Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was in 7th Grade, 8th Grade, and the 9th Grade, the majority of my summer days were spent playing basketball down at the local Methodist church court. I spent plenty of time after this shooting hoops in my parents’ driveway. I watched plenty of basketball on TV hoping it would lead to me becoming a better player. I had some decent skills on the court; I was an unselfish passer, a decent shooter, and had a wide enough base to get position for rebounds. Yet I had certain physical traits that prevented me from being a great basketball player. Junior Varsity games were spent sitting on the bench, although to be fair, I wasn’t that effective when I was in there. I had a few pesky little things that held me back as a basketball player. I’m 5 foot 8 in shoes and that’s probably being generous. 5 foot 8 and flat footed is a bad combo as a basketball player. So as I sat on the bench or in the stands watching games, I kept wondering why I had to be so physically ungifted?
I figured if I was 6 feet tall, then I would have played quite a bit on the varsity. But what would have been even better if I was 6 foot 4. I figured no one could touch me on the low-blocks, I had all sorts of moves that I’d be able to use once I overcame my vertical challenge. I figured if I was 6 foot 4 that I would be the best player in the conference.
If I was 6 foot 4 then I would have a more striking presence whenever I walked into a room. Yet, as I await my 35th birthday in October, my potential growth spurt is looking ever less likely. I’ve heard the sad truth is that I’m more likely to grow shorter in the future. Yet perhaps there is a reason why I’m only 5 foot 8 other than to disturb my own sense of personal vanity.
Second story, when I was in seminary, I had a classmate named Brian. Brian had Cerebral Palsy. Whereas other students would just glide to class casually carrying on conversations, Brian struggled with every step that he needed to take. Brian’s speech was such that he could be difficult to understand. Tasks such as using his hands to eat which are routine for us, were quite difficult for Brian. Yet Brian had a passion as he confessed his faith that was second to none amongst the students at Luther Seminary. The thing about Brian is he could have very easily seen the world in a totally different way. He could go through his days angry at God for his burden, yet Brian found a sense of purpose in his affliction. Today, Brian is a Pastor at a church in Nebraska helping his synod with issues relating to disability. This all leads us to ask the question “Could God have a purpose in Brian’s Cerebral Palsy?”
Today’s Gospel lesson from John 9 provides insight to this issue. This is one of my favorite gospel stories as it speaks to the reality of God’s role in human suffering.
The Disciples encounter a man who had been born blind. The Disciples then proceed to ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This type of thinking wasn’t really new associating individual sin with human suffering. In the Book of Job as Job loses his possessions, his children, and ultimately his health. Job reflected to his friends by asking “How could God act in such a way towards me?” All Job’s friends could fathom about Job’s situation was that Job’s afflictions must have been the result of some sin that Job had failed to confess.
As the Disciples ask Jesus “Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?” The question is very interesting because it is naturally assumed that someone’s sin produced their suffering, the Disciples don’t even fathom asking Jesus whether this way of looking at the world is right. Nor, do the Disciples dare to ask whether one’s suffering is a permanent condition.
Jesus’ response to the Disciples most important of religious questions as to why this man was born blind was both simple and direct as he proclaimed “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed within him.”
This answer was quite interesting. An interesting thing about this Gospel story is unlike Jesus’ other famous healings such as the blind man Bartimeaus, or the Woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.
The Blind Man’s eventual healing is not associated with the Blind Man’s faith in the Blind Man doesn’t become a believer until the end of the story. As for the Blind Man’s Parents they were afraid of associating Jesus with their son’s healing for fear of being dismissed by their own neighbors.
So unlike Brian, who would give great testimonials regarding God’s work in his life because of his suffering, the Blind Man hadn’t gone through life in any sort of similar experience, the Blind Man would have previously viewed his blindness as nothing more than a curse brought forth by an unjust God.
So what was this work of God that Jesus proclaimed would be displayed within the Man born blind? This leads us to a big question this morning to consider in “How could God work a man’s blindness for good as Jesus proclaims happens here?”
Dr. Peter Kreeft who is a Catholic Philosopher summed it up thusly “Life without suffering would produce nothing but Spoiled Brats or Tyrants?” For example, when I was in college, I spent summers selling carpet at Menards on the East side of Saint Paul. For any of you that have ever worked with the public, especially in retail, you tend to encounter some difficult people. Yet what I remember from working those summers at Menards is the one group of people that I liked dealing with more than any others were the Hmongs.
For the Hmong’s history has been defined by suffering. As soon as the United States pulled out of Vietnam, the Hmong who had fought alongside the United States in the War saw enemy communist governments take over in their homelands of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The Hmong spent the resulting years being heavily persecuted as a result of their previous resistance. The Hmong were forced from their land and into refugee camps with barely a roof over their head and no possessions to their name. The Hmong, then immigrated to this country in large numbers. Some of my co-workers at Menards didn’t like dealing with the Hmong because of the difficulty they would have communicating in their non-native language. But in all my dealings with the Hmong from college summers to Seminary Cross-Cultural experiences to Substitute Teaching, I always had a tremendous respect for the way that the Hmong treated others. Many of the Hmong have experienced things in their lifetime that we couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Perhaps this explains why so many Hmong have converted to Christianity upon immigrating to the United States because they precisely understand the afflictions that from which we must be resurrected.
Yet as we consider these topics today we must remember the words from the Book of James that “God is not the author of evil”. God looked over all his creation and declared it to be “good”. So what brings forth such hardship?
Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the church’s most significant thinkers described evil as coming into the world in one of two forms. The first form being Moral Evil, which is evil caused by human beings against each other, for Moral Evil would be the Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler types of evil. This would be the type of evil that I would describe as being unable to take place apart from dark spiritual forces influencing it.
The second type of evil would be Natural Evil. Natural Evil strikes at us with no root cause in the form of cancer, birth defects such as blindness, Cerebral Palsy along with all sorts of undesired outcomes that affect our lives. Augustine and Luther believe that Natural Evil was not caused by the sins of any specific person such as the man born blind or his parents, but rather Natural Evil is caused by the entire human condition. Such evil cannot be blamed for the sins of one man, but rather must be blamed on the Sin of which we’re all guilty.
Yet we’re left to wonder if God is not the cause of all this, then why doesn’t he stop it?
For the question about “Why does God bestow upon us afflictions from the trivial of me not being 6 foot 4 to the important such as why this man was born blind for God’s own purposes were asked by Job as he pondered the loss of his possessions, his children, and his health.
Job is the only person in human history to ask God directly “Why did you allow me to suffer?” The interesting thing about God’s answer to Job is that Job is never given a direct answer to Job’s question. The reason for this is because Job couldn’t quite possibly have comprehended a direct answer. Job’s understanding along with our own of how the universe might work together, pales in comparison to God’s understanding of the same topic.
For it’s easy to look at situations like the Malaysian Plane Crash and wonder how a loving God can allow such tragedy. Yet it’s worth pointing out that this could be the means by which God chooses to bring his children into his presence. This could also be the means which serves as a reminder for many of the frailty of life and the need for answers that lie outside of us.
When God seeks to answer Job’s questions all he does is point him towards his care for all of creation, God seeks to remind Job that he was chosen as his child before even the foundation of the world. We will go through life with plenty of open questions. Yet we point towards the one thing that we do know about God with certainty was made known in the Resurrection. The Resurrection is where God assures Man that the grave has been triumphed over, things are promised to remain not the way that they have always been.
Those who encountered the man who had been born blind after receiving his sight, did not know what to make of him, they didn’t want to believe it was truly him! People couldn’t grasp the possibility of such a miracle. The Pharisees (the Religious Authorities) were most skeptical of all refusing to believe that if someone was really of God that they would heal on the Sabbath. The Blind Man came not to care that other folks considered him to be a liar because of his claims of sight. The Blind Man had received something far more important, he came to see the truth of God revealed before his very eyes. He had received the gift of faith and salvation. Amen
 John 9:2
 John 9:2
 Sloyan, Gerald S. John. John Knox Press. Atlanta.1988 taken from Robert Hoch in a March 30,2014 Commentary on Working Preacher.com
 John 9:3
 Kreeft, Peter and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Intervarsity Press. Downer’s Grove, Il, 2003.
 James 1:15
 Genesis 1:31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The year was 1996. The most famous preacher in the world Billy Graham was coming to Minneapolis to speak at the Metrodome for five straight nights. A man, who had met with every President since Harry Truman, a man who had popular television specials, Billy Graham coming to Minneapolis was the equivalent for the Protestants of the Pope visiting.
My Dad and I went down to the first night of the Crusade. Speakers gave personal testimonies of how their faith had changed their lives. George Beverly Shea sang “How Great Thou Art”. Graham then began to preach. Hearing Graham speak as a sixteen year old, boy, I could see why he was considered America’s greatest preacher. Billy Graham had a great speaking voice; you could listen to Billy Graham read the phone book and enjoy it. Billy Graham would tell antidotes and famous musicians regarding how even they felt empty in their lives that something was missing. Graham’s message was simple and scriptural. I can’t help not to look up to Billy Graham even today for how he puts a sermon together.
The Metrodome was hanging on every word that Billy Graham said with an intensity rarely captured in that building by either the Twins or the Vikings. Billy Graham started to speak about the Ten Commandments; he asked if we had broken any of them, because if we have, then we are standing before God like a prisoner awaiting our execution on death row.
Graham then began to hit people with the good stuff of God’s love for humanity. How each and every one of the 70,000 people there in Minneapolis wants to get to heaven. Yet there is only one way to get to heaven. Graham stressed how being baptized and confirmed wasn’t enough. Billy Graham tried to emphasize the believers uncertainty that they don’t know if they will live another day, so tonight was the night to get their faith right.
Graham emphasized there was only one way to be sure that we were going to be saved. We need to receive Jesus by faith and dedicate our whole lives to him. Graham was then going to present the sold-out Metrodome with a wonderful opportunity; they could come forward that night to do all these things. Half the audience moves forward to the front at this point as “Just as I Am” plays in the background. People were swept up by the moment.
My Dad and I go forward as Graham had exposed insecurity with our faith that it wasn’t what it should be. We talk to one of the Billy Graham Counselors who was a nice lady from the Saint Cloud Area, who wants to know what type of decision we’re going to make on that night. Whether we were brand new believers (which didn’t make sense considering we were both in church every Sunday) or whether we wanted to rededicate our lives to Jesus? Rededication or recommitment seemed to be the ticket for us. Stoke the spiritual inner-fire inside us with what seems to be missing.
Graham’s whole ministry was based on the premises that to be saved that we needed to be born again. This statement is certainly Biblical. Graham’s whole ministry put being born again in terms of our moral and religious level of commitment and dedication.
