All posts by shepsrq

19th Sunday after Pentecost

19th Sunday after Pentecost

October 15, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

“Come to the Feast!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read earlier from Matthew 22.

My dear friends,

So, I hope you were here last weekend, because that will really help you with today’s Gospel lesson. Last week Jesus told the Parable of the (Wicked) Tenants which was a swipe at the religious leadership of the day. On the heels of that parable, Jesus tells another parable – the Parable of the Wedding Feast. Good idea? Must be, but tensions are already high and the hatred of Jesus by the religious leaders is increasing. Last week we found out the leaders want Jesus arrested. In 22:15, after this wedding feast parable, the leaders seek even new ways to trap Jesus in His words so that He can be arrested like they want.

But Jesus isn’t finished yet. He tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven; It’s as if Jesus were speaking from the perspective of Judgment Day and looking back over the history of God’s people. He likens it to a king (God the Father), who prepared a wedding banquet (eternal life in heaven). And God’s kingdom on earth is compared to all that happens in between. The king sends his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet (the Old Testament people of God) to tell them that all was ready and that they should now come. But they refused. Just like in last week’s Gospel, when the wicked tenants in the vineyard refused to hand over the fruits of the harvest, so now these invitees refused to come to the banquet.

But the king didn’t give up. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps 86:15). The king sends some more servants and says to them, “Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner” (v 4). Give them more details; there is rich food, aged wine, the best of meats, and the finest of wines. Everything is prepared to perfection! Come to my wedding banquet! Nevertheless, again—even after this second summons—the guests in our parable refused.

This time their refusal was varied: in some cases, plausible and seemingly polite; in others, violent and crass. One went to his field; another went to his business. Those were the polite ones. Still others who were invited seized the servants, roughed them up, and killed them! Is there any doubt that many of God’s prophets, apostles, and preachers have been treated the same throughout the centuries? And it’s still happening today in many parts of the world.

So the king was enraged. Time had run out on his mercy and grace. Now remember, the king is the Lord Almighty. And there is such a thing as God’s righteous anger. And He sent his army to destroy those murderers. Meanwhile, the king’s banquet hall was not yet filled. His grace and generosity are still available for others. So he turns his attention to a new group of people (which will include both Jews and Gentiles). The king tells his servants to go to into the roads and invite anyone they ford—”both bad and good,” and so finally the banquet hall was filled.

But the parable isn’t over. When the king came in to see his guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper wedding garment. Now it’s not that this man was merely poor and being discriminated against for his lack of a fancy garment. No, this man had apparently refused to put on the robe provided by the king for each of his guests. There is some evidence that 1st century wedding feast hosts provided garments that were clean and didn’t smell! Makes sense, right? And so this man’s refusal was an insult to the king. It was as if this man were saying, “I’ll do it my way!” But the king said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (v 12). And the man had nothing to say. There was no excuse, so the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.” Yikes!

Jesus is speaking in this parable not only to the religious leaders of Israel but also to you and me. And rather than hearing this as dusty history about the Jewish people, we are to ask ourselves, “Me? It’s about me? Really?” Yes…you…really.

Are you the one who has been invited by the Lord to His eternal banquet but you prefer being out in the field instead? Are you the one who prefers his earthly business to eternal life in heaven? Are you the one whose mind is on earthly things causing you to neglect or ignore eternal things? “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21). “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33).

How many say, “Of course, I believe in God! Of course, I’m a Christian!” And yet the society we want so much to fit into keeps openly rejecting the King’s invitation and teaches us to do the same. Just think of the assault on Christ and his Word that’s escalating in our land: legalized abortion, the diminishment of marriage and the re-definition of family. And the list goes on and on.

And even if we sit right here week after week, this parable still challenges us to ask ourselves, “Have I put on the wedding garment? Am I here on God’s terms or my own? Am I seeking to have a share in God’s eternal banquet in the way that he wants me to, by faith alone, solely on the merits of his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins? Or am I seeking to wear my own clothes, to earn my way into the banquet, to be dressed in how nice a person I am or how hard I try or how well I keep the principles for Christian living?

