Category Archives: Sermons
Faith in Action: Knows
† Jesus, Son and Savior †
May the gifts of mercy, of love and of peace from God our Father, which Jesus pours into your life, help you know Him, and may that knowledge allow your soul to find rest! AMEN!
People who have faith need to pray
I came across an interesting quote this week from a guy from Boston, a professor of philosophy named Peter Kreeft,
How long should we pray? At least as long as it takes to relax in His presence, to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10)
Professor Kreeft has a pretty good answer there, that prayer isn’t just a few words, uttered when we are in need, it’s not something we do out of obligation either.
It is a time to relax, to know God intimately, so deeply that everything else in life falls away as we find we trust and depend on Him, and then, as that happens, we are able to relax in His presence… as we realize what it means to be still and dwell in the peace of God.
As we look at our reading in Psalm 46 this morning, we see David’s urging us to find ourselves in that moment of peace. Safe where God dwells, for He is our refuge, our sanctuary. He is our peace.
The challenge to know God… for faith that is active has to know God
Not just about knowing about Him, but being still enough to realize that He is God… and calm enough to think through what it means.
Obstacles to knowing God
I don’t know about you, but I tend to struggle with fear, or the word that comes closest to it this day, anxiety.
It doesn’t take the earthquakes and oceans going crazy that David describes in the Psalm. It’s more like this lack week, where for a couple of days I was on a committee with the 1st and 2nd Vice President of Synod, guys I don’t always agree with, trying to help deacons and churches who are served by only those deacons.
Anxious because I might say the wrong thing…
Or anxious over a doctor’s appointment.
Or anxious about any of million things that could go wrong in life, or the complications of when things go right! (Sometimes I am more worried and scared by things going right. )
And then as I am dealing with the anxieties, I realize that I had forgotten all about God’s presence, and I get anxious about my lack of focus on God, and my obvious lack of faith. Causing more anxiety and fear to build.
Is such anxiety sin? If I even start down that thought process, it’s only going to get worse, causing more guilt, more shame, and our normal reaction will be to run away from God.
You see, we often buy into the fact that we have control over whether we sin or not. And therefore, when we do take our eyes off of God, we find ourselves alone as the earthquakes, or we feel like we are drowning, or all alone in the middle of a battlefield.
The answer to this is not to flee God, or fight him, but to run to Him, to speak and listen to him, to know He is God, and as we know what that means, find the ability to remain still.
So how does this happen?
Come and see the glorious works
There is an invitation to the world in the middle of the passage.
Come and see the glorious works of the Lord! See how he brings destruction upon the world!
The first part seems like a great invitation. Observing God’s glorious works! How awesome! How incredible! Hearing that my mind goes to the idea of miracles and healings, of baptizing people by the hundreds, and Concordia becoming a major influence in our community, even in all of Los Angeles.
And then I get the second half and go “wait…
BRINGS DESTRUCTION ON THE WORLD? WHAT?
Uhm, how is that going to end up giving me the ability to be still?
I mean, the DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD?
I mean our world may be broken, evil might seem to be apparent, but destruction? Total destruction of the world?
Well, in the physical sense of the word, everything on the day of judgment will be destroyed because it will be renewed.
But that happens in our lives at baptism, as we are united with the death of Christ in the water of baptism, God promises and makes sure our brokenness is destroyed, it dies with Him there on the cross.
That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote,
4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. 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. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.
Romans 6:4-7 (NLT2)
It takes a while to work through this, that the anxiety caused by sin’s guilt and shame, the anxiety that is caused by not knowing the presence of God, and not knowing God is removed….
Even so, our old nature dies hard, as does the anxiety it can produce in us. In fact, you and I can only find peace when we God’s presence draws us into His glory, into His love, and causes you to be still, and just know He is God…
That happens as we know His presence, in places like this, a place we are drawn together, to know He is God. As we pray together, leaving every burden before Him, every anxiety, every moment becomes one of peace. A place where we see life end and begin, as people are baptized into Christ.
As we share in the body and blood of Jesus, as we realize we are united to Him, as we share in His death… and even now, in His resurrection.
And we find ourselves still and rest…knowing the God who loves us.
And our dependence on God, our faith becomes active, because we know Him! AMEN!
Faith in Action:
† I.H.S. †
May the grace, the mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in your life, that you find yourself dwelling, content in His presence! AMEN!
1.6 Billion dollars…. For what?
On Friday, I stopped by the local 7-11.
The parking lot was full, there were three clerks working instead of the usual one. There were people in line, and another line over in the corner, waiting for little pieces of paper to make little marks that they would put their hope in…
Seriously, putting all your hope in some little marks on a piece of paper.
And they will do it again this week, looking for a change in life because of that piece of paper, those little marks. Enough people doing so that the Lottery can easily put less than half the money back, and still raise the prize some 600 million dollars.
Some people buy those tickets out of curiosity, others buy them in despair and desperation. There was one guy, running through the “have you won scanner” what looked like 50 such pieces of paper.
I wonder how many of them realize what Solomon said some 3000 years ago,
10 Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!
We aren’t going to find contentment in things, we can only find contentment in something we have more than enough of…. But how do we realize it?
The Idol of Wealth
Solomon talked of reasons why wealth doesn’t breed contentment. The reasons it doesn’t bring happiness, why it doesn’t provide a beautiful life. I mean these reasons aren’t rocket science,
- You can never have enough. (Solomon would know!)
- The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it.
