Grounded in Christ — Sent to be a Blessing.

Zion Lutheran Church

Jesus Wants One-ness

Jesus prayed, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” (John 17:20)

Unity Word Cloud

This week we are diverging from our planned summer series. The reason is simple. We had an incredible team of people take an incredible trip to Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota. They saw, learned and experienced some amazing things during their week there. Perhaps most important is Jesus’ desire and commitment to bringing people together. God’s dream is that all people will be united in the same way that the Son and the Father are truly one.

In the verse from the prayer that Jesus is praying above, he is nearing the end. Judas has already departed to betray him. The soldiers are coming to arrest him. Unless he simply flees for his own safety, something contrary to his identity as the Messiah, it will not be long before Jesus is in jail and probably dead. This is his last one-to-one time in prayer before the arrest. Anything after this is going to be on the fly. What should he pray about?

Jesus chooses to pray for those of us who will remain. He isn’t dying just to get us into heaven. No, his arrest and death are really about changing the world in which we live into the world God is dreaming and committed to finishing. Jesus’ death will be about our lives. Jesus wants all the factions in the world who are so easily swayed to be against each other and at each other’s throats to find unity. Real unity. That kind of unity can only come from God.

Because the world we live in is getting smaller every day, the experiences we have grow bigger at the same time. It used to be a long way to meet someone from an Indian reservation in Illinois. It used to be a long way to meet a Muslim from Egypt. It used to be a long way to meet a Hindu from India. It used to be a long way to lots of people and places. But now the world has gotten small.

Pastor Ray Bakke, a noted missional thinker said we used to bring Christ to the nations and we messed it up, doing more to colonialize others than to bring Jesus to them. So God is doing a new thing. In this global world, God is bringing the nations to us.

Whether in Indian lands in North Dakota or the new neighbors that God has given us from all sorts of places right next door, we are constantly in contact with fellow people who God has made. Jesus’ desire is for us to learn to be one. This week is a little chance for us to reflect, learn and practice as a congregation. But what we practice when we are together on Sundays is also what we live out each day throughout the week. It is both the reality of our new world and a chance to be the answer to Jesus’ final prayer.

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Jesus – The great high priest who knows you best

Jesus - High Priest

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Ever feel like life is throwing one curve ball after another at you? It can seem like sometimes there is no end to the challenges we face. Each one of us, when these streaks come, is also likely to think, “No one knows what I am going through.” In fact, if a friend says, “I know just how you feel,” it may even make us angry. We think, “No one knows how I feel!”

But the image of Jesus we get in Hebrews is one of complete identification with us. Jesus takes on our human form and deals with our human struggles. He is “in every respect tested as we are.” While struggle often makes us want to retreat and find a hole to climb in, there is no escaping this simple truth. In Jesus, God comes to be with us in all things and both stays with us in our pains and knows what it is we are feeling as a result.

This is a critical point. There are times when each of us feels more or less alone. Sometimes it can feel like we are alone, even when there are people around us. In fact, nothing feels so alone as the feeling of loneliness in a room full of people. But the witness of scripture is very clear. We are never alone. And we are never not understood. It may only be God in Christ who understands us and stands with us. But that is the witness of the scriptures. Jesus knows you better than anyone. Jesus most likely knows you better than you even know yourself.

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Jesus is one of us.

Jesus is human

“Therefore he (Jesus) had to become like his brothers and sisters[f] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17)

We often need to remember that there is more to God than meets the eye. God is amazing beyond our imagination. God is capable beyond our wildest dreams. God is wise beyond our ability to discern wisdom. In fact, that is one of the reasons that there are so many religions, images of God, understandings of God, etc. Much about God is intuited but not known. We can only wonder.

But the author of Hebrews wants readers to know that something amazing has happened in Christ. When God came to us in Jesus, God came to us and became like us “in every respect.” There is nothing about us and our flesh and blood that is not also true for Jesus. Jesus knows what it is to be one of us because Jesus is one of us.

For the author of Hebrews, this is important because it means that Jesus’ work is offered up as one of us. What Jesus does, he does as a person, and fulfills all that God can ask of people. As the great high priest, Christ’s offering also shows us what life is for all of us who are God’s people. As he offers himself, we see life lived sacrificially and we see God receive that gift fully. Life is restored. We join in that work and live sacrificially as well.

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God has spoken to us

God speaks to us

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 1:1-2a)

Since the beginning of time people have sensed that there must be something beyond our experience. People believed that there must be something or someone responsible for our existence. These thoughts wondered if the god or gods who made the world were primarily friendly or not, could be trusted or not, and could be accessed or appeased in ways that would make them do good things for us or treat us well.

Early in Israel’s history, not long after God freed the people from slavery in Egypt and gave them the covenant and the ten commandments with it, it became clear that people needed reminders of whose they were and who they were. God sent prophets, people who spoke with God’s word and with clarity into a situation. It was the prophet’s job to make clear what God wanted. Israel had many prophets over the centuries. Their role was essential to keeping the people connected, alert and on track. When they got off track, the prophet brought strong words to refocus the people. Sometimes they responded. Sometimes they didn’t.

