Category Archives: sermon

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Loving God With All Your Soul – The Blessing of the Incarnation.

MarkJ AdventLoving God with All Your Soul– the Blessing of Incarnation

Isaiah 61:1-10

 † I.H.S. †

 May Jesus’s incarnation in your life be so real, so tangible that your love for Him grows with every breath you take!

 My eyes are dry…the broken soul

It seems that many people this year would describe themselves with one word.

Tired.

There may be some factors that cause us to be so weary, so many it seems like all we do is go from trial to trauma, from prayer request to prayer request.  And as we talked about hearts being broken and needing Christ’s healing presence last week, the song talks about another part of us that is just worn down.

Our souls.

The part of us, that inner part that provides our courage, our character, our desire and the holiness that we need to walk through life in love with God, and to love our neighbor.

As we look at loving God as He asks, with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, this one is hard.

When our soul is weary, when it is worn and broken, we hear the encouragement to love God, and we think about trying, and our soul cries out,

I’ve got nuthin.   Nuthin.

It’s that dryness that causes us to wonder why we pray, or if God is listening, or if He cares at all.  It is that dryness that causes us a spiritual exhaustion that robs us of hope, and leaves us thinking we still abide in the darkness.

He incarnation changes us… it dresses us.

Which is why we need to think about the incarnation, not just the incarnation when Mary is carrying Jesus in the womb, although contemplating that helps us contemplate His incarnation into our lives.

He came then, and angels sang.  They sing as well as Jesus draws us into Himself on the cross, taking all of our sins into Himself, and cleansing us of it. He takes that dryness as well, as we understand the cross, as we understand he is not distant.  He is here.

Isaiah’s second reading now makes sense –

I rejoice Heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul!

We are in Him, we abide in Him, and as we realize this, everything begins to change as well.

This is the joy we find in Advent, the restoration of our soul when we realize that Holy Spirit is there, despite our dryness, that He is here to comfort us, to restore us, to translate our prayers as Paul tells the church.

26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

See that?

So, even in those periods where we aren’t sure if God is listening, He is listening.  Hearing and responding to the deepest cries of our heart. Even when we don’t know what to say. Even when we are too dry to say anything.

He is with us, He is here, ministering to us, assuring us of His presence.  Using speed bumps to help us slow down, and know He is God, and He cares. As we realize this – so much happens, our souls come alive, as we realize His power saving us, as we are dressed in His righteousness, as He treats us as His beloved bride.  Our reaction, from the deepest part of our soul, is to love Him back… with all we are.

This is why our services include the Lord’s Supper, even before our eating dinner.

Because as we commune we stop and we find ourselves giving Him everything, our burdens, our anxieties, our fears, our sins, our dryness.  In his presence they actually fall off us, God removes them…as we stop and receive His blessed Body and Blood, given to us, His beloved, which strengthens our faith, helps us to depend on Him all the more, and dwell in peace.  AMEN!

 

Forgiven much, so love much: A sermon on Luke 7

 

Forgiven Much, so Love Much
or Was our Debt the Smaller One?

A Sermon on Luke 7

I.H.S.

The grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus will bring you such life that you will adore Him!  AMEN!

A New Title:

There are times where the biggest struggle in a sermon is found in coming up with a title.  This week, that was part of the struggle, not the only one, but a struggle none the least.

I mean, I couldn’t turn the gospel into a pastor parker parable, could I?  The Kingdom of God is like a …   Nah, that doesn’t quite work. Imitate a … well never mind, that still doesn’t work either.

But the title of the sermon sets where I am going with it, so I went with the Forgiven much, and was our debt smaller. It is a good simple basic sermon about forgiveness, basics for a Lutheran sermon.

On Saturday, I decided to put a Concordia spin on it, to focus more on the woman than on Simon, to see here as Jesus, and for us to see Jesus as she saw him.  Which changed the sermon to:

Healed of so Much, So Worship and Adore Him And Let the Tears fall!

The challenge of dealing with our brokenness  – Simon’s challenge

I should mention Simon the Pharisee for a moment, just to compose myself and explain why the prostitute at Jesus’ feet is more spiritually mature than he is.  And why, in a way, we need to be more like here than like the religious professional who invited him to a feast.

Yes, I believe the lady balling was more mature than the calm collected Pharisee, who was devoted to serving God, and dedicated to living life as holy as possible.

It is seen in the parable he was told, about the two debtors.  Not because he was able to guess correctly, that the one forgiven of much was the one who would love and adore more the man who forgave the debt.

He got that right.

What he didn’t understand is that he was the greater debtor.

We have a look into this as Simon’s thoughts are shared with us in verse 39

39 When the Pharisee, who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
That is why Jesus tells the parable, and the mistake Simon makes is that Jesus knew exactly who the woman was.

Even more, he knew who Simon was, and that Simon’s debt wasn’t 1/10th of the lady’s debt, but that Simon’s debt was as great, therefore should his love for God should have been like the lady’s, and his welcome, as much in awe and adoration of Jesus, who comes into the presence of those who are sinners, of those who are broken.

