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Transformed Minds: The effect of the Resurrection. We have life together… (with Him) Acts 1:12-20

church at communion 2Transformed Minds: The effect of the Resurrection
We Have a Life to Live, Together (with Him!)

Acts 1:12-20

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!

What are you investing yourself in this week?

20170124_103703Devotional Thoughts of the day:

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. John 20:30-31 HCSB

317    What zeal men put into their earthly affairs! Dreaming of honors, striving for riches, bent on sensuality! Men and women, rich and poor, old and middle-aged and young and even children: all of them alike. When you and I put the same zeal into the affairs of our souls, then we’ll have a living and working faith. And there will be no obstacle that we cannot overcome in our apostolic works.

It’s Monday morning, and another work week stands before us.

What are you going to do with it?  Where are you going to spend the assets you have?  What can you do, that will give the greatest return on investment?

I dare say St. John had a similar question in mind when he penned the words about Christ that we have come to know as his gospel.  And in the quote above we see his priority, that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.

That was John’s bottom line (and the Holy Spirit’s bottom line as well)  That we would know Jesus, trust and depend upon Him, and thereby receive the life He desires us to have.  A life lived with Him, a life lived in His presence.

This is Jesus greatest investment, as He invests in us…

And while it is the time I invest in this, what I really invest is my brokenness. The struggle I have with sin, (especially when I don’t struggle with it) the guilt and shame, the hurts and pains, the resentment, the fear, and anxiety.

Those are my investments, the things I have to learn to zealously invest them into my relationship with Jesus, the return on investment is rest from them, a rest in the glory of God, a rest that comes from knowing I am loved.

He heals us, in ways beyond our hearts’ imagination, because the brokenness He will heal goes deeper into our soul than we are willing to explore.  But that is what St. Josemaria is talking about when he tells us to have zeal for the affairs of our soul, for our internal lives. Letting God sink deeper into our lives that butter sinks into a hot waffle.  It is scary and wonderful,  What we need to invest… is the stuff that kills off our life.  It is the stuff we need to be removed from our lives, and Jesus will…. with great joy and care… cut it away.  ( See Colossians 2:11)

That is when our faith is living and working, when we allow God to deal with our brokenness, all of it, as He forgives our sins and cleanses us of all unrighteousness, and we can live….

And be sent out, for we are broken people who are finding hope and healing in Jesus, and helping others heal….

Lord have mercy on us, and help us invest our brokenness in your mercy and love… and heal us, dear Lord!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 820-824). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Transformed Minds:  The Effect of the Resurrection We see things differently! A sermon on Acts 4

church at communion 2

Transformed Minds:  The Effect of the Resurrection
We see things differently!
Acts 4:1-12

Jesus, Son, Savior

 May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help us to see all things from His perspective!

A Matter of Perspective

There are days my relationship to the world seems a lot like this picture.

I don’t quite understand what they see, and I am absolution sure they don’t see what I see.

And most of the time, that doesn’t bother me.

If we are talking about the gospel it does.  It bothers me tremendously.

The same concern exists when we talk about the church, have to offer people, it does.  Not just because my life is literally wrapped around the church, but because of what the church offers to us, as it reveals to us the very heart of God, His desire, His will… His love, for you and I.

His love for us..

A love that changes things, no, not really, it changes us.

This love transforms us so completely, it is as if everything was flipped over.

And while there are days I would willingly knock some people over, what we need is to build a desire that they would see what we see and treasure.  We need to understand how critical it is for them to see the Jesus who loves them, who died for them, who lives with them.

As we look at the Pharisees we will understand what they see, and why they can’t see it.

What they saw… something to reject

As hard as it seems, let’s try to walk in the priests and Sadducees sandals for a moment.  It’s now almost 2 months since the crucifixion of Jesus the Nazarene.  They thought they had gotten risen of the pesky troublemaker, and most of his followers had scattered like cockroaches when the light turns on, and know His followers are back

And the ministry, as interesting as it is, isn’t happening the way it should.  It wasn’t in conjunction with the appointed ministers of God in that place, And the ministry wasn’t happening to the best of people, it was to the rabble, like that lame guy who begged all his life.

