Archive for July 2011

What do you pant for?

July 25, 2011

Matthew 13:31-52
31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Pent6 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 7-24-11

Children’s Time: bring out things that make me salivate and pant – like Zebra Cakes, Beef Jerky, and Pringles. What are you hungry for? What makes you pant? Show the Bible. In our Psalm (119) we read together: “When your Word is opened, it gives light / it gives understanding / I open my mouth and pant – because I long for your commandments.” Of all the things we love to eat… let’s make sure we’re getting a daily dose of God’s Word – through prayer, reading the Bible and singing songs of praise. And, let’s also remember those who are truly hungry in our world. God’s Word is worth more than all the riches in the world. Let’s thank God for this gift and share it with others.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The last couple weeks, we’ve heard parables told by Jesus – little stories about a sower scattering seeds – or about weeds growing up among the wheat, and what to do about them. But in our gospel text today Jesus is firing off parables left and right about the kingdom of God and what God’s rule is really all about. I mean, he’s really on a roll.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast in the dough.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, catching fish of all kinds.

I like how Jesus ends this whole string of parables, by inviting his listeners to become scribes – to write about and share their treasure with others: “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” We have the privilege of sharing this treasure (old and new) with others! But what does that treasure look like? What if I’m not sure about what it looks like?

You might start with what it is you pant for in life. Fine jewelry, fancy clothes, cute shoes, a new truck? I mean, what really gets your juices flowing? When was the last time music made you cry? When did a word from someone else / or from God / make your day? When was the last time your stomach jumped inside you because of an injustice in the world?

Through prayer, we begin to sort out all the things that we pant for – and God reveals that which is treasure in the field – that pearl of great price – that yeast in the dough. When we find it, says Jesus, we ought to bring it out, both old and new treasure, and share it with others.

I brought with me today a “Message of Hope” card from Amnesty International. As a member, I received one of these every couple of months (along with an appeal to give money, of course). Amnesty International is an organization that works for human rights around the world – especially with regards to people who are tortured in prison – or held for speaking out against their government.

The “Message of Hope” card simply says: “Do not be discouraged. You are not forgotten.” It’s written in five languages, and there’s a place to sign your name. That’s all. A simple note, slipped to a guard, and on to a prisoner who will read it and just maybe cling to hope as a precious jewel – or a treasure in field.

In our Psalm (119) today, we read together: “When your Word is opened, it gives light / it gives understanding / I open my mouth and pant – because I long for your commandments.”

This is what the boy king, Solomon, about – when God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon made his choice: “Give me understanding to govern your people – the wisdom to know the difference between good and evil.” It pleased God that he didn’t ask for long life, riches or the lives of his enemies.

And interestingly enough, this is the sin that did Adam and Eve in. They, too, saw the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil – and ate it. So, it’s okay for Solomon, but not for Adam and Eve? I know, they disobeyed God and all that… So maybe, it’s more important what Solomon didn’t ask for: the lives of his enemies, a long life, or riches.

So, is that what the treasure is? Is it wisdom? The knowledge of good and evil? I mean, if we’re going to bring it out and share it with others… how will we know what it looks like? We, who live in American society – envying those who have riches, we joke about winning the lottery. Envying the young and the beautiful, we expect our health care to help us live longer. And we desire the lives of our enemies when we are provoked or attacked – and even when we’re not attacked… sometimes.

How can Paul be so convinced? In his letter to the Romans, he penned some of the most comforting words in all scripture – words you’re very likely to hear at a funeral, or at other times of deep grief and despair: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” And the answer is a definitive “No one.” “No one,” says Paul, “and no thing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” “I am convinced,” he says.

Are you convinced? Is this what you pant for as you journey through life each day?
As you look at the world around you – where terrorist attacks kill dozens in Norway… are you convinced – that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?

As satellite images reveal secret concentration camps in North Korea where 200,000 residents are kept as slaves in horrific conditions – sometimes held in tiny cells – so small you can neither sit up or lie down – are you convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?

As you hear news of the famine in Ethiopia & Somalia – where the UN estimates that 10 million people are at risk, including 2 million malnourished children – where it hasn’t rained in 2 years, causing the worst drought since 1951 – are you convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Not famine, not nakedness, not peril, not sword?

Are you convinced?

Do you find yourself panting for this Word of Life that comes from God alone? Or are you dreaming for long life, riches and the lives of your enemies? Are you convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God?

If you aren’t convinced then none of this matters. We’re done here.
The saying is true:
“If Jesus is among us, nothing else matters.
And, if Jesus is not among us, then nothing else matters.”

Now, I’m sure some of you noticed that Paul, when he wrote this to the Romans, wasn’t convinced either, at first. Did you catch it? How does he start this text? “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how to pray.” Paul begins in his own weakness – not knowing even how to pray.

Sometimes, the only prayer that matters… (take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out slowly)… is a sigh too deep for words. Let us pray:

O Lord, our God, when we in awesome wonder,
consider all the worlds thy hands have made.
When we look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings our souls, our Savior God – to Thee.
How great Thou art.
How great Thou art.

