Category Archives: semons

God says, “I WILL BRING…” A Sermon/Homily on Isaiah 56

church at communion 2God says, “I WILL BRING…”
Isaiah 56:1-3a, 6-8

I pray that you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ which has gathered you into His presence here and that you would realize you aren’t just invited to be here, God desires your presence here!

Doing Right and Good defined…

In the first verses of the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, we heard this morning that God wanted us to do this,

“Be just and fair to all, do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you, and to display my righteousness among you.  Blessed are all those who are careful to do this,  Blessed are those who honor my sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong….”

That’s a great promise, but perhaps a bit vague.  What is right and good to do, what is just and fair?  We might have our own ideas, but God gives us a great picture of it in the verse that follows us,

“Don’t let the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will never let me be a part of His people.”

This isn’t just God commanding us to do this, this work He asks us to do is revealed in the 6-8th verses as His action, as He blesses those who are committed to His care.  He pours out the blessings upon them, even as He has on every single one of us.

And so what God is calling us to do is imitate Him, to share His heart towards people He has created, to have His heart and love all those He loves.

It’s not going to be easy… it is, in fact, it will cause us to take up our cross, this call to follow him.

Who are these outcast & foreigners?

This passage shows two groups of people God loves, foreigners and those who are called outcasts.  Or as Deacon Bob is preaching about right now, those people who think they can’t be admitted to our club.

And we need to make sure they never, ever think this…. We can’t let them say, “The Lord will never let me be a part of HIS people!”

The first group is simple – they are people who aren’t like us, who don’t share our genes, or our language, or our culture, or economic or social status. Some translations use foreigner, some describe them as alien, some stranger.  Given our church’s makeup, I think he’s talking about Australians because we have members from just about everywhere else!  Guyana, Germany, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Indonesia, we even love people from places like Boston and Hemet!  Yet the command is to make sure they don’t think and say that God won’t let them be part of us.

Some people still struggle to feel comfortable in our presence, and it is our role to help those who God brings here to know they are welcome, that they are part of His people, and therefore part of us.

God is calling us to proactively make sure they know they are welcome,

In verse 8, God adds in another group – those who are outcast.

Back in the days when Moses and Israel left Egypt and were wandering around the desert, hen the Old Covenant was given to the people of Israel, there were a number of sins that could be committed that would require the sinner to leave the camp of the people of God.

Sometimes it was for a day, sometimes it was for life.

Basically, until they served their time, they were outcast, they had to make do for themselves, they weren’t welcome among the people of God. They were the recognized sinners, or those that condoned the sin that was committed. They were the outcasts, the sinners rejected by their own people, who also rejected themselves.  Never again would the joy be theirs, or so they thought.

Ever been there?  Ever been in a situation where you weren’t in the in group, where you didn’t understand what was going on, or wonder whether you were part of the church?

Ever wonder if you were beyond God’s desire to forgive, beyond His mercy?  Either because people treated you that way, or because you simply felt to guilty?

Ever treated people like they weren’t?

Or maybe, like me, you have been all of the above…

Time to hear God, time to make the foreigner and the outcast welcome..

Filling us with joy!

I want you to hear the gospel from the Old Testament again,

6  “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7  I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.” Isaiah 56:6-8 (NLT)

These promises aren’t just basic entry, by saying that God will accept their offerings, because God is hearing their pray- the prayer of all people, he’s talking about full membership in this family.

Not half-sister, or step brother, but complete membership in the house of God….
For those who were once outcast, victims of their own sin, and who were once foreigners.  They are family, because of the love of Jesus on the cross, the cross where we were all made family.

We need to understand, and we need to share with people – that Christ died for all.  For you and for me, for people from every language, every tribe, ever culture.  For people of every economic group and from every generation.

Jesus died for them all. Every person in Cerritos, Artesia, Norwalk, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma, Whittier.

All those who are different, all those who have sinned and belong somewhere besides a house of prayer.

Jesus changed all that, as Isaiah prophesied, as God unites us to him on the cross, cleansing us of the sin that could have prevented us from being here.

We need to know this, we need to understand that God died for us, that we might live, and we need to welcome all who would know this, that would come to adore the God who loves us all.

Which is why we have hope, no matter where we’ve come from, no matter what we’ve done wrong. HE can and will restore us!  We have hope because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us all.
AMEN!

 

Do You Understand This? A Sermon on Matthew 13’s parables of the Treasure and the Pearl.

church at communion 2Do You Understand This?
Matthew 13:44-62

I.H.S.

My prayer for you as you read this sermon:  As you think about the grace and mercy of God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, may you understand that God has found what He treasures, in you!

Do you understand this?

Toward the end of our gospel reading today there is a question that we need to hear, that we need to take seriously.

Do you understand all these things?

Do you understand this?  What Jesus is talking about are these groups of parables. Called parables of the Kingdom because Jesus says each is an example of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Do we get what it means for someone to search for treasure, and for a merchant to search the world for the perfect pearl/

Do we understand what it would cost to buy the field, what would be given up in exchange for the pearl?

The price is pretty high….