The tears pour but why
This is what the spiritually mature lady knew, and I will explain why in a moment.  She knew he would welcome her; she knew she could go to him, she so valued this love Jesus showed in forgiving sins, that she poured out her life, the perfume that would cost more than a year of her life, just to bring comfort to his feet.

He didn’t just forgive her of her sins, He healed her of her inability to love, and now, able to truly love, she did.

With tears that didn’t just roll down her cheeks, but poured out of her. Enough to bathe his feet, not just rinse them.  She massaged those beautiful feet that brought her good news with her hair, again the cultural implications of this are staggering, for a woman’s glory was seen in long luxurious hair.

In her being forgiven of so much, she was healed to love so much.

To love without thought to cost or culture restriction, to love with every bit of her heart and soul.

That is what grace does.  That is what happens when God comes and lives with us.

She’s not the only one…
I mention a moment ago that this lady didn’t come to Jesus without.. encouragement., without expecting something to happen.

I didn’t get this till I looked at the end of the reading, the part that comes from the next chapter,

He took his twelve disciples with him,  along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.

You see, this lady wasn’t the first broken person that Jesus healed, she wasn’t the first sinner that was amazed at His grace and love. She wasn’t the first person who learned to adore him, giving of all she had and all she was, literally pouring it out at her feet.  She knew He was her hope, even if she didn’t know what hope was.  Someone brought her there, someone helped her, brought her into His presence.

I am not sure whether it was Mary Magdalene who led her into the courtyard at Simon’s house, or whether it was Joanna or Susanna or one of the disciples.

Her experience wasn’t a novelty; it wasn’t a single occurrence in the ministry of Jesus. There had been others before her; there have been millions since.

Who learned to love and adore Him, who learned to let the tears flow, who learned that worship happens, not in a controlled managed environment, but worship happens when we encounter the God, who dwells in our midst, and open to sinners coming to Him, and feasting with Him.  This is who we are as a church, a people who’ve found healing in Christ, while helping others heal… and

This is our Lord, and He invites you to come, and as you do, do not be surprised at the tears that well up inside, or the healing that takes place, or that you find yourselves loving him, far beyond what you could have expected.

For those who are forgiven and healed of much love much, and this is you and I.  AMEN.

Companions of the Cross – Lesson 2 Mark 9:38-50

Companions of the Cross – Lesson II

Don’t Cause others to Stumble

Mark 9:38-50

 

In Jesus Name

 May You so grow to treasure the grace and mercy of God that you diligently strive to make it known, reminding yourself and those around you to depend upon it in all times.

Being Christ’s Companion is Like a Treasured Cup of Coffee 

Dr. Anthony Campolo told a story about one of his aha moments, where his faith became real.

He was on his way to an important board meeting in Philadelphia.  One of the ministries he headed up was being considered for an extremely generous grant, the kind that allows for incredible expansion of ministry.

With that in mind, he was walking from the parking garage to the office building when he spotted a man.  A man with dirty hands and filthy clothes. A man whose torn old clothing could have barely protected him from the bitter cold of a Philadelphia winter.  A man with a cup in his hand held out as if hoping for a coin or two to be dropped into the cup.  He was coming right at Dr. Campolo.

The guilt and shame became proactive; Tony knew he should try to help the man – after all, helping others is what he trained college students to do.  As the man came closer, the cup held out.  The nerves rose – there would be no way to avoid the man, he would be late for his meeting, and this guy so looked like he needed the kind of help that Christ would judge Tony for not providing.

As the man approached, he said, “Mister, Mister, here, have this cup of coffee!”  As Tony looked him in stunned disbelief, as this poor broken man tried to serve him, the professor and leader, the man continued, “No I don’t want anything, I just had a cup, and it is such an incredible thing on a day like this, I had to share one with someone else”

As Tony brought the cup to his lips, indeed, it was the best coffee he had ever had. An incredible gift from the least expected person in the world. And he would share with the businessmen that morning, not his prepared notes.  But the story of a man who just had to share what he’d been given.

Such a lesson is the key to this morning, to these passages that seem confusing, until you realize they are about the same thing.

Being a companion of the cross with Jesus. A treasure so incredible, that you have to share it, that you have to help others know it, that it is worth more than life itself.

A Treasure too great to Insulate

We see that in the first few verses.  Last week we heard the disciples getting chewed out because they all want to be the primary disciple, the one who would take over when Jesus died.  Now content to serve each other, Jesus opens the gates a little wider.

The disciples get jealous; they want to protect the only man in history who had no need, and no desire to be protected.  They wanted permission to shut this man down, Tony could have been happy with some security team member intercepting the man he perceived to be a beggar, but would actually offer a hot cup of coffee instead of a cup of water.

We don’t have to protect the gospel; we don’t need to play god and protect God.   Yes, He will call people to trust in Him through the ministry here.  And for others we will simply plant the seeds.  Allowing others to plant the seeds.