There is only one way to be found at the end of the age, at the end of your life, and even today and every day. It is to be found in the banquet hall—in the kingdom of heaven—having heeded his invitation. And it is to be found wearing the robe of Christ’s righteousness, by virtue of believing in Jesus Christ and him crucified for your sins. And all this God offers to give you for the sake of his only Son, who gave his life so that his righteousness could be yours. All your materialism, your earthly-mindedness, your choosing the ways of this world rather than the kingdom of God—it’s all paid for, covered up by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, which he first gave you in Holy Baptism.

This is the day the Lord has made! He has prepared a table for you! Today your Savior kindly calls, COME TO THE FEAST! As broken and lonely and weary and worried as you are, come to the feast! Put on Christ’s robe of righteousness. Find strength for today and hope for tomorrow in this amazing feast for you! Rejoice and be glad in his salvation…YOUR salvation! Come, for the feast is ready, for you.

Amen.

13th Sunday after Pentecost

13th Sunday after Pentecost

September 3, 2017

Matthew 16:21–28

“Stuff I’m Still Learning – Take 2”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 16 as previously read.

My dear friends,

Know what this is? Yes, it’s an empty champagne bottle, but do you know what it REALLY is? It is an heirloom, more or less. I’ll explain. We bought this champagne 3 years ago along with a carton of Florida orange juice and we waited for the phone to ring. When the phone eventually did ring, and it was from Good Shepherd, we knew what that meant. You were calling me to be your new pastor and I accepted. We made mimosas from that champagne and OJ to celebrate the call and we started packing our moving boxes that same day.

We relocated to Sarasota, I was installed as your new pastor, and the next week I was up front to preach my very first sermon at Good Shepherd. The Gospel text that day is the same assigned Gospel text we have today from Matthew 16. The sermon my very first Sunday with you was called “Stuff I’m Still Learning,” and some of you may remember pieces of that sermon. You might remember I referred to the “bird house” at the end of our block where all the weird, big birds congregate. I mentioned the need to stay away from the intersection of Honore and Ashton, which is still not a bad idea. I also spoke of learning about the “little” rain storms we occasionally get in south Florida. Don’t think I need to remark too much on that since this past month we received more than 10 inches of rain, most of that coming in this last week; what a mess!

And so, here we are. 3 years later. Since that first sermon in August 2014, I have preached 192 other sermons in the days that followed. Today we come right back to where we started from 3 years ago and today I’d like to take a second look at this text from Matthew 16 and see what further truths there are to learn 3 years later.

We don’t know where today’s lesson took place. Jesus and the disciples had been in the northern Gentile area around Caesarea Philippi earlier in chapter 16. Where they go next is to the Transfiguration event (chpt. 17) which could have been either Mount Tabor to the south or Mount Hermon to the north. We don’t know where the words of today’s Gospel were spoken, but we know where they affect us – right in the middle of our hearts and lives.

In verse 21, Jesus tried to explain to the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Wait! Why would Peter do such a thing? Probably because this was most certainly NOT the way he expected Jesus’ ministry to go or end up. Peter didn’t envision a Messiah/Christ or Savior who would suffer and die; that kind of Messiah was not a part of Jewish thinking at that time. The vast majority expected a military warrior, a political powerhouse who would kick out the Romans or anyone else who dared to try and occupy Israel again; a King to restore the throne of King David forever. That’s hard to do when you’re dead; poor, misguided Peter.

Don’t we too have the same misguided belief? Nothing bad should happen to me because I go to church and I believe in Jesus and I give money to causes. Nothing bad should happen to me because I’m a good person. That may be true – you may be a good person – but since when do we think that bad things shouldn’t happen to us? We should expect bad things all the more! Bad things DO happen to good people.

Maybe I naively thought that moving to South Florida and Sarasota would be like living on vacation. The last 3 years have been anything but! Our family and medical trials and tribulations have been head-scratchingly difficult ever since our arrival, and now I stand on the verge on another surgery…a fairly significant one!

