Saturday, February 20, 2010

Remember Who You Are

Faith Lutheran Church, Bagley, MN
February 21, 2010/Lent 1
Luke 4:1-13

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Once upon a time there was a mean mother. When her teenage son asked to borrow the family car for a hot date on Saturday night , this mean mother said “Yes, of course!”

But then, when Saturday rolled around, and the lad actually got into the car to go pick up his girlfriend for a night on the town, he discovered that his mean mother had plastered the inside of the car with a whole bunch of post-it notes. There were notes on the dashboard, notes on the rear-view mirror, notes on the passenger-side door, notes inside the glove compartment, even notes in the backseat.

And all the notes said the same thing: “Remember who you are.”

What a mean mother! All those notes simply spoiled all the fun the boy was hoping to have that Saturday night.

Remember who you are.

It’s as if Jesus has that same message, Super-Glued to his own forehead, here in this story of his temptation from Luke, chapter 4.

Remember who you are! Remember what the voice from heaven told you, when you were baptized: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

Remember who you are, Jesus…..because when the Evil One comes a-calling, he’s going to attack precisely that—your God-given, God-driven identity.

And here in this story that’s exactly what the devil does. He doesn’t sidle up to Jesus with a box of chocolates, a carton of smokes, a bottle of booze, or a fistful of Playboys. The devil doesn’t waste his time with such petty crimes or misdemeanors.

No the devil goes right after Jesus big-time. The devil heads for Jesus’ jugular, calling Jesus to account from the very center of his being.

In fact, the devil makes three attempts to knock Jesus off-kilter here. Breezing right by the little temptations that beset us, the devil makes a beeline for the Big Question, launching each of his assaults on Jesus with the same phrase: “If you are the Son of God…”

Please notice that word, “if.” It’s the devil’s favorite word. Because whenever an opponent hurls an “if” at us—it’s meant to get us off-balance, to make us wonder, to stir up doubt about ourselves and doubt about our God.

“If you are the Son of God…” the devil starts out, and then he just keeps coming at Jesus, like waves of attack by an enemy army--always with an “if” on his lips, always trying to throw Jesus off-kilter at the center of his being.

So, Jesus is hungry—beyond hungry, actually. Jesus is famished. And the devil offers a quick fix: “Just rustle up some bread, Jesus! Here are stones—you can snap your fingers and produce bread, Jesus. Why not?”

But Jesus doesn’t fall for that. If he is the Son of the one true God…he serves others before self. He is the Son of the God who gives freely, with an open hand, satisfying the needs of others first—always looking to others, not to himself. “Feed your face first” is never the starting point for Jesus, the Son of the one true God.

The devil has a Plan B ready to go, though. He rockets up into the stratosphere with Jesus, revealing to Jesus an easy way to reach his goal right now—to have authority over all the kingdoms of the world with one small bow, one simple act of submission to the Tempter. “If you are the Son of God, Jesus, the way of the Cross need not be your only way. You can improvise. Surely you can get to the goal sooner, easier, safer.”

But once again Jesus is not bamboozled. He says “No” to the option of mutiny--even if it eventually will cost him his life. Jesus will not falter or take any detours on the only path to the Kingdom that God his Father has set out for him. Jesus will reign over all—but only by way of the Cross.

“Never mind,” mutters the devil, who’s on to Plan C. “If you are the Son of God, do something that will knock their socks off! Put yourself at risk. Hand yourself over to the angels. Dazzle the people with a death-defying show that will compel them to follow you.”

But Jesus once more refuses the devil’s offer. Jesus knows who he is—the Son of the one true God who relies not on brute force…but who relies solely on self-emptying love, to win the hearts of his people. Jesus will do something amazing and awe-inspiring…something not death-defying but death-embracing!

Jesus will stretch out his arms at the Cross and wrap himself around sinners, offering them—offering us!--God’s fierce freedom and full forgiveness. Jesus will place himself into the hands of the angels and he will go down—down to the grave, that is, “for us and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed). By his saving work Jesus will declare to us—loud and clear—that “if God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)

So the devil tosses in the towel, at least for the time being.

