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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More Than Meets the Eye

David and Goliath

When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth… (1 Samuel 17:42)

We often underestimate people based on assumptions we make about them. Perhaps you have also received that treatment, being underestimated by someone else because they looked at you and assumed they knew what you are capable of. We may do it based on our impressions of a person because of the physical appearance of their clothing or hair, their race, gender, or any one of a number of other characteristics. In the process we do two things: we miss possible gifts that these people could bring to our lives and we also disrespect the God who made them.

The verse above describes the giant Philistine named Goliath. When he saw that Israel had chosen a young man, still almost a boy, he dismissed him on the spot. Surely this small, young person could be no match for someone as big and powerful as Goliath! With a mocking tone, he declares what he will do to young David as the crowds watch.

Of course, the story is a famous one because young David and his slingshot were more than a match for the huge man in front of him. David’s skill had been honed in the pastures as he defended sheep from predators. David knew who he was and what he could do. He also believed that God had called him to stand before Goliath and therefore he was confident that he could and would prevail.

God is often using people who others don’t give even a second thought about. Who have you looked past and not really even noticed because of the assumptions you bring about them? And when have you felt dismissed simply because someone else saw you in a particular way and couldn’t see what you are capable of?

Each of us have been called by God to make a difference and given gifts by God so that we can. All of us would be blessed to see each other with the eyes of God, and treasure and encourage others to use their gifts to advance God’s work in the world around us.

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Jesus Is the Point

Communion Emmaus
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
(John 6:35)

For the next two weeks, we will reflect a bit on communion using John 6.

Not everyone who believes in God believes the same things about God. For example, many of the founding fathers of our country were quite strong believers in God but did not believe God was involved in an ongoing way with the world. These people are from a belief system known as “deism.” Deism believes in God. It believes God made the world and set the ground rules for how life works. But they don’t see God as doing anything on a day-to-day basis. The classic example to explain how deists think is the old wind up style alarm clock. God made the clock, wound it up, and now it is running. The world is the same way – God made the world and get things started but now we are living with the results and God isn’t intervening on what happens.

At the other end of the spectrum are those people who believe that God has a plan for everything and that life is well scripted by God. We hear this viewpoint sometimes when someone dies, especially a younger person. Someone will say, “Well, when it’s your time to go, it is just your time to go.” Some people even claim that they don’t wear seatbelts because they know, “If it’s not my time to go, I’ll be fine.” In this kind of thinking, God is in charge and predestines everything. God’s script for your life and fate are almost the same thing. So fatalism thinks that outcomes are set in stone and we just live out our destiny.

Lutheran Christians teach neither of these extremes. We believe that God made the world and everything in it (like deists) and we believe that God is intimately involved in the world and in our lives (like the fatalists).

But we also believe that life matters and that God’s involvement always presses towards life in the kingdom of God in ways that include a variety of choices and paths along the way and that human life and the decisions we make are part of the journey toward God’s reign. Not every detail of your life is scripted before you are born.

Because of this, we believe that our relationship with God matters. God has come to us in Christ and opened windows into the mind and heart of God. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see God’s commitment to being fully in the world and God’s willingness to participate in all things fully – even suffering and death. No one, even God, is immune to the struggles along the way. In fact, the gospel message is grounded in God’s promise that life wins and Christ’s demonstration that God will be with us in and through anything, even death itself.

This is why we belong to a tradition known as “sacramental Christianity.” When we gather as a community of faith, we believe that our gathering matters both to us and to God. We believe that when we show up for worship that God shows up too. It is Jesus who stands at the center of our worship and gathering around Jesus in worship is rehearsal for the rest of our week as well. We celebrate Jesus’ presence in bread and cup during worship. But we live in Christ’s presence every minute of every day.


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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Weekend Update Master

The Story B


Sunday we begin our Fall schedule. We’ve got a great year planned with lots of chances to grow deeper in faith, worship God, and spend time in community with sisters and brothers in Christ. If you’ve been traveling and outside this summer, Fall is a great time to renew your commitment to worshipping regularly and paying more attention to God’s place in your life.

Godly Play begins this week with a parents session. While the kids will be in a class of their own, parents are invited to sit with Dianha and discover what God;y Play offers and learn how much fun learning can be! This group will meet downstairs in the Godly Play classroom at 9:45 AM.

