Category Archives: Sermons

The Transfigurations: The Light Shines! A sermon on 2 Cor. 3:12-4:6

church at communion 2The Transfigurations: The Light Shines!

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6

† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ reveal to you the transformation God is working in your life, as the Holy Spirit causes you to shine with God’s glory!

Two transfigurations?

If you looked carefully at the title of the sermon, you would have seen that the word transfiguration is plural.  You would also see the reading the sermon is based on is not the reading of Jesus transfiguration, that amazing day that stunned Peter, James, and John as Christ was transfigured, right before their eyes. 

Can you imagine being there, having Jesus revealed in all of His glory?  Would you drop to the ground in awe, or would you put your foot in your mouth like Peter did?  John would speak of it later with these words,

 14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 (NLT)

But this sermon is not about the transfiguration, it is about the transfigurations.  It’s not based on the Gospel according to Mark, but what we call the second letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth.

It’s about the transfiguration the Holy Spirit is working on this morning, the transfiguration that is occurring to you and to me, as the glory of God is seen in our lives.

And because this is about our transfiguration, it, of course, it is about Christ being revealed to us, in all His glory as well.

What blinds you?

For the Jews in the time of Jesus and Paul, the Old Testament served as the veil which Paul describes.  Oddly enough it was voluntary at first, as people were so troubled by the glory and love of God that they couldn’t even look upon a reflection of the glory seen glowing in Moses.

They choose the veil, and they hung on to it as if seeing God, would overwhelm them.  Paul identifies that veil as the Law, the Old Covenant that allowed them to focus on all the law, on all the minutiae. On all the ways they can try to prove they are God’s choice, or on all the ways they fail and fail to see God’s mercy that is available to them.

But we have our veils as well, things that we think hide us from God, or at least His holiness, His glorious love from us.  Our veils are just as much a challenge, and we choose them and bind them about us.

The first veil is the one the Pharisees and Sadducees often wore.  It is the self-righteous we wear, that would melt away if we compared it to the glory of God.  We might consider ourselves good because we go to the best church, or because we have the better political beliefs, or because we don’t sin as blatantly as others.  We try to measure up to God’s law, well at least the commandments we haven’t overtly broken.  I mean, no one here murdered anyone this week, or committed adultery, or robbed anyone else…. Right?   ( I won’t mention “bear false witness- gossip” or “be envious of others homes, spouses, job, pets, – but I will project that on the screen!)

The other veil is self-condemnation, looking at all the rules and realizing that we can’t keep them, about living with the tears and shame that comes from hiding behind a veil, and realizing how we are wasting away in a prison of our own making. Thinking that because we can’t overcome sin and self-centeredness on our own, that this means we will never escape how it crushes us.

And we, who think we can hide behind a veil… often move from being self-righteous to being self-condemned, fluctuating day by day, sometimes far more frequent.

The veil stops us, but how can it be removed?

Only God Can And Has

It is removed when we trust in Jesus, as we depend upon Him to keep the promises made to us, about cleansing us from the sin we so hate.

This is the work of the Spirit, as we are turned to the Lord, as the Spirit takes away the veil, as Christ Jesus is revealed, and His work is made known.  As that happens, our lives are being changed,  our lives begin to reflect Christ, not as a mirror would, but something deeper.  For the Spirit begins to transfigure us, this is the same word that Mark uses in His gospel.   We are transfigured as we look to Christ, as we dwell in Him!  We begin to show His glory, as the Holy Spirit makes this happen!

We are changed for the glory of Christ didn’t just reflect from our lives, but as it made its mark there.  His glory, which we stand in awe of acts like a branding iron, forever marking us as His own people, a people who become more and more like Him. What a glorious thing!

It is why Paul says we can be bold, so assure of God welcoming us, His children, into His presence.  It is why we don’t give up, and why we strive to do things the right way, keeping this powerful word of God straight, undistorted, focused on Jesus, reveling in the fullness of His love!  It is so incredible, as Paul says, we don’t want to talk about ourselves, but rather the love of Jesus, and are willing to serve people to help them know that!

That is why Paul said we work so hard trying to reveal Jesus love to others. Hear His words again,

27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. Colossians 1:27 (NLT)

The assurance of sharing in His glory, the assurance of being loved by the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit!  For one with Christ, you are being changed into one who shines with His glory.  This is the transfigurations!  Rejoice and rest in His peace!  AMEN!

Knowledge and Love: A Sermon on 1 Cor. 1:8-13

Kids phoneKnowledge and Love

1 Corinthians 1:8-13

†  In Jesus Name

 

As you experience the length and width, the height and depth of God’s love for you, may your knowledge be tempered by the love that God creates in your life, as you live your life through Him

Given a choice.. which will you choose for those you love?

There is a cute picture floating around the internet, of one of these.

It says above it, “it doesn’t matter how old or mean you are, when w toddler hands you one of these and say’s ‘it’s for you’, you take it and start talking into it.”

I think that is pretty much true, and I am tempted to try it on some of you afterward.

It’s because we care for our children, or grandchildren, or nephews or nieces or students. Or in the case of the teachers, our students. We love them, and they can melt the hardest heart.