Yet, as time went on, I began to question some of the things that Graham said to me, on that night. Shortly after I figured that I needed to rededicate my life to Jesus. I was talking to a girl I went to school with that we will call Emily. Emily was talking about her religious walk when she made the statement that she has had to rededicate her life, several times after getting saved.
Emily’s statements didn’t make much sense to me as Emily was in church (every Wednesday and Sunday), Emily didn’t use foul language, and Emily didn’t smoke, drink, or sleep around. Emily probably didn’t watch R-Rated movies or listen to popular music. Emily didn’t do anything that good Christian girls weren’t supposed to do. Yet Emily would continually keep encountering brick walls where she felt that her faith wasn’t good enough. As I heard Emily speak about how she was continually not sure whether she was born-again, and if Emily couldn’t’ meet such lofty standards, maybe we don’t think about the meaning of what it meant to be “born-again” quite right.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from John 3. It’s a story of Jesus and a man named Nicodemus who has a discussion regarding the meaning of being “born again”, a discussion regarding the reality of our personal spiritual transformation.
The key to understanding this passage is to understand the background of Nicodemus before he encountered Jesus. Nicodemus was no Atheist. Nicodemus was no moral delinquent. Nicodemus was one of the most religious men of the day that he lived. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (the very religious body that would eventually convict Jesus of blaspheme sentencing him to death). The Pharisees were no religious softies, they constantly railed against the evil influences of how Greek Culture had crept into Israel. The Pharisees considered themselves to be the hardliners, the purists, the ultra-traditionalists, and the spiritual heirs of Moses. The Pharisees today would be denouncing the influences of Hollywood, and popular culture as being the cause of all society’s problems.
Jesus during his conversation with Nicodemus admits that Nicodemus was a renowned teacher of religion in his own right. Nicodemus knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards. Nicodemus was a paragon of virtue and knowledge, yet he came to Jesus as spiritually blind. Nicodemus comes to Jesus because he is intrigued after hearing about one of Jesus’ miracles. Nicodemus knew something from his own life was missing.
Yet as Nicodemus begins his conversation with Jesus about being born-again, Nicodemus just doesn’t get it. Nicodemus couldn’t understand “How can anyone be born after growing old?” Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and re-born? What Nicodemus failed to understand was the nature of our gospel.
Nicodemus had heard that Jesus could turn water into wine; he heard that he could open the eyes of the blind; he heard that he could make the lame to walk, yet Nicodemus didn’t believe a type of spiritual transformation was possible that he hadn’t already undergone. Nicodemus couldn’t believe as one of the most religious men of his day, how far into the muck of life that God could reach to bring forth salvation.
This week a famous religious figure named Fred Phelps died. Fred Phelps was a Pastor of The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS. Westboro Baptist Church was famous for picketing events such as Military Funerals, Gay Pride Parades, and various political gatherings. Phelps would loudly proclaim that any bad event that happened in America was a result of God’s disapproval of homosexuality. Phelps was one of the least popular individuals in the entire country for a variety of reasons. People celebrated at his death, they proclaimed that they would soon dance on his grave.
Yet when such language enters into our popular discourse this showcases how few of us really understand the meaning of being “born again”. Fred Phelps did not represent the best in organized religion. Fred Phelps openly celebrated God’s judgment, rather than hoping for God’s grace. Fred Phelps took occasions where people needed to be pointed towards the cross, and Fred Phelps proclaimed Death and Hell as the final word.
Yet we should never celebrate any man’s death, no matter how much we dislike them for any man’s death should serve as a reminder of what we ultimately deserve. When we stand on our self-righteous soap boxes and wish another man’s eternal man suffering, then we have truly failed to understand what it means to be born-again.
What being “born again” means is that Christ came to the place of our very death the lowest moment of our existence, and sought to take us to the place of re-birth. Whenever we wish for another man to rot in hell, we realize that we are ultimately no better than how low he sunk. We fail to recognize the vulnerable Children of God that our God might dare to save. Any fool can proclaim judgment upon other people, yet it takes someone being born again to really understand grace.
The struggle over what it meant to be born-again is one that Martin Luther struggled with for many years of his life. Luther looked in the mirror, and saw no differently than my sixteen year old self or Emily, all the ways that they failed to measure up to God in their daily existence. Yet Luther ultimately realized something very important about his faith that he expressed in the Catechism when he said.
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith”.
Luther realized that his re-birth wasn’t about his actions in any way, any shape, or any form. The best translation of our passage from John 3 isn’t to say that Nicodemus was told that he must be born again; rather that Nicodemus was told that he must be born from above. This interprets the Nicodemus story in a whole new way. Luther realized that his salvation was not dependent a level of spiritual achievement that his weak and sinful nature ultimately did not possess.
My point this morning is not to bash Billy Graham. Billy Graham has clearly presented the Gospel to hundreds and thousands of people. What I will say is why I don’t like to describe myself as being born again because of all that goes with it. Born Again Christianity today is defined by what you do, rather than what God does within you.
The thing about Nicodemus is his problem was not lack of religious motivation. Nicodemus rather couldn’t believe that God could actually turn him young all over again. Nicodemus couldn’t grasp that we have a God who took one of the greatest persecutors of the church in Saul of Tarsus and blinded him on the Road to Damascus making him the church’s greatest evangelist. Saul was totally unaware of the spiritual transformation that was capable of hitting him until the moment that it happened. Nicodemus couldn’t grasp that we are as capable of choosing the time for our spiritual rebirth as we are choosing the time that we are physically born.
The hardest thing for a believer is to believe that he believes. Because of our weak and sinful nature, we will always struggle with our own sense of self-doubt. Satan exploits us in these moments, to convince us that our faith is insufficient, that we’re truly not born from above. The problem with getting swept up in the grand religious fervor of the moment like a Billy Graham crusade is that today’s religious experiences often encounter tomorrow’s reality (the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh).
The key emphasis in Lutheranism is not our personal commitment to Christ; it’s rather the depth of Christ’s love and commitment for us.
Nicodemus’ story has a nice ending. In the 19th chapter of John after Jesus died, Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimetha in preparing Jesus’ corpse for burial. The fact that Nicodemus would be so much importance in Jesus’ burial that one needed to go through death to be brought back to life shows that Nicodemus finally did get the meaning of being born from above.
Being born from above is a symbol of a powerful miracle that takes place when faith is created inside us in spite of our every urge to resist it. The scriptures describe this just like Billy Graham says as standing before God dead in our sins, yet as the Apostle Paul says in the waters of Baptism we are given the Holy Spirit and given new life.
This can happen as an infant, or it can happen later in life upon hearing a powerful preacher like Billy Graham. Yet rest assured it is not our decision, it is not dependent upon our ability to transform ourselves, it is not dependent on our standing over and against our neighbor, and it is only dependent on being “born from above” as a result of God’s wonderful healing grace. Amen
 John 3:10
 John 3:4
 Luther’s explanation to the Apostles Creed found in the Small Catechism.
 Ephesians 2:1
 Titus 3:5-7
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following story is inspired by Pastor Teber Hill whose legacy I hope to appreciate in some, small way today along with our Gospel lesson from John the 4th Chapter. This story is a retelling of how the story of the Woman at the Well in the town of Sychar might look if it were to take place today.
I want to tell you the story of a church not unlike one that you know that sat in a small, sleepy Minnesota town named Sundsvold.
A woman named Shelley had recently moved to town. Shelley was a single mom with an 8 year old son named Tucker. Shelley came to Sundsvold as a way to escape her past. Shelley had been previously married to Tucker’s Dad Craig who worked as an over the road truck driver.
Shelley had met Craig in High School and Shelley was really taken in by Craig. Yet once Tucker was born, and being awaken at 3 in the morning became a common occurrence, Craig started to grow distant by spending more time on the road. Craig claimed it was for the money, but Shelley started to suspect something else was at work.
Shelley’s heart was broken as she eventually discovered that Craig was cheating on her when he was away from home. Shelley met other men after Craig left her life, men that she wanted to believe could actually love her, but once these men got what they wanted from Shelley then the phone calls stopped coming, and the men would quietly drift from Shelley and Tucker’s life.
Shelley was not raised in a real religious home. Her parents weren’t into what they deemed to be “god-stuff”. Shelley had only been to the occasional church service with her grandparents on Christmas or Easter.
Yet when Shelley moved to Sundsvold, Shelley wanted a fresh start for herself and Tucker. Shelley was fearful for Tucker’s future. Shelley dreaded more than anything that Tucker would end up like her in life.
Right down the block from where Shelley lived was Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church. Shelley didn’t know the difference between a Lutheran, a Methodist, a Baptist, or a Catholic.
Shelley saw that there seemed to be a lot of kids around Saint Martin’s Sunday school every week. So Shelley decided that she wanted Tucker to join Saint Martin’s Sunday school program. Shelley decided that she should also get involved down at Saint Martin’s.
Shelley was nervous about all this to be sure. Shelley didn’t really think that she would fit in. Most of the people who Shelley knew well weren’t really all that religious. All Shelley remembered from the few church services that she did attend was not being quite sure when to stand up and sit down.
Shelley decided that she wanted to put herself out there. Shelley didn’t know how the church crowd would respond to her as a single mom. Shelley ultimately decided to show up at Saint Martin’s because through all the issues in her life the pain, the trouble, the mistakes, and the heartache what she had been doing wasn’t working. Shelley was started to be convinced that nobody in the world really knew her, that anybody possessed the ability to really understand what Shelley was struggling with on a day to day basis.
So as Shelley stopped by Saint Martin’s one day, she saw a sign that read “Sunday School Teachers Needed”.
Shelley had never attended Sunday school as a child, she really had very little idea what Tucker might be learning, so Shelley figured if she signed up to teach Sunday school it could be beneficial for both her and Tucker.
Saint Martin’s Board of Education sat down one day to plan the upcoming school year. The Board was made up mostly of young mothers full of energy and new ideas. These woman had husbands with good jobs and well-behaved, honor roll students for kids. These were the type of young mothers that any church would love to have involved.
The one exception to the Board was an old lady named Emily who sat alone and quietly in the corner. Emily had been on the Board of Education for years and years. She had been the Sunday School Superintendent of Saint Martin’s for decades. Everyone would have just preferred that Emily stepped down from the board years ago. Emily would often be forgetful with projects, and was starting to have a struggle taking care of even herself.
Emily knew the scriptures like the back of her hands, yet the other women on the Board thought that Emily was incapable of understanding how today’s kids learn with all their tech gadgets as they thought Emily to be living in the past.