Here’s where St. Luke’s version of this story is unique, though. Unlike the versions of the temptation story in Matthew’s or Mark’s gospel…Luke’s story concludes on this ominous note: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time” (v. 13).

Testing….testing of Jesus….would continue, throughout his short life. Testing would intensify in the final week of Jesus’ earthly sojourn. That’s the kind of Savior we have, dear friends, a Savior who (according to the Book of Hebrews) “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus was tested “in every respect…as we are, yet without sin.” What does that mean? If Jesus’ temptation reflects the temptations you and I also face—what does this story tell us?

Three things:

First, we can count on being tested in our lives of faith. If you imagine, even for a second, that being Christian makes everything easier and better—guess again! When we are baptized, when we believe the gospel, when we’re joined to Jesus Christ for life….we find ourselves in the devil’s cross-hairs.

And the deeper we’re drawn into the life of faith, the worse it will probably get. I think that’s because the devil likes a challenge…and he doesn’t really need to waste his time on persons who are already in his hip pocket.

Second, expect to be tested not mainly on the easy stuff, the small sins—but expect to be tested at the core of your being. What makes you tick? Where do you hang your hope? Who is the One to whom you’ve entrusted yourself? What are you counting on from God?

There, right there, is where the devil aims his slings and arrows. That’s why our watchword must be NOT “obey all the rules” BUT RATHER: “Remember who you are.” Remember who God has called you to be. Remember your baptism into Jesus Christ. Remember who has saved and freed you. Remember who stands at the end of the road—remember who the future belongs to.

In one of the parishes I served there was a man dying of cancer. He had led sort of a rough life. In his younger years he drank too much and didn’t always treat his wife and children well. As the cancer overwhelmed him, he was beset by guilt and doubt. He even had vivid dreams of the devil coming to get him when he died. “I can see him—he’s pointing at me, saying that he’s coming for me,” the man told me toward the end.

And so I told this man the truth. I proclaimed to him the devil had no claim on him. The devil is a liar and a cheat and a goner. Jesus, not the devil was coming for him. Jesus had sunk his hooks into this man when he was baptized, and Jesus was not going to lose him to the devil—Jesus was never going to let him go.

Third, and finally, we can lay claim to a whole arsenal of defenses against the lies and temptations of the Evil One. We have the same Word that Jesus hurled at the devil three times. We have Jesus himself—the Word made flesh. We have the Word that has been proclaimed to us—the hope of the gospel. And we have the written Word, the same written Word of God that our Lord quoted three times here—the same Word that sent Satan scurrying.

This past week, on Ash Wednesday, we heard one of the most honest things the Bible tells us: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

But in that same act, with the sooty smudge on our foreheads, we also heard the most hopeful thing the Bible tells us: “Remember who you are—sons and daughters of God, sisters and brothers of Christ who has his hooks into you and who will not, absolutely will not let you go.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Summit Meetings

Faith Lutheran Church, Staples, MN

February 14, 2010
Luke 9:28-36

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This gospel lesson from Luke 9 tells about a summit meeting....a summit meeting, the likes of which are rarely covered on the front page of the daily newspaper.

A summit meeting is a big deal! A summit meeting gets lots of continuous press coverage. CNN broadcasts non-stop when a summit meeting is taking place.

That’s because a summit meeting is a "meeting at the top"...a coming-together of presidents and prime ministers, dictators and kings to consider weighty matters that will influence the course of human history.

Summit meetings are world-turning events: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta kinds of meetings....Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David kinds of meetings.

When a summit meeting takes place...we expect decisions to be announced, we anticipate agreements reached, we look for the world somehow never to be quite the same again.

The summit meeting that is going on here on the Mountain of Transfiguration involves two of the Old Testament’s biggest movers and shakers.

First there is Moses, who was no stranger to summit meetings. Having had his "Burning Bush" Summit....having met mighty Pharaoh of Egypt for a number of summit meetings....Moses went on to the biggest summit meeting of his life, when he met with God, face to face, on Mount Sinai. Moses represented the whole people of Israel at the "Giving of the Law" summit on Mount Sinai.

