Category Archives: semons

We MUST Go to Others! a sermon on Mark 1:29-39

church at communion 2We Must Go to Others

Mark 1:29-39

In Jesus Name

 May the gifts of the love, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so accompany you in your life that you are aware of those who lack it, and may that lack inspire you to reach out to them with your greatest treasure!

 Must?

As I tried to come up with a sermon title this week, knowing I was preaching on the gospel I tried to come up with something special, something that would inspire and catch on, a phrase you can’t get out of your mind, encouraging you to walk with Jesus, just as the apostles did,

I couldn’t come up with something, so I figured a great title is found in Jesus’s words,

“We must go on to other towns” or in these days, we can make it simple, “we must go to others.”

The problem using that as the title is that it sounds different than it really means.  It sounds like work and obligation that is demanded of us by God.  To use Lutheran-speak, it sounds like the law, and therefore it points out where we fall short, where we fail God and deserve to be punished.

But that isn’t at all what Jesus is telling the apostles when he says “We must go to others, and I will preach to them too, for that is why we came.”

We need to hear Jesus, and more than that, we need to understand Him.  This isn’t about us being good children of God or good members of the church.

It’s about finding out for ourselves what Paul told the people in Athens,  Repeat them with me.

‘In him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28 (NAB) 

What did “they” do?

Let’s go back a few verses, as Jesus and the apostles go to Simon Peter’s house.  There, Jesus finds Peter’s mum sick, so sick that with a very important guest at her house, she is lying down, burning up with a fever.  I mean, think about it, how sick would our ladies here be, if they didn’t get up and be hospitable?

So Jesus heals her, helps her up, and the word spreads.

Next thing you know, there is a crowd at the door and it looks busier that St Jude’s Hospital ER during flu season.  People with every kind of illness and disease, people even possessed by demons, all being brought to Jesus.

Mark’s gospel tells you that the entire town turned out to watch these miracles….

But how did they know all this was happening?

Someone, more excited than someone winning the Superbowl had to have told them.

That’s what happens when we begin to realize the depth of God’s grace, the depth of His mercy.  When we find out in Him we can live, really live.  When we see our souls begin to be healed, we see others who need it, and then rejoicing even more that there is no limit.  When the demons that torment us lose their grip. And we are freed from them and the guilt and shame that they try to plague us with disappears.

As we get used to that freedom, we never want to leave His side… so how will people know God’s love?  How will they have the blessing of God’s love, the blessing of His mercy and forgiveness revealed to them?

Remember those words

In him we live and move and have our being!

Jesus doesn’t say, “I must” or “you must”

For that is why he came, to give us the knowledge that in Him is everything we are, our life, our breath, what we do, everything we are.

That is what the cross is all about, and all those church words, redemption, justification, reconciliation, renewal, revitalization, all those words picture that in Christ we have died to sin and all that isn’t of God, and our lives, our very being is found in Him.  It is why he was born of a virgin, suffered and died, rose from the ascended and sent the Holy Spirit.

So that He could transform us so that He could give us life.

You see that as He doesn’t just say, “I must go to others,”  and He doesn’t say “you must go to others.”  What does He say, “we must go to others”

We must, Jesus and all those who are with Him must go to others.  All those whom He has joined to Himself.   We Must Go, We being Jesus and you all and me.

And then He is the one who reveals Himself to them, as He draws them here. And we don’t have to go all that far.

Why He Came

Maybe some of us are called to go to the next country, to go with Bernie to the Sudan, or with Christina to Turkey, but when Jesus says “we must go to others” it could be to our neighbor, who could be from the Sudan, or Guyana or Indonesia or France, or Germany or Switzerland or even someplace really strange – like Boston or Wisconsin.