As the Board of Education met that August night they looked down at the names of signed up teachers where they saw Shelley’s. No one in the room really knew Shelley all that well. They had seen Shelley around town. Shelley on account of her youth and good looks seemed to be popular with the men around Sundsvold. Yet seeing Shelley around you would think she was anything but polished. Shelley’s breath would smell of cigarettes. Shelley’s wardrobe wasn’t always stylish or neat. Shelley’s job working as an aide down at the local nursing home barely allowed her to live check to check with Tucker.
The women on the Board of Education didn’t know if Shelley teaching would be a good idea. They feared what the people of Sundsvold would think about Saint Martin’s if they knew that this Shelley lady was teaching, only for Shelley to stumble home from the Bar some night with a sleazy gentleman.
Emily had tended not to say much at these meetings, as she felt her input would often go ignored. Yet as the Board of Education was discussing how they could allow Shelley to teach, Emily felt compelled to speak up.
Emily didn’t have any idea who this Shelley woman was that the women were describing, yet Emily knew that Jesus’ whole ministry was centered on reaching outsiders.
Jesus’ whole ministry was based on going outside the bounds of the type of people who were going to make good Sunday school teachers. Jesus reached out to sinful women like the woman caught in adultery in John 8, he reached out to the lepers that had been cut off from society, and he reached out to the Tax Collectors like Zaccaheaus who were hated by society.
Emily did not want to condemn Shelley, because she knew that Jesus had a very similar encounter in the Christian Gospels with a Woman at the Well in a town called Sychar.
The thing that really stood out to Emily about the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well from the town of Sychar was that Jesus loved that woman in the midst of her great sinfulness and made her the biggest priority of his outreach once he encountered her.
Emily then asked the Board of Ed. what Jesus might do if she came across this Shelley?
Emily pointed out that Jesus would seek to free her, forgive her, and ultimately change her existence. Jesus would have offered Shelley living water from which she could receive nowhere else.
Emily knew and admitted that there were probably things in Shelley’s past that could have justified her fellow board members in being harsh with Shelley, yet she knew this wouldn’t have been Jesus’ approach.
Emily knew that what they were going to discuss that night at the Board of Education was much more important then what other people might think of Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church, Emily was rather fighting for the soul and character of Saint Martin’s which was the soul of the Gospel.
Emily pointed out at that meeting that:
A church that doesn’t risk being embarrassed really isn’t much of a church at all. How she would rather that Saint Martin’s gets burned by being too gracious to those in the community, to be the type of church that gives out money even when they know they might not be paid back, rather then the type of church who is completely jaded by the possibility of God’s grace coming through to other people.
Taking in Shelley as a Sunday School Teacher could lead to a Scandal, no different then Jesus asking a Samaritan woman for a drink could lead to a scandal.
Yet Jesus had been a much higher priority then caring what people might say as he interacted with the Jews’ natural enemies. Jesus instead cared about offering living water to the most hurting of individuals.
Shelley was going to be wanted by Saint Martin’s because Jesus would have reached out to Shelley were she was at this point in her life, not where the religious crowd thought she should be. Jesus would have promised to Shelley the type of water that would leave her never thirsty again.
The reason why the story of the woman at the well in the town called Sychar was so important to Emily is because the Sychar Woman’s story is the story of most of us. The reason this story of the woman at the well is included in John’s Gospel is because John knew that living water could be offered in not only the midst of the Woman at the Well’s pain, not only in the midst of Shelley’s pain, but rather all of our pain.
As the rest of the woman on the Board of Education heard Emily speak they knew that Emily had won the argument. As they heard Emily speak, they were reminded about all of the things in their own life that they feared being exposed in the light of the day. They then understood that Shelley was really no different from any of them.
Shelley ended up teaching Sunday school that year and the year after then the year after that. Shelley and Tucker would start attending church more frequently, and eventually get baptized together. Shelley came to believe that the “living water” of forgiveness of which Jesus spoke was really for her.
The women who were initially skeptical of having Shelley teach Sunday school were changed overtime in their perspective. Shelley was outgoing, funny, and the kids loved having her as their teacher. Shelley was eventually taken in by Saint Martin’s as one of their own. This meant the world to Shelley. Shelley would come to become as valuable as any member of Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church.
Shelley ran in a different circle then the typical church crowd. Shelley started talking to her co-workers about her faith and what a change it led to in her life. Shelley had morphed from someone who knew very little about the church to its most effective evangelist. What made Shelley so effective was that she had come to Saint Martin’s from within the midst of a deep burden helping her relate to others that were going through their own issues.
As Shelley became more involved in Saint Martin’s, she started reaching out to other people in the pews. People who were going through more in their life then they care to admit to their fellow church members or their Pastor. People would open up to Shelley like nobody else, because Shelley got those people because she had been where they were.
Shelley had no religious training. Shelley’s life had been transformed. The Living Water that she had received from Saint Martin’s had opened her eyes, and began to heal her wounds.
Shelley had only walked through Saint Martin’s doors because her life up to that point had been so screwed up; she wanted something better for Tucker.
Yet in the midst of all the brokenness of the Board of Education, Shelley had received grace. Shelley had received this word of grace at the very moment when she most needed it. This led to Shelley having an enthusiasm about her faith that was so rare it almost became contagious. Many people would come to believe because of Shelley.
As for Emily, she would not be long for this world. Emily worried greatly about the future of Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church. Perhaps that was why she spoke so forcefully in Shelley’s defense. Emily and Shelley had never met before that Board of Education meeting. Yet they soon met and became fast friends. Shelley looking up to Emily’s grace, and knowledge and Emily being taken in by Shelley’s youthful energy and empathy. Saint Martin’s was richly blessed because God had led both Emily and Shelley into their midst.
Perhaps you know a town like Sundsvold. Perhaps you know a church like Saint Martin’s. Perhaps you know a lady like Shelley. Yet what you don’t know is where living water might spring, just as it sprung up for the Woman at the Well of Sychar. Amen
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from the 4th chapter of Matthew. In our lesson, Jesus is led out into the wilderness to endure the Devil’s temptations for a period of 40 days. The Devil proceeds to try to break Jesus by presenting three attractive offers.
First, the tempter came to him with an offer of bread. An offer to meet all of his material needs, yet Jesus rejects this first offer. As he proclaimed “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Second, the Devil seeks to challenge Jesus’ faith in his purpose. He commanded that Jesus throw himself down from the highest point of the Temple. Satan was appealing to the need of many people to see what they think are miracles, or see great transformations in their own life to satisfy their own doubts to be able to confront any struggles that they shall face.
The third offer and final offer that Satan makes is he seeks to tempt Jesus with an offer of fame, glory, and power. Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Satan offered Jesus the chance to be praised by everyman, yet Jesus rejects this most tempting of offers for the sake of his ministry.
So our Gospel lesson highlights Satan’s effectiveness in tempting Jesus. Satan attacks Jesus in three effective ways; by appealing to one’s poverty, by appealing to one’s sense of doubt, and by appealing to one’s powerlessness. Jesus never gives in to Satan’s temptations, yet our Gospel lesson highlights Satan’s power in the world.
Now many people would rather not spend any time during the course of their week considering Satan. When people come to church they like to hear about Jesus, love, forgiveness, and maybe drink some coffee and eat some treats. Whether there is an actual devil out there is a question that many people would rather not consider?
I must admit though that as much as I believe there is a God, I believe there is a devil, whom along with his minions, are continually actively threatening and seeking to bring harm to Christian people.
The best proof of the Devil’s existence comes in the history of the 20th century. As my mentor Dr. Roy Harrisville points out you look at the impact of men like Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. You look at the way they were convinced they were serving the greater good and it’s hard to deny that Satan has power. Perhaps the greatest evidence of Satan’s power lies not in these men as individuals, but rather the fact that these men were able to get whole nations behind them. One person can always be a nut or an oddball, when a whole country goes along with it then something more sinister must be at work.
Satan strikes at us with all the venom of a serpent, and Satan strikes so subtlety we often fail to notice that we’ve been bit until it’s too late.
A while back, I knew a guy named Dick. Dick was one of the kindest, sweetest old gentlemen in town. Dick one day got the most heartbreaking of phone-calls. Dick heard that his grandson had committed suicide. I’m visiting with Dick one day being asked to make sense of this all.
Trying to answer the question of “Why his Grandson did it?” and I said because Satan is powerful. Satan is able to convince people that there is possibly no other way out from the depths of people’s suffering.
For Satan’s power lies in being able to make the ugly become beautiful and the beautiful become ugly. This is something that I want to talk about today. I want to talk about one of the most controversial, contentious, and uncomfortable issues within the Christian church in the issue of suicide and Satan’s role within it.
Suicide raises the question of “How can a believer decide that suicide is the answer?”
For many years, those who committed suicide were unable to have funerals within the church or be buried within a church’s cemetery. Suicide was considered to be an “unforgivable sin”. This issue hits close to home from me.
Suicide is something that my family’s gone through first-hand. In 1974, my grandpa Kermit had been married nearly 30 years, was successful in the insurance and real estate business, had a house on the lake, served on the Call Committee at church, was considered the life of the party wherever he went, and was serving as the Mayor of Lindstrom. Yet one night, my Grandpa Kermit went out in the boat, pulled out a gun and took his own life.
Such an event is devastating for one’s family. My Grandma as a coping mechanism turned to the bottle.
Her alcoholism wasn’t just having a few too many drinks on a Friday or Saturday night, it was rather a very dangerous type of alcoholism. She had 4 DUIs, numerous violent outbursts, trips to rehab and hospital stays to sober up. She was one time hospitalized with a blood alcohol content of .39 which in many cases will kill a person. The alcoholism got so extreme at times that she was incapable of hangovers.
I remember being about 12 years old and encountering my Grandma in one of her drunken states as she brought up my Grandpa’s suicide I can hear her words more clearly than nearly any other words from my life as she described her husband’s suicide as “the ultimate form of rejection”.
Family dynamics though went way beyond my Grandmother’s drinking. My Dad who was 25 at the time along with each of his brothers and sisters went through some pretty severe depression brought on by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My Aunt who was the youngest child and 14 at the time has had perhaps the most difficult lot in life growing up at times without any parents creating a deep cynicism regarding all human relationships.
You never get over the suicide of a loved one. The consequences of suicide are devastating for families for years and years after they take place.
I truly believe suicide cannot be separated from Satan’s influence in the world. Satan’s ability to make one question themselves, doubt themselves, and despise themselves to the point of taking their own life. Satan’s ability to convince someone that suicide is the only solution to their problems, Satan’s ability to convince someone that there is no hope of grace in their situation, Satan’s ability to convince that this is the best way forward.
