Free to Plant a Tree

Colossians 1:9-14

I used to wonder if I would be scared at Christ’s coming. I still do at times. The conclusion I have come to is: yes and no. Yes, I will probably be frightened by the great show of might that will accompany His coming with thunder and lightning and trumpets and so forth. Yes, there will be a godly fear of the knowledge that I am standing in front of God Almighty. But I think there will also be a certain familiarity involved and that it will be hard to be too scared of the One who already did so much for me in His first coming. St. Paul says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

The Father who loved us enough to send such a Son must be tender and loving. The Son who brought us such things at the cost of His very life must be kindly disposed toward us. Knowing that such a marvelous day is coming, when we will be filled with reverent fear and familial love at the same time, how can we not live as part of the family, with a holy awe and a pious vigilance? St. Paul prayed that the Colossians would do just that. I pray we will as well, walking in a manner worthy of our coming Lord, with patience and joy, power and might, flowing from a well-fed faith. Our Lord is coming. He is coming for us, His Family.

Christ will come, but as we wait, He still comes to be our strength and hope. We are being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” What He asks of us He gives, which is why we can rejoice. The gospel that declares us His own, not-guilty, redeemed and forgiven, is the same gospel at work in and through us. Christ is no idle guest. No, we give thanks to our Father because He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. We measure up and now God, whose mercy is immeasurable, works through us, bringing forth fruit in every good work in those planted in His grace.

Luther was once supposedly asked what he would do if he knew Christ were returning tomorrow. The story goes that he replied that he’d plant a tree. Will we be afraid on the Last Day? It certainly will be an awe-full day. We need not be afraid of the One who comes for us, though. We qualify. We are delivered, redeemed, forgiven, free. As we wait, then, we can plant our trees, we can live in the confidence of His grace as He who works all things for us works through us as He sees fit.

Wade Johnston

For more content like this, check out the podcast, blog posts, and devotions at www.LetTheBirdFly.com.

For more on Advent, check out our first pass at the season or our second, most recent, pass.

For more writing by Wade, you can find his books here and more blog posts here.

And So We Wait

Habakkuk 2:1-4

Waiting is one of the hardest things for a person to do. From little on, we hate waiting. Think of Christmas Eve, waiting to open your presents. Think of, “Are we there yet?” Think of watching the clock at work. Think of waiting for your next vacation. Think of waiting in the drive thru with a narrow window for feeding the family before the next practice, recital, or game. Think of waiting for traffic when you just want to get home and unwind. Waiting is hard, and, when we wait long enough, we start to wonder if what we are waiting for is ever going to come or if it is worth it. Yet God tells Habakkuk and us to wait and that it is worth it. “The vision waits awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Continue reading “And So We Wait”

The Sun of Righteousness

Malachi 4:1-6

Malachi means “my messenger.” Malachi’s message, together with Genesis, forms the bookends of the Old Testament. Malachi’s is the last prophet’s voice we hear until John the Baptist. As the Old Testament began with a promise of a Savior to crush the serpent head, so it closes with Malachi’s promise of the Messiah to come, the Sun of Righteousness, who would bring peace between God and man and between men. For four hundred years, then, while the Word was still preached in the temple and in synagogues, the voice of the prophets fell silent. God’s people were left to wait for Elijah, as Malachi says—not Elijah the great prophet of the Old Testament himself, but a new Elijah, one who would point to the Messiah in a more direct way, yes, in person. John the Baptist, this new Elijah, would with his own finger, and not merely with his words, direct his hearers to Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Continue reading “The Sun of Righteousness”

Pay Attention to the Signs

Luke 21:25-36 (Romans 15:4-13)

Luke and Beth were ecstatic. The doctor had just told them the news. They were pregnant. Soon, he said, they’d be able to listen to the heartbeat. Soon, he said, they’d even be able to see Junior on the ultrasound screen. Luke and Beth were ecstatic. Their first child was on the way. Luke was sure he’d be a football star. Beth was sure she’d be a ballerina.
Continue reading “Pay Attention to the Signs”

April’s Fools: Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday can be an odd day. For many Lutherans, it seems like a break from the services of Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. It’s a day away from church. Thankfully, I think this is becoming less the case with the resurgence of the Easter Vigil among Lutherans. The truth is that Holy Saturday, and the Vigil, have a long, rich, and powerful history in the Christian Church.