Broken and Blessed

July 19, 2011

Pent5 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 7-17-11

Matthew 13:24-43
24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” … 36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Children’s Time: Have you ever been on a looong road trip and gotten bored? I mean after all the books and puzzles and video games have gotten old – and there’s nothing else to do – there are 4 words that every parent hears coming from the back seat: ARE WE THERE YET? In our lessons today, the workers in the field were ready to chop down some weeds, but it wasn’t time yet. The owner said to leave them be. They were impatient. The Bible says that “in hope we were saved.” In other words, we hope for what we don’t yet see – a time where love replaces hate – and all people share all things in common. We’re not there yet… but we are waiting with patience. So the next time you find yourself looking out the window… craning your neck to see if it’s here yet… a train… the Twins game to start… the fireworks… remember to wait patiently for God, too, and never give up hope.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, we’re back in the garden this week. As you may recall, last week we witnessed some strange seeding techniques by the sower in Jesus’ parable, who apparently had no trouble sowing seed on the rocks and among the thorns or on the footpath… as well as the good soil.

Today we have a landowner whose slaves have reported that there are weeds in his field of wheat. “An enemy has done this,” says the landowner.

And so it begins: what do we do with those pesky weeds? Matthew uses the Greek term: zizania which refers to a type of wild rice grass, such as “darnel.” Though it resembles wheat when it first comes up, you can’t tell if it’s darnel until the grain comes in. Wheat slumps over, heavy with grain. Darnel points straight up. And it grows plentifully in Palestine. Eat it and it will make you sick.

Later, Jesus explains the parable: “The good seed is the children of the kingdom and the weeds are the children of the evil one.” It’s so clear of who’s who. But how to deal with the wheat calls or patience and forebearance. “Let them be,” says the landowner, “for in pulling them up, you may uproot the wheat along with them.”

There’s a sense of God’s justice running throughout this parable that confounds the minds of followers. “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” we hear in Matthew earlier. Or, “In order to remove a speck of sawdust from your neighbor’s eye, first remove the log that is in your own eye… then you will see clearly to help your neighbor.” Like those slaves, it seems so obvious to us what needs to be done: “Why let the weeds grow alongside the wheat?”

The irony in all this is that the slaves are opposed to God – moreso than even the weeds! And all along they thought they knew what was best for the wheat.

“Let them both grow together… for now,” says the landowner. “There’ll come a day when God’s angels will separate them out and we’ll have a bumper crop of wheat and a burning of the weeds.”

But until then… leave the weeds alone.

Leave them alone, eh? Even if they are crowding out the wheat? Growing out of control? Obviously, this isn’t a free pass to ignore all sin that comes up in our community. Jesus provides instruction to Peter with a sharp reprimand: “Get behind me, Satan!” and Matthew 5:29, he says, “If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off!”

And yet, here the weeds are kept in place – there’s no cutting them out prematurely. God will purify them with fire on the day of harvest. I like that image of fire purifying rather than simply destroying the weeds in the end because I believe there’s hope for all God has created to become good and free of all evil.

Heaven & Hell – I was at camp this week and got to sit in on a Bible study with a bunch of 4-6th grade boys. And somehow we got on the topic of heaven and hell – and it was fascinating to hear what their images of “the afterlife” were like. Some thought you get to come back as an angel and help people. Others painted images of firey torment and gnashing of teeth.

Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins has renewed the debate on universal salvation: that is – that everyone goes to heaven when it’s all said and done. Now that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t still guide evildoers through some firey ordeals on the way to that perfect place. But imagine for a moment even one person sitting in hell for all eternity. What might that look like on God’s resume at the end of time? “Well, I guess that Amazing Grace was only so-so grace. It didn’t work for her. Or him.” I mean, is there truly a force of evil in the world greater than the love of God?

So, I suggested to these boys that they think about hell as a banquet table, spread with all your favorite foods. Trouble is: everyone’s arms are locked at the elbows so they can’t eat. How’s that for hell? And heaven is an identical scene – same big table with lots and lots of food – same locked elbows, but in heaven people have learned to feed one another. And it’s a grand feast and celebration!

When we focus only on ourselves, then there is a fire waiting for us sooner or later – to refine and purify us and bring us back to what God intended us to be: the body of Christ – all for one and one for all.

Romans 8 – Paul speaks of this in terms of living by the spirit, rather than living by the flesh. The word for “flesh” in the Greek is sarx. We miss the point if we make it just about “the body” and imagine “sins of the flesh” as purely sexual. No, sarx is that fleshly, lustful, craving for power. When we live by it we’re constantly dissatisfied because we’ll never have enough – or someone else will always have more – or worse, that they might be out to get control of ‘ours!’ The spirit of the flesh requires constant micro managing and keeping others in line – by whatever means necessary.

In Pharaoh’s Egypt, in the Old Testament, power was kept through an elaborate system of priests, administrators and the military. And God despised that system, which built and empire on the backs of slaves. What was offered is a new way of living – under a new rule: a rule of love, trust and promise. “I will be your God and you shall be my people.”

Instead of abandoning his people in Egypt – God led them through the wilderness and broke their spirits – much like one breaks in a horse for riding.

As some of you know, there are horse-raisers in my family line. And I couldn’t help sharing this quote from Charles Stanley, in his book The Blessings of Brokenness as he reflects on the breaking-in of a horse:

On most of my wilderness trips, I contact an outfitter who assigns me a horse for the trek. Sometimes I’ve had very gentle horses who, with the slightest movement of the reins, have known exactly what to do. Such a horse obeys instantly. Sometimes merely a spoken word will do.

