OFFENSIVE JESUS… AND THAT’S A GOOD THING.

8.19.18 Worship Folder

Bread of Life

John 6

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

We have reached the end of this series that defines God’s divine diet.  Not surprisingly, it is a diet the begins and ends with the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  And what kind of diet is this?  Is it one that feeds my stomach, my ego, my abilities, my personality, my relationships, my success, my happiness?  Not so much because Jesus is so much more interested in feeding our spiritual hunger than our physical and worldly desires.   In this beautiful chapter of John 6 we see that so clearly as the Bread of Life shows us his generosity towards our soul, his power to provide everything we need for life with him, the eternal effects he gives, and the wisdom he uses to feed us.

Now, over the past 3 weeks I have not actually preached on this chapter of Scripture describing our divine diet, the Bread of Life.  That’s because I was saving it all for today.

So, as we get into these words from the end of John 6, basically what Jesus does in verses 51-58 is summarize the sermon up to this point.  Like the perfect preacher the Son of God is, he wants to hit the main points again.  He emphasizes two important things.  The first is that a half-hearted relationship with Jesus is not going to cut it.  If we are by nature spiritually starving and Jesus is the Bread of Life, then what good will it do us if we sort of pick at him a couple of crumbs at a time, or nibble at the edges, or take a sample bite to see how it tastes before we have anymore.  No, our faith is not just one among many other things that we try to juggle in our increasingly busy lives.  Jesus says our faith in him has to be the one thing that we can never skip out or skimp on.  If we are dead in sin and Jesus is the Bread of Life, then our attitude toward him will resemble the way a starving person would act if you would give them the first real food they have seen in weeks.  That’s the first point Jesus summarizes.

The second is related to it.  Jesus says that all by itself even the most intense faith and whole-hearted devotion will do you absolutely no good.  The only reason faith in Jesus does you any good is that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He says he is the living bread from heaven.  That his food is for the life of the world. He says whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, whoever believes in me, has eternal life. If you are not interested in Jesus, the food for eternal life, then you have no life in you. It’s as if you are walking around in this world with no heartbeat and no hope.  In other words, even the most intense devotion to a certain denomination or religious teacher, even the biggest beliefs in traditions and customs you hold dear, is simply a diet of the cheap, imitation, artificially-engineered, junk that hurts you.  Only faith in Jesus is a diet of the all-natural, organic, grade A, divine feast that God gives for life in heaven.  Faith is not the same as faith in Jesus.  Only the faith that eats from the Bread of Life can give a person the kind of certainty and confidence that has no fear of death, because you will be raised to live with Jesus forever.

Amen.  That is where Jesus ends his sermon.  Normally, if you are trying to introduce a new food to someone, what do you do?  You give them a little taste, a small bite.  We are in that stage right now with Jet.  He gets a little bit of peas, beans, corn, taco, lasagna, whatever it is.  We may even try to mask it a little bit with another food we know he already likes.  Jesus takes the exact opposite approach.  Right at the end he takes a big heaping helping of everything he is trying to teach them and sets it all in front of them.

No wonder, then, that some of Jesus’ own followers come to him and ask, “This is a hard teaching, Who can accept it?” They are not saying that it is our work to accept Jesus as our own personal Bread of Life.  But they are saying, “Jesus, you were so popular after that miraculous feeding.  You had so many wanting to crown you as their king.  You are going to blow it.  You need to tone it down a little bit, because the things you are saying are kind of offensive to some; this is tough to swallow.”

Jesus responds by saying, “That’s kind of the point.”  Specifically, he says in verse 61, “Does this offend you? …The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.”  In other words, Jesus is saying, “I know that my message is a lot to take in.  I know it might not look very appetizing.  The sinful flesh isn’t going to make a turnaround and find this food to be satisfying and filling.  The flesh is going to be offended by me, but that’s why it is up to the Spirit to make this food delicious rather than disgusting. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to create faith.  It is God’s work to make the Bread of Life feed the spiritually starving.”

I think it’s a good reminder that Jesus does not say, “I have the bread of life. I can give you the Bread of Life.”  It would be very different if Jesus would say, “All of my moral teachings and commands – the things I have told you about loving your neighbor, being humble, kind, and generous – these things are the bread of life.  If you do them, you will live.”  It would have been very different if Jesus would say, “My example is the bread of life.  As you have seen me live, now you do the same.  That’s how you have life with God.”

