“A Tale of Two Trees” (Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17; 3:1-24)

Midweek Lenten Evening Prayer
Wednesday, February 25, 2015

“A Tale of Two Trees” (Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17; 3:1-24)

This is “A Tale of Two Trees.” Oh, there were a whole bunch of other trees besides, lots of them, but this story will focus on just two.

Our story begins back in the garden, the garden of Eden, that is. There the Lord God had formed the man from the dust of the earth, and he gave the man the authority and the responsibility to take care of it. The Lord was very generous toward the man, withholding nothing, providing him with everything he needed, in abundance. There were lots and lots of trees in this garden, all sorts of trees that were nice to look at and good for food.

Now there were two trees in the middle of the garden that were especially important. One was called the tree of life, and the other was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These are the two trees our tale is focused on.

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Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 9:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Transfiguration: The Bridge between Epiphany and Lent” (Mark 9:2-9)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Sunday, February 15, 2015

“The Transfiguration: The Bridge between Epiphany and Lent” (Mark 9:2-9)

Today is the Festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, remembering that day when our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured, that is, his appearance was changed, up on a mountain. This was a key event in our Lord’s life, and it marked a turning point, a pivot point, in his ministry. So, likewise, does this festival mark a turning point, a pivot point, in the church year calendar. Transfiguration comes at the end of the Epiphany season, just a few days before the beginning of Lent. The church year mirrors the gospel narrative.

And so today, what I want to say to you is that this Feast of the Transfiguration serves as “The Bridge between Epiphany and Lent,” and perfectly so. You will see how the placement of the Transfiguration event in the context of the gospel narrative, as its pivot point–and therefore also the placement of this Transfiguration festival, in the context of the church year, as the bridge between Epiphany and Lent–how all of this works for you, to strengthen your faith in the Christ who is transfigured.

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Published in: on February 15, 2015 at 2:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Silas: Fellow Worker, Faithful Brother” (Acts 16:19b-40)

Commemoration of Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul
Tuesday, February 10, 2015

“Silas: Fellow Worker, Faithful Brother” (Acts 16:19b-40)

Back in 1969, the first moon landing took place, Apollo 11, and the first man set foot on the moon. Most of you probably know his name, Neil Armstrong. “One small step,” and all that. There was another man on that trip who was the second man to step on the moon, and some of you may know his name, too. That’s right, Buzz Aldrin, the #2 guy on the first trip to the moon. But that was the first trip. Later that year there was another trip to the moon, Apollo 12, and even if I gave you the name of the lead astronaut, Pete Conrad, I bet you no one here could come up with the name of the second man. Give up? Alan Bean. Alan Bean was the #2 guy on the second trip. But no one remembers him.

The saint we are commemorating today, St. Silas, is the Alan Bean of the Book of Acts. Because, like Astronaut Bean, Silas was the #2 guy on the second trip–in this case, the second missionary journey of Paul. Of course, we all know about Paul. And most of us know something about Barnabas, the #2 guy on the first trip. But the #2 guy on the second trip–now that’s getting a little fuzzy. We don’t know too much about Silas, the second “second banana.”

Now the “official” description you get for the Commemoration of Silas, as you find it in the hymnal, is, “Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul.” “Fellow worker”: Hey, that sounds like all of us! For we are all fellow workers, aren’t we, in one form or another, pastor and people alike, in a lead role or a supporting role–all of us, fellow workers in the church’s great mission of spreading the gospel. Silas, then, may have something to say to us today.

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Published in: on February 10, 2015 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Jesus Comes Today with Healing” (Mark 1:29-39)

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 8, 2015

“Jesus Comes Today with Healing” (Mark 1:29-39)

Well, look at all those people Jesus healed! On a Sabbath afternoon, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and Jesus healed her. And then that evening at sundown, after the Sabbath was ended, people brought a whole bunch of sick people to Jesus, and he healed them. So it didn’t matter if you had a Saturday Day Fever or a Saturday Night Fever, Jesus could heal you.

“They brought to him all who were sick,” our text says, “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases.” Boy, it would have been nice to have been around back then, huh? You got an achy back? Go see Jesus. Bronchitis, allergies? Run down and see Jesus. He’ll heal you. Yeah, this must have been some kind of health care system! Better than Obamacare. It’s Jesuscare, and he won’t raise your premiums.