I’ve ridden other very independent horses! I could pull on the reins, jerk the reins, kick with my stirrups, speak sharply, and nothing happened that I wanted to have happen! These horses supposedly had been broken, but as far as I was concerned they were not broken very well. At times, these independent horses have put me into dangerous positions – lunging forward down a hill, balking through narrow passageways. Believe me, I’d much rather have a gentle, well-broken horse anytime, in any situation.

What happens in the breaking of a horse? Contrary to what many people believe, the horse’s spirit isn’t broken. A well-broken horse remains strong, eager, quick-witted, and aware, and he loves to gallop when given free rein. Rather, it is the horse’s independence that is broken. The breaking of a horse results in the horse giving instant obedience to its rider.” (p.47)

Now, we’re not horses – we are children of the heavenly father. We “hand over the reigns” to God – because we long to be led by a new spirit – a spirit of love and gentleness. No longer independent – but inter-dependent, children of the same heavenly father.

Yes, enemies still plant weeds, and our own sins blind us to think we can take matters into our own hands. Don’t give up hope. For in hope we were saved. There will come a day when all will feast at that banquet table as sisters and brothers. There will come a day when the wheat will sit at table with the weeds, redeemed in goodness.

ARE WE THERE YET? No, but we wait for it with patience and hope.

Let us pray: O God we give you thanks for your love and patience with the weeds in our lives. Don’t give up on us, and teach us through suffering to wait patiently for that day when your harvest is gathered in glory, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Of Seeds And Weeds

July 19, 2011

Pent4 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 7-10-11

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” …

18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Children’s Time: Did you ever get a song stuck in your head and you couldn’t stop singing it? Take, for example this one. If I were to ask you, “Who lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea?” what would you say? Well, for those of you who watch cartoons: “Sponge Bob Squarepants!” right? This week, we have a lot of kids going to camp and they’ll be singing songs about faith and Jesus. Then later during our Vacation Bible School, we’ll be learning songs, too. I hope those are the ones that get stuck in your head so you just can’t stop singing them. (should we try one on the congregation? Let’s see if they can sing a verse of Amazing Grace – and NOT the first verse). How did they do? In today’s story, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer scattering seeds – and he throws them everywhere, hoping that somewhere they will take root and grow. It’s the same way with God’s Word. When we pray, read the Bible and sing – God’s Word can “get stuck in our head” and grow in new and powerful ways in us!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, what songs get stuck in your head? I don’t know about you, but as I watch the news and read the headlines about government gridlock and closed state parks and people out of work, I keep thinking about a song I heard growing up:

“Gloom, despair and agony on me / deep, dark, depressive, excessive misery /
If it weren’t for bad luck… I’d have no luck at all!

Do you ever feel that way – like just giving up altogether? I know I do. But thank God, Jesus doesn’t give up on us!

Does Jesus say, “Heck with the rocky soil! Don’t bother with that thorny patch. Save the seed for that good soil over there.” Nope, that’s not how he operates. In the parable of the sower, there’s enough seed to scatter everywhere: on the rocky ground, over thorn bushes, and even the hard-packed walkway. What kind of fool wastes perfectly good seed by throwing it on the sidewalk?

We’d better pay attention – because this ought to be good news for us today – that Jesus doesn’t miss a spot! He doesn’t just throw the seed where he thinks it’s going to grow best (like scattering it where a lot of young families with children are… or where a lot of wealthy potential donors to the church may be). He scatters the seed everywhere! And that’s good news, because we never know what condition the soil of our hearts might be in. More often than not, that’s something beyond our control.

On any given day there can be a dozen distractions that sweep those seeds off the path before us. I may commit myself fully to a cause, only to become frustrated later that nothing’s happening. Some days it seems all we can do is pray to be good soil – open to the seed of God’s Word.

But that requires tilling and weeding – all that uncomfortable stuff that anyone who has done even a little yard work knows is not pleasant. The grapevine in my backyard produces delicious concords, but if I didn’t keep it in line with a weekly trimming it would grow out of control. And who hasn’t started pulling up a weed only to find that the root goes much deeper than you first thought? I especially hate those sticker bushes! You know, the thistle with its sharp pricklies on the end? Ugh! They’re ugly and serve no purpose whatsoever – except to sting your bare feet when you’re outside trying to enjoy the lawn.

Believe it or not, the thistle is the national emblem of Scotland. According to a legend, an invading Norse army was attempting to sneak up at night upon a Scottish army’s encampment. During this operation one barefoot Norseman had the misfortune to step upon a thistle, causing him to cry out in pain, thus alerting Scots to the presence of the Norse invaders. (

This week I went for a walk in Tablyn Park, just east of town on Stillwater Blvd. And you’ll never guess what I saw there: a whole patch of thistles, just bursting with pinkish-purple blossoms surrounded in a sea of yellow and white wildflowers.

My point is this: we often don’t see the whole picture of what God is up to. We’ve heard from others that the thistle is a pesky plant and we may have even stepped on one or two in our back yard – but until you see the glory of its blossom up close – you don’t know a thing about thistles.

As the people of God, we must not give up hope because of what we cannot see.

When Jesus told this parable, he was under hostile fire from the Pharisees. They were plotting to destroy him; they accused him of working for Satan; and at the end of this chapter, he’s at odds with his own family and is rejected even by his own hometown.

