Category Archives: semons

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!

How they/We Recognize(d) Him. A sermon on Luke 24


How they We Recognized Him

Luke 24:13-35

I.H.S.

 This grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that we so often talk about, may you come to know it with your heart, your soul and your mind as you come recognize His presence in YOUR life.

The walk – 

I’ve got a question for you to think about for a moment.

Why did God hide who Jesus was from the two disciples?  Why did God stop them from recognizing Jesus?  (significant pause)

Why not just simply show up and reveal himself directly? He does the same thing to Mary Magdalene in John’s gospel.  She also doesn’t recognize him at first, thought it doesn’t say God stopped her from recognizing Jesus.  She even talked to him, asking Jesus where they put his body.  It would my asking Chuck where Chuck was…

Why hide?

Why hide in plain site?

In the way that Jesus will minister to them, we see a possible answer, an answer that gives us some direction not only for how Jesus ministers to us, but also how He ministers through us.

It’s what we call the ministry or word and Sacrament.

And it is all about revealing God so that they could recognize Jesus, so that we can recognize Jesus, and so we can help others recognize Jesus.

So this sermon title – how do they/we recognize Jesus, is answered.  He is revealed through His word and through the Sacraments.

He Listens

The first thing Jesus does is listens.  Though He knows their hearts, they need express what they know specifically what they know about Him.  They tell Him that He is or should that be was, a prophet, He does miracles, He was a mighty teacher, and we had hoped, we expected based on all this, that He was the Messiah!

Then they tell Him what He knows all to well, that he was handed over to be killed and that they crucified Him.  There is part of me that wonders how Jesus didn’t laugh at the irony.  Think about it!  They are telling Him what happened to Him!

But as He listens, as they speak the truth they see it, they put into words their pain, their inability to believe the drastic change of what is going on.   Our Lord knows us well, and for us to process that He is the Messiah, that He is our Lord, and what that means in daily life, what that would have meant – they need to do that.

We do too…

The Revelation of the Word

Then Jesus begins to do what we call the ministry of the word – and note that is a small “w”.  He explains what we need to know about Him!  The prophetic predictions – th very things that the Messiah would have to suffer, the missing part of their knowledge they have revealed to them.

And while He does, the hearts start to realize something different is going on, even though they won’t get it until Jesus is fully revealed.

But we need to know about Jesus, we need to understand what He did when He died on the cross when He suffered prior to coming into His glory,

The glory of the Resurrection

For Praise God, He is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia

And therefore, we are risen indeed!

And that is not just glorious – it is His glory and the fulfillment of God’s desire.

But these men on the road need to understand that, we need to understand it.

We need to understand what God’s desire is, what His goal in creation is, and how all of the scripture, from the law to the promises, from the histories to the psalms, from the gospels to Revelation, are all about that desire being fulfilled in Jesus.

And that is what Jesus explained, from all the scriptures they knew about, He revealed who the Messiah was….

And their hearts burned within them, even as they knew all about Him, and didn’t recognize Him.  And they know this stranger, who showed them that Jesus the Messiah had to suffer in order to enter His glory, they don’t want him to leave.

They begged Him to stay, and yet there is one more thing.

The Revelation of the Sacrament

He has to do something that will drive the lesson from their head to their heart.  For the head comforted the heart, the ministry of the word brought comfort, but they need more.

And so Jesus broke bread and gave it to them, and His ministry fo the sacrament opened their eyes.  This sacred moment, reminiscent of four days before, prophesied about throughout the Old Testament, this revelation, this ministry opened their eyes.

Not only was Jesus the Messiah.

He was their risen Lord.

He had entered His glory.

And they were there to share it with Him.

What our minds can accept but can’t conceive of, that God wants a relationship with us, that He died to set us free to enter His glory, that is something the heart can accept, and know, and convince our mind is so gloriously true.

He lives and because He Lives, we live as well.  We share in His glory, as one of my friend’s is know to say, we get to dance with God.

That’s what the sacraments are, our time to experience God’s love….