But here’s something I’m still learning. When we are governed by our human will instead of God’s divine will, then we do get confused and anxious and upset. A confused human will cried out “why me!” God’s divine will declares “why not you?” Our human will announces “I cannot.” God’s divine will proclaims “you will.” I have learned that giving up your sinful human will and in favor of God’s divine will is a very liberating experience; let God be God in your life!

As the people of God we are called to daily die not only to our sinful desires, but to die to our own will and take up the will of God. Hard to understand and comprehend? You bet…and I’m still learning that’s always the case! When we try to understand God’s ways, thinking we know better, is a quick way to be reminded that God knows so much more of what we need like forgiveness of our sins, salvation, and life, which is why He tried to explain His passion to the disciples in the first place.

Additionally, Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To give up our lives, to deny ourselves and take up our cross, points to God’s will for our lives over our own will. Over the last 3 years I have had to accept a lot of God’s will instead of my own. Maybe I thought coming to Florida would be all sunshine and fresh fruit and golf, instead we’ve dealt with pain, loss, death, frustration, anxiety and fear. It’s not just me and it’s not just us. It happens to ALL of us. Do we regularly, day by day, moment by moment, examine what we want in life seen through the light of what God wants for us knowing they don’t always match up? The further our hearts are transformed to love like Jesus and the more our minds are trained to think like Jesus, we will have a life in which our daily actions reflect Jesus like sunlight reflected off the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on a still evening’s sunset.

I’ve been here in Florida for 3 years, and there is still so much for me to do in Sarasota both personally and professionally and I hope to do that with you. And as we learn and grow together, we’re never going to know it all…not in 3 years or 33 or even 333 years. But I do know this. Those who can truly deny themselves and take up their crosses and bear them in faithful discipleship and stand firm until the end will stand out in the world through a transformed life that will be evident to see by all. Is there truly anything in life more rewarding than that?

That’s some of the stuff I’m still learning. And so, here’s to another 3 years together, my friends, and many more to come as God wills it for all of us.

Amen.

12th Sunday after Pentecost

12th Sunday after Pentecost

August 27, 2017

Matthew 16:13-20

“Who is This?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text for today’s sermon is the Gospel lesson read previously from Matthew chapter 16.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Who is the greatest golfer of all time? That depends on who you ask. Some would say Bobby Jones. Others might say Arnold Palmer or Jack Nichlaus. Still others would say Tiger Woods. Throughout the 2000s, Tiger Woods was the dominant force in golf. He was the top-ranked golfer in the world from August 1999 to September 2004 (264 weeks) and again from June 2005 to October 2010 (281 weeks). But then a persistent injuries and troubles in his life knocked him from Golf’s highest pedestal and he never returned to greatness.

Will we still be talking about Tiger Woods in 5 years? 50 years? 500 years? Probably not without also asking “who is that”?

Jesus never won an Open Championship. He never had an endorsement contract. But people everywhere still know His name 2000 years later! Coincidence? I don’t think so. So…who is this anyway? Glad you asked.

Over the past several weeks the Gospel lessons have pointed us to some of the miracles of Jesus: feeding the 5000+, walking on water, and healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter. These are miracles that show us who Jesus is by pointing us to what He has done motivated by compassion and love: He fed the crowds because they were hungry, went to the disciples in the storm because they were afraid, and healed the woman’s daughter, who was not an Israelite, because of her faith.

 

In verse 13 of today’s lesson, we hear the issue at hand: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” That’s a good question considering how people have identified Him thus far in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has been called teacher, a blasphemer, and a demonic. Now, in today’s text, we find out that the masses are also thinking that Jesus may be John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. I would think it is safe to say that there was a lot of misunderstanding about Jesus in His day and exactly who He was.

