Category Archives: Sermons

Encountering God at the Cross – A Sermon for the Sunday of Christ’s Passion

 

Encounter God
at the Cross

John 12:20-36

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to hear people when they want to meet Jesus!

An Odd Question

I have a question for you, one I wish I you were to here to answer.  Message me your answers, no cheating.

Did the Greek visitors to Jerusalem in the gospel reading meet Jesus that day?

Yes or no?  (Pause)

Come on, no cheating! No cheating!

Well, if you said yes, or if you said no, you have done what most people do – they give their opinion on what they think the Bible teachers, without really knowing.  The answer is simple – we do not know.

We know that Phillip, not knowing what to do, went to Andrew, who didn’t know what to do, who went to ask Jesus… but that is where the story transitions to Jesus teaching.

So did the Greeks get to see Jesus that day?

I don’t know, but they would before the week was out.

Which Jesus did they want to see? (Miracle guy, Great Teacher, The Amusement)

Which Jesus did they want to see, anyway?

There were a ton of rumors floating around. This was the greatest speaker ever, this was the guy who does all the miracles, this was the guy who was going to kick out the Romans or maybe they heard the rumor out of Bethany, that there was this guy with two sisters… who died.. and was buried for half a week – and he’s walking around town now.
For these foreigners, here to experience this Passover thing, this was one of the things on their vacation list.  This was a curiosity, and attraction, something special they may have thought, but they had no clue.

The Jesus they saw..

They had no idea they would see him, just a few days from now…beaten and bruised, with spikes that shattered bone and ripped though flesh into the hard wood of the cross.

Jesus had pointed this out, as He said,

 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 33  He said this to indicate how he was going to die.

My friends, He knew….

These Greeks showing up simply confirmed it, he was drawing everyone to himself.

To forgive them

To save them,

To have them dance with God the Father….to be swept up in His arms the way the prodigal’s dad did.

It’s not what they expected, it was shocking, but it was amazing.

Be His voice

An abrupt change of direction here….one appropriate for the day Jesus was praised but not for why He should have been praised.

There are people all around us, that need to know they are loved by God.

They are looking for hope, even while they are stuck in their homes. But like the Greeks, and often like us, they are looking for someone to save them, to change the brokenness of life which crushes them.

Which crushes us.

These days we need to encounter God just as the Greeks wanted to so desperately.

But why do we want to see Him? Do we want to see the miracles?  Do we really want to hear what He wants to teach us? Do we want to see Him raise people from the dead?

Why are we seeking Him out?

Just like the Greeks, it doesn’t matter why we are going to seek Him, what matters is that we see Him revealed to us in all His glory, as the love is seen in the harsh light of the cross.

God brings us all there, to the cross – to not just encounter Christ, but to join Him.

To not just see us die with Him, but to raise us, free of all the brokenness, free of all the sin, free of the idolatry, where we decide to play God and control Him.

You can’t do that at the cross… it is not possible.

You can’t control the God who dies there

who dies there… to embrace you… and give you life,

We want to see Jesus – but we need to see Jesus crucified for us…

As do our Greeks visiting us.

That is the Jesus they need to see.. these visitors.

Yes – you want to see Jesus, it doesn’t matter why – Here he is.

He loves you…

Just let that wash over you, comfort you, cleanse you, heal you.

Then when someone needs to meet Him.. introduce the one who loved you from the cross you cling to.

AMEN!

Come Back to Me and Live- A Midweek Lenten Sermon based on Ezekiel 37

Come Back to Me
And Live

Ezekiel 37:1-14

† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that the Holy Spirit has been breathed into Your Life and that you Live.

Valley of the Empty Sanctuary
         Will these seats be filled?

As I look out over this nearly empty sanctuary, I think I understand how Ezekiel felt looking out over the valley filled with dry bones.

I will be honest, it is hard to do this, looking out over empty seats where there should be life.  Where a sermon should bring smiles, and deeper thoughts when a call for repentance might bring some tears when the announcement of forgiveness brings from those seats a full, powerful and joy-filled amen!

And I almost hear the Lord asking me, as He once asked Ezekiel, a question. “Can these seats be filled”  When will Concordia’s sanctuary be filled again with life?

And all I can answer is the same answer, O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that!

He does…  but I wish I could do what Ezekiel did next… and speak and see a miracle take place.

Are we dry bones?
         Is our Hope gone?
         Are We finished?