We can’t insulate the gospel, we can’t protect it, it is bigger than us.  As one pastor said this week,

“The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.  (Pope Francis)
Being a companion of Christ is too good not to share, and so why should we be concerned, when others try to share it?  We can help them, together become more consistent with Jesus teachings, but to just stop them?

I am not talking about some required “you must tell your friends and family and force them here.”  But a relationship with God is too incredible to stop us from sharing it, so why should we stop someone else?

A treasure too great to not help protect

The same kind of thing goes for Jesus next point, the one this sermon is titled about.

If we know the value of this relationship with God, then we aren’t going to intentionally case someone to stop trusting in God.  It would be better for those 1000 pounds millstone to be chained to us, and Lal to drop us off on the way out on his next fishing trip.

The more we value God’s call, the more we will want others to know it, and the more we will want those who know it to treasure it, to value their relationship with Jesus  more than any other.  If that is true, how would we feel to cause them to be so scandalized that they fall out of the relationship?

As we grow in our understanding of the dimensions of God’s love, our attitude will change, and we will realize that the little children Jesus is talking about include the atheist, the adherent of Islam, the person’s who sins turn your stomach, and it includes you and I.

As we grow in knowing God’s love, it would cause us great distress to think we drove someone away from the relationship with God we treasure!

A Treasure too Great to Love Other – including ourselves.

The section about cutting off hands and feet, of gouging out eyes was always too much for me.  Seriously first it seemed a bit over the top.  Second, most of us would be crawling around here, for us all too quickly sin.

But the relationship with God is so incredible, that which He offers us is so overwhelming, that we would rather do those things rather than risk it.  We would realize that the first commandment is right – as we know what God has done, it doesn’t make sense to have other gods, it doesn’t make sense to put our trust in idols, even in the idol of ourselves.

That is what this is all about – the love of a God who would come to u because He desires us to be His people.  Who would rather than overlook our sins, decide to take on their burden and die so that we could be free of them.  Who would rise, so that we have the hope of everlasting life, and who would send the gift of the Holy Spirit to us in baptism, so we could know that hope, so we could have a glimpse of it.

A treasure so incredible, so amazing, that we simply can’t help but want others to know it. We would encourage each other to rejoice in it, and guard against causing people to give up on God or His people, and we would rather lose ourselves than lose the relationship.

This is what God gives us… to all.  The professor and the homeless guy, the businessman and the child, the pastor and the shut-in.

The hope we preach, that Christ is in you, and, therefore, you have the hope of sharing in His glory.  And until that hope is seen, you dwell, guarded by Him, in His peace.

AMEN!

Traveling Companions of the Cross – Lesson 1 Become Okay with being Last

Travelling Companions of the Cross

Lesson 1: Become Okay with Being Last….

Mark 9:30–37

 In Jesus Name

As we travel through life, may you be aware of God’s grace, of His mercy and love that rubs off on you, transforming your life, and the lives of your family.

The Theory

For the next 10 weeks, the lessons in our sermons are going to work on a theme.

It is based on the truth, that the longer you spend with someone, the more they rub off on you.  You parent of our preschoolers will notice this over the next 10-15 years, as your children will pick up behaviors they observe.  You might have already seen this, if they watch one particular show a lot and pick up on the verbal phrases of their favorite character.  It’s one of the reasons you will have to get used to handy many, doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer, and movies like CARS, UP, and Frozen as the kids watch them 475 times each!

Part of our role as a school is to help you help them pick up the good behaviors, attitudes and phrases and discard those not so good.

Picking up behaviors, phrases, and attitudes is something we will do all of our lives.  To put it simply – we rub off on each other!  Without realizing it, we begin to act like those we admire, those we care about, and sometimes, those who antagonize us!

That’s the nature of the sermon series, the behaviors we pick up – as Christ’s companions In life.

The First Lesson – The First Lesson

In our second reading, we are going to see the first lesson, that we can be okay with being last, with being the servant of all.  Jesus gets the disciples – basically a term for apprentice or people who master something through on-the-job training, Jesus gets them alone for a while.  He knows his crucifixion is near, so he wants to explain to them again what will happen.  This is what he taught them

“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.”

there is a problem, though, as we keep reading

32 They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.

He couldn’t get to the point where he would explain to them that caring about people means this is the length you go to, to show them, love. That is part of His lesson for them throughout scripture.  Paul does a great explanation of that in Philippians 2, and in Romans and 1 Corinthians 12.  It is what he means by, imitate me, as I imitate Jesus.

They don’t understand yet that He has to die, or that He has to die so that they can live, so they can be free of the punishment their sins deserve.

Rather than ask, they keep quiet – they decide the lesson is too overwhelming… but they will learn, as will we

The First Quiz

The second part of the lesson occurs as the disciples argue who is the top student, the assistant to the rabbi-master.  That is what they are asking, “Jesus, who is in authority if you leave?”  For the greatest student always succeeded the master in that day.

