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Take Up the Cross

5th Sunday after Pentecost

Take Up the Cross

Text: Luke 9:18-24

Who is Jesus?  You could make the argument that’s the most important question of all time.  This last week I saw a video of random people being interviewed on the streets of Richmond, VA.  The people were asked a number of questions including that all-important one—“Who is Jesus?”  The answers were all over the place.  “Jesus was a great teacher who lived a long time ago.”  “Jesus is a wonderful example of how to live that people can follow.”  One college-aged woman said, “I believe that Jesus was a real person who lived and taught and claimed to be the Son of God.  But I don’t believe that part because I’m an atheist and I don’t believe there is a god.”

If you polled other people I’m sure you would find other interesting answers, like, “Jesus is the founder of Christianity.”  “Jesus was a prophet like many of the other religions have.”  “Jesus was powerful figure that was looking to overthrow the upperclass regime of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  “Jesus is the ultimate example of love.”

This is not a new phenomenon.  Even when Jesus was walking this earth the same thing was happening.  All kinds of people had all kinds of opinions about Jesus.  Listen to the beginning of the Gospel today: Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’  They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’” Read the rest of this entry

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Something to Boast About

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Something to Boast About

Text: Galatians 6:12-16

Seventeen days ago, on September 4, 2014, comedienne Joan Rivers died.  Though she showed the battle wounds of countless plastic surgeries and several frantic decades of Hollywood life, it seemed to many that Joan Rivers was ageless and would keep going strong for years.  But after complications during a surgery, she finally passed away at the age of 81.  Not to worry though, Joan Rivers had her funeral planned out well in advance.

The funeral was two weeks ago at Temple Emanu-El in New York City.  Here are some of the details of the funeral.  Guests started arriving around 11am and were welcomed by the New York Gay Men’s Chorus singing “irreverent, fun songs” as they were described.  The Rabbi opened with prayers that were followed by Broadway star Audra McDonald giving a moving performance.

Next, several celebrities stood to honor Joan Rivers and share their fond memories and gushing compliments.  The last to speak was Melissa Rivers who read a touching letter that left the audience laughing.

Actor Hugh Jackman ended the service with another spectacular performance that ended with the crowd standing and cheering.  As guests left, Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York was one of the songs played.

The funeral was apparently quite the event.  Hoda Kotb, co-host of the Today Show described the funeral this way:  “It felt like a Broadway show with tons of humor, lots of tears and it ended with a standing ovation.”  Hoda and countless other celebrities attended this extravaganza.  Although someone was conspicuously missing—Jesus.   Read the rest of this entry

Where is God This Christmas?

Christmas Message from Christ the King’s Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

Where is God This Christmas?  As Mayan calendars make humans across the world look silly and make God look absent, we’re left to wonder Where is God This Christmas?

Crazed shooters are walking into movie theaters, Amish communities, and schools with guns blazing.  Innocent lives, even innocent little children, are being massacred for no good reason.  Where is God This Christmas?

Meanwhile the unrest and slaughter around the world increase, too.  Tribal warfare in Africa, Christian persecution in the Middle East and Far East, nuclear weapons transactions—these things are only getting worse.  Where is God This Christmas?

Our country is battling through financial times so terrible only the Great Depression was worse.  Those once wealthy and comfortable are now poor and scraping to get by.  Those with good jobs now are reduced to menial labor.  Those with bright futures now don’t even want to know what tomorrow brings.  Where is God This Christmas?

Look closely, friends.  You won’t find God in million dollar winning lottery tickets.  You won’t find God in the number of zeros in your bank account.  You won’t find God in military defense systems.  You won’t find God in the White House.  You won’t find God on the internet.

Look closely.  Look in a place where you absolutely would not expect.  Look in a stable where a young maiden, a curious carpenter, and simple shepherds are surrounded by lowing oxen.  Look amidst them all in a tiny little manger.  There we see a newborn child with an incredible name—Immanuel, which means, “God with us.”

This is God’s modus operandi.  He comes to us with great power in humble and unexpected ways.  We see him lying in a manger.  We see him riding on a donkey into Jerusalem.  We see him dying on a cross.  We see him buried in a tomb.

It leaves us to wonder:  Where is God in all this?  Yet while the manger, the cross, and the tomb don’t look like much, through these things our mighty God came to live for us, forgave all our sins, and won for us eternal life in heaven.  God used the most humble of means to accomplish the most marvelous of miracles—our salvation.