We live in a transient age when people from every country on the planet save one or two have come to our neighborhoods!  We must go, with Jesus, to them, so that He can show them His love.  They even come to us sometimes, as they did yesterday.  As I pulled up, 16 people were in the parking lot, playing a game called Pokemon go, a few hours later, I went to the bathroom and there were another dozen people.  Both times, as we waited for the game to set, they asked me how I heard about the game being live on our campus.  I said… uhm, I am the pastor here… and they asked questions about the church and about the school. People as young as a five-year-old, as old as all of us. came here to play a game on their phones,

At least that is why they think they came…

We, you, me and Jesus need to go to them and let Jesus reveal Himself, and the news of His love.

We, you and me and Jesus, need to go to others and let them know about the love and mercy and healing of their hearts and souls.  Whether that means going across the parking lot, or across the street, state, country or world.  We, Jesus, you and I must go..

Because this is why He came…

And as He goes to others, we simply go with Him, for in Him we live and move and have our being!

AMEN!

Repent Finally, and Let’s Go Fishing

church at communion 2Repent Finally and Let’s Go Fishing

Mark 1:14-21

I.H.S

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you the confidence you need as God grants you repentance and then invites you to go fishing!

Two Invitations, two blessings

Have you ever been asked to go somewhere with someone, and dreaded it, only to find yourself really enjoying it?

I remember taking Kay one year for her birthday to see a musical at the Pantages.  Like a lot of guys, I am not much into musicals.  It’s not just the “guy” thing.  I’ve been asked to play in the band/orchestra for a couple of them, and both times, I hated it.  So taking Kay to a musical was something I did for her, dreading it, well prepared to hate every moment of sitting there, except enjoying the smile on Kay’ face.

I was greatly surprised when I actually found myself enjoying Phantom of the Opera.  So much so I actually took her to see it a couple more times.

Life is like that sometimes.  So is walking with God.  Somethings we seem to dread….we find are incredible blessings.

In the gospel this morning, we see two incredible blessings of that kind.

We probably don’t see them as blessings, but that is the point of this sermon.  To help us understand what Jeus was offering to people were life chaging blessings, incredible, mind-blowing blessings that we would enjoy, and rejoice in, and share with others.

Blessings we describe with a couple of words

Repent

Evangelize.

Don’t those things sound far more fun than going fishing, or going to a quilt show, or for me and William, hanging out in Best Buy or Fry’s?

So, let’s see how these things are blessings, blessings that provide joy beyond our ability to comprehend

Repentance – and invitation to be changed!

Hear Jesus’s words again,

15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

REPENT OF YOUR SINS!!!!

Don’t worry, not going to turn into Baptist and preach Hellfire and brimstone.

Because that is based on a faulty understanding of repentance, one that makes it sound like beating yourself up until you really feel sorry and then God will forgive you, maybe.

Hear how it is used in the Book of Acts,

17  If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” 18  When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.” Acts 11:17-18 (NAB)

Life-giving repentance!

Life-giving repentance!

Does that sound like something to be afraid of?

But repentance isn’t something to be afraid of, it is an invitation of the greatest kind.  Literally it means to change one’s mind, or one’s way of thinking.  Another way to hear it described is to put on the mind of Christ.
This is what God does to us, as we hear of His love and experience its breadth and width, height and depth. He transforms our mind.  When Jesus says the Kingdom of God is near, when He is explaining to them that God does care,

Yes, repentance means giving over to God our sin, but that is a gift.  To walk away from our sin, from our shame and guilt, to live freely in God’s kingdom.  To know that God has forgiven us and experience the love of God in every facet of our lives.

That is why Jesus talks of repentance as a parallel to “believe in the Good News!”  Because repentance is something incredible, a blessing to change our lives, to be free of all of our failures, to know we are loved and cared for, because that is the change God makes in us, that change is repentance!

Fishing for people, (Or Knitting them together)

Repentance is a joy, but so is evangelism, or as Jesus told a bunch of fisherman, fishing for men.  I suppose that if he was talking to quilters he would say sewing another square into the quilt, that square being….human..