And if we don’t understand the price to be paid, we need to…

Just as we need to understand these words of the Apostle Paul.

17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)

That observation of St. Paul’s has everything to do with the treasure and the pearl… and understanding them!

We need to understand the incredible love of God for us… and then we can unlock the meaning of parables with great ease!

Chasing after the treasure?

One of our challenges in understanding this passage is that we are so used to searching out chasing after things.  We’ve forgotten how to be content with what God has blessed us with.

People search for and struggle to find the perfect career, and the perfect path in that career.  So they change careers now, four or more times in their lives. Wait, I’ve only had three… HHmmmm

People chase after the perfect home, or the perfect community, the perfect family with our children and grandchildren having everything that will make their lives perfect as they grow up.

And of course, some of us chased after our spouses – until they sprung their trap…err they let us catch them.  😉

It is no wonder then that most hear this parable about the treasure and the pearl and think, well – we must find the kingdom of God, we have to find the treasure in the field.  Preachers like Billy Graham and Greg Laurie encourage us to give up everything to decide to make Jesus our Lord and Savior.  In effect, to see this passage this way means we save ourselves, we redeem ourselves.

But it is the way we’ve heard it, so we design church services and our evangelism programs to help people seeking to find the treasure, assuming they will recognize it when they see it, and that they will want to give up everything for something they barely understand.

Except that it doesn’t work that way.

When we are in bondage to sin, when we are buried and tarnished by the weight of this broken world, we don’t have the energy or power to save ourselves. We don’t have the ability to find the true treasure and even if we did, what could you give up that is valuable enough to give to purchase heaven?

What could we trade of equal value that would redeem us from sin and the brokenness it causes?

We aren’t the treasure hunters, we aren’t the merchants trying to find the perfect, priceless pearl.

So if we aren’t?  Who is?

Being found

The simple answer is God.  He is the one who came to seek and save the lost.  Jesus is the one who gave up everything and took on the role of the servant.  In each of the parables in this chapter, God is at work, harvesting us, causing the church to grow.

Paul described it in our second reading this way,

30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

We need to struggle with, and come to accept that we are His treasure, we are His Pearl of incredible value.  Here are some other ways this is described,

17  “They will be my people,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. Malachi 3:17 (NLT)

5  Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6  And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ Exodus 19:5-6 (NLT)

18  He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1:18 (NLT)

And of course,

10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

This is what Paul means by exploring the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, to explore how broad and wide, how high and deep.

It is the love we have to learn to ocunt on, depend on, have faigh in, even when we don’t seem to shine like a pearl, or we seem to tarnished and pitted to be His treasure.

God is the one who found us, He is the one who gave up everything for us. This is who we are, the people that God treasures, and loves to the extent that Jesus died for us. We We heard Moses explained it to Israel, words that are true for us,

 ! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God.

So my dear friends. know you are treasured, and that God treasures everyone that you know, they just need to hear it from God, through you and me.

AMEN!

When You Don’t Know How to Pray: A Sermon on Romans 8

church at communion 2When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:18-27

In Jesus Name

May you find great peace in knowing the grace and compassion that God has for you seen in the work of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you when we are weak!

St Patrick’s dream
When I utter those words, “the Lord is with you!” what do you see?  How do you picture that? For a picture is worth all the words you can use.

While going through a period of turmoil and conflict, the great missionary pastor we call St Patrick wrote these words,

“And on another night, I know not, God knows, whether in me or near me, spoke in most eloquent language, which I heard and could not understand, except that at the end of the speech he address me this, “Who for thee laid down his life?” and so I awoke full of joy and again I saw on praying on me, and I was as it were within my body and I heard him over me, that is, over the inner man, and there he prayed fervently with groanings, and during this time I was full of astonishment and was wondering and considering who it could be that was praying in me but at the end of the prayer He declared it was The Spirit and so I awoke and remembered that the Apostle says, “The Spirit also helps us in our infirmities, for we know we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered” that is m expressed in words, and “the Lord our advocate makes intercession for us”  (the confessions of St Patrick)

What an incredible vision!  What an incredible picture, lying there, and seeing the Holy Spirit at our side, leaning over us begging the Father to work in our lives where we truly need it!

I wish that every single one of us could have such a vision as St Patrick, could know the peace and joy that comes from seeing the Holy Spirit so involved in our lives, in caring for our heart and soul. This is what I want us to see when we hear those incredible words, “the Lord is with you!

The Holy Spirit, actually and quite actively working in our lives, comforting us, healing our souls, bringing us to the Father to be blessed, and then becoming a blessing, which impacts our families, our friends, and everyone we encounter!

It’s a challenging vision, especially when we are struggling…struggling with our lives, and if so, often struggling to trust God as well.

The need for help

We aren’t alone in that struggle.  While Paul reminds us that the struggle isn’t even in the same ballpark as to the glory of God we are invited to share in, he also reminds us that we aren’t alone.

Hear how he says it, “All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are, Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse, but with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay!”

Even so, he goes on to say, “we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, and we believers also groan”

I kinda want to give an “Amen” to that last part, the part about we also groan.

