Sunday, June 29, 2014

Welcome! Come, All You Who Thirst!

Who would ever think that a cool, refreshing bottle of water would be just the thing to offer someone in welcome? This bottle is nothing special. It’s just a thin plastic bottle filled with clean, filtered water. And yet there are times I would gladly have paid money for one cool bottle of water.
On the farm, in the days before nitrogen fertilizers and herbicides and insecticides, I would get off the tractor and drink straight from the end of the tile line. The water was so cold and so good and so refreshing. It was way better than the water in my thermos jug sitting beside my feet on the tractor.
Living here in Iowa we always have a well of water to draw from. We don’t worry about the wells running dry very often. Our well on the farm never was in danger of running out of water, even on the driest, hottest summer day.
Yet, I’ve read that only 1 in 6 people can count on having water so readily available to them. Over 80 per cent of the people in the world would give anything to have just a little of the water we have available at our fingertips.
One small glass of water seems so insignificant and yet it can mean so much to someone somewhere else in the world.
So, when Jesus says, “…if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward,” you can begin to understand what it means to offer hospitality to these little ones he’s talking about. 
Jesus is saying that, to him and to God, it’s important that we help those who’re without resources, even if it’s just a bottle of water.  But, I think, there’s more to it.
I think he’s telling us how extremely important it is to be hospitable. By helping someone, you and I may very well be welcoming angels into our midst. But we don’t do it just to have angels be our guests, we do it because we care and we can’t bear to see someone die of thirst. It doesn’t seem like much but to the one whose tongue is parched it’s a lifesaver.
So, let’s take this one step further. What do we do for the person who’s thirsting for righteousness? How do we quench that thirst? It’s probably going to take more than a cup of water.
For example, what about the person who’s the next thing to being homeless who’s being taken advantage of because they suffer from some form of mental illness? Think how important one small act of kindness is to them. Maybe 5 minutes of our time to listen to their woes. Maybe just a kind word or a hug or cup of coffee is all they need to lift their spirits. And they may just give you an opportunity to tell them about Jesus and God’s love.
Think about what it does for you when someone pops over with a fresh, homemade strawberry pie with whipped cream on top. You may have been having the worst day but the sight of that person and that pie made you forget about, at least for a while, all that had gone wrong with your day.
What’s it feel like when someone comes over and puts an arm around your shoulder and tells you how much they love you? That’s what a cup of cool water is like for that one who’s dying of thirst. That’s what it feels like to someone whose days hold no joy when someone tells them they love them and couldn’t imagine life without them. That’s what it feels like when they learn that God loves them that much too!
Maybe they’ve never had anyone tell them that, ever! Can you imagine never being told you are worth something? Then to have someone quench your thirst for love with the story of God’s love for the world through Jesus Christ. Imagine what that must be like.
My friends, we’re blessed and our God begs us to share what we have with those who have nothing. As far out as this might seem to you imagine yourself in their spot. Imagine what it would feel like to you to have someone share a little of what they have with you when you have nothing.
It’s kind of like having someone reach out their hand to save you when you’re drowning and you just know there’s no way you can save yourself. Just one act of kindness and hospitality can do that same thing.

Thanks be to God for reaching out to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Messages From Creation...From God