As I talk to many of our people, and others who are reaching out, the words of the dry bones resonate with what I am hearing.  There in verse 11, are the words of complaint.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Ezekiel 37:11 (NLT2)

Though many people have a good attitude about this, many talk of the weariness, even the times of tears that cannot be stopped…

We grow weary, and hope isn’t gone, but it does seem a long way off in the distance. We miss each other, the handshakes, the hugs, the elbows we usually pass off to each other.  Obviously, the “the Lord is with you and also with you’s” and the hands that reach out an receive the body and blood of Christ.

We are weary, we feel isolated, we feel like the people who Ezekiel wrote too – who were scattered and distant, and not “at home”, even as we are stuck in our homes. They weren’t literally the bones in the valley, but they certainly felt that way.

Which I think we understand, at least in the present moment

Again we don’t know our hope is gone, but it feels like it. We don’t know the effect on our people, but it doesn’t seem good.

So we cry out to God, together… and ask that the Holy Spirit breaths new life into us…

And God has promised that Spirit, the one Jesus calls the Comforter, will do just that.

Come Holy Spirit – Come comforter –
         He will bring us back!
         He will return us Home, He will gather us

There is our hope, as the Holy Spirit has already, because of the blood of Christ, defeated death.  That’s symbolized by the cartilage, muscles, and skin coming back on the skeletons.

But then there is a pause, and life is breathed back in – the Spirit of God, which breathed life into us… once again comes and breathes life into us, and the process of bringing us into the presence of God.

Making us know God is at home with us, wherever we are.

Helping us know that He will restore us to each other…

He is bringing He people back to life – His great army as Ezekiel describes.

And it won’t take as long as it took for Ezekiel’s vision to come to pass.

For God has already guaranteed this promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us, first at the cross and resurrection, and then in our Baptism.  The Spirit has come to us, we are its temple – and God will never ever leave or forsake us.

This is our greatest asset in times like this, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life as we say in the creed, the description of why we have hope, the description of what makes life, life.

This is our hope in this, the word of the Holy Spirit.

There is an old prayer I would like to end with…
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them, the fire of your love!”

Come, fill the place, and every place where people are watching..  AMEN!

Encounter God and Live: A Sermon on John 11 from Concordia

Encounter God and Live
John 11:14-45

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to live!

Two odd focal points

Like most of the gospel, I have preached on reading from Luke before.  I thought I had attacked it from every possible point and hadn’t missed anything in the story before.

I did pick up on a couple of things I missed, two different phrases that are repeated twice. I was also trying to work on how you preach on the miracle of someone rising from the dead in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, if there was a time to repeat the miracle in the Valley of the Dry Bones, wouldn’t it be a great thing to do it now?

Back to the two things I missed – these two phrases.  As we deal with them, I pray that they will help us learn to live, to really live.

The first is that twice it describes Jesus as being Angry.

The other is a phrase that Jesus uses, that is translated as, “for your sake!”

Angry

The gospel records this,

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

Did you catch this?

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

Other translations make this seem that he was simply bothered, that he was upset – and yet word describes someone who is enraged, indignant, and storming about angrily.

Does that make sense?  After all, what is he angry about?

My first reaction was the lack of faith, the absolute raw pain he is witnessing! Here he is, and Martha even acknowledges he is the Messiah.

Is Jesus truly mad at the lack of faith?

If so, perhaps he is mad at me for this week. After all, watching the fear and anxiety affect so many has been brutal. Hearing of friends whose families have contracted the virus has been brutal, especially as I can’t go to them, pray with them, give them a hug.

I don’t want to entrust these friends and their loved ones into God’s hands, and that, as brutal as it sounds, is a lack of faith.

Is that the reason God is upset?  Because they couldn’t trust that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead?

I don’t think so.

But I think we beat ourselves up too often for our lack of faith, and this time is definitely not a time to be doing so…

This epidemic is not about our lack of faith, and God hasn’t abandoned us in this time.

We might not see what He is doing, but that is true in other times of our lives as well.

We have to understand it is okay to struggle, it is okay to ask the hard questions, it is okay to weep, because then, having admitted where we are, we can see Jesus at work.

For your sake

Which is where the other duplicated phrase comes in to play.

Verse 14, “So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

and then verse 42, Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

When you see these verses bracket this story, it is not a major leap to see that Jesus’ anger isn’t toward those whose faith is struggling. For it is to strengthen our faith that this occurred.

So why would He be mad at the lack of faith?

God worked something out of this situation that led people to have more faith in Him, to depend on Him more than they ever did before.

In this case, it was a miracle, the resurrection of someone dead 4 days.

But that too – was something God had planned – remember – he said we are going to him. Even though Jesus said he was dead, they were going to him.