That might work in the case of some human, others might not like being called a square!

But as fishing for men, and bring them in works, so does sewing someone into the family of God, creating for them home, a place where they know they are cared for, a place where they know they are loved.

That is what evangelism is, sharing the news, the good, great, wonderful news that God cares for us.  Helping people become part of the family, because God our Father wants them to be part of the family.

That’s what evangelism is, reaching out to people and saying, God cares for you, and He died to remove all that would steal their life, just as He did for us.

That’s the amazing thing, the more we understand His grace, the more we experience His love, the more we want others to experience it that love, that immeasurable love, as well. A love that we experience as we celebrate that love at the altar, and share in the Body and blood of Jesus.

So repent, let God transform you – and then lets go fishing for men, or sewing them into the quilt of our church.  So they can share in the love and peace of God our Father!  AMEN?

AMEN!

 

 

 

The Visit of the Peace of Christmas Past

The Visit of Peace of Christmas Past

Isaiah 11:6-10

†  I.H.S.

May the peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ bring you great peace, as you bring the Christmas message of Immanuel to the World!

Whose Christmas Past?

As Ebenezer Scrooge met the ghost of Christmas Past, he had one question.  He asked the shadowy ghost was whether it was there to talk about Christmas long past, or the Christmas of His past.

And as we look at the peace of Christmas past, that is still a good question, to begin with, are we talking about the peace of Christmas long past, or the peace of our Christmas past.

Some of you are saying, “What’s the difference!”

For tonight – we will answer the Lutheran way, that is, both the Christmas of long past and the Christmases of our past…

For Jesus brings peace to the past.

Was the Past that Peaceful?

Many need to bring to Jesus that peace to their past Christmas.

Maybe there were years when the world was at war, or maybe it was just their families that were divided and broken.  Maybe It was broken hearts that couldn’t understand how everyone else could be joyous and happy.  Maybe it was finances that challenged them, or addictions or their health or the health of those they love.

Many of us have some good memories, but also hard ones, and those steal away the peace, for the moment.

In Isaiah’s passage this evening, we heard a promise made to people that were challenged with many of the same challenges.  Many of them dealt with broken families, broken finances, broken by sin and shame, with heartache.  Which was  why peace seemed impossible, as impossible as natural enemies that would forgo the violence, and instead find peace with each other.

Such a passage would mean nothing special, if there was peace at the time.  For what division would be reconciled, what anger would be calmed, what relationships would need to be healed?  Isaiah’s promise revealed that this would happen….that they could wait for it

And that is promise in which God’s people trusted.  Because of that promise, and His Spirit confirming it, they could find peace in the mist of the chaos.  They could wait for the cross which was to come, they could wait for the point when all would be reconciled together in the death of Christ, just as we wait for the day when all is reconciled in His resurrection. They knew the brokenness that they endured in their society would fade.  God had promised it.

When our eyes are on God’s promise we can wait as well, Looking at the Christmas’s in our past, as we realize that the peace of God was with us, even in the middle of the fights, the anxiety, the frustrations and pain.  He sustained us in our Christmas past, just as He sustained them.

We could look forward because of the promise

Each visit of the ghosts taught Scrooge something, in Dicken’s parable, and as we look at the visit of the peace of Christmas Past, we realize that the peace we knew then is the peace that we know now, a peace that looks forward, trusting in God to do finish what He has completed in us.

A peace that enables us to look forward to the day when lambs and wolves relax together, and nothing hurts or destroys anymore, to the day where we live with Him will be a glorious place.

It is the peace that hope gives us that we are sustained in now, as Jesus keeps us safe in that peace.  AMEN!!

The Promise of God: I Will!

church at communion 2The Promise of God:  I Will!
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

 In the Name of Jesus, our King

 May the comfort that comes from receiving the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as we wait for the joyful return of our King, Jesus the Messiah!