If Jesus was saying I have the bread of life, then it would not be so offensive.  Then we could pick and choose what we want to eat from him.  We could nibble a little to try it out.  We could take some of what he says and combine it with other popular philosophies and or religious teachings and say, “This is what I want for my diet.”  All of that would be more palatable.  It wouldn’t cause people to squirm, like little kids trying brussels sprouts for the first time.

But instead Jesus says half-hearted faith will do you no good.  Faith in anyone or anything else will leave you spiritually starving.  And to this day there is not much more revolting or disgusting to human logic, to our human flesh than what Jesus says here.

Jesus could have said, “I have the bread of life,” but then we would have a big problem.  If Jesus’ moral teachings or good example were the bread of life, we would be in big trouble.  In fact, the person who tries to get eternal life by following Jesus’ moral code of conduct gets to the exact same place as the person who tries to gain eternal life by following the moral codes of Buddha or Muhammed.  You get nowhere. God looks at our performance against any moral code and finds it pathetically lacking far short of his perfect expectations for us, not worthy of eternal life but eternal death.

That’s why Jesus came not to give the bread of life but to be the Bread of Life.  That’s why he says, “I am the Bread of Life – not my moral teachings, not my good example – just me. My flesh, my blood, my life is the replacement for yours, my perfect obedience for your disobedience, my commitment for you cowardice, my compassion for your callousness, my generosity for your greed, my humility for your pride, my death for you debt.”

Jesus is our only hope.  Our relationship with him has to go beyond half-hearted; it cannot be a mixture of Jesus plus other things.  Only the Holy Spirit can get you there.  Only the power of God working through this naturally offensive message can get you to enjoy the Bread of Life.

That’s why we see two different reactions to Jesus here.  What’s interesting about the opposite reactions is that both of them come from the group called Jesus’ disciples.  These are not his enemies, skeptics, or the curious.  No, these are his followers.  And it says in verse 66, “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  They were offended by him.  They found his message to be unappetizing and decided to spit it out.

Jesus is not surprised by their reaction, because to the human nature, to the flesh, he is offensive. He is revolting to people who want to earn their rewards.  He is distasteful to people who want to follow their own desires selfishly serving their own bellies.  He is unpleasant to people who to enjoy their passions and have a little God time, too.

So Jesus looks to the Twelve and asks, “What about you? You do not want to leave too, do you?”  And this is where we hear the other reaction Jesus causes, one that can only be attributed to the power of his grace, the power of his Word working in the hearts of those who are spiritually starving, the power of the Spirit who works where and when it pleases God.  Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  Pretty much, “Jesus, no one else is what you are.  No one else has what you have.  No one else can bring us to where you will bring us.”

Peter is the one with this faithful reply.  Really?  The guy who says what he thinks before thinking what to say?  The guy who so often puts his foot in his mouth?  The guy who will later flee from Jesus side out of fear and then deny even knowing Jesus?  How could Peter be the one to say these things?

Well, it’s because the Bread of Life is offensive.  See, Jesus is not just food for the good.  He’s not just food for the respectable.  He’s not just food for the popular and wealthy.  He’s not just food for the church-goers and the pious.  He is the Bread of Life that came down from heaven so that whoever feeds on him will no longer be offensive to God but live with him forever.

And that is offensive to people.  That God could love people who don’t seem very loveable, that Jesus would put me on the same level as the worst criminals and freely sacrifice himself for all, that Jesus would be willing to feed the poor and wealthy, the lowly and the mighty, the nobodies and the famous, the evil and the good, the cowards and the strong at the same table in heaven is so absolutely unsatisfying to my flesh, to my reasoning.

But it is also so amazingly true. Jesus never changes who he is, no matter who he is feeding.  He will always be the Bread of Life for you and me and for the whole world.  He will always provide what we need. It’s a huge helping of his grace found right here in his Word and sacrament, a huge helping of his forgiveness that covers and removes rotten, stinking sins, a huge helping of his love that fills you with an appetite for good things, a huge helping of his compassion that motivates you to live for him, a huge helping of his power that moves you to give his food to others.  These words might be offensive to our flesh.  They might be unappetizing to our human nature.  But they are the bread from heaven. They are the words of eternal life.