But that isn’t the end of the story, for God was going to demand more of their faith, which we get a hint of in Thomas’s comment, “Let’s go, too – and die with Jesus.

A Greater Demand on their Faith?

This story is about the fact the disciples would need even greater faith when Jesus dies just a little while after this. They would need to depend on God for the darkest three days of their lives.

Not knowing what any of it meant, not knowing what darkness would hit next…

As God would sustain them during those dark days between the cross and the resurrection –

For that is the place where God’s anger is purged – as the power of death and sin was crushed.

The sin which so separated us from God, and from each other – Jesus’s anger at that sin was made evident, there as He is with those dealing with the consequence of sin, death. He understood that death for the sinner would be final, which is why a short time later, the Father would deal with death through Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection.

He had to do something about the sin and death that so scares and scars us.

And so he did… Jesus would die,

For their sake…

And for ours.

And that is why we have a faith that is stronger, that is why we know we can depend on Him, not just for the forgiveness of sins, but that He will be with us always…

Caring for us, loving us, dying for us…

And know,

Alleluia – He is Risen!

and I can’t wait for you to say the next part

He is Risen Indeed Alleluia and therefore we are risen indeed! Alleluia!

AMEN!

Encounter God… and See! A Sermon on John 9 during the pandemic

Encounter God… and See
John 9

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ help you to see Him, and see Him at work in your life!

DO you believe

Towards the end of the encounter of the Blind man and Jesus, Jesus asks a question to the man that was formerly blind.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

What Jesus is asking him is whether he believes in the Messiah and whether He believes He has come.  It is one of the titles a Jewish person would have known referred to the Messiah,

Do you believe in the Messiah?  Jesus asks.

The man encountering Jesus replies, “Who is he, sir?  I want to believe in Him!”

The encounter then takes a new direction – as Jesus reveals to the one born blind he is the Messiah.

Before we deal with that, I want to ask another question, an interesting one.

Did he only believe because he saw Him?

Did the Blind man only believe in Jesus because he saw Him?

Or another way to phrase the same question, if the man had encountered Jesus, but Jesus did not give him the ability to see, would he have believed in Jesus?

It is an important question and one we need to face….

Will we only believe and trust in God, if He does what we desire most?

Will we only turn to Him if He keeps us safe from the flu or the coronavirus?  Will we only trust in Him if He heals our broken land, and ends the isolation that is so affecting all of us?

Will we only believe if God does things our way?

And if He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, will we reject Him?  Will we refuse to believe in Him? Trust in Him?

Depend on Him?

There is our question for the day… and a hard one.

The Dark Question

It’s one, if we are honest, we are afraid to ask.  Even if we aren’t sure of the answer.

Matter of fact, that is why we need to ask this!

Because we need to come face to face with the question.

Is our faith in God, is our being a Christian based on God doing what we desire?

Is it based on God caring for us the way we want?

If I am honest, the answer would be yes, at times. My faith wavers, it struggles, and I have to be able to admit that. I get frustrated when things don’t go my way, and I hurt in times like this.

And this passage gives me the comfort to admit this… and then reach out to God… and say where are you?

Why I can

The first is this – Jesus was working in the man’s life way before he asked the question. He was giving the blind man the ability to see and doing things that though the guy didn’t know who Jesus was, he knew something was happening that could only be accountable to God.

Back in verse 17 the man stated, “I think He must be a prophet!”  And then in verse 33 he said, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it!”

He saw God at work – even before he truly understood Jesus was the Messiah before Jesus was the Savior. He recognized something out of the ordinary was happening, something that couldn’t be normal, or just a coincidence.

While for us that may not be healing, God is still going to be at work in our lives way before we recognize that the Holy Spirit is carefully opening us up, and calling us into that place where we begin to heal, where we see God at work

Where we can then hear the question asking us whether we believe and as we go… uhhh… or ask this question or that one, we see Jesus revealed to us. And as He is revealed the Holy Spirit grants us both faith and repentance.

The Holy Spirit does that as well, working in us, revealing to us Jesus’s work through the gospel and then sacramentally, as God cleanses us from Sin and sets us up in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Then, the Spirit has worked in us, we are no longer blind to the work of God, we can say with the man in today’s gospel, “Yes, Lord, I believe!”

How can we behold Jesus today?

You see that is the key, not saying I believe because of this argument, or that apologetic.  We believe because God is at work, and we, even as limited as our vision is, begin to see Him at work. We encounter Him doing something in our lives.

I am not saying our salvation is based on our experience or our emotion. I am saying that as God is at work, it becomes hard to deny it.

So how do we “see” Jesus at work today?

