Category Archives: Sermons
Two Encounters With Jesus
† Jesus, Son, Saviour †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause you to recognize Him, and bring to Him those who need to be made whole.
The Challenge to Evangelism?
In twenty years of ministry, one of the hardest things to see develop in a church is the attitude that we exist and serve to bring others to Christ. Some call this being missional, some call it recognizing our apostolate.
You see, each of us is sent by God, to live where we are, and to reflect the love of God to those who are broken and so desperately need His touch upon their lives.
The challenge is not in learning what to say, most of us have been taught how to explain our faith. I mean how many of us can say the Lord’s Prayer and the apostles’ creed without looking at the bulletin?
We know the teachings, the basic doctrine.
So what do we need? What will change us into being a church that reveals to people the Jesus who will make them whole?
The key to Concordia, or any other church, becoming an evangelistic church, is simple. We need to know how to act when we encounter Jesus.
For when our souls learn to recognize Jesus, when our hearts know we dwell in His presence, the intuitive thing to do will be to drag people to Jesus, to the places where we know they will encounter them.
In today’s gospel, there are three encounters with Jesus. Two will show us how we can react to seeing Him. And the third, well, we will get to it later.
Seeing Him, amazed and confused!
The first way people reacted to Jesus is seen in the boat. The apostles, tired and weary, still overwhelmed by their first mission trip, and the feeding of thousands, see Jesus.
They see him, the word there is from where we get “identify.” Picture someone routinely checking driver’s licenses, and then realizing the person in front of them is someone famous. This is how they reacted, and their hearts, confused by all of life, were described as too petrified to take it all in. We all get that way sometimes, as life throws a few curves at us. As we get overwhelmed, as we are struggling with what is going on, or with the storms in our lives.
The apostles were there, “hey” its Jesus. Oh no! It’s beyond natural! It’s something supernatural! It’s not something normal.
Uhm, yeah Peter and James and John. It’s Jesus! What did you expect from Him, if not the supernatural?
We don’t recognize Jesus all that well at times, or the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We struggle to see Him during the hard times, and we don’t completely get what God is up too when we see the miraculous happen.
Our hearts are petrified, they are too hard to take it all in. But can we change?
Knowing Him – and dragging people in bed to Him
The second group was the group that encountered Jesus when He got out of the boat. These people just didn’t identify Jesus, the Greek indicates they knew Him, they deeply knew Him, who He was, and what it meant for Him to be there.
Whereas the Apostles went crazy with fear, these people went crazy bringing every person they could find that was broken. They ran around, grabbing people on mattresses and carrying them, they even just knew that if they could encounter Jesus, even just touching the edge of their robes, it would change everything….
And it did.
They encountered Him in the everyday mess of life. Though they had no clue about the cross, or the grave, the resurrection, they were sure He was a messenger from God, and they knew he would do the supernatural. So they brought the broken, the needy, almost without thinking about it!
Imagine lying there on your bed, some guys storm in, and the next thing you know, you are being dragged to meet Jesus, no explanation given. As you encounter Jesus, something more occurs than just being healed. You are made holy, you are saved. You are made right, perfect.
That’s what happens when you reveal the love of God to someone, that is what happens when Jesus is revealed In your life, what occurs when you encounter Him.
So How? Close Encounter of the Third Kind
So how do we go from the first reaction to reacting like the evangelists in the second group of people? How do we go from going crazy because of trauma and stress, to being crazy trying to get people to come to Jesus? What hope is there for those of us who are overwhelmed, whose hearts are too hard to take it all in?
Because even the holiest and most devout of us can get overwhelmed by life.
I did this week, as the prayer list seemed to explode with people in need.
It isn’t within me to remember 24/7 that God is here, actively working in our lives, actively working through our lives. I get too distracted, I get too overwhelmed by the storm, I get too frustrated by the work that God sent me to do.
So how do we keep centered on Jesus? How do we stay aware of His presence in life?
One pastor wrote it this way,
Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering. (Pope Francis)
Remember where the disciples were heading with Jesus when they came back from their first mission trip? When they took off and found people chasing them on the shore, and then Jesus fed them?
They were heading off to a place to be with Jesus, to find time to pray, to find time for that personal encounter with God. To know Him enough to recognize Him.
Jesus did this, He went away for a time to talk to the Father, that was why He had to chase the boat, and if it is a blessing for Him, it is necessary for us.
Not just to please God, though it does. I need it, and you need it too. We need to be able to recognize God’s presence in our lives, to expect it, and the healing and peace that He brings. For that presence ties out theology to life, it makes what we say more than words.
To know Him, to encounter Him in prayer, and in the sacraments, they help us to now He is there. And so this week, God blessed me by helping me encounter Him more, as people took time out, and we shared in the Lord’s Supper together. Then when the storms hit, we know to look for Him, to expect His presence.
For from there, recognizing God at work is easier, knowing He is here, and He will make us whole is easier. For with Him revealed, we are still, and we know He is indeed God. And that He keeps us, our hearts and minds safe in Jesus. AMEN!