And so here we are, 2000 years later, with high definition TV and hand-held access to the Internet and cars that park themselves…but we still as a society lack a unified answer regarding “who is this?” There is still a lot of sinful misunderstanding about who Jesus Christ is; many today are still confused. Regarding Jesus, people say He’s a good teacher or a trusting friend or a pal who knows your every secret. He’s the one who will bail you out of every financial problem. He’s the one who can fix all your nasty habits. He’s the one who will get your enemy for you some day. He’s one way among many ways to heaven ’cause we’re all going there someday no matter how you define “god” so we should just learn to “coexist” because we’re going to spend together forever. Still others say that Jesus is a phony; a fraud who peddled parlor tricks to woo a bunch of spiritually-needy people and the Church is a continuation of an ongoing swindle to get money away from people. Wrong Answer, just as wrong as John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah.

Peter’s confession is also our confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” True…but what does that mean? His name itself means something. The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” His title – “Christ” (not His last name) – refers to “the anointed One,” that is, the one set apart by God for a special, holy purpose. And just what is that purpose? For that answer you have to trace Matthew’s entire Gospel.

Who is this? We know that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary (chapter 1). We know that He was identified as the Son of God at His baptism (3:17). We know that He was an amazing teacher from His Sermon on the Mount and His parables (chapters 5-7, 13). We know that He works miracles (chapters 8-9, 14-15). But there’s more!

To truly know who this is, you’ve got to stick with the narrative through the gruesome end. If you hang in there through the brutality and the flogging and the nails, it’s when Jesus Christ is hanging dead on His earthly throne — the cross — that He is declared to be who He is: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God”’ (27:54). Granted, the cross looked like a defeat, but it wasn’t. Christ Jesus is not whom He appears to be. He is more than teacher or friend. He is the Son of God who gives His very life for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls through faith in Him.

To know who He is is to rejoice at the words heard at the empty tomb: “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay”’ (28:5-6). Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was crucified, who rose again, and who then gave His Great Commission to all His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20.

So what does that mean for us? We know who Jesus is, right? Okay…but what does that mean to you; what difference does that truth make? Do you confess Him to be the Lord and Savior of this world? To know Christ is to know His Gospel, to be enlightened in this life by His gifts, and to live a life in accordance with His Word.

And so here in Sarasota, FL and not Caesarea Philippi, we, along with the disciples, we answer the question “who is this” in the same way that Peter answers. As a result, we are given strength and courage to boldly confess our great Triune God in this world where confession is not always that easy. In our answer we find ourselves bound to Jesus through a faith-filled life commitment that not only directs our daily living, but lasts through this life and into eternity.  Amen.

11th Sunday after Pentecost

11th Sunday after Pentecost

August 20, 2017

Matthew 15:21-28

“Exceptional Grace”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today for the basis of the sermon is the Gospel lesson as read from Matthew 15.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

It had been a long, hard day; the kind of day where all you want to do is get home, put your feet up, and relax. It had been grueling at work, and the woman plopped down into the bus seat for the ride home. It was Thursday, December 1, 1955. According to the accepted segregation practices and Jim Crow laws of the time, Rosa Parks was required to give up that bus seat should a white person want it. A white man entered the bus and demanded Rosa’s seat, but she would not give it up. She persisted in keeping the seat partially because she was tired, but primarily because she was tired of the treatment she and other African Americans received every day of their lives. They were treated like outsiders…like foreigners. “All men are created equal”…with some exceptions, right? That was the mindset in 1955.

Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat and went to trial. In reaction, there was a 381-day bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in November 1956 that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. Rosa Park’s persistence had paid off. Her refusal to accept the “no exceptions” policies of her day began to change our entire country, but clearly we still have a long way to go.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we also see a “no exceptions” policy in place. Jesus and the disciples are safely on land after the incident on the Sea of last week’s Gospel and now they head up to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which was in the far northwest corner of Israel… foreign Gentile country.

What happened next is a very interesting exchange between Jesus, the Canaanite woman, and the disciples. The disciples were operating with a “no exceptions” policy that they knew from birth and had accepted as a part of their day. At that time women were held in low esteem and, by rights, this woman should not have approached Jesus to talk to Him. But to make matters worse, this was a Canaanite woman. To the disciples this was strike one and strike two! When she began to shout to Jesus, they began to shout her down. The temptation here is to read this event like one group said one thing and then another group spoke as if it were a casual back and forth conversation. Oh no. All this talking is occurring virtually simultaneously creating a very chaotic scene. The disciples don’t want her around and so they urged Jesus to send her away, to make her give up her seat, to get away from them. But Jesus doesn’t operate like that.