I mean he’s not down at the hospital, or the Braille institute, opening the eyes of the blind. My eyesight isn’t that bad, so where is He? Where can see that He has worked?

I see Him in the eyes of those who commune, I heard Him in the words of those who respond to me, “and also with you!” and “he is risen indeed! And therefore, we are risen indeed!” In the voices of those singing His praises.

But I see Him the most as His word and sacraments breathe life and power into the lives of the people around me. As I see people reconcile with those they have offended and forgive those who have offended them.  I see it in the eyes of those I tell that God has forgiven them of all their sin, and as people ask the hard questions, the ones that cause us to have no other option but to trust in God, and in the midst of that trauma, find peace and serenity that goes beyond anything we can logically explain.

The Spirit is at work within you – because He has promised to be, and God always keeps those promises.  This is our encounter today – wherever we are.

So be still… and know and see, He is God!  AMEN!

Encountering God in the Midst of Isolation

Encounter God amid Isolation
(and be happy!)
John 4:5-26

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ simply leave you praising Him…

What is God Looking for

What do you preach on, when the world seems, unlike anything you have ever experienced? What do you wen everything doesn’t make sense, and you seem to be holding on by the edge of your fingers?

How do you cope, when the new term for the day is “social distance.” And we are being told and telling people not to shake hands, or even exchange elbows.

How do we cope?

Of all the people in scripture, the Samaritan woman at the well knew the frustration of isolation, She went to well at lunchtime, in the middle of the heat of the day, because there was no one there.  Five times she had been abandoned by her husbands, and the latest jerk didn’t respect her enough to marry her, he just used her… and therefore the women in town treated her like trash if they even thought of her at all.

She was isolated, lonely, probably more than a little bitter.

And then it happened, she encountered God.

We need to hear her story today, and realize we encounter Jesus the same way,

The problem – do we really know Him

As the encounter goes on, as they move from an odd discussion about water to an odder discussion about her past, Jesus then says something that seems a bit… abrupt.

You Samaritans know very little about the one You worship

The original language is blunter – you don’t know the one you worship.

That is harsh, especially if you want to keep a conversation going!

This God you claim to worship – you don’t know who He is, or anything about him.

I am surprised she didn’t run off at that moment!

Or at least say, “What do you mean, I don’t know who God is? Who do you think you are?”

But it is true, that there are times in our lives when we wouldn’t recognize God if He was standing right in front of us, or if He dropped right into our hands.

That is one of our challenges in life, that when we all to often isolate ourselves from God. That all to often we self-quarantine and miss out on the love we so desperately need. It is not coronavirus that does this, but our own sin, as if we think w could infect God, or maybe he has some kind of scanner that will toss us out of His presence.

How the problem is being taken care of.

How we need to encounter Jesus the way this lady did!

Right in the middle of her self-isolation, right in the middle of her questioning what was going on in life, right in the middle of her brokenness.

God showed up.

It wasn’t even the normal route from Jerusalem to Galilee, not even a secondary route.  Peter must have been navigating for them to come to this place.

That day, that moment, she encountered God, and of all the people in the middle east, this Palestinian woman with a life that didn’t make sense encounters God, and hears Jesus confess something he was vague about until the resurrection.

Then Jesus told her, I AM the Messiah!

This lady would run to her village, and without realizing it, shatter all her isolation, her self-imposed quarantine would disappear, as she shared with all the others the Messiah. Jesus would stay with them a while, but the change he made in her life, in that encounter was amazing.

It is the encounter He would have with each one of us this morning.

In the middle of our brokenness, in the middle of our questioning, in the middle our frustration, our questions, our fears.

He is here.

I am the Messiah is an incredible statement, for it means God anointed Him to come here for her, and for you.  To be more than your savior, more than someone who lifts you up and gives you hope.

To be the Messiah, your Messiah means to reveal to you that you are loved by God.

It all begins there, with the love of God, that brings God to weird places, like beside a well, or to a church in Cerritos in the middle of a pandemic in Lent.

To people who need to know that their past will be forgiven, that their deepest thirst will be satisfied, that God will reveal Himself to them…

This is our miracle today, whether here in person, or “out there” watching the service. You are not alone, you are not quarantined from God, you are not isolated any longer from Him, so let us worship the Lord.

The Lord God is with you!    AMEN!

Encounter God – Sermon #1 Encounter God in the Midst of Sin

Encounter God… in the Midst of Sin?
Genesis 3:1-21

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to know He ill always provide for you.

 Where are you?

