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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sermon from October 12

Think About These Things.

                                     Philippians 4:8

Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Philippians chapter 4 verse 8:  "Philip. 4:8
    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
 This is our text.
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus compared His Kingdom to a wedding feast. And He ends it with an interesting couple of lines. There is a man at the wedding banquet who does not have the proper clothes for a wedding. It’s an outrage! This is the wedding banquet for the son of the king.  Everybody ought to know that you have to be at your best. You have to have the best suit, the best dress you can get your hands on. You need to be washed and combed and everything about you  has to be just so. But here’s this bloke who just shows up, in his work clothes, and starts nibbling on the hors d’oerves, trying to just chat with the other guests about the weather as if nothing’s out of place.  The king kicks him out into the outer darkness.
Some of us older ones and old fashioned ones, may want to see this as Biblical proof that our kids should dress up better for church. Comb your hair. Shave. Shine your shoes and iron your shirt.  But we can’t make too much of that. Jesus is talking about what’s in the heart, of course. We should expect to find Jesus talking about the inner person. That’s more important than the outward appearance.
The point of this incident in Jesus’ parable is that if the heart is empty of the things of the Lord, it shows. If the heart is empty of the fear of God and the love of God and the trust in God, you will not be ready for Judgment Day. It’s as though you won’t be dressed properly.  Facing Judgment Day without faith in one’s heart is like a firefighter going off to a fire wearing only a swimsuit, or an astronaut taking a step onto the surface of the moon with flip-flops.
We pray, regularly, daily, “Thy Kingdom come.” When we say that, we are asking God to be at work, sending His Spirit into the hearts and minds of people, ourselves first of all, but then our loved ones in our homes, and in our neighborhoods and in our nation and throughout the world. We are praying that God, the Holy Spirit would use His tools of the Gospel and Baptism to turn the hearts of people from the things of sin and death to the things of faith and salvation in Jesus. We are asking when we pay, “Thy kingdom come”, that the Holy Spirit would fill the hearts of people with the faith they need so that they are ready for judgment day. Ready and giddy with excitement for that day, like the honored guests of the wedding of the King’s Son.
St. Paul wraps up his Epistle to the Philippians with this encouraging 4th chapter, describing what should be in the heart.
    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This is a call from God Himself to remember and cling to the good stuff He has given us, to take full advantage of good, pure, lovely, excellent blessings that the Lord has given you.  He has called you by the Gospel to have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and life everlasting. Now Philippians chapter 4 invites you to take those blessings to heart. God would have you keep those things of His Gospel with you all the time. Here’s a way to think of it:  Wear them like your fanciest clothes.  Clothed with His good word, you will fit in nicely at the marriage feast in the Kingdom that has no end.
Think about these things.  I’m going to recite some of them here so that, hopefully they will stick with you in the days ahead:
1.      Peace.  Verse 7 says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Peace is a way of describing the new attitude, the new life that comes to a person who has had their sins forgiven, and who now has the assurance that God is on their side. Peace is the opposite and the cure to anxiety. There is too much anxiety among sinners.  Guilt and shame over mistakes made in the past make anxiety. Fear of the future and worry about what might go wrong make anxiety. Take this to heart. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
2.      Contentment:  Philip. 4:11-13
    Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12] I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. [13] I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
When you take the promises of the Lord to heart, you’ve got a peaceful attitude of heaven and that allows you to have a contented attitude about earth. Your Lord has given you salvation. He has this sure and certain promise for you, so sure you’ve got no reason to doubt, He says, “I will raise you up on the last day.” Take that to heart and then say, “I know the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
3.      Joy Philip. 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  If anyone has a reason to grin, it’s you who have been promised that your names are written in the Lord’s book of life. This is not to say you go around now, just oblivious to problems you’ve got and problems you see in others lives, There is suffering, there are bullies, there still is sin and death and the devil. But you know the joy that the world can’t see, you’ve got the peace that’s beyond understanding. You’ve got contentment now, because eternal joy is in store. You can lighten up a little. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  
4.      Spirit of Charity – Let’s remember, charity is a good word. Human pride has made it a bad word. The proud will say, “I don’t need no charity.”  But charity is just another  word for love. We all need love. We all need charity now and then. That’s how we are born. All helpless and dependent.  That’s often how we die. Helpless and dependent. In the news this week is some lady who has brain cancer and so she’s making a big deal about taking her own life in suicide. That way she won’t die helpless and dependent. There is nothing noble or proud about taking a life ever. Even your own. Rather God gives us others who, when we need, are charitable, loving for us. For Paul, the Philippians were charitable, giving gifts to help Him do His ministry. He says in verse 18   I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
5.      Reasonableness – verse 5 says, Philip. 4:5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Let’s have more of this.  Paul had just said, Philip. 4:2
    I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Having the blessings of God in our heart, on our minds, in our joyful attitude, lets have pleasant relationships with one another. If it takes some work, get to work and take care of it. Start now getting along with the people you’ll spend eternity with.

