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Faith in Action is Blessed: Matthew 5. Sermon manuscript and video of service link 11/4/18

Annual All Saints Service – Matt 5:1-12 

Faith in Action….is Blessed!
Matt 5:1-12

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ open your mind to see how God has, and is, and will bless you!  AMEN!

 

The Shopping List

If you were going to start a new project, part of the process is making sure you have the material you need to complete the project.

Whether it is making a fancy dinner, or building a shed, or, in our case, building the church.

You need to make sure you have everything you need because once you are started, stopping to go get a missing peace slows down the process, and could even require you to start all over.

The reading from the gospel of Matthew this morning provides such a shopping list.

Matthew lays out the kind of people we need to build the Church.

Not just the service in Mandarin, or the service in English, and not even Concordia.

But the Church throughout the world.

These blessed people are the components to the Church, and a church that contains such people very simply grows.

Are we so described?  

So if we are going to look at Concordia, as a part of the church, let’s see how we do.

In the English translation we use, the first item is, “those who are poor and realize their need for God.”  Do we have such people?

Do we have people that continually see their need for God, and desire to dwell in His presence?

What about people who mourn and grieve.

Not just because we have lost someone, but also because of the brokenness in the world, and in our lives?

Are we all humble?  Are we all meek and willing to deal with people in a caring manner, not being competitive or angry?

Do we all hunger and thirst for justice? Real justice, not just justice that favors us?

Do we all show mercy?

And how many of us can say our hearts are pure, that we never ever sin, or even think sinful thoughts? Or who work for peace in every situation?

We could go on and talked about the rest of the checklist, but it looks like we are already falling short of who we need to see the God designed built.

There might be a few people here who meet one of the checkboxes, but none of us meet all of them.

I also am pretty sure that there are some boxes, especially the mercy and pure in heart that has no boxes checked,

Not one.

We are blessed!

But what if we are looking at the wrong thing to check off?  What if, instead of what we are described as, we find the box to check off is the “being blessed”?

As an example, we can find people who are blessed because God has shown them comfort.

We can find people who are blessed because they have been shown mercy,

We can find people who have become pure, because their blessing is having seen, having encountered God.

Now the passage takes on a whole different perspective.

It focuses on the work of God.

It focuses on the blessing.

As we and every person in the church should focus upon.

God’s work, God’s blessing, poured out on us!

Those who are poor and need His presence (all of us!)  are blessed

Those who grieve and mourn…  are blessed

Those who have nothing, but will inherit everything… are blessed

Those who need and desire justice… are blessed

Those who need mercy… are blessed

We are blessed by God, we know His presence, His comfort, his justice.

The Greatest blessing

You see, that is what makes the Church grow,

It is what will make Concordia, both the multi-cultural ministry in English, the ministry in Mandarin thrive and the Tagalog ministry grow.

It isn’t because of how intelligent, charismatic and good-looking your ministers are.

(And that’s probably a good thing! )

The reason a church grows, or the Church grows, is when it realizes how God has blessed every single one of us.

When we realize we have received mercy, and we are satisfied by God’s justice.

When we realize we will inherit the whole earth, and the Kingdom of God.  When we realize we have been comforted, when we realize we shall see God,

These are the blessings poured out on us, even as Jesus was loving us and dying for us on the cross.

Even as our sins were paid for, and cleansed from our souls.

Even as we are given the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternal life in the glory of God.

this is who we are, those who depend on God, and trust in Him, for we know..

We are blessed!

AMEN?

AMEN!

Where Are We Headed?

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:
4 Then the word of the LORD of Hosts came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and in the seventh months for these 70 years, did you really fast for Me? 6 When you eat and drink, don’t you eat and drink simply for yourselves? l 7 Aren’t these the words that the LORD proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and secure, m along with its surrounding cities, and when the southern region and the Judean foothills were inhabited?”   Zechariah 7:4-7 HCSB

Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things e have passed away.   Rev. 21:-3-4  HCSB

Speaking with God must be a progression in and for ourselves—a progression in the literal sense of the word, that brings us forward, that moves us toward God and away from ourselves.