It has been a week of groaning and struggling, and I needed to know the Spirit was with us

I needed to know the Spirit’s prayer would be answered, bringing us into harmony with God’s will.

We need that kind of help, that kind of intercession in life.  For along with all that God has created we struggle to the point of groaning in this life.

The struggle could be with our health or finances, with a relationship at work or in our family, the struggle could be dealing with someone in our family, or at our work, or even here at church. The struggle could because of the cumulative effect of the sin of the world, or because of someone who sinned against us, and the struggle always involves our own sin.  Remember, this passage follows Paul;s words about not doing what he should, and doing what he shouldn’t, and therefore he is a wretch!  He needed the Spirit to remind Him that Jesus died for Him, that God would restore Him.

But we groan, even as we wait for the day when death and decay lose all their power over us, when our bodies no longer struggle with sin when we no longer suffer.

The question then becomes how do we wait patiently and confidently until that day when the hope we see becomes fully ours?

We see it, it is more than hope, even so, we wait for it.

Paul talks of this in verse 24 when he says,

“We were given this hope when we were saved! If we already have something (see it as real) we don’t have to hope for it.  But if we look forward (same word as have before ) to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”

We have been saved – that is guaranteed, though we don’t see it completely. The way I think of it is like ordering something. We pay for something, and it is ours from the moment the money changed hands.  But while it is ours, it has to arrive for us to fully enjoy it.

It works that way with us, as Jesus death paid for our sins, as God “redeemed us” buying us from the debt of sin. Yet we are still “in transit” to the Father, being drawn there by Jesus, guided there by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the delivery person, and we are safe in His hands until we are delivered to the seen in revelation, where with people of every language, of every culture, of every period in history we surround the throne and sing His praises.  For it is there in that room that we see God’s will revealed completely.

The people He loves gathered around Him, his people, us.  We look forward to that incredible day!

Until then….

 

Which brings us back to the vision of St Patrick.

This is how scripture describes one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us, pleading with the Father, straining and pleading in a way that brings us into harmony with the will of God. In groans so deep, so meaningful that they are inaudible – there are just not the words.
Yet God understands and hears, and acts.

For we are His children, the ones He has invited into His glory, the ones He reveals His love to, the ones Christ died to release from sin and suffering, the one’s the Holy Spirit will sustain until we are all before the throne

AMEN!

An Everlasting Sign: A sermon on Isaiah 55

DSCN0014An Everlasting Sign
Isaiah 55:10-13

 I.H.S.

 As we walk though this life, may we continually see the everlasting signs of God’s power and love, at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. 

Walking by the lake… you can’t take it all in… 

Walking by the side of Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire, I learned a lesson about photography, and perhaps about life.

Simply put, the camera can’t take all that we experience with our eyes.  They can’t take in the gentles waves, little more than ripples, and the beautiful homes across the lake, never mind the mountains that are visible on the horizon.   You can’t take in a 360-degree panorama of beauty, never mind the feeling that occurs when you walk down a road with your son, that you and your dad walked down before.

Likewise, even our eyes can’t focus on everything at once.

There is so much more than we can see and hear, never mind the stories that give the story more depth, and the experience that goes beyond words.

Either because the experience is so full of joy, or so full of the pain of being broken, or sometimes, because the experience is both, and how do you concentrate on the joy, when you are struggling with tears?

And if that is simply trying to process a vacation, how do we catch what is really important about life?

Maybe we need a sign or two to help us along the way, to help us focus on what we need?

Do we see the fruit God’s word accomplishes?
One of the things I don’t often see is what Isaiah recorded God telling us,

10  “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11  It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

This illustration might be harder for us to understand here in California than it is sitting beside a lake in New Hampshire.  After all, like looks little different at first today than it did a year ago when we are in a drought.  Yet there is still snow in the high Sierras, the depleted reservoirs are again full.

We can’t see those signs, but we do know of the snow and rain from the crops that provide us food, from the grain that gives us bread to the grapes that provide us wine!

But like the camera view that cannot pick up everything, sometimes it is hard to see the blessings of God.  They are there, just like the water that sits up in the High Sierras and the reservoirs.  We may not regularly note the benefits of the blessings, but the blessings sustain us, none the less.

Again, do we see the rain and snow here?  Not so much, but the evidence of that blessing we share see in a moment, just as we do every we eat, and with every sip we drink.  His work is there, providing for us, even if all we can “see” are the end results of the blessings.

It is the same way spiritually, as God works through means, and delivers us grace and comfort, as He reveals His compassion and peace.

It will accomplish what God desires it to accomplish, and that is an incredible blessing.

The change is real – let’s see it!

 So if in the physical life we see the end product, the food and drink that nourishes us, is there something similar spiritually.

Is there an eternal sign that proves God is at work, that He is blessing us?

Is there something that changes dramatically as a land that was once filled with thorns and weeds being filled with towering cypress and abundant colored myrtle trees, as verse 13 describes?

Yes indeed, we can see the effect of the blessing of God’s word, for the growth and change it does cause.  The lives that do change, the lives that hear and know God’s peace in the midst of trauma, the lives that are reconciled.

I started this sermon by talking about the pictures that can’t take in everything the eye can see, and the eyes that can’t take in everything we experience.