When we hold these things in our hearts, the peace and love of God, there is great promises made:  Philip. 4:9
    What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
God has not left you alone to stir up all these proper attitudes and emotions in your heart.  No, He promises to be with you and when He is with you His spirit inspires your hope, and your faith, your charity and your reasonableness.

Now when I list all these things that you are supposed to do, I don’t want you leaving here thinking, “Oh, man, now on top of everything else I have going on, I have to work on all those things too?!?”

Listen again to verse 19 of this chapter:      And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. God works through His word to supply what you are lacking.  He says, “Peace and there is peace.” He says, “Rejoice!” and our melancholy is lifted. He says, “Charity” and His word that created all things, creates within us the new and charitable heart of the children of the Kingdom.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sermon from September 7

September 6/7, 2014
Proper 18C

Binding & Releasing on Earth & in Heaven
Matthew 18:

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Matthew 18:18
    Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

In “Mending Wall” a poem by Robert Frost, this man wonders out loud, why he and his neighbor must work so to keep a fence up dividing their two properties.  He says,
There where it is we do not need the wall: 
He is all pine and I am apple orchard. 
My apple trees will never get across 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. 
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'. 
People like to have fences or some sort of dividing lines, so they can say to themselves and to their neighbors, “This is my space that’s your space. These are my things those are your things. This is my business that’s your business.”
Why do people want fences? In part, because of greed. From little on up we’ve had a notion of what’s mine. And we’ve fought to keep it. Privacy is another reason. We want to have some space and some time when we can just relax without worrying what others are doing.
Now of course there’s nothing wrong with having some time and some space and some possessions that we keep to ourselves. The Christian faith has nothing to say against personal property. Actually, God himself sets a sort of hedge around your possessions to protect them. He warns others with the 7th commandment, “you shall not steal” thereby telling all the rest of us to respect your stuff.
    Furthermore, we all should have some privacy. There are some things that you have to do in private. For instance, most of us can sleep better if there is a wall between us and the rest of the world.
    But here’s the concern with walls and fences, sometimes it’s tempting to hide behind our walls. It’s easier to be a hermit than to be a friend. It’s more comfortable to stay in seclusion and serve ourselves than to step out of our comfort zone and serve our neighbor.
    You see you have all kind of walls that you try to hide behind. If you are constantly afraid that others might not approve of you, you will hide behind a wall of pretense, pretending to be someone you’re not. If you’ve been disappointed by people before, you’ll be tempted to act like there’s  a wall between you and others and you keep them from getting close to you.
    God confronted Cain, and said to him, “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain said, “What!? Am I my brother’s keeper?” He tried to play off this notion that Abel was entitled to his privacy, his business was his own business, when really God knew that Cain had horribly sinned by murdering his brother.
    It’s tempting to repeat those words, “What!? Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s none of my business if he needs a hand, if she needs a friend, if they need what I can give. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” becomes an excuse not to care.
    Jesus encouraged his followers over and over again to pull down these kinds of walls. He held up the example of the Good Samaritan who took up the suffering, beaten victim, and cared for him, unlike the priest and the Levite who walked by, pretending to not even notice.
    Jesus said, go the extra mile. “if your neighbor asks for the shirt off your back, give him your cloak as well.”
    All this falls under the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” which is second only to that greatest commandment. “Love God.”
    And if there is anyone who has the right to put up walls and fences, it’s God.  Because of humanity’s sin, God barred the gate to paradise.  He assigned cherubim to guard the wall.
     He says to the unrighteous you can’t enter into my kingdom, you can’t put your hands on my treasures. I’m staying in here and you are staying out there.
     That’s what His justice demands He say. His justice builds walls. But His nature is rather that of grace, and so He assigned Jesus to come into this world to save sinners. And to build bridges.
     That’s what Jesus did He builds bridges where there were once walls. By His death and resurrection He has made it so that your sin is atoned for and you can be welcomed into your Father’s kingdom and share in all His inheritance.
     Jesus continues to build bridges now giving you His word, giving you His sacraments so that you would believe in Him and have that access into the Father’s good graces.
     Jesus builds bridges by appointing Pastors to preach His word rightly.  In the Old Testament reading today from Ezekiel, God gave a very stern strict warning to the prophet.  Ezekiel 33:8
    If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.