When I was on vacation in California a few years back, my Grandma and my Aunt were talking about my Grandpa’s suicide. When my Grandma stated she believed that Kermit before he pulled the trigger asked God for forgiveness. This caused my Aunt (a Psychologist) to get mad saying there’s nothing to be forgiven for since suicide is brought on by mental illness no different from a malfunction of any other bodily organ such as the heart.
So is suicide a sin or a decision brought on by mental illness? The Bible gives either 6 or 7 examples of suicide. None of the Bible characters who commit suicide are ever portrayed in a positive light. This is why the church for years and years didn’t bury suicide victims.
The most well-known example of a suicide in the Bible would be Judas Iscariot who was driven to suicide over his guilt at betraying Jesus. In every Bible story dealing with suicide, suicide is portrayed as a lack of faith, a hopelessness and despair over one’s life situation.
Yet suicide goes beyond a lack of faith. When I was in seminary, I had a classmate who was kind, sweet, generous, and sincere in her faith that ended up hanging herself one night. Reminding us that human depression is such a powerful force that it often can’t be stopped even unto the point of death.
When we wonder what could ever possess a seminary student to act this way? The answer is simpler then we want to admit because they were in misery, because they were broken. We often can’t accept this answer because we wish there was a quick and easy fix to the problem. What suicide reminds us is that if we’re not dealing with the incredible ugliness of the human condition, we cannot begin to understand God, Grace, and the Cross. Suicide leads us to the realization that the only hope we have in this life rests outside of ourselves.
It would be irresponsible to just dismiss Dick’s Grandson, my Grandpa Kermit’s, or Sarah from Seminary’s psychological struggles as a lack of faith. Especially when they’re under attack from spiritual forces they often cannot name.
When people ask, “Is suicide a sin?” a two part answer has to be given.
Suicide is a sin in that it’s not what God intends for his creation. If there was no sin in the world, there would be no suicide. Suicide is a sin because it’s ultimately the most selfish of acts a person can commit
At the same time, we believe the issues with suicide often go deeper. Suicide is often brought on by emotional crises or psychological issues. We cannot ultimately judge anyone’s faith. Yet it’s important to note that it’s not any actions or poor choices that thankfully condemn us, but rather only unbelief. We don’t take hope because we’ve lived perfect lives, but rather because Our Lord and Savior died then rose again.
The Luther movie (2003) had a great scene about the impact of suicide and grace. In this scene, a young abused child is driven to such a state of despair that he takes his own life. The Boy is then refused a Christian burial by one of Luther’s fellow Monks.
Luther upon hearing this, sent for the boy’s parents and the boy’s body with the following command:
“Tell him: Some people say that according to God’s justice, this boy is damned because he took his life. I say it was overcome by the devil. Is this child any more to blame for the despair that overtook him than an innocent man who is murdered by a robber in the woods? God must be mercy. God IS mercy.”
Luther then personally buries the child in front of the child’s parents, and prays”
“He is yours. Save him”.
For the key point in talking about suicide from a religious point of view is where as suicide is nothing we would ever celebrate or portray as a positive course of action for the pain it causes, we would never say that suicide isn’t a sin that can’t be forgiven.
For earlier, I was talking about mentions of suicide within the Bible always being negative, yet if one is to truly appreciate a biblical perspective though on this issue. It should be noted that both Elijah and Job who were both considered to be heroes of the Christian faith pleaded with God to take their life during their darkest hours. Their stories remind us that we cannot begin to comprehend in a fallen world the depths that Christians might sink.
For the struggles people go through in life are often much more complicated than can be fixed by just hurling a few Bible verses their way. For being a Christian is never a promise to avoid all anxiety and always be giddy. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that Satan will never make the “hideously ugly” look beautiful in one’s life.
Being a Christian means you have a God who embraces you in your emotional struggles. A God who in today’s Gospel Lesson went through temptation, yet a God who never abandons you. Being a Christian means having a source of hope through the Cross, when all the world and your own life throws at you is hopelessness.
For Today’s Gospel lesson and the nightly news illustrate that Satan has power in this world. Yet, Today’s Gospel also illustrates that there is nothing that Satan can throw at us that stands in the way of the love of Our Lord and Savior. Amen
 Matthew 4:4b
 Matthew 4:5-6
 Matthew 4:8
 Beautiful analysis of this issue is given by Stampdawg. “Killed by a Robber”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 29. Apr. 2010. Web. Feb.25.2014.
 Clauss, Dennis A. (Producer) & Till, Eric (Director). Luther.2003. Motion Picture. United States. RS Entertainment. This scene is based on a similar quotation from Luther’s Works [Vol 54:29] based on one of his Table Talks.
 1 Kings 19
 Job 7
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
One night there was a weary Truck Driver, who after hours on the road decided to pull his rig into an all-night truck stop to grab a bite to eat. As soon as the waitress brings his food, in through the door came three tough looking motorcyclists (Hell’s Angels). The Hell’s Angels began to start harassing the Truck Driver. They started swearing at him. Then one of the Hell’s Angels grabbed the Truck Driver’s hamburger off his plate and threw it on the floor. Another one of the Hell’s Angels grabbed the Truck Driver’s French fries and started eating them. Then the third Hell’s Angel spit in the Truck Driver’s coffee.
The truck driver in response just calmly got up; he grabbed his check, walked to the cash register, settled his bill with the Waitress, and walked out the door. The Waitress while opening the till saw the big rig drive off into the night. The Hell’s Angels sat around the Diner proud of themselves for the grief that they caused this poor Truck Driver.
When the Waitress eventually came over to see the Hell’s Angels, one of them piped up, “What’s that Truck Driver’s deal? He’s not much of a man”.
To which the Waitress replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure isn’t much of a Truck Driver, on his way out of the parking lot, he ran over three motorcycles.”
This is a good story. We like it when the obnoxious, I’ll use the church appropriate term, “jerks” get what they deserved. Yet is this the best way to handle such situations?
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from the 5th Chapter of Matthew. Today’s lesson brings us to our fourth and final sermon on the Sermon on the Mount.
To understand today’s lesson it’s important to remember that a Christian’s existence is going to be occupied with the never-ending tension between spiritual pride and spiritual despair. Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by speaking to those in spiritual despair: the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit. Jesus assured them that the natures of the Kingdom of God’s blessings are often in direct contrast to the blessings this world has to offer.
Jesus then sought to let the spiritual despair crowd know that their faith can not be wishy-washy because their faith does not belong to them. How Christians by the virtue of being made “salt” and “light” have a totally different outlook on life and their neighbor because of the extent of the Gospel’s promises.
Last week’s lesson spoke to those who have fallen into spiritual pride in the people who hold anger at their neighbors, the people who try to rationalize their sins of anger and lust against their neighbor’s sins. Jesus sought to remind these people that what makes the Gospel truly free to receive is we are not the ones to draw the line between our neighbors and ourselves. The line for our salvation was rather drawn on a cross.
Today’s lesson deals with one of the strongest words of the English language “hate”. Hate is the ultimate outpouring of spiritual pride. Hate is the ultimate expression of our worthiness compared to others that God couldn’t possibly dare to save as not to offend our delicate presence.
Our lesson contains the famous words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”- Matthew 5:43-44
Now there are a lot of ways we hear these words from Jesus. Some of you will dismiss Jesus as a pie in the sky, hipper dreamer who was ignorant of berating bosses, abusive spouses, swindling relatives, murderers, sex offenders, and just outright, inconsiderate jerks.
I know personally how hard it is to love one’s enemies. Kids can be cruel when you grow up with a speech impediment. I remember in high school playing Basketball at opposing schools being taunted about my weight and wanting nothing more than to lash out verbally and physically at the one’s doing the taunting. These words of Jesus to love our enemies are maybe the most impossible command that he gives us.
So we like to make excuses. We might be saying but Jesus surely wasn’t thinking about so and so. But the thing is Jesus knew exactly what he was saying. Jesus believed loving one’s enemies was not only necessary for the church he would eventually establish, but also the survival of society.
Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to a large audience of 1st century Jews. Perhaps the most interesting verse of Today’s Gospel is verse 41, which says:
“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
The explanation of this passage is in Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers had the right to demand that citizens subject to Roman rule carry their military gear for up to one mile. This practice outraged the citizens of Judea as not only had the Romans taken their land, not only had the Romans exploited their resources, not only had the Romans taxed them to sustain their unwanted military presence, the Roman soldiers had the right when they wanted a rest to demand the citizens of Judea carry their equipment for one mile. The victims of this practice hated it. They would complain, moan, and grumble the whole way without being able to retaliate. Jesus knew how fervently the Jews hated the Romans and that they probably had valid reasons for doing so. So Jesus’ command to his Disciples in verse 41 to carry the Roman military gear an extra mile shows that Jesus knew very well the types of people we’re often going encounter that we’re called to love.
Why did Jesus think this was such a necessary point to make?
One of my favorite Dale Carnegie sayings are “You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.” Carnegie understood that even if you get your way, you damage your relationship with others, thereby winning nothing in the long run.
One of Martin Luther King’s greatest sermons was based on this passage from Matthew 5 on why it’s important to love one’s enemies. I’ve read and heard more sermons in my lifetime then I care to admit. Martin Luther King’s sermon on loving your enemies is one of the few that as soon as I got done reading was speechless and awe-struck by its content.
Martin Luther King had experienced hatred and ignorance first hand in his life. He was told he couldn’t go to certain schools, he was told he couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, be treated in certain hospitals, or have the same rights to public transportation.
Martin Luther King had every reason under the sun to want to fight anger with anger yet he knew this was going to solve nothing other than creating further hard feelings. So Dr. King in a 1957 sermon given at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama gave three reasons why loving one’s enemies are so important.
The first reason is hatred only begets more hatred.
King told the story of one night driving with brother AD to Chattanooga, TN. On this night, every car they encountered on the road would fail to dim their bright lights meeting King’s car. King’s brother AD had a solution. AD was going to get his point across and get it across good. AD promised the next car that refused to dim their lights, AD was going to do the same in return. AD wanted to give the other drivers a taste of their own medicine.
Upon hearing AD’s suggestion, Dr.King turned and said the following. “Oh no, don’t do that. There’s be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.”
King related this highway tale to the history of world civilization as a whole. How civilizations have risen and fallen based on their failure to dim the lights and all the blood shed that follows.
King points out:
“Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”
The second reason King gave why it is important to love your enemies is because hatred distorts us. Hatred causes us to act in irrational, destructive ways.
King rightly points out:
“For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does.”
The final reason King gives to love one’s enemies is because:
“It is this: that love had within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies, but if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.”
King gives a great historical example of these principles in Abraham Lincoln. The one thing to note about Abraham Lincoln is he had plenty of enemies. One of these men traveled all over the country denouncing Lincoln left and right. He made fun of Lincoln for being too tall, for being too skinny, and for being too stupid.
