Know

 

Since I preached on John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” I concentrated on the knowing eternal in that verse.

But I was struck anew as we read the readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter how many times know was emphasized in the texts.   It happens quite often that new insights arise as the texts are being read during worship.  Sometimes I think I should discard my sermon and go in a different direction.  Perhaps there are pastors who could do that on the spur of the moment, but that simply would not work for me, that’s not my gift.

Jesus goes onto pray to his Father, in v. 6, “I have made manifest (made known) your name.”  V. 7, “Now they know…” v. 8, (They) have come to know the truth that I come from you.”

In the Introit, Psalm 100:2, “Know that the Lord is God!” From the Psalm for the day, Psalm 25, we read in v. 4, “Make me to know your ways O Lord.”

These uses of “know” point to a deep relationship with God in which the believer experiences the presence of God and deepens one’s own faith.

In the First lesson from Acts 1, it’s the Lord who knows the larger group of disciples.  The disciples need to pick a replacement for Judas.  “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two (Barsabbas or Matthias) you have chosen…”

All of this “Knowing” leads to the declaration from Psalm 11, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

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To Know Him is to have Life, Life, Life.

Easter 7 2017, Conant/Pinckneyville John 17:1-11

In 1958 three Los Angeles high school graduates formed a trio called the Teddy Bears and recorded a song, which became a no. 1 hit. They sang: “To know, know, know you, is to love, love, love you.”  Now this song had nothing to do with religion, but did have to do with a relationship in which one person had a deep three – fold knowing of another person which resulted in a three –  fold love.

Our text for today tells of a deep relationship with our three – fold loving God, resulting in life, life, life.  The scene is Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples.  He has washed their feet, sent Judas into the night of his’ betrayal, promised the disciple a helper, the Holy Spirit.  Now, within the flow of meal time conversation, he prays to His Father saying, “This is everlasting life- to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You sent.”  That’s right.  To know God as the only true God and His Son Jesus Christ, is life, life, life.

Time and time again, in the Old Testament God’s actions have the goal in mind that his people, “will know that I am God.’” Not just knowing the right answers in the catechism, not merely a Sunday morning nodding acquaintance with God, not simply knowing that our God is an awesome God.  Rather it’s knowing, knowing, knowing that His work for us, Jesus Christ, restores his close relationship with us as Creator, Caregiver and saving Father.  We are restored to our original family after being lost for so many years.

Preparations for our welcome home began in the Garden of Eden. One day during his evening walk, God couldn’t find his friends Adam and Eve.  God became like a parent calling to a child or a wife calling her husband on his cell phone asking, “Where are you?”  We know, don’t we?  They are hiding in the woods.  They have munched on the forbidden fruit hanging from the branch which suddenly appeared attractive, nutritious, delicious, and a health food for the mind.   God had told them it was deadly poisonous. But the serpent told them It would make them like God, wise in the ways of life. They did become wise.  They discovered that they were naked and for some strange reason that knowledge filled them with guilt, shame, and fear.  They now knew, knew, knew evil as a firsthand personal experience.   So, it is for you and me their sons and daughters.  They would now be cast out of that perfect paradise into a world of pain, sweat, toil and finally, dust.  Yet, they went out with a promise in their pocket.  Down the road, at some time, a woman through the pain of giving birth, would bear an offspring who would stomp on that serpent’s head even while the serpent sank its poisonous fangs into her son’s heel.

Centuries later, God heard moaning arising from the valley of the Nile river.  It was his people enslaved in Egypt.  Now Pharaoh would come to know, know, know it was the Lord God who was working through Moses in a series of inundations of frogs, gnats, flies, boils, hail and locusts, the night of death followed by Pharaoh’s disastrous military action at the Red Sea.  Pharaoh came to know the wrath of God.  But God wanted his people to come to know him as their Savior and Keeper.   They could count on his commitment to them.  So later, when Moses informed God of the grumbling rumbling through the camp of the ex-slaves, the Lord rained down bread upon them in the morning and quails at twilight so that they would “know that I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  They came to know God through the honey taste of manna on their tongues and the smell of roast quail.   So, it is for us, this morning we already have tasted the goodness of the Lord through our breakfast and will again at lunch and supper.

However, just as we often scarf down our daily bread without so much as a thought about who provided all our bounty, so it was for his people Israel.  The book of Isaiah begins with a trial.  God acts as the prosecutor pleading the case to a jury, “Listen, heaven; pay attention earth! I raised my children and helped them grow, but they rebelled against me.  Oxen know their owners, and donkeys know where their masters feed them.  But Israel doesn’t know its owner.”

How will it come about, as we read in the Introit, that we will “know that the Lord he is God!” That “It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture?”  John tells us near the beginning of his gospel, “The Word became flesh.” God lived in our midst full of grace and truth.  And to know Jesus is to know God.