Tough words for the prophet. But very good words for the people who would hear his preaching. It was for their sake that God wanted His message to be conveyed accurately and clearly. It’s a life and death matter. Eternal life and death.
            And so in our day, God calls pastors for your sake that you would hear His word and put confidence in it. Woe to those preachers who would stray off from God’s word and into their own imaginations and their own fun and fantasy.
            So, it’s about time I get to the assigned text for today:  Jesus says, Matthew 18:15
    "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
By nature, when we are sinned against, our first reaction is either fight or flight.
            Fight—that is to strike back with angry thoughts and curses, spiteful, hateful words or even actions which are violent or destructive.
            Flight—that is to go hide behind the wall, to just be done with that person.
Jesus tells you, build bridges not walls. Jesus turns you around from the natural reactions. Not fight, not flight. But He says, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
            If someone sins against you, especially someone who is a Christian, Jesus wants you to step out of your comfortable zone and step up to talk it through with the other person. “Go”, He says, “have that blessed conversation that leads to reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.”
            Say, “you know, there is something that is bothering me. Something between you and me. I’d like to talk about it. I’d like to see what we can do together to resolve this.”
            And this is a very humble attitude you have as you begin this talk. You have to be humble enough to realize that your idea of the solution might not work. You may need to bring two or three others into the conversation who can help you resolve it. Not two or three who will just take your side, no matter what, but others who can mediate and who also want to have peace.
“If your brother sins against you”, Jesus says. Which sins? You can’t go through this all the time. Most sins you gotta just overlook. Don’t get hung up on the little stuff.
Proverbs 19:11
    Good sense makes one slow to anger,
        and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
But when you can overlook something, get to work to address it, to find ways of fixing it. In this way you put the gospel of Jesus to work and the gospel of Jesus is simply this, “Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.”
Jesus invites you into this gospel with His great promises:      Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
This gospel of repentance and forgiveness is heavenly stuff.  Live that every day. Amen.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sermon from July 27

More than Conquerors

Romans 8:37

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

            It would be good if you knew this verse by heart and remembered it the rest of your life. 
Earlier in this reading we hear how God loved us:  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

There is another sermon or two in those couple of verses, I can’t get into it all right now, other than to say that when you hear that God loved us, you’ve got to think in terms of forever. Forever ago in the past -- His love started way back in the beginning when He foreknew us and predestined us, to be conformed to the image of His Son, (to make us like Jesus) -- And forever in the future He justified us and glorified us, that’s true now but we will especially see that in the eternal future when we fully live that justified life and fully feel that glory.

Everything that we have going on that is good is because of that.  Anything worthwhile that we have is only through him who loved us.

Notice that at each step of the way, it’s God who is doing it.  He foreknew us. He predestined us. He conformed us to the image of His Son. He called, justified and glorified us. So it is essential that we keep in mind that our only hope our only life is through him who loved us.

On our own, we’ll have nothing.  On our own we will not be conquerors, but losers. On our own, when troubles come our way, when worries crowd our minds we start to feel overwhelmed, desperate or worse yet we start to feel sorry, we look left we look right we see no solution to our problems on either hand and so we just give up, and wallow in the pit of our own self-pity.

If you learn this verse and keep it in your heart for the rest of your life you’ll be better able to look away from yourself, your problems and your inability to fix your problems and you’ll be able to look to God and His promises.  You will learn what it means to be More than conquerors through him who loved us.