- You can watch it slip through your fingers
- Investments can sour, and the money is lost
- We eventually end up the way we started, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
- You can’t take your riches with you
- You don’t make a lasting impact on the world.
And yet, we will, as a country spend 3 or 4 billion dollars on the lottery. And we still won’t find contentment, even the one who wins.
Or we will struggle and put ourselves into debt, trying to get the right college education, or the right career options, playing all the games and work our fingers to the bone, trying to get ahead.
And we won’t find contentment.
But that won’t stop us chasing wealth, riches, fame, and all its accouterments. For we make these things our idols, we put our hope in them, thinking that if only we get the right numbers for the lottery, the perfect job, or health plan, the perfect home or spouse and family, everything will be okay, and we can finally be content.
But idols can’t buy happiness, even if we could gain them all. But Solomon, the richest, wisest man of his day, tells us we can never get enough. Our hunger will never be removed, the idols will just hold out their empty promise… and we will line up to give them what we’ve worked so hard for in life
it’s like chasing the wind. Except that we do it all too often.
There is an option, there is a gift that God gives us, the result of the gift is seen in verse 19,
To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God.
He says it there, whether you are the CEO or the janitor, there are people who find contentment in their work and their life because they realize it is a gift of God.
That’s hard for us to understand, hard for us to deal with at times. Doesn’t God realize what He’s putting us through? Doesn’t he realize the pain, the grief, the anxiety that comes with our lot in life, this place He’s put us in? Doesn’t He know our struggles?
Yeah, he does, and that is why Solomon says finding contentment is a gift.
A supernatural gift, and ability that isn’t natural to us, but divine grace that is poured over us, allowing us to find the beauty in our lives, to find that elusive contentment.
A contentment that comes as we have faith in Him, as we grow in our trust and dependence on Him. As we go to him with our failures and sins, as we abandon the idols that cannot bring us contentment, and we hear Him, welcoming us into His presence.
That is what the cross and the resurrection is all about, to free us to live in the presence of God, a presence where all our troubles are taken from us, as God promises us life everlasting in His presence. For there, in the presence of God, we find how incredibly He loves us, a love we are told every week this year that we can’t understand, but that we can experience, and we do.
Contentment, true happiness, or having what in Hebrew can be translated best as “the beautiful life” comes not what we have in terms or worldly value. It comes from finding out we are loved, loved beyond measure. Loved even when we failed to love in return, as God picks us off the ground, saving us to Himself.
And knowing we are loved changes everything, adding color to a gray landscape caught in the darkness before dawn. Bringing life that is gloriously eternal to a life that was once going to end with nothing.
And with our eyes on Him, on the Lord who loves us, we come to know that life Is incredibly beautiful, a life in which we find contentment, a life in which we dwell in the incredible peace of God…..
And so I end with the prayer of blessing we began with….
May the grace, the mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in your life, that you find yourself dwelling, content in His presence! AMEN!
(if you would rather see the service, and hear the sermon, it is posted on my FB page and at Concordia.org_
Matters of the Heart
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May this grace, the love and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, show you how He is transforming your heart so that you can love Him and your neighbor! AMEN!
The Gospel? Really? ( O wait = there it is …Bacon is fine!)
Passages like the gospel always bring out my sense of irony.
I mean, we read these nine verses, talking about how our vile hearts defile us, and then I get to say, “This is the gospel of the Lord!”
Using less religious language, “This is the good news that Jesus has for you!”Yeah! Good news! You are defiled because your heart is vile! Not really a balance there between Law and Gospel…this passage is 100% law. Well, Bob found some good news in it, in our deacons and pastor study Monday night. There down within the parenthesis you see it, “Every kind of food is acceptable in God’s sight!” Which means bacon and shrimp and lobster are as acceptable as broccoli or kale or that horrid pumpkin spice stuff that is invading our stores! But how do we take a passage so focused on our failure, our sin, our being defiled, and find good news there? Where is the gospel in this gospel reading?Or put another way, while this passage tells us we really need help, how do we find it? Or are we always going to be defiled by our vile hearts?
We are defiled/vulgar (but that isn’t what you think it means_
Inigo Montoya, the famous swordsman in Princess Bride, uttered these works. “You keep using that word (inconceivable). I do not think it means what you think it means!”We’ve got a couple of those words in today’s reading. The first is the word defile. It sounds like it means rotten, disgusting, horrid, sickening, to use an old word, gross.
It isn’t actually bad as bad as it sounds, though, in reality, it is worse.
It is the opposite of holy, it means common. Which was the original definition of vulgar.
Using last week’s illustration about holiness, to be set apart for a special purpose, I said Missy’s guitar was meant to play music with, not to be used as a stepping stool to change a light bulb. You defile something when you take something that has a special purpose and use it for something… far less. Say instead of using it for playing beautiful music, Missy used her guitar to move fertilizer around her parent’s backyard. That would be defiling is, making it something used for something in common.
Or imagine you are going into surgery, and you see the surgeon opening his latest package from Amazon with the same scalpel.
Our hearts’ purpose had never been to be the place of origin for sin. We were meant to be set apart, our purpose to be the people, the children of God. We were set apart to dwell in His love, and love the family of God. Sin simply wrecks that, destroying our heart and soul, making us no better than any other biological creature, controlled by physical needs and desire for pleasure.