So after Lincoln gets elected President in 1860, a short while later as the Civil War was raging on, Lincoln needed a new Secretary of War. Lincoln wanted to nominate a man named Edwin Stanton. Lincoln’s whole Cabinet was in shock that Lincoln would want to nominate the man who had been traveling around the country insulting Lincoln. His whole Cabinet thought Lincoln to be a fool. They asked Lincoln if he had read all the statements that Stanton had made about him. If Lincoln really knew the depths that Edwin Stanton went to try to defeat him at every turn. Yet Abraham Lincoln knew all this, yet he didn’t care. Lincoln admired Stanton’s tenacity and ability for military strategy.
If Abraham Lincoln had responded to Edwin Stanton like nearly every other person would have, looking back 150 years later, we would have a much different view of Lincoln’s Presidency and the Civil War perhaps might have turned out different.
Yet when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Edwin Stanton had been changed so much by Lincoln’s actions that he uttered these words:
“Now he (Lincoln) belongs to the ages”, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.”
For as Martin Luther King pointed out:
“If Abraham Lincoln had hated Stanton, if Abraham Lincoln had answered everything Stanton said, Abraham Lincoln would not have transformed and redeemed Stanton. Stanton would have gone to his grave hating Lincoln, and Lincoln would have gone to his grave hating Stanton. But through the power of love Abraham Lincoln was able to redeem Stanton.
In the words of Dr.King, “There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet.”
Some might confuse this sermon this morning with calling on people to be door mats to just allow people to walk over you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. King was thrown in jail on many on occasions over his beliefs. For Dr.King’s goals weren’t to get his way through violence, but to change hearts and minds in the process.
Dr.King cites as a great example of this the French Emperor Napoleon who one day reflected that many men had built great world empires (Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne), but these empires were only sustained by force. As soon these leaders fell out of power not a single person would die for them. Where as Jesus Christ built an empire on love and even today millions of people will die for his Gospel.
As Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, he stood face to face with people who had experienced the power of the Roman Military might. Jesus was speaking first hand with people who had experienced oppression. Yet Jesus’ response was different, Jesus only response was I will not use their methods. Neither will I speak hatred towards the Roman Empire when everyone wants me to. Because of this conviction the followers of Jesus have risen from a group of twelve men to the world’s largest religion today.
For without Jesus loving those who wronged him on a cross, there would be no Christianity. This is why Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to set the stage for the rest of his earthly ministry. Jesus gave this sermon to speak to the broad range of human emotions: mourning, despair, acceptance, lust, anger, and hatred. Jesus gave this sermon to proclaim the reason that he came into this messed up world is to one day ultimately redeem it.
 Matthew 5:43-44
 Matthew 5:41
 A quote from How to Win Friends and Influence People.
 A full text of this sermon can be found at http://www.ipoet.com/ARCHIVE/BEYOND/King-Jr/Loving-Your-Enemies.html
 King, Martin Luther. “Loving Your Enemies”. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL. 17. Nov.1957.Sermon
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
- Matthew 5:21-22
Frasier Crane Seattle’s most famous radio psychiatrist was having the worst day ever. Frasier’s day began by running late to work. Only for when Frasier to arrive, he discovered that someone had decided to park in his clearly reserved space. Frasier ends up having to park six blocks away, so that he has to sprint the whole way to the studio to proceed not to look any more foolish than he did already in being late for his radio show.
Frasier after work than proceeds to a local video store to try to find a copy of one of his favorite classic movies that he had been unable to enjoy at the theater on the previous night due to older woman in front of him talking the entire time. Frasier waits patiently for only for a clerk to continually ignore him. When Frasier begins to ask a clerk about this movie, a woman overhears him talking about this film, so she decides to check it out upon hearing Frasier’s recommendation before Frasier had a chance to rent it.
Frasier then proceeds to drive around Seattle to three video stores before finally securing a copy of the movie so he can have a nice relaxing night at home. Right when Frasier proceeds to put the tape in the VCR, windows start to rattle; walls start to shake, as Frasier had recently acquired a new upstairs neighbor who proceeds to blast his music as loud as he can. Frasier then decides that a calm, reasoned discussion with his neighbor will get him to stop playing such racket. Only for the music to start up again once Frasier’s phone call to his neighbor ends.
Frasier then decides he needs to go out for some peace, so he decides to meet his brother Niles at his favorite restaurant. The restaurant is seat yourself, so Frasier and Niles wait patiently at the counter for a table to open up. Frasier and Niles keep rushing to every table that becomes available only for someone else to be a half-step quicker in getting there. Finally, after standing over a couple waiting for them patiently to leave, a man sneaks in behind Frasier to claim his table. Frasier finally snapped as he had witnessed display after display of ill manners throughout the day.
Frasier decides to confront the man; he grabs the rude man by the collar while escorting him out of the restaurant lecturing him on his lack of etiquette. Frasier’s escapades are witnessed by a local newspaper columnist who proceeds to single out Frasier the next day for standing up against such rudeness. Frasier then begins to be lifted up as a folk hero amongst the people of Seattle. Frasier’s macho father Martin had never been prouder of Frasier for daring to stand up to himself.
People then all throughout Seattle start to follow Frasier’s example. Frasier’s radio show quickly is filled up by callers who had followed his example of standing up against rudeness. A caller named Mitch had a neighbor running a leaf-blower at 7 AM, Mitch decided to go grab his neighbor’s leaf-blower and smash it against a tree. Another caller had shoveled rotten shrimp into his neighbor’s air-conditioner; another called and had put 100 scorpions in his neighbor’s fed-ex package.
Finally, a woman named Rochelle had a neighbor who refused to clean up after her dog’s messes, Rochelle then proceeded to set her neighbor’s lawn on fire. Frasier is then aghast at Rochelle’s extreme reaction. Rochelle couldn’t believe that this was possibly wrong. Rochelle then proceeded tell Frasier that she was just following his example of confronting the rude patron at the coffee shop earlier.
Rochelle’s words provided an epiphany for Frasier Crane. As he proceeds to tell:
“What I did to the gentleman was just as wrong. I mean who am I to draw the line at the acceptable level of force? Because the next person moves a little farther, and the next person, a little farther until we finally end up with scorpions flying through the mail like Christmas Bundt cakes!”
The story about Frasier Crane brings us to our Gospel lesson for today. The third part of a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. Two weeks ago, we studied the nature of God’s blessings and how they extend to those who are down in life: the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit.
Last Sunday we learned about the nature of a Christian’s existence in an increasingly secular world as Jesus proclaimed the Disciples to be “salt” and “light”. We learned about how the Christian outlook on life can be radically different from normal human expectations.
This Sunday’s sermon is on the nature of sin. It’s based on the nature of Frasier Crane’s realization as he kept hearing about people’s bad behavior in response to his example: “Who am I draw the line?”
Today’s lesson has Jesus making some very strong statements. Our lesson proclaims that anger is the same as murder. Our lesson proclaims that lust is the same as adultery.
Yet Frasier Crane realized the meaning of Jesus’ sermon here. If we are the ones who draw the line as to what constitutes acceptable behavior, then the next person is going to keep pushing it further until the point where our neighbor’s lawns are set on fire over a dog’s bowel movements.
While we would never argue that murder and adultery are equal to anger and lust in their destructive consequences for one’s neighbor. Both anger and lust are the sins at the heart of murder and adultery’s creation.
What Frasier Crane eventually realizes is that the nature of sin is such that not one of us can ever be deemed righteous or without fault. I hear too many Christians speak of the sins that they have committed. Yet Christians don’t merely commit sins, or a series of individual bad decisions that can hopefully be learned from in the future. Christians sin a very rebellion of human nature in thought, word, and deed.
As Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount to set the stage for the rest of his ministry. He is seeking to make the point that the standard of holy living that we often like to cling to is impossible to fulfill.
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus seeks to let the Disciples know that unless they can exceed the standards held by the most religious, most judgmental men of the day. They shall never enter the kingdom of God on their own.
This is why our righteousness must come to us, outside of us, in spite of us. This is why the Sermon on the Mount points the way to the Resurrection.
Second story, first time, I stepped foot in Bockmann Hall at Luther Seminary to see my new dorm room. My next door neighbor had multiple empty beer cases outside his door.
Seminary culture was really no different than a college with Alcohol serving as the primary social unity force. So, I would go out drinking with people then the night would get longer and longer. My 24th Birthday is the only time that people bought me so many drinks that I ended up throwing up from drinking, let alone feeling beyond awful the next morning. I quickly realized how harmful this way for not only my sense of well-being but my sense of calling.
Yet everywhere else I looked, I kept seeing behavior even more extreme than what I had been doing. There were nights that people came back to the dorms so drunk; they needed to be carried up the steps. There were classmates who would get angry and violent through their use of alcohol. There were classmates who would hook up with anything that moves after their use of alcohol.
Seeing other people act this way without consequences for their life began to create an internal anger in me. I began to hold a lot of anger as I saw these people coasting through life without any regard to how their actions affected others. I began to hold anger because these people weren’t making the sacrifices of behavior, I felt I needed to make. I started to wish that a lot of these people would get their comeuppance, so I celebrate as some sort of hollow victory.
What eventually changed my outlook on life and faith was the Seminary sent me out on Internship within a congregation. Internship was a terrible, terrible experience. If my only experience with Christian people was through my Internship, I would probably declare myself to be an Atheist as I learned how nasty so-called “Christian” people can be.
What I learned is that as much as you will often be in a justified position to look down on people, you will always encounter people who can find error in you, and point it out at every opportunity driving people to sake of hopelessness.
In the midst of the darkest moments of my faith, I came to a realization not dissimilar to Frasier Crane that “who am I to draw the line”. Who am I say to say someone’s sins are worse than mine. What I learned about Christian Community out on Internship is it should be as real and as honest as beggars trying to explain to other beggars where to purchase bread. There’s no point to stand before a congregation trying or pretending to be something that I’m ultimately not. Christian community should be about building people up in the midst of their struggles rather than delighting with selfish pride in people’s inevitable downfall.
So, when I went back to Seminary, my attitude had changed. I still witnessed plenty of the same behavior that I did before. Only this time my response was different. My response was not to get angry. My response was to be comforted by the promise that what I am today is not what I will eventually once be. This is the promise of resurrection. That the old shall indeed become new. The power to ultimately change others is one that I do not possess. Yet I ultimately cannot draw the line over whom God is capable of saving through my own biases or prejudices. Nor can I draw the line over who God can possibly use to lead. All I can do is be comforted by God’s Grace and wish to extend that promise of grace to others at those moments in their life when they need to hear it. All I can do is speak to how my neighbor’s actions affect the world around them from a place of my own brokenness.