They had lots of questions, and as we heard last week, they were ignorant.  They were looking for logic and reason.  They were looking for answers that could be put in a nice neat box.

That’s why they asked, “by what power, or on whose authority, have YOU done THIS?”

As if the answer would allow them to reject the miracle that was happening.  As if the answer would allow them to discount what the reality they are facing.

But humanity does that all the time.  We choose to be blinded to God, we choose to look at things upside down. We choose to call what is right wrong, and what is wrong right.

Even those of us who claim to follow Jesus do this, as we assume that our plans are God’s, that our beliefs about the world are equivalent to God’s plans.  ( I could mention that I had pastor friends in the last week, one tell me God is happy with the Republicans, and another the Democrats, and that’s why they feel free to bash the opposition!)

Matter of fact, I think we confuse those who don’t know God when we seek to speak for God on things not found in scripture, or when we make the sins that upset us the most the unforgivable sin,  or when we make the sins we personally struggle with not that big of a deal!  When we say, thus spake the Lord, and we don’t have the authority or responsibility to do so.
What we are doing in that case is not standing opposite the world looking at what was written, but opposite God.

And we find ourselves there too often.

What we see – the basis of our hope

Last week, I said the ignorance the people had was not that they were stupid, nor was it that they didn’t have the data.  They did, they just didn’t understand it.

This week the change is similar, they didn’t have the right perspective, even the apostles didn’t, and they heard Jesus prophecy about his death for three years.

The apostles didn’t understand the incredible message of salvation, until they put it together after the cross, until they saw the wounds in his hands and in His side, until He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit, just as we received it in our baptism.

it was then that they realized what it meant for Jesus to be the cornerstone. That sets the perspective in stone, and we can’t say what Jesus says is a 6 is a 9, or what is wrong is right.

There is more to being the cornerstone than setting what is right and wrong though.    The idea of the cornerstone is that every stone is connected to the cornerstone, everyone is linked, and the cornerstone or keystone keeps them connected.

Because Jesus is the cornerstone because He is our rock, we are connected to Him, and that changes everything.  Paul talked about it this way,

16  So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NLT)

Because of Jesus, it is not only Jesus we see differently but ourselves… and each other.

And we need to!  We need to see Jesus as our Savior, our Lord!  We need to understand that we are connected to Him, that we are united to Him, and our lives are lived out in that connection.

You, me, him, her, each person here.  Each person is a new creation, each is as new in their redeemed lives as the lame man who could not only walk- he could dance now! Everything in our lives is new, from our lives free of sin, to our lives lived in the presence and peace of God.

This is our hope, and peace, to know His peace… and love.  Let’s pray

 

 

Prayers answered in the wounds of Christ Part IV: Hold Me!

Prayers Answered in the Wounds of Christ
Hold Me!
Psalm 27:7-10

I.H.S

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you of this, that you will never, ever be completely abandoned!  For The Lord loves you!

 The Fear of Abandonment

 It is among the greatest of fears, the greatest sources of anxiety.  It’s symptoms include anxiety, chronic feelings of insecurity, depression, esteem issues,, a feeling of no control self-depreciation ( I am not worth it!) isolation, or behaviors which are negative to us, to appease those we feel we cannot lose.

It is the fear of abandonment, and it is becoming more and more prevalent.

Its cause is not rational, it is not even a conscious thought, but there is something within us that convinces us that we are not appreciated, that we are not cared for, that we are neither loved, or lovable.

Even though we know better, the anxiety, the fear is there, knowing away at us, paralyzing us, or driving us into sin, so that we can minimize the pain we except.

