Grounded in Christ — Sent to be a Blessing.

Zion Lutheran Church

Believing Changes What We See

Hebrews 11-1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith is the most amazing thing. Believe it or not (pun intended), everyone has some kind of faith. We all believe in something. And what we believe impacts what we see and what we hope to and expect to see

Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

What we believe shapes our worldview. While it has been said that seeing is believing – it is often not true. Ask two people who saw the same thing to tell you what happened and the story you get will be as much a reflection of what they believe as what they experienced. We see this as we interpret what is happening with race, border issues, class and all sorts of places in our world. One person with one belief system about how things are and should be shares the story one way. Another person with different beliefs shares it completely differently.

As Christians who trust that the God we meet in Jesus has changed everything, we see the world differently. God is working on something amazing in our world – the reign of God. We know it is coming because we know we carry the assurance of things hoped for. And we can hopefully see the world in which we live through the eyes of a God who loves us, loves our neighbors and has come in Jesus to connect us, heal us and make us whole.

We long for a world that is the way God promises it will be. The death and resurrection of Jesus ensures that we will indeed receive that promise. Our faith in that assures that what we long and hope for will come to be.

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Jesus – We Find Perfect Love in Suffering

Suffering of Jesus

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10)

Perhaps it seems odd to you to think about Jesus (referred to in the verse above as “the pioneer of their salvation”) as being made perfect through sufferings. Because we often think of Jesus as perfect already, why would the author see Jesus being made perfect in the process of suffering at the hands of sinners?

But life is by nature fragile and suffering comes with the territory. You want to avoid suffering then this is not the world for you. We are all vulnerable and fragile. We generally hope to stay above the fray and not find ourselves stuck in the midst of suffering. But it comes to each of us in our own ways – we hope not too often but we can’t be sure since life brings what it brings sometimes.

What the author of Hebrews knows is that perfection as a concept is not the same as perfection in reality. It is one thing to say “I am perfect.” It is quite another thing to actually be perfect.

Of course, none of us are perfect and we are tested most when we find ourselves struggling. How we process adversity and how we handle our pain helps us see ourselves in our most stark form. Anger, frustration, blame, shame and guilt all pile up on top of one another. We can erupt and lash out. We can retreat and hide. But either of those simply options serve to demonstrate that we are less than God’s desire for us.

When Jesus comes and faces suffering he discovers for himself whether the claims God has made about God’s nature stand the test of reality. Jesus’ willingness to submit to human sin and his willingness to be exposed to humiliation, pain and death show God and us that this is real – God’s perfect love can stand the test and we are loved unconditionally. God in Christ does not shrink from who he is – he demonstrates it and we see that God is more than a concept. God is a living and loving God.

The Bible does not see the perfection of Jesus as a moral category or even an emotional one where Jesus doesn’t get angry or sad or whatever. The Bible sees perfection defined in terms of costly and persistent love. Can God love in the midst of imperfection – and can we?

What Jesus shows us in his suffering also reminds us of who we are to be in the process of becoming. May our own struggles not diminish us, but be opportunities for us to love one another in the midst of the issues we face in life.

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Listen to Jesus

Jesus 1

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2)

When I was in seminary, we would have worship each day. The flow of the week meant we celebrated communion each Wednesday. The other days the worship liturgy would often be Morning Prayer.

One of the responses that I remember from those morning services comes from the text above. The leader would begin and the congregation would respond:

L: In many and various ways, God spoke to our ancestors of old through the prophets.

C: But now in these last days, God has spoken to us by the Son.

I love this passage. It is clear and simple. It reminds us that God has been in the speaking business for a long time and has used many ways to speak to God’s people through the ages. God isn’t a one and done God! But it also makes a claim on our lives as Christians that tells us that for us, the voice of Jesus is the voice we listen for.

Martin Luther liked to remind people that their baptism included a promise from Jesus to always be present. He also urged them to not take that for granted but to listen for his voice. The author of Hebrews has high respect for the work of Jesus and for Christ’s role in our lives. It is the core of his message to us – listen to Jesus and trust his work.

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Sharing Sacred Stories

Psalm 40

This week we finish our four-week series in the book of Psalms. We have touched the surface of some of the diversity in the book with praising God as well as low points of the writers, just as we experience in our own lives.

This week our Psalmist has experienced deep lows and found solid ground once again, knowing God has been instrumental in his situation, helping him through his challenges. As a result, he is signing a new song, one of hope. His life is different.  He has a story to tell and he is not shy about telling it!

We all have a story to tell; a sacred story where God is active and in the midst of it.  Are you aware of your story?  When in your life have you had a new song to sing? Perhaps right now your song is of struggle, that’s okay.  Just know that God is present and at work in your life. Your story is your story and it is connected to God’s story.  It is a sacred story and you have something to share.

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God can calm our fears

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1)

One of the benefits of being a person of faith is the confidence that comes with it. Once you trust God over everything else and believe that God’s love can transcend even death, then there is nothing anyone can do to you to take away the most important thing you have.

