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Archive for September, 2012

Bells are Ringing

A few evenings ago, as I was jogging through our neighborhood in the Spring Valley area, I was enjoying the nice fall day. The crickets were chirping, there was a little breeze in the air, and I was actually running. As I jogged east, I notice the crickets’ song giving way to a different type of sound.  Continuing on, it became apparent that music was church bells. I came into clear hearing range just as the New Life Lutheran Church bells began their rendition of the hymn “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” This is probably not the most popular workout song in the iTunes Store, but I was enjoying it as I ran along anyway.

As I was jogging and listening to the bells, the traditional side of me took over a bit, and I began to think about the days I never really knew – when the church was the center of the community, and church bells were an important communication device for the the surrounding town. The bells would often ring to announce weddings, deaths, the beginning of worship, and other events.

Today the church bells still serve the important function of reminding the community of the realities of life. In the midst of our busy activities, hearing those bells ring to a melody of a hymn serves to remind us that there is a sovereign God in heaven who watches over all our affairs.  The bells are a witness to the secular culture that Jesus Christ has broken into our reality; he has brought heaven to earth and given us a new way to live.

You rarely see a church bell; but you hear them everywhere in town. In the same way, we are called to participate in this witness to Jesus and his ways. We don’t exist for people to see us. We exist as his people for those around us to hear the melody of God’s love and justice played out through our lives. Just like the church bells, many people will ignore us and some may be annoyed by us. But some people may stop and listen when they hear the music – so we better make sure we are playing the right tune.

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September 11

Today was a beautiful sunny September Tuesday much like that day of terror eleven years ago. One of the great mysteries of life is the fact of evil existing alongside remarkable beauty. When God created the world he said that it was good. Yet many things have gone incredibly bad on this planet. When God created man, he said that this particular creature was very good. Yet humans have done unbelievably horrible things.

We will never forget September 11, 2001.  The images of the airplanes hitting those mighty towers against the backdrop of a clear blue September sky will be with us forever. The pain of those who lost someone they loved will never go away. Jesus himself was a man of sorrows, who cried at the death of his friend, even though he knew that Lazarus would rise again. Likewise, we are called to weep with those who weep, to bear each others burdens, and yet at the same time give the world a reason to hope.

Our hope is ultimately not in avoiding death and suffering, but in overcoming death and pain through the resurrection. As Jesus followers we are a people living in this present world with its beauty mixed with evil and suffering. While here, we are working to point others to the future newly remade earth where Jesus Christ will reign with justice and make everything right again.

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According to news reports, we have about 60 days left until the 2016 Presidential Campaign season gets underway. Actually, I think we’re suppose to vote on our choice for the 2012 candidate first. Either way, I’m sure the 2016 election will be the most important one of our generation, just like 2012. And I believe I remember hearing something like that for 2008. In fact, according to statistics, whenever a Presidential election is held, it has always been the most important one of our generation.

We are truly blessed here in America to be able to choose who will lead us – a privilege that not many in world history have enjoyed, including those of Jesus’ day. The question before those living in the Roman Empire during the first century was not Democrat or Republican. It was Caesar or else. The Romans tolerated various religious views as long as ultimate allegiance was pledged to the Emperor. Of course, there were various rebellions against Rome, even in Israel,  but they we’re usually squashed brutally.  Sometime they even crucified the most threatening enemies of the state.

Now, imagine a Jewish Rabbi, who some claim was born as the true King of Israel.  This wandering prophet not only preached everywhere he went, he healed the sick, sent the lame dancing away, and gave sight to the blind. To top it off, he preached a message about the Kingdom of God being at hand.  Yet this was not a kingdom to be established with swords, spears, and physical dominance.  It was a kingdom that would be come through tears, blood, and ultimately through the cross.

Jesus proposed a new choice for those in his day:  Follow me or the world. In announcing his kingdom, he called for his hearers to submit to him as Lord and pledge ultimate allegiance to him. He made no promises of future financial prosperity or comfort. In fact, he said his Kingdom may cost his followers everything.  However, he did promise that his kingdom would last forever,  that he would be with them until the end of the age,  and that one day he would return in justice and fully establish his throne forever.

What is our choice 2000 years later? Its still the same. The ultimate question this fall is not who will be in the White House next January. The question is: will we submit to Jesus as Lord. You see, we cannot vote for him. God has already appointed him. Whether we recognize it or not, he is the world’s one true ruler and has been since that first Easter day when he defeated all the evil powers through his resurrection.  His government will never end and he will reign with justice and righteous from this time forth and forevermore! And through all our struggles, he has promise that he will be with us until the end of the age.

Now, who wouldn’t want someone like that in charge?

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The Story and Creed

“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” – the familiar beginning to the Apostles Creed, which we recite many Sundays in church.  The Apostles Creed is almost as old as the Church itself.

The creed is a very short version of the story of God. From affirming God as creator of heaven and earth, and then on to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we recount our basic story. We are people of this story. Yet the story is not over – the creed goes on to tell of the future return of Christ as judge, and our everlasting life after the resurrection. As people in the midst of the story, we rely on the Holy Spirit, participate in the universal church, commune with our fellow saints, and  enjoy the forgiveness of sins because of the Jesus event.

As 21st century Christians we join with the earliest of saints, and also generations of Christians yet to come, in declaring our faith through the creed. Reciting the creed is an act of worship. And our worship is in a very real sense participating in the story of the church as with join with Saints in every time and every place in offering our praise to the eternal God.

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

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We are one body in Christ, each person having different roles and gifts. The Lord’s Supper is a special time when Christians join in displaying that reality in a tangible way. Hear what St. Paul had to say on the Lord’s Supper:

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we   break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of     the one loaf.”

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is a time to remember and give thanks for the death of our Lord. It is also a time when we, as the people of the Risen Lord, display to each other and to the world that we are one body in Christ. The table of the Lord is for all who believe in Jesus and turn away from their sins – man and woman, old and young, rich and poor, educated and illiterate. Matthew tells us that at the first communion, “Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.”   Jesus made a point that it was for everyone in his eclectic group of followers. This includes all of his followers today.

The Lord’s Supper is a time when Jesus comes to dine with his people – and those who think they are unworthy of such a dinner companion are exactly the ones that Jesus welcomes to his table. So come to the table and eat the bread and drink of the cup…. all of you.

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