As they are arguing about it, Jesus gives them the lesson again,

“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

And Jesus will show them what that means, as He heads to the cross, to die for them, and for us.  He does it because He is the greatest example of God’s love we have ever known.  He does it because the love of God drives him to do something no one else ever could.  He dies, as Isaiah prophesied said he would, 700 years before the cross,

5  But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6  All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (NLT)
The Refresher

Which brings us to the third lesson, as Jesus takes time for the youngest, the weakest, those that society would think aren’t worth the time of a master teacher.

Imagine a seminary president, taking the time to show an unknown preschooler around a university.  Not with television crews and thousands following him, but just the child and a few friends.  Or think of computer CEO, playing some chutes and ladders with the 4-year-old daughter of one of his stockroom clerks.  Again, not in the limelight, but because he valued them. Or a superstar taking the time to visit a senior home, or a President or international religious leader, who would spend time, without the cameras with someone in the hospital, or a forgotten convict in prison.

The lesson is to love the least, and that is what the disciples of Jesus need to learn.

Note I didn’t say they learned it – for we are disciples as well.

That is the example Jesus gives the disciples, and yet takes it even deeper with these words,

37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf* welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

Here is the key to learning this lesson.  It is found in welcoming Christ, in welcoming the Father’s presence in their life.  Because Christ did exactly what He is teaching us, as He comes to us.  He loves those who everyone else says are not worth the time.  When we hear that by His authority, our sins are forgiven.  When He invites us to pray to the Father, and gives us the words for when we don’t have the words.

We show we’ve learned not just the lesson of not being first, and the value of serving others because we’ve realized that He is how He loves us.  As we realize that love for us, it changes us, to use a modern phrase, His character rubs off on us. We reflect the nature of God, the God who loves us, who comes to us, who put our salvation, our eternity before his own pleasure, and served us by dying for us.

It is because of this, that we know the peace of God that goes beyond all understanding, that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

The End that Justified the Means

The End that Justifies the Means

John 6:51–69

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may that love and mercy be revealed to you, and may it assure you that in His presence you will remain!

Is the Journey more important than the destination?

Four years before Martin Luther would nail to the door an invitation to discuss indulgences, a man in Italy, the man who would become the father of political science, and the first to write on political ethics finished his best known work.

Though not in the book as a direct quote, a summary of it gave us one of the best known proverbs that is not contained in the Bible.  A proverb many a businessman and many a politician see as foundational.

The end justifies the means.

Basically, Machiavelli held that, a ruler must be concerned not only with reputation, but also must be positively willing to act immorally at the right times.”  (Wikipedia)
One example given on Wikipedia of that is this, “Violence may be necessary for the successful stabilization of power and introduction of new legal institutions.”

As odd as it sounds, there is one example of that proverb, that you and I must be grateful, one time in history where the end justifying the means was not only appropriate, but a blessing.

As the Jewish people struggle with Jesus teaching that they must eat His body and drink His blood, they will struggle even more that in order to receive the promises of God, in order to be His people, they would have to depend upon the greatest injustice in history.

The Journey

There is a part of me that wants to preach on this passage from the safety of focusing on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  After all, there are theologians who say this passage where Jesus demands us to eat His Body and drink His blood as being primarily about the Lord’s Supper.  And there are some that say it is not.  Fascinating arguments on both sides.

It is safe, it would help you comprehend what we do during communion, and it would miss the point.

This passage isn’t about communion, in the way that a journey isn’t about the journey, it is about the destination.  Because the Jewish people were worrying about the journey, they missed the message of the destination.

That God would remain in us, and we in Him.

We’ll get back to that in a moment, but we need to see that we are no different than the Jewish people, who though knowing God’s law, struggled with what Jesus was saying, struggling so much that they would say,

“This is very hard to understand, how can anyone accept it?”

It was so hard to understand, that most of the disciples would leave.

Because they were focusing on the means, rather than the end.

We do the same thing today, when we toss aside God’s word.  Maybe we consider it out of date in the moral standard.  Or when we dismiss something because those rules were okay back then before people were educated, but they don’t apply to us smarter and more sophisticated people today.  We argue with God, we try to define what is right and what is wrong.  We try to change the rules, rationalize our way out of things, or create a different standard.

A great example is how we treat our enemies, adversaries and those who are a pain in the butt.

Do we really love them?  Do we really pray for them?  Do we really want to forgive them and welcome to commune with us?

Or do we try to find a loophole, an exception to God’s desire that we love all our neighbors?

Or what about when God says to embrace persecutions and suffering, for the sake of the gospel.  He just means pastors and worship leaders and elders.  Not bass players and sound men, and ushers, right?

We don’t get it, it seems too hard to understand.  We don’t like it when God confronts us and challenge our agendas, or rules out what we like and what we dodo.  Sometimes, confronted by God’s wisdom and unable to get it, sometimes we walk away.  Just like the disciples did.

John’s gospel shows how hard it is, as it records Jesus’ words, The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.”

We need it, we need a God we can relate too, trust in, depend upon…

for our very lives.

Remaining in Christ Jesus

One of the things that we look at, when studying the passage, is the frequency something is mentioned.  For example – if a thought is repeated, even if a little different, that is called a parallelism – and it is important.  Especially if it followed by AMEN! AMEN! or “This is True!”  Three times is even more critical to understand.