So, what does he do? He puts out in a boat (because the beach had become too crowded) and tells them a story: A sower went out to sow… and some seeds fell on the path where the birds snatched them up before they could ever take root. Others fell on the rocky ground, and while they took root quickly, because the soil was shallow, they withered in the sun. Other seeds fell among thorns which grew up an choked them. But some seed fell on good soil. And they grew to produce a harvest of 100 fold, some 60 and some 30.

So, what happened to all those people gathered on the shore? What kind of soil did they end up becoming? What kind of soil were his disciples, who deserted him in his hour of need?

I want to be good soil! And my tendency is to think that I am – and to point my finger at others who are not: the rocky ones, thorny folks, the shallow soil. “Nothing doing,” says Jesus. “There is seed enough for all.”

What appears to me to be a waste of seed, holds a harvest yet unseen. At any given time in our lives, we have been all four types of soil, at the mercy of a God who tills and trims and yes, continues to plant in us – for a harvest yet unseen.

When it feels as if your world is spinning out of control, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it – when it feels as if our elected leaders will never come to agreement on anything, while real people suffer from the shutdown – when it feels as if the job search is going nowhere – when it feels as if our differences as a church threaten our very unity as the Body of Christ… then we look to the future, with hope, as Isaiah did, who brought comfort to his people in what seemed an impossible situation.

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty

Isaiah saw what his people couldn’t: a time of rich fields, and bumper crop of harvest. A time when the rains would come and water the earth, so they could farm the fields. Here they were, prisoners in a foreign land, longing to go home (even though their homes had been destroyed by Babylonian warfare and their fields burned by scorched-earth tactics). They just wanted to go home.

It was Isaiah, who also said, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…” They saw with the eyes of faith a future ripe with bounty and goodness. It is, as Juliana Claassens said, “If one cannot imagine it, one cannot live it.”

Will you live that dream, with me? Will we live it into reality? In the coming days, we will be hiring new staff, celebrating our 50th anniversary as a congregation, and dreaming together about the future God has in store for us.

As Isaiah said to his followers, I say to you: “You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” Whatever state our soil may be in this day… know this: the sower continues to scatter God’s Word – all over the place – extravagantly, yes, even foolishly throwing seeds where they couldn’t possibly take root.

But then again, you just never know.


Believing in Happy Endings without Quick Fixes

July 19, 2011

Pent2 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 6-26-11

Jeremiah 28:5-9
5Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; 6and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

Children’s Time: Do you know the story of the little Mermaid? Who gives up her voice to gain her legs – who leaves her family forever to gain the prince – who bets it all on love to find her soul… (because everyone knows that mermaids don’t have a soul – they live for 300 years and then turn into sea foam on the shore). So what happens? In the Disney version, they defeat Ursula, the witch, the little mermaid gets her voice back, and she and the prince are married and live happily ever after. But in the original version penned by Hans Christian Anderson in 1836, the little mermiad dies! The prince falls for someone else and on their wedding night, the little mermaid turns into sea foam, adrift on the waters. She had the chance to kill the prince before the marriage was final, thus breaking the spell, but she couldn’t bring herself to destroy the one she so loved. Because of her selfless sacrifice the little sea maid was granted that which she so longed for – perhaps even moreso than the prince: a soul, and entry into that heavenly home, as a “daughter of the air.” Did I mention that the little sea maid is the youngest of 6 daughters? Yes, this little one is given eternal life with God. That’s something we can all long for!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I love a good story – one with suspense and intrigue – one that begins with the underdog up against all odds, and ends with me cheering them on to overcome adversity.

I know just what it feels like to be little. I remember the fear of begin stuck on the median on Hwy. 65, between two-way traffic, at the age of 6. I had snuck across the highway to buy some Bazooka bubblegum at the grocery store, only to get stuck on the way back in busy traffic. Thankfully, I was rescued by my Uncle Clint, who swiftly trotted out to take the hand of that trembling little boy and help him cross safely to the other side.

It’s one reason I like the story in our lesson today. Jesus remembers “the little guy.” He sends his disciples out to give a cold cup of water to the little ones they meet in their daily lives. These stories can be found throughout scripture. Stories where God pays attention to the lowly Abraham or a peasant girl, Mary, giving birth to Jesus in a barn! Who’d have thought he would save the world! These are all unlikely characters pitted against great odds! But that’s where all the action is – with the little ones!

We don’t pay much attention to the little people in our social circles (whether that be children or people who are vertically challenged, so to speak). It’s easy to overlook them or look down on them. The tall, dark and handsome are the ones we pay more attention to. It was this way in the Bible, too. It was Esau’s younger brother, Jacob, who stole his birthright and inheritance. And in 1Samuel 16, when God sent Samuel to anoint a king over Israel, he couldn’t help but look on the tall stature of Isaac’s older son, Eliab, “Surely this must be the one.” But the Lord said, “Do not look on the outward appearance, or his height of stature, for I have rejected him.”

No, it all came down to David – scrawny, little, ruddy-looking David – who wasn’t even there in the lineup. They had sent him out to tend the sheep because, apparently he wasn’t kingly material. It plays out later, as he fights and defeats Goliath, with a slingshot and 5 smooth stones. Another biblical little guy is Zacchaeus, who we meet in Luke 19. Remember the guy who was too short to see Jesus so he climbed a sycamore tree? And Jesus goes to his house and brings salvation. There’s a special place for “the little ones” in Jesus’ teaching – right there, alongside the priests and disciples – he puts a child in their midst.