In the series we are starting today, we are going to look at a number of people who encountered God in scripture. Each one is different, each has a story to tell, a story that many of us will relate to, stories we can learn from, which will cause us to grow in our faith, that will help us to depend on God longer.

Just as these people did, many of them the hard way.

Just like us!

So we start with Adam and Eve.

Where it all started! Or perhaps one may say ended.

The encounter we are looking at is probably the scariest encounter with God that could exist.

And it is one of the best that you can have, prior to judgment day.

The Encounter

I’m not going to rehash Adam and Even’s sin, most of us know the story, and they acted like most people.  You tell them not to doo something, and they do it.

Well, most people except Tom and Chuck.  They always do what they are told to do…
That is assuming they hear it.
So let’s start with the question God asks,

WHERE ARE YOU!!!

Adam, Eve?  Where are you?

Are you over here???  No.  What about here???  No… Hmmm, I wonder where they are!

Some people I know think that God is outraged, furious, storming all over the place.

I think this worked out more like a very concerned parent, but one that wants to care for His children.

He knows exactly where they are.  He knows what they’ve done, and that they are scared, that they feel guilty, they are buried in shame, and they even know what it means to be ashamed.

And He cries out with the care and compassion that is appropriate for God who is love,

Adam, Eve, where are you!?!?!

God’s Action

Every sermon I have written or heard on this passage focuses on what Adam and Even have done, and sometimes takes a theological side trip talking about who is to blame. But I think we need to look closer to God’s action.

First, He goes after them

Then, He gets to the basic issue, patiently brushing aside the blame game.

You ate… yes?

uh..uh.. yeah, but…

And what did you do,…

Uhh.. yeah I did, but I was deceived…

Despite their “explanations”, despite their trying to minimize what they did, despite all of their fears and anxieties, They knew the punishment now, and the idea of death was no longer a stranger. I would like to say I don’t know what they are going through, but been there, hiding from God.

Waiting for Him to tell me I was completely lost… completely beyond His forgiveness, beyond His love.

And as God shares the complications they invited into their own lives, the curses they chose, Includes something else.

What Luther called the first gospel ever preached, and it was preached at the Devil, “And I will cause hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”

By the way, that is why you see a snake in many of the old pictures of the crucifixion, for that is where Jesus crushes that snake, Satan.

And then, there is the second prophecy,

21  And the LORD God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

The LORD God kills something, to cover the sins, that should have resulted in His killing Adam and Eve. He provides what is needed, and though there are consequences, the result is that they are still His children, they are still the ones He loves, that He will always care form that He always has…

So where are you?

So now I have a question, well, I don’t,

God does.

Here Him asking you “Where are you?”

Where are you?

What have YOU done?

Don’t worry about excuses, don’t worry about the name game,

Just respond, and hear this,

14  Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 13:14 (NLT2)

Does that sound familiar?  God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. Animals had to die in order for the guilt and shame to be taken away.

He’s done the same thing with Jesus.  He died for one purpose, to ensure that the Father doesn’t have to cry out, “where are you?

And can instead cry out, “I love you!”

No longer do we have to hide, for we are beginning to know His love and compassion will find us, and the promise of forgiveness applied, even more surely than the promise was made and forgiveness applied to Adam and Eve.

This is what it means when we say in a couple of weeks, “Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!”

O wait, we aren’t supposed to say that… yet.

Too bad!

We need to hear it.

For sometimes still think we need to hide, sometimes we still think that guilt and shame are the norms.

No more my friends, for we have, in the midst of our sin, encountered a God who wouldn’t let us hide anymore!

He’s been calling, and the best thing you can do is listen, and hear Him say, I love you!

Then, as He carefully deals with your sin, you will realize this is one of the best encounters you will ever have in this life…

and His peace, a peace beyond comparison, a peace beyond all logic, will replace the guilt and shame… and you will realize you always have dwelt in His presence.  AMEN!

What is Important – A Message Based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

What’s Important
1 Cor. 3:1-9

† I.H.S.†

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus help you see God at work, causing you to depend on the fact God loves you!

 Teaching Little Ones ( or Big Ones!)

There are a lot of amazing things in life. The Grand Canyon, the dawn on the Atlantic Ocean’s beaches and the sunset’s you see sitting on the sands of the Pacific Ocean. Things people do also amaze me, whether it is skilled athlete, or our musicians.

Or our preschool teachers, especially Lisa and Lorena – who work with the tiniest of toddlers. Keeping them focused on a lesson, and sitting still in chapel, well, mostly still

Keeping big kids focused is hard enough, I can’t imagine the faith that results in patience that God gives our teachers!