We know this well.  If our parents or our wives or our bosses repeat themselves, it is critical we are listening.

In this passage, the body and blood being sacrificed is mentioned frequently.  But even more frequently is something else.  Here it is….

“will live forever”
“so the world may live”
“have eternal life within you”

“has eternal life”

“I will raise that person at the last day”
“remains in me, and I in him.”
“will live because of me”
“will not die”

“will live forever.”

“The Spirit alone gives eternal life”

“Very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life”

68 
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

This is what it is all about, this life we have with God.  That we are His people, that He is our God.  That we are fixed to Him, we remain in Him, and He in us.  United from the very moment of our baptism, united by a promise, the very new covenant, a promised renewed as He sustains us with His body and blood.

A life given, and shared.

A glorious eternal life.

That is our destination, that is the end that justifies the means that seem beyond unfair.

For  one of Nicollo Machiavelli’s summaries became true, at the cross.

Violence may be necessary for the successful stabilization of power and introduction of new legal institutions.”

Or let me phrase it a little differently

Violence may be necessary for the successful stabilization of God’s reign and introduction of a new covenant.”

The violence of a Cross, the creation and stabilization of a righteous people of God, gathered in His presence, by the enactment of a new law, a new covenant.

That is what this is all about… it is why we know Jesus words are true.

Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”

So eat, be nourished, understand the gift of life in Christ and remain in Him, for there is His peace.  AMEN.

Imitate God – Live a Life filled with love

Imitate God
Live a Life Filled With Love!

Ephesians 4:17–5:2

In Jesus Name

This is my prayer for you, that because of the mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, you would desire to live a life filled with His love, and imitate Christ Jesus in everything you do.


The Difference Between Playing God.. and Imitating Him

It was once said that the sincerest form of compliment was for someone to imitate you.

Well, it is a compliment as long as they imitate something you like about yourself.

For example, a lady asking another lady for a recipe.

That’s a compliment.

Another pastor asking if he can use a sermon, or learn Chris’s liturgy music, those are compliments.

Someone choosing to become a teacher, or a doctor or even a pastor, because of the impact that a teacher, doctor or pastor had on their life.

Those are compliments as well!

Is someone trying to duplicate my golf swing?

That’s not a compliment; that is insanity!

In today’s epistle reading, there are two different models to imitate, to mimic.  One is insanity; the other seems impossible, but it is actually rather simple.

One is imitating the Gentiles.

The other is imitating God.

One possible, the other insanity….

Imitating the World is Simply Playing God  The Sin of Self Idolatry

Let’s deal with imitating the Gentiles.  Or as Paul says, living like the Gentiles, following the patterns and lifestyles of the world.

It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in Psychology to see how crazy the world is.

Paul describes it well by saying that those living without a relationship with God are hopelessly confused, that their minds are lost in a darkness that consumes them.  Paul goes on to describe them as close minded to God and having no sense of shame.  They are people that live for whatever seems pleasurable, chasing after whatever is popular, no matter how degrading, how filthy, how degrading, how evil.

As long as it meets what they consider their needs….

Need for pleasure, for fun, for comfort, for approval. Or simply if it helps them get what they want.  It is narcissism, self-centeredness Or put more simply, it is telling God his guidance is worthless, and replacing his rules with your own.  Don’t worry about those ten commandments, or loving our neighbor, the world says.  Scripture isn’t relevant or real! Do what seems right in your own eyes, and if peopled question you, tell them to not judge you.

That was the gGentilesattitude, it is definitely the world’s attitude today.

But there is a problem here… one we need to think through.

Lest we only judge those out in the world, I need you to recognize what Paul is telling this church, perhaps the most mature of all the churches he ministered to.

Look at this carefully

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do,

Now, let’s think about this.  You don’t have to tell people to not do something, unless they are doing it!

And if you are an apostle, you don’t have to add, “with the Lord’s authority”, unless you know they are really going to struggle with you on the matter.

The people in the church in Ephesus struggled with living like the world.

If we are honest, we struggle with it as well.  It’s not that we really want to, but some habits are hard to break.  Temptations can be hard to overcome.

Paul lists a bunch of sin, buts the key is in verse 22.  Sin is the result of lives corrupted by two things, the first is lust, desiring things that aren’t yours.  The second thing that corrupts our lives is what is translated as deception, but is more like seduction.  The things that distract us, attract our attention and cause us to hunger for them.

The sin dominated one is a insane life, for we don’t have the wisdom to choose wisely.  It is crazy to say we know better than God. That we know what is good for us.

But there is an option to imitating the world.

Imitating God  The life of the Transformed

We need to make sure we understand the difference between playing God, and imitating God.

The gentiles and the world, and yes often we play God.  That is sin.

But Paul calls us to imitate God, to follow the example of Jesus.  That requires something important.  You see a hint of it on the cover of the bulletin.  It is a transformation as incredible as that which occurs when a hungry caterpillar becomes a majestic butterfly.