And our hope is seen in the background of the slides, in the scars and wounds of the man who was the loneliest in all of history, as he was laid out on the cross.

Separation

I think Abandonment is why we fear death, and why we fear to get older.  Ultimately, we don’t want to be alone, we don’t want to be separated from those we love.  That is why some people will stay in an abusive relationship, or fear to work on damaged ones, because of the risk of being abandoned.  It is why we will willingly embrace sin, otherwise, people might reject us.  So we join them in their sin, in their negative behaviors.  We tell ourselves that the pain and consequences are okay… at least we aren’t alone.   Or we numb ourselves with behaviors that distract us, that gives us a break from the loneliness.  A warm body is better than nobody, right?

Sin does its damage as well driving a wedge deeper and deeper between us, trying to pry us even away from God.  It’s pain causing us to believe we are broken beyond us, beyond meaning,

The answer

The Psalm Al read before had significant meaning to me.  Especially this verse,

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.

Even if the people who are supposed to care for you more than anyone else abandon you, God hasn’t. He holds you close.  In other places, Jesus talks about gathering us to Himself, as a hen gathers her chicks un her arms.  He talks about the Father running out to the prodigal joyously greeting Him with a bone-crushing hug. He talks of uniting us to Him in baptism, all of these examples to help us realize that He has us, that we are His, in death, and in heaven afterward.

As we’ve heard the wounds of Christ answer our prayers, our pleas for help, I want you to hear these words we sang of Jesus love again, this time brought into our language, where it becomes clear, this is not just our prayer, it is His answer

Here I will stand beside Thee,

From Thee I will not part!

O Savior, do not chide me!
When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish
In death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish,
Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

Paul tells us we are united to Christ in His death, and as the power of God raised Him from the dead, we rose, united to Him.  And He promises never, ever to abandon us.  We are His, His beloved children, His beloved people, and He went to the extent of Christ’s death to make sure of this.

You will never be abandoned, you will never be alone Jesus promised!  The Spirit dwells within you.  This isn’t just theology, it is the reality, as you will be reminded when Jesus gives you His body and blood to eat, to drink, knowing it is for you, because He loves you.

You are His… therefore you will never be alone.  So relax, look to Him, and know His peace.  For you are safe in that peace, protected by our Lord Himself.

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

church at communion 2The Transfigurations: The Light Shines!

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6

† I.H.S. †

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

Two transfigurations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What blinds you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only God Can And Has

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We MUST Go to Others! a sermon on Mark 1:29-39

church at communion 2We Must Go to Others

Mark 1:29-39

In Jesus Name

 May the gifts of the love, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so accompany you in your life that you are aware of those who lack it, and may that lack inspire you to reach out to them with your greatest treasure!

 Must?

As I tried to come up with a sermon title this week, knowing I was preaching on the gospel I tried to come up with something special, something that would inspire and catch on, a phrase you can’t get out of your mind, encouraging you to walk with Jesus, just as the apostles did,

I couldn’t come up with something, so I figured a great title is found in Jesus’s words,

“We must go on to other towns” or in these days, we can make it simple, “we must go to others.”

The problem using that as the title is that it sounds different than it really means.  It sounds like work and obligation that is demanded of us by God.  To use Lutheran-speak, it sounds like the law, and therefore it points out where we fall short, where we fail God and deserve to be punished.

But that isn’t at all what Jesus is telling the apostles when he says “We must go to others, and I will preach to them too, for that is why we came.”

We need to hear Jesus, and more than that, we need to understand Him.  This isn’t about us being good children of God or good members of the church.

It’s about finding out for ourselves what Paul told the people in Athens,  Repeat them with me.

‘In him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28 (NAB) 

What did “they” do?

Let’s go back a few verses, as Jesus and the apostles go to Simon Peter’s house.  There, Jesus finds Peter’s mum sick, so sick that with a very important guest at her house, she is lying down, burning up with a fever.  I mean, think about it, how sick would our ladies here be, if they didn’t get up and be hospitable?