The Old Testament tells us that when Moses met with God for forty days and forty nights his face started to shine with the brilliance of God’s own splendor. It was as if some of God’s own luster had rubbed off on, been absorbed by much so that his people couldn’t even bear to look him in the eye.

Good old Moses became “glow-in-the-dark” Moses. He could function as his own night light! So bright had Moses’s face become that he had to resort to wearing a veil just so he could resume normal conversation with his fellows.

Moses’ shining face reminds us powerfully that he, perhaps more than any other figure in the Old Testament, was accustomed to having direct conversation with God....

.....and that’s why Moses shows up again, in another summit meeting, in this gospel lesson from Luke 9.

But Moses is not alone here. He is joined by Elijah...a veteran of several other Old Testament "summit meetings."

If Moses had been old Israel’s greatest law-giver and leader, Elijah was Israel’s greatest prophet. Elijah socked it to 450 prophets of Baal at the Mount Carmel Summit. In a later summit meeting on Mount Horeb, Elijah heard God speak--not in wind or earthquake or fire--but in a still small voice.

Here in Luke 9, Moses reappears on the does Elijah....along with three ex-fisherman. The five of them gaze upon yet Another in their midst...Another whose garments are dazzling white and whose face is changed so that it reflects the very glory of God.

As Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John stare dumbfounded at the transfigured Christ, they hear a word from the cloud that enfolds them on the Mountain of Transfiguration: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

Now there was a word, the likes of which Moses and all their summit meetings--had never heard spoken to them!

The Transfiguration Summit the one that singles out, locates, identifies, focuses our attention on God's Numero Uno, God’s "one and only." It is Jesus and him alone whose Word is worth hearing.

"This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

Listen to him...listen to Jesus...but about what?

What was the topic of conversation there at the Transfiguration Summit Meeting? Luke tells us in v. 31: "(Moses, Elijah and Jesus) appeared in glory and were speaking of [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem."

The topic of conversation at the Transfiguration Summit was Jesus' impending departure...the departure that would transpire at the final summit of Jesus' life and ministry...the Jerusalem Summit, or more specifically, the Mt. Calvary Summit.

The Mt. Calvary summit would take place not on a lofty mountain-top like all the others...but on a lowly dump the middle of the city garbage pile, where public executions Roman-style took place. The vantage point Jesus would have there would be--not from a towering precipice--but from a splintery Cross.

The Word the voice on the Transfiguration Mountain spoke the Word of the Cross...the Cross where Jesus changed the world forever, the Cross where Jesus led his own exodus out of bondage--our bondage to sin, death and the power of the devil. At the Cross Jesus liberated us from our slavery and led us into the freedom of the Promised Land where there is space for all.

When we soak up texts like this one...when we hear again the stories of God's "Summit Meetings" at places like Mt. Sinai, Mt. Horeb, Mt. Carmel and Mt. Calvary...we wish that we too might stand face to face with God on our own Transfiguration Mountain.

Wouldn’t it be great, if you and I could have such a summit meeting with God?

If that’s how you sometimes feel, I have good news for you. You’re at a summit meeting right now!

God still schedules summit meetings with us...summit meetings that are central to our lives of faith.

A summit meeting goes on right here in this very place at least once every seven days.

A summit meeting takes place here every week...whenever God pulls back the veil and is revealed among you in water and Word and bread and wine.

Because Jesus traveled from his summit meeting on the Transfiguration Mountain to Jerusalem, to the climactic summit meeting on Mt. Calvary for you and for me...we can continue to have summit meetings with God...where the benefits of the Mt. Calvary Summit grasp us, transfigure us and send us back to the plains of our lives where hurt is real, where pain is present, where challenges await, where mission and ministry beckon.

A summit meeting takes place right here every week...wherever and whenever we gather together to be met by God in syllables, in water, in food, and in each other.

Have you ever thought of weekly worship that way?

