12. 

I read recently that a seminary professor wrote, “If it's not hard to believe, you're probably not paying attention!” (David Lose). He was talking about the resurrection.

Does that shock us? After all, let’s think about this. For someone to rise from the dead is not an everyday occurrence. We’re not talking about having a near death experience. Nor are we talking about a mere resuscitation of Jesus’ body.

The account of Jesus’ crucifixion makes it clear that those wanting the crucifixion made sure Jesus was good and dead. Jesus was so dead that no one really believed that he would rise--in spite of the numerous times Jesus told this to his followers.

How did the women who were the first to go the empty tomb respond? Did you hear them say, “Praise God! He is risen! I knew this would happen just the way he told us!” When they saw the empty tomb, they were concerned that someone had stolen Jesus' body. The women expected to find a dead body, not an empty tomb. 

Why did the women go to the tomb in the first place? They weren’t waiting for Jesus to come out of the tomb. They went to anoint Jesus’ dead body. This is what friends and family members did for their loved ones who had died.

It wasn’t until they saw the angels that they even remembered that Jesus had talked about his resurrection. Can’t you hear a collective, “Oh...that’s what Jesus was talking about. Now I get it.” The women were psyched. They could not wait to tell the disciples what had happened. The women could barely contain themselves.

So how did these great men of faith respond??? The disciples thought the women were crazy. According to the Greek, they believed the women to be delirious!  So much for our great men of faith! But can you really blame them? There was no precedent for this experience. After all, if the dead don’t stay dead, what can we count on? Isn’t death one of the two great certainties of life?

Resurrection breaks all the rules. The old rules may not have been perfect--but we could count on them. They were predictable. We knew what to expect and what was expected of us. The dead stay dead. But now we have a new paradigm, someone who was dead rising to life? It is certainly unexpected. And doesn’t that makes us uncomfortable?

In typical fashion, Jesus totally upsets the apple cart and our neatly organized lives will never be the same. I say “Thank God.” I need a God that can’t be kept in a box or a tomb. And don’t we all need a God who is too big and unruly to stay put where He’s expected to be?

Because Jesus conquered death in his resurrection death does not have the last word!

This is such a familiar story for most of us that it’s hard to grasp just how shocking this is. If we find it a little hard to believe, that’s ok because we’re in good company. The thought of someone rising from the dead has bothered the most intelligent people in the world for the last 2000 years.

Now that the rules have been broken and our expectations shattered, what do we do? This God who cannot be tamed wants us to do more than just sit back on Easter Sunday and say, “What a nice story. Isn’t that reassuring? This is why I come to church every Easter.”

Surprise--this is NOT why we come to church on Easter. God expects us to tell others and not keep it to ourselves. Do we bemoan the smallness of our congregation and the age of many members? If we are, then let’s do something about it—let’s share the good news.

If we are here just because that’s what we do on Easter or if we think it will give us some heavenly brownie points—then we are missing the whole message of Easter! There is comfort and hope because Jesus conquered death. This life here is not the end of the story. The God who loves us best wants a dynamic, earth shattering relationship with us.

After all, the Christian life is all about relationships--relationship with God, relationship with each other and relationship with our community.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure what you believe or if you believe. Resurrection faith came slowly for the disciples but when it came it changed everything. God has a future in store for each and every one of us. All things are possible for our God who conquered death.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Loving Father

This is the sermon I shared with God's people at St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church on Sunday, 3/6. The text was Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

The setting of today’s gospel consists of three statements: Jesus attracts tax collectors and sinners (v. 1). The Pharisees and scribes criticize his receiving and eating with such people (v. 2) and so Jesus responds with a parable. The issue at hand is table fellowship, breaking bread together and that being the sign and seal of full acceptance. How scandalous!

Let’s think about this in our context. It’s one thing to go someplace, like a soup kitchen, to help needy people, spend some time with them, but would we bring them home with us? Many of those living on the edge struggle with mental illness, addiction issues, hygiene issues and who knows what all else. Could we ever see ourselves opening up to the troubled, when the image of God is so marred in their lives that it is barely recognizable?

The story of the Prodigal Son is very familiar to us. Some of us may relate to the prodigal, while others relate to the elder son or do some of us relate to the father? No matter who you feel a kinship with, the one constant, the one person who is in the beginning, middle and end of the parable is the father.