So we may wish to have been around back then. Get in on some of those healings. And really, why can’t we have some of that today? What, did Jesus go out of the healing business? Close up shop? What are we, chopped liver? Don’t we rate as much as those folks back then? “Hey, I’ve got a friend with cancer. She could use a healing just about now. What about us, Jesus?”

Yes, what about us? Why don’t we get included on these healings that Jesus performed so long ago? Doesn’t the Bible say, “Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow”? Yes, it does. Jesus Christ is indeed the same yesterday and today and forever. And that’s why I’m here to tell you that, yes, “Jesus Comes Today with Healing.”

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Published in: on February 7, 2015 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Amazing, Astonishing Authority of Jesus” (Mark 1:21-28)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 1, 2015

“The Amazing, Astonishing Authority of Jesus” (Mark 1:21-28)

Authority. What is your reaction when you hear that word, “authority”? I’m guessing that many of us would have a negative reaction to it. We Americans, in our culture, tend not to like authority. Especially since the 1960s, all forms of authority at every level of our society have been torn down. We don’t like anyone having authority or exercising it over us. And to a degree, that’s understandable. We don’t like anyone telling us what to do. “You’re not the boss of me!” we would say.

But now today I would like us to rethink this a little bit, this matter of “authority.” For today we will meet someone who has a lot authority–and knows how to use it! It’s Jesus, of course. And when he exercises authority, he’s doing it for us, for our good. In today’s Gospel reading, from Mark 1, we see Jesus exercising authority, not over us, but for us. So now let’s take a look at “The Amazing, Astonishing Authority of Jesus.”

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Published in: on January 31, 2015 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Repent, Believe, and Follow” (Mark 1:14-20)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 25, 2015

“Repent, Believe, and Follow” (Mark 1:14-20)

In the early chapters of the gospels, we track Jesus’ early ministry, as he goes about Galilee, preaching, teaching, and healing. As sort of a subset of his healing ministry, Jesus also casts out demons. And interspersed among these accounts, Jesus also gathers disciples to himself. And so it is that today and for the next two weeks we get such accounts of Jesus’ early ministry from the first chapter of Mark. Today we get a sample of Jesus’ preaching and his calling disciples. Next week we will see Jesus casting out an unclean spirit. Two weeks from today, we’ll see Jesus healing physical ailments. And through these readings, we will gain insight and faith for what all of this means for us.

Today, then, we hear Jesus speak to us, saying, “Repent, Believe, and Follow.” “Repent and believe”: That’s a summary of Jesus’ preaching. “Follow”: That’s Jesus’ call to discipleship. Repent, believe, and follow: Three imperatives, three commands, from the lips of Jesus. Repent, believe, and follow: Three words that lead to forgiveness, faith, and purpose in life for every one of us.

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Published in: on January 25, 2015 at 1:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Glorify God in Your Body” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 18, 2015

“Glorify God in Your Body” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

“Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” Now those are two direct quotations from today’s Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 6. “Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” Two imperatives, two commands, telling us what to do. Are they true? Yes, of course. This is what we should do, both things. One is stated in terms of what we should flee from. The other is stated in terms of what we should positively do.

But now suppose this was all that Paul had to say to us here. “Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” OK, you’ve got your orders. Now go out and do what I say. Would that be enough? Would that get the job done? No, I don’t think so. And Paul doesn’t do just that. There’s a whole lot more here than just giving orders. And that other stuff, surrounding the commands, will give us a clue as to how the Bible teaches and encourages us to live the new life as Christians, what we call “sanctification” or “holiness.” And so it is with that surrounding context that we too will be able to say, “Glorify God in Your Body.”

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Published in: on January 17, 2015 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Something in the Water” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11; Genesis 1:1-5)

The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 11, 2015

“Something in the Water” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11; Genesis 1:1-5)

I don’t listen to pop music or country music on the radio, but recently I read that there is a song that’s popular on the airwaves right now that makes some references to baptism. That caught my attention, naturally, so I looked it up and listened to it online. It’s a song called “Something in the Water,” by a singer named Carrie Underwood. I don’t know if you’ve heard it or not. But it does have to do with baptism. Now very likely it’s coming from a theological perspective on baptism we wouldn’t agree with entirely, but even so, it’s surprising that a song about baptism would even make it on the charts, much less be a big hit.

Let me tell you a little about this song, in case you haven’t heard it. Miss Underwood starts out by singing about a conversation she had with someone who, in the midst of his frustrations, had followed a preacher man down to the river and now, he says, he’s changed, he’s stronger, “there must’ve been something in the water.” Then Carrie herself, the singer, says that one night, when she was out of hope, cried out to God and felt his love pouring down. So she then “got washed in the water, washed in the blood.” And now, Carrie says, “I’m changed, I’m stronger, there must be something in the water.” And so the song proceeds.