Many Christians have a routine for how they relate to God.   For some, it is a walk, every day meeting Him, and traveling with Him.  For others, it is a weekly, thing, as they pray with others on Sunday and Wednesday night.  Some only react to God when facing a challenge.

While I would desire that all interact with God more and more, it is not just the amount of time invested that matters.  It is also about how we interact with Him.  The prophet Zechariah writes of this, as the words of God are given through the prophet to challenge us all.

Why do we pray, fast, go to church and Bible study?  Is it just to feel good about ourselves?  Is it just to appease our own feelings of guilt or inadequacy?  Is it just to be assured that we won’t spend eternity in hell?

Or is it because of the glorious promise we see in Revelation.  When we shall dwell with God, in all of His glory!  Is it because, having seen revealed in part how much God loves us, we need to explore it, we need to adore Him, we find ourselves craving His presence?  For as we find we are loved, that unbelievable fact must be explored, its height, its depth, its width, and breadth.  We want to experience it more, no, we need to! 

This transformation we need to be patient with, it needs to be nurtured, it needs to be guided.  This journey happens in community, it is the nature of communion. It ebbs and flows, and this means we need to look out for each other and be there for each other.  For it is to easy to be dragged away by the cares of the world, it is too easy to be trip and fall off the path (one of the definitions of is exactly that!)

And yet it happens, as we look to the end of the journey, as our hope is found in God’s promise that He will draw us to Him.  As prayer, speaking and hearing God causes that progression, and the Holy Spirit’s presence assures us, comforts us and enables us to see God’s love.

Prayer isn’t important in and of itself  Every religion prays, even atheists.  Gathering with people to study religious doctrine doesn’t either, every religion does that, including those who are agnostics, or secularists. What makes the difference is the loving God who loves us is who draws us to pray, to commune together, to celebrate the love which drove Jesus to cross, looking forward to the eternal relationship cleansing us from sin would bring.

It’s all about the end, the end which is a glorious, wonderful moment, when we see God face to face!

Lord Jesus, help us to encourage each other, as the day of Your return draws closer, as the Holy Spirit draws us closer, and into the relationship that You have with the Father.  Help us to do the things we do, adoring You more and more, as we realize Your love for us.  AMEN!  

 

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 344). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

Faith in Action: Know! Psalm 46

Faith in Action:  Knows
Psalm 46

† Jesus, Son and Savior †

May the gifts of mercy, of love and of peace from God our Father, which Jesus pours into your life, help you know Him, and may that knowledge allow your soul to find rest!  AMEN!

People who have faith need to pray

I came across an interesting quote this week from a guy from Boston, a professor of philosophy named Peter Kreeft,

How long should we pray? At least as long as it takes to relax in His presence, to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10)

Professor Kreeft has a pretty good answer there, that prayer isn’t just a few words, uttered when we are in need, it’s not something we do out of obligation either.

It is a time to relax, to know God intimately, so deeply that everything else in life falls away as we find we trust and depend on Him, and then, as that happens, we are able to relax in His presence… as we realize what it means to be still and dwell in the peace of God.

As we look at our reading in Psalm 46 this morning, we see David’s urging us to find ourselves in that moment of peace. Safe where God dwells, for He is our refuge, our sanctuary.  He is our peace.

The challenge to know God… for faith that is active has to know God

Not just about knowing about Him, but being still enough to realize that He is God… and calm enough to think through what it means.

Obstacles to knowing God

I don’t know about you, but I tend to struggle with fear, or the word that comes closest to it this day, anxiety.

It doesn’t take the earthquakes and oceans going crazy that David describes in the Psalm.  It’s more like this lack week, where for a couple of days I was on a committee with the 1st and 2nd Vice President of Synod, guys I don’t always agree with, trying to help deacons and churches who are served by only those deacons.

Anxious because I might say the wrong thing…

Or anxious over a doctor’s appointment.

Or anxious about any of million things that could go wrong in life, or the complications of when things go right!  (Sometimes I am more worried and scared by things going right. )

And then as I am dealing with the anxieties, I realize that I had forgotten all about God’s presence, and I get anxious about my lack of focus on God, and my obvious lack of faith. Causing more anxiety and fear to build.