The divine diet from Jesus, the Bread of Life, is what we need and he is always willing to feed.  Speaking of that, next week we start a new worship series called Burning Questions.  As the summer goes the way of the birds and the school year routine resumes we are going to contemplate some questions that people brought to Jesus and people still have for Jesus.  Also, on Wednesday, August 29 we are going to have orientation for catechism class (6-8 grade) families to talk about how God’s Word is not just a Sunday morning, a Sunday school, a Wednesday night thing but an every day in the home thing.  Then, on September 9th we are going to kickoff another year of Sunday school and Adult Bible study with a big potluck and family devotion after worship.  That’s a lot of food, and I’m not talking about the potluck.

Jesus promises that whoever eats this bread will live forever.  I don’t think he had in mind that we would eat from him once or twice.  I think he has in mind to feed us offensively, to feed us so much that our selfishness, our half-heartedness would be removed forever, to feed us so much that would never be hungry again.  Amen.

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DON’T BE AFRAID

7.1.18 Pentecost 6B

Pentecost B

Mark 5:21-24, 35-43

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him…. 

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

 

At first, the theme for worship today probably seems like a no-brainer: Life is better than death.  Obviously! For growth to happen, you need life.  Dead things don’t grow.  Sure, I’ll give you that dead plants and dead little bugs become part of the soil, and the soil is where little dried up seeds from those dead plants or withered up, nasty-looking fruit come to life.  But it’s not the dead thing that grows, is it?  No, you need a plant to be living to grow.

When it comes to people, it’s the same.  Death isn’t good for growth.  A person needs to have their brainwaves waving and the heart beating somewhere in the 40-80 beats per minute range.

I think Jairus would agree with that.  He is the synagogue ruler in town, up north probably in Capernaum on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee.  There were two places for worship life for the Jews in Palestine.  There was the granddaddy of them all in Jerusalem, the Temple.  That’s where you would go for the major festivals like Passover.  But to make that journey every week was impractical.  That would be like driving to Fargo or Milwaukee every Sunday for worship.  So, the second place for worship was the synagogue.  That was the local church that was run by the people in the area.  Jairus is like the church president, the one who looks after the place and gets people to help out.  They didn’t have rabbis who were called to serve in one specific synagogue.  It was up to Jairus to schedule the preachers and teachers for the worship.  It’s safe to assume that Jairus was a respectable and responsible leading member of the community.

Given the choice, Jairus wants his 12 year-old daughter living rather than dead.  That’s why we see this synagogue ruler throw himself at Jesus’ feet.  Not a normal sight for such a man, but death causes people to do things they might not do otherwise.

And Jesus is the right man for this death-defying job. Jesus isn’t like any other man.  Earlier on this pretty intense day on the other side of the lake, Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man.  Jesus had traveled around the area healing every kind of illness and disease, even leprosy and a paralytic.  Large crowds were following Jesus because of his power.  But his message was even more eye-opening.  He didn’t just teach the law, telling people this is how you live to please God.  No, Jesus gave the people the good news, that even though you will never earn or deserve heaven it’s yours by God’s grace through the forgiveness of sins that Jesus gives.  He pointed to God’s promise of salvation that saves lawbreakers from God’s wrath.

Jairus needed Jesus, because life is better than death.  Jesus could make his sick girl well. Sometimes the tests get a little harder than that.  The horrible news comes from home, “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” You know, if my house burns down, that’s why we have insurance.  If my financial guy calls up to inform me that my investments have tanked, I can work through it.  If my pickup gets a ding or dent, I’ll get it fixed or drive around with it from now on.  No big deal.  But if you call me and say my daughter is dead, it’s a crushing blow.  The death of a child is never easy to handle.

I think we wouldn’t be surprised at all if Jairus would start asking God some questions.  I don’t think we would think it’s out of place at all if his anguish turned to anger.  I’ve seen that happen.  “Jesus, you are the Son of God.  You say God takes care of us.  Frankly, if this is the way God treats his people, then I’m done with you.”