So Jesus heals her, helps her up, and the word spreads.

Next thing you know, there is a crowd at the door and it looks busier that St Jude’s Hospital ER during flu season.  People with every kind of illness and disease, people even possessed by demons, all being brought to Jesus.

Mark’s gospel tells you that the entire town turned out to watch these miracles….

But how did they know all this was happening?

Someone, more excited than someone winning the Superbowl had to have told them.

That’s what happens when we begin to realize the depth of God’s grace, the depth of His mercy.  When we find out in Him we can live, really live.  When we see our souls begin to be healed, we see others who need it, and then rejoicing even more that there is no limit.  When the demons that torment us lose their grip. And we are freed from them and the guilt and shame that they try to plague us with disappears.

As we get used to that freedom, we never want to leave His side… so how will people know God’s love?  How will they have the blessing of God’s love, the blessing of His mercy and forgiveness revealed to them?

Remember those words

In him we live and move and have our being!

Jesus doesn’t say, “I must” or “you must”

For that is why he came, to give us the knowledge that in Him is everything we are, our life, our breath, what we do, everything we are.

That is what the cross is all about, and all those church words, redemption, justification, reconciliation, renewal, revitalization, all those words picture that in Christ we have died to sin and all that isn’t of God, and our lives, our very being is found in Him.  It is why he was born of a virgin, suffered and died, rose from the ascended and sent the Holy Spirit.

So that He could transform us so that He could give us life.

You see that as He doesn’t just say, “I must go to others,”  and He doesn’t say “you must go to others.”  What does He say, “we must go to others”

We must, Jesus and all those who are with Him must go to others.  All those whom He has joined to Himself.   We Must Go, We being Jesus and you all and me.

And then He is the one who reveals Himself to them, as He draws them here. And we don’t have to go all that far.

Why He Came

Maybe some of us are called to go to the next country, to go with Bernie to the Sudan, or with Christina to Turkey, but when Jesus says “we must go to others” it could be to our neighbor, who could be from the Sudan, or Guyana or Indonesia or France, or Germany or Switzerland or even someplace really strange – like Boston or Wisconsin.

We live in a transient age when people from every country on the planet save one or two have come to our neighborhoods!  We must go, with Jesus, to them, so that He can show them His love.  They even come to us sometimes, as they did yesterday.  As I pulled up, 16 people were in the parking lot, playing a game called Pokemon go, a few hours later, I went to the bathroom and there were another dozen people.  Both times, as we waited for the game to set, they asked me how I heard about the game being live on our campus.  I said… uhm, I am the pastor here… and they asked questions about the church and about the school. People as young as a five-year-old, as old as all of us. came here to play a game on their phones,

At least that is why they think they came…

We, you, me and Jesus need to go to them and let Jesus reveal Himself, and the news of His love.

We, you and me and Jesus, need to go to others and let them know about the love and mercy and healing of their hearts and souls.  Whether that means going across the parking lot, or across the street, state, country or world.  We, Jesus, you and I must go..

Because this is why He came…

And as He goes to others, we simply go with Him, for in Him we live and move and have our being!

AMEN!

Repent Finally, and Let’s Go Fishing

church at communion 2Repent Finally and Let’s Go Fishing

Mark 1:14-21

I.H.S

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you the confidence you need as God grants you repentance and then invites you to go fishing!

Two Invitations, two blessings

Have you ever been asked to go somewhere with someone, and dreaded it, only to find yourself really enjoying it?

I remember taking Kay one year for her birthday to see a musical at the Pantages.  Like a lot of guys, I am not much into musicals.  It’s not just the “guy” thing.  I’ve been asked to play in the band/orchestra for a couple of them, and both times, I hated it.  So taking Kay to a musical was something I did for her, dreading it, well prepared to hate every moment of sitting there, except enjoying the smile on Kay’ face.