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

This passage is from the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans. Not this summer but last summer, at our Vacation Bible School, I dressed up and tried to pretend to be St. Paul. I helped kids write their name in Greek, the language in which Paul’s letters were written. And during one session I talked to the children about this verse We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  Maybe some of you will be reminded that the Greek word for “more than conquerors” is hypernike. Nike  the root word, means victory. It was chosen as the name of an athletic shoe company because it’s a powerful name, a name for winners. In that Vacation Bible School session I put a swoosh mark on the hands of the students so they’d remember that, for a while, at least until they washed their hands.

Through Him who loved us, who chose us, gave us a new destiny in Jesus, justified us, glorified us. Because of all this we have the victory. We are the conquerors, the winners. But St. Paul added a prefix to that word Nike.  He said that we are hypernike.  Hyper in Greek means over and above, beyond. If someone is hyperactive, they are excessively active, super active. So this compound word then says you are not just Nike, you are not just a conqueror, you are more than a conqueror. We are super conquerors, overwhelming conquerors through him who loved us.

You see, Jesus has conquered sin, death and the devil. But it wasn’t a close one. It wasn’t a nail biter. Maybe it appeared like it, when Jesus was hanging dead on the cross, the tag team opponents of the Jews and the Romans had beaten and humiliated Him. Behind the scenes Satan, had tempted and tricked and seemed to just about have his way and then at the last minute on Easter morning, Jesus pulled it out just at the buzzer. It might have appeared like that, but it wasn’t really.  God has had it all under control. Ever since the foundations of the world, God had planned that His chosen one would crush Satan. God did not want us to die, so He had Jesus be the death of death. God in eternity chose not to leave you in your sin, so He washed the sins off you and poured the judgment for sin on Jesus. Jesus resurrection from the dead is not just a victory. It is a hypervictory. He is more than a Conqueror. And you are being conformed into the image of Christ. You are becoming more and more like Christ. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

I urge you to think this way about your salvation. You are not just a winner, but a super winner. It is not as though it’s a close contest.  Will you perish or will you have everlasting life? Don’t say, “well, maybe. I hope so. We’ll have to wait and see. I hope the good Lord lets me in. I hope I can squeak by.” No! The Gospel message is that the Lord Jesus has won in a landslide, a rout, a smashing victory.  His is more than a victory! And we who have been baptized into Jesus have been conformed into His image and so we can say that His super victory is our super victory. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Lastly, In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In this Epistle reading, St. Paul has listed all the things that could happen to us, things that could
make us feel like we are getting beat. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Notice that our victory is in all these things, not apart from all these things. It is wrong to expect a victorious Christian life that is free of hardship or stress. In tribulation we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. During times of persecution, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. When we lack that which is necessary for life and well being we are more than conquerors. In danger or violence we are united with Christ the Hypernike, the Super Victor who suffered humbly, obediently and fully for us. It’s ironic that often a Christian will expect that when they are suffering and struggling they are the farthest away from God.  No, in hardship, persecution and suffering we are united with him who loved us.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So you feel as though you are bullied, battered, beaten down and bested by sin, death and the devil. You are not. In all these things, everyone one of them, You are more than conquerors.

As we keep hearing God’s promises, keep taking them in and taking them to heart we keep learning about how big His promise is, How complete His salvation is, how all encompassing this victory is.  Our doubts rise up and we say to ourselves, “Oh, no! here’s a problem that is beyond fixing, beyond help, beyond hope!” And the last thing to come to our minds is to pray about it.

In all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Remember that when you pray. When you pray, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” that name is the name of a Victor, a super victor. That name of him who loved us was placed on you when you were baptized. Daily remember that.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sermon from July 6, 2014