But Jairus says nothing.  Because he was listening at synagogue.  He listened when God says you were sinful from birth, from the time your mother conceived you. Jairus not only listened in church but he also saw firsthand what kind of mischief a 12 year-old can do. And he heard God and believed God when he says the soul who sins is the one who will die.  Jairus knows his daughter was not innocent.  It would be foolish and against the Bible to plead his case before Jesus that his daughter was a good girl who deserved better.  Jairus knows that if he opened his mouth in anger against God or even questioned God’s timing that he would be unseating God and placing himself on the Creator’s throne.

But where his voice is silenced in the face of death, he hears something odd from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”  Coming from one of those crooked tax collectors or annoying neighbors, those words wouldn’t mean much.  But coming from Jesus, those words mean everything.  Jesus is the eternal, saving Word, who became flesh to destroy the power of the devil.  Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins and mine.  Jesus did not come to create a better political landscape.  He did not come to stabilize industries or the financial outlook.  He did not come to give us a life that grows here on earth.  Jesus came to give life that grows for eternity.  To do that he was going to have to show Jairus and all of us that death cannot tell Jesus what it wants.  Death can only listen to the one who has the power of life.

Not even skipping a beat, as if nothing was wrong, Jesus gathers Peter, James, and John and goes to the house. When they there, it’s like a zoo. And we might say for good reason, a 12 year-old girl has just died.  “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  The onlookers laugh, even though a girl is dead. They laugh at Jesus!

Why?  Maybe it’s because far too often this world sees death as more powerful and more permanent than life.  That’s why people want to hold on to this life with every bit of strength they have.  We do it, too.  We treat this life like it is the greatest and best.  We tend to fill ourselves up with so much stuff from this life.  We tend to be afraid of death because it’s definite and final.   We all agree with the idea that life is much, MUCH better than death, because we think about it as people who are tied to this earth and this life.  So when death comes it is a crushing blow.

But when The Life takes on death, there’s a different outcome.  With all the power and authority of the creator, Jesus speaks like he is rousing a child in the morning, Talitha koum, (“Little girl, get up!”)  But this girl doesn’t react like most of your kids probably do.  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around.  By taking this girl by the hand and through his words spoken Jesus overcame the grip of death.

Jesus shows us that he has the power to make death temporary.  That’s what he has done for us. Jesus went to death for you and was forsaken by his own Father. He gave up his spirit so that the guilt which afflicts and the sin that kills would no longer. He went to the grave and back again, he died and took up his life again, so that death would not be something you have to fear. Death now leads to life through faith in Jesus Christ.

He’s the one who now takes you by the hand.  When death is haunting you, Jesus shows you the scars on his hands and says, “Don’t be afraid.”  When death is trying to prove that it is more powerful and more permanent than life, Jesus takes you by the hand and he says, “Death is but a sleep.” And this is what he does as you live out your days, he has you by the hand fighting back darkness and silencing fear. And when you breathe your last and the last day comes, there he is with your hand in his and he’ll say, “My child, I say to you, get up!” And you will rise body and soul because death is but a sleep.

Henry Francis Lyte was an English clergyman. Throughout his life and in his professional career he suffered from various respiratory ailments. In fact, after seeking a particular appointment he was denied due to asthma and bronchitis. By the end of his life, in the 1840s, he was forced to spend much of his time in the warmer climates of France and Italy. In his last dying days he set a poem he had once written to music, maybe you recognize these words, we will be singing them later today:

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

 

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

How could he be so fearless as death stood at his doorstep? Because he knew what Jesus did for Jairus’ daughter would be true of him as well. He knew that life was better than death.  Jesus had him by the hand and was saying, “Don’t be afraid. Through faith in me, death is ended.” Jesus had him by the hand and was saying, “Death is just a sleep.” And he knew one day Jesus would say to him, “Get up.”

This doesn’t mean that at the next Christian funeral you attend you should walk in and say, “What are you all crying for, don’t you know about what Jesus did for Jairus’ little girl?” We mourn when death comes, we mourn when that chair is empty or that laugh is silenced. We certainly miss those who die. But we also mourn differently. We don’t mourn like those who think that death is permanent. We mourn knowing that those who die in Christ are being led by his hand. We mourn knowing that just as the little girl’s mom and dad rejoiced at her coming back to life, we too will have an eternity of joy when Jesus says, “Get up!”  We mourn knowing that his life is better, more powerful, more permanent than our death.

