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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!

The Infinitely Valuable, That Leaves All in the Dust; A sermon on Phil. 3:4-14

church at communion 2 The Infinite Valuable

That leaves all in the dust…

Phil. 3:4-14b

 In Jesus Name

 May you realize the infinite value of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and as you do, may you not even notice the things left behind.

Value beyond calculation…

Every once in a while, when the lottery gets over 500 million, I wonder what that kind o money would look like, and all the good things that could be done with it.  It is kind of silly, to want to know what kind of money looks like, but interestingly Google has the information.

500,000 dollars in $20 dollar bills would be a stack over 10 feet tall, and it would weigh close to 60 pounds.

Interesting,

It might be difficult to calculate, but it can be done.  And its value?  That is easier to calculate.  A half of a billion dollars could provide

2500 full-ride scholarships for 4 years
It could buy 750 homes for homeless families that live in places like Coyote Creek or the Santa Ana River Trail.
It could provide 5 thousand people health insurance for 10 years.
or it could build 50 new churches and provide them a pastor at district scale for 2 years.
Or perhaps, our dear friend Pr. Bernie could use it for his mission projects in … 6 months? 😊

So its value isn’t infinite

Not even close.

Yet today we are looking that is, enough so that as we realize it, we drop everything, leaving it all behind.

Because what we are given is the infinitely valuable thing in our life.

An Important word?

Like most of Paul’s writings, there is a lot to focus on in this passage.  Some like to focus in on Paul’s qualifications and talk about how important he was.  Others like to talk about the athletic language used in verses 12-14.

Me?  I get distracted by one of my favorite words in Greek.

Skubala.

Translated in most modern translations as rubbish (who uses that today?  Rubbish?) or garbage.  The old King James was more accurate with dung.  While it has the same amount of letters, it was in common Greek, you might say a much coarser or foul synonym.

For some reason I always got a chuckle out of Paul using that word to describe his genetic lineage, his academic and professional accomplishments, and that the word is in scripture, and that translators struggle with how to put it…nicely.

Rubbish?  really?

But that is part of the problem we face, in this passage which talks about not just the most valuable, but the infinitely valuable, we mess around with resumes, sports terms and other bull… rubbish.

I wish I understood why we can get so easily distracted, why we find it so easy to focus in on other things in a passage, rather than what the passage itself says is most important.

Important enough to leave all else in the dust.

For they have no value, and knowing Jesus who was chosen and anointed to save us, to realize He is our Lord, knowing Him is everything.

Nothing is worth chase after, like chasing after we’ve been caught

Paul explains why a few verses down,

I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

This is why knowing Jesus is infinitely valuable.  Not just knowing about Him, knowing Him.  To experience life, the life that comes from dying with Him, and being raised, for we are united to Him.

To be that close, to know Christ, to depend on Him, sure that while we may fail, He will never fail us.

In one of my readings this week, a pastor wrote the words he us with a burnt out pastor,

Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”[1]

That pastor, like so many of us, was looking to his own works to make him holy, looking to his own actions to prove how spiritual he was.  And like the apostle Paul, he couldn’t do it.  No way, no how.

Graduating seminary and getting ordained are great tools to prepare you to minister, but they don’t make you holy.  Neither does just coming here, and doing your duty.  All that stuff, if we don’t hear Jesus, if we don’t get to know Him, if we don’t hear His voice, if we don’t experience His love as He brings us to life,  all that other stuff is a bunch of….. rubbish.

But when we come here, when we spend time hearing of His love, of His promised work in our lives, from forgiving us our sins to comforting us as we struggle, as He holds us in His embrace…

That is infinitely valuable.

So come, celebrate the Lord’s love for you.

Come, taste and know the love of the Lord…

For He is with you and wants you to know Him, and then know His peace.  AMEN.

 

 

[1] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

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

church at communion 2What Are You Jealous About?

Matt 21:1-16a

I.H.S.

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

Jealousy, the hidden beast

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they aren’t the only ones!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The deal is enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMEN!!!

God says, “I WILL BRING…” A Sermon/Homily on Isaiah 56

church at communion 2God says, “I WILL BRING…”
Isaiah 56:1-3a, 6-8

I pray that you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ which has gathered you into His presence here and that you would realize you aren’t just invited to be here, God desires your presence here!

Doing Right and Good defined…

In the first verses of the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, we heard this morning that God wanted us to do this,

“Be just and fair to all, do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you, and to display my righteousness among you.  Blessed are all those who are careful to do this,  Blessed are those who honor my sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong….”