Is such anxiety sin?  If I even start down that thought process, it’s only going to get worse, causing more guilt, more shame, and our normal reaction will be to run away from God.

You see, we often buy into the fact that we have control over whether we sin or not.  And therefore, when we do take our eyes off of God, we find ourselves alone as the earthquakes, or we feel like we are drowning, or all alone in the middle of a battlefield.

The answer to this is not to flee God, or fight him, but to run to Him, to speak and listen to him, to know He is God, and as we know what that means, find the ability to remain still.

So how does this happen?

Come and see the glorious works

There is an invitation to the world in the middle of the passage.

Come and see the glorious works of the Lord!  See how he brings destruction upon the world!

The first part seems like a great invitation.  Observing God’s glorious works!  How awesome!  How incredible!  Hearing that my mind goes to the idea of miracles and healings, of baptizing people by the hundreds, and Concordia becoming a major influence in our community, even in all of Los Angeles.

And then I get the second half and go “wait…

BRINGS DESTRUCTION ON THE WORLD?  WHAT?

Uhm, how is that going to end up giving me the ability to be still?

I mean, the DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD?

I mean our world may be broken, evil might seem to be apparent, but destruction? Total destruction of the world?

Well, in the physical sense of the word, everything on the day of judgment will be destroyed because it will be renewed.

But that happens in our lives at baptism, as we are united with the death of Christ in the water of baptism, God promises and makes sure our brokenness is destroyed, it dies with Him there on the cross.

That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote,

4  For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. 5  Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7  For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.
Romans 6:4-7 (NLT2)

It takes a while to work through this, that the anxiety caused by sin’s guilt and shame, the anxiety that is caused by not knowing the presence of God, and not knowing God is removed….

Even so, our old nature dies hard, as does the anxiety it can produce in us.  In fact, you and I can only find peace when we God’s presence draws us into His glory, into His love, and causes you to be still, and just know He is God…

And know..

That happens as we know His presence, in places like this, a place we are drawn together, to know He is God. As we pray together, leaving every burden before Him, every anxiety, every moment becomes one of peace. A place where we see life end and begin, as people are baptized into Christ.

As we share in the body and blood of Jesus, as we realize we are united to Him, as we share in His death… and even now, in His resurrection.

And we find ourselves still and rest…knowing the God who loves us.

And our dependence on God, our faith becomes active, because we know Him!  AMEN!

Faith in Action, is Content! A sermon on Ecclesiastes 5:10-20

Link to Video of Church Service 10/21/2018

Faith in Action:
Is Content

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20

 I.H.S.

 May the grace, the mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in your life, that you find yourself dwelling, content in His presence!  AMEN!

1.6 Billion dollars…. For what?

On Friday, I stopped by the local 7-11.

The parking lot was full, there were three clerks working instead of the usual one.  There were people in line, and another line over in the corner, waiting for little pieces of paper to make little marks that they would put their hope in…

Seriously, putting all your hope in some little marks on a piece of paper.

And they will do it again this week, looking for a change in life because of that piece of paper, those little marks. Enough people doing so that the Lottery can easily put less than half the money back, and still raise the prize some 600 million dollars.

Some people buy those tickets out of curiosity, others buy them in despair and desperation. There was one guy, running through the “have you won scanner” what looked like 50 such pieces of paper.

I wonder how many of them realize what Solomon said some 3000 years ago,

10 Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!

We aren’t going to find contentment in things, we can only find contentment in something we have more than enough of…. But how do we realize it?

The Idol of Wealth

Solomon talked of reasons why wealth doesn’t breed contentment. The reasons it doesn’t bring happiness, why it doesn’t provide a beautiful life.  I mean these reasons aren’t rocket science,

  • You can never have enough.  (Solomon would know!)
  • The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it.
  • You can watch it slip through your fingers
  • Investments can sour, and the money is lost
  • We eventually end up the way we started, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
  • You can’t take your riches with you
  • You don’t make a lasting impact on the world.

And yet, we will, as a country spend 3 or 4 billion dollars on the lottery.  And we still won’t find contentment, even the one who wins.

