“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26) Here Jesus is speaking about His return at the end of this age; when the dead will rise and all who lived in faith will be in His face to face presence forever. That’s heaven! So, I guess that won’t be happening today. How can I say that? Well, look out the window…no clouds! Now that’s a pretty weak argument since if clouds are needed as scenery for the 2nd coming our almighty God can easily and instantly create them out of nothing and nowhere. I mean, he’s done that before, just look at Genesis chapter 1. What I’m getting at is that ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, with the promise of returning, many have spent way too much time and effort in figuring out when that will happen. It’s a fool’s errand as Jesus says that no one will or can know the time that the Father has set for the end of this age and the ushering in of eternity. Our charge from the Lord is to be found doing His work when the Master returns, and that work is advancing the kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel. That Gospel is the story of Jesus and salvation, and that Gospel is Jesus Himself. He is the Good News that the world needs to hear. He is the power of God for the salvation of all who can believe. He is the way the truth and the life, and the only way to our heavenly Father. Let’s continue to proclaim Jesus wherever we all, until the clouds gather, the trumpet sounds and we meet Him in the air.
It’s been said, many times, that Lutherans don’t like change. How many Lutherans does it take to change a light-bulb? CHANGE? What do you mean change? My grandfather put in that light-bulb 60 years ago! If was good enough for them back then it’s good enough for us now! The truth is that change is inevitable, and even more, we must change; Scripture tells us that. First off, we must change personally. We are to be transformed (changed) by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) Through hearing and studying the Word of God our minds are changed from conforming to the ways of the world to the ways of God. God the Holy Spirit accomplishes this in us, and it’s a lifelong process. As disciples of Jesus we are also called to change the world, for the better. This is not necessarily done through the culture and politics; some churches get way too caught up in that, but rather as we the ones who bring the Gospel of Jesus to those around us, in order that their lives can be changed and made infinitely and eternally better through faith in Christ. The Spirit of Jesus himself changes the hearts of people, through the Gospel, and as their minds are renewed just like ours the world necessarily will become better for it. Like it or not, we are God’s agents of change in the world. He has given us this gift of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ and commanded us to share that good news with all the world, beginning with those closest to us. God calls us to embrace change, change for the better, and maybe, just maybe, a new light-bulb might help us to shine more a little more light into the world around us.
Today is Saturday, the First of July, the year 2017 is now half over. That’s amazing as Christmas and New Year’s seem like they just happened. Such it is with time; it keeps charging forward at what appears to be an ever accelerating pace. As the year is half over are you halfway through with all of the things that you vowed, or resolved, that you would get done this year? Have you even started? There’s no time like the present to get going on things, because before you know it time may just run out. Scripture clearly tells us that “No one knows the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Acts 1:7 Our time in this life is limited, and could come to an end at any moment. Time in eternity is unlimited though. Infinity is beyond the bounds of time. Jesus’ brother James describes this life as a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14) Planning for the future is important, and the vast majority of all of our futures will be spent in the life to come; that which is beyond our exit from this world. Making sure that our eternity is secure through a living and growing faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior is the key to that planning process. That comes to us as we continually explore the Word of God, the Bible, as the Spirit of God fans the flame of that faith.
We just crawled out of the car after a couple day trip to Leavenworth for our regional pastor’s conference. On the way over Monday morning, and for the return trip this afternoon, the chosen path was US Highway 2 across the upper Columbia Basin and Waterville Plateau. In regards to the famous Robert Frost poem; “The Road Less Traveled”, we definitely chose the one less traveled by! The traffic was minimal, and the weather beautiful, so the views were spectacular. What was most striking was the vast amount of open land in contrast to the miniscule number of people visible in it. This is true of much of the western United States; wide open spaces where people are outnumbered by the critters. In life there are many paths to follow, and they lead to widely different destinations. As Christians we are exhorted to take the narrow path, through the narrow gate, to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Of course, that path, and that gate, are Jesus. But we can’t just look at the map to get there, we have to make the journey. The journey laid out for us may look free and easy on paper, but the actual travel will inevitably get difficult and dirty. The Christian walk, following “The Way”, will necessarily bring suffering and sacrifice. That’s what the way for Jesus was, and He promises that His way will be our way. Undoubtedly though, this path does lead to glory. It’s just that the glory comes at the end of the journey, not before or along the way.