One New People!
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that you are always a member of God’s family, and may it compel you to find and bring in all the members of His family!
In the bulletin today, there is an interesting article, written by Chris. (that article posted below) Unfortunately, he is working this morning. He’s been part of our church for a little more than a year, yet it is hard to remember what it was like without his voice booming in the choir, without the smiles that come to his face as he realizes how much more God loves him than he can realize.
He thought, for the longest time that he was an outsider, and now, he knows he is part of the family of God, part of this community that God put here, that God’s love would be revealed to us all.
And that is exactly what Paul is talking about to the church in Corinth, as Paul explained that our salvation is “ours”, that is it brings together everyone, from those whose faith was only a fleshly thing and didn’t affect their hearts, and those of us who are considered the outsiders.
For God is carefully joining us together, united to Him and Him and through Him.
And that is something to be excited about, that is something to be in awe of, as we become aware of it.
Used to be’s
As I was writing this sermon, I kept thinking about all the movies where the outsiders challenged the “in-crowd”. Whether the movies and television shows were about high school and college, or about the military, or life in the workplace, or retirement, the movies are unending.
And they picture a reality. There are the outsiders, people like Chris and I, who don’t feel like we fit in, who are normally on the fringes, looking in, and wondering what it would be like to be part.
Except that the people Paul spoke of were really outsiders.
He mentions that they lived apart, that they were separated from God. They didn’t even really know He existed, never mind that He cared. If they came, they were excluded, foreigners and aliens that would never be allowed to become citizens of Israel, that would never be allowed to be in a relationship with God, the relationship described in the covenant, with the incredible promises that were given to those who were God’s people.
Talk about being outsiders!
And here I was thinking I didn’t belong.
There are many of us that feel that way, who struggle in life because we don’t feel we belong, doubt we ever could because we see all the things that hold us back!
But Paul refers to another group of those who didn’t get the blessing.
The insiders who don’t get it. He describes them as the circumcision, but people who show all the outward appearances of being in the family of God. Yet, it hasn’t affected their heart.
They don’t belong either, and they know it. Their hearts and lives are empty, the promises that belong to the people of God they don’t hear as theirs, even though they are told the promises. They cannot hear them or believe the promises are theirs.
And so they are like empty tombs or cups that have been cleansed on the outside. They know they aren’t any closer God than the outsiders, but they play the game well.
Good thing God loves us all!
And God in Christ has brought peace to us all,
In all the movies, the outsiders overwhelm the insiders, and some of the insiders end up siding with the victorious. The outsiders accomplish the task, become the heroes, defeat the bullies, show those in charge.
I’ve always liked those movies because of that. They gave me hope that somehow I could win at some point in my life.
I never would have thought of what Paul talks of here. That the neglected outsiders and the empty insiders could be made one, as Paul describes,
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
There it is, there is where we find unity, there is we find we belong, there we find an answer for the broken emptiness that we who grew up on insider feel.
In the eyes of the Lord who looks down on us, even today and pleads, “Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing… even as he claims the penalty for our sin.
And as He draws us to Him, He unites us, both those who weren’t a people and those who are. Those who weren’t in a covenant relationship, and those who were, but constantly failed to live in that relationship.
The outsiders aren’t outsiders anymore, for Christ has not just given them access, He has drawn them into Himself. The same of those inside whose hearts were so hard they couldn’t see or access the blessing of being the people of God. Yet now, in Christ, united to Him through the blood spilled at the cross, we are all His, carefully joined together as His home.
All sin is forgiven, all unrighteousness erased, all hostility left behind as God does something wonderful to us, and in us through us. We are one, nothing dividing us anymore. And so we can reach out to others that they think are outsiders, and help them know they are not.
We see this unity, this coming together here, as we come together to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, as one family one people, united in Christ….and we see it as God amazes us, using us all to bring more people to His cross, where they find this peace.
for together we have been brought peace by Christ Himself, a peace that goes beyond anything we can imagine, for it is this Christ has saved us to, as we dwell in Him. AMEN!
The letter sent to our church from one of its newest members
dear Concordia, Chris sent me this, and I think you all need to see what he sees in us. Because sometimes… we are so used to experiencing it, we forget the treasure we have!
I have spent the last few weeks taking a good look around the church at all the people inside and I have begun to see some amazing things that I hope I can relate to you.
Everyone at church has commented to me about the change they have seen in the past few months. I do feel different inside as I have shared in past emails and conversations with members of Concordia. But the changes are not my own. I am one who doesn’t like change. I never did and probably never will. My heart has started to heal, my mind has become more clearer, although I have gained a few pounds, I am healthier than I probably have ever been. But that’s getting away from what I feel I need to share right now.
I looked around church and I see not a German, or an Asian, or Portuguese, or swede. I see people at PEACE!. I see a glow in the many faces of GODS PEOPLE. What is this GLOW? To answer this question, first turn out your light and turn on a small desk lamp or a nightlight. You see all the light that’s coming from that small bulb? That GLOW? That’s not even a 1/10 of what I have seen in the faces of you all.