So I want to think of that kid, who could get you to answer one of these.  Close your eyes, picture them in your mind and answer this question.

If you could choose what would be said about them at the end of their lives, would you desire it to be said they were geniuses, or that they loved and cared for the people around them and made a difference in their lives?

Not a difficult decision, or at least I would hope that it wouldn’t it be!

And in our gospel reading this morning, this is what the apostle Paul is talking about. And it is what we are talking about this morning, Knowledge and love.

Importance versus building up the community?

If I may, I would like to use a personal example.  When I was younger, there was this game called trivial pursuit.  Some of you may be familiar with it.

I loved it!  And I was…. pretty good at it.  Enough so that I usually won and proved the apostle Paul correct when he said, knowledge makes us feel important.  Some translations phrase it a little differently.  Knowledge puffs us up talking about our egos, and our minds.  And then one day, I looked at the name of the game again…

Trivial Pursuit.  What I was doing was chasing after what was trivial, what was meaningless.  And in the end, about all odd bits of knowledge were good for was putting little pieces of plastic inside another piece of plastic and annoying some friends.

While there is a lot of knowledge that isn’t trivial, there are enough examples of people who think they are more important than others because they have the knowledge given to them.  I won’t list the occupations, but I bet you are thinking of one or two professions that act that way.  Or you see yourself in this.

That is why Paul will say in chapter 13 if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 (NLT)

Instead of focusing on knowledge, Paul tells us it is love that builds the house, in this translation, it translates the house as church.  But the concept works the same in the church, in the home, or in the community we call home.

In each, in our homes, in our church, in our community, it is love is what binds us together, it is love that makes that bond strong and causes us to grow as a family.

The challenge is loving others the way we love the kid handing us the phone.

In the example Paul uses, he talks about how this love changes us, using the example of food offered to idols.

For him, with all the knowledge of one who was a leading Jewish theologian and became the greatest of Christian pastor-theologians, the idea of food offered to idols was silly.

The idols were carved pieces of wood or rock, metal fashioned to look like how man imagined God to be. And because there was no inherent power in them, because they weren’t gods, eating the food someone else dedicated to them was of no great importance.

But it was of great importance to those who didn’t know different.  They saw the world as a cosmic battle between these false gods and the One True God who came to us, love us and died for us.

And while knowledge would say debate with them and show them the truth, love said that we needed to remember they weren’t ready for to hear that; be patient.  Winning the argument isn’t worth driving them from Jesus. We can go without being proved right in the small stuff, we can even go without that piece of bacon wrapped shrimp or stuffed pork chops rather than cause them to stumble and do what they thought was wrong.

It’s not worth the fight, it’s not worth the debate.  Such debates can destroy faith, but love puts it in the correct priority… and eventually, love will straighten it all out.

How it happens

But how do we love others, especially when we some people are just darn difficult to love?  And how do we teach our children, grandchildren, students and other children we come into contact with to love like Jesus loved us?

The answer on how to love like that, how to make a difference in someone else’s life isn’t found in some instruction manual, it isn’t found in a series of podcasts or videos.

It is found in knowing that we are God, as Paul said,

There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live.

And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

It is found in living for and in God that we find the love that changes us.  It forgives and removes our sin, and makes us holy, set apart to love God, to love His people.  It is something that is realized more than learned, something that we spend our life growing in, and as He changes us, we love, even those others see as unlovable.

For that is what knowing God’s love does, it changes us, and it gives us hope in the middle of what seems a lost and broken world.  That is why we are here, and why we have a place for kids, who will hand us a phone, and learn from us how to love.  As we learn it from God our Father.  AMEN!

He Makes His Home with US! A Sermon on John 1:1-14


Ratzinger on the IncarnationHis Presence Blesses Us as

He Makes His home among us

John 1:1-14

† In Jesus Name †

May you realize the joy and peace God gives you, as Jesus comes and makes His home, right here, with you!

Home for the Holidays

Maybe it is a certain smell, or perhaps an ornament you take out of the box, or it’s a Christmas Carol being sung in a certain way, but most of us have something that takes us back “Home” for the holidays.  You know, that place that exists in time, that defines what your heart knows as being home, as life is perfect.

For me, it is sitting at the piano that now sits in my aunt’s basement, much as it sat in my grandfather’s basement. It was there, playing Adeste Fideles and the First Noel that was a moment I define as being “home”. There are things that remind us of those precious days. And for those who are blessed, you can find more than one example of them.  Maybe it is this year that you will find the scene of home that will etch itself in your memory as being “home for the holidays” The time where being with friends and family when peace reigned and was so real

In our gospel reading this morning, we see an incredible statement about being home.

So Jesus became human, and made his home among us.

God became man and found a place to live. Here, among us.

Not just with the apostles back in the day, but here, with you and me.  He in our lives, where He still lives and reigns today.

In these incredible deep and complex words that start John’s sharing of the good news of Jesus, these words are the ones we most need to hear, the words that are the most mind-blowing, the hardest to make sense of,

Jesus became man, and made His home among us.

The Theology.