Christ calls His Church to be a waiting Body. The Church is an expectant Bride. We have all of God’s promises now, and what God promises is as good as done—so much so that He sometimes promises them in the perfect (past) tense. In many ways, when God promises like this, we might picture Him fading away like an NBA player confident of his jumper.

On Holy Saturday the disciples waited, if we can call it that. They weren’t necessarily waiting for the resurrection—at least not with any seeming conviction. They waited frightened, confused, stung, weighted with the guilt of having abandoned a Master and Friend they had thought was the Messiah. They were reeling, their world spinning. To return to sports metaphors, they were like a boxer trying to regain his footing and his senses, backpedaling drunkenly.

Holy Saturday was a dark day for the disciples. All seemed lost, three years down the drain for the apostles. The women would be brave enough to head to the tomb Easter dawn, but even they expected to find nothing more than a dead body to anoint. They still loved Jesus, but the Jesus they loved was now. He had left them. He, like all those who rested in such tombs, was a memory, which, sadly, would become foggier by the week and month and year. He had taught and done much, but that had come to an end, and terribly so, and in the most hopeless way, or so they thought.

In Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, the main character at one point is abducted by aliens who teach him that time isn’t one big connected thing, as we so often think of it. Rather, there are a bunch of events that need not be considered (or even be) in chronological order. They say it’s like looking at the Rocky Mountains. I don’t know about all that, and Kurt Vonnegut is certainly after his own thing with it, but there is something useful here for considering Holy Saturday. The aliens tell Billy, the main character, to focus on the best stuff, that each moment is but a moment, even death. And so, even when someone dies, we know he or she is also happy in another moment. Once again, I don’t know about all that, but hear me out.

We have an edge on the disciples on that first Holy Saturday, so to speak. We know the other moments. In fact, we’re even freed from chronology in a certain sense. As we mark Lent, proceed through Holy Week, take in Good Friday, and wait on Holy Saturday, we also know that there are better moments, that this Jesus who died is more than dead. This, thankfully, very thankfully, however, is no literary device. It’s also not sentimental and wishful thinking. This is gospel truth—the gospel truth.

Holy Saturday is a day of waiting, but joyful waiting. Dark as that day was for Peter and the women and all their stunned and shaken companions, we still have light. We light candles, torches, even, perhaps, if your Vigil has a bonfire. We expect. We know what’s coming—Who is coming! Jesus isn’t someone who was. Jesus is, and He is, as He died, and as He will rise, for us.

The resurrection seemed a foolish thing to most at the time it occurred. It was foolish religiously, philosophically, medically, well, in just about every way for the disciples’ contemporaries. The message of those who had seen Jesus raised, the message of the Church, of Christ crucified and risen, was a stumbling block and silliness right out of the gates. And yet, those who waited, even those who waited plagued by doubt, tongue-tied, and unable to string together coherent thoughts, didn’t wait in vain, even if they weren’t entirely sure what they were waiting for at all. Even Thomas, who got extra time to wait and wrestle, eventually was moved to make the good confession with most marvelous clarity.

Today we wait. If we are blessed to participate in the Vigil, we wait in a darkness peppered with the light, yes, of candles, but even more, with the promises of God, from first to last, and a strong invitation to relive our Baptisms, where we were buried and raised with Christ, who was buried and raised for our forgiveness and justification. Does it seem foolish, at least a little, even to those of us who know the Word well? Perhaps it does at times. We still wrestle with the flesh. Does it seem to foolish to those who don’t even know they’re waiting, or what they’re waiting for? Probably. But that message, our message, the message for them, is the message of foolishness, of Christ crucified and risen, the celebration of whose resurrection we now await. This is our hope, their hope, and the only lasting hope in a world riddled with despair. In Him, the risen Savior, God is yes, true promise, promise fulfilled, among a human race drowning in false promises, expert in peddling empty, fading hope.