Whether we bring babies or new adult believers to the baptismal font....we don’t merely observe a quaint “christening” ceremony. We meet God. At the Baptismal Summit Meeting, God’s face shines upon us in a way that changes us forever. From that day forward, our faces shine like Moses’ face--with the glory of God who has taken up residence within us.

When we receive the bread and the wine...we aren’t simply “going through the motions” of some rote ritual. We meet God. At the Holy Communion Summit Meeting....God stoops down to meet us where we’re at, absorbs into himself all our sin and waywardness, draws so close to us that he gets right down under our very skin. God comes in simple food, to live inside of us.

When we open our ears to listen to God’s word being proclaimed....we don’t merely hear an interesting little talk or pick up some nifty advice. We meet God. In the Sermon Summit, God grabs us by the ears, pours his promises into us, reminds us of who we are, what we’re called to do, and where we’re heading.

Here’s where it happens. Every seven days. In worship: God has a summit meeting with us. God turns our world around. God announces his decision for us. God rubs off some of his glory upon us. God transfigures and transforms us so that we’ll never be the same old persons again.

And part of that transfiguration and transformation that we undergo has to do with God’s work in our world. God changes us from people content to keep good news to themselves into persons who know in the core of our being that good news simply has to be shared. We have friends, relatives, neighbors who need to hear, need to be grasped by the great story of Jesus and his love. Their faces may be dull and listless because they lack the hope, lack the confidence, lack the sense of purpose that God in Jesus Christ bestows on us every time we meet here for the weekly worship summit. God wants to make their faces glow with his own saving light!

Why keep coming here? Why dare to believe that this hour of worship is our summit meeting with God?

Because we take away so much, so very much from each and every encounter we have here with God and with one another.

We take God. God in us, God with us, God working out his purposes through us.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

God Has Use of You

“Sunday at East”—Concordia College, Moorhead, MN
February 7, 2010
Luke 5:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

So, this past Friday morning I woke up feeling out of sorts—down in the dumps about conflicts in our churches and a year-end financial report overflowing with red ink. I needed a dose of good news—so I switched on the radio in my car, which was a pretty stupid idea--because I was greeted by a litany of bad-to-worse stories that only deepened the blue funk I was already in.

It was so bad that I said, in my car, right out loud, “I could really use some good news here!” And then there was a blurb about a car manufacturer recall, and I told myself: “Well at least I don’t own a Toyota—that’s a shred of good news.”

Maybe you, too, have days that start out like that. Things pile up, nothing seems to be going your way, what’s a body to do?

I suspect that’s maybe how it was for Simon here in this gospel story.

He’d been plying his trade all night long, but the fish just weren’t biting. And when fishing is your business, your only business, that can’t be good. As far as we know Simon didn’t have a bait-and-tackle shop on the side; so if the fish weren’t biting he was out of luck.

Simon had called it a night, come into shore, beached his boats and was cleaning his nets when along came Jesus.

Jesus was having different problems--crowd control problems. “The crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,” and he needed some space, so Jesus commandeered Simon’s beached fishing boat, to use it as a floating lectern, a water-borne pulpit.

Now I might as well name something that’s been on my mind as I read this gospel lesson this past week. I wonder whether Jesus wasn’t sometimes downright annoying to those around him.

I mean, can’t he see that Simon’s not having a good day, after all? Can’t Jesus give Simon and these other fishermen a little space?

Apparently not. Jesus needs a boat and Simon’s is available.

But then when the teaching time out on the water is over, Jesus makes another request—or is it more like a demand, here? “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Sounds like an order to me, and not a very smart one, either.

Like a city slicker who’s spent one week on a dude ranch and now thinks he’s a real cowboy—Jesus, who knows nothing about fishing, tries to tell Simon how to do his work. The nerve of him!

And you can hear some of Simon’s skepticism and world-weariness in his taut reply: ““Master, (um) we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet (sigh!) if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

That’s what I mean! Simon knew where and when to fish. Simon was a professional, and Jesus was a rank amateur who, by rights, should have kept his mouth shut…

….but Simon plays along, nonetheless.

