“Jesus then asked [his disciples], ‘And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I? Peter gave the answer: ‘You are the Christ, the Messiah.’ Jesus then warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders … be killed, and after three days rise up alive.’ He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it. But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. ‘Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.’” (Mark 8:27b-33; The Message)
At the beginning of St. Mark’s gospel, Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick (v.34, 43-44). But then he says: “Don’t tell anyone about this.” In Mark, Chapter 3, Jesus heals many who are struggling with disease … Again he says, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Further, in St. Mark’s gospel, Chapter 5, Jesus raises a little girl from the dead. And then in Chapter 8, just before our gospel reading for this coming weekend (see above quote), Jesus gives sight to a blind man. And yet AGAIN, he strictly charges the people: “Don’t tell anyone.”
Why not? You’ve got to be kidding?! The long-awaited Messiah is here! I mean, you want to shout it from the roof tops. Cuz you’re as “high” as you’re gonna get! Right? So, it’s like OK to inhale; but don’t exhale?! Earlier this week during one of our Bible Studies at First Lutheran, this same question was asked: “Why in the world did Jesus say, ‘Don’t tell anyone about these things?’” (Biblical scholars refer to this classic question in St. Mark’s gospel as “The Messianic Secret.” Cf. J. Marcus; Mark I:525-527.)
So, why do you suppose this was? Think about it … Why didn’t Jesus want those who were healed or his disciples to holler-it-for-all-the-world-to-hear? … Stay tuned as I’ll be sharing a story from a time when I met the world famous pianist, George Winston at a concert, listen to his piece, “Thanksgiving” … and, well … many of my great expectations were turned upside down. I’ll weave this story together with our gospel text for this weekend at worship. Read Mark 8:27-38. And then bring your questions/expectations as to how Jesus reveals God’s love and salvation to the world, and yes, FOR YOU.
See you at worship.
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked [Jesus], “Why do your disciples not live
according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with their hands defiled?”
And [Jesus] said to [the Pharisees and scribes who were conspiring to destroy him
with their hardness of heart] (Mark 3:5-6)… “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites,
as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.’” [Isaiah. 29:13] … And again Jesus called the people to him, and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.’” (Mark 7:6-8, 14-15; RSV. Emphasis added)
Let us pray:
O God, we’re scrubbing our hands like crazy, and we still can’t get all the dirt off! And look, look at this mess … we’ve scrubbed so hard our hands are starting to bleed! … What a hopeless effort … And where is all this blood coming from? … Yes, we must admit, if we look deep- down and are honest with ourselves and you: we need some open heart surgery. No, not just a by-pass. We’ve tried that one and found ourselves to all be dishonest like the scribes and Pharisees, and even the disciples, like Judas. And no, not just an angioplasty. We’ve tried that one too, and found the balloons of even our best, puffed-up efforts to quickly go flat. And no, it’s not just a matter of exercise and diet. Been there, done that too – the cholesterol of sin is just too thick for any earthly medicine – whether it’s eating more Cheerios or even popping a Crestor tab each day.
And so it is, O God … and so it is … that we come to you again this day with our old hardened hearts, in prayer and thanksgiving at your communion table, leaning into your promise of an ever present love of enfolding forgiveness and hope – signed and sealed by Christ’s cross. Yes, in the spirit of your Psalmist: ‘Create in us a clean heart, O God and renew in us a right spirit’ (Psalm 51:10) – making us to be your cardiac kids … whose hearts beat for the sake of your kingdom come, in the needs of our neighbor, and throughout your creation.” AMEN
May God bless your labor and your Sabbath rest, this Labor Day Weekend.
I’ll see you at the table.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand fast against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)
With this strong exhortation, St. Paul concludes his letter to the Christian congregations in Ephesus, from his prison cell in Rome (ca. 62 A.D.). It also serves to conclude our summer preaching series on this sublime text. So … how does this particular part of St. Paul’s letter (Ephesians 6:10-20), still speak to our hearts and minds today?