There is a lot in the passage, from the teaching about the Trinity to the description of the world rejecting Him.  Theologically, we could spend weeks going over the first five verses.  And the “who is God?” questions would still not find answers to satisfy everyone.

The next few verses, talking about some not recognizing and rejecting him, while others would be born again, not a physical birth but something more incredible, being born as children of God.
Theologians have talked and argued and wrote about such things since the first century.  Words longer my arm have been used by experts to determine exactly how God did what He didn’t describe.

These verses are all important – please understand me, we have to struggle with them, we need to work them, but tonight, we need to realize this.

God came and made His home among us.
His Home.

Other translations use the word dwelt with us, and that isn’t a horrid translation, but it doesn’t quite give the passage the full incredible joy that should overflow as we hear this.

First, because the word isn’t just dwelt, it is to tabernacle, to set up a residence with us.  For someone in the first century, this was setting up the permanent tent residences in which you would live.  It is setting up a home.

There is another sense to this, the idea that the verb is aorist tense.  It doesn’t have a definite time period, and in this case, not a specific end.  It’s not just about the day Jesus was born, or end the day He was crucified and died.

What this means is that we can say this.  Even as He came and made His home among the apostles, He is still coming and making His home among us.

And like the apostles, we behold His glory, we get caught up in His love, we find healing for our hearts and souls in His mercy, we find hope for our tomorrows, for He is present, and promises to never leave or forsake us.

He is here. He has made His home in our lives.

This is the place He calls home.

As we come to the altar, may you realize the glory you behold and the peace of God that will make you realize that you are home with God!  AMEN!

His Presence Blesses Us, as He Makes Us Holy! A Sermon on 1 Thes. 5

church at communion 2His Presence Blesses Us, as

He Makes us Holy!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

 In Jesus Name

 The Blessing

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ strengthen your dependence on Him, as God fulfills His promise to make you Holy!

 How many of you…

A serious question to start with this morning.  

How many of you are always, and I mean always, joyful?

Honestly?

How about this one?

How many of you never stop praying? Every moment, of every day?

And how many of you can you say you are thankful for everything God is doing in your life and has done in the last six months?

Has anyone been able to answer all of those questions positively?

I couldn’t, either.

Which is why the apostle Paul urges us to do so if it was common to do, he wouldn’t be urging his readers then, or us now, to do so.

But rather than hear him urging us to do so, because he knows we will benefit from it, what we usually hear just causes us guilt, and maybe some shame.

Why can’t I do what God wants me to do, our mind says, why can’t I be the person who knows joy every moment, the person who is always thankful, the person who always trusts God and gives to him all that worries us in prayer?

And so what is good advice turns into something we feel we can’t live up to…

And what about this? (Stifling the Spirit)

Then there is the challenge that Paul presents in verse 19, where it talks of not stifling or quenching the Holy Spirit.

The word there in Greek means to suck dry, to dampen, to take all the punch out of it.

It explains it a little clearer in the next verses, as we see the challenge to not dismiss those who claim to speak for God but to test them.

To see if they speak what is Godly and scriptural, what is good.

Does it teach what scripture says, to first love God and then love our neighbor?

Does it work within the guidelines God sets up in the Decalogue, the ten commandments, or in Philippians where Paul instructs us to Philippians 4,

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)

If it fits within those guidelines – this is good, hold on to it, hold onto it!

Grasp it!

Don’t let go.

If it pulls you away from God if it causes you to put yourself before showing love and mercy to others, if it is contrary to any of God’s commands, then drop it.

For it is bad, it is evil.

That is the simple test – if it helps you know God and shows love to your neighbor – hang on to it.  If it doesn’t completely stay away from it.

And if you do that – living joyfully, giving all your burdens and anxieties to God, and being thankful in all things becomes something that you can begin to do, for nothing is impeding the work of the Holy Spirit!

Here is where it happens!

If we struggle to do the things we should do as God’s people, then we need help.

The Holy Spirit provides that help and more, as the Apostle Paul also states in this passage.

“Now may the God of peace make you holy, in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again!”

You see, it is God who saves us, who makes us, and keeps us blameless

This is the blessing that comes to those who trust in God and are baptized, as we are united to Jesus at His death for us on the cross, and with His resurrection.

Not just forgiving our sins once, and leaving it up to us, but giving us the promise that in Him, every sin is forgiven.

That as James writes, we can confess our sin and know He is faithful to forgive sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

It is that ongoing ministry of God, His keeping us blameless through His words, through remembering the promises of our baptism, to the promises here as we commune with Him at the altar, that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

You see, being holy, isn’t about being perfect.

We can try.

We must try!

But holy at its root, means to be set apart.

If Dr. Larry in his chemistry lab doesn’t set apart certain pieces of equipment to deal with this chemical and not others, explosive things might happen!

For example, his students could accidentally make nitro-glycerin.

(By the way, that is why Pastor Parker was never allowed to take chemistry!)

Certain things need to be set apart for everyone’s good.

That setting something apart is what is at the meaning of the word “holy.”

and the other word which translates from the same Greek word, “sanctification.”

God makes us holy, in every way, as the Spirit brings us to life in Jesus, and then keeps us holy, giving us the desire for that relationship.