And the outcome of Simon’s reluctant obedience is simply staggering.

No sooner do the nice, clean nets—nets that haven’t caught even a minnow all night long, when the fishing is supposed to be the best—no sooner do the nets hit the mid-morning water, then that they become filled suddenly with a teeming school of fish.

You know this is something great because it’s described here in such disastrous terms. Did you catch that? This is a marvelous, wondrous thing—because it just about destroys Simon’s whole business. “…They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.”

Tearing nets and sinking boats—the miracle was that good, that wonderful, that amazing!

Which makes Simon’s next action all the more surprising. For, instead of shouting “Glory hallelujah…” instead of getting right into Jesus’ face and asking, “How did you do that?”

….Instead of any such understandable reaction, Simon chooses, rather to “hit the dirt.” Falling at Jesus’ knees, Simon begs him to depart from his presence, “for I am a sinful man!”

Here we see, not how confused Simon was, but how completely, utterly aware he was of just what was happening.

In that moment—with nets torn, and boats about to go down to Davey Jones’ locker—it dawned on Simon that he was in the very presence of God-in-human-flesh. And Simon saw all at once the gulf between himself and Jesus. Keenly aware of his own god-forsakenness…Simon asked Jesus to head somewhere else—to flee from his miserable presence….

….which is exactly what Jesus didn’t do!

Instead of fleeing, Jesus got into Simon’s face and said two things.

First, “do not be afraid.”

If there is a training manual for angels and saviors, I’m pretty sure that on the first page of it are these instructions: “You never can say to human beings often enough that they don’t need to be afraid.”

Do not be afraid, Jesus tells Simon, which in this case is sort of like an absolution, sort of like “your sin isn’t a problem here, not with me anyway!”

And then, lest Simon miss the point, Jesus adds another word: “From now on, you will be catching people.”

This, too, was a kind of absolution—in the form of a call, though, an invitation to fall into line with Jesus, to join his royal service, to become a follower, and not just a follower but a catcher of persons….to let down his nets in a teeming sea of lost and wayward humans.

Jesus’ response to Simon was at least as surprising as Simon’s earlier response had been.

Because when someone confesses their sinfulness, when someone falls down at Jesus’ knees, you expect Jesus to flat-out declare a word of forgiveness….which in effect he does so here, but not in those exact words.

And that is what I want to ponder with you for just a few more minutes here. How is it that sometimes Jesus forgives us, not by forgiving us but by telling us to not be afraid….and then by putting us to work?

Isn’t that curious? Sometimes the absolution sounds like an absolution: You know, the kind of absolution that says, “I therefore declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins…”

But sometimes the absolution sounds like something a loving parent whispers to a terrified child: “do not be afraid”—followed by an invitation to embark on something new with your life—to join with Jesus in catching others up into God’s great, big bulging net of mercy!

I wonder, my dear young friends….I wonder if in this season of your lives….off to college, here at Concordia….I wonder if that may be how Jesus wants to do vital business with you—here and now.

You are such fertile soil for Jesus to till, after all. You’re here, in this hothouse of learning and exploration and vocational discernment (to use a 25-cent-term)….and maybe some of that has you taking stock of yourself, becoming aware of what you’re not so good at, but also being open to how God might use you.

Let me repeat that, just in case you missed it: God has use for you. God wants to use you.

If that very thought makes you want to flee…to get out of here….because you know you’re not good enough for God to use….

…If that very thought spooks you, scares you off….I say to you: “Do not be afraid.” God is accustomed to working with imperfect stuff. God is familiar with sinners and their foibles. In fact, God has a thing for sinners—sinners are God’s favorite people!

God can use people who know they can’t make it on their own. God likes to get a hold of such people, to get a hold of you and of me, and then God really gets a kick out of using us to get a hold of others for him, as well.

And when God does that, sometimes, sometimes the absolution hits us in the form of a warm, gentle invitation…spoken with deep love and fierce determination.