The story from Genesis is one of many stories about the beginning of this world we live in…and on. Every culture has a similar story that explains how everything we can see came into being.
These verses from Genesis are the words our ancestors used to make some sense of where they were, how they got there, and what creation was telling them. Yes, they received messages from God’s creation and the Genesis story helped them make sense of all that creation was speaking to them.
In the creation story we discover that God didn’t, and still doesn’t, work alone. Since last Sunday was Trinity Sunday it’s good for us to remember that God was helped by the Holy Spirit who was brooding over the watery abyss like a mother hen. We don’t read about the second member of the Trinity until John wrote his gospel and said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In the 26th verse we hear God say, “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes the Earth itself…(Genesis 1:26..The Message)” I don’t understand how God does it all but this verse lets me know that God is not just one-dimensional but multi-layered, multi-dimensional, with the ability to design, create, and care for all this.
Throughout the story of creation we see how important relationships are. God had a relationship with all that he was creating. It was God’s baby. That explains the brooding mother hen. Everything God made had a reason for being, fruits, vegetables, trees, cows, sheep, birds, fish, and human beings. The care and nurture for the earth and everything on it was given to the human race. The story is the first example of human beings being co-workers with the Creator.
Creation, earth, plants, animals, birds, fish, humans all living together, intertwined, linked together, caring for and supporting the other. When one suffers all sense that things aren’t as they should be.
This world, our world, and our governments are trying to make sense of the changes in the extremes of weather, storms, heat, cold, drought, ice caps melting, global warming, the deterioration of the ozone layer, etc.
In the last few years it’s been noticed that honey bees are dying. This worries folks because without bees many of our plants cannot be pollinated. The earth, creation needs bees. Without their work creation is out of balance.
God created this world, the universe, the things we can see and the things we can’t. Everything was created to be in harmony, to be in balance. Things today are getting out of sync and scientists are trying to explain to us what’s going on, how and why did it happen, and is there anything we can do about it.
Creation is speaking to us and, I wonder, is anyone listening? It was easier for me to hear when I lived on the farm. It was easy to listen when my ear was leaning into a cow’s flank getting the milk that nourished my family. I could hear creation speak to me as I rode the tractor cultivating corn and beans, mowing and raking and baling the alfalfa. I heard creation speak in the wind blowing through the branches of the Chinese elm trees in the windbreak.
But now I’m living in a small town and it’s more difficult to hear today. That may be why Linda and I have our vegetable and flower gardens. So we can say in touch with creation. That may be why I ride my bicycle in the country, riding in the wind and the sun and listening for creation’s voice.
How is creation speaking to you? How is God speaking to you? As I write I’m beginning to understand that in order to hear, to listen, we must make a conscious effort. If we’re having trouble catching all the words then we need to turn down the volume of the world and get some place where we can listen and hear and think. It has to be important for us to hear the words creation, and God, is speaking to us.
So, why is this important to you and me and what should we be doing? I believe the answers are in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and Jesus’ Great Commission to the disciples.
Paul’s words were to examine, to test, “…Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” Jesus said he had the authority to commission the disciples to go into the world, to all nations, make disciples, and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They were to teach them everything he commanded and that was to love God and love their neighbors. And they would find that the world would hate them for doing these things.
Thanks be to God they listened to the Son and the Spirit otherwise we wouldn’t be hearing the lessons and stories today.
So, my friends, God is not only speaking to us in the Word from the Bible but also through his creation. My prayer, my hope, is that you will take time daily to listen to what God is speaking to you and me through his creation.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.  