Brothers and sisters, that fact is what causes growth in these last days.  It’s not running from death.  It’s Jesus.  It’s looking at who holds your hand, that’s the one who is our life, our eternal life.  It’s clinging to him.  It’s living in him, for him, with him.  Don’t be afraid; just believe.  Death is just a sleep.  His life is yours.  Amen.

COMING ALIVE

5.20.18 Pentecost B

 

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

 

Do you know what the Spirit can do?  Have you seen it?  Well, I have, and let me tell you the story.

I was called to be God’s spokesman to his people, Israel.  The hard part of that was not listening to God.  As astounding as his visions were, he was very clear on what I needed to say and write.  The hard part was the people.  You’d think that people who had God’s promises would listen to his Word.  But that’s the thing about people – it doesn’t matter if you’re a descendant of Abraham or if you are foreigner, a king or a slave – we struggle to listen to God’s words the way he wants us to.

After receiving the call from the Lord, he wanted me to say some things to get their attention.  They needed to realize that what was happening to them was because they had neglected God.  And when that happens that means sin is winning in your life.  When sin is winning in your life, spiritual death is not far behind.

See, God wants his people to be different.  When he spoke with them at Mt. Sinai and gave them his 10 Commandments, the arrangement was that they would obey everything.  Well, Israel was kind of up and down on that.  After they arrived in the Promised Land was a good time, but then they got lazy.  Every so often God would send judges to help them get back on track, but the message never sunk in.  Then came the kings.  David was a good one, his son, Solomon, was ok, but only 7 or 8 others encouraged the people to follow God and serve him alone.

To help the people see their sinful ways and the destruction that sin causes, God called prophets, like me, to preach.  I was in Babylon at the time.  Why Babylon, you ask?  That was the punishment God forewarned.  The people didn’t get the hint that sin is not ok with God, so God sent Babylon to conquer us.  Over about a 10 year period, we were exiled to Babylon.  Everything back home, including God’s Holy Temple, was completely destroyed.

I don’t know if you can imagine how downcast and depressed everyone was.  God had told them in the past what their sins would cause, but that didn’t change a thing, so God had to bring down judgment on His own people.  Even in Babylon, I was given the task to point out their wickedness and God’s disappointment.

After years of visions and proclamations of death and doom, came the day when God brought me to that valley of dry bones.  The closest thing you could compare it to here in America would be Death Valley, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  All around I looked, back and forth I went, and all I saw was death, an utterly lifeless landscape.  It was not an enjoyable place to be.

That is the place where God had a question for me.  “Son of man…” he liked to call me ‘son of man’ because I am just a regular guy and he was not… “Son of Man, can these bones live”?

What would you say? Do you think life could come from a valley of death?  After what had happened with Israel, I had my doubts.  Israel had proven what human people are really like.  People don’t blaze a path to life but a something else, something worse, something deathly.

Israel said they were going to be faithful to God alone.  They said they didn’t want to associate with other sinful and pagan nations and get themselves into trouble.  They said they would remember God’s commandments and his promises.  They said a lot of things.

What really happened?  Their lies lead to idolatry.  When God’s promises were taking too long to come true they found other religions and gods that looked more sensible and pleasurable.  All the things that God had said and recorded for his people took a donkey ride into the desert.  It is tragic to even talk about it.  People, by nature, do not want any part with God.

Do you know anyone like that?  Do you know people who say they will serve God?  Do you know people who promise they won’t follow the wrong crowd?  Do you know some who say they will remember God’s promises, but personal experiences and preferences seem to be good excuses to neglect what God says?  I’m sure you do.  I’m sure you can find someone like that in your neighborhood or your pool of friends.  But I know for a fact you can see someone like that if you take a good look at your own heart.

People haven’t changed much over the last few millennia since I was in Babylon.  The lying still leads to idolatry.  Patience with God’s promises wears thin, so other things can take his place and priority.  Maybe you don’t have wooden gods of Asherah and Baal, but that was not Israel’s only problem.  They got too wrapped up in themselves to pay attention to God’s Word.   And when you put yourself as the be all and end all, don’t be surprised if it all ends wrong.