Take, for example, this little gem of a story from Jeremiah 28. (Jeremiah was more than a bullfrog, by the way). He was a great prophet, sent by God to turn the people back to faith, before their entire city was ransacked and they would be taken prisoner into Babylon. But when God first called Jeremiah he turned him down. Why? Little guy-syndrome: “I am only a youth! What can I say that they would listen to me?” And God sent him to tear down and to build up nations, during a difficult time.

In this scene, Jeremiah has tied a wooden yoke around his neck and is parading himself around town telling everyone to submit to the will of the King of Babylon. “You might as well get used to living under his yoke, everybody, ‘cause it’s going to be awhile once we are taken prisoner and are living in exile. In Jer 27:17 he says, “Serve the king of Babylon and live!”

No one wanted to hear it. They couldn’t accept this as their “happily ever after.” Instead, there was another prophet (Hananiah) who told them that it wasn’t going to be so bad. In two years, we’ll be back, and there’ll be peace! (“Mission Accomplished!”|) “Oh yes,” they cried, “we like that scenario much better.” And that’s where our reading picks up.

“Amen!” Jeremiah agrees with him, “I hope it comes to pass – this bed of roses prophecy you have just fed the masses. But this isn’t the way God worked through the prophets of old. Our ancient prophets preached war and famine and pestilence on the nations.” And I love how Professor Jim Limburg (from Luther Seminary) sums up what Jeremiah thinks of Hananiah’s words: “But as for your prophecy… I’ll believe it when I see it.”

And Hananiah was furious to be mocked in front of everyone, including the priests – and in a fit of rage, he rips the wooden yoke from Jeremiah’s shoulders and breaks it in half! To which Jeremiah replies, “You have broken the wooden yoke and replaced it with an iron one – for feeding this quick fix lie to the people.”

How long would they be in exile? Two years, as Hananiah predicted? Try 2 generations! For 80 years, the Hebrews would live in a strange land, never living to see the green, green grass of home. That would be up to their children and grandchildren.

But, getting back to the little guy – what does Jeremiah do, the day the Babylonian army is at their doorstep – ready to take them away in chains? He goes to see a realtor and buys a piece of land. So confident is Jeremiah in God’s promise to restore the fortunes of Israel, that he bets the farm on buying a farm for his grandchildren to inherit …when they get back. (Hey, it had to have been a buyer’s market!)

Isn’t that a great story? Well, sure, all except for that 80 years of hardship in between!
I mean, who would have believed, 10 years ago, that our nation would be knee deep in debt for having fought two wars in the middle east – as a result of the 9-11 attacks? Or was it to get rid of Saddam Hussein or to find cheap oil to bolster our already dwindling natural resources? Even our own historians can’t agree on what’s going on!

But one thing’s for sure: the little guy has been squeezed into a place of hardship, burdened by debt and shackled to an American lifestyle that isn’t sustainable. Good news is coming… but it won’t be a quick fix.

Jesus doesn’t mince words, as he sends his disciples out… and it would be good for us to pay attention to what he says here: “I send you out like sheep among wolves, and whoever loves mother or father more than me is not worthy of me… whoever does not take up their cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

In other words, if you’re going to go follow Jesus – go all out! Practice hospitality – particularly to the little ones, the most vulnerable among us.

Last month I got a call that my uncle was in the hospital. It was the same uncle who took me by the hand 40 years ago, in the middle of that busy street. But now it was my turn to take his hand – he had become ill with no one to turn to. A bachelor his whole life, uncle Clint never had kids and he outlived his whole family. And so he was very appreciative for his next-of-kin nephew’s hand in crossing safely from illness back to living in his apartment in Albert Lea.

It’s at times like that that I hear Jesus’ pep talk, and take comfort in it. Everything depends on “the little ones” reaching out for that cup of cold water. It’s not about how eloquent your witness will be – It’s not about how persuasive you will have to be in convincing others. There’s a long, hard road ahead – and you’ll be asked to put the mission before even family loyalty. “Take up your cross,” says Jesus. “If they receive you, great! If not, well then, shake the dust from your feet. The message is beyond your control. Lose yourself to it. It’s all the credentials you’ll need.” And you can bet the farm on that. Amen.

A Sunday Dedicated to the Triune God. Imagine that!

July 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 6-19-11

Matthew 28:16-20
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Children’s Time: Have the kids help put up posters of the many parts of creation God made each day. Talk about how vast and wonderful the world and the universe is, and how God continues to create and take care of the earth and us.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Isn’t it odd to have a day set aside (as Trinity Sunday) to worship God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I mean, don’t we do that every Sunday? Why have a special service for it? “Today we are going to worship God, the three-in-one… again!” As far as I can tell, it’s mostly a tradition handed down over the ages. But there is something to be said for thinking together about who God is and what God is up to in the world!

Today’s lessons take us from the very beginning of time all the way to the end of Jesus’ ministry. We witness the forging of the mountains, watch the heavens set into motion and the birthing of all creatures great and small. And we are there at Matthew’s knee, hearing him recount Jesus’ last words to his disciples: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Such a grand brush stroke of readings today – from the beginning to the end of the age!