You Have Value

One quick question before I begin talking about today’s scripture, how many of you heard creation speak to you this last week? The Old Testament lesson from last Sunday was Genesis 1 about the beginning of this world that we take so much for granted.
I believe that God speaks to us in his creation. Think about how you encounter creation every day. Have you ever thought that only God could have made something as intricate and fragile as a butterfly wing? Have you ever just sat outside and listened to the birds singing in the morning or the wind blowing through the trees in the evening? Have you ever talked with God then and had his answer come to you in a leave or a stick or an ant or a garter snake?
Sometimes we’re too busy to realize or understand how we’re connected to this world that surrounds us, the birds, the corn fields, the bees, dogs, our vegetable and flower gardens, and that they’re all speaking to us.
Today’s lesson from the gospel of Matthew reminds us that God is speaking to us, telling us the message we’re to share with everyone we meet. Maybe we’re deaf to creation’s voice but God is still speaking to us. He may talk to us in our work; he may whisper to us in our sleep; he may have a message for us as we enjoy our leisure time.
However God communicates with us the message is the same as it was for the disciples, “Don’t be afraid.” You are my child and I’ll protect you.
That I get. The part that used to trouble me the most was the last part of the lesson for today. Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”
That just doesn’t sound like the Jesus who told us that God is love and told us to love our neighbors. That just doesn’t sound right.
My friends, what I believe Jesus is saying is we must be willing to put him over and above everything, even our families.
This may very well be the hardest thing Jesus asks his disciples to do. Love him more than our spouses, more than our children, more than our grandchildren, more than our retirement savings, more than anything. Jesus comes first.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says. When he says he’s come to turn us against our parents, our spouses, even our children that scares us. It makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm and wiggle in our pews.
Jesus wants us to lose our lives. That’s hard. In the Message it puts Jesus’ words this way, “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”
That’s hard. Kind of like getting married. Letting go of your wants and focusing on your spouse’s wants. Jesus is telling us he comes before anyone or anything else just as our spouses…and our families…come before our wants and needs.
Jesus is our Lord. He deserves our utmost attention. This is nothing new. God told the Israelites he was a jealous God. He told them to not worship anything else. He commanded them to give him their all, all their love, all their attention, and in return he would take care of them forever.
God reinforced that when he sent his Son, Jesus to teach us, to suffer and die for us, to defeat death for us. God’s love is eternal and all he ask is that we give him first place in our lives.
It’s hard and I fail every day. Every day I start all over by thanking God for giving me another day to try and get it right. And then I pray that in his mercy he will forgive me. And then I move on doing what I hear God telling me to do. And sometimes I don’t hear. Sometimes I don’t listen.
So, what do we do? We keep trying. We keep reading the Word. We keep praying. We open our ears so we can hear God speak. Sometimes our ears are our eyes. Sometimes God speaks to us in all our senses, touch, smell, taste. Friends, we never quit trying to get it right. We never quit asking God for forgiveness, for strength, for courage. We never give up on God because he will never give up on us.

At least that’s where I place my hope and trust. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Last Sunday’s lesson from John’s gospel was Jesus praying for the disciples. His prayer ended with him asking God, the Father to make them one as He, Jesus, and God the Father were one. It was a prayer for unity in diversity.
On this Pentecost Sunday the lesson from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians concerns the gifts each had received via the Holy Spirit.
You see the Corinthian church was having problems. There were factions, different groups of believers, who believed that the gifts they had were the only ones the Holy Spirit gave and any other gifts were worthless, of no value to the Church. They were squabbling over how to do worship, how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, how to be servants living as Jesus asked them to live. They were divided instead of being in union with each other.
So, the question for us today is have we learned anything from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church? Do we value the gifts of our neighbors even if we don’t understand how they could possibly serve God’s Church or understand how the gift could have come from God?  Do we believe that we are all ‘members’ of God’s Church even if we aren’t of the same denomination?
The Church today seems to be struggling with this unity in diversity concept. How can we possibly get it to work? How can we do everything that God seems to be calling us to do? After all we’re getting older and fewer in number.
Paul in his letter used the example of one’s body being made up of different parts all performing a different function, each necessary for the body’s survival yet all working together in perfect harmony, different ‘members’ all working for the common good.
We all know what happens when one of the ‘members’ of the body fails to function as it should. The body suffers.
If Paul were writing the same letter today he might use different examples such as corporations, manufacturing plants, hospitals, schools, city governments, etcetera. Just look at any one of these and we can see what happens when one ‘member’, one part of the body, doesn’t do its job.
I worked in a manufacturing plant for 26 years and I can give you many examples of what happens when one ‘member’ of a team, the body, fails in their assignment. In a manufacturing plant there are hundreds of people working with many different skills and gifts, each one important to the operation of the manufacturing facility and the output of their product. 
If we look no further than this community with its different churches and community groups we know they’re all different yet all providing important services to the people of the community…and to each other.  We’re experiencing what happens when one of the members dies. We all look at each other and wonder who’s going to do the work that they always did.
I didn’t preach here last Sunday but I did preach at Salem Lutheran Homes this week. The Message was about Jesus praying for the disciples…and the fact that he’s still praying…for us, the body of Christ…in Walnut, in the MRV, and in the world. His prayer then was for unity…and it continues to be same prayer for us to be one body, united, as God the Father and Jesus the Son are One in the Holy Spirit.
So, what do we do? How do we get everything back in sync so that God’s work gets accomplished?
The answer, and it sounds so simple, is love. Love and value the gifts of our neighbors. Love ourselves, and our neighbors, and God, as much as we want to be loved ourselves. Love each other, accept each other, stop being critical of each other and just do what God has given you the skills and the gifts to do. Lean on your neighbor when you need to and let your neighbor lean on you when they get tired and worn.
Thank God every morning for another day to get it right and do God’s work right where he has placed you.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Friday, June 6, 2014