Whether it is in our baptism, our as we hear again we are freed from all sin, or as we take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, whether it is our time in prayer, or our time of giving, these sacramental times, these moments of holiness, are where we encounter our Risen Lord.

Where we learn to rejoice.

Where we share in His glory.

The Ministry of Word and Sacrament

This is why we are a church that does ministry of word and Sacrament. Because we need to realize what the Messiah does, and we need to know Him< to see His promises revealed, to have revealed as well His presence, right here, right now.

For the Lord is here, the Lord is with you!  And He has promised to never leave or forsake you.

AMEN!

 

He has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! And…


church at communion 2He has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed!

And… therefore….

Colossians 2:10-12

† In Jesus Name †

As we celebrate Easter, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, may you realize your part in it, for the grace of God has brought you to life in and with Him.  AMEN!

The earlier sermon… Our union with Christ… 

You have already heard a sermon this morning.  Rather you’ve seen it happen, you witnessed what my poor words will attempt to describe.

Paul says it this way, in our epistle reading.

You are complete through your union with Jesus.

Complete, whole, perfect, lacking nothing.

What became true for Damon, Madelynn and Rosemarie, and is true for everyone who trusts in the mighty power of God is because of this incredible union, being united with Christ’s death and resurrection.

That is the incredible miracle of God that occurs in our baptism, as we are united with Jesus, and then we die and are resurrected with Him.

Our need for circumcision

The apostle Paul, in this epistle, this letter to a young new church, explains the work that God does in baptism using the illustration of circumcision. He writes,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.

He talks about our sin nature here, that ability we have to get ourselves into trouble, that ability we have which feeds our desires, no matter the cost to us.

It’s not just about the sin, it’s not just about the failures, there is something deeper there, that causes us to implode, to choose self-destructive things, to even argue these things are good for us. That self-destructive behavior, that’s our struggle with our sin nature. It is strong and powerful, overruling our heart and mind at times.

And we were unable to do anything about it…no one without God in their lives can, we struggle and struggle and just fall short.

We need help, supernatural help. 

Our circumcision…

That is where Jesus brings the idea of circumcision into this picture of baptism uniting us with His death.  The word in Greek for circumcision means to cut around – to carefully, with surgical precision, cut and remove something.  That is what Paul is talking about when he says

Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life

In the case of baptism – it pictures our dying, and when we come back to life, there is something missing.  That sin nature that so oppressed us, so controlled us, so kept us in bondage.

it’s been cut away, nailed to the cross of Christ,

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains it again

5  Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.
Romans 6:5-6 (NLT)

And to the church in Galatia he wrote,

19  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NLT)

I could go on and on with the ways scripture describes out being separated and cleansed of our sin. But that is only part of the process to the greater blessing, the forgiveness, the separation of you and your sinful nature is but a description of what it leads us into, our new life in Christ.

Our Hope of Glory …

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what my favorite scripture was.  My answer without hesitation was this,

9  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)

This is what Easter is about, this incredible plan God has for us, the very reason for the cross and why the church obeys the command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to treasure everything God establishes.  It is through this work God does through us, that we are made whole and complete, and are given the Holy Spirit to help us live in a such a different life.

To live in a relationship with the God who not only created us, but deeply loves us.  To get to know Him, through our talking to Him in prayer and meditating on His word, searching it out as we explore how deep, how high, how wide, how broad this love is that He has for us.

Whose plan for us is to dwell eternally with Him, sharing in His glory, dwelling in the purest love.

This is what this is all about, this being complete as we are united with Jesus. About being recreated as the children of God, about knowing His peace, it is about knowing Him!

And may you always know that peace of God which is beyond anything we can understand, the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus AMEN!

 

Then You Will Know that… A Lenten Sermon on Ezekiel 37


dscf1215-copy-copyThen You Will Know

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 In Jesus Name

 As you know the miraculous work of God in your life, as the grace, mercy, and love become reality, never forget that this is your LORD who walks with you!