Here is a God, both Almighty – casting stars in their courses, aware of the needs of every living thing – and at the same time, quite an average God, taking the form of a person you might bump into in the checkout lane. Here is a God both unfathomable, hidden in glory and majesty – and yet, close enough to get a whiff of his BO, and to notice he has a slight overbite. Fully God. Fully human. Fully with us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, the minute we stop talking – we realize here is a God who defies all words. Nothing can fully contain nor grasp the essence of God! The Hebrews feared even to speak the name of God, thus violating the 2nd command, of not taking the name of the Lord in vain.

I have a friend who once said, “You know you have something amazingly beautiful when by trying to grasp it by words, it slips right through your hands while leaving its marks all over you.” Like cupping our hands with water, trying not to let a drop fall to the ground. We can’t not be left wet and clean by it.

We have a baptism today. And as I think of that image of trying to contain the waters of baptism in my hands – I may as well give up. Water was meant to splash and delight – to wake us up in the morning and to quench our thirst in the hot sun. Water is unavoidable (like the reason we had to move our worship indoors today!) and yet, it is fully necessary to support life. When we are baptized we get it all over us and are left with God’s fingerprints on us, forever.

This Trinity Sunday, we celebrate all that God is – unable to grasp it all – but willing to get wet anyway, and be marked with the cross of Christ.

And maybe that’s what moved the disciples to make the trek to Galilee on the third day after Jesus was killed. All they had to go on was the words of a few women who said he had risen. That’s it. And even when they saw Jesus, notice in verse 17 it says, “they worshiped him, but some doubted.” Unlike in the other gospels where John has Jesus feeding them breakfast on the beach, or where Luke depicts a nice chat with Jesus on the walk to Emmaus. Unlike those grand entrances while the door remained locked, and he appeared to Thomas to wipe away his doubts… all the disciple had to go on in Matthew’s telling, was the word of their women: “He said, ‘Tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.’”

And so they followed. This is a mark of true discipleship. It does not come without doubts. It is following based only on a word. A word that leads us to worship the Living Word: Jesus Christ. Craig Koester, from Luther Seminary, once recalled asking his teacher what he meant by “authority.” The teacher responded with a single word. He said, “Authority is followability.” True authority is what gives people the confidence to follow. No one can make anyone follow Jesus. All they have is his promise that “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (

If there was ever a person who had an opportunity to leave a mark – it’s a father. This Father’s Day we honor our dads and thank them for the many ways they have left their mark on us – for all they have taught us and the many ways they nurture their children and help them to grow into the people God made them to be.

It’s a painful reminder for me, as my father passed away too young (at 62) after a long battle with cancer. I still miss him every year at this time, and long for his smile – or to ask his advice. But I also take joy in being a father to my own children (Bethany and Nathan – who was born on Father’s Day) and all they have meant to me over the years. Others may mark this day with hurtful memories, or the reality that their dad never cared for them – never paid child support – or missed out on everything that mattered to them growing up.

Our earthly fathers are only human – they are, ultimately, unable to love as God loves – but they are agents, still, of the mysteries of God’s grace. And you don’t have to be a father to be a blessing to others. God knows what we need – and sends us to share that good news with others, just waiting to be loved as we are loved.

What a blessing to know that God loves us – and created us! That God knows the intricate curve of your eyebrow and the turn of your cheek. That God so loved this world that he sent his son to save us. A son who lives on through men and women who dare to take him at his word – to get up and go to Galilee all over again.

Let us pray: O God, we give you thanks creating this great wide world – for redeeming us by your Son, and by sustaining us by your Spirit. Send us with your Word, with that life-giving water that though it slips through our fingers, leaves us washed and renewed – ready to share your love with others. In Jesus’ name we pray: Amen.

Free To Dream

July 19, 2011

Day of Pentecost / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran / 6-12-11

Acts 2:1-21
2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Children’s Time: Today is Pentecost = the birthday of the church! It was the day the Holy Spirit came to the disciples and they went out to tell the whole world about Jesus. So, I brought birthday candles. What do you do with them, anyway? Yep, you blow them out. What do we have to do first? Make a wish, that’s right. So, what would you wish for? (It’s okay, if it’s not really your birthday today, you can say it out loud). Let’s light these candles and if you could, help me blow them out to celebrate the birthday of the church (and… don’t forget to make a wish!).

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, what is it that you wish for? And who made that rule that you couldn’t tell anyone or the wish wouldn’t come true? Remember Frank Sinatra, who sang about this? “And when you wish for a wish by a wishing well, don’t tell the wish or you’ll break the spell. It may sound naive, but that’s what I believe!”

So, what about you? What do you dream of doing or having or sharing with others? Do you have a bucket list? You know, that list of things you want to do before you… “kick the bucket?” It’s a way to dream, you might say. There is a website you can visit to get ideas, if you’re not sure… Here are a few I noticed:
“get into a hockey fight”
“learn to play the ukelele”
“see the northern lights”
“touch a great white shark”
“be a voice in a cartoon movie”

None of them would do for me… I want to raise a horse from a pony and use my Grandpa’s “Horse book” to do it.
I want to record an album and donate proceeds to charity
I want to build a canoe / use that canoe
I want to conduct Henri Mancini’s The Magnificent Seven before a live orchestra!