The Burden Lifted

& Romans 7:14-25a

Jesus said, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28)
Our bodies need rest to recuperate and reinvigorate. We need to rest to get ready to go back at it.
God who made us, body and soul, placed us in a world where there is night and day, times for rest and work. Since creation God has ordered things so that there is a day of rest, a day for us to pause from labor and meditate on Him and His promises.
As our bodies need such rest, so also our souls need rest and rejuvenation.
The Epistle reading for today describes the struggle, the fight within, from which we need rest. Like a boxer who gets a breather between rounds, so a Christian needs rest from the contest going on in his or her soul.  Romans 7 is about that contest, that fight, that struggle.
St. Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:22-23).
All of us Christians can relate to this internal tension he describes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
So we struggle. We do the things we hate. We act out of anger or frustration with our coworker, family member, or neighbor, instead of out of love.
We get to the end of a day and realize how little we’ve got done because we were lazy or distracted and didn’t do the work we should have.
We speak without thinking and out comes hurtful gossip or immoral words. Or we don’t speak up quick enough to defend our neighbor’s reputation or defend the truth. Only later do we think, “I should have said something.”
And so when we do, or think or say these things we hate, our conscience aches.
Your conscience is a good thing. It’s one way God gets his point across to you. It is a good thing when the conscience of a sinner gets burdened, because it leads you to repentance.
I say conscience is good, in principle. But like everything else about us, it is imperfect. Sometimes it is just plain wrong. It gives out false signals. Sometimes our struggle is over false guilt and false shame.
For example, you can get to feeling guilty for not being what others expect you to be. The people around you may expect you to be a certain type of parent or a certain type of student or a certain type of citizen. If you let them down, you may feel bad and guilty about it.
But really, such expectations do not necessarily need to be your problem. It’s more likely the case that they need to learn who you are, and not assume who you are. It’s rude of them to expect you to change to fit their assumptions. We need to learn that it is God’s Word that determines what is right and what is wrong, not the opinions of those around us.
But each of us knows of times when our conscience was bothered and it was right. It was doing its God-given purpose of showing us our sins. It was making God’s Law real and pertinent in our lives.
Sin makes Guilt. And guilt is no fun, it takes away peace. It can drive a sinner crazy. Guilt prevents you from enjoying life, from functioning properly. It keeps you from being a good neighbor and serving the Lord whole-heartedly.
So what to do with guilt? I want to list some options:
1).        Fret. You can just keep stewing over it. You can keep going over and over in your mind what you did wrong and how shameful it was.
As I say that, you can probably imagine how wrong that sounds, especially since there is such an easy solution to that in the forgiveness of Jesus who died for your sins. Yet many, many people, many Christians, go years, decades even, fretting over their guilt. They go around feeling inadequate, unworthy, despicable. We pray that they would hear the Gospel and believe it.
2.)        Give up. You could just abandon the fight. Avoid the struggle. Just stop caring. Do whatever it takes to push the conscience aside so it doesn’t bother anymore. Drink more. Indulge more. Sin more. When you bend the conscience enough it breaks and once broken it’s not so sharp, not so burdensome. Then you will feel free from the struggle. You can go on with life. It’s as easy as falling off a log. No worries.
But even as I say that, you can see that conscience is a good and blessed thing. Because when it is broken or gone, it’s terrible. All that is left is lawlessness and godlessness.
3.)        Work to fix it. You can work to overcome your shortfalls. You can focus on fixing your guilt and shame, and in so doing you can prove yourself to be better than your past sins and guilt. Prove yourself to whom? Mostly, prove yourself to yourself.
But then you will have to work constantly. There will be no rest – no stopping . . . until you crash. No peace; No joy in life.
Let’s turn back to the Epistle reading of the day:  St Paul describes this struggle going on within himself. He painfully describes his ongoing battle, wanting to do good, but doing instead the things he hates to do. He concludes: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24.
And then He answers His own question with this powerful response: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
“Thanks be to God!” Those are the words that resound in the Christian life.
If you are one who frets, turn your gaze away from yourself and from all the worries and see the victory over sin and death that God has given you through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Let your thanks to God fill your life with joy and peace.
If you are one who has given up on the struggle with sin, Thanks be to God! He hasn’t given up on you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our Lord continues to invite sinners, “Come to me!”
If you are one who works ceaselessly, addictively, and restlessly, Thanks be to God that He has rest for your soul through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hear that Gospel Jesus preaches:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He lifts your burden. In your struggle remember His promises. Remember the promise He made at your baptism. He forgives you, so He can accept you. Remember the promise He makes you at His table. “My body was given, so you’d be forgiven. My blood was shed so you’d have life – holy and eternal.
In this way, let Christ teach you what life is all about. Our view of life is warped by selfish desires. Our work ethic has been lost along the way. Work has come to be viewed as bad, as something to avoid as much as you can. Recreation is valued as that which life is all about. You work so can get to the weekend, you put in your time, you put in your years with the only purpose in mind is the day when you can stop and retire.
There is a time for work. That’s how we serve each other and society.
There is a time for rest. That’s to restore strength so we are ready for what comes next.
So likewise there is a time for the conscience to struggle.  This is necessary for us lest we become lazy in our sins.
There is a time for peace in Jesus, hearing His gospel of forgiveness and taking our rest in Him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sermon from June 29