Or we will struggle and put ourselves into debt, trying to get the right college education, or the right career options, playing all the games and work our fingers to the bone, trying to get ahead.

And we won’t find contentment.

But that won’t stop us chasing wealth, riches, fame, and all its accouterments.  For we make these things our idols, we put our hope in them, thinking that if only we get the right numbers for the lottery, the perfect job, or health plan, the perfect home or spouse and family, everything will be okay, and we can finally be content.

But idols can’t buy happiness, even if we could gain them all.  But Solomon, the richest, wisest man of his day, tells us we can never get enough.  Our hunger will never be removed, the idols will just hold out their empty promise… and we will line up to give them what we’ve worked so hard for in life

it’s like chasing the wind.  Except that we do it all too often.

The Gift

There is an option, there is a gift that God gives us, the result of the gift is seen in verse 19,

To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God.

He says it there, whether you are the CEO or the janitor, there are people who find contentment in their work and their life because they realize it is a gift of God.

That’s hard for us to understand, hard for us to deal with at times.  Doesn’t God realize what He’s putting us through?  Doesn’t he realize the pain, the grief, the anxiety that comes with our lot in life, this place He’s put us in?  Doesn’t He know our struggles?

Yeah, he does, and that is why Solomon says finding contentment is a gift.

A supernatural gift, and ability that isn’t natural to us, but divine grace that is poured over us, allowing us to find the beauty in our lives, to find that elusive contentment.

A contentment that comes as we have faith in Him, as we grow in our trust and dependence on Him. As we go to him with our failures and sins, as we abandon the idols that cannot bring us contentment, and we hear Him, welcoming us into His presence.

That is what the cross and the resurrection is all about, to free us to live in the presence of God, a presence where all our troubles are taken from us, as God promises us life everlasting in His presence.  For there, in the presence of God, we find how incredibly He loves us, a love we are told every week this year that we can’t understand, but that we can experience, and we do.

Contentment, true happiness, or having what in Hebrew can be translated best as “the beautiful life” comes not what we have in terms or worldly value.  It comes from finding out we are loved, loved beyond measure. Loved even when we failed to love in return, as God picks us off the ground, saving us to Himself.

And knowing we are loved changes everything, adding color to a gray landscape caught in the darkness before dawn. Bringing life that is gloriously eternal to a life that was once going to end with nothing.

And with our eyes on Him, on the Lord who loves us, we come to know that life Is incredibly beautiful, a life in which we find contentment, a life in which we dwell in the incredible peace of God…..

And so I end with the prayer of blessing we began with….

May the grace, the mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in your life, that you find yourself dwelling, content in His presence!  AMEN!

 

The Simple Journey of Hope

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
66  As a consequence of this, many of his disciples withdrew and no longer followed him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “And are you too wanting to go away?” 68  “Lord,” answered Simon Peter, “who else should we go to? Your words have the ring of eternal life! And we believe and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.”
John 6:66-68 (Phillips NT)

Let us follow Jesus, knowing that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joyful hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope that Jesus gives us!

It is too easy to lose hope in this world.

We can lose hope after a doctor’s visit or from balancing our checkbook.  We can become dejected because of the words of a friend, or a family member, we can begin to dwell in pessimism after reading the news, and seeing the discord that is prevalent in every part of four society.

Yet, we have to have hope to survive, and we have seen incredible things that have occurred because people dwell in hope, not despair. Because they know what God has promised, and they have learned to expect God’s intercession, that God will make what is going on work for good for those who love him, who are called according to His promises.

But how is that hope created, and in view of our broken lives, our broken society and broken world, how is it nourished, sustained, how can it grow when the world hammers away at us?

In the little devotional from Pope Francis that is one of the books I use for my devotions this year, he notes the strong correlation between following Jesus and the hope we have, that we can infect the world with.

Following Jesus, letting Him accompany us, letting Him carry us, not just walking in steps 2000 years old, but walking with him today, Monday the 8th of October, and tomorrow the 9th, and the 10th, and every day from now on dwelling in His presence.