For sure, it’s a difficult word. At one level there’s the temptation of simply interpreting it in some militaristic way. The Crusades for example, or sending gunboats to China. … At another level, there’s the temptation of shrugging-it-off as just some mythical, old-fashioned way for interpreting why there’s so much evil and chronic tragedy in human history. “The devil?!” you say. “You mean, Ol’ Scratch?!” … And as well, there’s always the at-bottom-level temptation of interpreting such an exhortation as something “I have to do, all by myself” – taking on the “slings and arrows” of our wild and wooly world as some solitary figure.
So, did you note the use of the word “temptation” in all three levels of these possible levels of interpretation? I think this is the entrée or entry point into what St. Paul is speaking to us, in all the physical and spiritual battles that we experience, each day of our lives. As one of my favorite Christian authors puts it, in his own wily and winsome way: “To take the Devil [and all of his temptations] seriously, is to take seriously the fact that the total evil in the world is greater than the sum of all its parts. Likewise the total evil in yourself. The murdering terrorist who says, ‘I couldn’t help it’ isn’t necessarily kidding.” (Frederick Buechner; Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, p.19) This weekend we’ll look at the rap sheet of the Original Terrorist and our own … together.
John R. Christopherson
As a homework assignment, I would also strongly encourage you to read St. Paul’s entire letter of Ephesians: from Chapter 1 through Chapter 3. Reading the entire context always gives the particular text a fuller sense of understanding and meaning.
Cover Image Credit: Quote Addicts
Alex Clark gives us some insight for weekend worship. Alex is a recent graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and returns to First Lutheran, his home congregation, this weekend to preach in our services Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. He will also be ordained on Sunday at 2 pm in the First Lutheran sanctuary. All are invited to attend! Guests are encouraged to wear red.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed [you] in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose [you]in Christ before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. [For God] has destined [you] to be his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ [~ set free to serve the needs of God’s creation through word and deed].” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
Have you ever heard it? Better yet, even said it? … “Mom! Dad! I’ve been chosen for the team … and I didn’t even have to try out!” What an exhilarating feeling, right?! But oh, how quickly we lose it as we grow older. We get all caught-up in the various “try outs” or matters of being “popular enough” … “wealthy enough” … “good looking enough” … “driving the cool car” … “living in the right neighborhood” … with the “right house.” And if we don’t cut-it in the world’s eyes, then we certainly don’t feel “chosen.” Right? Rather, we feel or think something like: “Well, I guess I’m just a nothin’, a nobody, alone.”
In what most biblical scholars consider to be the most sublime of St. Paul’s writings, this letter to the early church at Ephesus and us (which will be our sermon series over the next six weeks), is encouraging the Christian community to keep their hearts up – because despite all their hardship and persecution, they are still God’s beloved “chosen even before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Echoing the claiming word of God, spoken through the prophet, Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine [always!]” (Isaiah 43:1; 45:3-4; cf. I Thessalonians 1:4). So … how does this Word of God relate to you, or in your life with others in your daily life?
A true story from my life, that I pray Christ’s Spirit will speak to yours … I was about to step into the dying room of the hospital. The patient’s name was Jack. I’d been there too many times before; but the incense of death and the deafening silence of fear that accompanied it, made me catch my breath. Why was I here? He surely hadn’t asked for me. And the nurses just told me how he’d told other chaplains to just leave! But he was all alone … And then, it just came to me. Ready or not, I had to go in. (Read chapter 3 of Henri Nouwen’s little gem: The Wounded Healer.)
As I came near his bed, he looked past me with that vacant thousand-yard-stare of combat fatigue – attacked, persecuted by cancer. Under the sheet stamped University of Chicago Hospitals, he was as rigid as a 6 ft. 4x10 oak plank. The timbers were rotting. His insides hollowed-out by all the dis-ease. And he knew it. Feeling lost and deathly afraid. He was coming to the Terminal of life; but there were no friends or family waiting for him, to say “Welcome Home.” And so, all was silent … “Silent night, unholy night.”
In a stumbling sort of way I mentioned something about my name being Pastor John, the evening Chaplain, and would he like to visit. Again, the silence. I felt very uneasy. Why was I here?! It was certainly not of his choosing. It was not really of my choosing. What was “It”?