Matthew 10:34-38

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said,     "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. [36] And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38) This is our text.
A few of us can remember the Waltons. On that old TV show there was the perfect family. They sat, all together, around the table for every meal. They all said good night to each other, pleasantly. It was an ideal home and family life. When there were problems, they were solved in the course of the week’s episode. The Dad was strong. The Mother was caring. The Grandparents were wise. The Children were respectful. That’s what families should be like.
But then Jesus makes this surprising statement: “A person's enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:36).
Jesus expected that we, His disciples, His people, would have issues, and in particular, issues in our families. We are often ashamed to admit how far from the ideal our family life is, how less than perfect our family situation is. When something is out of place we are embarrassed; we try to hide it; we do what we can to make it look like all is in order, nice and tidy.
That’s why a Christian may balk at what Jesus says. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
“No!” one might say, “It’s not supposed to be like that!”
Things should be neat and tidy. It seems like family life for a Christian should be easy. If they are not easy and comfortable, something must be wrong.
But Jesus expected that sin would upset your life and make problems in your family.
By sin, I mean, (1) your sin: your anger- when it rises up within you and you speak harsh words,  they hurt relationships and cause conflicts. Your selfishness – when you think and care only about yourself, you ignore the needs and desires of loved ones and when they are left out and lose out, relationships suffer. So repent of your sin -- your part in the problems of your family and seek forgiveness from the Lord and from family and friends.
By sin, I also mean, (2) other’s sins against you. It’s not easy in this life. It’s not possible to have a home as perfect as the Waltons when you live with sinners. Learn grace from our Lord. Learn from Him how to forgive.
These two cases of sin in our families and closest relationships are handled by repentance and forgiveness.
Repentance and forgiveness is the Thing. The message of Jesus boiled down is just that: repentance and forgiveness.
Repentance:  Acknowledge and admit your guilt and sin.
Forgiveness: Jesus died the guilty one’s deserved death to take your sin away.
Repentance and forgiveness are summed up and symbolized by the cross.
The cross is glorious.
The cross is controversial and scandalous.
The message of the cross is this: admit your sinfulness; sorrow over your sins; stop your sinful ways; take the forgiveness Jesus gives.
People don’t like to hear that message. It rubs the sinner the wrong way.
Many would rather hear the world’s message: “Don’t worry about sin.” “Find an excuse for sin, like, you were born that way.” “Ignore it; deny its problems; shrug it off.
Some churches are geared more toward entertaining the audience, putting on a good show. When you see their video screens and their colorful images you might not see the cross. They might have nice pictures, pretty plants, nice carpeting, but no cross anywhere in their church. Why? Because the cross is controversial, disturbing, upsetting. So they abandon the cross and its message, and in so doing forget what they are to do, namely call people to repentance and forgiveness.
There are two completely different ways of life: In Christ and Outside of Christ, on in other words, under the cross or avoiding the cross.
Under the cross, there is bound to be stress and conflict and division. Jesus said, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).
Sin causes problems. It disrupts our relationships. The fix is to be found at the cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus diagnoses sin and so it magnifies sin and identifies divisions.
We want things easy. Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” If things were easy, you wouldn’t need the Lord or His cross.
He wants you to learn, to grow, to be shaped to think in terms of the cross and its message of repentance and forgiveness.
Today, June 29, in Church tradition is the remembrance of Sts. Peter and Paul. These two great apostles share one Saints’ day.  And its interesting that these two did not always get along well.
Once at a church dinner Peter was visiting with some gentile Christians when some Jewish Christians came in, the respected, old guard. Peter got up from the novice gentile bunch and went over to the more prestigious group and began talking with them.
Paul was there at the same time and saw all this happen. Now Paul was the newer apostle, he didn’t have the political capital that Peter did. But Paul had to speak up about Peter’s actions, because Peter made the impression that some Christians were better or more important than others.
Paul made a scene. He confronted Peter to his face, in front of everyone, to make it clear that Peter’s favoritism was wrong.
Theirs is a great example of how the message of the cross does not bring peace, but a sword. The temptation when you are in a situation like Paul’s is to do nothing, keep your peace, let everything be easy and comfortable. Christians are doing that too much.
That’s what Jesus meant when He said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sermon from June 22