I see this in everyone no matter the age, sex, or beliefs about life (apart from our faith) ! From the newborn that cries sometimes during the sermon to the woman that sits across from me that’s in her 80s. I see that radiance that says “I know he is with me and is taken care of me.” And “I am loved”. I sit and I think about the brokenness and sometimes despair that people have experienced as of late. And I look at our prayer list at church every week. I get sad as more and more names get added on to it. Then I look up and I see a sanctuary full of PEACEFUL people. I have drug out that dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word but yet I still cannot grasp it. But yet I can recognize it and I’m seeing it every Sunday and Wednesday at bible study.
I know that some of you do look around during church for various reasons and maybe whisper. But next time you do, look and you will see the GLOW on peoples faces as you say “THE PEACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IS WITH YOU ALWAYS”
YOUR BROTHER IN CHRIST,
What Really Matters
2 Cor. 12:1-10
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize what matters in this life., which allows you to depend on His faithfulness. AMEN!
The Fable of the Animals
As Vicar Timothy and I talked about this passage this week, he told me an ancient Chinese fable.
Once upon a time, there was a gathering of the animals. And as they gathered along the seashore, they wanted to know about each other, what strengths they could bring to the community. There was a gracious grand eagle, who told of his ability to soar high over the land and see how glorious the kingdom was. There was a huge elephant, who talked about his power and strength that was greater than all of them so he could take on all the heavy jobs. A Blue whale, resting comfortably offshore, talked of being the largest animal in the ocean, and an ability to explore deeper than any other animal. One after another they went, telling of what they could do best.
Finally, there was Mr. Frog, who looked around and considered all the incredible things others could do. He didn’t do all that much, just sat on his lily pad and watched and observed and occasionally… caught a passing fly for dinner. You know, sort of like this! He thought his life was boring, and if that’s all he said he was, the other animals would mock him, or laugh, or perhaps ignore him. And so he came up with an odd talent of his and said he could transform himself into a much larger being. So he swallowed more an more air, extending out his belly and making it larger. He looked around and realized he didn’t impress anyone, so he refused to swallow his pride, swallowed more air and puffed himself up even more, and again, puffing himself up even more, and finally, he puffed himself up so much, his gut exploded, and body parts went all over the room.
Too Great – or the Ultimate martyr
We do this all the time, no matter the culture. We want others to think we are great, or what we do is great. We want to be admired, we want to be someone, even if only in our grandparents, or grandkids eyes. So we exaggerate a little. We feed our ego.
Or if we can’t be the greatest, we make ourselves out to be martyrs, those who sacrifice everything for others. I suffer more than you do, see how great I am at giving things up so you can have what you want? That too feeds our ego, if we serve more and harder, and are willing to sacrifice everything.
It’s to people like us, the frogs of the world that Paul writes to when he writes to Corinthians. Average people, but people that struggle with their identity, with their reputation.
Paul, you know, the apostle who spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the guy, who like John, had a revelation of Jesus that we’ve never read about, save in these few words. Paul, who wrote to the Philippians that all his earthly credentials were as valuable as the remains of the human digestive system. Here is saying that even visions from heaven are not worth it, because maybe they take attention from what really matters.
And then he says something really strange, the problems he has, the thorns in the flesh, the stresses, the brokenness, these things are a blessing. A blessing simply because when we are in the midst of the trauma when we are in the midst of the thorns. There, we hear God say these simple words,
My grace is all you need, Those were words that enabled Paul to boast, not about his strengths, not about his suffering, but his inabilities, his weakness, his brokenness. Because when he was at his worst, the power of God was able to be seen in Him.
My grace is all you need…..
If we could only understand that.
The incomplete fable
Going back to Timothy’s fable, it ends with the frog, blown out of shape, his body exploding from trying to live up to the hype, trying to live up to the pressure from blowing his value all out of proportion.
I asked him what he thought most people would think God would say if he walked up on the scene. He thought most people in the world, even Christians, would expect God to lecture the frog, or even judge and condemn him for doing all that damage to himself. For breaking the commandments, for making himself the idol that needed to be worshipped, for bearing false witness about himself. Mr. Frog, people would think – you have done yourself in.
That is not the God that tells us, “My grace is all you need” He gently picks up each part of us, and puts us back together, healing us. That is what grace is, not just forgiveness as in, “you aren’t going to get punished for this” but the grace that brings healing to whatever we’ve done, that restores us and makes us hole.
What our sin destroyed, God calls back into being. What sin has killed, God resurrects.
If he does that with our sin, He also does it with those things that challenge us in each day. The insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that exist as we try and serve those who need it, as we care for those who can’t seem to care for themselves, as we love those who consider themselves unlovable.
Beyond our Sin
If this is true regarding Christ saving us, it extends into all our life and all our ministry to others. We don’t need to be the one people praise, we don’t need to be the one everyone notices.
What matters is that people know we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that it will get us through the trials and pains that serving God too often results in, even if those challenges are as brutal as Paul mentions. For that is Paul’s context, in this letter. He doesn’t care where he ranks among the apostles, even though he could claim it.