When we do sin, the Spirit reminds us and urges us to run to God and ask for forgiveness, depending on His promises.

This is how God makes us holy, His special people.

As He does so, we are thankful to Him for all He does, assured that He loves us

We learn to continually pray, giving to Him all that concerns us in prayer, all that worries us, all that grieves us.

And we live in joy, knowing the love and mercy and peace of our God.

For He has promised, and God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful!  AMEN!

One more time, hear the blessing and promise the Apostle Peter gave us today,

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

Amen?  AMEN!

Blessed to Be in His Presence: Free from Blame and made Partners: An Advent Sermon on 1 Cor 1

church at communion 2We Are Blessed to Be in His Presence

Free from Blame and Made His Partners!

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

  I.H.S

 As the Apostle Paul desired for the Corinthians, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace!

 Thank God you belong to Jesus!

An observation I heard more times than I could count yesterday is one familiar.

“How do people get through this without Jesus?”

“How does the secular world deal with this?

And to be honest, I don’t know, but I have an answer to their problem, at the end of this message.

So when I got back to church yesterday, and I looked again at the passage, what caught my eye more than it did before was Paul giving thanks to God for his people and the grace He’s given, for they belong to Jesus.

And so memories of after the service came back, so many of your faces, resonating with these words of Paul.

I have to thank God that it the grace He has given so evident, as is that you belong to Jesus, you are His!  All of the words of comfort you offer each other confirms it, as we seemingly do it month after month, year after year.  The gospel I share with you from up here, or in the MPR, I get to see them lived out far more clearly, as the riches of God’s gifts is seen in you.
I don’t have to prove His presence is true, you know that, even if you are little hazy about all the details, we cannot deny that God carries us in times like these.

Look at what we do, this isn’t possibly without God’s work being true

I don’t know how often you think about Jesus coming back, never mind are eagerly waiting for His return.  Most of the time for me, it is a prayer of desperation, a prayer because I don’t know how we are going to cope any longer, or dare I say, how much more of a challenging life we can endure. 

That’s the same kind of feeling Isaiah had in the Old Testament, when he cried, Lord, just burst open the heavens and come down!!!!

We’re waiting Lord!  Just rip open those skies and get down here!

I mean what are you waiting for Lord?

We’re not the first people to struggle, and we aren’t the only people who think the struggle’s gone on long enough.  According to the Book of Revelation, even those in heaven, those who testified to God’s love cry out, “How long, O Holy and true Lord, how long until the suffering is dealt with?”  (Rev. 6:10)

God’s answer to them is rest a little longer, the number of your brothers and sisters aren’t complete.  Remember that please.  That the number isn’t complete….

The church is like Maxwell house….

So how do we endure all the suffering?  All the pain that sin causes in our lives?  If God won’t come and take us all home right now, how will we get past tomorrow?

How can we endure to the end?  How will we be strong and faithful from this moment until Christ returns?

While Jesus isn’t coming back for the final judgment yet, He promised that God would never abandon us, that He would never leave us alone.  Here he promises it again,

“He will keep you strong to the end,”

But it doesn’t end there, there is more , “so you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus returns”

Hear that guys?  All blame!  By guys I was talking to the men who are to blame for everything!  You know who you are!

Seriously, that promise is twofold.  The first is that God will personally sustain us, and keep us strong until Jesus returns.  The second is that we will be blameless – completely righteous, innocent of all sin, completely cleansed by God, our soul completely healed.

What we can’t do, He did already.  For our strength comes from our being untied to Jesus’ death and resurrection in our baptism, in God claiming us as His, for it is when we were united to Jesus that we became His, new creatures, that He fully cares for and sustains.

Because of Him we were sinners, and now we are forgiven, righteous, holy, and this is how Jesus will find us, the very work He did on the cross made it possible, and made it happen

Partnership with Christ – from His death till He comes again

So let me bring back up the idea of how people get through this life without knowing God.

It’s not supposed to be that way, and in fact, even as God planned for us to be blameless and holy, and strong to the last drop, he planned for those people who didn’t know His comfort.

Just as the Father sent Jesus to us, Jesus sends us to them.

You heard me right, that’s what the idea the Apostle is getting to, when he says, “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what He says, and he has invited you into partnership with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Our partnership, our communion, our fellowship with Jesus is so complete, we share in His vocation of Savior.  Not that we are crucified for their sins, but they hear about that incredible act of love, and the resurrection through us.  They hear of the love of God that will sustain us through this seemingly broken, shattered life.

And our words will confirm the work of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Him, as we share the hope we have.

They don’t have to go through this life without Christ, and certainly, we know that God doesn’t desire that they go through life without hope, and for that reason, He isn’t come back yet…

You and I are Jesus partners, have been since our baptism, and through us, through the gospel, we share with family and friends, they will know that God is with them as well…

And then on the days when they like us are broken and exhausted, or tire of crying, and dealing with the guilt and shame of sin, they will know the power and beauty and strength and peace found in these words,

The Lord, who loves you, is with you!

AMEN!

Why Ministry Is So Challenging…..

