Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

a mighty fortress



Remember 1976? It was America's bicentennial year. Everyone was proud to be an American. There was red, white, and blue all over the place. Parades rolled down the streets, bands played patriotic hymns, and fireworks lit up the sky across the country all summer long. When the “Star Spangled Banner” was played, people were full of hope and pride and joy.

It's a similar feeling this year for Lutherans. It's 2017 - the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. There are lots of events and activities going on, special services are being planned, Luther's seal is being waved, and the Battle Hymn of the Reformation is being played. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

We all know this hymn of course. It is one of the most well-known hymns in church history. But I'm not sure we all know the background of why it was written in the first place.

In the summer of 1527, one of Martin Luther's friends was martyred for teaching the Lutheran faith. In the fall of that year, the plague broke out in Wittenberg which caused much suffering and pain. And then in December, Luther's daughter was born sickly and later died.

It was at this time that Luther went through one of his worst periods of temptation and trial. Most scholars believe that it was in the midst of these difficult circumstance that Luther set out to write "Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God) based on Psalm 46.  

An early church father named Tertullian once said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." In the same way, suffering and trials are often the crucible from which come great works of literature or art in the church. Luther didn't consider this hymn as a "battle cry of the reformation" as many call it today. For him it was a hymn of comfort and consolation in the midst of great suffering and pain.

In his periods of greatest darkness and despair, Luther knew where to turn, to the love and promises of God in his Savior Jesus Christ. "God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble."

"And take they our life, goods, fame, child, or wife,
though these all be gone, our victory has been won,
the kingdom ours remaineth."

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

the real rainbow connection


I've always imagined there being a rainbow over the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning - a little holy speculation I suppose. That's probably where I got the idea for this little diddy. So with apologies to Kermit the frog, here's my version of his little rainbow song ...

Why are there so many songs about rainbows? And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, not merely illusions, cause God's got nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it,
I know they're right wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, for sinners and schemers like me.

Who said that every prayer could be heard and answered when prayed by the morning star?
God's the one who thought of that, and some have believed Him, and look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, for sinners and schemers like me.

Have you been half asleep and have you heard a voice say,
Wake up, I'm calling your name.
Is this the sweet sound, the call of my Savior,
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it,
It's something that I'm supposed to be.
Finally I've found it, in Christ's resurrection, for sinners and schemers like me.
Finally I've found it, in Christ's resurrection, for sinners and saints like me.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

people mover

Related image

There's a guy at an airport waiting for his flight that's been delayed. He’s killing some time, wandering around the airport, when he notices an ATM-like machine. Looking at it more closely, he realizes it's actually a flight insurance machine. For a small price, it offers insurance against a canceled flight as well as a sizeable policy if the plane were to crash. He thinks about it for a minute and figures that it seems like a good idea. Just in case - there will be a nice insurance policy left behind for the family. So he buys the policy and then walks around some more. His flight is still delayed, so he goes over to the food court to get some Chinese food at one of the restaurants there. After he gets done eating he looks at his fortune cookie which says, "Recent investment will pay high dividends."

Today’s airports are deadly. Pick your poison – JFK in New York, Chicago O’Hare, Washington, Denver, Dallas, LAX. These places don’t just have gates - they have graves. Most who enter these death traps contract the same terminal illness and never come out alive! You know the feeling - you're trying to make a connecting flight - you find the “You Are Here” sign – gate 65 – and then begin looking for the gate for your next flight – Gate 997! And you have to be there in 15 minutes!
 
As you realize your situation you begin to mutter to yourself, but with no other options you take a deep breath, grip your suitcase in one hand and garment bag in another, and set out for what would typically be a three day hike! And then, up ahead, like an oasis in the desert, you see it. “Could it be? Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” No - even better. As you get closer your face lights up - for there in the distance is a people mover!