I was greatly surprised when I actually found myself enjoying Phantom of the Opera.  So much so I actually took her to see it a couple more times.

Life is like that sometimes.  So is walking with God.  Somethings we seem to dread….we find are incredible blessings.

In the gospel this morning, we see two incredible blessings of that kind.

We probably don’t see them as blessings, but that is the point of this sermon.  To help us understand what Jeus was offering to people were life chaging blessings, incredible, mind-blowing blessings that we would enjoy, and rejoice in, and share with others.

Blessings we describe with a couple of words

Repent

Evangelize.

Don’t those things sound far more fun than going fishing, or going to a quilt show, or for me and William, hanging out in Best Buy or Fry’s?

So, let’s see how these things are blessings, blessings that provide joy beyond our ability to comprehend

Repentance – and invitation to be changed!

Hear Jesus’s words again,

15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

REPENT OF YOUR SINS!!!!

Don’t worry, not going to turn into Baptist and preach Hellfire and brimstone.

Because that is based on a faulty understanding of repentance, one that makes it sound like beating yourself up until you really feel sorry and then God will forgive you, maybe.

Hear how it is used in the Book of Acts,

17  If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” 18  When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.” Acts 11:17-18 (NAB)

Life-giving repentance!

Life-giving repentance!

Does that sound like something to be afraid of?

But repentance isn’t something to be afraid of, it is an invitation of the greatest kind.  Literally it means to change one’s mind, or one’s way of thinking.  Another way to hear it described is to put on the mind of Christ.
This is what God does to us, as we hear of His love and experience its breadth and width, height and depth. He transforms our mind.  When Jesus says the Kingdom of God is near, when He is explaining to them that God does care,

Yes, repentance means giving over to God our sin, but that is a gift.  To walk away from our sin, from our shame and guilt, to live freely in God’s kingdom.  To know that God has forgiven us and experience the love of God in every facet of our lives.

That is why Jesus talks of repentance as a parallel to “believe in the Good News!”  Because repentance is something incredible, a blessing to change our lives, to be free of all of our failures, to know we are loved and cared for, because that is the change God makes in us, that change is repentance!

Fishing for people, (Or Knitting them together)

Repentance is a joy, but so is evangelism, or as Jesus told a bunch of fisherman, fishing for men.  I suppose that if he was talking to quilters he would say sewing another square into the quilt, that square being….human..

That might work in the case of some human, others might not like being called a square!

But as fishing for men, and bring them in works, so does sewing someone into the family of God, creating for them home, a place where they know they are cared for, a place where they know they are loved.

That is what evangelism is, sharing the news, the good, great, wonderful news that God cares for us.  Helping people become part of the family, because God our Father wants them to be part of the family.

That’s what evangelism is, reaching out to people and saying, God cares for you, and He died to remove all that would steal their life, just as He did for us.

That’s the amazing thing, the more we understand His grace, the more we experience His love, the more we want others to experience it that love, that immeasurable love, as well. A love that we experience as we celebrate that love at the altar, and share in the Body and blood of Jesus.

So repent, let God transform you – and then lets go fishing for men, or sewing them into the quilt of our church.  So they can share in the love and peace of God our Father!  AMEN?

AMEN!

 

 

 

With These Words… A Sermon on 1 Thesalonians 4

church at communion 2With These Words…

1 Thes. 4:13-16

 I. H. S.

 May the word of God, which reveals to you the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so comfort you that you can remember His plan for you, to spend eternity in His glory!

 What good did their words do?

In the aftermath of last Sunday’s shooting in a church in Texas, a very odd discussion broke out on social media.

The discussion concerned this question, “was about whether God was listening to the prayers of the people in the church that was shot up.”

It started by a reaction to all the politicians and others who said things like, “our hearts and prayers are with the people of Texas.”  To which many people asked, well what good did their prayer do them in the first place.