A transformation that begins when you were baptized.

A transformation that happens as Paul describes, in verse 23,

let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

and

Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Unlike the butterfly, our transformation is started, empowered and completed by Christ.  It occurs as we spend time realizing His presence in our lives, the promise of our Baptism.   It happens as we contemplate how much He loves us, and the freedom that gives us.

For the old controlling forces that corrupted our lives have been broken and we are free to see God’s reconciliation spread, even as Paul describes

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

This is not a command as we think of it, and imperative you must.  It is more like discovering something incredible, a blessing of proportions!

Bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, gossip, all evil behavior can be stripped off of us, and as we are united to Jesus, we find ourselves being dressed with God’s love, with His mercy, even as we begin to resemble Christ…even as we are being healed.

Because we are imitating God.

Like a child, wanting to be like his dad…

This is what happens when you trust in God, when you depend on Him.

We are changed, we are transformed… and instead of being locked into a life shaped and modeled by the world, we find something incredible, a journey through life, that as we mature, as we are drawn deeper and deeper into a relationship with Jesus… causes us to resemble Him more… and these words become our life

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love,

AMEN!

Being Made Complete Experiencing His Love – A Sermon on Ephesians 3:11-42

Being Made Complete
Experiencing His Love
Ephesians 3:11-42

† In Jesus Name †

 © Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is one we can have for each other.  “I pray that from God’s glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 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!


The Parable of the Old Spike  ©

It was found on a pile with a ton of others.  Pitted, rusted, considered by most to be worthless trash.

And one day a man named Jim found it.  As he stared at this piece of useless steel, he saw something in it, and carefully and lovingly gave it a new identity.  What was of no value, not only was given a new identity but was transformed into a piece of art.  A piece of art that testified to the skill and craftsmanship of the one who found it, purchased it, and transformed it.

Here is what the rusty pitted railroad spike now looks like, after Jim transformed it.

These railroad spike knives provide for us a picture of the work of God in our lives, a work that doesn’t just change how we appear on the outside.  God’s work does all I prayed for, as I asked God to bless you a moment ago. For we are transformed much like the spike is…..

Inner strength

Several times in this passage, the concept of strength is mentioned.  The words that lay under the surface mean everything from the ability to fortitude, from the capability to internal strength that will result in completing the task, the trial. It is physical and mental, psychological. It is to have the will and determination, the patience and the stubborn nature that will see you overcome the power of temptation, the power sin and Satan, and even the fear of death. ©

If we look at our lives, who can claim to be that strong?  ©

Which of us looked at temptation in the eye this week, and didn’t sin at all?

Which one of us loved every neighbor as ourselves?

©Did anyone of us honor God in every single thing we did?  What about in every word we said or typed?  Did we gossip about others?  Did we

What about in every word we thought?

Did we reach out, stretch ourselves beyond our own comfort to help those in need?

We don’t naturally have that strength.

And who has enough inner strength to out wait death…

Which of us enjoys going to the doctors, enjoys the tests and prods and pokes and blood draws, and doesn’t for a moment worry about the results?

Paul understood this well, as he wrote  ©

54  So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” 55  “Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt?” 56  Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 (TEV)

©  I need you to note something Paul said “then the scriptures will come true.”  I’ve heard this passage misused a time or two to say that we shouldn’t grieve, we shouldn’t struggle, and that is wrong.

But there will be a day, when the power of sin is so shattered, that death will no longer have the power to hurt us.

A day we need to have the strength, the ability to wait for, trusting in the promises of God that it will come.

We need that strength, an inner strength that is based on hope…

The Way God Empowers us.

One of the commentators I read this week, commented about this passage in a way that brought the railroad spike to mind.  ©

As fire penetrates iron, and seems to change it into itself, so does God penetrate the soul and fill her with himself; and though she never loses her own being, yet she becomes so penetrated and absorbed by that immense ocean of the divine substance, that she remains, as it were, annihilated, and as if she ceased to exist. The Apostle prayed for this happy lot for his disciples when he said: That you may be filled unto all the fulness of God.  (de Ligouri)

©   Or to put it into a picture, look at this picture…

The spike is you, the red glow is the glory of God, dwelling within you, empowering you, transforming you. Think of the pictures in this incredible passage

©  He will empower you with inner strength thorgh His Spirit

©  Christ will make His home in your hearts

©  Your roots will grow deep into God’s love… there is the sourceof your strength!

All of this pictures the presence of God invading your life, becoming part of you, even as the energy and heat of the blacksmith’s fire consumes the spike and transforms it into a strong, sharp knife…

Even more the experience that Paul describes,

©  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.

When God unites us to Jesus in Baptism, when we take and consume the bread and the wine, this picture of the knife, glowing because of the power it is immersed in is perfect.  Where the metal and the fire have so united that you can’t tell which is absorbing and consuming the other.

This love of His is that in which we live, and even thogh we may never be able to completely put into words how incredible this love is, we will understand it far more deeply than we understand anything else.