In Jesus, God speaks to us differently. Rather than speaking through someone else, God in Christ has chosen to come to us and be among us. A word from Jesus takes out the so-called “middle man.” There is one less filter, one less distance to cross.

In what the book of Hebrews calls “these last days,” God has taken up residence among us. A word from Jesus is not a word sent by God to be given to us. It is a word from God that God has come to us to bring directly. The book of Hebrews wants the reader to know: In Jesus, God is among us. We are not alone.

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What do you want?

Coveting

 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17) 

Our cultures have changed so the list above may seem a bit foreign to many of our experiences. But the idea behind this verse is central to living a healthy and meaningful life. You shall not covet…

We live in a consumer culture in a system that is designed to get you to covet. Much of what drives the American experience is grounded in coveting. Magazine ads, TV commercials, Google ads that pop up based on your search data are all designed to get you to want something you don’t have and eventually to get you to do something about it. Who hasn’t seen an ad for something you hadn’t even been thinking about and thought, “Wow, that looks cool. I want one of those.”

The goal of much of our existence is to be sure that you are pressured to be dissatisfied with who you are and what you have. No matter how happy you thought you were a minute before the commercial came on, the advertiser’s goal is to make you feel inadequate at the moment and also to show you what you need to get, do, or buy in order to feel fulfilled and whole again. Yes, coveting drives the economy. Coveting makes Christmas Christmas.

In contrast, the Bible pictures a world where people are connected and care about what they have in ways that elicit gratitude. Gratitude for what we have is the opposite of coveting. Gratitude comes from a sense that we have good things and that what we h ave is enough. While there is still poverty in America, even many of us who struggle to make ends meet have too much stuff we wanted but don’t need and as a result we lack resources to have what we need. Only in America can you have way too much and way too little so easily!

So, the command to not covet is also a charge to live contented lives. It is a call to live wisely, grounded in good decisions about the things we have and the relationships in our lives. Being good stewards of those will bring more meaning and purpose to who we already are. Longing for different things and people may only make us miserable. There’s a lot of pressure in our world trying to make us miserable, but the Bible’s message is one that encourages contentment and gratitude whenever possible. So, take stock of what you have and say thanks when you can. In general, it beats wishing you had someone else’s life instead of your own.

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Are You an Extra Mile Person?

You shall not

“You shall not…” (Exodus 20:13a)

As we look at the commandments, one thing that jumps out at us is that many of them prohibit something. It includes, lying, adultery, killing, stealing. None of these are good and God’s people are told they “shall not” do any of them.

For Christians, the law starts by setting the foundation (not the bar) for what it means to live out our faith. Of course, we know that we are not to do these things. And, at least on the surface, most of us probably get through most days with only “minor” infractions (a little white lie, a pen brought home from work, etc.). But Luther said, “The law always condemns.” What he meant was, even these little things we want to overlook declare that we are less than God’s intention and desire for our lives. When we honestly look in the mirror, we recognize our need for grace and are open to what God offers us in Christ.

So for Luther, the Ten Commandments were not a how to be good manual. Their contribution took on a different role in our lives. Martin Luther’s meanings frequently say something like, “We are to fear, love and trust God so that we do not…” This is the obvious part of the meaning of the commandments.

However, he didn’t stop there, he continued, “But instead…” and Luther would share what we DO instead. In other words, the commandments were not just a list of things we avoid. The commandments are the base from which followers of Jesus begin to live out their lives as bearers of Christ. So, we don’t just not tell lies about someone else, we also “speak to cast them in the best possible light.” It isn’t enough to avoid doing the wrong, we are called to go the extra mile in pursuing the good.

So, you if you are a bearer of Christ, how is it going? Are you able to not only try to avoid sinful things but even more committed to doing good with your life? This is the challenge of faith: to be less satisfied with simply avoiding mistakes and to be more concerned with doing the good that we can do with out lives.

The freedom of living a forgiven life frees us up to risk going the extra mile. Your faith is the basis for living graciously, courageously and confidently in Jesus’ name.

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Weekend Update Master

 

American Indian Wisdom

We have an exciting weekend of worship planned this week. We will be learning about American Indian ministry and hearing from our team that went to

Pastor Dave and Marlene are back from their vacation and Pastor Larry Thiele, the pastor from Dakotah Oyate Lutheran Church on the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota will also be with us. Our team who went to visit there a few weeks ago will be planning worship and Pastor Dave will be interviewing Deacon Marlene and Pastor Larry as part of the sermon. It should be a great chance to learn.

In addition, we will be using a special worship service liturgy, designed by the ELCA, to use this as a chance to use some different elements in our worship life.

You will want to be here for worship and the presentation between services by our team.

Here’s our Sunday Schedule:

  • 8:30 AM – Worship with Holy Communion
  • 9:40 AM – Fellowship time with North Dakota Team Presentation
  • 10:15 AM – Worship with Holy Communion

Don’t forget that late service starts at 10:15 AM!

Hope to see you Sunday morning for worship! Be blessed!

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Do You Look Like God?