This is why the Apostle Peter would proclaim that there is nowhere else to Go, for only Jesus can provide the words that give the hope of eternity, and the joy that will come in the presence of the Father in heaven. To share in a relationship, where God the Father identifies us as His children, where Jesus identifies us as His brothers and sisters. This is the love He spoke of, and the life He invites us all to have. To learn of His mercy, to explore the dimensions of His love, to even be corrected by Him, so that we don’t drift away.  This begins the hope we so desperately need.

Walking with Jesus, meditating on His love, on His sacrifice, on His resurrection which we are joined with, that provides hope.  Hearing His promises, knowing that He who created everything stands behind those promises, this gives us hope.

This is what matters in life, so please, please, don’t neglect this hope, or the times of prayer and fellowship that will nourish it.

And may you know God’s peace…. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 325). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Matters of the Heart: A sermon on Mark 7 from the Concordia Lutheran Church!

church at communion 2

(if you would rather see the service, and hear the sermon, it is posted on my FB page and at Concordia.org_

Matters of the Heart
Mark 7:14-23

Jesus, Son, Savior

May this grace, the love and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, show you how He is transforming your heart so that you can love Him and your neighbor!  AMEN!

 

The Gospel?  Really?  ( O wait = there it is …Bacon is fine!)

Passages like the gospel always bring out my sense of irony.

I mean, we read these nine verses, talking about how our vile hearts defile us, and then I get to say, “This is the gospel of the Lord!”

Using less religious language, “This is the good news that Jesus has for you!”Yeah!  Good news!  You are defiled because your heart is vile! Not really a balance there between Law and Gospel…this passage is 100% law. Well, Bob found some good news in it, in our deacons and pastor study Monday night.  There down within the parenthesis you see it, “Every kind of food is acceptable in God’s sight!”  Which means bacon and shrimp and lobster are as acceptable as broccoli or kale or that horrid pumpkin spice stuff that is invading our stores! But how do we take a passage so focused on our failure, our sin, our being defiled, and find good news there?  Where is the gospel in this gospel reading?Or put another way, while this passage tells us we really need help, how do we find it?  Or are we always going to be defiled by our vile hearts?

We are defiled/vulgar (but that isn’t what you think it means_

Inigo Montoya, the famous swordsman in Princess Bride, uttered these works. “You keep using that word (inconceivable). I do not think it means what you think it means!”We’ve got a couple of those words in today’s reading.  The first is the word defile.  It sounds like it means rotten, disgusting, horrid, sickening, to use an old word, gross.

It isn’t actually bad as bad as it sounds, though, in reality, it is worse.

It is the opposite of holy, it means common.  Which was the original definition of vulgar.

Using last week’s illustration about holiness, to be set apart for a special purpose, I said Missy’s guitar was meant to play music with, not to be used as a stepping stool to change a light bulb.  You defile something when you take something that has a special purpose and use it for something… far less.  Say instead of using it for playing beautiful music, Missy used her guitar to move fertilizer around her parent’s backyard.  That would be defiling is, making it something used for something in common.

Or imagine you are going into surgery, and you see the surgeon opening his latest package from Amazon with the same scalpel.

Our hearts’ purpose had never been to be the place of origin for sin. We were meant to be set apart, our purpose to be the people, the children of God.  We were set apart to dwell in His love, and love the family of God.  Sin simply wrecks that, destroying our heart and soul, making us no better than any other biological creature, controlled by physical needs and desire for pleasure.

Sin changes us, from being the children of God, and that sin comes from a heart that doesn’t recognize God.  And that sin finds its origin, not in the world, but in our hearts.  That is what Jesus keeps coming back too…

It is not what is us that is wrong, it’s not the bacon, it is the heart that is a glutton that causes the desire to overeat.  It’s not the beauty that causes the sin, it is the uncontrolled desire for pleasure.

It is what is within us, what controls our heart, and our will that causes us to engage in sin.

The gospel – a heart transplant The OT Promise

If this is true, then what hope exists for us, in this world so oppressed by the sin which has ensnared us? What hope is there for our friends, of children, our grandchildren? If all there is to life is living without a special purpose, without reason,

We find the law in the Gospel today, so let’s look back at the Old Testament to find the gospel.  If sin originates in our hearts, then what is underlined in this passage is the only way to deal with it.  Let’s read it together

26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

There is our answer, a cardiac transplant. To allow God to change our heart, from the one in which sin, passed down from Adam, and which dominates our heart. Changing our heart like he did with David, making us men and women after God’s own heart, men, and women who share His desire.