He would rather have God’s people know that in every part of life, the thing that matters is God is there. If that is seen in his weakness, praise God. For then they know in their weakness, in their days where anxiety sets in, in those days when nothing gets done, or it seems two steps forward result in 10 steps back…
In those days, He is there, and our ministry, our caring for others, he does in ways far beyond anything we can imagine. For what really matters is that you know God’s love, and His mercy, and His faithfulness. Understand that… and you will be at peace.
God’s Faithful Love
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bring you peace and help you to realize how faithfully He loves you! And knowing this, may you learn to wait in hope, knowing He will never abandon you forever!
Fear of Abandonment
In that day, people had turned their back on God. They had chosen lives filled with immorality and deceit, lives that were so perverse that they didn’t even realize how badly they were enslaved to sin.
They were beginning to reap the consequences of their action, as families were divided, as their cities were being destroyed from within and without, as they were no longer a place where refugees came for hope, but a place where they fled from, not with any plan, but they simply had to “get away.
They were a people that were broken, much like many in our community in our nation, in our world today. There felt like they were alone – and that they were abandoned by God. This was reinforced by the shame that what they were experiencing, shame they knew they deserved because of their sin. They felt abandoned, without any hope…
And then a prophet spoke.
There would be healing, so that even in their grief, they would know not only that God was compassionate, they would experience that compassion. For God has promised that His love is faithful and unending, that His mercy, His compassion, His work forgiving and restoring people will never end.
And this faithful love of God endures today. It is why this church can be what we say it is, the place where people find healing in Christ while helping others heal.
Submitting to the yoke…together
I want to read verse 24 through 27 again,
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” 25 The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. 26 So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. 27 And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline: 28 Let them sit alone in silence beneath the LORD’s demands
While we look at 26 through 28 a little closer, please keep in mind the attitude expressed in 24 and 25, that we have hope, for God is our inheritance, that He is good to those who depend upon Him.
But in verse 26-28 we find some things that are… challenging, and if we think through them, disturbing.
The first is that it is good to wait quietly, (and the Hebrew includes the idea of expectantly) for God to rescue us. Let’s get past the word salvation and realize that this is a matter of spiritual life and death we are talking about.
This word salvation, getting down to simple thoughts, is about being rescued, about being picked up from the crap that we have gotten ourselves into, the trouble we have made for ourselves, the sin we committed, that leaves us broken, frustrated, and alone.
The issue of sin is the reason Jeremiah tells us that it is better for us to submit to a yoke of discipline at an early age. A little explanation there. A yoke was that which was put over a team of oxen or horses’ necks so that they could be used to work. It was a way of controlling them, but even more, a way of teaching and guiding them. For a new ox would be paired with one who was experienced and together they would get the job done,
In the same way, it may seem hard to think of God disciplining people, but He doesn’t leave us alone, for as He disciplines us with that yoke, he is also carrying it with us, doing the work, making sure we “get” it, never leaving us alone, even though we think we can’t bear it anymore.
And that is the way it is throughout our entire life. Even when we struggle, He is there, right beside us, working us through it, bringing us back on track. Far better to learn this as a young person, but it is never too late!
For we find as God guides us, even if it is with a “strong hand” that we not only endure, we are blessed by His presence, even if we don’t really enjoy His strong hand, and His correction.
His Mercies begin Fresh, they never cease
But this is what it means that His love is faithful, and it never ends. God’s love for you and it means that He will always, always do what is best for us. That is the nature of this love, this cHesed. It binds Him to us, His love for us demands He be faithful to us, even when that faithfulness isn’t easy, or comfortable, say for instance when it required the death of Jesus.
On the cross.
Because He loves us, and He will not ever give up on us, or abandon us. But we live forever with Him.
In this book of lament, there is one thing that still amazes me, and brings me to tears, not of grief, sorrow or shame.
It is verse 23, “His mercies begin afresh every morning.”
Every morning. No matter how bad I screwed up yesterday, no matter how shameful my sin, no matter how badly you think you shattered that relationship, that mercy, that bond that God has with you is there, as new and precious as it was when He cleansed you from sin in your baptism.
That is why we are told to remember our baptism every evening before we go to sleep, so that we may sleep without guilt and shame, and why we should begin every day thinking of what God promised us here, not just the forgiveness of sin, but the presence of the Holy Spirit, who will accompany you all day, guiding you, correcting you, comforting you.
That is the faithfulness that Jeremiah offered to the sin-ridden people of Israel
And it is the faithful love of God I promise you is there, for you this day.
God is with you, and because of that, you can know He will be merciful, He will forgive because He loves you. And like Jeremiah, as He is healing you, you can reach out to others who need healing.
For you can live with Him, knowing His incredible peace, now and forever!
Who Told You?
† In Jesus Name †
May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that instead of seeking a hiding place from God, you should seek the refuge you find in Him!
Who Told You?
In today’s first reading, the one from Genesis 3, there is a question that God asks Adam, one that is relevant to ask today.