Long before the resurrection of Jesus, the Psalmist wrote the above words. They are words of transformation that demonstrates the confidence that comes from trusting God. Martin Luther wanted us to know and trust this and as he talked about the meaning of the first article of the Apostles Creed he reminded people that God provides and protects us and is the source of all blessings. His hope was that as we remember that truth, we would feel blessed to have been given these gifts simply because God is generous

After the crucifixion, Jesus overcomes death and returns to the disciples who are very afraid. When he appears in their midst, he comes to offer them peace. Their fear turns into a calling to continue the work of Jesus.

What are you afraid of and what fear or anxiety is getting in the way of you doing something that you think really matters? The psalmist knows your struggle. The Psalmist also knows the way out of that struggle is God.

We have more info than the Psalmist had. The God who raised Jesus from the dead has demonstrated that this is a God who can be trusted. Allow yourself to enter into that gift and see your fears diminish and your commitment to pursue whatever God is calling you to do become a new possibility.

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Lord, Hear My Cry

Psalm 69

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. (Psalm 69:13)

Struggle and alienation are sometimes part of our lives. We don’t search for it – we are miserable when it happens. But at some points in our lives we may have experienced the breakdown of important relationships and have felt the pain of feeling isolated and alone.

The problem is, sometimes when things break down in one place in our life, other places can suffer as s result. People we relied on in one chapter of our life are now distant and no longer available to us. We may need them more than ever, but we lose them and the relationships seem to simply rub salt in the wounds we are feeling. We can even wonder what’s wrong with us and be overly aware of our own brokenness.

The end result for the Psalmist is introspection. The writer of this Psalm has felt victimized but the result was looking inside and remembering all the mistakes that had been made. Guilt and self-doubt have set in. The Psalmist’s family has left.  Even fellow members of the faith community have become distant. Jesus’ disciples remember this Psalm when he clears the temple in of the money changers.

When life gets like this, only grace can restore it. The strands of the relationships are so fragile and tenuous that no one seems to even be willing to work at it. Only God can provide hope. Yet faith still whispers a confident voice in the Psalmist’s ear: “Your troubles may seem to big to be overcome, but God is still God. There is always hope.”

The ground of all our hopes is that even when the world seems to have turned its back on us, the God who made us and loves us continues to work to restore us and bring us new life.

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Raising Our Eyes to a Higher Vision

Praise the Lord

From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised. (Psalm 133:3)

For the next few weeks we will be turning our attention to the Psalms. This collection of prayers/songs is an amazing treasure trove of spiritual resources and depth. No matter what you are feeling and what you are going through, there is probably more than one Psalm in this collection for you to connect with at any given time.

The verse above is a joyous and celebrative one. It is a call to recognize that no matter what time it is, it is time to praise the Lord. God’s goodness and commitment to doing good are praiseworthy 24/7. While we can find ourselves in a number of situations, some of which as we go through them may not naturally elicit praise for us. But the following well know call and response is always true:

L: God is good.

C: All the time.

L: All the time.

C: God is good.

Praise in life does two things and both of these are important in our relationship with God as well.

First, praise orients us in a positive way toward the other. Studies show that as much as 85% of the interactions between parents and their children are either instructive or critical. Less than 15% are simply affirming – things like “You are doing well,” or “I am proud of you,” or “I love you.” In some families that 15% is even less. The smaller it is the less positively the parent and child are likely to be in their orientation with each other. They simply become objects to manipulate or direct and lose their humanity.

This is true with God as well. If you spend most of your time when you are paying attention to God giving instructions, even in the context of prayer, it is easy to think of God on a purely practical level. “Dear God, fix this…” reduces God to simply a magical go-fer. Being intentional about praising God, thanking God and celebrating God’s goodness reframes us and keeps us oriented in a more positive way toward God.

Second, praise and celebrating goodness elevates our vision. I was just in a group of leaders who said that it seems like every organization has someone who is mostly negative – an Eeyore character. A few bad days or just a bad break or two and we can become that Eeyore character. But praise reminds us that what God is dreaming and what God is up to is higher than or current experience. It lifts our eyes toward the vision and pulls our spirits upward with it.

So, at various times between the rising of the sun and its setting, you may find yourself in a less than perfect place dealing with less than desirable circumstances. Remembering this verse in the midst of that can reorient you, reconnect you to God, and reposition you to act in ways that take something that isn’t yet what it could be and somehow make it look a bit more like the vision we know God has for it.

There is never a bad time to raise your eyes toward a higher vision!

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The Holy Spirit – God’s Prodding Us to Action

Pentecost A

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)

Jesus had promised this moment. He had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait and when the Holy Spirit came it would bring “power.” They were to simply wait for God to act and when the time arrived, God would give them what they needed to know what to do and the strength to do it.