Mark Jenning's Madonna

A Painting of Jesus and Mary by my friend Mark Jennings. You can find all his art (and order copies) at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/mark-jennings.html

A devotional thought for our seemingly broken days…

14  “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel— one from this town and two from that family— from wherever you are scattered. 15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)

To serve the people of God is to accompany them day after day, announcing God’s salvation and not get lost in pursuing an unreachable dream.

“We tell people the same exact thing, week after week, using different words,” Words from Pastor Mark Jennings while discussing the art of preaching, and ministry. 

The older I get, the more I observe pastors and those training to be pastors, the more I am convinced of this. 

Being a pastor is an art, not a science.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about writing a sermon, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper and savoring every word of the liturgy, or holding the hand of a dear shut-in, who health has separated from her church family and friends.  It doesn’t matter whether it is shepherding the leadership of the church or dealing with a pre-school chapel (which I still think is the most challenging of ministerial roles!)

This is an art, an ever-changing masterpiece with the constant of diversity.  Every situation, every step alongside those we care for will be different. 

This is not a science, with simple rules and formulas and patterns to follow. This is art, requiring a sense of vision requiring a sense of seeing the final picture before the brush strokes are applied before the notes are heard before words are attached to the page. 

That makes it a challenge far greater than most of us who serve as pastors and priests, deacons and others in ministry.  A challenge that I believe is a necessity, a challenge that is our greatest blessing.

For then, we can’t depend just on our mind, for it will lock down on the Greek and Hebrew, or it will turn the experiences of those who have gone before us into rules and man-made traditions that are inviolate. Just because John Chrysostom, or Franz Pieper Robert Schuler or Rick Warren did something, that doesn’t mean it can or should be repeated in our place, in our situation. 

We have to consider who we are walking beside, whom it is God is putting into the masterpiece that is His kingdom, that is His church. As a mentor used to say, we need as much time studying and exegeting them as we do the text in preparing a sermon.   We need to know them, to know their stories, we need to see how God uses their hurts to give them halos, their scars to be the stars that guide them to the Jesus, and the Father. 

This is why ministering to people is an art, helping them realize the same thing, over and over, to reveal to them the presence of God in their lives.  helping them realize that HIs presence is drawing them closer so that they can experience His mercy, His love, His peace.  That’s why my friend and fellow pastor said, we give them the same message, the same sermons, the same lessons, the same counsel, just using different words.  He was an incredible artist and a pastor who realized his role was that of an artist.

We aren’t even the artists, we are just the ones who get to see Him at work, we are the servants whom He has shared His vision with, the vision of the redemption of mankind.

This is what we do,…walking beside them, focusing on God’s work in their lives. and realizing he is doing the same in ours.

My friends, when you cry, “Lord, have mercy,” do so, knowing that the Lord is with you!  

AMEN!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

No Time For Complacency! A sermon on Zephaniah 1:7-8

No Time For Complacency

Zephaniah 1:7-18

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the Gifts of Serenity and Peace of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ not just sustain you in these days, but empower and drive you from being complacent about sin, to reconcile those divided by it.

Did you come here to hear that reading?

What were you thinking of, as you heard the Old Testament reading from Zephaniah this morning?  Was it what you expected to hear, what you thought about when you getting ready to come to church?

Anyone like the picture on the cover?  Although it is there, not sure many of you saw the word “hope” there!

This is a hard reading, for sure, and I wonder how many of us truly agreed with Bob as we said “Thanks be to God!”, to his “this is the word of the LORD!”

Even as we struggle with this, we have to realize that the day of the Lord is near, and that means there is, no time for complacency.

For while that day is one we hope for, for others it will be terrifying.

Being sucked into the dregs of Life (Complacency)

This idea of complacency in the Old Testament has an interesting word picture.  It is a word picture of someone so drunk that they do not notice they are drinking the bottom of the barrel of wine, what are called the dregs.

They are so drunk they do not notice they are drinking wine that is thicker than soup, and it causes them to be even more inebriated, even more, unaware of the situation around them.  They are simply numb to reality, unaware of what they are witnessing, unable to even care.

While we don’t realize it, that is the power of sin over us.

It makes us numb, unaware of those around us, unable to care for them, as long as we are able to continue in the sin.  Like the alcoholic who doesn’t realize the damage he is doing to himself and to others, sin slowly and surely claims those who are victim to it, slowly demanding that we give ourselves into it more and more.

You see, sin is the strongest addiction out there, and it doesn’t matter the sin!

That is what scripture is talking about when it talks about God searching through Jerusalem, searching through people that claim to be his, people that are so drunk in their sin that they don’t recognize His presence.

Please understand – God isn’t just searching out these sinners just in the world, but here, among His people.

And for those complacent in their sin, hear again what waits,

14  “That terrible day of the LORD is near. Swiftly it comes— a day of bitter tears, a day when even strong men will cry out. 15  It will be a day when the LORD’s anger is poured out— a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16  a day of trumpet calls and battle cries. Down go the walled cities and the strongest battlements! 17  “Because you have sinned against the LORD, I will make you grope around like the blind. Your blood will be poured into the dust, and your bodies will lie rotting on the ground.” Zephaniah 1:14-17 (NLT)

This is the word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God?