God’s Care is Bigger than Your Worry

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. [30] But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. [31] Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31) This is our text.
You are valuable. Jesus says so. 
In God’s way of calculating things you are worth a great deal.
Life can make you feel insignificant, unnoticed, worthless. I’ve heard even Christians say, “I would be better if I had not been born.” That’s their way of calculating things. They are wrong. Too many people assume that God has a limited attention span. He doesn’t. Jesus uses a rather trivial point as an example. He says, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30. Some of us of Northern European descent having thinning hair and so as the number of our hairs decreases, the amazing detail of this statement may also decrease. But remember, when Jesus first made this statement, He was talking to hairy Middle Easteners.  The point is, God knows all about you, every detail, and He considers you valuable.
If you have the attitude that you are just one out of 7 billion, you will likely feel lonely and alone, insignificant and weak.
Don’t make God out to be too small. Don’t assume that He is limited in His attention span and in His capacity to care. When you are at a busy restaurant where the staff is overwhelmed, you might get hash browns when you ordered fries, or you might get nothing at all. But in God’s household, at God’s table, it’s not like that. He can handle a crowd. He created the crowd. He knows what you need. He hears and remembers what you’ve been praying for.
Believe that. Jesus says, “You are valuable.” We must keep learning to think like the Lord.  We might assume we are thinking like Him, when really we aren’t. So listen to Jesus. He reveals the Father. Often what we think is a big deal, is small stuff in God’s estimation. Things that worry you and stress you out are easily handled by the God who hears your prayers. Likewise, often what we think is little, or minor, or doesn’t matter at all, may actually be important to God. For that you need to listen carefully and prayerfully to the Word of the Lord, repenting for your lackadaisical attitude toward His good will.
Listen to Him and learn to think like God.  This week in Vacation Bible School the children learned some new songs, the words of which were Bible verses. Almost without realizing it, they memorized 4 or 5 Bible verses this week. And the first song we learned Monday and repeated every day was “I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1. Those words got stuck in their head. And we pray that this promise of God gets stuck in their heart and grows.
God says to each child who attended, from our church or from the community, “You are mine. You are valuable.” That’s what He said to you at your baptism, washing away your sin and making you His righteous child. That’s what He says to you regularly as you, with faith, remember His promise and grace.
These times we live in are full of reasons to have anxiety and insecurity. That can have a sickening effect on you. Often, the worry does more harm to you than the thing you are worried about. The crisis passes, without ever fully developing in the way you first imagined. You are left with an ulcer or some other complex.
The cure for worry is the Gospel of Jesus. His loving reminders of important you are to God, that God did everything needed to save you and keep you forever.
Another song we learned in Vacation Bible School, sort of the theme of the week was,
    “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephes. 2:8
On the cross Jesus died for those whom He loved, for those who according to His calculation were valuable, were worth it, were worth whatever it took.  Even while you were still a sinner, still in sin and unbelief and uncaring, He loved you by giving His life for your forgiveness and by rising again, alive to bless you forever.

In Jesus calculation you are valuable because He has made you to be a new creation, dead to the sin and weakness from before, alive for His righteousness and His life forever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Vacation Bible School

. . . is in the works.
June 16-20 from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm

Students can register by clicking:  here

Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany Sermon

January 6, 2014

Ephesians 3:6

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.           
From today’s Epistle ready, Ephesians 3:6, This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  This is the text.
You dear fellow believers in Jesus are partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  All those old, great saints in the Bible that saw miracles and heard directly from God Almighty, who were right there when God’s history was unfolding, now the Bible says you are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 
The Wise Men came from the East, having traveled from somewhere beyond the Euphrates River, and came to Judea and started asking around, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." (Matt. 2:2). They weren’t Jews, but they were looking for the King of the Jews.
Epiphany celebrates the event when they found what they were looking for. They found Jesus. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him (Mt 2:11).
Epiphany ought not be a holiday that gets forgotten or overlooked, especially if you are a Gentile. Christmas is the celebration of the great gift of God born in the flesh. Epiphany is the celebration of that gift being delivered. What good is a gift if it isn’t delivered, right?
Epiphany celebrates the good news that the gift born in a little Jewish town in the Middle East is delivered to every corner of the world: Delivered to those foreign Asian Wise Men, Delivered to Africa, Delivered to tribes in Europe and then eventually delivered to these new lands over here; delivered to you when you grasp Him by faith, when you are united to Him in Baptism, when you take Him into yourself in the Supper of our Lord.
Bethlehem was apparently a busy place. All these out of towners were there for the census. It must have been hustling and bustling. Many who heard about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem that night, probably just thought “Aah, isn’t that nice!” and then went on with things, on with the census, on with their travels home, on with their travels home.
I fear that many people today will do that now that Christmas is over. They heard the great glad tidings. They heard the Christmas message in the carols that were sung. They read about it on the greeting cards that came. “Aah, isn’t that nice!” and then they go on with things, their work and their play and their lives.
The Wise Men got it. They fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Being a Christian, is more than just putting up a tree for a month or so each year.
Being a Christian means, first you know the answer to the Wise Men’s question: "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? He is humbly born in Bethlehem. He is in obedience and apparent weakness hung to the cross paying for the wrath of God against all   the sins of the world.
Being a Christian means, second, you trust that all this is for you. You are partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 
That’s the Good News of Ephesians 3  This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 
For those of you who are Gentiles, not by blood a part of Abraham’s blessed nation, this verse is Good News.
Three things:
            You are fellow heirs with the Jews. As promised in Isaiah, the nations are being drawn into the fellowship, into the faith of God’s people.
            You are members of the same body. God has not left you alone. He has brought you into organic body of all those who have believed in Him and walked in His ways, the great heroes of the faith of old times. . . you are now one of them, by faith.
            You are partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. That then is how you are going to read and hear every page in the Bible from now on. You’re a partaker of the promises it makes. Pick a promise, any promise, you’re a partaker, a sharer in it. Psalm 23 is a familiar one. The Lord is my shepherd. . . he leads me to green pastures.
            He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
            Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
            Read those, hear those, partake of those promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 

Wise Men or Mages or Magi as they are sometimes called were the scholars of the ancient Babylonian and Persian Empires.  Daniel, in the Old Testament, was living in Exile in Babylonia and was a part of this class of Wise Men. They were astrologers.  But in a good way. What goes by the name of astrology nowadays has been horribly distorted by the devil. It’s a farce. But It’s based on the original design of the universe.  God in His wisdom placed the stars and galaxies in such a way that they spelled out certain messages, times, seasons, and even a summary of history. These wise men were skilled in discerning the message of God written in the stars. And the message led them to seek out Jesus, and to worship Him with their sacrifice of time, the weeks it took to journey to Him, and their gifts of Gold, Frankincence and myrhh.
Gold – fit for a king
Frankincense – prayer and worship.
Myrhh – spices used mostly for burial. Morbid gift really, to give a baby. But they apparently understood the significance of this child’s birth --born to suffer and die for their sins.
By seeking, By travelling so far, by giving these gifts, these wise men gave a wonderful confession of their faith.
By comparison then, each of us must ask ourselves how are we at confessing our faith.
We can each ask: Do I ever do things I wouldn’t have otherwise done if Jesus had not been born into this world?
Is there a deed anywhere in my life which I wouldn’t have gone ahead and done, if it hadn’t been for Jesus?
If your life goes on mechanically from morning to evening, day after day, and everything you have done can be explained from an earthly basis, then what kind of faith are you confessing?
Christmas is easy to be a Christian and confess so in your greeting and in your songs and in your decorations.
Let Epiphany be a time to repent of any slowness on your part to confess the faith, any preoccupation with earthly things that distract you from hearing and believing the promises of the Gospel, any failure to live in the reality that God is with us, Immanuel, all the time, wherever we go.
Let Epiphany be a time to celebrate that the gift of God born in Bethlehem, lifted up on Calvary, Risen and ascended in heaven, is delivered to you as worship Him, Hear His Word and Believe His good promises.