At Least 18 times…the work of a shepherd

One part of the Feast of Christ the King Sunday is the purest celebration, as we look forward to seeing God in all His glory, as we hear Him welcome us home.

Another part to consider, I think, is the relief, for the battle is over.  Not the battle on the grand cosmic scale.  That battle ended when the ladies found the tombstone rolled away.  I was thinking the battles we face individually, the battles with life’s daily challenges, the people we interact with, who challenge us, and the inner battles we deal with, the anxiety, the pain, and yes, the sin.

Yet even as we celebrate Jesus as our King, as our Lord, we also celebrate His being the Shepherd King, the one who will guide us through every aspect of life, and frees us from the stuff that hinders us knowing God’s love and peace, the stuff that hinders us right now, right here.

We see that in the Old Testament reading today, as 18 times in English, and more in Hebrew we hear God making us a promise.  He makes you and me, and everyone that hears His voice a single promise.

That promise is described in detail but it boils down to this.  God promises, “I will!”

“I will be your shepherd”

So we are going to look at what that means, using the phrases said over and over…so that we would know His promise.

Search

The first part of the shepherd’s work, described multiple times – is that God will search us out.  Two words used here for searching.

The first describes the intensity and range of the search. To look for something with incredible diligence, without consideration of effort and range.  To look in every place, under every stone, and under the stone under that.  God searches for us far and wide, wherever we are, whatever trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into.

The second is more along the lines of a very thorough examination of our situation, to understand our brokenness in order to care for us.  As we will hear about in our advent readings, the God who will care for us so tenderly that He will not break a damaged reed, but nourish it back to health, or a dying ember in a fire, that He will restore to a burning inferno.  It says He will bandage us, those who are broken and strengthen us.

He will do this, He is doing it right now, as we dwell in His presence.

Bring them safely home

The next “I will” our Shepherd promises is to bring us safely home.  For the Jewish people, the promise was to bring them back from where they were taken into exile, either by the Assyrians, or the Babylonians.  For us, the captivity is no less severe, but we are more likely to willingly enter it.  For sin not only tempts us, it drives and drags us away from God. It doesn’t matter the sin, whether murder, whether sexual sin, whether gossip or coveting what others have.

But Jesus will bring us home, as He searches us out, where ever we are, whatever mess we’ve gotten ourselves, He will rescue and provide for us, and cares for us.

Feed/provide pasture land

And on this journey, He cares for us, He doesn’t leave us alone.

Numerous times he talks of feeding us, of providing us safe pastures, providing us the nourishment we need.  In verse 16, he defines that nourishment, what He feeds us is justice, righteousness,

And you could say because of Christ’s coming, we become what He feeds us, we are counted as righteous, that on judgment day, that is what the Father sees.

But that is what happens, as God nourishes us with His word, and with the word, the promise, that makes the Lord’s Supper more than just bread and wine.

He searches us out, rescues us, brings us home and nourishes us, with His word, His body and Blood!

I the Lord, will be their God!

Which brings us to the final I will, which is even more compelling, more incredible than Jesus being our shepherd, the one who searches and heals, rescues us and brings us home, nourishing us all the way.

verse 24 says it well, I, YHWH (the LORD will be their God, and Jesus will be the prince the ruler, the King of His People, for God HAS SPOKEN.

May we hear this clearly, for this Is the God who so dearly loves us. The God who made us His own.

May we rely and depend upon His work, to the day we are all found in His glory!  AMEN!

With These Words… A Sermon on 1 Thesalonians 4

church at communion 2With These Words…

1 Thes. 4:13-16

 I. H. S.

 May the word of God, which reveals to you the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so comfort you that you can remember His plan for you, to spend eternity in His glory!

 What good did their words do?

In the aftermath of last Sunday’s shooting in a church in Texas, a very odd discussion broke out on social media.

The discussion concerned this question, “was about whether God was listening to the prayers of the people in the church that was shot up.”