Sin changes us, from being the children of God, and that sin comes from a heart that doesn’t recognize God. And that sin finds its origin, not in the world, but in our hearts. That is what Jesus keeps coming back too…
It is not what is us that is wrong, it’s not the bacon, it is the heart that is a glutton that causes the desire to overeat. It’s not the beauty that causes the sin, it is the uncontrolled desire for pleasure.
It is what is within us, what controls our heart, and our will that causes us to engage in sin.
The gospel – a heart transplant The OT Promise
If this is true, then what hope exists for us, in this world so oppressed by the sin which has ensnared us? What hope is there for our friends, of children, our grandchildren? If all there is to life is living without a special purpose, without reason,
We find the law in the Gospel today, so let’s look back at the Old Testament to find the gospel. If sin originates in our hearts, then what is underlined in this passage is the only way to deal with it. Let’s read it together
26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
There is our answer, a cardiac transplant. To allow God to change our heart, from the one in which sin, passed down from Adam, and which dominates our heart. Changing our heart like he did with David, making us men and women after God’s own heart, men, and women who share His desire.
This is the promise made sure in us, as it was for Ethan last week, as God pours water on us, and cleanses us from all sin, and He makes us His people.
This new heart changes us… and enables us to do things that please God, it allows us to walk with Him, and relate to Him. For as He changes our heart, as He puts His Spirit in us, we return to being holy, a people are special to Him, for we are His children!
What does this mean?
How can we believe this, I mean, we still sin, don’t we?
How can sin still come from a heart that has been changed? From a heart that is supposed to beat in rhythm with God’s own heart? The simple answer is, that sin is the old us, and as we walk closer to God, depending on Him more and more, others may see the change in us, while we never do.
I think that’s so we never stop depending on God, so we learn to run to Him when we are tempted, so we learn to run to Him, assured of His mercy and forgiveness, so that we learn to run to the God who has poured water on us, cleansed us of sin, given us a new heart, put His Spirit within us…
and who promises this as well
6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 (NLT2) Amen!
A sermon from Concordia
Washed by Water with the Word:
Being placed in Christ’s care
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ result in your loving God, loving others, and letting yourself be loved by others.
Distracted by the object Lesson
I want you to look back at the epistle reading this morning.
I added the first verse, what is verse 21 of the chapter, to what the traditional reading is for today. I think it is necessary, as it sets the tone not just for what we have in today’s reading, but the relationships described in the next chapter. There the relationship between parents and children, and bosses and those who work for them are described in the same manner as the relationship between husband and wife in today’s reading.
I want us to read it together,
“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
There is the key to every relationship you will ever be in, caring for one another to the extent that we care for them, and are cared for by them.
It’s quite a challenge!
Especially if you leave that verse out, and start the reading with, “For wives, this means submit to your husband as to the LORD!”
Without verse 21, the moment I read verse 22 I lose everyone. All the guys would remember is that I said women should submit, and nothing else. (And the stupid ones can’t wait to tell their wives what pastor said!) I lost the women because they are all thinking, “Oh my gosh, that is all my husband will have heard!” And both would spend the rest of the service thinking about that!
Okay, that’s a big generalization. Not all of you would be distracted and stop listening.
When we drop verse 21 is that we omit the reason we do these things.
Which is because first of all, we adore Christ, and how He has submitted in order to care for us. And until we are in awe of that, the rest of this stuff is meaningless.
But once we adore Him, as we realize what He has done for us. As we realize how He has loved us and calls us to love as we are loved.
Let’s look at how Christ submitted, which is described at the end of verse 25,
He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.
What a concept. Submission as seen in doing what the other person needs, what the person needs in their lives. In this case, in our case, what Christ did was give up His life for us, that we could become holy and clean!
I have mentioned before what holiness Is, and what it isn’t. It isn’t perfection or being nicer and sinning less than other people. Though those who live holy lives as a side effect may indeed sin less, that is a side effect.
Holiness is best described as being set apart for a very specific purpose. Everything has its place and purpose in life and using something for something other than what it is intended for, well, that causes things to break, and be shattered. For example, I can’t use Missy’s guitar to stand on to change a lightbulb or use Kay’s violin for swatting a fly, could I?
How it affects us…
In the same way, we’ve been created, and in Christ, recreated for one specific purpose. To be in a special relationship with God, as we are created and recreated to be His people, and He is the God who loves us.
That is why the cleansing is needed, to ready us for the day when we stand before God, free of all guilt and shame, free of all things that stop us from being His glorious people.
Christ submits to cause this in us, as we are washed by the water and the word. As we are baptized, united to His death and His Resurrection as both Romans 6 and Colossians 2 describes.
That is why Jesus was born, and why He lived, teaching and healing, and died and rose again, so that we would be freed from all the problems that sin causes, free to be in that relationship just soaking in the love of God as we share in His glory (Col. 1:26-28)
This is what it is all about, assuring us of the work of Christ in our lives. Linking people to Christ’s death and resurrection as He promised when we are born again in baptism.
And our response…
As He washes us in water and the word, changing our lives so completely that we begin to live as He did, more concerned about those we love and are called to love than we are concerned for ourselves.
This submission in reverence to Christ becomes our new nature, our new life. Often in ways, we don’t see, it just happens.
As we walk with Jesus, as we see His love and are united to Him, as we become one with Him.
This is who we are, the people of God, who reflect the glory of His peace into this broken world.
So my friends, remain in Him, experience His love, and dwell in His peace which goes beyond all understanding, as He keeps our hearts and minds in Him! AMEN!