This isn’t the 1st century or even the 20th century anymore. But don’t we also operate sometimes with a “no exceptions” policy? What would you do or how would you feel if a visitor came to worship and sat in YOUR spot? Would that go unmentioned? Are you hesitant to reach out to that family who lives in the questionable house nearby? Would you deny telling the Good News of Jesus to someone because of their clothes or appearance or demeanor or where they live? Are you afraid to talk to that rebellious child or grandchild? Don’t want to speak about Christ to that family member? That is not the way Jesus operates…and is not the way we ought to operate.

Jesus doesn’t pick up on the “no exceptions” policy of His day. Instead, He only has 1 exception – unbelief. But that’s not the case here! He notices the exceptional faith that the Canaanite woman possesses. Obviously she possessed a faith given to her by God. She already knew that Jesus was the Son of David. She referred to Jesus as “Lord.” She believed in what Jesus could do. And this is from a Canaanite woman…a woman from a culture that worshipped Baal and a whole host of other gods. But God had revealed to her who Jesus was, and that knowledge, that faith, changed her life.

In addition to recognizing Jesus and accepting her place in society, the Canaanite woman also accepted Jesus’ mission. Jesus reminded her that He had come for the lost sheep of Israel and to provide bread for the chosen people – the children of Israel. The Canaanite woman is not arguing, she is agreeing with the mission of Jesus – that He comes to both the Israelites (children/bread) AND the Gentiles (dogs/crumbs).

In response to her exceptional God-given faith, Jesus showed her exceptional grace. He had just rebuked Peter and the disciples (Matthew 14:22-33) for their lack of faith, and they were Israelites! But the exceptional faith of the Canaanite woman was shown exceptional grace. Upon seeing her God-given faith in action, Jesus granted her request and her daughter was healed… instantly.

That’s the kind of Son of David He is. That’s the kind of Son of God He is. That’s the kind of Lord and Savior He is. His exceptional grace was demonstrated that day in the area of Tyre and Sidon, but it was even more greatly displayed on the cross of Calvary. That day His grace was in all its fullness, while at the same time, He was shown none. He brought mercy and peace to all humanity, but none was shown to Him that day. Even amid the pain and torture of being nailed to a cross, Jesus begged for forgiveness for us, those who are slow to extend mercy and grace to others. What happened on the cross that day and especially at the tomb on the 3rd day changed everything. The exceptional grace of Jesus is extended throughout all of humanity. Through Baptism, through faith in Christ, we are pronounced “Not Guilty.” That is exceptional grace…that is amazing grace!

What, then, is our exceptional response to this exceptional grace? Hopefully it is

a life that is filled with worship and praise and extending exceptional grace toward others. In addition, we have many opportunities to extend God’s grace to others; to show them the same mercy and compassion that has been extended to us. God’s exceptional grace extends to you every hour of every day. How often do you utilize that grace in your life or in the life of someone else? Rosa Parks will always be remembered for not giving up her seat. How will people remember you? What will your legacy be? Hopefully you will be remembered as a person who both knew God’s grace and was willing to share that grace to make the lives of other people better.

Exceptional grace…that’s how God operates. Grace that has no exceptions, grace that shows no favorites. It is amazing grace; grace that saved a wretch like me. For we once were lost, but now we’re found. We were blind…but now we see. We see indeed.

Amen.

 

10th Sunday after Pentecost

10th Sunday after Pentecost

August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33

“Is Jesus My Pal?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is our Gospel lesson from Matthew 14.