Who told you?
Specifically, who told you that you were naked, literally that you were exposed, who told you that your sin was visible for all to see? ( who was all anyway?)
How did you find out you had sinned, how did you come across that information?
Where did this guilt come from that drives you to do things that are as unnatural as the sin you are trying to hide?
As I thought about this question, it came to me that you and I need to ask that question today as we have to deal with our own brokenness, with our own sin, and the damage it does to us.
For I think we’ve been taught about sin in such a way that we react to it as Adam did, hiding, getting defensive, shifting blame, all in response to the guilt that convicts us far more cruelly than God would.
So who told you that you were exposed, that your sin was something so horrible that you had to hide?
Who told you to pass the blame?
As Adam was anxiously dealing with the idea that God found him. As God asks Adam who told you that you were naked, did you eat of the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” While all that is scrambling his mind, he comes up with an answer.
Not my fault God! It’s her fault, you know, the one YOU gave me. She gave me the fruit, and because she is a blessing from you, I listened to her.
And since then, some men have avoided that problem, simply by not listening to their wives!
Of course, that causes other problems, and is just as sinful!
But who told Adam that the best way to deal with sin was to pass the blame? To hide behind Eve, rather than hiding behind a tree? Who told him that he wasn’t responsible for stopping Eve from falling into sin?
In trying to defend himself, to justify his own sin, Adam finds himself guilty of more than one sin, he finds himself shattering more relationships and allowing sin to get a better and better hold on his soul.
We do this all the time, and so does most of the world. When we fear getting caught when we know the guilt and shame and embarrassment that comes from doing something we know we shouldn’t do or refusing to do something we should.
Who told us to do that? Who told us that we needed to be defensive, that a defense even needed to be given? For that is as much of a lie as the temptation to sin was in the first place.
Yet Adam does it, as will Eve, who will follow the pattern and play the blame game, blaming the snake for deceiving her, for leading her into temptation.
Who told us to hide, to try and escape from God’s notice. Who told us to hide behind others, trying to get them to pay for our sin?
Who told you about Eve’s offspring?
I am not sure where we get this idea to hide from God, but we do it all the time, don’t we?
What we need to hear, is the last verse of the passage, for it tells us how sin is to be dealt with. It is the very first prophecy about Jesus in the Bible, what Luther called the “proto-gospel”.
You see it on the painting on the cover of the bulletin, as the offspring of Eve crushes Satan and all his minions on the cross. Even as the serpent sees Christ die, Satan’s efforts to dominate, to lead people away from God are crushed.
This is what we need to know! That sin, Satan, and death are crushed at the cross of Christ. We have been made free!
Seeking Refuge, not Hiding
There is something that drives us to hide from God, and from others, like our parents, our spouses, our children, even our pastor, when we sin.
It is ironic when we run from God when we hide behind someone else, I think what we are trying to do is to find a place of rest, a place where the effects of our sin are negated, and we think hiding will provide it. We don’t understand there is an option, there always has been.
We can seek refuge in God, instead of seeking a hiding place from Him.
Instead of laying the blame off on others, Christ will willingly, even joyfully remove it.
Seek refuge, not a hiding place.
Which means seek a refuge in God, we allow Him to remove all the guilt and shame, all the anxiety over punishment, all the anxiety of having our sinfulness exposed to the world.
For that was why He was looking for Adam and Eve, and until the cross, why He put them out of the garden. Not as a punishment, but to sustain them until Christ’s death and resurrection would cleanse them from sin, and they and all who trust and depend on God were given refuge, in the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.
For there we find life, and peace that is beyond compare or comprehension. For in Christ we are kept secure, our hearts and minds are in His possession. AMEN!!!
The Evidence is Within
2 Cor 4:5-12
† I.H.S. †
May the gifts of God’s mercy and peace become so integrated in your lives that everyone can see and praise God that Christ lives in you!
Can you keep going?
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see my first two churches. They are 115 miles from here, in a desert community called Yucca Valley. Saw a lot of friends at one of them, as we gathered to pay respects to a man I helped trained in ministry. He was diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks after he was installed as a pastor at his first church. Drove by the other, my very first church.
During the drive I back, I did a lot of thinking, about why I’ve been doing this twenty years as a pastor and years before that as a chaplain. I thought about my friend, who at 62 started seminary to become a pastor, and who died a week ago. I thought my own mentor that retired in that place whom I was able to see. And I thought about some of the challenges that fellow pastors and ministers are facing…
And I heard again these words of St Paul that were read this morning…
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
I’ve seen that statement become true not just in pastors’ lives, but Christians who live all over the world. Some face physical threats, in places like the Sudan, or China. Some are harassed and mocked because of their faith. Some face challenges in the inner city, or in churches that struggle to survive, both financially and because of conflict. I know a younger lady, with a master’s degree in International Business, who set that aide to be a missionary among the refugees in Turkey, while her sister is working at an orphanage school in Nigeria. I know people who serve in churches as teachers or setting up everything every Saturday for Sunday service, who volunteer thousands of hours.