Jesus’ sermon today is warning us about the nature of sin.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
- Matthew 5:29-30
These words remind us how even the seemingly most minor of sins eventually bring destruction to the world where we reside. Yet in the midst of these harshest of words there is a word of hope. We hear them from the one that went through hell on our behalf, the one whose body was battered for our sin. Sin is serious. Sin is destructive. Sin is deadly. Yet sin will one day be wiped away forever in a “new heaven” and a “new earth”. The line between “our” sin and “our” death was drawn on a cross.
 This line is quoted from the script of the Frasier episode “High Crane Drifter” which originally aired on NBC on March 12, 1996. A copy of this script can be found at KACL780.net
 This sermon is inspired by analysis of this episode provided by Lannon, Nick. “Frasier Crane: Lawgiver? The Good Doctor and the Sermon on the Mount.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 10.Sept.2011. Web. Feb.9.2014
 Revelation 21:1
 Romans 6:23
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As I talk too many of you throughout the course of the week. A similar theme comes up during the course of the week: your children. Your children who were baptized, confirmed, and married within a church yet want nothing to do with the church.
The reasons for this are often varied. The sermon for today is for those whose kids don’t go to church, for people who have sworn off the church, for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. This is a sermon about “Why Christianity Matters” as you live it out in the world; this is not a sermon about church. This is a sermon about Christianity outside the church.
To begin with let me describe the typical human existence. People tend to go through life with a win at all costs mentality. It doesn’t matter if it’s relationships, finances, or just having to brag over coffee over how your kids are taller, smarter, and more athletic than the neighbor’s kids. We want to be able to end the day with one-upping others as a way to establish our self-worth.
Families don’t get along with each other, due to some alleged proverbial black sheep always being to blame. The problem might be a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a grandma, an aunt, or an uncle. All the time I hear stories about family members who refuse to speak to each other. Last week, I heard a story about a sister suing her brothers over trinkets that are relatively worthless in the grand scope of existence.
People will often make the claim they don’t need church. They search out different kinds of community at the local bar, online, or what-not. You log into something like Facebook, you see how nasty other people can be towards each other. You see how arrogant people can be as they try to have the answers to all of life’s problems.
People lash out at organized religion as only being about money, while they whine about how other people don’t deserve success at every turn. They assume just a bit more money will make them happier, only for the cycle to keep expanding with every dollar placed in their own bank account.
People can say they don’t need religion; they might have other coping mechanisms from alcohol and then more alcohol to casual sex to cutting yourself off to the world around you. Yet all these so-called coping mechanism keep cutting people’s wounds deeper and deeper.
If you don’t know anybody to whom these descriptions apply. I apologize in advance for my sermon this morning.
First story, a number of years ago there was a Saturday Night Live character named Stuart Smalley who was played by now Senator Al Franken. Smalley would appear on the screen with perfectly groomed hair, a buttoned up to the top (yellow shirt). Smalley’s whole claim to authority was all the previous problems he had in life from overeating, to being the son of alcoholic parents to dysfunctional past relationships. Smalley figured positive reinforcement was the key to turning around his messed up life.
So, Stuart Smalley first thing in the morning with look in the mirror saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, doggone it people like me.”
“The only problem with all this was Smalley would then spend every day making a complete fool of himself, bringing him back to the mirror the next morning”.
Smalley’s approach to life isn’t uncommon where kids are raised from their youngest of days to believe that everyone is equal, everyone’s a winner only for the world to present all sorts of evidence to the contrary leaving people with all sorts of questions regarding the meaning of it all.
This all brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew the 5th chapter. The second part of a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. Last’s week lesson dealt with the nature of God’s blessing for the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit. How the eventual Kingdom of God contrasts with the values of the kingdom of this world. Our second lesson for today deals with instructions for the Disciples to interact with the world around them.
The words we here today are amongst Jesus most famous: “You are the salt of the earth”, “You are the light of the world”, and “You are the city on the hill that cannot be hidden”.
Words meant to let the Disciples know that when the world around them is beginning to fall apart that their faith can be a beacon for the entire world to see.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”-Matthew 5:16
These verses though are often greatly misunderstood. We assume that these words are dealing with our own self-improvement, our own use of the Bible for daily living.
But note the words: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world”. The Disciples aren’t told to become salt and light, the disciples are told they already are salt and light.
What this passage seeks to remind us is the goal in reaching more people isn’t to convince them that if they come with us to Church then their life will be wonderful, just as our life is wonderful. The truth is we cannot become “salt” and “light” on our own. Instead, it is because of what Christ does in us through the power of his life-giving word that we are made into salt and light.
This week, I came across a story that I found interesting. It has to do with Approval Ratings for the New Pope Francis. Pope Francis had a popularity rating of 88% among American Catholics with a favorability rating of ¾ Americans .
These numbers shocked me because such popularity would be unheard for an American President, let alone a religious leader who takes all sorts of hot-button stands on issues like: gay marriage, abortion, and even birth control.
People that don’t even agree with Francis on a host of issues tend to be drawn to him. What this poll seems to indicate is that people are out there searching for something that often times they can’t quite say what it is. But they are intrigued by a new religious leader who is different from the old religious leaders.
What I wonder about is if the greatest issue that Christianity faces is one of marketing. Pope Francis seems to recognize this.
Robert Farar Capon described our Gospel lesson for today the best when he said:
“Yes, I know. The church is indeed to be the salt of an otherwise bland earth. But that doesn’t mean that the church itself is supposed to be all salt or that it is supposed to turn the world into nothing but salt. Therefore, when it represents itself to the world, it probably should not first of all be seen as salt. That’s misleading advertising. You don’t put doughnuts in the window of a shoe store: that only confuses the public about your real business. Likewise you don’t turn the church into a sodality (fellowship) that consists only of bright, white Anglo-Saxons who are happily married, have 1.8 children, and never get drunk. Instead, you just let it be what it in fact already is: a random sampling of the broken, sinful, half-cocked world that God in Christ loves–dampened by the waters of baptism but in no way necessarily turned into perfect peaches by them.”
A while back, I was at a Silver Bay High School Basketball game. It wasn’t a good afternoon for the good guys in blue; they had lost by more than 40 points. It was the type of game that was tough on players, tough on coaches, and tough on fans. They had lost plenty of other games recently in such a fashion. As I’m leaving the gym, someone says to me “You don’t’ have to be here, so why do you come and watch this?”
My answer was simple because the last thing I want to do is only support people when they are at their best. Champions don’t have a hard time attracting fans, beautiful woman don’t have a hard time attracting suitors, and the extraordinarily gifted don’t have trouble finding people to tell them how wonderful they are. Where people need support the most is when the world feels like it’s crashing down on their shoulders. Where Christianity comes into one’s life is at these moments. Christianity says what we see today doesn’t define your self-worth.
Jesus doesn’t seek to instruct the Disciples within Today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus seeks to comfort the disciples through a word of promise. Jesus sets to let the Disciples know that they are forgiven, and they have been set free. With this promise comes a radical change in how they see the world as “salt” and “light”. The Disciples are being told that they no longer need to refer to anyone “from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:16), but rather refer to everyone they encounter as the one for whom Christ will die.
What if the typical human existence was different then it is today?
Whether instead of going through life at a win at all costs mentality, we see that we are free from spiritual bookkeeping, free from having to live for ourselves, but instead seek to live for the world around us.
What if instead of holding grudges with family and neighbors, we were able to take the first step towards them, because we know that Christ holds them dearly in all their black sheep ways, no differently then he holds the white sheep in his arms in the famous Sunday School painting.
What if people came to realize this church exists, not because we’re perfect, but rather because we’re imperfect. What if people saw the church as the place that would take them in and call them a friend when the rest of the world seems to be against them? What if people saw the church as a vessel then would stand beside them when they are at their lowest.
What if the people of Silver Bay saw that the Christian Life goes beyond not swearing, not drinking too much, not engaging in casual sex, and attending church on a regular basis? What if people came to instead recognize that Christianity matters because it is a radically different, a grace-centered, forgiveness oriented way of responding to the broken world around you.
How Christianity is a religion for the helpless, a religion for the guilty, a religion for outcasts, a religion for sinners. So, that when we look at the mirror every day we no longer need to be crushed, but instead see a Child of God claimed on a Cross.
“You are the salt of the Earth”, “You are the light of the world”, and “You are the city on the hill that cannot be hidden”. Amen
 This description of Stuart Smalley is taken from a sermon given by the Rev. Frank Limehouse at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL as referenced by Zahl, John in “Take Heed! (A sermon from Frank Limehouse). Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 20.Mar.2010. Web. Feb.5.2014
 Matthew 5:13-14
 These results are taken from a CNN/ORC International Poll released on December 24th ,2013.
 Richardson, Ethan. “Robert Farrar Capon on Church Saltiness”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 10.Oct.2011. Web. Feb.8.2014
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”- Matthew 5:3
These words come at the beginning of the most famous sermon that Jesus ever gave the Sermon on the Mount. It is this sermon that Jesus gave to his disciples at the beginning of his ministry that helped set the stage for the meaning of his entire ministry. It is this sermon that comprises our Gospel lessons for the month of February. The Sermon on the Mount is an important sermon because it’s not an academic sermon; nor is it a how to lecture; the Sermon on the Mount’s importance is how it speaks about the realities of life.
Today’s opening section is entitled the Beatitudes. Jesus wishes to use the Beatitudes to contrast our everyday experiences such as mourning, meekness, persecution, and poverty of spirit with the promises of the coming Kingdom of God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
What these words mean are blessed are those people whose life didn’t end up quite the way they wished for it to be. Blessed are those who realize that there is a need for faith when they are at their very lowest.
I want to tell you a story of a gentleman named Julio Diaz as told to NPR. Diaz was a social worker who lived in the Bronx. Every night Diaz would take the train home from work. But one night in 2008, Diaz’s evening took an unexpected turn. As Diaz was heading towards the stairs to exit the train platform, Diaz came across a young teenage boy who pulled a knife on Diaz demanding his wallet. Diaz eventually gives the Boy his wallet. Yet soon a surprising perhaps even shocking thought pops in Diaz’s head.
Most people in this situation would probably hope for something horrible to happen to this Mugger. Diaz’s response thought was different. Diaz called the Boy back realizing that this boy must be in really rough shape if he needed to rob people at knife point. Diaz offered this Boy to take his coat also out of concern that he might grow cold throughout the night.