Wanting to strike out on his own, the younger son asked for his part of the family inheritance. The father divides the inheritance between his two sons. The younger son's actions created estrangement between him and rest of the family.

After going through all of his money, the prodigal came to his senses. The son resolves to return to his own land and father. He realized he no longer had any claim on his father’s goods, and could no longer be called a son.

This is a lot like repentance. One theologian states, “Repentance means learning to say, [‘daddy’] again, putting one’s whole trust in the Heavenly Father, returning to the Father’s house and the Father’s arms” (Joachim Jeremiahs, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus). Neither the prodigal’s pride nor his shame mattered as much as his need to restore his relationship to his father. What's more is the father wanted to restore his love with his child.

The father was so excited that when the son was first in sight, the father ran to him and embraced him. The younger son didn't even have a chance to say to his father what he had so carefully rehearsed.
The Father calls for a robe, a ring and sandals. Why the big deal? This is a son who did not value his family very much, but left them. It was as if the estranged son was dead and is now alive, was lost, but now is found. The father’s celebration conveys God' joy in heaven. It is a picture of sheer grace. No penance is required. It is enough that we have turned back to God. The father has acted with such exuberance that it was worthy of scorn from the neighbors.

When the elder son hears all the hubbub and asked the servants what was going on, responded with anger and refused to join the party. Again the plot is characterized by distance and physical separation, signifying alienation. It’s bad enough that the father received the prodigal back, but to give a lavish celebration? The party is what is so offensive to the elder son. The elder son remained faithful to his dad and did whatever was asked of him.

Once again, the Father seeks his son, this time the older one. The father begged the older son to join the celebration. Here we have a second response to the return of the younger brother. In both responses, the role of the father is featured, with the theme of restoration stated by the father.

Doesn't it make you  wonder if the elder son thought, what does one have to do to get noticed? Does he have to be rebellious, putting the family in disarray? In talking to his father,  the elder son refers to the younger as “...this son of yours” (v. 30). He does not even refer to the prodigal as his brother. This expression has distinctly negative connotations.
When we are told that the prodigal participated in dissolute living, it does not mean that he did anything wrong, in spite of what the elder brother may accuse him of. Dissolute just means luxurious or extravagant living. To say that the younger son was evil or bad misses the point. He simply blew his inheritance in an irresponsible manner. The elder brother’s accusation concerning prostitutes is unproven, but the elder brother accuses his father of committing an injustice by rewarding his younger son’s unrighteous behavior. (Dave Westphal).

The father replied,”... we had to celebrate…” (V. 32). It was necessary. Your brother has returned. The father referring to his younger son as “your brother,” was a reminder to the elder brother that the younger one was still part of the family.

It's interesting to compare the sons' interactions with their father. Each is very different from the other. The father didn’t have to plead with the younger son, but needs to with the older one. Whenever the younger son addresses his father, he always respectfully calls him father. On the other hand, the elder brother refuses to acknowledge his relationship to his brother or to his father, referring to his brother as “that son of yours."

The elder brother had a litany of complaints about which he was angry. How did the father respond to the ways the elder son felt wronged? The father said, “...all that I have is yours.” The effect of this response on the part of the father, was to restore all of the family relationships, defending him against the charge of injustice toward the elder son and justifying the celebration of the younger son’s return. The generosity lavished on the lost son outside the household is now extended to the faithful son within the household. If repentance for the prodigal son means learning to say “Father” again, then repentance for the elder son means learning to say “brother” again. The father’s love knows no limitations.

Who needs a soap opera when we have the Bible? This story has everything in it--love, anger, wasteful living, frayed family relationships and finally restoration of the family. This parable has an ability to resonate with our life experiences. Unfortunately, like the younger son, we learn to demand our rights before we learn to value our relationships. The younger son may have been acting within his rights, but he was destroying his closest relationships in the process.

What does this mean for us today? In The Parable of the Prodigal Son, we are presented with a very hands on approach to ministry with those living on the margins of our society. Will we include them in our lives and rejoice as they become better acquainted with the Savior? If we are to celebrate with God, we must also share in God’s mercy. This means that we join in the celebration when others receive God's grace as well. The parable ends with a decision each of us must make. Will we go in to the party of the redeemed or will we stay out in the cold and be miserable?    Amen!


Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation: Luke
R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, Luke