Not one of them does it for the accolades or the applause. Just like the Apostle Paul in that passage – we don’t talk about ourselves. Those who know and follow Jesus serve each other and the world for Jesus sake.
Because God has shown the light of His glorious light into our hearts.
That is why all this is here… To help people know that…
In verse 6-7, Paul explains why people would embrace suffering,
. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
The light that invades the darkness…A darkness that affects our hearts and oppresses our very lives.
The darkness has a name, it is called sin.
What is this thing we call sin? Basically, It is failing to love God and hear His voice as He shows us how to live. It is failing to love Him and all those around us, helping them. even those that count themselves, enemies and adversaries, because God loves them and would invite them into this incredible relationship with Him, that would make them our family.
Sin can seem as little as a tiny lie or breaking an oath or gossiping about someone. It can seem as big as murder or theft. In every case, it works to destroy relationships, it plunges us into darkness.
This is the darkness God’s love shatters.
The love that we see in Jesus, as He died to remove all that darkness, all of the burdens, healing the relationships that have been broken.
That is what the cross is all about… the payment for the sin, but in order that we can be in fellowship with God, so that we walk with Him, not only during this life but eternally.
That is the reason for the forgiveness of sin, for the forgiveness of those times where we put ourselves first and forget God and others. Yet despite the damage we’ve done, and may still do, God is willing to deal with it, He has dealt with it. By dying on the cross for us, and rising from that death, so that even death cannot separate us from Him
This is what it means for Him to shine His glorious love into our lives, by revealing to us the love that erases the punishment, in the life and eternity, that we would have earned.
It is that glory that you see, in the lives of people that are willing to give up everything, fame, fortune, salaries, comfort, their own pride, even the right to be angry at someone who has hurt them. This is the love you see, as someone gives up their comfort, or even their retirement, to serve others, This is the glory you see, the evidence that Jesus lives in us, even in us broken down older folk.
God loves us, and wants to cleanse all of us and make us His own people. His own children. It is then we know the peace of God, which goes beyond all comprehension, as He guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Transformed Minds: The effect of the Resurrection
We Have a Life to Live, Together (with Him!)
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ surround us with peace, even as He guides our work together in Him!
A Test of Faith
Most of you know I wasn’t always a pastor, for a while I was in management, and my undergraduate degree is in Organizational Management.
This is probably most surprising to some, but for a while, I was pretty decent at managing things, from restaurants and bookstores to a divisional department at Pepperdine.
When I became a pastor, I found out that not everything in management theory is transferable to church, and it is taking me over 20 years to determine what things will work, and what things do not. One of those things is finance, personnel management quite fit either, and another is leadership development.
Look at today’s reading from Acts, I mean who would ever tell a CEO or COO to pick a replacement for the Board of Directors by flipping a coin or rolling a dice? I mean what if our nominations committee did that… they just gave us a list of names of all qualified people for each office, and we just rolled a die to see who the next president, vice president, secretary and treasurer were?
Anyone want to take a chance at that method? Let’s see, who would be qualified to be the next congregational president? Al? Jim? Bob? You guys meet the qualifications, so we add you to the list…and flip a coin and let’s see what happens. Okay? For vice president, all the names, and let’s roll some dice!
How much faith does it take, to hear God, and trust in an ancient way of asking His guidance that basically accepted that guidance based on a flip of a coin, or a roll of the dice? We’ll get to the faith in a moment.
Replacing Judas ( to do what?)
That’s what they did, they cast lots, like the Urim and Thummim to choose who would replace Judas among the Twelve.
We know why he had to be replaced. In his actions we see the damage sin can do played out completely. He didn’t trust Jesus, and so Judas betrayed Jesus, trying to force him to do what Judas thought was right.
That’s not only a sin we are all capable of, it is a sin that most of us are guilty of this week, and often enough to realize the guilt and shame that would drive Judas to death. For that is what the guilt and shame does, when we realize the damage we have done, not listening to God or obeying His word.
Without Jesus, what happened to Judas would happen to us all,
Obviously, replacing Judas was important. It is the first act of the church after the Ascension. But one of the questions to ask is for what reason was Judas replaced? Was it to be a leader or ruler of the church? Was it to be a VIP on the Board of Directors, or to be the new Chief Financial Officer?
I mean we must have structure in the church, and these twelve and their roles are pillars in the church. So what does scripture say the role he was chosen for was.
Hear scripture again,
21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”
Witnesses of Jesus Resurrection. That is the role of the Twelve. In Greek, they were the twelve Martyrion, the me who would be witnesses of the death and resurrection of Jesus. I wonder if Matthias and Barsabbas were volunteered for this?
That is the critical role of the church, to bear witness to the fact that Alleluia, He is Risen!
All other roles, whether elected offices or hired positions work to make this one task, being a witness to Jesus possible. Which brings us back to choosing, and having faith in God in that choice.
How do we get that kind of faith?