Well, good. It’s refreshing to see a song that at least alludes to the Christian faith make it big on the airwaves. While this song “Something in the Water” doesn’t use the word “baptism,” and it doesn’t mention Christ by name, the song is nice as far as it goes, I suppose. But it only scratches the surface. I don’t know, can you scratch the surface of water? In any case, today I would like to take us deeper into the water of Holy Baptism. Yes, there is “Something in the Water”–a number of things, actually–so let’s find out what they are.

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Published in: on January 10, 2015 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What’s the Big Deal about Epiphany?” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

“What’s the Big Deal about Epiphany?” (Matthew 2:1-12)

“What’s the Big Deal about Epiphany?” I mean, what’s so special about this festival that we should have a special service for it, and on a day other than Sunday? In January, no less! In the cold! Really, so what’s the big deal? Why bother having a service on this date?

There are several reasons I could mention. First of all, there is the history of it. The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, celebrated on this date, January 6, immediately after the twelve days of Christmas–Epiphany has been a major festival in the church for a very long time. In fact, it’s one of the oldest and longest-standing festivals to be observed in the church. And you don’t just get rid of something like that without first investigating it thoroughly to know what you would be getting rid of and then having a very good reason for doing so. Otherwise, the default mode in the church is to keep the tradition. We should not presume to think that we know better than the centuries of Christians who have gone before us and have kept the Epiphany festival. So there’s that.

Besides, if you still want to kinda sorta keep Epiphany, but you decide to shove it off to a nearby Sunday, because you don’t want the bother of having to come out on a weekday–well, then you lose whatever would have been the readings and the theme for that particular Sunday. For instance, if you had moved Epiphany to this past Sunday, then you would have lost the account of twelve-year-old Jesus at the temple. Or if you move Epiphany to this coming Sunday, then you would lose the Baptism of Our Lord, and you don’t want to do that. So the distinctive observance of Epiphany on its fixed date, January 6, with its distinctive Gospel reading from Matthew 2–namely, the visit of the wise men to the Christ child, which we only get on this day–this is something worth keeping and doing on the day itself.

So the long history of the Epiphany celebration on this date is one reason to keep it. But now I want to focus on three other reasons for why Epiphany became a festival and a hallowed tradition in the first place. And they are these: 1) Epiphany leads us to the Messiah. 2) Epiphany is the Gentile Christmas. And 3) Epiphany is a cause for great joy. So here we go.

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Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“A Twelve-Year-Old Boy, Filled with Wisdom” (Luke 2:40-52)

Second Sunday after Christmas
January 4, 2015

“A Twelve-Year-Old Boy, Filled with Wisdom” (Luke 2:40-52)

When I was twelve years old, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Pretty impressive, eh? No, pretty stupid, actually. Because, at twelve years old, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon . . . without telling anyone. Let me explain. This was back in the days of train travel, and my mother, grandmother, sister, and I were taking the train from Chicago to Los Angeles for a family reunion. When we got to Arizona, there was an option to get off the train, get on a bus, and take a day trip to see the Grand Canyon. Which we did. When I saw it, I thought the Grand Canyon was amazing, fascinating! So I started exploring, as twelve-year-old boys are wont to do, and I came across this trail, hugging the side of the canyon and going down. I started walking down it. Fascinating, incredible, I thought! So I kept walking down the trail. And kept walking. Eventually, I ended up at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. And it was 110 degrees. And I was wearing flip-flops. And I had no water. Now I had to get back up, which looked a little more daunting than going down. And the bus was going to leave at a certain time to go back to the train. Again, I hadn’t told anyone what I was doing or where I was going.

Well, long story short, I did get back up, and we did make the bus and make it back to the train. But you should have seen my mom! She was frantic. She was about to call the park rangers. Needless to say, she was quite upset with me. And justifiably so. Her twelve-year-old boy–yours truly–had done something rather foolish.

In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter another twelve-year-old boy who gave his mom quite a panic. They too were on a family trip, and he didn’t tell anybody where he would be or what he would be doing, either. So was this boy doing something foolish? No, quite the contrary. In fact, today we meet “A Twelve-Year-Old Boy, Filled with Wisdom.”

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Published in: on January 3, 2015 at 11:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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