My dear friends,

At the Seminary they teach that a sermon’s introduction should get people’s attention, so here it goes. Life is like the flight of a pileated woodpecker in that both undulate. How do I know that? I took Ornithology – bird watching – in college much to my parent’s chagrin. Life, like a pileated woodpecker, rises and falls as it flies by. It has its times when the sun of hope and joy rises, when our life seems bathed in light and “it’s all good.” Perhaps it’s our wedding day, or the birth of our children, holding a grandchild for the first time, or the day we land that dream job or maybe finally retire. Things go well for a while. We’re healthy. Our family is happy. There’s some money in the bank…for once. Those are the days with blue skies smiling at me.

But, as certain as death and taxes and change, life also has its times when the sun of hope sets, when our life seems drowned in darkness. Perhaps it’s the day we look down into the casket that holds the body of the one we held in our arms for so many years; or the day we drive away from the house after a forced relocation or because we couldn’t make the mortgage payments anymore after losing our job. Its been my experience that during such times, nothing seems to go right; “when it rains, it pours.” The domino effect of this loss tipping over to that loss, this grief

 

giving way to that grief, makes us wonder if and when we’re ever going to see the sun of joy and hope again. And worst of all, in the midst of these dark times, we begin to wonder where God is; if He’s left us all alone to suffer through this like men caught in a storm on the sea, tossed here and there by the waves, rowing and rowing but getting nowhere fast.

During those times, we’re not much different from the disciples, on that night when they were alone on the Sea of Galilee, miles from land, waves battering their

boat, winds howling all around them, struggling to stay afloat in what became their own sea of suffering. The day before everything was as fine as fine could be. Jesus had made a meal for thousands out of only five loaves of bread and two fish. Everybody ate to their heart’s content. Then, a few hours later, this: oppressed by darkness, attacked by wind and waves, and Jesus nowhere to be seen. And just when they think it couldn’t get any worse, it does. As if they’re not already scared enough by the raging sea, chills go down their backs as they spot a ghost (jantasma) walking on the water toward them. Great! Just what they needed – more terror! “When it rains, it pours.”

That figure they thought was a ghost was actually Jesus, trampling down the waves as He walked toward them. But it was like their eyes were so full of fear that everything they saw was fearful, including the very one who came to save them; they couldn’t even see the saving work of God right in front of them. Isn’t that just how it goes in life? So where there was God, they saw a ghost; where there was approaching light, they saw yet the darkness of impending doom; the One who came to bring them relief, caused only more terror.

We like to think that we are better or much different from the people in the Bible because of our advancements in technology, medicine, science, etc. But we really aren’t . We are like the Israelites at the Red Sea shore: all we see are the chariots of Egypt, bearing down upon us, and the watery grave that will soon liquidate our life. We are like the sailors with Jonah, willing to try anything to save ourselves even if it means throwing someone else overboard. Let’s go ahead and tell it like it is. Jesus called the disciples “of little faith,” but really WE are just as much of little faith. Or rather, we can have big faith, but it’s in something else. Our faith is in our modern conveniences. Or it’s in our ability to control situations, to financially manipulate people/situations to our advantage so that we always get our way. Or our faith is in this church structure that we have and maintain, but forget our church’s true mission and purpose.

Yet even still…here comes Jesus. Note that Jesus doesn’t stand on the shore and shout instructions to us, “Row a little harder! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Get your act together! Think positive! You can do it; you have the power within you! Ignore those scary waves, just look at me!” No, a thousand times, no. Contrary to what many “feel good, Jesus and me” Christian churches are peddling today, Jesus is not a life coach. He is not a personal trainer. He is not a cheerleader on the sidelines of life. He didn’t come to “coexist” alongside other deities. He didn’t come to be everyone’s pal or buddy. He is the Lord of the storms of life, who comes to us in the midst of our fear and hopelessness and despair, to say, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

“Take heart,” Jesus says, “it is I who rescued the frightened Israelites when they were trapped between the chariots of Egypt and the Red Sea. I peeled back those waters to let my people pass through, then made the sea the watery grave of their enemy. I will do that for you too. So I have done for you on the day I baptized you as my own. I washed you into my body, drowned your sins and doubts in this forgiving sea that’s red with my crucifixion blood. Do not be afraid. I’m here and always have been. I am with you always.”

