We’ve been hearing Jesus teach with parables for the past few weeks. Today we hear the last of five stories that make up chapters 15 and 16 in Luke’s gospel. They all have something to do with wealth, in one way or another. And they all have something to do with repentance. Continue reading
September 15, 2019
The tension is growing between Jesus and the Religious Establishment. He’s been challenging everything held dear by the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He’s also been challenging the crowds who gather to listen to him.
Last week, we heard him tell us that, unless we commit ourselves fully to living our lives in him, we cannot call ourselves his disciples. Jesus is raising the bar, and we are beginning to understand what the disciples mean when they wonder out loud, “who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26) or “this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) And if his own disciples are struggling, just imagine how hard it is for the religious leaders to grasp what Jesus is demanding of any who want to follow him. But there is one group of people who are eating up everything Jesus says. Continue reading
March 31, 2019
What’s your favorite story? Is it one you read when you were young, or maybe heard your parents tell you over and over? When our sons were young enough we could still tell them what to do, we made them sit through all of Lawrence of Arabia. We kept telling them we wanted them to be culturally literate, so they could get half of the jokes that flew past them when they watched the Simpsons.
Stories shape our worldview. They help us make sense of things we don’t understand. Stories teach us how to get along in the world, how to deal with hardships and challenges, how to behave toward others. It’s how the Inuit raise their children to be gentle and never explode in anger – they use storytelling to help young children understand the consequences of their actions.
Jesus fully understood the power of storytelling. That’s why he used parables so often in his teaching. Stories helped the people who were listening to Jesus get a better grasp of who God is, and just how much God loves us.
So here we are, in the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, and once again, it’s story time. Here we are, following Jesus toward Jerusalem for the last time, and once again, we find Jesus at a table. Continue reading
March 24, 2019
In the Friday from First message, I mentioned a fancy theological term for the question, “How can a good and loving God allow bad things to happen to people?” That term is theodicy. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. You don’t have to remember the term. But it’s the first thing we think of when catastrophes happen, especially when they happen to us, or to people we know.
Why does God allow evil to thrive? How can God just stand by and watch as hundreds of people are killed by a cyclone ripping through Mozambique and Madagascar, or while dozens of people are gunned down in Christchurch, New Zealand? How can someone who has never smoked a single cigarette die from lung cancer? How does a perfectly healthy young mother, who has devoted her life to ministry, die abruptly from an infection? Where is God in all that suffering? Continue reading
This was part of my weekly e-mail message to the congregation of First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, Minnesota for March 15, 2019.
Last night, just as I was turning out the kitchen light, I heard a crashing thump. At first, I thought that Bruce had fallen while getting ready for bed. I called upstairs, “Are you all right?” “I’m fine, but the gutter isn’t,” he answered. I stepped outside and looked at the roof of our porch. A giant ice dam that had been melting over the past couple of days had fallen, and it had taken a four-foot length of rain gutter with it.
Years ago, I started calling this time of year The Season of Rotten Snow. Just as we are getting into the season of Lent, when we ask God to reveal to us the dark corners of our souls and the sin we hide there, a winter’s worth of snow is melting away. The pristine white landscapes of December are gone. Now there is only this gray, slushy mess, revealing all the trash and dirt that has accumulated over the winter.
The Season of Rotten Snow reminds us that we have work to do in our hearts. It’s time to clear out the anger and animosity, the complacency and self-centeredness, the resignation and hopelessness that have been building up in our souls. As melting snow reveals all the dirt of a winter, Lent reveals all the sin that we’ve let slide undetected into our lives.
And if we don’t want that sin to bring us to ruin, just as that ice dam brought the rain gutter to ruin, it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is: sin. It’s time to give it over to Christ, ask forgiveness, and be healed. May this Season of Rotten Snow reveal not only your sin to you, but Christ’s abundant, gracious, forgiving love. May you find healing in repentance, and peace in forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
December 16, 2018
We’ve been following the hymn ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ through this season of Advent, and today’s focus is on the third stanza, where ‘love’s pure light’ radiantly beams forth at the ‘dawn of redeeming grace.’ Love and redemption go hand in hand. We call it ‘grace.’
Here’s a great definition of grace: love we don’t deserve and can never earn.
Redeeming grace is that un-earn-able love that saves us. It saves us from our sin, our darkness, and the eternal separation from God that our brokenness deserves. This is the grace that saves us from ourselves. Continue reading
October 14, 2018
Have you ever held a garage sale? Somewhere in the process of getting all the items ready for the sale, did you ask yourself “How did I accumulate so much stuff?”
Our culture encourages consumerism – advertisers play on our emotions to convince us we really need something that, to be honest, we probably don’t need at all. Mary Hunt, who writes a newspaper column called “The Everyday Cheapskate,” has a saying that many of us could put on our bathroom mirrors to read as we brush our teeth every morning: Continue reading