This is the empowering that Paul tells us occurs as the Holy Spirit works within us.

It is what Aiden will grow up knowing, as he is reminded of it by Jason and Jennifer, by Tammie and Mark, and by Wanda and Kay and the rest of us.

God is not just working in us, He has made us His home in us,

This is how we are made complete.  Not by any other way but experiencing the incredible, unmeasurable love of God in Christ Jesus.  A love which transforms us as we experience it, a love that becomes as much us, as well…. Us.

That gloriously transforms us, as the Holy Spirit transforms us into image of Jesus.

This is how we have “inner strength” that will enable us to oversome sin and temptation, the power of Satan and even death. He dwells in us, and nothing can separate us from His love, from His glory, from Him.

This is His work, His promise to us, His children, the people among whom He makes His home,

Once again, hear the prayer of Paul the apostle, that he prayed for the people of God, that we can pray for each other

©    “I pray that from God’s glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 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!”

AMEN!

True Confessions… A Sermon Based on Matt 16 (text only)

True Confessions

Matthew 16 13-19

In Jesus Name

May you see revealed to you, the grace, mercy and peace of God the Father, that comes from knowing Jesus, and knowing He is the Anointed One, the Son of God sent to save us!

 The Confession of Peter

The Supreme Court decision on Friday will not change the bottom line of this sermon, it won’t change the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  As the Christ, He  the one chosen and put in place to deliver us from sin.

But the decision on Friday did impact this sermon and what I am going to say.  It did help clarify and focus the message on Peter’s confession, and what it means for us, and to us.

It will help us to know where we stand, what is our confession, what we can rely on, what we can base our life upon.

On Friday and Saturday, I heard over and over a part of our gospel reading quoted over and over.  It was used with the intent to rally the church, to comfort those plagued by anxiety and fear, those feeling hurt and betrayed. It was to rally them, to give them some hope that despite an attack to what they know of life and religion, that God was still in charge.

I also hear it used triumphantly, as some Christians saw the decision as proof that God was blessing their position.

Either way, the confession that everyone pointed to as their hope was this,

upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

or to hear it the old way,

upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it!  (KJV)
That the gates of hell can’t stand against the church, is true but it is not why we have hope, they are not the good confession.

This is the conversation that gives us hope

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

and knowing that, trusting in that, making that your rock, your foundation in life, is what matters.

The “other confessions”
The Prophets of Law….
It’s not that they aren’t needed…

When the people of God in Jesus day looked at Jesus, they struggled to figure out who He was.  That is the first question Jesus asks, as he uses the word from which we get logic.  Who do they reason I am?  Not just say as in passing, but when they really think about it.

The answer the apostles gave was John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah.  Three prophets, three men, it can be said, brought an uncomfortable message of hope in a time where people didn’t want to hear it, yet held out for the hope it offered.

What the people saw in Jesus, based on their answers, is someone who could be with them in the present, but also looked with great hope for the future.

Let me say that again,

What the people saw in Jesus, based on their answers, is someone who could be with them in the present, but also looked with great hope for the future.

They were hoping for a prophet that would call those sinners back to God.  They were hoping for a change in their society, in their life, and those prophets promised that it was coming…

And just a promise would have been such a great thing, to hope for the fulfillment of the promise was more than they could imagine. Never mind how the fulfillment of the promise would change everything.

Even Peter and the apostles, who had revealed to them by God the Father that Jesus was the Christ, the chosen One, couldn’t understand.

That the gates of hell cannot withstand the church is something really great, really encouraging.

But it is nothing compared to the fulfilled promise, the rock on which we base everything, the true confession we need to understand.
The Confession… the Christ!

Would it have been bad if Jesus was another Jeremiah?  Another Ezekiel? A second John the Baptist?  Perhaps not, and we constantly need people who call us on our own sin.

But even more we need the Christ, the one chosen and anointed to deliver us into the presence of God our Father.

I guess I can put it this way.  Nancy and Bob yesterday celebrated their 50 year reunion.  When they got engaged, it was a good thing.  But imagine if they had remained engaged for the fifty years, never getting married.

That is the difference between being those promised the Christ, somewhere in the future, to those who have a relationship with God the Father, because Jesus came to us.

He came to us, the Anointed, chosen One of God came to us.  Then the Father revealed to us, as Jesus taught, as He healed, as He did miracles, that Jesus was more than just a prophet.  God came to live among us, to give us life, to make us His.  He came to prove to us His love, His commitment to a relationship that would survive our sin.

That is or hope, that is why we have confidence in God.

He is the Christ, the one chosen to deliver us from sin, and into the presence of the Father.  He is our Savior, our Redeemer, the One who Reconciles us to the Father, our Life, the Lord who calls us His beloved, who tells us we are no longer without a home, no longer without a family.

Because of Jesus, we know our Father in Heaven, the Creator of the Universe listens when we talk to Him, when we pray.

He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

And it is as we know this, as we begin to understand the love this takes, the love He has for us, that we see the church being drawn together.  God begins to build His home in us.  His love is so strong, that it can’t stop us from raiding hell, to bring back those who sin has damaged, whom it is broken.