Two Encounters With Jesus
† Jesus, Son, Saviour †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause you to recognize Him, and bring to Him those who need to be made whole.
The Challenge to Evangelism?
In twenty years of ministry, one of the hardest things to see develop in a church is the attitude that we exist and serve to bring others to Christ. Some call this being missional, some call it recognizing our apostolate.
You see, each of us is sent by God, to live where we are, and to reflect the love of God to those who are broken and so desperately need His touch upon their lives.
The challenge is not in learning what to say, most of us have been taught how to explain our faith. I mean how many of us can say the Lord’s Prayer and the apostles’ creed without looking at the bulletin?
We know the teachings, the basic doctrine.
So what do we need? What will change us into being a church that reveals to people the Jesus who will make them whole?
The key to Concordia, or any other church, becoming an evangelistic church, is simple. We need to know how to act when we encounter Jesus.
For when our souls learn to recognize Jesus, when our hearts know we dwell in His presence, the intuitive thing to do will be to drag people to Jesus, to the places where we know they will encounter them.
In today’s gospel, there are three encounters with Jesus. Two will show us how we can react to seeing Him. And the third, well, we will get to it later.
Seeing Him, amazed and confused!
The first way people reacted to Jesus is seen in the boat. The apostles, tired and weary, still overwhelmed by their first mission trip, and the feeding of thousands, see Jesus.
They see him, the word there is from where we get “identify.” Picture someone routinely checking driver’s licenses, and then realizing the person in front of them is someone famous. This is how they reacted, and their hearts, confused by all of life, were described as too petrified to take it all in. We all get that way sometimes, as life throws a few curves at us. As we get overwhelmed, as we are struggling with what is going on, or with the storms in our lives.
The apostles were there, “hey” its Jesus. Oh no! It’s beyond natural! It’s something supernatural! It’s not something normal.
Uhm, yeah Peter and James and John. It’s Jesus! What did you expect from Him, if not the supernatural?
We don’t recognize Jesus all that well at times, or the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We struggle to see Him during the hard times, and we don’t completely get what God is up too when we see the miraculous happen.
Our hearts are petrified, they are too hard to take it all in. But can we change?
Knowing Him – and dragging people in bed to Him
The second group was the group that encountered Jesus when He got out of the boat. These people just didn’t identify Jesus, the Greek indicates they knew Him, they deeply knew Him, who He was, and what it meant for Him to be there.
Whereas the Apostles went crazy with fear, these people went crazy bringing every person they could find that was broken. They ran around, grabbing people on mattresses and carrying them, they even just knew that if they could encounter Jesus, even just touching the edge of their robes, it would change everything….
And it did.
They encountered Him in the everyday mess of life. Though they had no clue about the cross, or the grave, the resurrection, they were sure He was a messenger from God, and they knew he would do the supernatural. So they brought the broken, the needy, almost without thinking about it!
Imagine lying there on your bed, some guys storm in, and the next thing you know, you are being dragged to meet Jesus, no explanation given. As you encounter Jesus, something more occurs than just being healed. You are made holy, you are saved. You are made right, perfect.
That’s what happens when you reveal the love of God to someone, that is what happens when Jesus is revealed In your life, what occurs when you encounter Him.
So How? Close Encounter of the Third Kind
So how do we go from the first reaction to reacting like the evangelists in the second group of people? How do we go from going crazy because of trauma and stress, to being crazy trying to get people to come to Jesus? What hope is there for those of us who are overwhelmed, whose hearts are too hard to take it all in?
Because even the holiest and most devout of us can get overwhelmed by life.
I did this week, as the prayer list seemed to explode with people in need.
It isn’t within me to remember 24/7 that God is here, actively working in our lives, actively working through our lives. I get too distracted, I get too overwhelmed by the storm, I get too frustrated by the work that God sent me to do.
So how do we keep centered on Jesus? How do we stay aware of His presence in life?
One pastor wrote it this way,
Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering. (Pope Francis)
Remember where the disciples were heading with Jesus when they came back from their first mission trip? When they took off and found people chasing them on the shore, and then Jesus fed them?
They were heading off to a place to be with Jesus, to find time to pray, to find time for that personal encounter with God. To know Him enough to recognize Him.
Jesus did this, He went away for a time to talk to the Father, that was why He had to chase the boat, and if it is a blessing for Him, it is necessary for us.
Not just to please God, though it does. I need it, and you need it too. We need to be able to recognize God’s presence in our lives, to expect it, and the healing and peace that He brings. For that presence ties out theology to life, it makes what we say more than words.
To know Him, to encounter Him in prayer, and in the sacraments, they help us to now He is there. And so this week, God blessed me by helping me encounter Him more, as people took time out, and we shared in the Lord’s Supper together. Then when the storms hit, we know to look for Him, to expect His presence.
For from there, recognizing God at work is easier, knowing He is here, and He will make us whole is easier. For with Him revealed, we are still, and we know He is indeed God. And that He keeps us, our hearts and minds safe in Jesus. AMEN!
One New People!
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that you are always a member of God’s family, and may it compel you to find and bring in all the members of His family!
In the bulletin today, there is an interesting article, written by Chris. (that article posted below) Unfortunately, he is working this morning. He’s been part of our church for a little more than a year, yet it is hard to remember what it was like without his voice booming in the choir, without the smiles that come to his face as he realizes how much more God loves him than he can realize.