I struggled for the right word, a graceful gesture – sensing a growing confidence that if anything, I was only adding to his misery. “Nuts!” I thought. “I’m otta here.” … “Would you like me to pray with you?” I asked. (You know, when in doubt, pray.) Silence. And then it just came to us. …
See you at worship this weekend, as we hear the conclusion of God’s Word for my soon-to-be friend, Jack. And for you!
“Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing [Jesus], he fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, ‘My little girl is at the point of death. Please come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live. And [Jesus] went with him. … While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ And [Jesus] allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But Jesus put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi’; which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. … And [Jesus] told them to give her something to eat” (Mark 5:21-24, 38-43; RSV).
Let us pray: O Lord, we hear the running feet of human desperation in your gospel word for us this day. Not only those of Jairus – whose little girl is at the point of death (well, actually who died!) – but that not-so-quiet-desperation in our own lives that seeks your calming and healing touch … And so, to such dark and desperate spaces and places, that are so out of control and dying, shine your light of life anew upon us – enfolding us with the everlasting hope of your Word-made-flesh in Christ … Yes, the One who identifies with us in such times of trial, and who reminds us again this day from his cross and resurrection, that we are never beyond his saving reach:“Talitha, cumi. My beloved daughter/son arise. Hold out your empty hands. For I am the bread of life given for you, for forgiveness of sin and new life. Take and eat.”
See you at Christ’s table that will be set for you this coming Saturday at Vespers and again come Sunday morning. From the One who gives of his very self for you – through the bread and wine – for forgiveness, for healing, for wholeness, for good, for life anew, for always … Come, take and eat.
“On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took [Jesus] with them in the boat, just as he was. … And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on a cushion; and they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care if we perish?’” (Mark 4:35-38; RSV)
Being several hundred feet below sea-level and surrounded by large wind-swept mountains, Lake Galilee (13 mi. long x 8 mi. across) is still today notorious for severe squalls – which without warming, hit small fishing vessels with tremendous power. (Note Rembrandt’s depiction of this event in his famous painting entitled, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.) But this storm must have been – as my dad would call it – a real “rip-snorter” … Cuz even these swarthy, shiver-me-timbers, rough-n-tumble fishermen were needing a change of underwear!
No! No! No! They hadn’t signed-up for this? … This was no “three hour cruise.” Why was it, that so often, when Jesus bid them to come follow, he’d call them right into the midst of a storm (cf. Mark 4:5; 5:21; 6:45; 8:13)?!… No. Really. Why? … Look at them again, in Rembrandt’s painting. One, two, three, four ... of them scrambling on the lines and mast, praying, pushing on the tiller with all their might. But it wasn’t good enough … They’re scared to death … I mean, if they’d been baseball players they probably wouldn’t have even been able to spit!
They’re trying everything, but nothin’ works. And worse, Jesus is doing nothing! (Seemingly) “I mean, who got us into this big mess in the first place?” Look how they’re staring at Jesus in dis-belief. And it’s here, at this moment, that things become awash. You see, as in times of great trial and fear in our own lives, we too find our words in those of the disciples: “Teacher, don’t you care if we perish?” (Mark 4:38; RSV)
So, where-in-the-world is God in this biblical story? And even more so, what-in-the-world is God doing?! Come join us for worship this weekend, as we look deeper in St. Mark’s and Rembrandt’s paintings together.
Pr. John Christopherson
The famous Swiss psychiatrist, Paul Tournier has observed: ‘Children who are raised-up in a family where they are affirmed and encouraged, and taught God’s unconditional love for them, grow-up, move out into the world, and wherever they go, they feel at home’ (A Place For You).
In our Gospel text for this coming weekend from Mark 3:20-35, Jesus rather stands our “family values” a bit on-edge. This happens at the close of this Gospel story, when some of his family members travel east, some 15 miles from Nazareth to Capernaum (which was Jesus’ home-base when he began his ministry). They come to call him home. Why? Well, because reports were flying around Galilee that Jesus had lost his ever-loving-mind. And so, the crowd that had gathered around Jesus, in the house where he was staying, said: “Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside, looking for you” (Mark 3:32b).