So where should the faith come from, that leads us to trust God’s leading in choosing who will do this kind of work, or any work today? It doesn’t matter whether it is a vote, or a flip of a coin, or whatever method, it doesn’t matter.
We have to trust God for whom He calls into leadership through the church.
Verse 14 and verse 2 show the secret.
“They all met together and were constantly united in prayer” and “they all prayed”.
They were gathered in the presence of God and communicated together as one! It is where the church finds unity, it is there where our dependence on God is encouraged, nurtured, strengthened, where we encounter God’s mercy as others show it us as well,
As one pastor shared it, Do you see? That cable—strand upon strand, many of them woven tightly together—is strong enough to lift enormous weights. You and your brothers, with wills united to carry out God’s will, can overcome all obstacles.
It is not because of our own strength that this happens, it takes God weaving us together, splicing the places where we have become frayed. It is in the peace that the church is the church, that it bears witness to God’s love.
It as we find our lives in Jesus that things become clearer, and we simply focus in on the mission, of bearing witness to His resurrection, and our resurrection in Him.
For a Paul quotes,
27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. Acts 17:27-28 (NLT2)
That’s what the world needs to know, and you and I are sent to share that message, a message of great hope, incredible peace, all sustained by His mercy and love. AMEN!
The Effect of the Resurrection
Part III: Losing our Ignorance
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ circumcise your heart, cutting away all the ignorance, hatred and sin. Leaving you holy, transformed in heart, soul and mind. Amen!
I need a break!
Over and over this week, there is one phrase that I kept on wanting to explore. It is one I think I understand, but there are times, where I wonder what it would be like to experience such a time.
The phrase is, “times of refreshment”
I mean if our weeks at all were similar, you don’t know what that means either.
I mean it sounds like those days when we were young and were playing baseball or in our case hockey, or whatever, and after sweating and running around I the hot sun, we all had a cold glass of Kool-aid, then dove in the lake, or a friend’s pool
That sounds refreshing!
In our reading from acts, it is not just a time of refreshment that is promised as God transforms us, as our sins are wiped away, buts times, seasons of it. Time upon time of living in that refreshment, that time when the soul is healthy!
But as to what such a time is today, I am not sure. You might say I am ignorant of such a time, but it sure sounds nice!
How could they be that ignorant?
As Peter discussed all of those who were involved in crucifying Jesus, he doesn’t call the people and their leaders, evil. He doesn’t say they are wicked, or bad. Instead, He says that they were ignorant, that they didn’t know better.
Now I suppose it is better to be called ignorant rather than evil. Still being called ignorant is not really fun to hear. In this case, where they rejected and crucified the Messiah, despite Pilate’s protest, it seems impossible. How could they not know Jesus was the Messiah?
I think before we go any farther, we need to understand what ignorance in the Bible is.
It is not about having the data about something. It goes deeper than that, and in fact, that depth is the key to defining ignorance and overcoming it.
We talked about this term last week, when the two disciples walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and they didn’t know it was him. The word isn’t talking about simple recognition, it’s the term that indicates understanding someone the way you can when you live with them for year and decades. When you can finish their sentences for them when you know how they are feeling and what is on their hearts.
It is what, for lack of a better term, I call having an intimate relationship.
Not that kind, though oddly enough, the same word in Greek and Hebrew describes that as well.
They crucified Jesus because they didn’t understand Him. Despite all the scriptures telling them about the Son of God, they did it. They sinned.
Much the same as we do when we choose to sin.
We forget Jesus, we don’t understand or really, deeply know God. And so, being ignorant about Jesus, being ignorant of God, we ignore the way He planned for us to live, a life of love and peace.
And a God draws us to Himself, as He brings us to repentance as He brings us to this transformation where we allow Him to cut away the sin, and the guilt and the shame, the ignorance is removed as well
And what we find out when we enter this relationship is that God loves us, He cares so deeply for us. He makes us whole and brings us a peace.
That is what the ignorance was hiding, that is what we couldn’t know when we didn’t understand God. And it was that way until God started to work in our lives. Until He brought us to repentance, to that place where our souls find healing, much as this lame man found healing.
Everything changes when we realize how much God loves us, how unwilling He is to be separated from us.
One pastor, in explaining how a church service is organized, explained this love of God in this way.
This is the only way the true structure of the liturgy can be restored, a structure that, as we have just seen, makes concrete in divine worship the fundamental structure of divine action. God, the Revealer, did not want to stay as solus Deus, solus Christus (God alone, Christ alone). No, he wanted to create a Body for himself, to find a Bride—he sought a response. It was really for her that the Word went forth.
This is why we do what we do, why we worship the way we do, and study the Bible and pray, and remind each other of the Lord’s presence, for the more we do, the more we know Him, in a way that is so full of peace and joy.
It is as we see this God, revealed to us, that the power of sin is broken, that it is wiped out of our lives that we are free, that we finally find the love that we so need, and the peace, and the refreshment until He comes and restores all things…as He has promised.
So let us pray…
The Effect of the Resurrection
Pt. 2 One Heart and Mind
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus transform your heart and mind so that you united to Jesus, and to all who are His!