This is the promise made sure in us, as it was for Ethan last week, as God pours water on us, and cleanses us from all sin, and He makes us His people.

This new heart changes us… and enables us to do things that please God, it allows us to walk with Him, and relate to Him.  For as He changes our heart, as He puts His Spirit in us, we return to being holy, a people are special to Him, for we are His children!

What does this mean?

How can we believe this, I mean, we still sin, don’t we?

How can sin still come from a heart that has been changed?  From a heart that is supposed to beat in rhythm with God’s own heart?  The simple answer is, that sin is the old us, and as we walk closer to God, depending on Him more and more, others may see the change in us, while we never do.

I think that’s so we never stop depending on God, so we learn to run to Him when we are tempted, so we learn to run to Him, assured of His mercy and forgiveness, so that we learn to run to the God who has poured water on us, cleansed us of sin, given us a new heart, put His Spirit within us…

and who promises this as well

6  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 (NLT2) Amen!

10 years, 20 years, some thoughts about God’s work in and through us.

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional thought of the Day:

61 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners;  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, 3 to provide for those who mourn in •Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair.  Isaiah 61:1-3  HCSB

This is important:
the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.

Today is the 10th anniversary of my installation as the senior pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos, Ca.  This month is the 20th anniversary of my going from part-time ministry as a jail chaplain and preaching during vacations and when churches were looking for a new pastor, as I became the pastor of First Christian Church of Yucca Valley, Ca.

As these anniversaries approached, other things have happened that have made me think about ministry, of what I’ve seen God do in these places I have served. It’s been an interesting road, with lots of laughter and probably more tears with people I grew to love, that I was sent to care for.

The passage in red primarily applies to Jesus, and a little less to Isaiah.  Yet it is what Paul imitated of Jesus, what he encourages the entire church to imitate in 1 Corinthians 11.  We are to bring God’s healing, revealing His love and mercy, and the presence of the Holy Spirit to people that are brokenhearted, to free those who are oppressed, to comfort those who mourn.

It’s not been easy.  Nor has it always been successful. There is heartache when people would rather deal with the consequences of sin, and the guilt and shame that oppress them. We mourn because of their sin, we mourn as others would rather condemn them than seek to reconcile them back to God.  There are the times where we don’t have the words that we would think are needed to comfort those who grieve.

And yet, trusting Him, the church and those who serve it plod on. We might be distracted for a moment, but by the Spirit’s call, we re-focus again, as we go where God wants us to be, as He guides us to serve those who need His love.

It is bearing such a burden, as I think about the baptisms, the funerals, the sorrow and grief, tears and joy that Pope Francis’s words gave me comfort this morning.  We have to find the courage to trust in His mercy, in His patience, to look for our sanctuary, which is found in His ever-presence.  That is where we are safe, that is where we find peace and find healing for our own brokenness.

But it takes courage, and trust to dwell there.  For we have to lay aside our sorrow and grief, our own guilt and shame, our own “wisdom” and often our own sense of self-preservation. We have to learn to trust God, to be able to cry out, Lord, we trust you, help us when we don’t.

Ultimately, the ministry of the priesthood of all believers comes down to these simple things, to help people know the cleansing, comforting, healing merciful presence of God.   When we do this, it is amazing…. when we struggle, we need to trust God that He will fulfill the work that has begun.

He will.. for He has.

For those who have trusted God to speak through me, thank you.  I hope you have grown in experiencing His love.  May we all see Him at work in all of us in the years and decades to come.

AMEN!

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 273). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Chew on This! A sermon on John 6:51-59

church at communion 2Chew on This

John 6:51-59

†  IHS  †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to contemplate the love you experience, as you eat Christ’s body and drink His blood, and remain in Him!

Bothered by an Attitude

The disciples of Jesus today had an attitude and said something I just can’t believe.  It bothers me a ton, as a pastor and as a fellow disciple.