It’s an invitation to be of use to God, to hear God’s voice, to follow God’s call and to spend yourself in God’s service…however that might look through your eyes, with your hands, tapping into your gifts.

Despite all your failings, all the ways you fall short—God has need of you. And God will have his way with you.

In the name of Jesus.


Jesus' Amazing Elevator Speech

Calvary Lutheran Church, Perham, MN
50th Anniversary Celebration
February 7, 2010
Luke 4:14-21

This is a pretty amazing “elevator speech” that Jesus delivers in Nazareth’s synagogue.

If you’re not familiar with that term, an “elevator speech” is a short description of what you do, or the point you want to make, presented in the time it takes an elevator go to from the top floor to the first floor or vice versa. “Elevator speeches” usually last no longer than 30 seconds and contain fewer than 130 words.

Jesus, however, doesn’t need half that many words to sum up what he is about in the world—what his mission and ministry will accomplish among us.

Speaking in the synagogue he grew up in, Jesus inaugurates his ministry by doing what adult Jewish men did in synagogues. Standing in the midst of his neighbors, Jesus unrolls a scroll, finds a passage from the 61st chapter of the prophet Isaiah, reads it aloud, then rolls up the scroll again and sits down to offer his comments on the text.

And what does Jesus say in his “elevator speech?” We can sum it up in six sound-bytes.

First, Jesus is under orders. He is possessed by the Holy Spirit who has set him aside to do God’s work.

Second, Jesus ushers breathtaking good news into this bad news world.

Third, Jesus’ delivers freedom. The original word, often translated “forgiveness,” is tied even more closely to being turned loose. It’s the same word Jesus uses in John chapter 11, when he gives orders that Lazarus, called forth from the tomb, should be “unbound”—turned loose, set free.

Fourth, Jesus pierces through darkness and opens blind eyes.

Fifth, Jesus proclaims—not God’s unremitting, well-deserved judgment…but rather: God’s astonishing grace and favor. Jesus doesn’t represent the “God will get you for that” way of the law. Jesus speaks for the God whose power is shown chiefly in showing mercy.

Sixth, Jesus does all these things NOW. His one-sentence commentary begins with “today.” Imagine that—the first time Jesus speaks as an adult in Luke’s gospel, he starts with the word “TODAY”--“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Wow! What an elevator speech! All the sermons that have ever been preached on this text can’t hold a candle to the original, straight from Jesus’ mouth. In just 60 words in English translation, we get the whole enchilada. We see, hear, experience the sum total of Jesus’ life and ministry.

But not only that.

This isn’t just a once-upon-a-time “elevator speech,” to remember what the historical Jesus was like when he walked on this old ball of mud.

No, these 60 words encapsulate, they capture what Jesus-alive-in-the-Body-of-Christ is still very much up to, right here and now, even today in our very midst.

For this isn’t just Jesus’ “elevator speech.” It is ours as well. Jesus Christ—the same One who was crucified, buried, raised from the dead—is alive in us. Jesus is still pursuing his mission among us, especially here at Calvary, as you observe your 50th anniversary of witness and service in Jesus’ name.

Here’s the deal: these same six bullet-points apply to you and me, who from the day of our baptism, have lived “in Christ” in this world.

First, we didn’t get ourselves into this business—we didn’t sign up for it or volunteer for it. God singled us out. God summoned us to be his people. Calvary didn’t create itself as a congregation back in 1959—but like all communities of Christ, you were called into being, through other members of the Body of Christ, and anointed with the Spirit.

Four months ago my wife Joy and I spent some time in our companion synod, the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church in India. There we were--about as far away from northwestern Minnesota as you can get and still be on planet Earth—surrounded by people so different from us—little children eager to touch our skin to see if that pale white color would rub off. But everywhere we went we knew what mattered most—that the same Holy Spirit had called us, brought us together, and set us apart for God’s work.

You and I and everyone here at Calvary are Spirit-driven, under orders.

Second, Jesus-in-us still brings good news into a bad news world. That’s true, isn’t it? We’re desperate for good news—sick to death of economic recession, unemployment, global climate change, earthquake victims, a future that seems utterly cloudy and uncertain.