God’s Mega Blessings
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning, we heard a description of Concordia, and I want you to hear it again.
God’s great blessing was upon them all.
This is us.
Blessed, overflowing with the grace of God, overwhelmed by the presence of God, and if we take a moment to take a breath and think about it, or better, to look around us, we shall see it.
For we see the work being done in each other. We may be completely oblivious as to what is going on in our own lives, but we see what is going on around us, and the peace that is found here.
I can look around the room, and see the same thing Luke described in the early church, a place where people are united in one hear, one mind, the very transformation that comes from knowing that….
Alleluia, He is Risen! (He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
and therefore, (we are risen Indeed! ALLELUIA!)
This is a natural transformation, actually supernatural…
As we look at the description of how the church interacted in this passage, it seems either naïve, r some socialistic plot, at first.
Karl Marx who used a description gathered from these verses to describe his perfect society, describing it this way, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs
And wherever that has been attempted by law or by forcing people to believe it, it has failed. Not because the idea is wrong, but because the transformation has been forced, rather than allowed to happen naturally, It is put upon the people that this is the way they will live, rather than allowing love to cause it naturally, to be driven by the spiritual desire to love those around us.
We do that to often, even in the church, when we try and change people’s behavior without seeing their hearts and souls transformed by God, resurrected and brought to life by the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit draws them into Jesus, into His death and resurrection.
This is a long habit, dating back to the Pharisees, and probably before. When they didn’t want the tax collector or the prostitute in Church. When they paid more attention to the outside appearance of the individual, and the broken and different were sent away.
We want people to live generously, we want them to give sacrificially, we want them to give up the sins that so damage their lives. What we want for them is good, if we don’t guilt them into it, or promise them some special blessing from God, if they only act the way we think God wants them to think and act,
It happens more naturally than that, or it might be better to say, more supernaturally than that…. For God moves us, His love transforms us.
The testimony causes it…
That is what the rest of the verse had mentioned,
The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all.
The blessing that was upon them was delivered through the testimony that Jesus was no longer dead, that Praise God, He is risen….
And as the apostles proclaimed this, the people realized all the promises of God were poured out on them, for they were forgiven, cleansed, made the holy people of God our Father. They had become brothers and sisters of Jesus, counted no longer as servants, but as friends.
The gospel is not just the testimony of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, but it is the testimony of what this means.
We are His, we are free, we have been given the Holy Spirit, God present with us, who comforts us, empowers us, and transforms us.
To use our motto, that is why we, the people of Concordia, are the broken people, who are finding healing in Christ, help others to heal.
It is why Cyndee and Carol and Linda find such joy in gathering women together for special events, knowing that they will bring joy into their lives. Or why Jim and Manny had a few guys over for the first men’s time yesterday. It is why Hank and his team from both congregations raised the money, and why Hank was down here each day, checking on the work. It is why we help people who’ve lost homes or send Bernie back to Sudan, or why you sent me to China a few years ago. It is why we have Al constantly talking about benevolence, and he doesn’t just talk about it. It’s why we have Nancy keeping her prayer book and encouraging others to pray. It’s why Missy sets her anxiety aside to guide our worship, and why these people smile over here, as they hear your voices sing louder than theirs… I could go on and on, but this is the evidence of God working Just as they did in the early church, each person helping the rest… not thinking about themselves.
We want others to know the love we know, or as Peter describes in His epistle, to be people with a future and a hope.
The love that we find here at the altar, its why a 2-3-year old will cling to it, not understanding, but knowing this is a special place. For many of us older folk as well… for here, reminded of how deep God’s love for us is, the resurrection becomes more than history, it becomes our life!
It’s the love given to us in our baptism, and that becomes more real each and every day. For Ezekiel promised that God would change us,
The gospel is that God loves us, and cleanses and transforms us, something seen as we grow in love for one another, in a naturally supernatural way…..
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NLT)
A love that brings us together, one heart, one soul, for ours is His heart, His soul….a love that causes us to dwell in His peace… united to Him… AMEN!
Let us pray!
as an added bonus…. the notes from Bible Study (let me know if I should continue to post these!
What is Concordia
A Look at the Body of Christ
Why should we study what the church is?
If we are shaped by the Holy Spirit, then can’t all this come about naturally (Jer 31:34)?
Is the church in the day’s of the Acts of the Apostles better or worse from the church today?
The Lutheran Confessions describe the Church this way:
1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.
2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word.
Does this resonate with what we heard today in the sermon? What caused the transformation in the believers?
Is Concordia the Church, or just part of the Church?
What does it mean that all the believers ( those having faith) are of one heart (kardia) and mind (psyche)
is this passage talking just about sharing money, or is that just an example?
What do people “need” in this church?
Back to being a witness to the resurrection. What does that mean? How can we be that today?
How do the sacraments fit into that? (1 Cor 11:26 & Titus 3:4-8)
So are the sacraments still being a witness to the resurrection?
How much of one kardia and psyche do we realize during the sacraments?
 Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.