He says, “Take heart, it is I who calmed the sea for the sailors with Jonah when they cast him into the waters to be swallowed by the fish. Like Jonah, I spent three days in the belly of death for you. And like Jonah, I came forth from that tomb alive again. Alive for you, alive to bring you my own life. Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”

The one who walks on water to save us, to be with us in the storms of life, is not a ghost, a figment of imagination, or a character from some dusty, old book. He is the flesh-and-blood God of our salvation. He doesn’t tread upon the waves to wow or impress us – He’s not showing off – but He’s there to rescue us, to forgive us, to be our light when all about is darkness, to bring calm to chaos, to bring comfort to pain, and to bring peace to confusion and anxiety.

They say there are three things certain in life: death, taxes, and change. Take heart, for more certain than death is the life of Christ. More certain that taxes is that Jesus has paid all our sin debts. More certain than change is the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ who is the Lord of the storms – the ups and downs – of your life.

And so let us then give thanks to the Lord for His love never ends, and all God’s people said

Amen.

9th Sunday after Pentecost

9th Sunday after Pentecost

August 6, 2017

Matthew 14:13-21

“All I Need Is A Miracle”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the well-known narrative that is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 14 – the feeding of the 5000.

My dear friends,

Okay…pop quiz time! Here’s your first question. What is an Earworm? Is it (A) a cartoon character on “Ren and Stimpy”, (B) a tune stuck in your head, or (C) a condition that small dogs and cats frequently get? Question #2: Who sang the song “All I Need Is A Miracle?” Was it (A) Culture Club, (B) Mike and the Mechanics, or (C) Cheap Trick? And finally, Question #3: Of all Pastor’s previous occupations, which one was his least favorite? (A) Customer Complaint Investigator, (B) Radio DJ, or (C) Quality Assurance Auditor? Okay, if you answered (B) to all three, you got 100%. An Earworm is a song stuck in your head, and “All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics can do that to you, and that’s a song I played a lot on the radio at KGHS, my least favorite job.

“All I Need Is A Miracle” made it all the way to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986. It is a catchy, upbeat song that easily gets stuck in your head and will stay there all day; a classic Earworm if there ever was! “All I need is a miracle, all I need is you.”

Today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 14 is a very recognizable miracle event from Jesus’ ministry. The Feeding of the 5000 is recorded by all of the Gospel writers; the only miracle from Jesus’ earthly ministry that all 4 record. Sometimes what gets overlooked is that Jesus feeding the 5000 is a reaction to the death of John the Baptist. When Jesus heard that John had been executed by Herod, He withdrew by boat off to a private place (14:13) probably in order to prepare Himself for what was to come and to grieve. His solace was short-lived, though. The crowds were waiting for Him to return to shore, and when He did, Jesus did what Jesus does He had compassion on them and healed the sick among them.

By now, evening approached and it started to get late. The open-air market would be closed or soon closing; the merchants would need to re-stock to prepare for the next day’s opening. The disciples assumed that the crowds wouldn’t leave anyway unless Jesus told them to. “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (14:15). Even if they did go, that crowd would have overwhelmed the local village. Jesus’ response? “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” We’ll come back to that.

If the disciples were concerned before, they are down-right worried now. They are on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee near Bethsaida or the northwest shore outside of Capernaum depending on which source you believe. Either way, it’s a remote area. What few markets might exist will certainly not accommodate the crowds, PLUS the people don’t have enough food for themselves, PLUS Jesus wants the disciples to feed the masses! Cannot be done; “We have only five loaves here and two fish” (14:17). The rest, they say, is history. Jesus gave thanks for what they had and the disciples then distributed enough food to feed everyone until they were full (v. 20), plus there were 12 baskets full of leftovers.

All the disciples and the crowd needed was a miracle. They needed to eat and there wasn’t enough food. Only a miracle would be sufficient. And that’s what they got. Is that what you want? Is that what you need? A miracle? Your life would be SO much better if God would just take away my pain or heal my body. Life would be easier if I had more money or less stress. If things were better at home or at work or with my neighbor, then my life would be better, but that’s going to take a miracle. Is that what you’re waiting on? Jesus fed the 5000; why wouldn’t He also step in and fix your issue or resolve your crisis or heal your body?