For judging us this harshly for our sin?

The Gospel of Jealousy

O wait, darn it, I forgot the last verse, the place where we will find not just the terror, but the hope. It’s a bit hidden, the gospel in the passage, so look closely

18  Your silver and gold will not save you on that day of the LORD’s anger. For the whole land will be devoured by the fire of his jealousy. He will make a terrifying end of all the people on earth. Zephaniah 1:18 (NLT)

 Do you see the hope there?  Right in the middle of that verse….

It might not be obvious at first, see it there?

In the fire of His jealousy, we see hope, right when our silver and gold does no good, when we can’t purchase our salvation, there is hope.

You see, God is jealous enough to burn it all up, yet when we take prophecy as a whole, and not simply focus on one passage, we realize that this too must be considered,

9  I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)

Throughout scripture, we hear about God’s jealousy, that God desires to make for Himself a people.  But God’s way of doing that is incredible, for He purifies us, He cleanses us, even as He burns off the impurities.

Remember John the Baptist promised this when He said,

“But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:11 (NLT)

The fire of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ at the cross, all of His anger, all of His rage, and those of us in Christ were raised with Him when God broke the power of both sin and death.

Even are we can’t be complacent about our sin, we can’t be complacent about the sin of others.  Not just about warning them about the sin, but we need to reconcile them to God!  We need to help them wake up from their complacency that sin causes. We need to give them the hope that will see them through the fire to the resurrection, assured by the promise of Jesus.
That is why we are here, and knowing God is near, let us not fall into complacency, but rather hear God say that we are His people, while we rejoice that He is our God…and that He brings us through the fire, cleansed, holy, pure, and His.  AMEN!

What are you jealous about? A sermon on Matthew 21:1-16a

church at communion 2What Are You Jealous About?

Matt 21:1-16a

I.H.S.

 As you see the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus revealed in your life, may it cause great joy, such joy that you are completely content with all God has provided!!

Jealousy, the hidden beast

I can’t remember whose party it was, or the names of the guilty or innocent, but today’s parable of the vineyard brought it back to my memory.

There were two boys, about the same age, maybe somewhere between 3 and 5.  One came from a richer family and had all the stuff. The other one, from a much poorer family. They were at the same gathering and were opening up gifts.  Maybe it was Christmas, I don’t remember.

I just remember the richer kid taking the presents of the poorer kid because he wasn’t satisfied with his own.  So the poorer child, using his imagination, began to play with the boxes the gifts came in, turning them into magical toys with his imagination.  The rich kid came along again and took the boxes to play with.  So, the poor kid used the wrapping paper out of the trash bag.  Again, the rich kid, seeing the poor kid having more fun, tried to take the wrapping paper away.

Jealousy is an ugly thing.  We recognize it with other terms, those like envy, and coveting.

We see it in the parable of the vineyard, where a merciful landowner decides to bless those who hadn’t found a day’s worth of work with a day’s pay.  Even though the people who worked all day got the amount they negotiated for, the amount they worked hard all day expecting to get, they cried out, “it’s not fair!”

Like the rich kid never satisfied as long as the poor kid had fun, they couldn’t find satisfaction with the blessings of another person.

And they aren’t the only ones!

Could we be jealous of a baptism?  They why lesser providence?

Last week, we got to witness David Herrera III’s baptism.

Can you imagine someone grumbling about that?  Someone saying, hey, why is that child getting baptized, we should save that act, those moments in the service for someone who deserves those blessings!  Can we imagine someone saying, no let’s never baptized anyone else, no one who isn’t baptized deserves to be!

Why in the world would anyone be jealous of God blessing another person?  Of Him calling another person to be one of His very own people?

Can jealousy be that consuming?  Can envy be so evil as to even demand that someone not is blessed by God?  The Jewish people would be that way, ignoring all the promises of how us Gentiles would be saved by God.

That is what jealousy does, and if we shouldn’t be jealous of something as incredible as salvation, should we be envious of the little things God blesses us with in life?

What is it in us that makes us want to be blessed more than our neighbor?  What is it that thinks they challenges aren’t as tough, that somehow, we would be more content with their lives, rather than the lives God has gifted us with?

**Can’t we find contentment with our salvation, and then realize that with that comes not only more than we deserve, but more than we desire?

You see that is the ultimate question, can we be content with our salvation, and simply trust God’s sense of what is just and right for the rest?

The deal is enough

As you look at the discontentment of these people that think they deserved what they earned, we need to see the work of the Lord, of the Landowner.

The first thing we see is that he went out to seek out these people.  We hear the word hire and then the word sent, but the words have a bit more than that to them.

The word for hire comes from the word engage, to embrace these people.  When he sends them out to work – he doesn’t send out hirelings, the word there is apostello – he sends them out with responsibility, with a mission.

We begin to see that more clearly, as all day long he recruits and engages these workers, giving them hope and a reason for the day, even when there wasn’t a hope when all around them seemed worthless when they seemed worthless.

The Landowner’s/Lord’s mission was not about hiring these people, it was about providing for them.

It was about benevolence, about grace, about caring for people.