We finally made it! After a long cold and very snowy winter, followed by record rains and mud, along with more chilly temperatures so far this spring, comfortable weather has reached Spokane. In my 17 years of living here I have discovered that the comfort zone for most Spokanites, at least in terms of the weather is quite small. Folks start cheering when the temperatures rise past the middle 60s, but then begin to comment on how hot it is when we eclipse 80. Another comfort zone that seems rather small, not only here in Spokane but over most of the nation, is that of living out our faith in Christ. All too often we try to run from it, ignore it or hide it. Either we don’t have the time to devote to it (more likely it’s that we don’t want to give up our time to devote to it) or we’re afraid that by doing or saying something others might think less of us, and maybe even reject us. But isn’t that what living for Christ is? Wanting to be thought less of and even rejected? That’s the life that Jesus lived and promised that we his followers would live too. We are aliens and strangers here. Strangers comes from the root word strange. That’s what we are, at least in the eyes of the world of darkness around us. We’re different, and we should act and talk like it. One thing I always say is that when you step out of your comfort zone it expands with you. We can start with just a little bit at a time; challenge ourselves to be a bit more brave and bold in our life of faith…how we act and what we say. What have we to lose? A little bit of life in this world? That’s what Jesus said we must do to gain eternal life in His kingdom. And that forever gain is well worth a little discomfort today.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105
“I have seen the Lord!” These are the words of Mary Magdalene in John chapter 20 from that first Easter day. Words of great joy and victory. Words that were very hard for her to get too.
That first Easter morning we find Mary, along with a few of the other women, heading to the tomb of their Lord Jesus in the predawn darkness. They’ve got a BIG problem standing in the way of their plans to give Jesus a proper burial. That stone! Who would roll it away? As they arrive it appears as if their prayer has been answered…the stone had been rolled back. Mary scans the scene, makes a quick diagnosis; comes…no jumps…to a conclusion. “Calamity, catastrophe, cataclysm, a considerable set-back…a daybreak debacle! Grave robbers! The horrible situation that I’m in the middle of just got worse. What will I do? What can I do? I know, I’ll run and involve someone else in my nightmare. So that’s what she does…runs, runs off in the darkness. By now the sun has risen. Light is filling the earth. Her darkness is sorrow, unbelief, sin. She is still lost in the darkness of her sin.
I don’t want to bag on Mary. As a matter of fact, the love that she shows for her Lord and Savior puts me to shame. She’s the one coming to serve him, even in death, before daybreak that Sunday morning. She is willing to do anything to recover his body…go pick it up and carry it to another tomb if need be. How would she be able to lift him? Where might that other tomb be? At the thought of this injustice to her Master she weeps uncontrollably. That’s love! A love I wish that I could muster for Jesus.
The problem for Mary was, and all too often is for us is, that she thought she had it all figured out, without having all the information. She, we, assess whatever is in front of us with our worldly eyes, make a judgment, panic and then try to fix things; make right what we think has gone wrong. We add to our troubles, our pain; our sorrows by inventing trouble that just isn’t there. In all things, we should shine a little light on the situation. Apply what we know from the Word of God, or go to it to find out what we don’t know…at least not yet. Mary believed in the situations that she saw with her own eyes. God wants us to look at things, not only with those eyes, but with the eyes of faith; of trust in him to take care of us, provide for us, and to save us from all calamity. He’s given us the great gift of his Word to peel back the onion of darkness and let light shine in.
To her credit, Mary came back, for another look, but she still couldn’t get through her grief. She stood there, crippled, weeping, until God…Jesus himself…took things into his nail scarred hands. He comes to her, speaks to her, asks her a question; Woman, why are you weeping. In the darkness of her heart she could not recognize him, even his voice. Then Jesus says to her a word, in that old familiar voice, “Mary”. In that word, that Word of God, the darkness is destroyed. Mary can see, see the truth; see her Lord and Master. She now could see him through the eyes of faith. She could recognize him for who He is, the risen Son of God, her Lord and Savior. Her grief instantly turns to overwhelming joy. Now He looks different, sounds different, is different, as his is a glorified spiritual body. But his love is the same, the same love that has been given to us in his love letter to us, the Bible. If those who were there that first Easter had really listened to him, heard him, a whole lot of heartache could have been avoided.
King David uses the beautiful words of Psalm 119:105 to describe that morning. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” It’s the Word of God that pierces the darkness, destroys our darkness, and allows us to see what is really happening, and avoid that hurt, fear and anxiety. I’m reminded of the disciples of Jesus who He sent out ahead of him in a boat, into the worst storm they’d ever seen. In the middle of all of their trouble and terror they see a man walking on the water. Their first reaction? It’s a ghost! Our troubles have just gone from bad to horrible! They didn’t recognize him. They put limits on the Son of God, and what He could do. In their darkness they could not see the light. Once again Jesus cleans up the mess, as He does our messes, with his Word. “Take heart, It’s me! I’m here to rescue you. I’m here to make right what has gone wrong.