The Mugger was in shock at the offer. Only for Diaz to make a more surprising offer to the Boy who mugged him, Diaz told the Boy that all he was planning to do that night was to stop by his favorite diner for some dinner. Diaz informed the Boy that if he would like something to eat that he was more than welcome to join him. The Mugger confused by Diaz’s generosity decided to take Julio Diaz up on his dinner invitation.
As soon as the Boy entered the diner with Julio Diaz, he immediately picked up something about Diaz’s presence. Diaz knew the name of every single person within the restaurant. Diaz knew the managers by name. Diaz knew the waitresses by name. Diaz even knew the dishwashers by name. At this point, the mugger probably wondered what was going on.
So the Mugger asked Diaz, “If he owned this place?” To which Diaz responded, “No, I just eat here a lot?” But the Boy was shocked that Diaz was nice to even the dishwasher. Diaz asked the Boy hadn’t he been taught to be nice to everyone, hadn’t he been taught to see the vale in every single person he encountered.
To which the Boy responded with a surprised look on his face saying, “Yea, but I didn’t actually think people behaved this way.” Diaz then asked the Boy, “What did he want out of life?” At which point the Boy couldn’t formulate a response, he could merely have a sad look creep over his face. For this mugger was more than just a punk or hooligan. This mugger was a frightened, desperate kid unsure of his place in the world.
Well eventually the bill arrived for Julio Diaz and the Boy who mugged him. At which point, Diaz looked at the Mugger saying, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ‘cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
Upon receiving this offer, the Mugger didn’t even hesitate he grabbed Julio Diaz’s wallet and gave it back to him. Julio Diaz then took a $20 dollar bill out of his wallet hoping it would help the Boy out. All Julio Diaz asked in return was that the Mugger gives him his knife. At which point, Diaz’s Mugger gave him the knife; he had used to take Julio Diaz’s wallet hours earlier.
I can’t tell you anything about Julio Diaz’s backstory. I can’t tell you why he acted like he did on this night. But what this story does illustrate is that Julio Diaz understood the meaning of being “poor in spirit”.
Julio Diaz took one of the worst situations that we could have imagined and turned it into a blessing. Julio Diaz was able to see the Mugger in a way that rose above present circumstances, and past experiences. Julio Diaz saw this mugger as one of God’s Children, and offered to come together with him in the midst of his brokenness. It was precisely because Julio Diaz understood the reality of being poor in spirit that transformation could occur in the Mugger.
Today’s Gospel has Jesus issuing some really strange blessings for those who are poor in spirit, for those who mourn, for those who are humble, and for those who feel like the whole world against them. The reason that this passage is so important is because Jesus promises to these people the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus in our lesson for today is seeking to remind the Disciples of one the most profound spiritual truths that we have a God who is truly present at those very moments that we do not expect it, at those very moments when we often can’t even begin to comprehend God’s presence such as the during the act of being mugged.
This week, I was talking to a woman that has recently been going through a litany of issues in life that many people face such as issues within her relationships, issues with finances, and issues with self-esteem. As she had been undergoing these issues for the past few months she said something that jumped out at me, when she said “I’m tired of hating myself.”
Hearing the word hate jolts you because it is such a strong word. We hate others because of our abundance of pride. We hate others when our pride as I crushed. As I heard this woman talk, the one thing that kept going through my head is that she is not the only one that feels this way.
My Sister when she was in high school seemed to have it all, she was smart, she was outgoing, and she was voted Prom Queen at a fairly large high school, yet the weight of the world crushed her at times to such a degree that she couldn’t’ get out of bed in the morning.
What the Beatitudes seek to remind is that the world is harsh, the world is unrelenting, and Satan attacks our every weakness. Way too many of us misunderstand the Christian Life and this is what the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes seeks to correct.
Think of the way we often process the things that Jesus talks about today being poor in spirit, mourning, or coming to grips with our sense of powerlessness to change it and how we naturally assume this isn’t the way life is supposed to be. We often talk about pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and turning lemons into lemonade. The Sermon on the Mount is written to tell us that there will be moments when you feel like failures. There will be moments when a sense of sadness comes over you that won’t easily go away. The Beatitudes remind us that the Christian existence doesn’t promise you joy or victories, but rather crosses that you have to bear. Yet what the Sermon on the Mount wishes to assure you is at those moments when you’re at your lowest, you have not been left behind.
The Sermon on the Mount is written to assure people who feel guilty, excluded, or plain weird that they are not alone in the challenges that they face. The Beatitudes seek to address the present life according to how it really is not how we wish, or think it should be. Jesus seeks to remind us today of the reality of the human condition is to be broken no different then Julio Diaz’s Mugger.
The reason that human brokenness is such good news is because it points out how the reach of God’s grace and the coming transformation is way bigger then we can even imagine.
It points out how in the words of Tullian Tchavadian that “While I am far more incapable than I may have initially thought, God is infinitely more capable than I ever hoped.”
The Sermon on the Mount is a sermon that in the words of Saint Paul reminds us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”-Romans 8:18
This week, I was visiting Mervel Hanson who has recently been placed in Hospice. When I was talking to Jenny (his wife), she made the comment that “his faith really seems to be strong”.
I said there is something to be said for moments like these when our bodies are breaking down, when we begin to confront the reality that the next breath could be our last breath. These moments serve as a contrast to how the realities of this world contrast with the promises of the coming Kingdom of God.
This seems to be the point of why Jesus speaks of the poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek as being the ones who shall be blessed not because there life is necessarily going to turn around tomorrow morning. Rather what Jesus seeks to remind us today is the blessings which he promises us; we have not yet received. What the Sermon on the Mount seeks to remind us is that no matter what our circumstances are in a given moment, they shall one day be changed. We all have moments in our life where God’s presence appears to be hidden from us. Yet as we look towards Our Cross, we are reminded that it is at those moments when God seems most absent, he is often most present.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 5:3
 Matthew 5:3
 “A Victim Treats His Mugger Right”. NPR. 28.Mar.2008. Web. Feb.1.2014
 Richard, Pastor Matt. “A Steadfast Lutheran Interview with Pastor Tullian Tchividjian.” Steadfast Lutherans. 14.Jan.2014. Web. Feb.1.2014.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There is no greater story then someone emerging from the humblest of backgrounds that eventually changes the world.
A number of years ago there was a girl born to a teenage mother in small-town Mississippi. This girl’s mother was a housemaid. This girl was so poor growing up that she had to wear Potato sacks for clothing, as all the other children made fun of her. At the age of 9, this girl was sexually abused. At the age of 13, this girl ran away from home. At the age of 14, this girl got pregnant but lost the child shortly after birth. This girl then turns her life around, becomes an Honor Student in both high School and college. Shortly after College, this girl lands her dream job as a TV Anchor in Baltimore, Maryland only to be fired after several months with the station executives declaring that “she was unfit for TV”. This woman though soon found a TV format that better suited her style, which allowed for more ad-lib and free-flow. This woman would eventually become one of the most well-known and richest women on the planet. This woman’s name is Oprah Winfrey.
The US Presidency, in my lifetime, has been occupied by the son of a shoe-salesman and a homemaker from the small village of Tampico, Illinois who is Ronald Reagan. While another President was born three months after his father died in a car-crash, then his mother would remarry a man who was an alcoholic and a spousal abuser. The child from these humble begins was Bill Clinton. These are just three stories of people from unlikely backgrounds changing the world.
These stories are not unlike today’s Gospel reading which deals with people from unexpected backgrounds being called by God to change the world. Today’s Gospel is the calling of the disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Digging into these men’s background we find some interesting things. Jesus encounters these men in the town of a Capernaum a town of a thousand people that very few people had even heard. These men were odd choices as Jesus’ earliest of followers since they were not educated men or religious scholars, in all probability these men couldn’t even read. These men had no influence, or money, there most notable skill was that they were fishermen. Yet this wasn’t even all that unique a skill because the whole economy of the area of Capernaum was centered on fishing. These men were not uniquely good at fishing, as their nets were unable to produce any fish on that day.
Why Jesus would have chosen these men doesn’t make any sense. Peter! Peter lacked courage, when Peter would later be asked if he knew Jesus upon Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied knowing him three times. James! And John! Here Jesus was choosing a couple of hot heads. Later in Jesus’ Ministry, after not be received by a village of Samaritans, James and John got so worked up that they ask that Jesus would consume the city with fire. James and John were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder. Andrew! He made no sense either, when Jesus would give sermons later on his ministry such as on “why bad things happen to people” in John 9, Andrew failed to get the point of his sermon. On the night of his arrest- Andrew was supposed to be on watch for people to come to arrest Jesus, only for Andrew to fall asleep within the first hour. For if one were to just look at the calling of these men in the moment of our Gospel to be Christ’s disciples, this move seems to be the epitome of foolishness. These men probably hadn’t traveled more then a few miles from home in their entire life, yet now they were being asked to change the world. For it might have seemed everything that God would want as a leader in his church, the disciples lacked. Yet, years down the line something funny happened. Immediately after Jesus’ rose from the dead something came over these men, so that where as days prior they were hiding for their life, these men were willing to travel to every corner of the earth under threat of death saying that the one who promised to make them fishers of men, had risen from the dead for their salvation. The disciples after being bumbling, stumbling, and uneducated cowards had become great speakers, who Christ chooses on this day to start his Church.
This idea of God calling the unexpected was not a new one. God had previously called whose personal faults seemed to disqualify them. The scriptures describe Noah as a drunk, yet God used him and his family to save the world from a great flood. Moses murdered an Egyptian, but God used him to deliver and rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians and lead them to the Promised Land. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, but God turned him into Israel’s greatest king. Jonah openly ran from God’s call so fiercely that he ended up in the Belly of a Whale. Then there is Paul. Paul held people’s coats, as they stoned Stephen to death for confessing the Christian Faith. Paul is described as seeing to it that Christians were arrested, and Paul describes himself as persecuting Christians more then anybody else. Yet Paul became the Christian church’s greatest missionary. Paul wrote more books of the Bible then anyone else, thereby shaping Christianity forever. For it was only through the most magnificent of sinners in Paul that people could understand the Christian Gospel.
The idea of God using flawed, ordinary people to do God’s work is one I can attest in my own life. When I was three years old, I had such a bad speech impediment; I had to begin therapy in Pre-School. Making R and L sounds just doesn’t come naturally for me. When I was nine-years old, I was talking to a very kind man, who was my Speech Therapist, named Mr. Kelly. Mr. Kelly asked me “What I wanted to be when I grew up”? I replied that I wanted to be a Sports Broadcaster. Mr. Kelly at that moment proceeded to inform that a job with that type of public speaking wouldn’t be possible with my speech impediment. When I was in Seminary, my advisor Jim Boyce proceeded to inform me that my nerves causing me to stutter would be an almost impossible obstacle to overcome within a Congregation. When I first started preaching, I would have bad stomach aches on Sunday morning before having to face a congregation to hopefully deliver so small bits of wisdom into people’s lives. I can speak first hand to how the tasks placed before so many of us are not going to be easy or even realistic.