It started by a reaction to all the politicians and others who said things like, “our hearts and prayers are with the people of Texas.”  To which many people asked, well what good did their prayer do them in the first place.

And then the war of words ensued…

Rather than face the actual issue, death, tragic, traumatic death, Christians and non-Christians alike were attacking and counter-attacking each other about whether the words of the people’s prayers that day protected them from a madman’s rampage.

We need words to make a difference in times like these, but it is not the words of those praying that will make the difference, it is the words of the of the Lord they pray to, the words of the promise He has made us, and the words, like in the epistle today, that reveal His promise to us.

Isn’t grieving…grieving?

When the apostle Paul talks of grief, he notes the following,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.

I’ve heard over the years sincere people telling others not to grieve, usually, with something like, don’t grieve, you will see them again!  I even once heard some explaining patiently that grieving is evidence of a severe lack of faith.

That is so much rubbish! That is not what Paul is saying here, he is simply saying the grief is different for those who know God.  For them, it is a different kind of grief than the grief of those who don’t have hope.

Literally, it is those without something to hold on to, something to that sustains us and keeps us afloat. Those without God don’t have promises to hold onto, they don’t have the promises we are given in our baptism, the promises we remember if and when we make the sign of the cross.

Here is how that promise is described in scripture,

4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)

Look at the promises here,

God washed away our sin,

We are born again and given a new life through the Holy Spirit

That Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism,

We are declared righteous and holy,

and we are, as we confessed in our creed, given confidence, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!

Our grief is real, it may be felt more powerfully, it may last longer, and yet, we have something to hold onto, the hope we have in God.

This isn’t a theological epistle,

Which is the point of this letter from Paul, and the description of Jesus second advent, His second coming. This letter of Thessalonians isn’t about an end times calendar of events. it is not a theological calendar.

It’s to remind us that before we see Jesus return if we are around at the time, those who died, those who are his will have risen from the dead.  They will see Him, We won’t meet Him before they have joined Him. That is why in the liturgy we see the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven.  It’s not just about doctrine, is about knowing God’s plan, and being encouraged by it.

Encouraged you say?  But we are grieving!

But God’s encouragement is not just a friendly pat on the back, like a coach sending you back into play after an injury.  Nor is that the kind of encouragement that scripture talks about His people giving each other.

Godly, Biblical encouragement is the kind of thing where we weep and laugh together, where we share each other’s pain, just as Christ shares our pain.  The word is the verb form of the word to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside. lifts us up and carries you.

That’s what the word paraclete means – to call alongside to comfort, to encourage, to lift up and help carry.

And that is what God does. every day for us.

Through His word, through the sacraments, through each other, He makes Himself known, and the presence of the Holy Spirit comforts us.

As does the hope, no, the knowledge that eternity is ours, with God,  Dwelling in and sharing in His glory, with all those who trust in Him.

It is for this reason Jesus came, to ensure our sin would never stop us from that eternity, to provide the Holy Spirit to minister to us, and carry us, to ensure us of all the promises of God, so that even now, we can live life in expectation of eternity, and thereby dwell in peace.

God’s peace, which passes all understanding – the peace in which Jesus keeps us, our hearts and minds!  AMEN!

Sola Fide: The Reformation Cry…of a Broken Soul! A Sermon on John 8

church at communion 2Sola Fide!
The Reformation Cry of a Broken Soul!

John 8:31-36

In Jesus

 As God’s grace for us is revealed, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we find it easier to depend on Him completely, for we are His people and He is with us!  AMEN!

Not a Battle cry!

As we’ve approached the 500th anniversary of Luther inviting people to discuss problems in the church, I have become more and more upset by what I’ve seen.  I’ve seen some extremism creep in, as some have label Leather not a reformer, but a revolutionary.  I’ve seen that said negatively by some, and some say the same thing with great pride as if we were celebrating something akin to the 4th of July.