Throughout, the Gospel of John we come to know Jesus with all our senses.  John the Baptist calls out for our hearing and seeing, the image of a romping lamb, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Jesus’ ministry is barely underway when he attends a wedding.  He saved the day when the wine ran short providing a better wine than that which came from the local vineyards for, of course, he is the vine.  So, this morning Jesus provides us with the best wine, that we might taste and see the goodness of the Lord.   It’s the best wine, not because you paid $500 a bottle, but because Jesus enters the wine and makes it a cup of salvation.  On another day, Jesus calls himself the temple of the Lord, “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.”  Of course, we know he was speaking of his body and his resurrection from the dead.  Strangely, He compared himself to a serpent.  That one which Moses lifted upon a pole in the wilderness so that whoever looked on the serpent would live.   He makes the comparison that whoever looks on him and believes will have everlasting life.  On another day, He broke the taboo of talking to a Samaritan woman at a well presenting himself as the water of life.  He is the water which quenches all thirst and gives everlasting life.  Elsewhere he said, He is the bread from heaven replacing the manna in the wilderness.  He is the bread which gives everlasting life.  In Holy Communion, today as we eat the wafer, we will be eating the Bread from heaven given for you for life and salvation.

Thus, we come to know God through Jesus Christ, the water of life, the temple of God, the finest wine and filling bread. Now so strengthened, He has put his work in our hands.  We are his presence in the world to do for the world, what He has done for us.  For this is his promise, “They will do even greater things because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus has ascended and next Sunday we celebrate His Holy Spirit who helps us continue his work that we and the world might know, know, know him and have life, life, life in his name.

 

 

Interludes

 

The lessons for Ascension and the 7th Sunday of Easter are about interludes.  In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples and us.  He is at an interlude between the Passover meal and his going to the cross where he will glorify His Heavenly Father by completing his mission of salvation and going back to the Father.  In Acts 1, after he ascends, back to the Father, the disciples stand gawking up into heaven.  Two men tell them that Jesus will return as he came.  They need to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

As I think back fifty years Becky and I were at an interlude in the spring of 1967.  In April I received my assignment to St. Martin’s in Winona, MN.  So, we knew where we would be going, but would have to wait for my graduation on May 26th and ordination in June.  We were also planning to be married the evening after I graduated, yet Becky had finals at Southeast Missouri State the next week.  For the next several weeks we were at interludes.  We wouldn’t be moving to Winona until early July and settling into a home.  We were married, and I had been ordained, but it was only when I was installed that we really started living our life together.

One of the things that the texts for Ascension and the end of the Easter season remind us that God is there in all the interludes of our life.  In fact, we live in the interlude between his ascension and his return.  In a very real sense, all of life is an interlude, waiting for the next chapter to be revealed.

Ascension Day 2017 One morning, on Ascension Day I had chapel for the Day Care children at Immanuel. But what does one do that stays within the attention span of about 45 preschoolers? Ah a balloon might do the trick. Schnucks supermarkets have balloons for parties etc. I didn’t expect to find one for Ascension. At last I noticed one which said, “Welcome home, we missed you.” The woman at the counter blew it up and I had her attach about 15 feet of ribbon. This morning I talked about Christmas and Jesus coming to us as a baby. Then I shifted to Easter and Jesus resurrection A large wood cross stood in the front of the sanctuary draped with a white cloth. Then I went to the balloon. Ascension Day is when Jesus went back to his heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. I slowly let out the ribbon as the balloon rose to the ceiling. I said, I could imagine them saying to Jesus, “Welcome home, we missed you.” In the epistle lesson, we do read, “Seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” One can imagine that Ascension Day must have been a time of great celebration among the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Psalm 110 1 reads, “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the Trumpet. Almighty God, as your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Seeking God

 

When Paul preached in Athens, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers regarded his message of the resurrection as the babbling of one who has picked up seeds of this idea and that and was passing them off as something worth hearing.  To both groups the gods had no interest in human beings.  The idea of a bodily resurrection was utter foolishness.

However, Paul tells them that the God who created the world and everything in it was not far off from anyone.  In fact, God created humans to be seekers of God hoping that they might feel their way toward him and find him.  Paul paraphrases Job, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”  He also refers to a Greek poet quoting, “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Paul continues that since we are God’s flesh and blood offspring it doesn’t make sense that God would be made of metal or stone in an image fashioned by his own offspring.  Rather God is very much involved in the life of the world.  He is calling people to turn away from their own ideas and turn toward him.  God has even sent a man to back up his claims on his offspring.  Though the man died, he also raised him from the dead and in the light of this resurrection God will judge the world in rightness.