That’s a great promise, but perhaps a bit vague.  What is right and good to do, what is just and fair?  We might have our own ideas, but God gives us a great picture of it in the verse that follows us,

“Don’t let the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will never let me be a part of His people.”

This isn’t just God commanding us to do this, this work He asks us to do is revealed in the 6-8th verses as His action, as He blesses those who are committed to His care.  He pours out the blessings upon them, even as He has on every single one of us.

And so what God is calling us to do is imitate Him, to share His heart towards people He has created, to have His heart and love all those He loves.

It’s not going to be easy… it is, in fact, it will cause us to take up our cross, this call to follow him.

Who are these outcast & foreigners?

This passage shows two groups of people God loves, foreigners and those who are called outcasts.  Or as Deacon Bob is preaching about right now, those people who think they can’t be admitted to our club.

And we need to make sure they never, ever think this…. We can’t let them say, “The Lord will never let me be a part of HIS people!”

The first group is simple – they are people who aren’t like us, who don’t share our genes, or our language, or our culture, or economic or social status. Some translations use foreigner, some describe them as alien, some stranger.  Given our church’s makeup, I think he’s talking about Australians because we have members from just about everywhere else!  Guyana, Germany, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Indonesia, we even love people from places like Boston and Hemet!  Yet the command is to make sure they don’t think and say that God won’t let them be part of us.

Some people still struggle to feel comfortable in our presence, and it is our role to help those who God brings here to know they are welcome, that they are part of His people, and therefore part of us.

God is calling us to proactively make sure they know they are welcome,

In verse 8, God adds in another group – those who are outcast.

Back in the days when Moses and Israel left Egypt and were wandering around the desert, hen the Old Covenant was given to the people of Israel, there were a number of sins that could be committed that would require the sinner to leave the camp of the people of God.

Sometimes it was for a day, sometimes it was for life.

Basically, until they served their time, they were outcast, they had to make do for themselves, they weren’t welcome among the people of God. They were the recognized sinners, or those that condoned the sin that was committed. They were the outcasts, the sinners rejected by their own people, who also rejected themselves.  Never again would the joy be theirs, or so they thought.

Ever been there?  Ever been in a situation where you weren’t in the in group, where you didn’t understand what was going on, or wonder whether you were part of the church?

Ever wonder if you were beyond God’s desire to forgive, beyond His mercy?  Either because people treated you that way, or because you simply felt to guilty?

Ever treated people like they weren’t?

Or maybe, like me, you have been all of the above…

Time to hear God, time to make the foreigner and the outcast welcome..

Filling us with joy!

I want you to hear the gospel from the Old Testament again,

6  “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7  I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.” Isaiah 56:6-8 (NLT)

These promises aren’t just basic entry, by saying that God will accept their offerings, because God is hearing their pray- the prayer of all people, he’s talking about full membership in this family.

Not half-sister, or step brother, but complete membership in the house of God….
For those who were once outcast, victims of their own sin, and who were once foreigners.  They are family, because of the love of Jesus on the cross, the cross where we were all made family.

We need to understand, and we need to share with people – that Christ died for all.  For you and for me, for people from every language, every tribe, ever culture.  For people of every economic group and from every generation.

Jesus died for them all. Every person in Cerritos, Artesia, Norwalk, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma, Whittier.

All those who are different, all those who have sinned and belong somewhere besides a house of prayer.

Jesus changed all that, as Isaiah prophesied, as God unites us to him on the cross, cleansing us of the sin that could have prevented us from being here.

We need to know this, we need to understand that God died for us, that we might live, and we need to welcome all who would know this, that would come to adore the God who loves us all.

Which is why we have hope, no matter where we’ve come from, no matter what we’ve done wrong. HE can and will restore us!  We have hope because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us all.
AMEN!

 

Do You Understand This? A Sermon on Matthew 13’s parables of the Treasure and the Pearl.

church at communion 2Do You Understand This?
Matthew 13:44-62

I.H.S.

My prayer for you as you read this sermon:  As you think about the grace and mercy of God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, may you understand that God has found what He treasures, in you!

Do you understand this?

Toward the end of our gospel reading today there is a question that we need to hear, that we need to take seriously.

Do you understand all these things?

Do you understand this?  What Jesus is talking about are these groups of parables. Called parables of the Kingdom because Jesus says each is an example of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Do we get what it means for someone to search for treasure, and for a merchant to search the world for the perfect pearl/

Do we understand what it would cost to buy the field, what would be given up in exchange for the pearl?

The price is pretty high….

And if we don’t understand the price to be paid, we need to…

Just as we need to understand these words of the Apostle Paul.

17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18  And 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. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)

That observation of St. Paul’s has everything to do with the treasure and the pearl… and understanding them!