What do you dream about doing? Where’s your passion? Your Spirit taking you?

Our lesson today lifts up dreamers! When I first read this lesson from Acts 2, I was drawn to Peter’s speech where he got up to explain what was happening: “No, these folks are not in fact drunk (it’s only 9:00 in the morning!). This is what the prophet Joel foretold:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

When was the last time you dreamed a dream? Or made a wish about the future? A recent Gallup Poll (Christian Century, 6/15/11) found that over half of all Americans surveyed said that this generation’s future will not be as good as their parents’. When asked: “How likely do you think it is that today’s youth will have a better life than their parents?” only 44% said “very likely” while 55% said “very unlikely.” Interestingly enough, this is a complete reversal of the same poll done in 2003, where 66% (2/3) said today’s youth are “very likely” to have a better life than their parents. What happened in between? Well, there’s the Great Recession of 2008. I’m sure that had something to do with it. But then there’s also something harder to pinpoint – which I believe is a poverty of the heart – an inability to dream.

The old dream dreams, the young see visions, and the children prophecy: “…out of the mouths of babes…”

“Heaven Is Real” is a book about a 4-year-old boy who had surgery and later went on to tell his parents that he had heard angels singing while he was unconscious – and how he met Jesus – and had an out-of-body experience, telling them details about what they were doing and talking about while he was being operated on.

Now, this is not the first story about people who can recall looking down on themselves from above the hospital room during surgery… but it does come from a child – and so reflects this child-like faith and prophecy in our reading on Pentecost.

When we forget how to dream, we become bound up by what is and always has been. We get stuck in a small box – built perhaps long ago, perhaps by someone else (or maybe by our younger selves) …and there we sit, unable to see over the top of that box.

As we bid farewell to Pat Hurlbutt (our Director of Music Ministry) this morning, we mix our sadness with a sweetness of dreaming about the future – what will our future staffing look like? Can we give ourselves room to ask “what if?” and to wonder just how God is preparing us and future leaders to serve among us?

When we dream, we open up the possibilities all around us. We avoid the judgemental “Why?” and instead ask, “Why not?” Pentecost sends us out in that Spirit. The same spirit puts words to our desires – it gives us voice to say out loud what has been calling us from afar. So much of the time we live here in this place and never imagine that the next day will be much different. And it may not… but we have the treasure of the gospel to share with those around us.

This is Jesus’ emphasis in our Gospel reading from today. Strangely enough, in the gospel of John, the Spirit comes at Easter! Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection and breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Okay, we get that. He shows up. Gives them the spirit… but then he says something odd: “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgive, and if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” What do we make of this?

First off, what’s so special about forgiveness?
Isn’t it the only thing that seems to work when everything else has failed?
Forgiveness has saved marriages and built bridges
It has resolved conflicts and renewed friendships
Forgiveness has helped unburden the souls of those weighed down with guilt
It has loosed the bonds and put nations back on peaceful terms
It has helped families turn the page on dark chapters in their lives
Forgiveness turns the tide of vengeance.
It scandalizes our own self-righteous notions.
It says “yes” when all the offender really deserves is a “no.”
And it’s our power to wield. To grant or withhold.

Matt Skinner, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary has said that when this is properly translated, it doesn’t mean that Jesus makes us “moral watchdogs” with the power to decide who is really sorry for their sins. No, this is better translated as “setting free” (as in forgiving one a debt). In other words, whenever we share the love of the Holy Spirit with another, we are setting them free. A failure to bear witness ends up with people who are still stuck in lives with no meaning. (

So, will you dream with me this day? And not just for ourselves… but for those who haven’t yet heard. Will you share that vision for others, just longing to hear the witness you bear and be set free? And not just for our children, but for all people to have hope for a better future?

Let us pray: O God, we close our eyes and make a wish… that you would send your Holy Spirit to this place – break the bounds that once kept us locked up and fill our lives with dreams. Send us to others just waiting to be set free from sin by the power of your Spirit within us. …in your name we pray, Amen.

Finding Your Place in the Story

July 19, 2011

Easter7 / John Stiles / 6-5-11 / Holy Cross Lutheran Church

John 17:1-11
17After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Children’s time: Have you ever wanted to do something really bad, and you asked your mom or your dad and he said, “No”? How did that feel? Not too good, right. Well what if instead, mom said, “We’ll see.” What does that mean? Some people think “we’ll see” always means “No!” What it really means is that there might be some waiting to do. When we are impatient, sometimes people say “we have ants in our pants.” We can hardly sit still. But God sometimes answers our prayers with a “we’ll see” or a “not yet.” In our lesson for today, Jesus told the disciples to go and wait until they received power from God. He was going back into heaven, but they wanted to make him their king. God would be with them, instead Jesus said, through the Holy Spirit. So, the next time you get impatient and can hardly sit still, remember that “we’ll see” doesn’t always mean “no” …it might just mean “you’ll see… someday.”