This is what they said, This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”

And a moment later, they did something that shouldn’t just bother us, it should bring us to tears.

But there is Jesus, who has fed them, healed them, taught them in such a manner that they are in awe, and they don’t want to listen to Him.  It is too hard to understand, it doesn’t make sense to them.

Even though it promises life, and life eternal.  The life lived in joy in the promise of God. Rather than simply giving up trying to understand, rather than refusing to accept Jesus teaching that He was the Bread of Life, they needed to do something…

They needed to chew on what He told them about Himself.

just like we do.

They left the Building… would we?

They didn’t. And not only did they not accept it, in verse 66 they did something even worse.

They walked away.

They abandoned the man they thought was at least a prophet, and very probably, the long-awaited Messiah, the hope, and savior of God’s people.

They couldn’t accept what He said, so they gave up.

They walked away from the free food, from the healings, from seeing miracles happen.

They walked away because they didn’t understand, they couldn’t accept it.  Despite the evidence, despite the miracles, the teaching, the food

They walked away.

But many of us do as well.

We don’t like what God reveals to us in scripture.

The simple lessons about what is right and wrong, the lessons about loving your neighbors, and your enemies, the lessons about the fact that we all have sinned, or how the church and the family should be arranged around mutual submission as we will hear in next week’s lessons.

We don’t understand, we think we can never accept it.  Some leave. Others just ignore the parts that make them uncomfortable or say that it may have been that way in Jesus’ day, but its changed now….

And we walk away, ignoring the blessing.

In the case of Jesus talking about eating His body and drinking His blood, we walk away from the promise of eternal life.

We need to stop ignoring what we don’t understand, we need to stop giving up on what is hard to accept and just chew on what God gives us, what He reveals to us for a while.

Chewing on the Words that give life…eternal life.

I’ve used the word “chew” intentionally during this sermon, even as I titled the sermon “chew on this for a reason.

I am not talking just about thinking about and deeply meditating on the Lord’s Supper and what it means.  Though doing that is a very healthy exercise, especially when you are struggling life.  For the Lord’s Body and Blood, what he calls true food and true drink, reveal a lot about His love for you.  But that is not what is talked about here.

Where I got the word “chew” is from the Greek.  Up until verse 53, when Jesus talked about eating the Bread of life, eating His Body, he used a generic term for eat.  (Phage) But in verse 53, he changes the word to another Greek word, the to chew or chomp down on what is in your mouth.  (trogon)

Jesus isn’t just talking about understanding the imagery of the Lord’s supper, he is talking about participating in the act of remembering Him, eating His body and drinking His blood, in and under the bread and wine.  Communion is not just an intellectual or heartfelt thought, it is receiving these gifts, and trusting what Jesus says they are.

His body, His blood, given and shed for you, given to help you know your sins are forgiven. Given to help you know you are in a relationship, a relationship defined by the covenant.

it is like our benediction for the service, turn a couple of pages over to it. These last words of the service,

May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is for you! May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

Here, as we receive the bread, as we drink the wine, we experience the love of God, the love of God that is far beyond anything we can understand.  Chewing on this is not about in-depth thought, it is about the awe of communing with God, experiencing His love. You can’t comprehend it all.

And that’s okay… for knowing you are loved, knowing the width and length, the height and depth of His love for you are more than our brains can process.  This time at the altar, this time of communion with God is beyond words, for we know His love, and accept it.

We know it in our heart and in our soul, as Christ makes us one with Him.  Not in a magical way, but in a holy sacramental way. In a way, we experience that unity, as we trust Him at His word, and come and share in His feast.  As we eat His body, as we drink His blood, and find that we remain in Him, that we have a place with God. A place made secure for our heart and mind, by Jesus himself.  AMEN!

 

 

 

Two Encounters With Jesus: A sermon on Mark 6:45-56

church at communion 2Two Encounters With Jesus
Mark 6:45-56

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!

God’s Faithful Love! A Sermon on Lamentations 3:22-33

church at communion 2God’s Faithful Love
Lamentations 3:22-33

I.H.S.

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!

Let’s pray.

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