This is the nature of the Christian life. Grounded in the promises of Jesus, God’s people wait and watch for cues from God, receive the Holy Spirit, and join in with the work that God initiates. We don’t do anything alone. God always leads and shows the way. If we are attentive, we simply say “yes” to God’s invitation and jump in.

This leads to a central idea of the Christian faith. God wants to use people and comes to us as Spirit to inspire us and prod us into action. While we might feel ill equipped to do the work or even feel inclined to turn God’s invitation down, if God has asked you to do something then you are the one who can do it. God wastes no effort inviting people to do things they can’t do. If God asks you to do something then you can. You may not yet know how, but just the fact that you sense God calling you is enough to know that if you dig in then God will find a way.

The events of Pentecost are a perfect example. 120 followers of Jesus were huddled in a room praying and waiting – for what they did not know. But they knew they were waiting for something because Jesus had told them so (and the believed him). When the Spirit came, everything changed, and a group of people who would never have envisioned what would happen next found themselves doing it – no planning involved. They simply responded and allowed the Spirit to use them.

This is a good reminder of how God often works in our lives today as well. God calls us to pray and live life watching attentively for signs from God. When God calls us to action, God’s Spirit stirs us up and sends us out to do what it is God wants doing. All the while, God is envisioning the work and leading the work. We simply need to respond to the Holy Spirit and live our lives as “yes, Lord.”

Pentecost is a reminder that if we all watched for God’s action and listened for God’s call, who knows what amazing things might happen in our live and in the world around us!

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The foolishness of the cross

Cross is foolish

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

As we continue to unpack the Trinity in this three part series, we turn our attention to the second person of the Trinity, the one we know as the “son.” We meet the son in Jesus, a Jewish man who lived among us and taught and healed in an itinerant ministry. He understood the core of Jewish faith like no other. He challenged the people who were in charge of faith and government in ways that threatened them. His ministry, as powerful as he had shown himself to be, ended in a surprising place – at the cross.

The cross seems an odd place for Jesus to finish. That’s why Paul talks about the cross as such a watershed in our understanding of God. No one had an image of God that could suffer and die. Such things were for mortal failures, not for amazing Gods.

The cross turns our image of God on its head. We still struggle with this. We all want the almighty and powerful God, especially when it is our turn to line up and ask for a miracle. But all of us have stories where we were disappointed that it seems like the all-powerful and almighty God failed to come through for us. How we make sense of those times (or don’t make sense of them) ends up determining a lot about our faith or lack of faith. Many a person has had their faith crushed when God didn’t do what they hoped and wanted to happen. If we aren’t careful, we can turn God into a genie who grants us wishes.

The cross reminds us that God although God is strong, God is also weak and even vulnerable. Sometimes God’s action or failure to act leads to the surprising loss of something dear to us. God is no stranger to that. Jesus shows us that God’s greatest commitment to us can be found in love. God will be with us in all things, loves us in all things, and bears all things. Each of our mortal lives will end in death – that is a given. But the God we meet in the cross stands with us in that death and experiences it with us and for us. We need not fear it. Jesus has gone there first. We need not give death the last word. The risen Christ returns to witness that love and life are more powerful than death.

This can seem foolish to those who wish for a God who would simply fix our problems. But the God of the cross lives with us and loves us in the midst of the realities of life. If you want a genie, Jesus is not the answer. You will have to keep searching for the magic lamp. But if you want a God who will stick it out with you, what seems foolish to many in our world will bring you hope and life. This is the message of the cross. This is the God we meet in Jesus.

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God is Present and Active

Gd at Work

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… (Genesis 1:1)

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

These two verses both deal with God’s creativity and oversight of creation. On the surface they are very different.

The Genesis text is past tense. God “created.” This is the most common way that we understand creation. It is something God did and it is done. The arguments between fundamentalists who believe in a literal six twenty-four days creation versus people who think it could have taken a lot longer emphasizes this historic dimension. This can impact school curriculums and all sorts of things. But sadly, this big focus is all about the past. It’s interesting but the biggest issue is not how or how long creation took to happen. The focus of the Bible is WHO created and the attention is given to God.

The Matthew lesson points to another, equally or even more important reality. Jesus doesn’t care how long creation took or how long ago it was. Jesus’ real concern is that people trust that God is still working. It isn’t enough to believe that God did something a long time ago. God is active and present in our world today and Jesus’ deepest desire is to help people see that, trust that, and live out of that promise.

This week we begin a series for three weeks that will unpack each person of the Trinity. The goal is not to gain some esoteric understanding of the Trinity and the metaphysics of the “Three in one.” The goal is to spend time exploring a God whose essence is too big for any one person to contain, whose core identity is a loving relationship, and who is active and at work in our lives.

The lessons we share this week point to a God who was active, is active and who will always be active in our world and in our lives. Knowing that and trusting that stands at the core of Jesus’ teaching. Knowing that and trusting that provides the core for us to live faithfully and confidently today. The God who made the world, has come to us in Jesus and the risen Christ keeps us alert and connected to God who works in the world today.

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