That’s why Paul will compare the Corinthians (and us) to infants in Christ!  For while they should be focused on what is important, they are not. And so in frustration Paul tells them that he has to treat them like toddlers, or people that have absolutely no clue about the love and mercy of God.

Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it?

But all we have to do is look around, and we see the leaders who act as if they are playing out back in the playground.  Then we see similar things among our church leaders. I will freely admit to getting distracted from what is important, and acting more than a toddler at times!  I want what’s mine!  Give it back! That’s not fair!

In the background, Jesus waits, for the Holy Spirit is at work… and will use God’s word, including these words penned by Paul, to correct us, to help us to focus, to get us back into what comes close to a line!

Distracted by what is not important

In the readings from 1 Corinthians, we see what was the distraction of the day. It was who the people followed.  It must have been a significant problem, for Paul spends some time on it.

For some reason, they tried to establish a spiritual pedigree.  I have seen that – even among pastors!  They somewhat jokingly compare whether they were trained at our Ft. Wayne Seminary, or St. Louis Serminary!  How ludicrous, especially when they know that the best pastors come from Irvine!

Can you imagine if people here argued about whether the Lord’s supper was better from the hand of Pr. Mazemke, or Pr. Rossow, or Pr. Hsu, or Pr. CHen or from me?  The bread and the wine are what is important, not whose hand put it into your hand.

If that is true for the communion we serve, it should be true for the message we give.  As long as that message is about Jesus, about His love for you, about His forgiveness, that message that we sum up in a couple of statements…

The Lord is with YOU! ( and also with you)

Alleluia! His is risen! (He is risen indeed!) and therefore (we are risen indeed!)

Everything else, including which pastor brought you to know Jesus, or where you learned about His love, isn’t as important as the fact that God loves YOU!

What is important

You see, the intellect, the charisma of the pastor, that is not what caused you to believe.  It was not by your reason or strength nor mine. It is, and always will be the presence of the Holy Spirit that causes the growth.

All of us and everything we do is used by the Holy Spirit, whether it is the music team, or Lisa teaching the kids, or Sandi keeping the books, or Dane, Bob, and Tom as they bring other people the Lord’s Supper. Even our coming to the altar is about one thing – letting God do the work of making a masterpiece of our lives,

Hear the verse again,

What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.

To truly being to understand that verse, we need to replace the word seed with the word, us,

What’s important is that God makes me grow!

or

What’s important is that God makes us grow!

God causes the growth in each one of us, and in us as a while.
We must realize this my friends, this is what is important, the work God does in your life!  In our lives together. Seeing that He is working in our midst, through each other, all to the same purpose of helping everyone know God is actively part of their life. That is perfecting them, transforming them as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. [1]

That is the purpose – that God is making us more and more like Jesus… that’s the goal and that is how God will continue to work in us, and through us.

That is what encourages pastors to do what we do, and empowers us to be there… -when we see people grow in their ability to depend on God, to trust in Him, to believe in Him. For the miracle we see occurring is that transformation that only the Holy Spirit can be credited for…

and so we shall…  (lead into doxology…)

Amen!

 

It’s All Useless! A sermon and another sermon in the service – based on Isaiah 49:1-7

Useless!  It’s All Useless! ??
Isaiah 49:1-7
† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that your life and your ministry is not worthless!

The Feeling of Uselessness

There are times in life when you will put all your effort into your work, or into the work you do here at church.

But when you sit back at the end of a day or a week, you look and wonder why you worked so hard.  You wonder why you tried so hard,

And yet, you seem to have accomplished so little.

There are still bills to be paid, dishes to be done, there is still a pile of tasks at work, and the church doesn’t seem to grow the way you would like.

It is not a good feeling, and it can tempt you to despair.

to wonder why things aren’t getting better

to wonder if they ever will.

My friends, we aren’t the first to ever wonder that!

In fact, that is part of our reading from the book of Isaiah. Part of our reading this morning was this,

He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” 4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Is. 49:3-4

I’ve had days like that, where I know that my actions and thoughts should be bringing God glory, that they should have some tangible results, and yet…

So how do we deal with this feeling?

Why does it exist?

First, we have to identify where it comes from.

The first is simple and often overlooked.

Satan would try to cause us to believe there is nothing to our relationship with God.

He would love to paralyze us, blinding us to the work God is actually doing in our lives,

and through our lives.

You heard that! God does the work through us!

The second cause is our own sin,

When we want to play God and determine the impact and effect of what we do.

You see, we aren’t the ones who determine the results of the actions that God calls us to do, and the Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us to do.

When we demand to know the results, we usually have demanded to determine the actions as well.