We need to understand the incredible love of God for us… and then we can unlock the meaning of parables with great ease!

Chasing after the treasure?

One of our challenges in understanding this passage is that we are so used to searching out chasing after things.  We’ve forgotten how to be content with what God has blessed us with.

People search for and struggle to find the perfect career, and the perfect path in that career.  So they change careers now, four or more times in their lives. Wait, I’ve only had three… HHmmmm

People chase after the perfect home, or the perfect community, the perfect family with our children and grandchildren having everything that will make their lives perfect as they grow up.

And of course, some of us chased after our spouses – until they sprung their trap…err they let us catch them.  😉

It is no wonder then that most hear this parable about the treasure and the pearl and think, well – we must find the kingdom of God, we have to find the treasure in the field.  Preachers like Billy Graham and Greg Laurie encourage us to give up everything to decide to make Jesus our Lord and Savior.  In effect, to see this passage this way means we save ourselves, we redeem ourselves.

But it is the way we’ve heard it, so we design church services and our evangelism programs to help people seeking to find the treasure, assuming they will recognize it when they see it, and that they will want to give up everything for something they barely understand.

Except that it doesn’t work that way.

When we are in bondage to sin, when we are buried and tarnished by the weight of this broken world, we don’t have the energy or power to save ourselves. We don’t have the ability to find the true treasure and even if we did, what could you give up that is valuable enough to give to purchase heaven?

What could we trade of equal value that would redeem us from sin and the brokenness it causes?

We aren’t the treasure hunters, we aren’t the merchants trying to find the perfect, priceless pearl.

So if we aren’t?  Who is?

Being found

The simple answer is God.  He is the one who came to seek and save the lost.  Jesus is the one who gave up everything and took on the role of the servant.  In each of the parables in this chapter, God is at work, harvesting us, causing the church to grow.

Paul described it in our second reading this way,

30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

We need to struggle with, and come to accept that we are His treasure, we are His Pearl of incredible value.  Here are some other ways this is described,

17  “They will be my people,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. Malachi 3:17 (NLT)

5  Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6  And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ Exodus 19:5-6 (NLT)

18  He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1:18 (NLT)

And of course,

10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

This is what Paul means by exploring the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, to explore how broad and wide, how high and deep.

It is the love we have to learn to ocunt on, depend on, have faigh in, even when we don’t seem to shine like a pearl, or we seem to tarnished and pitted to be His treasure.

God is the one who found us, He is the one who gave up everything for us. This is who we are, the people that God treasures, and loves to the extent that Jesus died for us. We We heard Moses explained it to Israel, words that are true for us,

 ! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God.

So my dear friends. know you are treasured, and that God treasures everyone that you know, they just need to hear it from God, through you and me.

AMEN!

God, We NEED to Talk! A sermon on Jeremiah 20:7-13

Combined 4God, We need to Talk!

Jeremiah 20:7-13

 In Jesus Name

 Our prayer for you is that you grow in your experience and knowledge of the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to where you can trust Him and be completely honest with God!  AMEN!

God, We have to Talk!

The Old Testament passage this morning one that describes a prophet of incredible faith, one who knows His God.

He is also very frustrated, and perhaps even a bit paranoid.  Definitely, Jeremiah is a bit tired and weary, and part of this is that people don’t always hear everything he has said, and their criticism and threats he takes personally.

He doesn’t just complain, he doesn’t just whine, he wants to talk to God, and let God have it!

Our English translation uses the word deceived, other translations use misled, tricked, fooled me.  What kind of prophet is this, that thinks he can talk to God like that!  To accuse God the Father of deceiving him?

He is a man of great faith.

Yes, I said he is man of great faith, and I pray that our faith grows enough to be that open and honest with God.  Let me explain.

Can We Be honest with God? (Can we whine/complain to Him?)

Can we be honest with God?  Can we accuse Him of deceiving us or misleading us? Can questioning God, even challenging Him, be an act of faith?

For Jeremiah this wasn’t about God promising him a nice house, a new car and a easy good paying job.  This was about ministry and care, about Jeremiah trying to shepherd God’s people back to him.   God called him to this work, much like God calls Timothy and myself to be pastors and prepare to ministry.  Just as God calls people to serve as church musicians, or on boards and teams, even as God calls us all to be involved in making disciples of people from every ethnicity, every culture, every language.

This work God has given His people isn’t easy, and there are times where the people God would have us minister to are challenging.  There are times people who don’t know about God think what they know is the truth, and don’t listen to all the story.  For while we are here to tell them about God’s love, they also must know that His love cannot leave them broken in sin.  They often don’t like to hear that, and neither do we.