In the midst of the miraculous

There is a part of me, the geeky part, that would love to see a movie made out of the Old Testament scene today, with the skeletons coming together, with the tendons and muscles crawling up the bones, the faces going from skeleton to muscle to flesh…

It would be like watching a horror movie in reverse….

And then the miracle of the wind, roaring across the valley, visibly entering each body’s nostrils, entering their mouths, their eyes snapping open, amazed by the life that now pumps blood through the body that surrounds the formerly dry and brittle bones!

What a wonder it would be!

A great crowd of people, awake and risen from the graves, brought back to the life they were always meant to live!

What a great movie, what complicated special effects, probably even beyond the imagination of Spielberg or Lucas!

And the most miraculous thing that happened would be overlooked in such a movie…

The incredible miracle of the chapter, found in these words,

“Then you will know that I am the LORD!”

“Then you will know that I am the LORD!”
Even as we see everything else happen, not just as a movie in our lives, but here and now, will we hear those words? Then will We Know?

Yea – those are our bones…

The first thing that might take away our knowing is looking at the bones, our bones.

Like Israel, most of us can see how we’ve withered and dried out.  We can see where our faith is challenged, where temptation has turned to sin, where the first cracks happened that left us broken, that made us outsiders.

It may have been the sin of jealousy and coveting that got you, or some juicy piece of gossip that you had to pass on.  Maybe it was a desire that caused you to be unfaithful in your words or thought, or anger that caused you to hurt someone you should have loved.  Or maybe the sin was not honoring parents or authorities, or not recognizing the need for time with God, or using His name in a way we shouldn’t, or not using it when we should.

It doesn’t matter the sin, whether it was in thought or word, or action that we took, or knew we should and didn’t.

Those bones in the story are ours, as much as they were Israel’s.

And seeing them, we can lose our hope, we can lose our focus on God, and see only our own sin.

But that isn’t the story here, nor is it where our thoughts need to dwell.  Can our dried bones live?  Can we, despite our sin and shame find life?  The LORD knows…

It’s time to stop focusing on your sin, your history

Yea – that is the Quickening

Our dry bones can take much of our attention away from God. So can our being brought back to life, the miracle of God covering our sin, our nakedness, and putting His Spirit within us.

It is truly a miracle, this work of God, this thing that theologians calls the quickening, this miracle were a sinner is declared and becomes righteous by God’s command. This miracle where sin is stripped from us, and laid on Jesus at the cross.  Where we are brought to life with Him and His resurrection.

This is a wonderful thing as God saves us from our hopelessness, and causes us to rise again.

But it is not the greatest thing, not even close…

But here is what you need to know.

Go back to that phrase, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD!:

We may skip over that far too quickly.   For the other things, our sin and our being brought to life seem to capture our attention, they are more graphic, more visual, and knowing that Jesus is the LORD, that is something we might just assume, or take for granted.

But know here isn’t just about knowing the facts, it is about knowing God as LORD, as the I AM.  To know him deep down into our heart and soul, the part of us that seems hidden.  Hidden not only from those who know us but deep down into the parts of us that lie beneath our character, that truly define who we are.

We also have to remember that when we see LORD in all capital letters, it is not His title, it is His name, YHWH, or Jehovah, the I AM that Moses was told to use to introduce Israel to Him with. The Name we are to call out to God with when we are in despair, the Name of God we are to use in our prayers and our praises, the God who communes with us here.

This is knowing at our deepest part, knowing Him in the most intimate of settings in our heart and soul.  Knowing Him at a point where brokenness is healed, where love is known, even if we can’t explain it.  Where peace is found, for there God has put His Spirit. For God has breathed into you life, a life that is abundant.

This is the real miracle in the valley of the dry bones, the revelation not just of salvation, not just of the Love of God, but of knowing Him, and realizing how well He knows and loves us.

For as that is revealed – we become more and more aware that we dwell in His presence, and are safe there… for He is our LORD, He is YHWH, our God.  AMEN!

 

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