Bu those eyes can take in a cross, and contemplate it’s meaning as we are joined to Christ’s death on the cross in our baptism.  Those eyes can rejoice as we are welcome to feast on Christ’s body and blood, even as we try to meditate on that incredible feast.  Our ears can celebrate as we heard our sin is forgiven, and rejoice as we hear that God is with us.

And as we know this peace, and share it, for so many need to know God’s gift of peace, given through His Son. That peace is the sign of His everlasting power and love, a peace bought for us at the cross and delivered to us in word and the sacraments.  The word and sacraments used by the Holy Spirit to change us, for God is with us!  AMEN!

 

 

God, We NEED to Talk! A sermon on Jeremiah 20:7-13

Combined 4God, We need to Talk!

Jeremiah 20:7-13

 In Jesus Name

 Our prayer for you is that you grow in your experience and knowledge of the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to where you can trust Him and be completely honest with God!  AMEN!

God, We have to Talk!

The Old Testament passage this morning one that describes a prophet of incredible faith, one who knows His God.

He is also very frustrated, and perhaps even a bit paranoid.  Definitely, Jeremiah is a bit tired and weary, and part of this is that people don’t always hear everything he has said, and their criticism and threats he takes personally.

He doesn’t just complain, he doesn’t just whine, he wants to talk to God, and let God have it!

Our English translation uses the word deceived, other translations use misled, tricked, fooled me.  What kind of prophet is this, that thinks he can talk to God like that!  To accuse God the Father of deceiving him?

He is a man of great faith.

Yes, I said he is man of great faith, and I pray that our faith grows enough to be that open and honest with God.  Let me explain.

Can We Be honest with God? (Can we whine/complain to Him?)

Can we be honest with God?  Can we accuse Him of deceiving us or misleading us? Can questioning God, even challenging Him, be an act of faith?

For Jeremiah this wasn’t about God promising him a nice house, a new car and a easy good paying job.  This was about ministry and care, about Jeremiah trying to shepherd God’s people back to him.   God called him to this work, much like God calls Timothy and myself to be pastors and prepare to ministry.  Just as God calls people to serve as church musicians, or on boards and teams, even as God calls us all to be involved in making disciples of people from every ethnicity, every culture, every language.

This work God has given His people isn’t easy, and there are times where the people God would have us minister to are challenging.  There are times people who don’t know about God think what they know is the truth, and don’t listen to all the story.  For while we are here to tell them about God’s love, they also must know that His love cannot leave them broken in sin.  They often don’t like to hear that, and neither do we.

Jeremiah was trying to do that, and they wouldn’t listen long enough to hear about God’s mercy, and God’s desire to cleanse them of their sin and heal them of their brokenness.  They only heard that they needed to repent and be forgiven.

They didn’t like that, and they attacked and threatened Jeremiah over his life time many times.

So Jeremiah says, “Hey God, we need to talk, I thought serving you would be easier.  You didn’t tell me about the rejection, the pain of watching people continue to struggle in their brokenness.  You didn’t tell me when I went to them they would attack, yet you still want me to do this? You still want me to reach out to people – to call them back to you, Lord?”

Jeremiah will go on to try and quit, to say he will never talk about God in verse 9, even that he will try to forget about God.  He is that tired, that frustrated, that burnt out from caring and trying to call people back into their relationship with God. To call unbelievers to the cross, to call believers back there.

But Jeremiah can’t do that, he can’t keep the message of God inside himself, it is too powerful, to incredible, to glorious.  His people need to know God’s love and that God will stand by them, and stand by us during our struggle.

God stands by us?

We start to see that in verse 11, “11  But you, LORD, are on my side, strong and mighty”. Jeremiah 20:11 (TEV)

and again in verse 13, ” 13  Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! He rescues the oppressed from the power of evil people. Jeremiah 20:13 (TEV)

When we are honest with God, when we don’t hide our hurts, we see Him at work. Then our faith, our trust grows stronger in Him, we become more aware of His presence, His guiding us, His listening to our prayers, and yes, even our complaints and our whining.  He’s willing to remind us He is here, and this is His work.  The Holy Spirit guides us all to Jesus, who died and rose so that our sins would be forgiven, that we could be God’s children. That we could know He has rescued us, and stands with us.

Jeremiah’s message resonates with the future, and the hope that the people of God have, a hope we know, when at the end of the day we remember He cleanses us from sin, He rescues us, and He stands by our side.  For He loves us, and is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but that all of us come to repentance.  Even when we are tired, even when they are stubborn.  God is still at work.

Standing by us, strengthening our faith, our awareness of Him.  Even as we serve and minister to each other and the world.  Even when we struggle doing it.

Knowing this, we realize we dwell in His peace, peace the world cannot understand, but  the peace in which we are guarded in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse! A sermon on Exodus 19:2-8

church at communion 2An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse

Exodus 19, 2-8

 In Jesus Name

As you learn of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, it is my prayer that you so awe aware of how He considers you His treasure, that you respond to His love, even before you know all His covenant promises.