Jeremiah was trying to do that, and they wouldn’t listen long enough to hear about God’s mercy, and God’s desire to cleanse them of their sin and heal them of their brokenness.  They only heard that they needed to repent and be forgiven.

They didn’t like that, and they attacked and threatened Jeremiah over his life time many times.

So Jeremiah says, “Hey God, we need to talk, I thought serving you would be easier.  You didn’t tell me about the rejection, the pain of watching people continue to struggle in their brokenness.  You didn’t tell me when I went to them they would attack, yet you still want me to do this? You still want me to reach out to people – to call them back to you, Lord?”

Jeremiah will go on to try and quit, to say he will never talk about God in verse 9, even that he will try to forget about God.  He is that tired, that frustrated, that burnt out from caring and trying to call people back into their relationship with God. To call unbelievers to the cross, to call believers back there.

But Jeremiah can’t do that, he can’t keep the message of God inside himself, it is too powerful, to incredible, to glorious.  His people need to know God’s love and that God will stand by them, and stand by us during our struggle.

God stands by us?

We start to see that in verse 11, “11  But you, LORD, are on my side, strong and mighty”. Jeremiah 20:11 (TEV)

and again in verse 13, ” 13  Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! He rescues the oppressed from the power of evil people. Jeremiah 20:13 (TEV)

When we are honest with God, when we don’t hide our hurts, we see Him at work. Then our faith, our trust grows stronger in Him, we become more aware of His presence, His guiding us, His listening to our prayers, and yes, even our complaints and our whining.  He’s willing to remind us He is here, and this is His work.  The Holy Spirit guides us all to Jesus, who died and rose so that our sins would be forgiven, that we could be God’s children. That we could know He has rescued us, and stands with us.

Jeremiah’s message resonates with the future, and the hope that the people of God have, a hope we know, when at the end of the day we remember He cleanses us from sin, He rescues us, and He stands by our side.  For He loves us, and is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but that all of us come to repentance.  Even when we are tired, even when they are stubborn.  God is still at work.

Standing by us, strengthening our faith, our awareness of Him.  Even as we serve and minister to each other and the world.  Even when we struggle doing it.

Knowing this, we realize we dwell in His peace, peace the world cannot understand, but  the peace in which we are guarded in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

It’s Time to Make Jesus Known!

     church at communion 2It’s Time to Make Him Known!

Acts 17:16-31

I.H.S.†

 May you see Christ so clearly revealed through His word and sacraments, that the grace of God our Father, and our Lord shine brightly through you, to those who need to know His name!

Deeply Troubled, Are We?

Imagine walking around Athens as Paul did, waiting for his friends to show up.  This capital city, formerly the capital of the world, this place that might cause wonder, disturbed him greatly.

Scripture says he was deeply troubled, deeply and profoundly bothered by what he saw, what he experienced.  Wherever he looked there was idolatry, people trying to find hope, and looking to man-made things to provide hope.

Broken, weary, unfulfilled desires become even more broken as their false gods revealed themselves to be nothing but a bunch of rocks.  These people that were searching for answers, those who led them who loved to hear of new thoughts about God, they all needed a God to depend upon, a God to turn to, a God that would be there, a God who would help.

It wasn’t the first time, 600 years before, Diogenes records that Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete was sent for because no one had an answer to their problems, a plague, a drought, a famine all at once went through the land.  Epimenides looked at all the temples, all these false gods and idols and suggested that the answer was that their prayers and sacrifices didn’t work because they didn’t know the real God they could pray to….

And so they made an altar to an unknown God, and prayed, and dedicated an altar with the words agnosto theo – and dedicated the altar to the unknown and real God, asking Him to save them, asking Him to hear their prayers.  For a few centuries they remembered this God and His mercy, then, like many others, they forgot this nameless, faceless, benevolent God.
As Paul arrives, the altar was probably near ruins, the story all but was forgotten, and the people were back to looking anywhere for an answer.

But it was time to make this God known… even as it is today.

Can People Pray to A God they Don’t know?  Will He answer them?

This passage plays havoc with what are called closed theological systems, or those systems that people close off themselves. It has caused a lot of debate, especially among conservative Lutherans.  Because it isn’t beautiful and tidy, and God doesn’t fit in our box.

For example, there is the question of people praying to a God whom they don’t know.

We know we can’t find God if all we are using is our own reason and strength, that is solid, basic theology.  But does that stop them from looking for Him?  Does that stop them from praying to Him, begging Him for help.. and to reveal that He is present here.

Well, rather than just say yes, let me share a few passages, starting with today’s reading,

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.