Just this past Friday I woke up in a blue funk. Weary of the turmoil in parts of the ELCA, worried about an ugly year-end financial report for our synod, I turned on my car’s radio—only to hear a whole litany of grim, bad-to-worse stories. I hankered for just a shread of good news. At least I didn’t own one of those recalled Toyotas—at least gospel of Jesus was still true.

Calvary is and has been for half-a-century a “good news way station” in a bad news world. Folks come here confident that they’ll get a break from the bad news—that good news bursts through here, good news about Jesus.

Third, we who are Christ’s body today are in the freedom business. Having been set free by Jesus, we’re free now to turn others loose as well. Where sin chokes us, where death haunts us, where evil threatens us—Jesus in our midst says: “Unbind him—turn her loose.”

Your congregation makes me smile. There is always something good happening here —some freedom bursting forth. You don’t get bogged down in wouldas, couldas, or shouldas. You dream big in God’s mission—whether you’re growing pumpkins for a good cause, digging deep into your pockets for Haiti, heading up the local Feed Our Starving Children campaign, or participating in the great “Backpack” program combating childhood hunger, that I read about in the Fargo Forum this past Monday.

Lord knows there’s enough religion-as-usual out there that tries to put people into spiritual straitjackets. But that’s not what Jesus is about—and that’s not what you here at Calvary are about. You’re in the freedom business—you follow Jesus’ lead in bringing deliverance and release and great, great joy.

Fourth, Jesus in us is still beating back the darkness, still curing all varieties of blindness. We’re not just talking about physical impairments and diseases of the eye, either. The old saying holds true: “there is none so blind as the one who WILL not see.” Jesus here and now lifts the blindness of you and me and everyone else who is deep in the darkness of denial.

Calvary’s mission and ministry is about flipping the light switch and shining the Son-shine on our dark and dreary lives. You bring the light of Christ to bear in your vibrant worship, your trend-setting Christian education and youth and family ministries. Calvary has for five decades been reducing blindness, bringing light and life.

Fifth, Jesus in you and me is still announcing and enacting God’s favor, God’s deep passion and unconditional love. And there’s nothing abstract about that. It’s very real, concrete, and down to earth.

I scrolled through your church’s website, and was amazed by all the ways you at Calvary keep living out God’s favor in the lives of others. The page entitled “Service Opportunities” is exhaustive—and a little bit exhausting! You offer some amazingly fresh and creative ways of telling your neighbors that “God is for you, not against you”….whether it’s your “Fix It Ministry” or Operation Christmas Child or youth mission trips or the Stephen Ministry or the Quilters.

Sixth, Jesus in us isn’t waiting around for things to work themselves out or get better all on their own….but rather Jesus in us is bringing in God’s Kingdom of flowing mercy and gentle justice, here and now—TODAY.

Which is to say: there’s an evangelical urgency to what we’re about in Christ’s name. And anniversaries bring that out—don’t they? Our time on earth is so short. Since Calvary is “only” fifty years old, there are charter members still in your midst. They may well say things like, “My but the time has flown!”

Anniversaries let us look back, but they also beckon us forward…stirring up a sense of evangelical urgency about the next 50 years. Today we honor the missionaries in our midst, who have crossed borders with the gospel word and the loving deed in Jesus’ name. But, who’s here this morning who’ll be around when Calvary turns 100? Who’ll be the “missionaries” we give thanks for in the year 2059?

That question can’t wait, really. Our Lord Jesus, in his hometown place of worship, declared that TODAY—his words were coming true. In every moment, whenever Jesus’ words are spoken among us, that TODAY breaks into our space and time….even now, even here.

As you celebrate this anniversary year, it may seem that the focus is all on your “yesterdays.” But I invite you to hear in this powerful text Jesus’ own evangelical urgency that claims you and points you ahead toward God’s future, right now, right here, TODAY. God bless your life and ministry during the next 50 years, for Jesus’ sake.