He thought, for the longest time that he was an outsider, and now, he knows he is part of the family of God, part of this community that God put here, that God’s love would be revealed to us all.
And that is exactly what Paul is talking about to the church in Corinth, as Paul explained that our salvation is “ours”, that is it brings together everyone, from those whose faith was only a fleshly thing and didn’t affect their hearts, and those of us who are considered the outsiders.
For God is carefully joining us together, united to Him and Him and through Him.
And that is something to be excited about, that is something to be in awe of, as we become aware of it.
Used to be’s
As I was writing this sermon, I kept thinking about all the movies where the outsiders challenged the “in-crowd”. Whether the movies and television shows were about high school and college, or about the military, or life in the workplace, or retirement, the movies are unending.
And they picture a reality. There are the outsiders, people like Chris and I, who don’t feel like we fit in, who are normally on the fringes, looking in, and wondering what it would be like to be part.
Except that the people Paul spoke of were really outsiders.
He mentions that they lived apart, that they were separated from God. They didn’t even really know He existed, never mind that He cared. If they came, they were excluded, foreigners and aliens that would never be allowed to become citizens of Israel, that would never be allowed to be in a relationship with God, the relationship described in the covenant, with the incredible promises that were given to those who were God’s people.
Talk about being outsiders!
And here I was thinking I didn’t belong.
There are many of us that feel that way, who struggle in life because we don’t feel we belong, doubt we ever could because we see all the things that hold us back!
But Paul refers to another group of those who didn’t get the blessing.
The insiders who don’t get it. He describes them as the circumcision, but people who show all the outward appearances of being in the family of God. Yet, it hasn’t affected their heart.
They don’t belong either, and they know it. Their hearts and lives are empty, the promises that belong to the people of God they don’t hear as theirs, even though they are told the promises. They cannot hear them or believe the promises are theirs.
And so they are like empty tombs or cups that have been cleansed on the outside. They know they aren’t any closer God than the outsiders, but they play the game well.
Good thing God loves us all!
And God in Christ has brought peace to us all,
In all the movies, the outsiders overwhelm the insiders, and some of the insiders end up siding with the victorious. The outsiders accomplish the task, become the heroes, defeat the bullies, show those in charge.
I’ve always liked those movies because of that. They gave me hope that somehow I could win at some point in my life.
I never would have thought of what Paul talks of here. That the neglected outsiders and the empty insiders could be made one, as Paul describes,
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
There it is, there is where we find unity, there is we find we belong, there we find an answer for the broken emptiness that we who grew up on insider feel.
In the eyes of the Lord who looks down on us, even today and pleads, “Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing… even as he claims the penalty for our sin.
And as He draws us to Him, He unites us, both those who weren’t a people and those who are. Those who weren’t in a covenant relationship, and those who were, but constantly failed to live in that relationship.
The outsiders aren’t outsiders anymore, for Christ has not just given them access, He has drawn them into Himself. The same of those inside whose hearts were so hard they couldn’t see or access the blessing of being the people of God. Yet now, in Christ, united to Him through the blood spilled at the cross, we are all His, carefully joined together as His home.
All sin is forgiven, all unrighteousness erased, all hostility left behind as God does something wonderful to us, and in us through us. We are one, nothing dividing us anymore. And so we can reach out to others that they think are outsiders, and help them know they are not.
We see this unity, this coming together here, as we come together to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, as one family one people, united in Christ….and we see it as God amazes us, using us all to bring more people to His cross, where they find this peace.
for together we have been brought peace by Christ Himself, a peace that goes beyond anything we can imagine, for it is this Christ has saved us to, as we dwell in Him. AMEN!
The letter sent to our church from one of its newest members
dear Concordia, Chris sent me this, and I think you all need to see what he sees in us. Because sometimes… we are so used to experiencing it, we forget the treasure we have!
I have spent the last few weeks taking a good look around the church at all the people inside and I have begun to see some amazing things that I hope I can relate to you.
Everyone at church has commented to me about the change they have seen in the past few months. I do feel different inside as I have shared in past emails and conversations with members of Concordia. But the changes are not my own. I am one who doesn’t like change. I never did and probably never will. My heart has started to heal, my mind has become more clearer, although I have gained a few pounds, I am healthier than I probably have ever been. But that’s getting away from what I feel I need to share right now.
I looked around church and I see not a German, or an Asian, or Portuguese, or swede. I see people at PEACE!. I see a glow in the many faces of GODS PEOPLE. What is this GLOW? To answer this question, first turn out your light and turn on a small desk lamp or a nightlight. You see all the light that’s coming from that small bulb? That GLOW? That’s not even a 1/10 of what I have seen in the faces of you all.
I see this in everyone no matter the age, sex, or beliefs about life (apart from our faith) ! From the newborn that cries sometimes during the sermon to the woman that sits across from me that’s in her 80s. I see that radiance that says “I know he is with me and is taken care of me.” And “I am loved”. I sit and I think about the brokenness and sometimes despair that people have experienced as of late. And I look at our prayer list at church every week. I get sad as more and more names get added on to it. Then I look up and I see a sanctuary full of PEACEFUL people. I have drug out that dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word but yet I still cannot grasp it. But yet I can recognize it and I’m seeing it every Sunday and Wednesday at bible study.
I know that some of you do look around during church for various reasons and maybe whisper. But next time you do, look and you will see the GLOW on peoples faces as you say “THE PEACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IS WITH YOU ALWAYS”
YOUR BROTHER IN CHRIST,
What Really Matters
2 Cor. 12:1-10
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize what matters in this life., which allows you to depend on His faithfulness. AMEN!