Like Jesus

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4)

Our Jewish sisters and brothers are very focused on something from Genesis that is central to the human story. All of us are made in the image of God. While this generic truth is important to us as Christians, it seems to be even more deeply woven into the fabric of Judaism.

That’s why this commandment is so important and so early in the list. We are to be the image of God for the world. Our lives are to reflect the same goodness and creativity and commitment to the world that God has. Because God is love, we are to love. Because God is creative, we are to be creative. Because God is good, we are to be good. The list goes on. If it is of God, it should be of us.

For Christians, this connection to the image of God receives an added dimension. In our baptism, we are connected to Jesus. Paul refers to Jesus as the “new Adam.” What he means is, what creation started out to be finds its fulfillment in Jesus. If you want the best image of who God is and what God is about, we no longer look to the first people, we look to Jesus at the cross. “No one has seen the Father…” Jesus tells us. But we have seen Jesus and Jesus let’s us know what God looks like in the flesh.

Whenever we settle for something less than God to replace God, we deny our purpose in life. We are created to look like God, act like God, and to do God’s work. Idolatry means we look for a cheap and easy out to the call of discipleship. Rather than doing the hard work of making our lives reflect God’s image in ways that God desires, we simply cop out.

That’s why our Jewish brothers and sisters take this commandment to heart. Idolatry is a copout. God is the most important thing in our lives. Our lives are called to reflect and demonstrate that the God who made the world and the God who comes to us in Jesus are the most important things in our lives. Anything less is simply to miss the mark.

So this week, take a moment to look in the mirror. As you do, reflect on your work, your relationships, your character and your spirit. Do you look like God? If not in all the ways you wish, give thanks that we are saved by grace and not by works. God loves you anyway! But don’t settle for cheap grace. Allow God’s Spirit to speak to your heart and commit yourself to responding. Someone might just encounter a glimpse of God in your life and it may make a difference to both you and them!

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God Goes First

Exodus 20-2

Then God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;” (Exodus 20:1-2)

It is not our favorite thing to admit, but we have no control over who our God is. God is who God is and God decides how to exercise that truth. God always initiates and goes first. We are always the result and called on to respond. But while our response may determine much about how we understand life and our part in it, our response will never change the truth about who our God is. Regardless of what we decide, God has already decided to be our God.

Much of American religion struggles with this. We are presented choices and forced to make a decision. Is God our God or not? If we choose wrong and declare that God is not our God, we are told that God will reject us and damnation is our destiny.

The Bible tells a different story. God comes to the people of Israel because they need a God who will set them free. God does that and then, while they are wandering in the wilderness as a band of former slaves with no place to call home, God declares that God is God and doesn’t consult with them first to see if that’s OK. God just states the truth and that makes it so.

In Jesus, we see that same God continue to operate out of that same identity and promise. People rebel and reject Jesus and try to figure out how to take charge of their own destiny. They live as though God’s choice to be our God is an optional reality – just because God says it doesn’t mean that they have to agree that it is so. They have forgotten the basic principle from which the world began: God says, “…” and it becomes so.

This week we begin a four week series focusing on the ten commandments and God’s direction about how people who recognize the truth that God is God will live. But before God offers even one command, God starts with a truth: God is our God. You are God’s people. And that is the essence of the Good News that scripture wants us to know.

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Rejoice (Always)

Philippians - Paul's Letter of Joy

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

Depending where you are in life, you may hear this and say, “You have to be kidding! Do you know what has happened to me in the last week? How can you tell me to rejoice always?”

We tend to confuse joy with happiness and happiness with joy. Because of that, it is hard to figure out how we are to rejoice when we aren’t happy. Part of this is a lack of awareness of what rejoicing involves and where it comes from.

Happiness is situational. Things go well and we are happy. Someone goes out of their way to do something nice for us and we are especially happy. But when things go poorly, we may replace happiness with sadness, anger, frustration, or any one of a variety of difficult emotions. One thing is clear: it is hard to be happy and sad at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive.

But joy is deeper than happiness. Joy comes from a place of wellbeing. In that sense it has more to do with the connection between hope and shalom (wholeness). Joy is the sense of wellbeing that comes from believing that God can and does work in all things and that difficult things may make us sad or mad, but they do not stop God from working in them and from the reign of God from coming in to our lives.

I saw this last week when, at a funeral, the son of a woman who had died shared memories about her. It was both a sad and a joyous occasion. The woman had been a faithful part of Christ’s church and knew that she belonged to Jesus. She had lived a long time and maintained a positive spirit through a variety of physical struggles during the last years of her life. As her death approached, she looked forward to it with the release from her struggles. It would be a right and fitting end to her journey and a chance for her to join with God in eternity. And so her son shared, with both sadness and joy, the completion of a life. The grief of saying goodbye combined with the faithful confidence that God was still at work and doing a good and wonderful thing.

When Paul urges us to rejoice always, he is hoping that our faith will always inform our circumstances. When that happens, while all things may not be good or bring us happiness, even in the midst of pain and struggle, the promises of God in Jesus continue to be at work as well. So, let your faith dwell deeply within you and rejoice (always!).

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