Death and resurrection are the theme of this week; Holy Week. In it we complete life’s journey with Jesus as He willingly submits to the most cruel and humiliating death that earth could devise in order to pay the entire debt of sin for the entire world for all time. The climax of the history of creation comes this Friday; Good Friday, as the obedient and sinless Son of God cries out “It is finished”, and then bows His head and dies. What seems from the outside to be defeat is indeed victory in that all that needed to be done to save the world from sin, death and the devil has been done. These powers and have been disarmed and are now destined for eternal destruction. As Jesus is laid in the tomb all creation waits…waits for confirmation that this sacrifice is judged sufficient by God the Father. The resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday is proof of that, and proves that mankind is now justified before God through faith in the finished work of the Son. The gates of heaven swing wide open to eternally receive all who can believe. One thing that is troubling to us sinful human beings is that death must come before resurrection. Death is not something we want to think about, let alone deal with. But, in Christ Jesus our death is now a done deal, it’s in the past. In baptism we are joined to the death of Christ, which happened nearly 2000 years ago, along with His resurrection. That means our death is already behind us, and that when this mortal body gives out we will pass through the doorway into eternity and live on in our spirit in the presence of our loving God in his everlasting kingdom. Resurrection of the body, and a reuniting with the spirit, will take place at the end of this age. At that point our salvation, glorification and joy will be complete, and never end. Without Good Friday and Easter Christmas would mean nothing. Good Friday and Easter give us access to everything; everything God has in Christ Jesus for all eternity!
Yes indeed, this IS the day! Today is no doubt the day that the glacier that has been in front of my house since the beginning of December will finally disappear. Three weeks ago it measured 6 feet tall and extended some 20 feet out from the curb. This morning it consisted of a mere 2 dinner plate sized ice bergs that will most certainly not be there to greet me when I return home this evening. This IS the day…I will rejoice and be glad in it! That’s also a song that I sing with the preschool children as they leave chapel each week and return to their classrooms. There is one more item that truly makes the song special. “This the day THAT THE LORD HAS MADE, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I guess to me that says that not only on days when the snow melts away, but also on those when it’s falling and piling up, that I should be rejoicing, being glad and thanking the Lord. That’s hard for me to do! Hard, because of my selfish sinful nature. When I decide that I don’t like something it causes me to ignore and reject the goodness of God. I lose sight of all the wonderful things that He has done for me and continues to do…EVERY DAY! This sentence; “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Comes from a section of Psalm 118 that is speaking about the coming our Savior Jesus who would bring about our salvation by being rejected and put to death by His chosen people. Even on the day of His crucifixion and death our Lord rejoiced and was glad in it, as it would be the day of His victory and glorification. The fact of God’s infinite and eternal mercy, grace and love shown to us in Christ is reason enough to rejoice and be glad in each and every day…the presence of suburban glaciers notwithstanding!
“Beware the Ides of March”. That would have been good advice for the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar back in 44BC. Perhaps had he heeded this warning he might not have gone the Theatre of Pompey where the Senate was meeting that day and been stabbed in the back by so called “friends”. Today, is the “Ides of March”; March 15th, so maybe if you suspect someone of potential betrayal you might not go near them. Jesus knew that a betrayal was in His future, and He knew where, from whom, it would come. Judas Iscariot stabbed him in the back by means of a kiss, a greeting of love and friendship. That happened on the night before His crucifixion and death, and got the ball rolling toward these two monumental events. If Jesus knew it was coming, why would He let it happen? He did so because it was part of the plan, foretold in prophecy; the plan for our salvation. Judas “sold Jesus out” because God was not about to sell us out! God the Father, with the Son and Spirit devised the plan for our salvation that included Judas and his betrayal. Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to be betrayed by a friend; the hurt, the heartache, the incredible disappointment and sorrow. He’s experienced all of our sufferings, to a far greater degree, so He knows exactly where we are and what we’re going through in troubled times. And in our times of suffering He will never turn is back, or stab us in ours. He’s always there…with us, and for us!
The WikiLeaks drop of CIA spy techniques this week paints a very scary picture. Remove whatever political leanings you might filter this event through and look to the underlying truth. Our government, certainly other governments, and who knows how many others who do not have the best interests of their neighbors in mind have these abilities to break into our private lives to listen, look and steal just about anything they desire, or cause all sorts of other havoc. Now take that reality and move it forward through another 10 to 20 years of technological advance and what can and will be done is going to be mind-boggling, and perhaps terrifying. These are indeed troubled times! As Christians, aliens and strangers in this world, how can and should we react. Where do we find hope, peace and comfort? We find it in the same place that Christians have for nearly the past 2000 years; in our loving God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While the technology may be far greater than in the past, Jesus us far greater than any technology. In the 1st century AD believers were being spied on by their neighbors; arrested and martyred for their faith. This is a pattern that has repeated over and over again throughout Church history. Our hope and comfort come from the Lord, who created all things and is above all things. All people and authorities are subject to His power and judgment. Our confidence and certainty in an ever increasingly uncertain world is in His completed work of our salvation and the gift of faith through the Spirit of God that grabs hold to His promises of eternal life in His kingdom and makes them our own.
Pastor Brian Albrecht has served St. John's since June of 2009