Do you know what lying and idolatry leads to?  Thinking of my day out in the valley of dry bones makes me remember what the Apostle Paul wrote long after I was gone, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” For Israel, for you and me, and for all the world, those dry bones are about as good as we get.

“Can these bones live?” Only one person knew the answer to that question, so I said, “O Lord GOD, You alone know.” It was at that point that I thought he would give me a clear, yes or no.  But instead, he told me to talk to the bones as if they could hear me.  Just talk!  That was it.

The Lord didn’t tell me to think outside of the box to try or find some new fresh way to connect to those dead bones.  He didn’t tell me about any kind of gadgets and ideas that might work.  He didn’t tell me about computers.  He didn’t say that certain song styles or instruments would raise those bones to life.  He never mentioned a specific style of preaching that would be better than another.  He didn’t tell me about pulpits or pews.  Intrestingly, he also didn’t talk about traditions.  He didn’t say anything about the way it always was.  He didn’t say that the same way is the best way.  He didn’t say stubborn attitudes and unchanging ideas will cause nasty, dried up bones to live.

None of the things that people argue about would do anything for those bones.  I am not downplaying what advancements and blessings can do.  But I know for a fact that anything other than the Word of the Almighty God cannot bring life to a place of death.  Nothing but the Word of God can turn a heart of cold stone, to a heart of life….not even a little bit.  The only thing that causes life is God’s Word.  I was there to witness it.

He told me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” I did what God told me to do and the results were overwhelming.  Simply put, God’s Word worked.  He’s got the power.  He’s got the Word.  And it works. The bones started flying around. And the noise – millions of bones coming together – was more than anything your kids could produce with their toys.

After all the bones came together, the tendons, guts, muscles, and layers of skin formed around each skeleton.  It was vastly different from when I first arrived at the valley.  Some might say that everything was different, but really it was still the same.  The bones now were perfectly in place with all that is needed for life, but the bodies still lay there, motionless.  They were still just as dead as before.

God had done the amazing work, but there was one thing missing.  The Lord gave me more of his words to speak.  “Come from the four winds, o breath, and breathe into these slain, that they might live.”  The breath was not normal.  In Hebrew, that’s the language that I spoke back then and the one I used to write my book, “breath” is the same word as “spirit.” So, when God told me to call the breath, it was his way of telling me to call for the Holy Spirit.

What I had seen in the valley was death, but with God’s Word and the work of the Spirit, I saw death coming alive.  The multitude of dry bones came together perfectly.  The flesh wrapped them perfectly. The breath came and filled them perfectly. Where death was, God made life.  This is all God’s handiwork, and it is always his handiwork when death turns to life.

There they stood an army to serve its source of life.  God had created a massive group.  When I had seen armies in the past they had a mission to conquer or defend.  This army was no different.  The Lord did this to show me and all of Israel what he can accomplish with his Spirit.  He can make life.  He can make that life achieve his purpose, just as he said.

What I am looking at right now, is not much different than what I saw in that valley.  God has worked another miracle.  I am not staring at random bones.  I am not staring at death, but life.  This is not something you did.  This is the power of God.  The same power that raised Jesus from death to life continues to work today. Through his Word and Spirit, God brings life.

The Holy Spirit came into you the same way I saw him go into the bodies in the valley.  At your baptism, death was swallowed up in victory.  The Spirit planted the life-giving gospel message of free forgiveness through Jesus Christ in you.  Through the powerful Word of God, he keeps faith living and active.  You aren’t a pile of bones.  You aren’t lifeless corpses.  You are the same army that I saw thousands of years ago standing ready to serve your Creator and your life-giver.

This experience in the valley of dry bones wasn’t just for me.  I had to tell all of those people who were in exile with me.  I had to tell them God’s life-giving message.  But, if you are like the house of Israel, then you also might find yourself focusing on the negative side of things.  They said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  In exile, there wasn’t a lot to be positive about.  They had received a just judgment from God.  They didn’t see the sun rising on a new day.

If you ever feel yourself swamped in pessimism, then listen again to what God told Israel because he says that to you, too.  “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.”  

Do you know what God did to make this come true? He sent his own Son, Jesus, to conquer the grave, not just for himself, but for all who believe in him. With Jesus’ resurrection, God assures us all that what He told me in the valley is true.  God will open graves and restore life again.