And then the war of words ensued…

Rather than face the actual issue, death, tragic, traumatic death, Christians and non-Christians alike were attacking and counter-attacking each other about whether the words of the people’s prayers that day protected them from a madman’s rampage.

We need words to make a difference in times like these, but it is not the words of those praying that will make the difference, it is the words of the of the Lord they pray to, the words of the promise He has made us, and the words, like in the epistle today, that reveal His promise to us.

Isn’t grieving…grieving?

When the apostle Paul talks of grief, he notes the following,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.

I’ve heard over the years sincere people telling others not to grieve, usually, with something like, don’t grieve, you will see them again!  I even once heard some explaining patiently that grieving is evidence of a severe lack of faith.

That is so much rubbish! That is not what Paul is saying here, he is simply saying the grief is different for those who know God.  For them, it is a different kind of grief than the grief of those who don’t have hope.

Literally, it is those without something to hold on to, something to that sustains us and keeps us afloat. Those without God don’t have promises to hold onto, they don’t have the promises we are given in our baptism, the promises we remember if and when we make the sign of the cross.

Here is how that promise is described in scripture,

4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)

Look at the promises here,

God washed away our sin,

We are born again and given a new life through the Holy Spirit

That Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism,

We are declared righteous and holy,

and we are, as we confessed in our creed, given confidence, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!

Our grief is real, it may be felt more powerfully, it may last longer, and yet, we have something to hold onto, the hope we have in God.

This isn’t a theological epistle,

Which is the point of this letter from Paul, and the description of Jesus second advent, His second coming. This letter of Thessalonians isn’t about an end times calendar of events. it is not a theological calendar.

It’s to remind us that before we see Jesus return if we are around at the time, those who died, those who are his will have risen from the dead.  They will see Him, We won’t meet Him before they have joined Him. That is why in the liturgy we see the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven.  It’s not just about doctrine, is about knowing God’s plan, and being encouraged by it.

Encouraged you say?  But we are grieving!

But God’s encouragement is not just a friendly pat on the back, like a coach sending you back into play after an injury.  Nor is that the kind of encouragement that scripture talks about His people giving each other.

Godly, Biblical encouragement is the kind of thing where we weep and laugh together, where we share each other’s pain, just as Christ shares our pain.  The word is the verb form of the word to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside. lifts us up and carries you.

That’s what the word paraclete means – to call alongside to comfort, to encourage, to lift up and help carry.

And that is what God does. every day for us.

Through His word, through the sacraments, through each other, He makes Himself known, and the presence of the Holy Spirit comforts us.

As does the hope, no, the knowledge that eternity is ours, with God,  Dwelling in and sharing in His glory, with all those who trust in Him.

It is for this reason Jesus came, to ensure our sin would never stop us from that eternity, to provide the Holy Spirit to minister to us, and carry us, to ensure us of all the promises of God, so that even now, we can live life in expectation of eternity, and thereby dwell in peace.

God’s peace, which passes all understanding – the peace in which Jesus keeps us, our hearts and minds!  AMEN!

Sola Fide: The Reformation Cry…of a Broken Soul! A Sermon on John 8

church at communion 2Sola Fide!
The Reformation Cry of a Broken Soul!

John 8:31-36

In Jesus

 As God’s grace for us is revealed, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we find it easier to depend on Him completely, for we are His people and He is with us!  AMEN!

Not a Battle cry!

As we’ve approached the 500th anniversary of Luther inviting people to discuss problems in the church, I have become more and more upset by what I’ve seen.  I’ve seen some extremism creep in, as some have label Leather not a reformer, but a revolutionary.  I’ve seen that said negatively by some, and some say the same thing with great pride as if we were celebrating something akin to the 4th of July.

As if Sola Fide (Faith alone) was a battle cry, a chant to get behind as we took on an evil enemy, and triumphed by the power of our will.   For some Protestants, the 500th anniversary has become a chance for our touchdown dance.  For some Catholics, we are still the impertinent upstarts who want to destroy the church for whom Christ has died.