It’s Holy Saturday, April’s fools! Delight in God’s foolishness. Even if you’ve been reeling, perplexed, guilt-ridden, speechless, or unable to think straight, here is your hope; here is peace, forgiveness, your song, and something to ponder and yet never quite fathom entirely, because it’s a love unknown and a fact beyond belief, though received through God-gifted faith. Kurt Vonnegut is no theologian, and Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t Scripture—far from it!—but perhaps we can indulge our foolishness a little bit today and steal a trick from the novel all the same. Let’s step outside of this moment. Let’s cheat chronology. Even though we wait—and whisper it if you don’t want to seem too foolish—let’s be April fools and rejoice, even as we wait, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

Written by Wade Johnston, co-host of the podcast.

Good Friday

+In the name of Jesus.+

John 19:1-42

One word. One word in the Greek language that sums it all up, tetelestai. It means “it is finished.” It is the word Jesus spoke on the cross announcing to the world, to His people, and to His devilish enemies that His mission was accomplished. One word that means everything to us weary souls. It is finished. It is paid for. Heaven is secure. Now hope can reign. One word, tetelestai. Continue reading “Good Friday”

Maundy Thursday

Thank you to Pastor John Bortulin, a frequent guest and friend of the show, for letting us share this Maundy Thursday sermon. This was adapted from a preaching outline, so please forgive anything we missed in converting it.

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. +

John 13:1-17; 34-35

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

A pastor once offered this pastoral advice: “Tell God where you are lacking.” Tell God where you are lacking. On this night of his betrayal, this night where Jesus does what his disciples surely wouldn’t do, this menial task of a Gentile servant, washing feet, on this night of all nights, tell God where you are lacking. Continue reading “Maundy Thursday”

Advent: New Year, New Life

Happy New Year, people! That’s right, the Christian Church doesn’t wait for the rest of the world to celebrate the new. We live in the new. We are new people. We await a new heaven and a new earth. We walk in newness of life. We have been given new birth into a living hope. I could go on, but once in a while I should try to keep these blog posts short.

We at Let the Bird Fly! are all about new life. We are about living freely in a world given back to us. Sometimes we get the point across better than others. Sometimes that focus frames what we do better than others. For all the times we’ve failed to get out of the way of that message, forgive us. For the times we’ve managed to help bring it home, we give thanks and glory to God. At the end of the day, we want to be and are about letting the bird fly, about freedom in Christ, about sinners learning to fly as saints—and we are chief of those. As the psalmist sang, so we podcast, “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:7,8 ESV).

As we discussed in our last episode, Advent is about Christ’s coming, His arrivals. Christ came at the Annunciation and Christmas as God in the flesh, one of us for us. From the virgin womb He went to the virgin tomb, from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, from the Gloria of angels to the Alleluias of fear-fraught disciples, slow to believe, yet moved by angelic “Don not be afraid”s. Just as importantly, Christ will come again, and He will come, not in terrors for us, for we are His and He is ours, but with healing in His wings, with a new home, now long prepared, our baptismal birthright. And so we pray a hopeful prayer this new season, this first season of the church year. We pray, indeed, we plead, insist, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

Advent marks a new year—no need to wait for the world to catch up to us. Happy New Year! And this new year means new life. Washed daily in the waters of your baptism, relived through contrition and absolution, through daily repentance, go forth as a child of God into a world you can recognize and enjoy for what it is: filled with gifts, marvelous gifts, and yet penultimate. And in the freedom that provides such perspective, there’s no need to search desperately for a way to thank God, to serve Him. He’s already set you in such stations, plopped you on such paths. You have vocations. He has prepared in advance works for you to walk in, in newness of life, even with all the stumbling of a sinner-saint.

We don’t always get it right on the podcast. We don’t always say things as well as we’d like, or as charitably, or as clearly, or, well, a lot of things. Ultimately, though, we pray you’ll jump into this new year with us (and season two of the podcast, which starts now), into this new year in and with Christ, who is all for us. Live freely in a world given back to you, friends. Live free in Christ, crucified for sinners—and we qualify! Christ has come. Christ still comes. Christ will come again, all for you and for me, and for Ben, and for Mike, and even for Peter. Happy New Year! Let the bird fly!

Wade Johnston

For more content like this, check out the podcast, blog posts, and devotions at www.LetTheBirdFly.com.