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A Place to Gather

view of ruins during daytime
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. John 2:13-22
This is not a great way to make new friends.

The little marketplace that had been set up in the temple courtyard was a money-maker for sure.  Pilgrims who travelled from far-away lands and needed either a sheep or – if the pilgrims were poor – pigeons for their sacrifices made for easy sales (with high profit-margin, no doubt!).  The money-changers got a cut from every exchange of foreign currency, too.

And I’m sure those running the temple got their share, too.

So when Jesus fashioned his own whip and started driving the animals out and overturning the tables, he was upsetting a lucrative little economy.

Because that’s not the point of the temple!   That very courtyard where the noisy, smelly animals were being sold was to be the Court of the Gentiles, a place where all people – even those not circumcised or part of God’s covenant people – could come in peace and pray to the one, true God.

Jesus’ one sacrifice for all people for all sins eliminates the need for exploiting people by selling animals for sacrifice.  And we don’t do a whole lot off currency exchange in the narthex. 

And yet, we do get distracted in the church by all kinds of things, don’t we.  Sometimes we forget that our relationship with our God in Christ– and inviting others into that relationship with our God in Christ – is what we’re all about. 

God help us to keep that focus in the church!

Gracious Father, You have provided us with a place to gather around Your Word and Sacraments in worship.  Help us to remember what the church is all about.  Help us to focus on Jesus alone as our Lord and Savior.  In His name, Amen. 



two person holding papercut heart

“Leaving the next day, we (Paul, Luke and company) reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.”  Acts 21:8

How would you like to be remembered at your high school class reunion?  Jack the Jock, still talking about the game against Antigo because, well, that was pretty much the highlight of his life.  Or maybe Jane the Brain, 4.0, full ride to grad school, research chemist for some big pharma company out east, blah, blah, blah.  Maybe you’ll be remembered for how hot you were in high school, because you’re not anymore.  For what do you want to be remembered?

The early church remembered Philip as “the evangelist.”  That title is impressive because no one else in the Bible is called “the evangelist.”  Philip earned that title from the people whose lives he impacted.  A lot of things contribute to being an evangelist, like excitement for the Gospel and love for people and the ability to explain truth so that others get it.  But maybe there is a more important ability – availability.

We meet Philip first in Acts 6, when a rapidly growing church needed more staff.  Philip was one of seven chosen because they were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.”  Now how would a church of several thousand people recognize that about Philip?  Well, he was always available, engaged in the discussion of Bible study groups, volunteering to tackle tough issues and meet hurting people’s needs.  He was Philip the Available.

When persecution drove Christians out of Jerusalem, some headed for Galilee and others to the Mediterranean coast.  Not Philip.  Acts 8 says that Philip went to Samaria and “proclaimed the Christ there.” The Samaritans were ethnic mongrels and religious heretics, hostile to Jews.  Still, when Jesus ascended, he gave the church this vision statement: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Philip was available.

You may recall the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, an African who was instructed and baptized by Philip. Do you remember how the story begins?  Philip is told by an angel to head south toward the Gaza strip.  There’s no indication that he was told why.  Philip was available.  “On his way,” we’re told, “he met an Ethiopian.”  Of course, he did; because Philip was always looking to meet people, to start a conversation that would lead to Jesus.

Will you be remembered for being available?  Sure, you’re probably overworked and tired.  Maybe you aren’t outgoing and you don’t think well on your feet.  But will you be available to the people God puts in your path?  Will you notice people no one else seems to, people who are different and people who are hurting?  Will you start a conversation with people you don’t know, listening to their story and then sharing what you know about Jesus’ story?  You can be an evangelist, really, if you’re available. 

PRAYER: Lord, help me to get beyond myself.  Show me how you can use me to be a blessing to the people in my life. Use the talents you’ve given me to connect with others.  Overcome my fears and weaknesses with your power and presence.  Make me available, for Jesus.  Amen.


Water Into Wine

brown clay pot on white sand near body of water during daytime
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.      John 2:6-11
Did you ever wonder why Jesus chose this for his first miracle?

Don’t get me wrong, providing high-quality alcohol for wedding reception guests is a very nice gesture, but it seems a little strange for Miracle # 1!

But maybe not.  The Old Testament was fond of talking about the coming of the Messiah as being a time of plenty.  Isaiah and Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos all talk about freely-flowing wine.  So this is certainly a demonstration that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

In addition, a wedding is perfect place for the first miracle, because it reflects that often-used Scriptural metaphor of Jesus as the bridegroom and his church as the bride. 

Or maybe Jesus just wanted to give the guests at that wedding a small foretaste of how incredible the banquet in eternity will be!  Isaiah says it will be “the best of meats and the finest of wines.”

