Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Epiphany 2/1

Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  On this calendar that Thrivent sends to all pastors and which I use to keep my life organized, you probably can’t see, but here on February 1 it says Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and under that it says Super Bowl…so does that make Super Bowl Sunday a liturgical holiday??  If it is, the liturgical colors at this point in the year are always green and gold and I think there’s only one NFL team that has those colors, so what does that mean??  I’ll let you think about that but…

          Seven and a half months from now it will be September 13th.  The schedule’s not out yet, but I assume that will be either the first or second Sunday of a new NFL season.  Packer fans will no doubt be hopeful that maybe things will come together in 09 and maybe they’ll make a run at next year’s Super Bowl.  Lion fans…well Lions and Super Bowl are words that don’t really go together but on September 13th there will probably at least be hope for a win somewhere along the line.

          On that warm September Sunday morning though, Packer fans and Lion fans and everyone else will be here just as they are today and the gospel will be one that’s heard every year as Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and amid answers of John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets, Peter finally gets it right by saying, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.”

          That’s September though; in today’s gospel we have another proclamation about Jesus as a man possessed by an unclean spirit cries out to him, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  We admire Peter for his confession as one of the disciples finally seems to understand who Jesus is; the unclean spirit on the other hand is silenced and cast out by Jesus.  But are their confessions all that different?  I don’t think so…in fact you could argue that the unclean spirit understands things better than Peter because if you read just a few verses after Peter makes his statement he winds up being harshly rebuked by Jesus for not understanding the meaning of what he just said while the unclean spirit seems to fully understand the power and authority of Jesus. 

          The words of Peter and the words of the unclean spirit are about the same; the difference is that in the case of Peter there was a desire for a relationship with Jesus, in the case of the unclean spirit there was just fear and a desire to escape the power of Jesus.  The unclean spirit knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus nor did he want to.  Peter was at least beginning to know about Jesus, but what he really wanted, what he struggled with was the relationship. 

          Jesus invites people into relationship.  In the case of the first disciples it was a little different because there was a physical being to respond to; in our case it is a spiritual relationship but one of the defining characteristics of the God revealed in Jesus is that it is not a God that is aloof and separate from the world but a God who works from within the world often through those he has invited into relationship.  The question for those who follow Jesus is how do we nurture that relationship?  We know about relationships with other people but what about a spiritual relationship?  Some of the elements may be the same, but there also have to be differences.

To shed some light on that let me share an old Native American story about a chief instructing some braves about the struggle within each person.  “It’s like two dogs fighting inside of us,” the chief told them.  “There is one good dog who wants to do the right thing but then there is another dog who wants to do the wrong thing.  Sometimes the good dog seems stronger so right is winning the fight.  But sometimes the bad dog is stronger and wrong is winning the fight.”

“Who is going to win in the end?” one of the young braves asked.

“The one you feed,” the chief answered.

A relationship with Jesus is a relationship that has to be fed.  The surest way to tend to that feeding is through the church.  Is it possible to feed a relationship with Jesus outside the church?  Some church bodies would say no, but while I wouldn’t go that far feeding the relationship is pretty much the reason for the existence of the church.  Is the church a perfect institution?  Certainly not; but there is no other institution dedicated to relationship with Jesus Christ.  So if you want to feed the relationship, church is a good place to start.

In the Lutheran church (and in many others too) the feeding comes through Word and Sacrament.  That’s the nature of the ministry we are called to.  Today I want to focus more on the Word part of that equation because that’s where today’s gospel starts.  It says, When the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.  While it doesn’t say so specifically, I assume that teaching involved words.  When we talk about Word and Sacrament, word is more than the teaching ministry of the church; it also includes the words we use in the liturgy, it includes the hymns, it includes the lessons and the sermon.  What all of those things share though is that they are scripture based.  That highlights a need for all of us to be grounded in the Bible and that of course is a huge piece of the tradition Martin Luther passed on to those of us who call ourselves Lutheran.

I’m reading a relatively new biography of Luther written by someone who is not particularly a defender of him which is OK because Luther was most definitely a warts and all character; he was far from perfect.  The Reformation as a movement didn’t move perfectly either; there were negative effects at least in part caused by the fact that Luther could be pretty bull headed, bull headedness which was also part of the reason for some of the positive things that came out of the Reformation. 

What can’t be argued though is Luther’s engagement with the Bible.  Some of his motives may have wound up being political and self-serving; some of the ways he interpreted scripture may have been wrong in light of things we know 500 years later.  But he went to the Bible in his effort to engage Christ, to feed the spiritual relationship in ways that the rites and rituals of the church and the monastery were not doing.  As things evolved, Luther viewed himself as a teacher of the Bible more than anything.

As my role as a pastor has evolved over the years that I’ve done this, more and more I also see my role as that of being a teacher of the Bible, teaching that is done through Bible studies and Sunday School and Confirmation and Lay School but perhaps even more through preaching where I get a chance to talk to all of you.  I see teaching and preaching as an important part of the pastor’s role because it is an important part of the feeding process. 

As Lutherans we don’t worship the Bible, but we do understand it as sacred, a means whereby we feed our relationship with Jesus.  Questions we ask as we encounter scripture include How does this text point us to Christ?  How do we see Jesus in this passage?  As this little book produced as part of the ELCA’s Book of Faith initiative says, answering such questions is not always easy or evident nor are those the only questions one asks in reading the Bible.  But we believe that the saving truth about Jesus Christ is contained in the Bible.

Again though, it’s important to emphasize that knowing about Jesus isn’t the same as knowing Jesus just as knowing about a person doesn’t mean you are in a relationship with that person.  Remember, the demons knew about Jesus.  But we believe that engaging scripture, open to really encountering Christ there will feed the relationship.  It’s not the only source of spiritual food, but the Bible is real food that makes Christ known; it’s not junk food.  It’s part of a healthy relationship with Jesus. 

For the past year we have been printing the daily lectionary in the newsletter each month.  I don’t know how many people follow it but I would suggest it again as a way to feed your relationship with Jesus.  The readings for each week revolve around the lessons you hear on Sunday so it’s a great way to prepare for Sunday and then to reflect on what you heard on Sunday.  It’s never too late to begin or resume a discipline of Bible reading, so consider it. 

Another thing that’s stated in this little book is that Lutherans don’t begin with what the Bible is, they begin with what the Bible does.  One of the things it does is to help you know Jesus; it feeds the spiritual relationship.  It’s not magic though; the Bible can’t do what it does unless you open it.   
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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one who
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