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This story has a beginning and an end, but I’m not quite sure where to start. You see, in one respect, it’s about Jesus and his comings and goings. Really we’re at the end of his ministry on earth. If this were a movie, you could start with this scene of Ascension: of Jesus being taken up into the clouds… then the whole rest of the movie could be a flashback, to tell us about him and his ministry – of his miraculous birth, life, death and rising. That would be one possibility. But notice that he’s promising power to the disciples after he leaves: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” So, it could be the beginning of a sequel to the gospels: “Jesus 2: The Power of Pentecost.” You remember that day: the birthday of the church, where tongues of fire descended from the heavens, igniting the disciples with holy fire – ready to take the world by storm! But that can’t be it – because in John, we have Jesus praying this lengthy prayer, on the night he’s arrested, saying: “I was with you, Father, before the world came into being.” So, it’s got to be a prequel to the Bible: “Jesus First Class: Genesis Revealed.” Here is the cosmic Christ, who was there at the beginning, separating atom from atom – co-creating Eve and Adam – setting the stars and planets in their courses! Just imagine the special effects needed to try and pull off a billion years of creating! And, let’s not forget those two chaps dressed in white, addressing the disciples, who are standing on Mount Olivet, gaping toward the sky after Jesus was taken up: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up in the sky? Don’t you know that this Jesus will come back to you in the same manner he was taken up from you?” Of course! It’s a movie entitled: “Jesus: End Game – the Second Coming.” A grand spectacle of de-scension, beginning with Jesus’ return to this earth in glory on the Last Day!

So, you see just how pivotal these stories are to all of us, past, present and future? We’re in here, too, you know. And maybe that’s the best place to start – in finding ourselves in the story. Jesus said to his disciples (in Acts 1:8) “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all the ends of the earth.” Now, I’ve never been to Jerusalem or Judea or Samaria… but I’m pretty sure the disciples got those places covered. Plus, there are plenty of Christians who live there today – bearing witness to Christ. I’m more interested in this last line “and all the ends of the earth” which leads us right here to our doorstep in Oakdale, Lake Elmo, Woodbury, Maplewood, North St. Paul, River Falls, Newport, Cottage Grove – just where is your little corner of this world? That end of the earth upon which you stand? That place you come to and go from each day? It’s your turf, your “beat on the street” so to speak. The place you do your living.

If you live in Oakdale, you can pretty much bet that “end of the earth” starts with a “G” or an “H” (unless you live on a street with a number). Is it “Hadley” or “Helmo”? “Gentry” or “Geneva”? There’s Heron, Hilo, Heath and Homestead – where I come from. And, down here by the church you know of Glenbrook, Greenway, Grospoint and Greystone.

When it all comes spinning down to the particular place you happen to be – this story takes on new meaning. Suddenly, it’s not just about Jesus and the disciples anymore. It’s not a sequel or a prequel – It’s about us live and on location. Yes, we are filming right now – catching all this on tape at your end of the earth. What do you see there? And do there? Where does your Christ story begin and end?

And, like the disciples, we often try to change the subject. Notice the first thing the disciples ask Jesus in our lesson today: it’s about what “he’s going to do…” “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” They want to go back to the glory days of Israel, with a king and a mighty army – when, all along, Jesus is calling them to a kingdom of hearts transformed – a country that has no borders – a plan for a multitude so great it cannot be numbered. “And, you will be my witnesses” he tells them.

But they want him to do it.

You can’t have witnesses without someone standing up and opening their lips and telling their side of the story. It just isn’t possible. So, how does that happen? What are we supposed to say?

It’s been said that there are basically 3 answers to a prayer request: “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.” Or “Not yet.” Or “We’ll see.” (and we all know what that means!) At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells them to wait. Just before he’s taken up into heaven at the town of Bethany, he says, “Go and wait in the city until you are clothed with power.” And then you’ll know what to do.

I don’t like to wait. Sometimes it drives me crazy. When I get an idea in my head, I want to see it strait through, from beginning to end – often times pouring all my energy into completing the task – without thinking about what others have in mind. This happened a few weeks ago, while I was at a continuing education event. I had a whole morning free and I took it upon myself to stain the back deck behind our house. All the materials had been purchased, the weather was looking nice (no rain in the forecast for the next 2 days). The kids were still in school. I can do this, I thought to myself. What I didn’t think about was asking Sandy what she thought. She wanted to sand down some of the boards first and do some other prep work… and I was impatient… and in the dog house for a few days after that! Waiting doesn’t come naturally for most of us. We’re impatient. We want to see results.

And Jesus speaks instead, of mustard seeds, taking root in the earth… becoming (in due time) the largest of all shrubs, providing nests for every kind of bird. When I’m in a hurry, Jesus reminds me of that yeast in the dough – it takes so very little, but the loaf won’t rise without it. Do you know how long it takes for bread to rise? Who’s got the time for that anymore!? But ours is not a God of quick fixes and flashy endings. It’s the ordinary routines that win out with Jesus.

Chatting with a neighbor – volunteering in our community – raising your children – caring for an aging loved one. All around us are ordinary opportunities full of extraordinary promise.

And, while Jesus won’t do it for us… he doesn’t want us to “go it alone” either. How do we get it right then? Well how does this story end? In fact, just what do the disciples do at the end of this section in our lesson today? They go back to Jerusalem, to that upper room, and devote themselves to prayer.

Prayer is where this reading ends today. And it’s where the journey begins for the disciples. So, let it be where we begin each day, living live, on-location, as the story unfolds in our own end of the earth.

O God, you sent your Son Jesus to accomplish what we could not do on our own – that salvation won through his death and resurrection from the tomb. Hold us in prayer, as we find our way as your witnesses in our own particular corner of the earth this day. Amen.