As if Sola Fide (Faith alone) was a battle cry, a chant to get behind as we took on an evil enemy, and triumphed by the power of our will.   For some Protestants, the 500th anniversary has become a chance for our touchdown dance.  For some Catholics, we are still the impertinent upstarts who want to destroy the church for whom Christ has died.

But Sola Fide wasn’t a battle cry at first.

It was the cry of a priest named Fr. Martin, who had tried every way possible to be good enough for God, and yet remained broken and in great despair, tormented by the sin which had its talons buried deep into him, and wouldn’t let Him escape,

Until he listened to the words God spoke through the scriptures, the words of the mass, the worship service he led every day since his ordination, and found hope….

as he learned to depend, not on his on work, but on the work of Christ alone.

That is what Sola Fide, the great reformation cry of a broken soul means.

to depend on Christ, no other, to save us from our brokenness, the brokenness caused by sin.

That is why Sola Fide is a cry, a cry of a broken heart that has found hope, and will not let go of it.

The Brokenness of Those Who Trust in Rubbish

A couple of weeks ago, we heard that Paul tossed aside the rubbish he once depended on, what he thought proved he was a good man, what proved he was righteous, godly, holy.

We see that attitude in the people Jesus was talking to today.  They claimed they didn’t’ need to be free from the sin, and the rubbish that they counted on to show them good enough for God.

We were never slaves!

They didn’t remember their own history that well, for scripture tells us these children of Abraham were enslaved by Egypt, (see Exodus), by Midian various Philistine groups (see Judges and the Books of Samuel), by Assyria and Babylon (see the Books of Kings, Chronicles, and the prophets) and eventually by Greece ( see Maccabees) and then, even in Jesus day, hey were the subjects, the slaves of Rome and Caesar.

But nah, they weren’t slaves.

Can you imagine someone who said they don’t struggle with sin at all?  Or worse, that they never sin anymore?

That’s what we are claiming when we say we are good people, or when we say that person or this person is so good, surely they will get to heaven.  When we say that – we are exactly like the people Jesus encountered, the people who thought they were okay with God, that their sin was insignificant.

The True Burden

In the Luther movie we watched last week, Luther’s mentor Staupitz confronted Luther, saying that of all the monks, his confessions were the least interesting!  They were boring because none of the sins were interesting.

Yet Luther felt all too well the distance those sins led him from God.  He despaired of the brokenness.  A book I am reading on his life gave a little more detail. One of those times of private confession lasted over 5 hours, as Luther tried to account for every sin he committed in the last week.  He walked away from that confession convinced that he wasn’t sorry enough, that he missed sins that wouldn’t be forgiven.

I get that.  Part of me doesn’t want to look upon my own sin.  I want to excuse it, find justifications for it, dismiss it as not as serious as it is.  But when I am thinking seriously about my sin, for example when I am up here, and we have those brief moments of confessing, there are times I wonder why God has me up here, heck why He even let me in this place.

Like Luther, it would be easy to sink into despair, to believe that God wouldn’t accept someone a sinner like us.

How I wish we could take sin that seriously, for only one reason.

If we did, how much more would we be overwhelmed by the knowledge that He comes to us, picks us up, forgives of our sin and cleanses us of our unrighteousness.

Then we would know how much God loves us, as He embraces us, prodigals still smelling like the “rubbish” and pig slop we lived in, as He calls for us to be dressed in the best robes. As he tells everyone, my child is home.

hear again Jesus.

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I’m going to rephrase that a little, for clarity

“You are truly my disciples if you depend on my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Freedom!

Jesus, the Son of God came for one purpose, to free you and I, and every other person from the power of sin.  Jesus dying on cross shattered the hold it has on us. His resurrection comforts us, as the promise is clearly seen.

You are free of that sin, you are cleansed of that unrighteousness,

Depend on that as you approach the altar, confidently as the Book of Hebrews tells us to do, knowing we are in the presence of God who loves us.