What we’ve forgotten is what Paul taught the Corinthians,

5  After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6  I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7  It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 (NLT2)

That is what is comes down to sometimes, we want to determine the growth.  We want to be in charge, rather than letting God be in charge.

We try to get the results we want, and ignore living and ministering to others in the way He has directed us to live.

Loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind.

Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. (depending on God’s love to make this happen)

When we demand the results, per our standards, per our expectations, we need to go back and double-check our actions, our plans, and see whether they are in line with His commands.

And if not, repent, and seek the forgiveness that God graciously plans for us.

The Real Answer

The person Isaiah writes about found the same answer, and the way to measure the results.

Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” Isaiah 49:4b (NLT2)

That’s a challenge, to simply place all that we do in the Lord’s hands, to let Him determine how He will use what He directs and empowers us to do.

He is God remember?  He is with us!  His Holy Spirit dwells in us, gives us the gifts that we have to use in loving Him and loving each other!

Our reward ultimately is when He tells us, “well done, MY good and faithful servant!”  Matthew 25:21NLT2

That reward is what is guaranteed when we leave it in His hands!

Remember He makes what is righteous, righteous, and in cleansing us from all sin and unrighteousness, even that is judged righteous!

Without having to worry about how we will be judged, we can simply look at what we want to do, measure it by how it loves God and our neighbor, and if it does, go with it.

That’s why I tell people in the English service, whatever idea you have for this church to minister to others, let’s pray about, make sure it loves God and our neighbor, and ask God to bless it, and do it!

Leaving the results in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father.

Remember, He cares for you… and for the people around you.

He sent Jesus to correct all the times we try to be in charge, when we try to manipulate the results, and when we despair when we don’t get what we want.

Conclusion

That’s why the cross, and that is the final proof of this passage.

You see, the passage isn’t just about us. At the cross, one could easily wonder if the work of Jesus was useless! He had spent his life investing in the people of Israel, and in 12 guys, all of whom betrayed Him.

Sounds useless to me!

What value was it?  He didn’t cause great revival during His life, he couldn’t even get 12 guys to get it right.

Yet, His reward is that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess He is Lord.

No, His reward is greater than that. His reward is our homecoming, our relationship with the Father, that He invested His life, and death to re-create

If Jesus didn’t love the Father and love us, the cross makes no sense. But because of that love, it makes sense, and it is rewarded!

Loving the Father who loves us, loving our neighbor, even if they would crucify us…  or just make our life inconvenient, and less about…. Us.  That is how we live in Christ, that is what makes our life incredible.

We can do that because of His forgiveness, because He heals our souls, because the Spirit, given to us in baptism, empowers that and makes it happen. Look to Him, fall madly in love with God, pray, and let us serve Him together!

AMEN!

God’s Plan in the Spotlight! A sermon on Ephesians 3:1-12

Epiphany – In the Spotlight
Ephesians 3:1-12

In Jesus Name

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ enable you to live out the plan brought to life in Christ’s coming – that we are to live boldly and confidently in God’s presence!

  1. The Plan… Hidden

This week was the anniversary of the birth of one of the great Christian philosophers of the last century.  J.R.R. Tolkien is probably best known as the writer behind “the Hobbit” and “the Lord of the Rings.” But one of the things we should rejoice about from his life was his impact on a fellow writer and philosopher.

Eric Metaxas tells us how Tolkein joined Jesus on Jesus’ mission one night on a walk with his friend Jack. He didn’t beat the gospel into him, in fact, he only alluded to Jesus in one question, about whether all the myths could have some source in an event that was real, that once God did invade reality.  (https://stream.org/j-r-r-tolkien-helped-lead-c-s-lewis-faith/)

His friend Jack, the angry, arrogant agnostic who disliked any discussion bordering the religious, was only nicknamed Jack. His given name was Clive Staples Lewis – one of the best-known Christian writers of the last century.

Joining Jesus, in this case, was simply a matter of shining a light in Lewis’s life, and letting the Holy Spirit work illuminate the plan that God had for Lewis, the same exact plan He has for each one of us, from the prophets and the wise man that adored Jesus at His birth, to you and I today.

It is simply a plan of illuminating God’s plan in their life, revealing His love, and His work in their lives.

This is what Epiphany is all about  – putting God’s plan in the spotlight – for all to see.  That is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, that we saw this morning, this wonderful plan, with a wonderful result.

  1. The Plan Revealed

Both Tolkien and Lewis talked about writing a lot, and you see a similar style in them. The main characters are always aided by a more mysterious and powerful character. In Tolkien, it is Gandalf, a servant of a Deity never quite revealed. With Lewis, the guide was Aslan, who was also the destination.