Because He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

That is our confession, that is why we have hope, that is why we plead with people to be reconciled to God.  We want them to know that love, that brings a peace that passes understanding, that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

AMEN!

God? Don’t You Care? A sermon from Mark 4

God, Don’t You Care?
Mark 4:35-41

May this sermon help you search out the richness of God the Father’s love you, show in Jesus, confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit!

What Should They Do Next Time?

This morning we are going to try and walk a mile in the apostles sandals.

Or maybe it would be better to say we are going to take a turn at the oars of their boat.

I want you to think through the storm again, to feel the panic of the apostles, to be up to you waste in cold water, to feel the 80-knot wind. The time in our gospel is now a distant memory, a couple of months back, and yet you find yourself in the middle of another storm.

You heard Jesus’s words, echoing through your brain, as you again battle the elements,

“Why are you afraid?”

“Do you still have no faith?”

And as another wave crashes over the bow of the boat… what are you going to do?

What would a person who has faith in God do differently?

Or, What should they do the next time?

Don’t answer yet…

Or let’s make this personal.  What is your trust in God going to cause you to “do” the next time you encounter such a storm?

At the Right time….

Before we decide on how we and the apostles should act during the next storm, I want to switch from the gospel to Paul’s letter to the church in 2 Corinthians 6.  There, Paul continues the theme of our pleading with people to “come back to God.”  Indeed, he says there,

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.

I suggest that this is the same concept as we find Jesus talking in the gospels about. He challenges the apostles, questioning their faith, and here, Paul says, why are you ignoring the gift from God?  The letter to the Hebrews asks the same question in another way,

3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4  And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose. Hebrews 2:3-4 (NLT)
Here are these guys in the boat, and the one person who can do something, whom they have seen do all sorts of miracles, is left asleep.

Here are these guys in the boat, and the one person who can do something, whom they have seen do all sorts of miracles, is left asleep.

Whoops!!

(The same thing happens to Job, the one thing his friends never did – was actually ask God why everything was going on!)

They had forgot the mission of Christ! Why he came!  To establish the Kingdom of God, to create for God the Father a people that would be His.  All the miracles were done, not to maximize Jesus reputation, but to convince people that the Father was there, in their midst, ready to bless and save them!

And, they left Him asleep!

They didn’t trust him enough to even bother waking Jesus up, they forgot about His love, His presence, His desire to reconcile them to the Father.  They saw the waves, and got scared.  Someone probably even said, “don’t worry, God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”  Of course they were wrong.

God didn’t say that He promised something different,

“At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

But they didn’t think of that, and their cry to Jesus was even worse,

Lord, don’t you care about us?  Are you going to let us be destroyed?

Imagine saying that?  Actually, I don’t have to, I’ve said it.  Eventually, usually through another believer, but sometime as we study God’s word, or in a prayer or vision, we hear Him…

This question is a hard one to face, because we struggle to see God, not just physically, but actively in our lives.  We wonder if he is asleep, or on vacation, because sometimes we don’t hear His voice.  We don’t feel His comfort.

We need to stop, and breath… and be still and know He is God.  TO be still enough to hear His voice. That is hard to do, but that is why we are a church.  So if I am struggling, Al or Chuck or Wanda is there to help, if you are struggling, we all are there for you.  To remind you to listen, to help bring you to calm waters, So that you can hear God’s voice.

“Trust me,” God tells us, “I love you, I am here, I will help….  I CARE!”

Which leads us back to the question…

What do you do the next time…

The next time the storm is attacking, and that may be right now, How should you handle it?  Given Jesus’ loving correction to those whom He loved, what should we do?

Should we

1)  Try to command the storm to stop on our own, using our great faith?

2.) Let fear overrule our trust in God, our knowledge of His love, and become so confused that we forget the presence of God?

3.  Or Should we remember that Jesus is here, that He loves us, and then put everything we are into His hands?

The lesson of faith is not to try and calm the storms, but to trust the One who is Lord over everything.  Faith doesn’t try to manage things on our own, faith runs to the one whom is our shelter in the storm, our refuge in battle, our deliverer, our salvation,

Our goal is to remember He cares, to remember He’s promised to never leave us or forsake us,

He cares, He really cares, and in our baptism, He gives us His Spirit, the Comforter.  He is the God who lifts up – that is the very meaning of His name, the paraclete.

That is our ministry together, as we remind each other that He is here, as we call others to experience that grace.  That’s Paul’s discussion as well. It is the very presence of Christ that keeps him moving, despite opposition, despite bodyaches, despite those who would physically assault him, as he preached the gospel.
He can go on through these storms, because of God’s presence, …..

So once again, in the storms of life, don’t bother trying to have enough faith to endure them by yourself, and don’t forget in whose presence you dwell, but continually encourage each other to know this….

The Lord is with you, and He cares for you….

Knowing that, dwell in the indescribable peace of God, for there you are safe, your hearts and minds guarded by Christ Jesus.

AMEN.

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