Depend on Jesus, trust in Jesus, believe in Jesus, for He alone is our Savior, our Lord, who brings us home to the Father.

And as you cry out, aware of your need, don’t be surprised that knowing He is God brings you peace that passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen!

Are Your Ears Burning? They Should Be! A sermon on 1 Thes. 1:1-10

church at communion 2Are Your Ears Burning?  They Should Be!
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

In Jesus Name

May you realize the grace God our Father and the Lord Jesus have given you, and may that grace be so evident that those around you, and even far away speak of God’s work in your life!

 Is the word ringing out?

Did you ever walk into a room and suddenly everyone stopped talking?  Or walk by a group of people and they all started staring at you?  Or get back to the office and find out that 4 or 5 people needed to talk to you?

There is even an old question that asked if you notice this kind of behavior,

Are your ears burning?

Well, looking at the church in Thessalonica that Paul was writing too in our epistle reading this morning, their ears should have been burning.  People were talking to them, and it was a wonderful thing!

I pray that people are talking about us in the same way!

Here how Paul described it,

wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. 10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead!

Do people know that you’ve turned away from idols and false gods?  Do they know of you look forward to the second coming of Jesus?

Are they so in awe of God’s work in your life that they speak of your trust, your dependence, your faith in Him?

How did the people of Thessalonica end up with their ears burning… as they should have been….

And how can we see that happen in our lives?

How can our dependence on God become so strong that it is remarkable, that people talk about it?

I mean, that is a good thing, if I were to invite someone to come here, and the people already knew how strong our faith was, how we set aside ungodly rubbish in order to we look forward to eternity in the presence of God?

So let us investigate what else Paul said about these people!

We know God..

He says in verse 4, We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.”

It all starts there, and I know this to be true about you as well.

I said it last week this way,

The Lord …

Who loves you

Is with you!

For that is what it means to be chosen, to be called.  It is to dwell in the presence of God, to dwell in the glory of God.

God loves you, as He did the people in Thessalonica, He chose you to be His people.  We need to know this, not just with our minds, but deep, deep in our souls, in the places where we wonder how God could love us, and so traumatized by our past, we wonder why He loves us.

It is in those dark, anxious broken places, that God is there… even when we can’t see Him, can’t feel His presence.  When He is revealed there, we realize that He is willing to pick us up, no matter how many pieces there are, that life begins to be transformed.

Hear something else Paul says… and we understand that it is reality too.

So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.

with joy…..

despite the trials and tribulations, despite the pain that is endured as God heals us.  As God transforms us, as He did Paul, into the image of Jesus.

Imitation – reborn like Paul was reborn like Jesus (POWER)

But how?

That word behind “imitate” has another meaning.  It means to be born, to begin, completely new, completely different.  We talk about being baptized, being born again, that is the same concept here.  To die to our sin, our past, our self-centeredness. To die with Jesus, in order to be raised to this new life, this being born again, in Jesus.

Just like Paul did, and Peter, and so many millions who God has join to Jesus, and to His death and resurrection.

This is why the preaching of Jesus has power, as Paul said in verse 5,

For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true”

It is the power, not just to any old miracle, but the incredible miracle that is the reason that God our Father sent Jesus His son into our lives, to live among us, to die for us, and to share that death and the resurrection with us.

One pastor, Chris Gillette’s mentor, Robert Webber, calls this power the divine embrace.  It’s the prodigal’s dad, coming running to him, to smother him, so excited that the prodigal is finally home.

And it is the reason behind all of this…

For when God embraces us, that is the assurance we need. That is the power that is at work, making the love of God, not some intellectual exercise, not something to diagram or diagnose.

And as we rest in God’s arms, as we are welcomed by Him, into His family, as we know His presence, everything changes.  We become an example to others, some older in the faith, some younger.  The word goes out, for people know how much we abandoned to be with God.

And how much we look forward to the ultimate reunion, when Jesus returns, and brings us to the throne, to see for the first time, God our Father, face to face.