But Sola Fide wasn’t a battle cry at first.

It was the cry of a priest named Fr. Martin, who had tried every way possible to be good enough for God, and yet remained broken and in great despair, tormented by the sin which had its talons buried deep into him, and wouldn’t let Him escape,

Until he listened to the words God spoke through the scriptures, the words of the mass, the worship service he led every day since his ordination, and found hope….

as he learned to depend, not on his on work, but on the work of Christ alone.

That is what Sola Fide, the great reformation cry of a broken soul means.

to depend on Christ, no other, to save us from our brokenness, the brokenness caused by sin.

That is why Sola Fide is a cry, a cry of a broken heart that has found hope, and will not let go of it.

The Brokenness of Those Who Trust in Rubbish

A couple of weeks ago, we heard that Paul tossed aside the rubbish he once depended on, what he thought proved he was a good man, what proved he was righteous, godly, holy.

We see that attitude in the people Jesus was talking to today.  They claimed they didn’t’ need to be free from the sin, and the rubbish that they counted on to show them good enough for God.

We were never slaves!

They didn’t remember their own history that well, for scripture tells us these children of Abraham were enslaved by Egypt, (see Exodus), by Midian various Philistine groups (see Judges and the Books of Samuel), by Assyria and Babylon (see the Books of Kings, Chronicles, and the prophets) and eventually by Greece ( see Maccabees) and then, even in Jesus day, hey were the subjects, the slaves of Rome and Caesar.

But nah, they weren’t slaves.

Can you imagine someone who said they don’t struggle with sin at all?  Or worse, that they never sin anymore?

That’s what we are claiming when we say we are good people, or when we say that person or this person is so good, surely they will get to heaven.  When we say that – we are exactly like the people Jesus encountered, the people who thought they were okay with God, that their sin was insignificant.

The True Burden

In the Luther movie we watched last week, Luther’s mentor Staupitz confronted Luther, saying that of all the monks, his confessions were the least interesting!  They were boring because none of the sins were interesting.

Yet Luther felt all too well the distance those sins led him from God.  He despaired of the brokenness.  A book I am reading on his life gave a little more detail. One of those times of private confession lasted over 5 hours, as Luther tried to account for every sin he committed in the last week.  He walked away from that confession convinced that he wasn’t sorry enough, that he missed sins that wouldn’t be forgiven.

I get that.  Part of me doesn’t want to look upon my own sin.  I want to excuse it, find justifications for it, dismiss it as not as serious as it is.  But when I am thinking seriously about my sin, for example when I am up here, and we have those brief moments of confessing, there are times I wonder why God has me up here, heck why He even let me in this place.

Like Luther, it would be easy to sink into despair, to believe that God wouldn’t accept someone a sinner like us.

How I wish we could take sin that seriously, for only one reason.

If we did, how much more would we be overwhelmed by the knowledge that He comes to us, picks us up, forgives of our sin and cleanses us of our unrighteousness.

Then we would know how much God loves us, as He embraces us, prodigals still smelling like the “rubbish” and pig slop we lived in, as He calls for us to be dressed in the best robes. As he tells everyone, my child is home.

hear again Jesus.

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I’m going to rephrase that a little, for clarity

“You are truly my disciples if you depend on my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Freedom!

Jesus, the Son of God came for one purpose, to free you and I, and every other person from the power of sin.  Jesus dying on cross shattered the hold it has on us. His resurrection comforts us, as the promise is clearly seen.

You are free of that sin, you are cleansed of that unrighteousness,

Depend on that as you approach the altar, confidently as the Book of Hebrews tells us to do, knowing we are in the presence of God who loves us.

Depend on Jesus, trust in Jesus, believe in Jesus, for He alone is our Savior, our Lord, who brings us home to the Father.