Today God still comes to us in humble means to accomplish marvelous miracles.  We see our God pouring out his power and his might through his holy Word, the Bible.  There he reveals to us his plan of salvation and his will for our lives.  There he reveals to us that though kingdoms, countries, and economies may fail, he is always with us.  There he reveals that no ancient calendar will ever predict the end of the world because only he knows the day and the hour.  There in his Word he reveals to us that though we are traumatized by wars and school shootings and hatred and sicknesses and diseases and cancer, he will still work all things for our good according to his loving plans.

This Christmas don’t look to Christmas lights or Christmas presents or holiday cheer to find joy or to find answers.  Look to the manger, the cross, and the tomb.  There we see our Savior God in action, taking away our sins and opening wide the doors heaven.  Then look to God’s holy Word where learn how our Savior works in our lives in mysterious yet loving ways today.

This Christmas in the manger, at the cross, in the tomb, in the Word we find an answer to our question.  Where is God This Christmas?  Friends, his name is Immanuel.  God is with us!  Today and always.

AMEN

Daily Devotion on Numbers 21:4-9

Text: Numbers 21:4-9

I HATE snakes. I have harbored a deep loathing for those slithering reptiles for my whole life. As a child I would never let my arm hang over the side of the bed because I was convinced that snakes were living under my bed just waiting for the chance to strike (even though I lived in Michigan where the only snakes around are little harmless garter snakes). I hate snakes, and I know I am not alone in this hatred.

My hatred of snakes would have made the scene depicted in Numbers 21 dreadful. I imagine that even snake lovers would have would have been uncomfortable with what took place in that desert. But no matter how terrible it must have been to be surrounded by snakes and dying people, it was well deserved.

Just as the Israelites were deserving of punishment for their terrible, sinful grumbling against God we too are worthy of suffering and death. It is far too easy to fall into the sin of discontentment with how God is allowing our lives to turn out. It is a sin we all commit every day, a sin which deserves punishment.

BUT, Just as the Israelites were given a way to escape this terrible death by their loving God, we too have been given a way to escape the terrible death we deserve. The Israelites could look to the bronze snake secured to a pole and they would live. We look to Jesus Christ secured to the cross and we will live.

Prayer: My faith looks up to thee,

Thou Lamb of Calvary

Savior divine.

Now hear me while I pray;

Take all my guilt away;

Oh, let me from this day be wholly thine!

Daily Devotion on Mark 8:31-38

Text:  Mark 8:31-38

It’s heavy, isn’t it? The cross of Christ. It’s heavy. Real heavy.

Jesus tells us in the gospel this week:  If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. But of course we want to follow Christ! We’re Christians after all! We’ll follow Christ anywhere! Through thick and thin. Yep, that’s us. Christians. We’ll sport “Jesus fish” jewelry and bumper stickers. We’ll even go to church most Sundays. We follow Christ!

Then the splinters from the cross we bear begin to dig into our flesh. Then the enormous weight of the cross bears down on us. Then we suddenly become tired and exhausted. Then we realize exactly what it means to carry the cross of Christ as we follow him.

We must deny this world–the things of the world, the possessions, the money, the fame, the glory. This is a part of the more difficult task–denying ourselves.

If we are to follow Christ that means we cannot and will not make pursuing our careers a priority. Money is of no concern to us. Our family will come second and not even close to first. Denying ourselves but worshiping our children doesn’t count either. We can’t indulge in the little gratifying and pleasurable pet sins that we have.

No. Not at all. Following Christ means denial of sinful world and sinful self.

Wow! Heavy! Overbearing! Crushing, even, is the weight of the cross we bear! It’s not at all easy to follow Christ!

Thankfully, the one we follow carried a cross himself. Thankfully, the one we follow was nailed to a cross himself. And while hanging from that cross he shed his perfect blood to wash every sin away. Every sin. Every self-indulgence. Every shameful deed. Every thoughtless word. Every bit of vain worship. Every non-denial of sinful world or sinful self. All sins are forgiven.

The real burden has been lifted. The real weight is gone.

What a joy now to take up our cross–to deny this world and deny ourselves–to follow the one who gave up his life for us!

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, it is not easy to follow you. The way is difficult. The burdens are difficult. The cross we bear for you is heavy. Yet through your life and death on a cross you removed our burden of sin and guilt. You have set me free. Fill me with such joy in salvation that I am daily renewed and strengthened to follow you with all my heart until I reach the glories of my heavenly home. In your saving name I pray. Amen.