A Deal you cannot refuse

As we look at the Old Testament reading this morning, as we see Israel committing to hear and treasure God’s word, I thought of the line from an old movie,

“I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse”

They didn’t refuse it, and unlike the movie, they didn’t accept it from fear or intimidation, they accepted what we now call the Mosaic Covenant completely, and without any hesitation or reservation.

They heard what God said through the prophet Moses, and they accepted it.  Enthusiastically, with great joy, and with a hope that didn’t come from studying the fine print, for there wasn’t any fine print yet.

But with hope born from knowing Who it was that they were entering a relationship with, and knowing His character, His care, His patience and persistence, they were willing to become His people again, and they trusted Him at His word, “you will be my own special treasure.”

Having seen that, and knowing the character of God, they accepted,

What else could they have done?

They didn’t make the decision with complete knowledge of the Covenant!

If you take a moment to look at the chapters around this passage,

Right after this chapter, they will hear the basics of what God expected of them, of how they would be able to live in view of the fact that they were His people.

We commonly refer to these words as the 10 Commandments, or more precisely, the 10 Commandments, the Decalog.

Think about that for a moment.  They chose what was offered without knowing what it would cost, without knowing what God would require of them.  They didn’t have a copy of the covenant, with a magnifying glass to consider the small print.  Or for that matter the large print.

Some would say that is blind leap of faith.

Many would say it isn’t enough, it isn’t logical.

I mean – how many of you would buy a house or a car without knowing how much it cost?  How many of us would let someone we didn’t know watch out house and our finances for a couple of weeks/

That is what they did here,

They promised to God what He asked of them.  No questions, no details, no idea of what God would ask of them.

We may think them naïve, or maybe stupid,  We may think their leap of faith is beyond what we could do, we need proof of God’.  We might even think that they were caught up in the emotion of the moment, and that they promised something that they could not possibly keep.

It doesn’t matter, for you, whether you know scripture like a professor, or whether you are drawn to trust Jesus right now, are being given the same question right now.

Will you hear and treasure God’s covenant?  Will you be His special treasure, His priests, His holy people?

Every year, the Jewish people were to hear all the words of God anew, and re-dedicate themselves to doing this very thing.  So will you?  Will you listen to God?  Will you treasure the relationship, the covenant’s describe?  Will you be His people, will you have Him as your God?

No matter the cost?

All they needed to know was God

I said earlier that some people call this a leap of faith, some would say a blind leap.

It is neither.

let me explain, pointing you to what went before this reading.

We know God heard the cry of the descendants of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and brought them out of Egypt as promised.  We know about the plagues and the cool way they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. We know the Egyptians didn’t make it across the same Sea.

But what amazes me, and what I think convinced the Israelites was what happened next.

They complained, they whined against God.  First over no food, then over know water.  They turned their noses up with God and said that slavery in Eqypt was preferable to following God through the wilderness. They rebelled, they sinned, they tried to break up with God and go their own way.

And God took care of them anyway.

He provided for them, even miraculously.

He didn’t give up on them, He brought them to Sinai, and said look how I’ve carried you already, look how I’ve brought you to myself. I didn’t give up on you yet, I won’t break my promises.

They didn’t make a leap of faith, they simply were reminded of the love of God, and His patience with them, and the love He poured out on them, even when they were a bunch of whiney discontented folk.

Given the opportunity to cement the relationship they were promised a half century before they were born, a relationship God bound himself to provide,

They said yes, we will…for this was an offer they couldn’t refuse

Neither should we refuse it, for Jesus’ blood, shed at the cross, made this possible. For His sins cover their sins, and our sins, it makes it possible fod God to say, you are my people.  Your sin I have sent away, your unrighteousness has been paid for, come be my people, come be my special treasure.

Not saying we should be whiney or discontent, but this is the same relationship we celebrate in this place, from our songs which celebrate it, to the readings and sermons that reveal it over and over, to the declarations like you are forgive, this is His body and blood given for you, to the promise we hear over and over…..

The Lord is is with you.

You are his treasured people.

Will your hear Him still?  Will you treasure this relationship He’s drawn you into?

AMEN!

Doubting? Go…. A Trinity Sunday Sermon on Matthew 28:16-20

church at communion 2Doubting?  Go Ahead!

Matthew 28:16-20

 I.H.S.†

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so overwhelm you, that any thoughts of doubt and hesitation is simply set aside, as Your Lord says, “Go in My Name”  AMEN!

A Measure of Doubt/Hesitation

At first, I don’t think we understand it. It doesn’t make sense.

Here the apostles are, standing there in the presence of Jesus, the one who died in front of their eyes, and who was raised from the dead.  They had seen him walking, eating, teaching, with the holes in his hands, and they have seen the gaping wound left by the spear.

And as he stood in front of them, some doubted.  They wavered, they hesitated. They doubted.

It doesn’t really make all that much sense to us at first.  How could they doubt, they were in the presence of God!  They were overwhelmed, and couldn’t answer the question, “What does this mean?” because they could quite process the resurrection itself.

Jesus reaction is interesting.  He doesn’t confront them as sinners, and He doesn’t comfort them in the place they are.