He Prayed for Them; He Prays for Us

In the gospel reading from John that we heard just now Jesus prays for his disciples. It sounds as if when he’s praying, talking with God, his Father, he’s right out in the open, in the middle of the room, where they can all hear him.
Have you had someone pray for you? Have you been there when they prayed for you? Were you able to hear the words they used as they prayed and talked with God about you?
It’s a little like standing by a door that’s just barely cracked open, listening as they pray, as they talk with God about you…or me…or a friend. When someone prays for us when we’re with them we get to hear what they think about us. We hear their concerns for us, what they desire for us. It’s a little like eavesdropping. And yet it makes us feel loved to have someone pray to God for us, pray on our behalf, petitioning God for us, in Jesus’ name.
When we hear someone praying, when we hear their words we know or we think we know, what they’re thinking. We can guess about the state of the world or the community or the church or their family by the words they use as they pray.
As you heard the words Jesus prayed what do you think the condition of the disciples was? How were they feeling? Do you think they knew, really knew, that Jesus was going to die? Do you think they knew that he would be buried but would rise again in 3 days? Do you think they had any idea what Jesus meant when he said he was going away but he would be sending an advocate, a counsellor to them?
I think the disciples were worried by Jesus’ words. I think they couldn’t believe that he was talking about dying and rising again. I don’t think they had a clue what he meant about the Advocate, the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit.
But we can tell from Jesus’ prayer that he knew they were going to be in a struggle, that they were going to be scared, they were going to suffer, and so he prayed for them asking God to protect them because they’d been with him all the time and they truly believed that he’d come from the Father, from God. They believed he was the Christ, the Messiah.
Jesus prayed to God that they’d be one. He knew them. He knew they were all different. He knew there was disagreements and conflicts between them. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy for them to tell their story to the world. And so he prayed that God would protect them and make them one.
Doesn’t that make you wonder how Jesus prays for the Church today? Doesn’t it make you wonder how Jesus is praying for you and your family and your friends and your church?
He knows us. He knows the world. He knows we’re being attacked every day by the evil in the world. How is Jesus praying for us right now?
The disciples heard Jesus praying for them. My friends, Jesus hasn’t quit praying. He’s still praying today, for us, for the Church, for the Kingdom.
Why was Jesus praying for the disciples? Why’s he still praying for us today? My friends, he’s praying because he loves us. He’s praying because he desires that we be filled to overflowing with that same love.
So, Jesus is praying right now, for you and for me, for our friends and our enemies. His prayer hasn’t changed.
He’s prays that God’s glory shines through. Shines through his prayers and through us. He’s praying for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven. He’s praying that we, you and I, will be protected from evil and not tempted by the things of this world. Jesus’ prayer for us today is overflowing with his love for us, his compassion, and concern for us. His prayer is the same today as it was back then; it’s the same as John recorded it for us to read.
He loves us; he’s praying for us so we can be with him in glory, in eternal life. Jesus is interceding for us before the Father that we will be one.
Thanks be to God for his loving and forgiving grace. Amen.