The Fable of the Animals
As Vicar Timothy and I talked about this passage this week, he told me an ancient Chinese fable.
Once upon a time, there was a gathering of the animals. And as they gathered along the seashore, they wanted to know about each other, what strengths they could bring to the community. There was a gracious grand eagle, who told of his ability to soar high over the land and see how glorious the kingdom was. There was a huge elephant, who talked about his power and strength that was greater than all of them so he could take on all the heavy jobs. A Blue whale, resting comfortably offshore, talked of being the largest animal in the ocean, and an ability to explore deeper than any other animal. One after another they went, telling of what they could do best.
Finally, there was Mr. Frog, who looked around and considered all the incredible things others could do. He didn’t do all that much, just sat on his lily pad and watched and observed and occasionally… caught a passing fly for dinner. You know, sort of like this! He thought his life was boring, and if that’s all he said he was, the other animals would mock him, or laugh, or perhaps ignore him. And so he came up with an odd talent of his and said he could transform himself into a much larger being. So he swallowed more an more air, extending out his belly and making it larger. He looked around and realized he didn’t impress anyone, so he refused to swallow his pride, swallowed more air and puffed himself up even more, and again, puffing himself up even more, and finally, he puffed himself up so much, his gut exploded, and body parts went all over the room.
Too Great – or the Ultimate martyr
We do this all the time, no matter the culture. We want others to think we are great, or what we do is great. We want to be admired, we want to be someone, even if only in our grandparents, or grandkids eyes. So we exaggerate a little. We feed our ego.
Or if we can’t be the greatest, we make ourselves out to be martyrs, those who sacrifice everything for others. I suffer more than you do, see how great I am at giving things up so you can have what you want? That too feeds our ego, if we serve more and harder, and are willing to sacrifice everything.
It’s to people like us, the frogs of the world that Paul writes to when he writes to Corinthians. Average people, but people that struggle with their identity, with their reputation.
Paul, you know, the apostle who spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the guy, who like John, had a revelation of Jesus that we’ve never read about, save in these few words. Paul, who wrote to the Philippians that all his earthly credentials were as valuable as the remains of the human digestive system. Here is saying that even visions from heaven are not worth it, because maybe they take attention from what really matters.
And then he says something really strange, the problems he has, the thorns in the flesh, the stresses, the brokenness, these things are a blessing. A blessing simply because when we are in the midst of the trauma when we are in the midst of the thorns. There, we hear God say these simple words,
My grace is all you need, Those were words that enabled Paul to boast, not about his strengths, not about his suffering, but his inabilities, his weakness, his brokenness. Because when he was at his worst, the power of God was able to be seen in Him.
My grace is all you need…..
If we could only understand that.
The incomplete fable
Going back to Timothy’s fable, it ends with the frog, blown out of shape, his body exploding from trying to live up to the hype, trying to live up to the pressure from blowing his value all out of proportion.
I asked him what he thought most people would think God would say if he walked up on the scene. He thought most people in the world, even Christians, would expect God to lecture the frog, or even judge and condemn him for doing all that damage to himself. For breaking the commandments, for making himself the idol that needed to be worshipped, for bearing false witness about himself. Mr. Frog, people would think – you have done yourself in.
That is not the God that tells us, “My grace is all you need” He gently picks up each part of us, and puts us back together, healing us. That is what grace is, not just forgiveness as in, “you aren’t going to get punished for this” but the grace that brings healing to whatever we’ve done, that restores us and makes us hole.
What our sin destroyed, God calls back into being. What sin has killed, God resurrects.
If he does that with our sin, He also does it with those things that challenge us in each day. The insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that exist as we try and serve those who need it, as we care for those who can’t seem to care for themselves, as we love those who consider themselves unlovable.
Beyond our Sin
If this is true regarding Christ saving us, it extends into all our life and all our ministry to others. We don’t need to be the one people praise, we don’t need to be the one everyone notices.
What matters is that people know we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that it will get us through the trials and pains that serving God too often results in, even if those challenges are as brutal as Paul mentions. For that is Paul’s context, in this letter. He doesn’t care where he ranks among the apostles, even though he could claim it.
He would rather have God’s people know that in every part of life, the thing that matters is God is there. If that is seen in his weakness, praise God. For then they know in their weakness, in their days where anxiety sets in, in those days when nothing gets done, or it seems two steps forward result in 10 steps back…
In those days, He is there, and our ministry, our caring for others, he does in ways far beyond anything we can imagine. For what really matters is that you know God’s love, and His mercy, and His faithfulness. Understand that… and you will be at peace.
God’s Faithful Love
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bring you peace and help you to realize how faithfully He loves you! And knowing this, may you learn to wait in hope, knowing He will never abandon you forever!
Fear of Abandonment
In that day, people had turned their back on God. They had chosen lives filled with immorality and deceit, lives that were so perverse that they didn’t even realize how badly they were enslaved to sin.
They were beginning to reap the consequences of their action, as families were divided, as their cities were being destroyed from within and without, as they were no longer a place where refugees came for hope, but a place where they fled from, not with any plan, but they simply had to “get away.
They were a people that were broken, much like many in our community in our nation, in our world today. There felt like they were alone – and that they were abandoned by God. This was reinforced by the shame that what they were experiencing, shame they knew they deserved because of their sin. They felt abandoned, without any hope…
And then a prophet spoke.