He simply tells them, Go back to what is their “normal life” and while you are living, make disciples of everyone and anyone.

For men who were doubting, men who were hesitating, it is an interesting directive.  One that we need to hear today as well.

Unbelief or Doubt?

As we look at this, I think we need to be clear about what these disciples, these followers of Jesus were experiencing.

It wasn’t unbelief or disbelief.  It was doubt, it was a word that means to hesitate in commitment or action, it was to waiver, or be paralyzed in the moment because you don’t know how to act.

To think of it in a positive way, it’s like that moment when you are told you are one, husband and wife, and the pastor gently prods you to kiss your wife for the first time.

“My wife?”   Uhm – who is that… I mean – I am really married now?  Ahh – there she is! And everyone laughs as the kiss is much too quick, or far too long!

Or it’s like that moment when you receive news that your life is changing… and you don’t even know how to begin processing it, yet you must act.  You might even be ready to go through the motions, but what are you doing?

He is risen!  He is risen indeed… and that means we have risen indeed.

So what?  What happens next?  What am I to do with this?

How does the resurrection of Jesus, and His ascension, change my life 2000 years after the fact?

The Answer?  Go!

Jesus answers that question, “All authority in heaven and on earth is mine.  Therefore, it is time to go…

Go and disciples of people from every walk of life, from every culture, from every demographic statistic there is, that can be used to divide people.  Disciple, not just making converts, but a continuing process of revealing to people the promises of God that will be and are given in their baptism, and continuing to reveal to them not just the God’s laws which are commanded, but the blessings that are promised in commands as well.

Go and do this, and here is where we see the Trinity’s authority given to us, just as it was given to Jesus by the Father.

Next month, I get to act on President Stoterau’s behalf, installing the Rev. Mark Jennings as the pastor of Peace, Pico Rivera.  My responsibility, my authority, is very limited, yet I will be acting on our District President’s behalf.  When God says disciple them, baptize them, teach them to keep my covenant, we have all the authority found in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit to do so.

Which is amazing, if you think of it!  God has transformed us to the extent that He entrusts us, just as He did the eleven disciples!  Disciple people, walk with them as Jesus did with the eleven disciples, as much as the eleven disciples did with people like Stephen and Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquilla, Phoebe and Mark.

How does that affect our doubt, our hesitation, to know that we are backed by God on this ministry of reconciliation we have been given?

This incredible, glorious, majestic, merciful, loving Triune God has called us, and is transforming us, and sends us out to minister to believers and unbelievers alike!  Revealing to them the work of God, done in their baptism, and the relationship God defines in the New Covenant, the same relationship that He promised in the Old.!

And as we make the sign of the cross, as we remember our baptisms, we remember how His plan and work, from before the foundation of the world, to the cross and to Pentecost has been to disciple us.

The Promise… I am! With you

If you are still doubting, if you are still hesitant, if you think you don’t have what it takes to disciple another person, to point them to the promises of baptism, to share and remind them of God’s gift of life, and the blessings of living in relationship with Him, hear these last words,

And be sure of this, I AM with YOU Always, even to the end of the age.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit!  They have kept their promise and come and made a home with you.

You aren’t alone, you aren’t powerless, God, who gives you His name, is with you.  When you are hesitant, even doubting, know that when God says “go”, He is also saying, “I am with you!”.

He loves you too much to stay away.

Amen!
So let’s go… and disciple each other and our world.  AMEN!

Anyone and Everyone. A Pentecost Sermon on John 7:37-39

Anyone and Everyone

John 7:37-39

I.H.S.

 May the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life not only bring you the comfort but also may it bring the love that will flow out others and change their lives!

Quiz:

Since it is the end of the school year, I thought it would be appropriate to give you all a little quiz about Pentecost this morning.  The first is yes/no, the second is multiple choice.

Question #1  Is Pentecost only a New Testament “holy day.”

Nope, it was an Old Testament Feast, celebrating the harvest.  At this point you can see what the rest of the harvest might look like, we see it commanded in Leviticus 23:15.

Question #2  How many people did the Holy Spirit fall upon at Pentecost.

A)  120       B)  12    C) I am not sure

How many think A? B?  Anyone want to admit to C?

Well C was the right answer, and anyone who didn’t get both questions right has to stay after service for some much-needed catechesis.  Don’t know what catechesis is?  Well, it’s a lot like going to a doughnut shop with some friends and having a good discussion.  All those who got the answers right can also come.

Back to the Holy Spirit, and Pentecost, which is the reason we are here today.  If it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit, I am not sure we would be here together, and Pentecost is where the church came alive, as the Spirit falls on the people of God, creates in us faith, and transforms us into the Father’s children.  

It is a feast day where we see that anyone who believes is welcome and that everyone who believes will be given the Holy Spirit, who will flow out of their lives into a world that is incredibly thirsty and need to know they are loved.

Anyone who believes

I want you to hear the invitation that Jesus gives in the Gospel, that anyone who is thirsty can come to Him.

It doesn’t matter your age, or your whether you are male or female.  It doesn’t matter if you are 5 or 95, it doesn’t matter if you are from Indonesia, from Austria, from Guyana or even Boston.