But in the journeys, as in many good stories, the plan that these guides had was not fully revealed to those making the journey. That keeps a reader, or moviegoer interested, as the plan is revealed step by step.  For those on the journey, it is a bit frustrating.

I want to know where I am going, how I am going to get there, how much earlier I have to plan to leave, so I actually leave on time and leave enough time for a bathroom stop or five on the journey.

During the Old Testament, the journey wasn’t always well known, they wandered for years, and they still didn’t understand the tabernacle or the Temple and what they pointed to, in fact, many today still don’t understand.  Paul knew…. And he talks about the plan,

Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.

  1. The Plan Explained

You see the plan for the journey there.  The plan includes who is on the journey, and how the journey is accomplished

The ones on it are those who believe the good news, what we call the gospel.  It doesn’t matter whether we are Gentile or Jewish, what matters is that we believe, that we depend on the Good News. – the news that God loves us enough that Jesus would die for us.

And the way the journey happens is simple  – we receive all these blessings because we belong to Jesus.  That in our baptism, we are united to Him, we are made one with Him, in His death, and in His resurrection.  This is the incredible mystery we confess when we sing the Memorial Acclimation – that because He died, was buried and rose, we, who were dead in our sin, rise with Him! And when He returns, for us, we will be with the Father forever!

How do we say it around here?  Alleluia!  He is risen indeed! (He is risen! Alleluia) and therefore, (We are risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

His plan, it has been since the beginning, that our salvation would occur as we are intimately tied to Christ’s death and resurrection, as we are intimately united to Him!

  1. The Result of the Plan

The plan doesn’t end with the journey though, like our salvation, our being saved. Whatever epic, whether Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, or even Star Wars, the destination is arrived at, in a place where peace finally reigns.  They got the idea from scripture of course, and their novels are based in a hope truly seen in scripture.

Oddly enough, they all arrive at the place where they started, with the difference being the peace that is known, finally. That is why I call the destination, “our perfect home”  Paul will describe the plan’s destination this way:

11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

We have a hint of that home now, for as we presently dwell in Christ’s presence, and He in us, we have the shadows cast by this reality to comfort us. For we dwell with Him now, and yet, we are still on the journey to the point where we see His return. To the point where we boldly enter the presence of God our Father, confident because of the work of Jesus that we belong there.  AMEN!

 

Passionately Committed: A Christmas Eve Sermon on Isaiah 9:2-7

 

Altar with communionPassionately Committed
Isaiah 9:2-7

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace, mercy and peace of God so flood your life that you realize how passionate God is committed to you!

The overlooked words

Have you ever had a conversation, where the main point that you were trying to make was overlooked?  In fact, the little stuff, that was dependent on the main point, became the focus of the conversation?

That happens continually when pastors prepare sermons.  In fact, I have questions I ask myself every week, that I put in place to try and protect you from me doing this with scripture.

The first question is, “where is the law in the passage, where do we find ourselves disobeying God and doing what we want”  If is followed by “Where is the gospel, where does God heal our brokenness”

But there is a final question, “how is the intimate relationship between God and His people revealed?”

Those questions, especially the third one, keep the main idea, the main idea. For all that we do here, from the candles to the tree, to the manger which will have the baby in it soon, it is all to reveal that concept, that God is passionately committed to you.

That other stuff – just describes the real truth

You see some of the words of the prophecy of Isaiah on Christmas cards, on banners, quoted every year, Let me reread them, from the King James,

6  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)

Those words are an incredible promise of Jesus’ birth, and His life, death and resurrection. To call one born on a women Mighty God and Everlasting Father is incredible.

While I have preached 20-30 sermons on all of that verse, and sung those words in the Messiah, that isn’t the main point of those seven verses.
The key point – the passionate commitment/zeal

They, like the idea that the darkness we all walk in will be shattered by God’s glory, and the joy we will have when God breaks sin’s hold on us, all point  to one simple point, explained in the last verse:

The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

The Lord, God almighty is passionately committed to making all this happen.

Why?  What is He after?  Why would he zealously and passionately committed to sending Jesus to make all this happen?

Because He is passionately committed to you, that’s what this is all about.
God loves you with every part of His being!  He is committed to making you His own, to help you through life, to help you deal with sin, to help you live life, with the confidence of the joy set before you – that you will spend Christmas in His presence.
This is why we are here; this is why we sing Hallelujah, and Joy to the World, the Lord has come.  He has come to be with you, to love you, to help you depend on Him.  AMEN!

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