There would be healing, so that even in their grief, they would know not only that God was compassionate, they would experience that compassion. For God has promised that His love is faithful and unending, that His mercy, His compassion, His work forgiving and restoring people will never end.
And this faithful love of God endures today. It is why this church can be what we say it is, the place where people find healing in Christ while helping others heal.
Submitting to the yoke…together
I want to read verse 24 through 27 again,
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” 25 The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. 26 So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. 27 And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline: 28 Let them sit alone in silence beneath the LORD’s demands
While we look at 26 through 28 a little closer, please keep in mind the attitude expressed in 24 and 25, that we have hope, for God is our inheritance, that He is good to those who depend upon Him.
But in verse 26-28 we find some things that are… challenging, and if we think through them, disturbing.
The first is that it is good to wait quietly, (and the Hebrew includes the idea of expectantly) for God to rescue us. Let’s get past the word salvation and realize that this is a matter of spiritual life and death we are talking about.
This word salvation, getting down to simple thoughts, is about being rescued, about being picked up from the crap that we have gotten ourselves into, the trouble we have made for ourselves, the sin we committed, that leaves us broken, frustrated, and alone.
The issue of sin is the reason Jeremiah tells us that it is better for us to submit to a yoke of discipline at an early age. A little explanation there. A yoke was that which was put over a team of oxen or horses’ necks so that they could be used to work. It was a way of controlling them, but even more, a way of teaching and guiding them. For a new ox would be paired with one who was experienced and together they would get the job done,
In the same way, it may seem hard to think of God disciplining people, but He doesn’t leave us alone, for as He disciplines us with that yoke, he is also carrying it with us, doing the work, making sure we “get” it, never leaving us alone, even though we think we can’t bear it anymore.
And that is the way it is throughout our entire life. Even when we struggle, He is there, right beside us, working us through it, bringing us back on track. Far better to learn this as a young person, but it is never too late!
For we find as God guides us, even if it is with a “strong hand” that we not only endure, we are blessed by His presence, even if we don’t really enjoy His strong hand, and His correction.
His Mercies begin Fresh, they never cease
But this is what it means that His love is faithful, and it never ends. God’s love for you and it means that He will always, always do what is best for us. That is the nature of this love, this cHesed. It binds Him to us, His love for us demands He be faithful to us, even when that faithfulness isn’t easy, or comfortable, say for instance when it required the death of Jesus.
On the cross.
Because He loves us, and He will not ever give up on us, or abandon us. But we live forever with Him.
In this book of lament, there is one thing that still amazes me, and brings me to tears, not of grief, sorrow or shame.
It is verse 23, “His mercies begin afresh every morning.”
Every morning. No matter how bad I screwed up yesterday, no matter how shameful my sin, no matter how badly you think you shattered that relationship, that mercy, that bond that God has with you is there, as new and precious as it was when He cleansed you from sin in your baptism.
That is why we are told to remember our baptism every evening before we go to sleep, so that we may sleep without guilt and shame, and why we should begin every day thinking of what God promised us here, not just the forgiveness of sin, but the presence of the Holy Spirit, who will accompany you all day, guiding you, correcting you, comforting you.
That is the faithfulness that Jeremiah offered to the sin-ridden people of Israel
And it is the faithful love of God I promise you is there, for you this day.
God is with you, and because of that, you can know He will be merciful, He will forgive because He loves you. And like Jeremiah, as He is healing you, you can reach out to others who need healing.
For you can live with Him, knowing His incredible peace, now and forever!
Who Told You?
† In Jesus Name †
May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that instead of seeking a hiding place from God, you should seek the refuge you find in Him!
Who Told You?
In today’s first reading, the one from Genesis 3, there is a question that God asks Adam, one that is relevant to ask today.
Who told you?
Specifically, who told you that you were naked, literally that you were exposed, who told you that your sin was visible for all to see? ( who was all anyway?)
How did you find out you had sinned, how did you come across that information?
Where did this guilt come from that drives you to do things that are as unnatural as the sin you are trying to hide?
As I thought about this question, it came to me that you and I need to ask that question today as we have to deal with our own brokenness, with our own sin, and the damage it does to us.
For I think we’ve been taught about sin in such a way that we react to it as Adam did, hiding, getting defensive, shifting blame, all in response to the guilt that convicts us far more cruelly than God would.
So who told you that you were exposed, that your sin was something so horrible that you had to hide?
Who told you to pass the blame?
As Adam was anxiously dealing with the idea that God found him. As God asks Adam who told you that you were naked, did you eat of the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” While all that is scrambling his mind, he comes up with an answer.
Not my fault God! It’s her fault, you know, the one YOU gave me. She gave me the fruit, and because she is a blessing from you, I listened to her.
And since then, some men have avoided that problem, simply by not listening to their wives!
Of course, that causes other problems, and is just as sinful!
But who told Adam that the best way to deal with sin was to pass the blame? To hide behind Eve, rather than hiding behind a tree? Who told him that he wasn’t responsible for stopping Eve from falling into sin?
In trying to defend himself, to justify his own sin, Adam finds himself guilty of more than one sin, he finds himself shattering more relationships and allowing sin to get a better and better hold on his soul.
We do this all the time, and so does most of the world. When we fear getting caught when we know the guilt and shame and embarrassment that comes from doing something we know we shouldn’t do or refusing to do something we should.