On the first Pentecost they came from all over, religious people, people that came because of culture, we even know that some who weren’t Jewish, but simply curious about the God Jews worshiped came. Many didn’t know what they were thirsting for, like the crowd we heard about in Athens two weeks ago, but they knew they didn’t have the answers they needed in life.

They were thirsty,

Jesus goes on to talk about any that who believe in Him can not only come but that they can have that thirst quenched.

Believe in Him, not believe about him, or believe He was this or that.  Believe in Him, trust Him, depend on Him, take God at His word to be involved in your life.

That is what believing in Him is about.  As one pastor put it, the kind of belief, faith, and dependence that causes us to participate and contemplate on this incredible love.  He described it this way,

Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself”

Even as we know and begin to trust that Jesus loves us this much, it takes us aback, it is too incredible, to amazing, and trusting in Him causes us delight and joy, as we explore as Paul urges us to

18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God
That is what happens as God makes us His children, it is a miracle of our baptism, of our Pentecost.  It is the beginning of trusting God when He says, “I love you, let me provide and care for you,”

And when we come to know this love, it changes everything, for the Spirit has brought us to life.

Everyone will have the Spirit

Let’s go back to that second question for a moment, how many people did the Holy Spirit descend upon?  We know it was more than 3132 because it wasn’t just the men, but their family, their wives and children that were baptized that day.  And upon each of them, just as upon us, the promises of the Holy Spirit was made as sure as the water was wet.

It is what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit being poured out on us that is amazing, that from our hearts will flow the Holy Spirit. That from our hearts the love of God will pour out with the Spirit, reaching and touching those around us.

‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike— and they will prophesy.

All this talk of prophesying, it just means speaking for God, sharing His love, sharing the message that the Spirit uses to bring others to life and faith.

A message that we all have, empowered by the Spirit we all have been given, and share with those who like us, need to know they can trust in God, that they can depend on Him, that He is with them, and with us.

This promise of the Holy Spirit being given to anyone who believes, to everyone who believes is why Jesus was born, and died, and rose. It is why Jesus when He was drawn to heaven, did what He promised and had the Spirit given to us.  The Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit has come, and is yours, just as Jesus said.

He is here, as sure as God’s promise….

The Spirit is here, to transform our hearts, and flow from them to bring healing to this broken world.

And here in our hearts, the Comforter provides His incredible peace, and we can relax, protected by Jesus, our hearts and minds kept safe by Him.  AMEN!

It’s Time to Make Jesus Known!

     church at communion 2It’s Time to Make Him Known!

Acts 17:16-31

I.H.S.†

 May you see Christ so clearly revealed through His word and sacraments, that the grace of God our Father, and our Lord shine brightly through you, to those who need to know His name!

Deeply Troubled, Are We?

Imagine walking around Athens as Paul did, waiting for his friends to show up.  This capital city, formerly the capital of the world, this place that might cause wonder, disturbed him greatly.

Scripture says he was deeply troubled, deeply and profoundly bothered by what he saw, what he experienced.  Wherever he looked there was idolatry, people trying to find hope, and looking to man-made things to provide hope.

Broken, weary, unfulfilled desires become even more broken as their false gods revealed themselves to be nothing but a bunch of rocks.  These people that were searching for answers, those who led them who loved to hear of new thoughts about God, they all needed a God to depend upon, a God to turn to, a God that would be there, a God who would help.

It wasn’t the first time, 600 years before, Diogenes records that Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete was sent for because no one had an answer to their problems, a plague, a drought, a famine all at once went through the land.  Epimenides looked at all the temples, all these false gods and idols and suggested that the answer was that their prayers and sacrifices didn’t work because they didn’t know the real God they could pray to….

And so they made an altar to an unknown God, and prayed, and dedicated an altar with the words agnosto theo – and dedicated the altar to the unknown and real God, asking Him to save them, asking Him to hear their prayers.  For a few centuries they remembered this God and His mercy, then, like many others, they forgot this nameless, faceless, benevolent God.
As Paul arrives, the altar was probably near ruins, the story all but was forgotten, and the people were back to looking anywhere for an answer.

But it was time to make this God known… even as it is today.

Can People Pray to A God they Don’t know?  Will He answer them?

This passage plays havoc with what are called closed theological systems, or those systems that people close off themselves. It has caused a lot of debate, especially among conservative Lutherans.  Because it isn’t beautiful and tidy, and God doesn’t fit in our box.

For example, there is the question of people praying to a God whom they don’t know.

We know we can’t find God if all we are using is our own reason and strength, that is solid, basic theology.  But does that stop them from looking for Him?  Does that stop them from praying to Him, begging Him for help.. and to reveal that He is present here.

Well, rather than just say yes, let me share a few passages, starting with today’s reading,

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

and then this from Solomon’s dedication of the temple

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. 1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)

And one more, from the Large Catechism, one of the primary documents describing our faith,

All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Unless of course, someone reveals God to them, as God desires!

So is it wrong for people to pray, even if they aren’t sure who God is?  Will He hear their cries and respond?