Regardless of Jesus’ reason for this miracle, it clearly shows Jesus’ power.  This is no ordinary prophet.  And at the beginning of his ministry, we can’t help but anticipate what else He will do.

Ironically, at the end of John’s Gospel we have another appearance of wine.  But this time it’s not the best, it’s the worst.  Remember the cheap wine turned to vinegar that was lifted up to Jesus’ lips when he said that he was thirsty on the cross?

But isn’t that just like Jesus?  He provides the best for us and took on the worst – the cross – instead of us.  Thank you, Jesus!

Heavenly Father, You fulfilled Your promise to send a Messiah and Savior in Jesus.  Receive our thanks this day for all that He has done for us, especially providing us with forgiveness, life and salvation through His death and resurrection.  In His name we pray, Amen. 



Heart, Cord, Suspended, Love, Together

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”  Ephesians 4:4-7

Human nature dwells on differences; and if we spend too much time on the things that separate us – race, politics, opinions, personalities – well, we won’t like each other much, or trust each other or enjoy each other.  The Bible dwells on what Christians have in common.  Faith in Jesus makes us one body, what Scripture calls “the Body of Christ,” inseparably linked and inter-dependently designed.  We share convictions and values, concerns and goals; and we need each other.  We have the same hope and destiny – eternal life with our Lord – so we can encourage each other along the way there.  The same Lord Jesus saved us, loves us and leads us alike.  The same heavenly Father gave us our genetic make-up and provides for our needs.  One baptism unites us with our God and with each other.  ONE, ONE, ONE, St. Paul emphasizes.

But we aren’t clones.  Our fellowship is a composite of different strengths, gifts, personalities and interests because in God’s plan the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  God wants us to enjoy the diversity of his creation, to be for each other what we need, and to demonstrate for the world what love is.  God is about oneness, not fragmented lives and fractured relationships, not chaos and hostility.  He is about renewal and reconciliation.  He makes us ONE.

Maybe you think you don’t need that.  You’re strong and self-sufficient. . . and you’re kidding yourself.  Maybe you don’t want to appear insecure, or maybe you’re afraid of being vulnerable because you’ve been let down or taken advantage of in the past.  Maybe you’ve seen failures in the fellowship of a church, times when Christians weren’t there for each other.  But God was and God is; and in his Church God forgives the failures so that we can patch up shredded psyches and broken relationships and put this fellowship back together.  In his Church God strengthens us to be for each other today what maybe we weren’t yesterday.

We don’t do secret handshakes.  If you know anything about Lutherans, we don’t do a lot of holy hugs and wild worship either.  You can be who you are in this fellowship, no pressure.  But look around you the next time you’re in church.  This is family, brothers and sisters in Christ made ONE to do life together.  That’s God’s deal.  See, he is ONE, three persons in perfect unity.

PRAYER:  In this time of polarization and angry voices, Lord, we need you to restore a sense of loving unity. . . in the one place where that unity exists, your Church.  Lead us to see your gifts and blessings where others complain about problems.  Teach us to appreciate each other and the things that make us unique.  And when hurts and needs occur, move us to help, just as our Savior was moved to help us out of the condemnation our sins deserve and restore us to your fellowship with his life, death and resurrection.  Amen.


Wonderfully Made

white and black cross wall decor

Psalm 149:14 I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

We know so well that there are all types of people.  And when people consider themselves, so often, they are unsatisfied.  Short people wish they were taller.  When tall people try to fit into a short person’s compact car, they wish they were shorter.  People with high voices wish they had lower voices.  People with blotchy skin wish their skin was clearer.  People with little hair wish they had more.  People with too much hair wish they had less.  And those are just some of the minor characteristics. 

The Psalmist highlights the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  We are, in other words, as God would have us be.  So if you’re short, excellent!  If you’re tall, excellent!  If you have dark skin, excellent!  If you have light skin, excellent!  Blue eyes, six toes, curly hair, a long nose…you are fearfully and wonderfully made

Sin corrupts us, however.  There is wonderful-ness in how unique each of us is and how wonderfully we have been made.  But what commonly ails us is the fact that in a sinful world, there are problems amidst our wonderful-ness.  We get sick, we get angry, we get impatient, we get mean.  And so, God has to remake us.

Luther tells us that by daily contrition and repentance, we drown and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  And there it is.  We are wonderfully made again.

The Psalmist points to the fact that God has created us in the first place.  And God doesn’t make mistakes when He creates.  But Scripture also assures us that even what corrupts God’s wonderful creation is erased by God in baptism and through the forgiveness of sins that comes from our Savior.  “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

O Lord God, you created us wonderfully.  We praise you that through your forgiveness, the constant corruption of sin is continually wiped out, making us wonderful and righteous in your sight again.  Amen.