A people mover is the yellow brick road of the airport. It’s a horizontal escalator, a moveable sidewalk. While you get a chance to stop and catch your breath for a minute, it continues to carry your body along. When you take one step, you gain two. What you thought would take thirty minutes, now only takes 5 or 10. What a difference a people mover makes! Deep sighs are dismissed. Fatigue is forgotten. Groans are gone. I may be overstating my case about airports, but I could never overstate the power of a people mover!

Today is the Day of Pentecost, and Pentecost is all about gifts, and today's gift from God's Word is a People Mover, as God finally answers Moses prayer from our Old Testament reading, "Oh that all of God's people would be prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them". That promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Christ's resurrection.

It's the same promise Jesus spoke of in the synagogue at the beginning of His ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to bring recovery of sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

We need to hear these words of promise from Jesus today just as much as they did then. For we too are poor and blind, deaf and dumb, and held captive by our sin and rebellion. We find ourselves stuck, enslaved, and in bondage. Because of bad decisions, bitter words, embattled relationships –  we can begin to feel trapped and locked in a life of darkness and depression and despair. 

But look! Can it be? Is it a bird, is it a plane, Superman? No - even better! We have a Pure and Perfect People Mover - and his name is Jesus. God’s good and perfect gifts of freedom and forgiveness and salvation come through this Supreme Super Hero. This is the Great Avenger, the Servant of the Lord who has been anointed to announce the year of the Lord’s favor. This Gospel message first spoken in Is. 61 and repeated in Luke 4 is defined by seven verbs: “to bind up,” “to proclaim”, “to open”, “to comfort”, “to place”, and “to give.” Get it? Seven is the total, complete, and perfect number in the Bible. This people mover is absolutely perfect!

“The year of the Lord’s favor” in the Bible means the Jubilee year. In the Old Testament on the fiftieth year, or Jubilee year, everything and everyone under oppression and bondage was free. All slaves were released and all debts were erased. Everyone who was bankrupt had their debts paid. People were free at last. In that same vein, the Day of Pentecost is the 50th day after the OT festival of Passover and the NT festival of Easter. In the OT it was the time you gave your first fruits gift to God, but now in the NT it is the day we remember God's great gift to us - the Holy Spirit.

Often our thoughts tell us that God is against us, that we have exhausted all of his grace, and that our life is a waste. In our dark moments we lie awake at night, overwhelmed with our failure, feeling like our chance at life is over. But the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, comes to comfort and console us and to point us to Jesus, the One and Only Son of the Father, His Anointed Servant who binds up those with broken hearts, releases the captives, opens the eyes of the blind, proclaims liberty and the Lord's favor throughout the land, and sends out His spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify all those who love Him and belong to Him.

The jubilee is scattered throughout the Gospels. Jesus says to a dead son in the village of Nain: “Young man, I say to you, get up”. To a sinful woman at the house of Simon the Pharisee he announces: “Your sins are forgiven”. To a woman with a flow of blood: “Your faith has healed you”. To Jairus’ daughter: “Little girl I say to you arise”. To the disciples: “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom”. To the starved, the famished, the empty: “Come, for everything is now ready”. To the Romans who scourged him, spit on him, and spiked him, he says: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. And to all those who believe He will one day announce with a loving gleam in his eye: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. 

Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the church, and the fulfillment of God's gracious plan of salvation in Christ. We come together to hear God's Word, to receive His gifts, to sing His praises, to offer prayers, and to share in the Holy Communion of the Lord's Supper, as Jesus moves us from bondage and sin to forgiveness and freedom. He is the One who moves us from emptiness to fullness, from fear to faith, from despair to delight, from death to life.

Jesus moves us into the Father's house as adopted members of His own family, and the Holy Spirit then moves us out into the neighborhood to shine His light to the world, to bring more and more into the life of the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit.

Dear friends, we have a ticket home - and God's not going to let us miss our connecting flight! He is our Perfect People Mover, indeed.

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ht - reed lessing