Of course, for He desires to draw them close, to save and deliver them into His Father’s presence. Scripture tells us this is God’s will, His desire, to draw everyone to Himself, to cleanse them from sin, to restore them as His children.  He will never force us, but He will always hear us and care and love us.

Paul was sent to Athens by the Lord to do what he did, to reveal to them that He was their Creator, but also that He was their redeemer. He died and rose from the dead so that He could judge the world, and judge us just, righteous, holy, the people who could cry out to Him.

If you kept on reading, Paul would speak to them more about the resurrection from the dead that he mentions in verse 31.  There Paul mentioned that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead,   Some would stop listening to then, others wanted to hear more about it later, including some very learned people.
They heard about the God who would come and die, to deliver them from sin, and the power of death.  They would hear about the God who rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, the God who would draw us to Jesus lifted on the cross, where we would die with Him, our sin nailed to that cross.  And then, as He rose from the dead, so do we, forgiven, cleansed, separated from sin, now children of the Father.

For the unknown God has made Himself known, and calls us to be transformed and trust in Him.

And so we do, the broken finding healing in Jesus, while we reveal Him to others as Paul did.

This is our life in Christ, for in Him we live and move and exist. For we are His children.  AMEN!

[1] Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Once Upon a Time: A Sermon on 1 Peter

Combined 1Once Upon A Time

1 Peter 2:2-10

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm your heart with the knowledge you belong to Him, for you have received mercy!

A struggle to belong

I’m going to list a group of television shows and movies and I want you to think about them as I do.  You may not know them all, but think about what they have in common,

The Breakfast Club, MASH, Friends, Force 10 from Nazarene, the Power Rangers, Stripes, Grey’s Anatomy, Seinfeld, Gilligan’s Island, Cheers, the Dick Van Dyke show, Lost.

You might know some of those movies and shows, a few of you might know all of them.  Some of those are comedies, some dramas, some tragedies.  They span five decades, and include diverse casts, playing diverse people.  People who will get on each other’s nerves, that won’t understand each other at first.  They will grow to depend on each other and find a place in each other’s lives.

Which is why we resonate to such shows.

It gives us a hope that we might find a group of people we belong with, that we can depend upon, a group that belonging to will give us something to identify ourselves by.  A chance to stop being the outsider but to belong.

But they are only television shows, they are only movies.  No matter how much they resonate with us, they are simply stories that strike a chord in our soul.  These things help us identify a need that the Apostle Peter identified for us nearly 2000 years ago.  He described the need this way,

Once you had no identity as a people…

Once upon a time, you didn’t belong, you had no place in life, you were broken off, lost, helpless.

But all that has changed now.

how we got there

There has been a great concern for a couple of decades regarding how we see ourselves, our self-esteem, how we see ourselves, how each one of us identifies themselves.

We, as a culture, and as individuals struggle with this, and because of that, we often fell left out, not part of the in-group.  Most of the characters in the movies and shows I mentioned had that problem.  And they dealt with if differently.

Some very aggressively, trying to lead and dominate the group

Others tried to impress, or make themselves valuable and needed.

A few kept back, afraid to trust others, afraid for people to see who they really were.

And many tried all of those tactics at one time or another.

We do this today as well, as we try to figure out our roles, to figure out the meaning in our life.  We want a reason to belong, a valid reason that gives us value.

The problem with this is that our creating our identity usually backfires, for what happens is we separate ourselves from those not like us, who we think cannot understand us, and the further we separate, the harder it is to let the others be part of our life.

We just go on our own way and assume no one else knows or even cares. We realize we aren’t like others and we won’t fit it with them.  Hurt by this, and even angry about it, we eventually will make the decision that they aren’t worth it.

Which is why the following

43  “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven

Jesus goes on…

46  If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.    Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)

Anyone struggling with this standard?   Anybody else got a group of people they don’t understand, don’t like, are afraid of, and can’t imagine being part of that you find it hard to love?

Yeah?  Well, Jesus calls you to love them.

That is what following Jesus, results in, that is your identity, what it means to receive mercy…when you can’t imagine someone showing you mercy.

The key is found in Peter’s words about acting like babies.  Seriously!

The Cry 

Hear Peter’s words again,

2  Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3  now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 4  You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple.

Where I to have several hours to preach, I would explain the cornerstone illustration more completely.  But realize this – God has given us an identity, a part in those who are called to be His people.  Each one of connected to Jesus the cornerstone,

We find our identity in how we relate to Him, we find our place in life based on His place in our life.  We find out who we are in God’s eyes, and we find the mercy, the welcome, the hospitality in the eyes of Jesus who died and is risen, that we would know life.

But this is just a little taste of His love, of His desire to make us His own. Peter says to crave experience this love, now that you know about it, drink deeply of His love, desire it, make experiencing it the major priority of your life.

For knowing His love, with not just your mind but your heart, your soul, that is what helps you realize you fit in, that we all do, for we find our place in our relationship to God.

Our identity as well, and the reason we can love those we formerly didn’t fit in with, for they two are coming to Jesus, and being made part of His chosen people, called out of the darkness into His glorious light.

For once upon a time you had no identity, but now you are identified as His people.

AMEN!

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