That’s why the Landowner went into town, it is why the Lord comes to earth, and why He will never abandon us but always, always be with us.

When Pastor Mark, and deacons Bob and Mike and I study passages like this together, one of the questions we ask is, where in this passage is Christ crucified?  Where does the relationship get restored between God and man.

Sometimes it is easy to see in a passage, sometimes it takes some time to think through.

In this passage, the cross is seen in this phrase,: 1  “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out.  The cross is seen in his engaging, in his embrace of the people he hires, whether they are those that believe and work hard from the beginning or those that spend the last moments of the day called by Him.  It is in His relentless pursuit of hiring people, of calling them to receive the wage of His day, the wage they didn’t really have a right to, unless He called them.

This is the deepest lesson of grace, the greatest of entitlements that God determines we all should receive.  That we would know His love, that we could share with Him eternity.

One last thought, for years I thought the good kid was the poor one, the one who found joy no matter what.  I think, as I look at this passage, the child was wrong as well.  What he had, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, he needed to share with his cousin.  For what he had was joy, and that was what his cousin wanted more than anything.

May we share our joy, the joy that comes from knowing the peace of God because we are found engaged, embraced by Jesus.  And no one can steal that joy away.  For He keeps, He guards, our hearts, and souls, for they are His, bought with the price of His blood.

AMEN!!!

The Key to Good Relationships. A sermon on Genesis 50:15-21

church at communion 2The Key to Good Relationships

Gen 50:15-21

 † I.H.S. †

 May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in our lives, that we are certain that ALL things God intends for good.

You offended who?

Imagine if you offended someone with a lot of power.  Say, the head of the CIA, or one of the leaders of the Mafia.  Or to make it truly scary, the guy you cut off this morning, he’s waiting for you outside, and he is the head interrogator… Err… analyst for the IRS.

Can you imagine their fear the eleven brothers had that we heard about in the reading from Exodus, the person they offended had so much power that Joseph could have made them and their family disappear?

They were so afraid of him that they didn’t even go to beg for their lives themselves, they delegated that task to someone, coming up with a whopper of a story.

I can imagine the messenger trying to “sell it” to Joseph.

“Uhm, your brothers sent me… and uhm… they wanted me to tell you that your dad, uhm…. Before he died instructed them to tell you… you had to forgive them all that cruel stuff they did to you. Uhm like mocking you and tossing you into the pit, and saying they were going to kill you and then selling you to some passing merchants.

Uhm yeah, Mr. Prime Minister sir, yeah that’s the message they told me to say, uhm… please don’t kill the messenger?!?”

So afraid were they, that they didn’t get the message their brother told them in chapter 45, the same message he would give them here….

The same message we need to hear when we screw up, for it is the key to having good relationships, and really when one is broken, the only way to see those relationships reconciled, and healed.

Why the tears brother?

I usually look at this passage from Joseph’s perspective.  But today, I want to see it from the brother’s perspective.  There are people who have offended us, and that is a challenge, but do we ever think that someone we’ve offended would forgive us?

If we were to see the person we’ve offended cry as Joseph did, if we were to see them break down and weep, what would be going through our minds?

How would we understand his sobbing?  Would we think he was re-living the pain, the agony, the loneliness we caused?  Would his breakdown leave us more anxious, more worried, more afraid of what he would do?
It must have had an effect on them, for they no longer talked of being the servants of their father’s God.

They fell at Joseph’s feet and did something amazing.

They said they were his slaves.  That he had complete power of their lives, as they took a position of incredible humility… and still they were unable to think of the idea of reconciliation, or true forgiveness.

They are like the prodigal son, eating the same food as the pigs he fed, because there was nothing else.  He didn’t expect his Father would forgive him, but maybe he would accept him as a hired hand, or even a slave.

and maybe that person we offended would recognize we were people again.  They might not ever be friends again, but maybe they wouldn’t be actively hostile toward us?

Maybe?

The power of knowing God

I think the reason they struggled with reconciling broken relationships is they were missing something.

They didn’t understand how God worked, because they never looked for what God was doing.  They didn’t understand what Joseph had seen in Potiphar’s house, or in the jails, the very distinct and certain path God had planned.

Joseph couldn’t have become prime minister without meeting the cup bearer in jail, he couldn’t have bene there if he hadn’t been a slave in Potiphar’s house, he couldn’t have been sold to Potiphar unless his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery in the first place.

Each step, miraculously led to the next, and what was planned for evil God intended to use for good.
The other offense.

Joseph knew the heart of God, the heart of the Lord whom we have offended.

For our sins, much more numerous than those of the eleven brothers, offend Him.  He’s created us, given us a simple task of loving Him and each other, and we fail too often.  And like Joseph’s brothers, is there any way we could ever believe He would cry over our betrayal?

That somehow, God could plan for what we intended that was unloving and sinful to somehow end up being for good?

Yet in cross, where Jesus died to ensure our forgiveness, we see the ultimate version of what Joseph knew.  He knew the heart of God, and that God would always call us back to Him.  Perhaps he listened to his father, a pretty notorious sinner who even wrestled with God, fighting for a blessing.  Or remembered the stories of his grandfather and great grandfather, whom God would use and make promises to, even as they weren’t always faithful.