I remember when I was in Seminary; Luther Seminary had a mission statement which declared that “God could use someone like you”. This campaign was developed by the Seminary’s marketing people and would always seek to find the most photogenic, attractive people it could to be front and center of this campaign. The only exception to this would be when they would feature people from parts of the world that Lutherans generally knew nothing about it. There was something that I noticed about the people that were front and center of these campaigns. They might have been nice enough, smart-enough, and hard-working enough to be effective Pastors. Yet they often went through life having everything handed to them on a Silver-Platter, receiving every blessing that youth, polish, and attractiveness often brings. Yet when I talked to these people, I noticed a seeming inability to really understand the muck and mud of life, to understand loneliness when you’ve never been lonely, to understand heartbreak with better options seemingly around the next corner, to understand job struggles when people are always going to want to hire you. As I think back to all this perhaps the calling of simple fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John begins to make sense. It’s a story of how the Gospel is best understood the most ordinary of people, who live the most common of lives, who retain the ability to not get a head too high in the clouds, because they would never forget going on home on days without catching any fish.
Why do Peter, Andrew, James, and John decide to leave behind all that they ever know to follow Jesus? We know that Capernaum was the area that Jesus had moved to after his temptation in the Desert at the hands of the Devil. So perhaps there was a relationship established with Peter, Andrew, James, and John that caused them to come to trust Jesus’ words. This wouldn’t be a bad outcome to the story as it encourages us to build relationships as a way to further the Gospel. Yet perhaps something more interesting and even more significant is at work here during this story. Perhaps the reason why Peter, Andrew, James, and John drop everything that they had ever known to follow is because they had been overwhelmed in the moment. Perhaps something came over them in their encounter with Our Lord in this moment so that they didn’t think about acting; they just believed it was what they were being called to do. Jesus didn’t promise the Disciples any great earthly benefit or success if they followed his calling. They were being asked to do the most radical thing imaginable in leaving behind all that they had ever known to face the unknown. Yet that’s the thing about a Calling it doesn’t promise to be easy, it doesn’t promise to bring great earthly success, yet a calling presents itself in an almost unexplainable way that we can make a difference in the world whether we are fishermen, teachers, mechanics, or factory-workers.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John the men that Jesus calls today to be his disciples didn’t come from the most sterling of backgrounds nor did they have standout abilities. They weren’t great religious scholars who immediately grasped the point of every sermon that Jesus ever gave. These men didn’t have the greatest work ethic, or great courage with nerves of steel. Yet God called them to be the people, he used to start the Christian church. For the thing about the Disciples is they were not unlike the flawed, ordinary forgiven sinners that Christ calls to serve him everyday. It is must be true what they say “God can use someone like you”. Amen
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Week, we were having a brief discussion about sermons here at Sychar during the Board of Worship. During this discussion, I made mention that I was going to be preaching on today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 3 on the Baptism of Jesus. A suggestion was made that I spend this Sunday speaking about “What Lutherans believe about Baptism”, due to this woman admitting that most of us didn’t pay really good attention during Confirmation.
Yet as soon as I heard the request to speak about what we believe about Baptism in relation to Jesus’ Baptism. I had to state an important point in that the reason that Jesus got baptized at the age of thirty and the reason we get baptized generally as infants; has no connection. When we try to compare Jesus’ Baptism to our own Baptism, we are comparing Apples to Oranges, or life on Mars to life on Earth.
This leads us to the first question for this morning. “Why did Jesus go to John to get baptized?” Was Baptism present in the Old Testament?
Our lesson begins with the following words:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tries to deter him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”-Matthew 3:13-14
Note in these verses John the Baptist’s initial shock at being asked to complete the task of baptizing the Son of God. John considered himself to be unworthy. John didn’t really see how his Baptism applied to Jesus since it was centered on the idea of washing away one’s sinful state; John recognized right away that Jesus wasn’t a typical applicant for his Baptism.
I think as we seek to understand the meaning of Jesus’ Baptism this morning it is helpful to understand the history behind John’s Baptism explained by the Old Testament which helps us understand how we should contrast it from Christian/Lutheran Baptism explained by the New Testament.
One of the big themes within the Old Testament was a huge distinction within worship between those who were clean and unclean. For example if a man touched bodily discharge or fluid that made it’s way to a bed that man would not have been able to enter a worship space without a ritual washing. This ritual washing would always take place in the form of a bath.
Another type of uncleanliness would be disease. In the Book of 2 Kings comes a story that I will eventually test the Confirmation students on where the Syrian Commander Namaan contracts the skin disease of Leprosy. Leprosy would have also kept a person from being welcomed in God’s house. Yet when Namaan seeks to go find the prophet Elisha, Elisha gave Namaan the command to cure his skin condition by dipping himself several times in the Jordan River. At which point Namaan’s Leprosy would be healed in a type of Baptism.
This brings us to John the Baptist. John’s Baptism was quite a bit different than ritual washing as a means to end uncleanliness. John’s Baptism was focused around repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist spent most of his life living in the wilderness, living apart from the traditional spaces of religious worship. John’s outreach was spent mostly reaching out to the lower classes who were the types of people who were often excluded from God’s House on account of their poverty.
The way that people typically had in generations past received the pronouncement of the forgiveness of their sins was they would buy an animal and bring it to the Temple so that the Priest would perform a ceremonial sacrifice on their behalf. But due to the distinction within the Old Testament about clean and unclean an animal had to be inspected and deemed ritually pure before it would constitute an acceptable Temple sacrifice. So buying clean animals was expensive, even today if someone were to visit a Jewish restaurant that keeps Kosher, the food will be more expensive due to the thorough inspection process an animal must undergo to be determined to be clean. The key point about the origins of John’s Baptism is it provided a sharp contrast against the Rabbis of the day by claiming that there was a way to God outside of the Temple system, and outside of traditional religious means.
So this brings us to the question of utmost importance to our lesson in “why was Jesus baptized?’
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”-Matthew 3:15
So we know the reason that Jesus had to get baptized was “to fulfill all righteousness”. There are a few points that need to be stated here.
1. The first point is in regards to the age of Jesus getting baptized at thirty. Our Baptist friends think this is important. I’ve heard the objection to Infant Baptism on more than one occasion that “remember Jesus was baptized as an adult.” This is true (no doubt). But why be baptized at the age of thirty? It couldn’t have been for insufficient religious knowledge. At the age of twelve, Jesus was able to walk into the Temple and amaze the greatest religious scholars of his day. John couldn’t get the reason for Jesus’ Baptism since he saw no sin in him to indicate he was turning over a new leaf in life. It makes no sense that Jesus got baptized as a means of publically stating his faith in front of an audience, since this seemed to be pretty on display at the Temple at the age of twelve. Something else is at work here, perhaps it is explained by the 4TH chapter of Numbers describes thirty being the traditional age to enter the Priesthood. And a couple of additional things that one had to do to properly enter the Priesthood according to the Old Testament were to be washed with water along with anointed with oil to symbolize the blessing of the Holy Spirit. When one digs deeper into this background information. It begins to make sense why we have little to no details of Jesus’ life from the age of two to the age of thirty. His ministry was only going to begin with a proper initiation into it or “a fulfillment of all righteousness.”
2. Jesus’ existence is radically different from ours in that he needed to fulfill the Law such as a proper initiation into the Priesthood. One of the toughest things for Christians and Non-Christians to do is to get the Old Testament to understand its meaning. The Old Testament has a lot of strange laws in its pages. The people of Israel are told not to eat pork, so Jesus didn’t eat pork. The people of Israel are told not to eat Shellfish, so Jesus didn’t’ eat Shellfish. The people of Israel are told not to mix meat with dairy, so Jesus didn’t mix meat with dairy. The Old Testament is filled with all sorts of seemingly strange laws dealing with touching animals, offering proper incense in worship, even mixing fabrics on one’s clothing. Yet the whole point of the Gospel/the Ten Commandments and any other strange law within the Old Testament’s pages is that Christ would end of the demands of the Law. Christians have been set free through to the cross to take confidence in one’s salvation because it is about what God has done for you, not what you must do for God. While there might be plenty of good reasons not to eat a Cheeseburger or Bacon (I can’t think of any, but this is what I’ve heard) because of death and resurrection these reasons have nothing to do with your salvation. This has been recognized since the earliest days of the Christian church.
This leads to a final question. What is the relationship between John’s Baptism and Christian/Lutheran Baptism?
John the Baptist would baptize people several times; John even had followers who underwent daily Baptism rituals. Christian Baptism was different from John’s Baptism in it’s invocation, Christian Baptism always occur in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The difference between John’s Baptism and Christian Baptism is on display in the 19th chapter of the Book of Acts where the Apostle Paul came across some disciples of John the Baptist who had been baptized by John, but had not yet heard of the Holy Spirit. At this point in time, they are rebaptized by Paul in the name, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained to John’s followers that John’s Baptism was merely pointing the way to one that would come after him in Christ Jesus.
Paul in Romans the 6th chapter states the true nature of Christian Baptism in contrast to John’s Baptism when he says:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
John the Baptist even drew a distinction between the inadequacy of his baptism and the baptism to come in Christ Jesus when he said:
“That he only baptized with water, but the one to come after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
If one were to seriously study the New Testament they could in no way conclude that Christian/Lutheran Baptism and John’s Baptism served the same purpose or possessed the same meaning. Since Christian Baptism was only given it’s origins through the death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The key point to understand the comparison between Jesus’ Baptism and our Baptism is our Baptism has nothing to do with following Christ’s example. Our Baptism is rather centered on the unique promises given by God within Baptism. The declaration given by God is really no different then the declaration which ends our lesson for today.
“This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”-Matthew 3:17.
Christian Baptism is ultimately about the promises of God’s Word. God came down to wash away our sin. Jesus’ Baptism is not our Baptism. Today is the “First Day on the Job” that our Lord undertook to be our savior. The beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus’ Baptism took place to lead to the day when he took our sin unto himself. Christ took on our sin so we may be washed clean in the Baptism into his death that was to come. Amen
 Leviticus 15
 2 Kings 5:1-14
 Numbers 4:3
 Leviticus 8:6, Exodus 29:4- taken from Slick, Matt. “Why Was Jesus baptized?”. CARM. 10.Dec.2008. Web. Jan.8.2014
 Acts 19:1-7
 Romans 6:3-5
 Mark 1:8/Matthew 3:11
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.