The prayer for this week reflects some of Paul’s thinking:

O God, the giver of all that is good, by your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

Babbling the Gospel

 

What first caught my ear in the first reading for yesterday from Acts 17:16 – 23 was the question, “What does this babbler wish to say?”  The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers characterize him as a chattering bird picking up seeds of ideas, slogans, scraps of learning and then espousing half-backed ideas.

The Epicureans believed that happiness was attained by living like the gods who had no concern for humans but lived in a state of blissful tranquility not shaken by poverty, pain, and fear.  At death the soul disintegrated, and that was the end.

The Stoics believed that virtue was the only good and vice the only evil.  Suppress the passions and live by reason, then law that pervades the universe.

Others, thought he was a preacher of two foreign divinities one named Jesus and the other Anastasis (Resurrection).  So, it is today that the preaching of the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection is often heard differently than the preacher intends.  People find reincarnation more appealing than Resurrection.

The entrance verses from Psalm 119 give us guidance and encouragement in the face of society’s doubt and misunderstanding, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

A Paradox

 

I’m going to be gone for about a week and I’m not adept enough to post blogs from just anywhere.  I want to leave you with something to think about.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus presents a paradox.  A paradox are two apparently contradictory statements which are not contradictory.

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus is telling us to let your good works be seen.

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness (Christian life of good works) before other people in order to be seen by them…

Jesus is telling us to keep our good works hidden from other people.

I will be back in a week.

 

The Harrow

 

It was during the planting of oats that the harrow came into play in the spring.  First the ground was turned over by the single bottom plow pulled by our new 1949 Allis Chalmers tractor.  Today, the tractor, which replaced our ancient Fordson, appears to be little more than a garden tractor. In the second, step we used a spring tooth “drag” to even out the furrows.  The third step was loading the “drill’ boxes with oats seed and fertilizer and planted.  Then came the last step, the harrowing.  The harrow had spikes which when drug over the field would smooth out the final clods of dirt.

However, the word “harrow,” was also used to describe Jesus’ descent into hell between his crucifixion and resurrection. In the Apostles Creed we confess, “He descended into hell…”  This is based on I Peter 3:18-19, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.”

One of the interpretations of this passage is that Jesus went into “hell” to plunder or pillage hell of the souls of the righteous Old Testament believers.

An Easter Carol from the fourteenth century tells us of Christ,

Who baffled death and harrowed hell

And led the souls that love him well

All in the light of lights to dwell.

Most scholars interpret Jesus’ descent into hell as an occasion when he proclaimed his victory to those who had rejected him as Messiah and Savior.

I suspect that our harrow on the farm hasn’t been used for several decades.  The “harrowing of hell” is also a concept fallen by the wayside.

 

Jesus Real Presence

David Lose in his weekly article, “In the Meantime,” on the Gospel lesson for Sunday (John 14:1-14) wrote the following.  Many of us will partake of Holy Communion tomorrow and its good to have a reminder of what God is really doing.

I’ve always been captivated by Martin Luther’s sense of the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Rather than side with those who said that mere finite bread could not hold Jesus’ infinite body, and so argued the bread was not really bread but had been transubstantiated into Jesus’ body, or with those who again said that mere finite bread could not hold Jesus’ infinite body, and so the bread was just bread, a reminder of Jesus’ love, Luther argued that, as with the Incarnation, there are times that, indeed, the finite can hold the infinite. What we experience in the Lord’s Supper, he believe, is just that kind of real presence. It’s a confession of faith that doesn’t boil down very easily to clean cut answers but instead offers a relationship: It is really God who is really present for us  in a way we can really receive.

As Pants the Hart/Heart for Cooling Streams

 

Based on Psalm 42, the hymn “As Pants the Hart for Cooing Streams” struck me as a bit strange when I was a young boy.  I didn’t know that the hart was a deer.  It seemed to me that with the addition of one vowel “e” one would have “heart.”  It turns out my childhood thinking was on the mark.  As a hart pants for a stream of cool running water, so does my heart pants for the refreshing ever flowing stream of God’s grace filled faithfulness toward me.

The 17th century hymn by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady provides the image of a hart (heart) who is being chased by relentless a pack of dogs or wolves or human hunters.

As pants the hart for cooling streams

When heated in the chase,

So longs my soul, O God, for you

And your refreshing grace.

One version of the hymn contains the striking image of a gathering storm of troubles which will pour down upon the individual, turning those quiet streams into a sea of water threatening to drown the one being chased.

One trouble calls another on

And gathers overhead,

Falls splashing down, till round my soul

A rising sea is spread.

However, though the person is near drowning, he/she will not despair of the steadfast love of the Lord.

Why restless, why cast down, my soul?

Hope still, and you shall sing

The praise of him who is your God,

Your health’s eternal spring.