Who told us to do that? Who told us that we needed to be defensive, that a defense even needed to be given? For that is as much of a lie as the temptation to sin was in the first place.
Yet Adam does it, as will Eve, who will follow the pattern and play the blame game, blaming the snake for deceiving her, for leading her into temptation.
Who told us to hide, to try and escape from God’s notice. Who told us to hide behind others, trying to get them to pay for our sin?
Who told you about Eve’s offspring?
I am not sure where we get this idea to hide from God, but we do it all the time, don’t we?
What we need to hear, is the last verse of the passage, for it tells us how sin is to be dealt with. It is the very first prophecy about Jesus in the Bible, what Luther called the “proto-gospel”.
You see it on the painting on the cover of the bulletin, as the offspring of Eve crushes Satan and all his minions on the cross. Even as the serpent sees Christ die, Satan’s efforts to dominate, to lead people away from God are crushed.
This is what we need to know! That sin, Satan, and death are crushed at the cross of Christ. We have been made free!
Seeking Refuge, not Hiding
There is something that drives us to hide from God, and from others, like our parents, our spouses, our children, even our pastor, when we sin.
It is ironic when we run from God when we hide behind someone else, I think what we are trying to do is to find a place of rest, a place where the effects of our sin are negated, and we think hiding will provide it. We don’t understand there is an option, there always has been.
We can seek refuge in God, instead of seeking a hiding place from Him.
Instead of laying the blame off on others, Christ will willingly, even joyfully remove it.
Seek refuge, not a hiding place.
Which means seek a refuge in God, we allow Him to remove all the guilt and shame, all the anxiety over punishment, all the anxiety of having our sinfulness exposed to the world.
For that was why He was looking for Adam and Eve, and until the cross, why He put them out of the garden. Not as a punishment, but to sustain them until Christ’s death and resurrection would cleanse them from sin, and they and all who trust and depend on God were given refuge, in the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.
For there we find life, and peace that is beyond compare or comprehension. For in Christ we are kept secure, our hearts and minds are in His possession. AMEN!!!
The Evidence is Within
2 Cor 4:5-12
† I.H.S. †
May the gifts of God’s mercy and peace become so integrated in your lives that everyone can see and praise God that Christ lives in you!
Can you keep going?
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see my first two churches. They are 115 miles from here, in a desert community called Yucca Valley. Saw a lot of friends at one of them, as we gathered to pay respects to a man I helped trained in ministry. He was diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks after he was installed as a pastor at his first church. Drove by the other, my very first church.
During the drive I back, I did a lot of thinking, about why I’ve been doing this twenty years as a pastor and years before that as a chaplain. I thought about my friend, who at 62 started seminary to become a pastor, and who died a week ago. I thought my own mentor that retired in that place whom I was able to see. And I thought about some of the challenges that fellow pastors and ministers are facing…
And I heard again these words of St Paul that were read this morning…
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
I’ve seen that statement become true not just in pastors’ lives, but Christians who live all over the world. Some face physical threats, in places like the Sudan, or China. Some are harassed and mocked because of their faith. Some face challenges in the inner city, or in churches that struggle to survive, both financially and because of conflict. I know a younger lady, with a master’s degree in International Business, who set that aide to be a missionary among the refugees in Turkey, while her sister is working at an orphanage school in Nigeria. I know people who serve in churches as teachers or setting up everything every Saturday for Sunday service, who volunteer thousands of hours.
Not one of them does it for the accolades or the applause. Just like the Apostle Paul in that passage – we don’t talk about ourselves. Those who know and follow Jesus serve each other and the world for Jesus sake.
Because God has shown the light of His glorious light into our hearts.
That is why all this is here… To help people know that…
In verse 6-7, Paul explains why people would embrace suffering,
. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
The light that invades the darkness…A darkness that affects our hearts and oppresses our very lives.
The darkness has a name, it is called sin.
What is this thing we call sin? Basically, It is failing to love God and hear His voice as He shows us how to live. It is failing to love Him and all those around us, helping them. even those that count themselves, enemies and adversaries, because God loves them and would invite them into this incredible relationship with Him, that would make them our family.
Sin can seem as little as a tiny lie or breaking an oath or gossiping about someone. It can seem as big as murder or theft. In every case, it works to destroy relationships, it plunges us into darkness.
This is the darkness God’s love shatters.
The love that we see in Jesus, as He died to remove all that darkness, all of the burdens, healing the relationships that have been broken.
That is what the cross is all about… the payment for the sin, but in order that we can be in fellowship with God, so that we walk with Him, not only during this life but eternally.
That is the reason for the forgiveness of sin, for the forgiveness of those times where we put ourselves first and forget God and others. Yet despite the damage we’ve done, and may still do, God is willing to deal with it, He has dealt with it. By dying on the cross for us, and rising from that death, so that even death cannot separate us from Him
This is what it means for Him to shine His glorious love into our lives, by revealing to us the love that erases the punishment, in the life and eternity, that we would have earned.
It is that glory that you see, in the lives of people that are willing to give up everything, fame, fortune, salaries, comfort, their own pride, even the right to be angry at someone who has hurt them. This is the love you see, as someone gives up their comfort, or even their retirement, to serve others, This is the glory you see, the evidence that Jesus lives in us, even in us broken down older folk.
God loves us, and wants to cleanse all of us and make us His own people. His own children. It is then we know the peace of God, which goes beyond all comprehension, as He guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!