Today is a special festival for you to thank God for life.  When I arrived in the valley, I didn’t see much hope.  Generations after I had gone, it didn’t look like there was much hope for the fledgling church led by the disciples.   But, today there is a different tone.  You are celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I was blessed to see firsthand that death comes alive through the Word of God. Generations later, The Spirit brought the same kind of life through the message of Jesus that Peter and the disciples preached.  3000 joined their numbers during that Pentecost celebration.

The promise God gave me in the valley is still life-giving promise for you. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live. The Holy Spirit has not quit yet.  Wherever God’s Word is, there the Spirit will be with his heavenly breath to bring life.  Amen.

THE ONLY ONE

5.14.17 Easter 5A

Easter Season A

John 14:1-12

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

It’s the trip of a lifetime.  The suitcases are packed.  The oil is changed and the gas tanked topped off.  Everything fits into the trunk magically like Legos.  The whole family is in the car ready to go three minutes early.  Your favorite driving music is cued up on the road trip playlist.  Mom must have been in charge of it.

With all the preparation and work that goes into planning an epic family vacation, could you ever imagine dad turning to mom with a blank stare while the car sits in the driveway to say, “So, can you tell me where we are going and how to get there?”

Now, in our high-tech generation that might not be so devastating, because two family members would offer him a GPS enabled phone with three possibilities depending on what kind of route you wanted. All Dad would have to do is listen to the GPS lady say, “In 500 feet turn left.”  Then, detours could be added and subtracted all along the way until those magic words: “You have arrived.”  Although I don’t imagine anyone would pack up and getting ready to go without first having a destination and a route in mind, it could be done.

When we see Thomas, Philip, and the other disciples in our Gospel today, it isn’t that simple. There is no OnStar.  There is no GPS.  There are no planes, no trains, no automobiles to get them were Jesus was going.  It was unsettling for them to hear Jesus speak the way he does that night before he died.  He says, “I’m leaving you, but you know the way.”  You can almost picture the look on their faces.  Stunned. Shocked.  Worried.  It is as though Jesus is giving them an impossible task rather than a trip of a lifetime.

Does it feel like that for you?  Does it feel like Jesus has given you a destination but no directions on how to get there?  Do you feel like Thomas asking, how can we know the way?  I think that is a very important question for us to ask, because life is not always the joyful journey we want it to be.  Sometimes we find ourselves distracted or lost without much direction.

In this road trip called life, do you notice when that is happening?  Do you recognize when the surroundings are changing and the signs are confusing?  It’s not because Jesus took the GPS away.  It’s not because he is no longer there for you.  This trip gets hard when we think we don’t need him as much.

When kids start to think they don’t need Sunday school, that worship is boring, or when you spend time memorizing video game hacks over spiritual facts in Scripture, that’s when the distractions are grabbing hold.  When teenagers are listening to their science teachers more than the creator of science, when you are going to parties and competitions more than worship and Bible study, when you are listening to your changing bodies more than your changeless Lord, then potholes are doing some serious damage.  When people put their career goals before God’s goals, when you focus on building a home and family without the foundation of Christ, then that road starts to crumble and breakdown.  When parents jostle for center stage for their kids, even though there is already someone fulfilling that role perfectly  for them, that’s a dangerous direction to follow.  When kids make life harder for their parents on purpose, that’s not a good road to be on.  When retired folks spend their last years reliving the past rather than promoting the one who provides an eternal future, that can’t get you back on track.

There are so many obstacles, distractions, recalculations that we add to life’s road.  These things don’t pop up because Christ is gone or because he has forgotten about us.  They pop up because we are trying something different or we might just be forgetting the way.

That’s probably why Jesus begins this whole conversation with this encouraging reminder: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God and also you believe in me.”  Jesus simplifies things. He tells me that I don’t need to make things work out.  He says I don’t have to trust in my abilities or my knowledge or my personality.  I don’t need to follow after everything my family or my friends are doing.  I don’t need to be enamored with celebrities or athletes.  I don’t need to crave more money or popularity.  To start this conversation today, Jesus makes it really simple.  On this road trip of life, the reason you don’t have to worry or be distracted is because God gave you faith.  Your faith clings to his promises and Jesus’ salvation.  You faith wants nothing more than follow Jesus.