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

and then this from Solomon’s dedication of the temple

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. 1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)

And one more, from the Large Catechism, one of the primary documents describing our faith,

All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Unless of course, someone reveals God to them, as God desires!

So is it wrong for people to pray, even if they aren’t sure who God is?  Will He hear their cries and respond?

Of course, for He desires to draw them close, to save and deliver them into His Father’s presence. Scripture tells us this is God’s will, His desire, to draw everyone to Himself, to cleanse them from sin, to restore them as His children.  He will never force us, but He will always hear us and care and love us.

Paul was sent to Athens by the Lord to do what he did, to reveal to them that He was their Creator, but also that He was their redeemer. He died and rose from the dead so that He could judge the world, and judge us just, righteous, holy, the people who could cry out to Him.

If you kept on reading, Paul would speak to them more about the resurrection from the dead that he mentions in verse 31.  There Paul mentioned that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead,   Some would stop listening to then, others wanted to hear more about it later, including some very learned people.
They heard about the God who would come and die, to deliver them from sin, and the power of death.  They would hear about the God who rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, the God who would draw us to Jesus lifted on the cross, where we would die with Him, our sin nailed to that cross.  And then, as He rose from the dead, so do we, forgiven, cleansed, separated from sin, now children of the Father.

For the unknown God has made Himself known, and calls us to be transformed and trust in Him.

And so we do, the broken finding healing in Jesus, while we reveal Him to others as Paul did.

This is our life in Christ, for in Him we live and move and exist. For we are His children.  AMEN!

[1] Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

He has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! And…

church at communion 2He has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed!

And… therefore….

Colossians 2:10-12

† In Jesus Name †

As we celebrate Easter, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, may you realize your part in it, for the grace of God has brought you to life in and with Him.  AMEN!

The earlier sermon… Our union with Christ… 

You have already heard a sermon this morning.  Rather you’ve seen it happen, you witnessed what my poor words will attempt to describe.

Paul says it this way, in our epistle reading.

You are complete through your union with Jesus.

Complete, whole, perfect, lacking nothing.

What became true for Damon, Madelynn and Rosemarie, and is true for everyone who trusts in the mighty power of God is because of this incredible union, being united with Christ’s death and resurrection.

That is the incredible miracle of God that occurs in our baptism, as we are united with Jesus, and then we die and are resurrected with Him.

Our need for circumcision

The apostle Paul, in this epistle, this letter to a young new church, explains the work that God does in baptism using the illustration of circumcision. He writes,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.

He talks about our sin nature here, that ability we have to get ourselves into trouble, that ability we have which feeds our desires, no matter the cost to us.

It’s not just about the sin, it’s not just about the failures, there is something deeper there, that causes us to implode, to choose self-destructive things, to even argue these things are good for us. That self-destructive behavior, that’s our struggle with our sin nature. It is strong and powerful, overruling our heart and mind at times.

And we were unable to do anything about it…no one without God in their lives can, we struggle and struggle and just fall short.

We need help, supernatural help. 

Our circumcision…

That is where Jesus brings the idea of circumcision into this picture of baptism uniting us with His death.  The word in Greek for circumcision means to cut around – to carefully, with surgical precision, cut and remove something.  That is what Paul is talking about when he says

Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life

In the case of baptism – it pictures our dying, and when we come back to life, there is something missing.  That sin nature that so oppressed us, so controlled us, so kept us in bondage.

it’s been cut away, nailed to the cross of Christ,

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains it again

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.
Romans 6:5-6 (NLT)

And to the church in Galatia he wrote,

19  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NLT)

I could go on and on with the ways scripture describes out being separated and cleansed of our sin. But that is only part of the process to the greater blessing, the forgiveness, the separation of you and your sinful nature is but a description of what it leads us into, our new life in Christ.

Our Hope of Glory …

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what my favorite scripture was.  My answer without hesitation was this,

9  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)

This is what Easter is about, this incredible plan God has for us, the very reason for the cross and why the church obeys the command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to treasure everything God establishes.  It is through this work God does through us, that we are made whole and complete, and are given the Holy Spirit to help us live in a such a different life.

To live in a relationship with the God who not only created us, but deeply loves us.  To get to know Him, through our talking to Him in prayer and meditating on His word, searching it out as we explore how deep, how high, how wide, how broad this love is that He has for us.

Whose plan for us is to dwell eternally with Him, sharing in His glory, dwelling in the purest love.

This is what this is all about, this being complete as we are united with Jesus. About being recreated as the children of God, about knowing His peace, it is about knowing Him!

And may you always know that peace of God which is beyond anything we can understand, the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus AMEN!

 

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