Then comes the zinger, at the heart of it all: “And Jesus replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers [and sisters]?’ (Mark 3:33). Ouch! … Bazinga!! … Right?! Then comes Jesus’ concluding words for us: “And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother’” (Mark 3:34-35).
In our time, and yet …in every time and place, there’s so much stress of high expectations and demands placed upon a family. And indeed, ours is a time packed-full of “shuttling schedules” and “marathons of meetings” and “dead-lines” that create enormous pressure and brokenness in our family systems. I mean, most of us are simply bursting-at-the-seams. So, what is God’s diagnosing Word of judgment here (i.e. the diagnosis of the Law)? But also, what is God’s good news of hope here (i.e. the healing prognosis of the Gospel)? That is to say, what is Jesus’ word here for us, one that creates some “stretch-marks” of grace and new birth (cf. John 3: 3-7): in getting us to see a family that is more than just the biological flesh-and-blood-of-it-all? And finally, what or who is this “second family” (more accurately, “first family”) that Jesus is pointing-out for us? It’s a larger circle of folks who are around us, but also we who are around them, with Jesus in the center (Mark 3:32). It’s a circle that has Jesus’ watery Word at its heart – one that begins at baptism.
“We welcome you into the Lord’s family. We receive you as fellow members
of the body of Christ, children of the same heavenly Father, and workers with us
in the kingdom of God.” (LBW, p.125; emphasis added)
First Lutheran Church's Associate Pastor, Katherine Olson, and Director of Music,
Zachary Brockhoff, offer a sneak-peek at worship this weekend, May 26-27
See you in worship this weekend!
Reflections on Pentecost Sunday
Do you remember as a child (or even as an adult for that matter), when you stood at the front window … nose and hands pressed-up against the glass … your eyes straining, as you look far into the distance … standing there, waiting with deep longing … for a cherished parent or child, some beloved in your life … to return home?
In the middle chapters of St. John’s gospel, beginning around Chapter 13, the allegro (“quickly and bright”) tempo of Jesus’ three-year-ministry now moves to a pace that’s much more of an adagio (“slowly, with great expression”). Let me try to lay out this striking tempo change by having you listen to what New Testament scholars refer to as Jesus’ “farewell discourse” (John 14:1-17:26).
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you … Where I am you cannot come.” (John 13:33)
“I will not leave you desolate; I will come again to you. Yet a little while, and the world will no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:18)
“But when the Advocate [i.e. the Holy Spirit] comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father … he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:26-27)
“A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me.”
In these chapters, that include our gospel text for this Sunday (John 15:27-28; 16:4b-24), Jesus tells his disciples everything they need to know before he leaves them. But where’s he going? … Well, he’s going to die on a cross for one thing. Only that’s not how Jesus tells it. The way he tells it, he’s leaving them in charge while he’s gone. Yes, he’ll be back; but in the meantime, his “To-Do-List” is so long it raises some anxiety in the disciples about how long he’ll be away. “A little while,” Jesus reassures them, “and you will see me.” Well …
Yes, a few of them did … later on … after his resurrection. But … then Jesus was gone again, as he ascended into heaven – bringing our humanity back into unity with God the Father for all eternity (cf. John 17). You see, a little while became a long while. A long while became a life time. Ten years turned into a hundred, then five hundred, then some two thousand. And now, from where we sit today in 2018, it’s been so long … some of us wonder if we’ve not been “left behind” like some characters in a Tim LaHaye novel and orphaned after all.
My friends, is Jesus gone or isn’t he? If he’s gone, then where has he gone? And “what in the world” will we do without him?! (Here’s that anxiety of the disciples I mentioned earlier.) But, if he’s not gone, then where is Jesus exactly? Why doesn’t he show himself? Give us a sign! Right? … This week at worship, as we celebrate the “birthday of the Church” called Pentecost, Jesus will do just that. Just for you!