And as you cry out, aware of your need, don’t be surprised that knowing He is God brings you peace that passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen!

Are Your Ears Burning? They Should Be! A sermon on 1 Thes. 1:1-10

church at communion 2Are Your Ears Burning?  They Should Be!
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

In Jesus Name

May you realize the grace God our Father and the Lord Jesus have given you, and may that grace be so evident that those around you, and even far away speak of God’s work in your life!

 Is the word ringing out?

Did you ever walk into a room and suddenly everyone stopped talking?  Or walk by a group of people and they all started staring at you?  Or get back to the office and find out that 4 or 5 people needed to talk to you?

There is even an old question that asked if you notice this kind of behavior,

Are your ears burning?

Well, looking at the church in Thessalonica that Paul was writing too in our epistle reading this morning, their ears should have been burning.  People were talking to them, and it was a wonderful thing!

I pray that people are talking about us in the same way!

Here how Paul described it,

wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. 10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead!

Do people know that you’ve turned away from idols and false gods?  Do they know of you look forward to the second coming of Jesus?

Are they so in awe of God’s work in your life that they speak of your trust, your dependence, your faith in Him?

How did the people of Thessalonica end up with their ears burning… as they should have been….

And how can we see that happen in our lives?

How can our dependence on God become so strong that it is remarkable, that people talk about it?

I mean, that is a good thing, if I were to invite someone to come here, and the people already knew how strong our faith was, how we set aside ungodly rubbish in order to we look forward to eternity in the presence of God?

So let us investigate what else Paul said about these people!

We know God..

He says in verse 4, We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.”

It all starts there, and I know this to be true about you as well.

I said it last week this way,

The Lord …

Who loves you

Is with you!

For that is what it means to be chosen, to be called.  It is to dwell in the presence of God, to dwell in the glory of God.

God loves you, as He did the people in Thessalonica, He chose you to be His people.  We need to know this, not just with our minds, but deep, deep in our souls, in the places where we wonder how God could love us, and so traumatized by our past, we wonder why He loves us.

It is in those dark, anxious broken places, that God is there… even when we can’t see Him, can’t feel His presence.  When He is revealed there, we realize that He is willing to pick us up, no matter how many pieces there are, that life begins to be transformed.

Hear something else Paul says… and we understand that it is reality too.

So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.

with joy…..

despite the trials and tribulations, despite the pain that is endured as God heals us.  As God transforms us, as He did Paul, into the image of Jesus.

Imitation – reborn like Paul was reborn like Jesus (POWER)

But how?

That word behind “imitate” has another meaning.  It means to be born, to begin, completely new, completely different.  We talk about being baptized, being born again, that is the same concept here.  To die to our sin, our past, our self-centeredness. To die with Jesus, in order to be raised to this new life, this being born again, in Jesus.

Just like Paul did, and Peter, and so many millions who God has join to Jesus, and to His death and resurrection.

This is why the preaching of Jesus has power, as Paul said in verse 5,

For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true”

It is the power, not just to any old miracle, but the incredible miracle that is the reason that God our Father sent Jesus His son into our lives, to live among us, to die for us, and to share that death and the resurrection with us.

One pastor, Chris Gillette’s mentor, Robert Webber, calls this power the divine embrace.  It’s the prodigal’s dad, coming running to him, to smother him, so excited that the prodigal is finally home.

And it is the reason behind all of this…

For when God embraces us, that is the assurance we need. That is the power that is at work, making the love of God, not some intellectual exercise, not something to diagram or diagnose.

And as we rest in God’s arms, as we are welcomed by Him, into His family, as we know His presence, everything changes.  We become an example to others, some older in the faith, some younger.  The word goes out, for people know how much we abandoned to be with God.

And how much we look forward to the ultimate reunion, when Jesus returns, and brings us to the throne, to see for the first time, God our Father, face to face.

This is what it means for God to give you grace and peace, to belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

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