We will also continue to take registration for people who will commit to reading The Story, a 31 chapter through the Bible reading experience. Each week you’ll have the chance to read 10-20 pages in a special reading edition. You’ll go from Genesis to Revelation through the year. This is VERY DOABLE!  Registration includes signing the covenant board to commit and to request a book. Copies of the book are just $7 and we hope each of you will consider getting one.

Worship this week will begin and new four week series on Generosity. You will find this to be an important and helpful topic and you won’t want to miss it

Join us this week for worship:

  • 8:30 AM – Worship with Holy Communion
  • 9:45 AM – Sunday School for kids and youth
  • 10:00 AM – Adult Education
  • 10:15 AM – Worship with Holy Communion

See you Sunday!

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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Kneeling as a Way of Life

Footwashing B

Jesus said, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”  (John 13:15-16)

We are moving closer to the cross. Lent is unfolding for us and with it, we begin to see Jesus path to Golgotha and crucifixion starts to unfold as well. John 13 begins a long section of teaching. Jesus has one last shot to make an impression on the disciples. Soon, the fruits of his work will be in their hands.

Jesus starts with an object lesson. His goal is to embed an image so deep in the psyche of his followers that they cannot escape it. He has just washed their feet. As usual, Peter has resisted. But Jesus has persisted anyway. God is not stopped by our resistance. God is not willing to let our “no” replace God’s “yes.”

So, what is the lesson that Jesus wants to be unforgettable? Grounded in the love of God that is made tangible in Jesus, followers of Jesus are to make that same love tangible to others. How? By being humble servants. In a world where people want a return on their investment and want to maximize their profits, etc., Jesus shows a way of life that is focused on being available to others and being willing to step down from our place in order to love more fully. So what does Jesus, the king of kings and Lord of Lords do? He kneels. Kneeling is a sign of humility and honor. It is what disciples do to their teachers. No one remembers seeing a teacher kneel before their students.

Middle America is a place where accumulation is encouraged. It is a place where we all hope to find ways to move up the ladder and have and do what we want. It is a part of the freedom that we have to assume that succeeding and having and doing more comes with the territory. Entire industries thrive on making us want things that don’t even exist yet. In the middle of this, Jesus kneels before us, strips down to the bare minimum, wraps a towel around himself, and washes feet on his knees.

Everyone except Jesus is caught off guard. Everyone except Jesus is uncomfortable. But kneel he does and as a result, the lesson sticks. 2000 years later we still tell the story, practice the act on Maundy Thursday, and try to take in what Jesus is telling us: Don’t be like everyone else. Don’t ask, “What is in it for you?” Be generous, loving and sacrificial. Serve gladly and do so, not from the place in which you live, but from the attitude that comes to us when Christ abides in us. Love is the mark of Christ. Love is the mark of the church. In the end, kneeling is, for followers of Jesus, symbolic as a way of life.

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Christ in Us

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

The early church had a lot to sort out. After all, the most history-changing event ever had just taken place in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. People saw things one way before the coming of Christ. But his coming called many things into question and his death and resurrection literally called everything into question. If God had come in Jesus and if Jesus had died and rose again, then what did that mean? And how were followers of Jesus supposed to live in the new light that had come to us in Christ?

Galatians was written to people still trying to figure this out. The Apostle Paul has helped start communities of faith but as he has moved on to other places, they have had to figure out how to continue his work without him. That has resulted in ongoing struggles between within group of new Christians. How should they let people in? What are the rules for everyone once they are in? Is this a new kind of Jewish group or is it something completely new?

In response to the news of this debate, Paul writes a letter back to his friends in Galatia. His focus is that putting too many restrictions on new people is not helpful. There are already plenty of places with too many rules for people. This is not about a new way to apply the law. This is all about grace and we belong and participate in this because of what God has done in Jesus. In fact, once we are part of this new community our old selves are no longer at issue. For we our old selves are crucified with Christ. Just as he died on the cross, so when we are connected to him, our old selves die as well. And what is in their place? Jesus Christ now lives in us!

The word Christian implies that we are “Christ-bearers.” Where we go, Jesus goes. What we do, it is the ongoing work of Christ. We are not alone. In fact, we bring Christ with us in all that we do.