In the meantime … God’s grace.
Pastor Lars Olson
Jeff Backer, Intern Pastor
“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God,
and he who loves is born of God and knows God.
He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that [God] loved us and sent
his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another,
God abides in us and his loved is perfected in us.” (I John 4:7-12; RSV)
The letter of I John reads like a Christian midrash (interpretation or commentary) upon the Gospel of St. John. What do I mean by this? Look with me for example at I John 4:9: “In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God has sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” Sound familiar?! Yes! It’s John 3:16. Basically stated, I John 4 offers us ethical imperatives based on the theological indicatives of St. John’s Gospel. Look with me at all the ethical imperatives: “Beloved, let us love one another” (v.7, 11). “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (v. 15). “He [or she] who loves God should love [one’s] brother [or sister] also” (v.21). All of this because, why? … Look at the “heart of it all” in I John 4:16. For here’s the foundational, theological indicative: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (cf. also v.9-10)
So, the question prompted for us by our Gospel (i.e. John 15:1-8) and Epistle (i.e. I John 4:7-21) texts is this: “As Christ is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5) … how can we use this fruit or these gifts of love that God has given us … to better care for and be with those people in our lives who are suffering … who are lonely … who are broken and grieving … who are dying?” That is, “How can we, even little ol’ us, be used by our Lord Jesus Christ to touch such lives with God’s love – to serve in Jesus’ image: ‘abiding branches’ (narly as we might be) to reach out from God’s first love, for us in Christ, into a 2nd … 3rd … 4th and 5th gift of love … for our neighbor?” Life changing gifts of Christ’s Spirit through simply Listening, Being Present, or Speaking a Word of Forgiveness or Affirmation.
“Beloved, since God so loved us, let us so love one another” (I John 4:11).
I hope to see you this weekend at either the Saturday Vespers or Sunday morning …
“Now Thomas, one of the twelve [disciples], called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus [had first appeared to the other disciples after his resurrection]. So the other disciples told [Thomas]: ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24-25; RSV)
Dear Friends in Christ: from the Gospel text for this coming Sunday (John 20:19-31), the Sunday now following Easter, and the hope we’ve been given in Christ’s resurrection … now comes the famous caricature of one of Jesus’ beloved disciples: Thomas. Oh, I know we’ve labeled him. Somewhere, in some sermon, someone laid down the label, “Doubting Thomas.” And the name stuck.// And to a degree, yea, it’s true. Thomas did harbor some serious doubt. However … it’s just that there’s a whole lot more here than “meets the eye” … (John 20:29-30; cf. II Corinthians 5:7 and Hebrews 11:1).
At our Saturday night Vespers service (5:00 p.m. in Chapel), as well as our three services this Sunday (8:00; 9:30; and 11:00 p.m. in Main Sanctuary), I’d like for us to first, give careful pause and ponder what we really mean when we talk about “doubt” and how it relates to our Christian faith. And second: to gain a deeper understanding of the “good news” that comes to us on spirited wing in the hearing of the Gospel text from John 20; that is, how our risen Savior, Jesus the Christ enters anew into all the tightly closed places of our trembling and fear-filled hearts, speaking a word of “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 26; cf. Psalm 119:35f; Hebrews 6:18f)
We’ll also be drawing upon a large canvas “study” (by local Ethiopian artist, Eyab Mergia) of Caravaggio’s classic painting, “The Incredulity of Saints Thomas.” As you look at the small posting of it here, let me ask you: “In Carvaggio’s well-known technique of chiaroscuro (Italian meaning, “light-dark”) where in the subject matter of the painting does the light appear to be emanating from?” Moreover, “Is there something striking to you here, how Thomas’ finger is placed in Jesus’ wounded, yet resurrected body?” And finally, “Don’t you find it curious that Thomas’ eyes aren’t fixed on the place where his finger is touching Jesus’ wounded side … but rather, where?” Come and see!
“Eight days later [Jesus’ appeared again to the disciples, but this time Thomas is with them]… Then Jesus said to Thomas: ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered him,
‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:26a, 27-28)