This is what it means for God to give you grace and peace, to belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

The Infinitely Valuable, That Leaves All in the Dust; A sermon on Phil. 3:4-14

church at communion 2 The Infinite Valuable

That leaves all in the dust…

Phil. 3:4-14b

 In Jesus Name

 May you realize the infinite value of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and as you do, may you not even notice the things left behind.

Value beyond calculation…

Every once in a while, when the lottery gets over 500 million, I wonder what that kind o money would look like, and all the good things that could be done with it.  It is kind of silly, to want to know what kind of money looks like, but interestingly Google has the information.

500,000 dollars in $20 dollar bills would be a stack over 10 feet tall, and it would weigh close to 60 pounds.

Interesting,

It might be difficult to calculate, but it can be done.  And its value?  That is easier to calculate.  A half of a billion dollars could provide

2500 full-ride scholarships for 4 years
It could buy 750 homes for homeless families that live in places like Coyote Creek or the Santa Ana River Trail.
It could provide 5 thousand people health insurance for 10 years.
or it could build 50 new churches and provide them a pastor at district scale for 2 years.
Or perhaps, our dear friend Pr. Bernie could use it for his mission projects in … 6 months? 😊

So its value isn’t infinite

Not even close.

Yet today we are looking that is, enough so that as we realize it, we drop everything, leaving it all behind.

Because what we are given is the infinitely valuable thing in our life.

An Important word?

Like most of Paul’s writings, there is a lot to focus on in this passage.  Some like to focus in on Paul’s qualifications and talk about how important he was.  Others like to talk about the athletic language used in verses 12-14.

Me?  I get distracted by one of my favorite words in Greek.

Skubala.

Translated in most modern translations as rubbish (who uses that today?  Rubbish?) or garbage.  The old King James was more accurate with dung.  While it has the same amount of letters, it was in common Greek, you might say a much coarser or foul synonym.

For some reason I always got a chuckle out of Paul using that word to describe his genetic lineage, his academic and professional accomplishments, and that the word is in scripture, and that translators struggle with how to put it…nicely.

Rubbish?  really?

But that is part of the problem we face, in this passage which talks about not just the most valuable, but the infinitely valuable, we mess around with resumes, sports terms and other bull… rubbish.

I wish I understood why we can get so easily distracted, why we find it so easy to focus in on other things in a passage, rather than what the passage itself says is most important.

Important enough to leave all else in the dust.

For they have no value, and knowing Jesus who was chosen and anointed to save us, to realize He is our Lord, knowing Him is everything.

Nothing is worth chase after, like chasing after we’ve been caught

Paul explains why a few verses down,

I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

This is why knowing Jesus is infinitely valuable.  Not just knowing about Him, knowing Him.  To experience life, the life that comes from dying with Him, and being raised, for we are united to Him.

To be that close, to know Christ, to depend on Him, sure that while we may fail, He will never fail us.

In one of my readings this week, a pastor wrote the words he us with a burnt out pastor,

Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”[1]

That pastor, like so many of us, was looking to his own works to make him holy, looking to his own actions to prove how spiritual he was.  And like the apostle Paul, he couldn’t do it.  No way, no how.

Graduating seminary and getting ordained are great tools to prepare you to minister, but they don’t make you holy.  Neither does just coming here, and doing your duty.  All that stuff, if we don’t hear Jesus, if we don’t get to know Him, if we don’t hear His voice, if we don’t experience His love as He brings us to life,  all that other stuff is a bunch of….. rubbish.

But when we come here, when we spend time hearing of His love, of His promised work in our lives, from forgiving us our sins to comforting us as we struggle, as He holds us in His embrace…

That is infinitely valuable.

So come, celebrate the Lord’s love for you.

Come, taste and know the love of the Lord…

For He is with you and wants you to know Him, and then know His peace.  AMEN.

 

 

[1] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

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!

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