But every now and then you and I might wish for a little more.  We want the road of life to be just a bit better. Maybe it’s a simple request, “Jesus, I know you have given me what I need, but what about just a little more, something that I’m looking for. Give me something I can use.”  That sounds a little bit like Philip, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”     Philip had Jesus right there.  The Savior of the world was right across the table.  Jesus had everything under control.  But Philip wants just a little bit more than what he already has.

Thinking we need more from Jesus is so dangerous because then you might start thinking that the way you are going in life is all wrong.  You begin to question everything.  And like Thomas you find yourself wrestling with way to go.  “Lord, where are you going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus has a great answer to this question.  An answer that isn’t angry or annoyed.  It’s just what we need when we are distracted like Philip or worried like Thomas.  Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  If you need direction, if you’re feeling lost or distracted, if you are trying to find your way on this road trip of life, Jesus is your answer.  His free and full forgiveness and salvation answers all the question and worries we can come up with.  He is literally the only answer.

Imagine if Jesus would tell us, “I am a way, a truth, and a life.”  Wouldn’t you feel let down a little bit?  Wouldn’t you think that there could be better options?  There is a big difference between ‘the’ and ‘a.’ ‘A’ is part of a group.  It’s generic.  It’s common. There is nothing exciting or special about ‘a.’ If you don’t believe that there is a difference, then which of these statements would you say to your mother today: ‘You’re a great mom,’ or ‘you’re the great mom’.  Those two statements are not the same.  ‘The’ is specific.  It takes a stand. It’s exclusive.

Jesus didn’t tell us, “I’ll show you the way,” like a gas station clerk trying to help you with directions.  Jesus says, I am the way. Jesus didn’t say, “I have the truth,” like a lawyer in a courtroom.  He says, I am the truth.   Jesus didn’t say, “I will lead you to life,” like 21st century TV evangelist.  He tells us, I am the life.  There is nothing generic about Jesus.  He isn’t ‘a’ Savior, one of many different options. He is the Savior and the only way to heaven.  And just to make it all crystal clear, he says No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the way through this life to God’s home for us in heaven.  When our world talks about religion it uses ‘a.’ It says there is a god out there and a better place.  Find whatever works best for you.  Find your god and your way and everything will be ok. When so many voices are distracting us like that and pulling us into this idea that there are many different paths, Jesus is the only way.  When suffering and loss grab you, Jesus is your only way out of sadness and depression.  When your future looks dim and dismal, Jesus is the only truth that enlightens you for eternity.  When your past mistakes and problems try to drag you down, Jesus is the only life that is free of sin and guilt.

That’s why we keep coming here to this place. Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life.  Without the Way, you are going to wander off.  Without the Truth, you’re going to listen to so many of these opinions and half-truths going around.  Without the Life, you’re going to die for eternity.  Jesus is  what you need for the road of life.  You don’t have to wander around.  You don’t have to keep searching.

The trip of a lifetime would become quite annoying, and even worse, if you didn’t know where you were going half the time or if you kept getting distracted and lost.  That’s why we have GPS or a map.  And you know the important thing about GPS or a map, right? They are only good at getting you from point A to point B if you use them.  What good would a GPS be if you turned it off during the middle of your trip and then turned it on again only to realize you missed three turns?  What good would a map be if you shove it in the trunk?

Do you know what God gives you so that you know The Way?  He gives you his Word, not as a list of directions to follow, but as his living Way, who paved the way to heaven for you.  He gives you his Word, not as a collection of truths and moral absolutes, but as his Truth of forgiveness and salvation.  He gives you his Word, not as a way to keep the idea of Jesus living, but as his living and enduring testament of love that he will never leave us forever.

Brothers and sisters, don’t lose it.  Don’t turn off the GPS that God has given you.  Don’t shove it under a bunch of things in the trunk. Use the GPS God has given you. Use his Word every day.  Use it by yourself.  Use it with family and friends.  Use it until you know The Way really well and then use it some more.  Jesus is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the one who conquered sin, death, and hell for you.  He’s the one who is preparing a room for you in God’s house right now.  He is the one who promises that you will be with him forever.

Amen.