God always plans to call us back, to renew and heal us from our sin.  He will care for us as Joseph cared for his brothers, even comforting us and reassuring us about the promises He makes to us, the promise made to little David this morning.
The promise that is renewed here, when we are given the body and blood of Jesus, the blood spilled out as man did the ultimate evil, killing someone who was innocent.

And yet out of that ultimate evil, comes the greatest act of mercy, as Jesus died not just because they killed them, but to forgive every sin we’ve have committed. Every single one.

This is the heart of God that Joseph saw, the sacred Heart that cares for us more than the pain we caused.

The heart of God that would cry over our sins, and then call us back to Him, and care for us, providing for us.

This is our God, and trusting in Him, we can find peace overwhelming our anxieties, our fears washed away by His comfort, our sins washed away by His blood.

For what we meant for evil, God used for good.

It was our evil… it was for our good.

This is the secret to good relationships – the power of God to reconcile us to Himself, and then there – we are already reconciled to each other.

He calls to you today as well, offering that peace, which doesn’t make sense to us, but in which He promises to care for us, for we dwell in in Jesus.  Amen.

Live in Harmony/Concordia: A sermon on Romans 12:9-21

church at communion 2Live in Harmony/Concordia
Romans 12:9-21

 Jesus, Son, Savior

May you realize the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enables and empowers you to live in harmony with each other, as God intended!

Live in Concord

When I originally put a title to this sermon, it was missing one of the words you see up on the screen right now.

Anyone want to guess?

The original title read this way, Live in Concordia.

But I was afraid that some people might start moving their bedroom furniture into the Multi-Purpose Room this week, and Hank and Loreen would sell the furniture at next week’s yard sale!

Seriously, Concordia was the Latin name of the goddess the ancient Greeks called Harmonia – the two words are interchangeable, one simply finds it roots in Latin, the other in Greek.   So to live in harmony, as Paul tells us, is to live in Concordia.

We are to blend together, with one heart and mind.  Not to be copies or clones of each other, but rather to have our lives be together working together as one, as beautiful as any symphony.

For that is who God is transforming us to be, a people who love other, who really love them, with genuine affection.

Even if it isn’t easy, even if we struggle to do so, for in that struggle we learn to depend on the God who changes us!

The challenges

Love each other, challenging at times.

Love the stranger – that’s what the word hospitality means – literally to love the alien like a brother.

Ask God to bless those who try to crush you.

This isn’t exactly easy stuff!

It’s going to be very difficult at times, it is going to take effort that we don’t want to put into it, that we are not sure is worth it.

It is very different from who society has tried to make us become.

This is love without bounds, being ready to help them at all times, without any hypocrisy, as we serve God by loving others.

It’s a lot of work, we can’t be slackers about it, it takes dedication, and hearing God and obeying Him, even when we don’t want to love them.

Let’s be honest, though they may be different for each of us, there are people that it is hard to love.  Maybe it’s a neighbor, or a family member, or a person on the road that cut you off, or maybe even a pastor or deacon.

If this was simple and natural, Paul wouldn’t be writing it, covering every loophole he does.

We have to love each other, we have to love others, even those who aren’t like us… we have to love our enemies enough that we plead with God to bless them.  As Jeremiah says, we have to influence them on God’s behalf, rather than let them influence us by their persecution, by their hatred.

We have to love our enemy!

To do otherwise, to not do so is sin….

The righteous anger of God….

Paul gives us a way to deal with our tension, our frustration with those who are our enemies, those who persecute us, and try to crush us.

He says not to take revenge, to not personally seek our own brand of justice.

Let God handle it, let God’s righteous anger work itself out.    For God will do what is ultimately righteous, what sees sin paid for fully, which wreaks havoc on the guilty.

God promises this!

Even if the one who pays the price is Jesus.

Actually, that is His glorious preference, that all sinners would be united to Jesus at the cross.  All sinners.  All those others, all those strangers all those aliens and even you and I.

So rest assured, what we plead for if we hear God, is fully within His will.

And that changes everything, as God saves you and me, uniting us to Jesus, demonstrating His grace and mercy to us in that cross where His blood was spilled where hopefully they will be united as well, for Jesus paid the price for all our sin.

Which is why I find the greatest place for reconciling people to be here, at this altar, at this place where God’s love is poured out on us

Our confident Hope.

I want to back track from God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus for a moment, to verse 12,

Let’s read it together,

12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
Rejoice in our confident hope, the hope we find at the cross, the hope we find in the resurrection, reaffirmed every time we unite with Christ’ in communion, even as we did in baptism.

Be patient and longsuffering.  Don’t think a life lived loving others will be easy, but suffer through it, depending on God not only for the strength and power but to help you stand firm.

Which is why you keep on praying, pleading with God for them, and to help you remember His love for you.  Prayer is more than just asking God, it’s talking to Him, realizing His love, letting Him take the weight off your shoulders.  It is keeping your eyes on Him, knowing that enemies can’t crush you.
You see, that’s the key, to keep your eyes on God, to keep in His presence, to find yourself loved and safe in His peace.  AMEN!

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