But here’s the thing. Did God ever promise to do that? Did Jesus come to be a miracle caterer who will personalize the menu depending on your particular tastes/needs? Do you really expect Jesus to snap His fingers and make your life “all better?” No…no…and no. what Jesus DOES promise to do He already did. Died on a cross. Rose again from the dead. Promises you new life and hope and forgiveness and salvation. His part is complete. In the meantime, as He prepares to return, He continues to watch over you and hear your prayers and love you and forgive you because of your faith in Him.

God’s never ending, never failing, gracious compassion may well be the primary miracle in Mathew 14:13-21, but I would suggest that the second is that Jesus used the disciples to carry out this wonder. He used His disciples to feed His people. “You give them something to eat.” That was Jesus’ initial command to the disciples. Jesus showed His compassion to the people time and time again. Now…it’s the disciples turn. When they would rather tend to themselves than this hungry mass of men, women and children, Jesus calls on them to get over their self-concern and get busy feeding the people.

That encouragement remains for us today. Waiting for God to fix all our problems and cure all our ills is not the answer. Christians must never be so wrapped up in their own problems or concerns that they retreat into the safety and comfort of Church, withdraw from the world, and refuse to provide help and support when others are in need. We can easily think like the disciples and say: “Send them away…the poor and homeless and orphaned and widowed are not our concern.” But this is not an attitude our Lord will accept. He calls us to be generous and share.

All you need is a miracle? Nah…you don’t need a miracle. Don’t look for a miracle…BE the miracle. Be the miracle every time you drop change into that Mite box. Be the miracle each time you put food in the All-Faiths Food Bank barrel or drop off items for our Health Kits for the homeless in Sarasota. Be the miracle every time you give of your time and your treasures and your talents. Have and show compassion and love for your neighbor. Be less concerned about how “bad” your situation is and focus instead on others whose situations are FAR WORSE than yours. Jesus did that much for us; we can do as much for others.

Too often we see the size of the need and the smallness of human resources available and lose hope. Jesus looks at things differently. He recognizes the size of the need and the even greater size of God’s grace and then calls you to be the miracle for someone else and when you do that you will find that the leftovers are just as good if not better than what you started with. Don’t know what that means? Be the miracle for someone else, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Amen.

 

 

8th Sunday after Pentecost

8th Sunday after Pentecost

July 30, 2017

Matthew 13:44-46

“The Value of Value”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is a portion of the Holy Gospel lesson read from Matthew 13. I would like to focus primarily on verses 44 through 46: the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

It was the summer of 2005 and the phone was ringing. We had just moved into our new home and I was starting a new Church/career in Crosslake, MN. Homes and land in Crosslake had great value as vacation and summer homes…until the housing market crash 3 years later. Anyway, when I answered the phone I knew right away that the news would not be good. My mother’s voice had that shaky quality it gets when things are going bad. My father, who was only 64 years old, had suffered a stroke and was unable to talk and walk. I made a decision to drop everything and go to North Dakota to be with my parents during this crisis because family is important and has value, right?

What is of value to you? Is it your home? Is it your health? Is it your family? Is it your money? If you had to give up one – home, health, family, or money – which one would you be willing to part with? Which one has the most value to you? For most, money would come first followed by home, health, then family. Family probably has the most value to people in general.

In today’s Gospel lesson we have not one, not two, but three parables. Today I want to focus on the first two parables. On the surface they seem so simple, but they are both complex with multiple meanings They say virtually the same thing, yet there are 2 very important understandings I want to “unpack.”

Consider those parables again and the reaction of those involved. One person found a treasure of great value in a piece of land and, upon finding the treasure, he sacrificed all that he had to secure and obtain that treasure. Similarly, the knowledgeable merchant, upon finding such a great pearl, did whatever it took to secure that valuable pearl.  As I have said before, parables are earthly stories that have heavenly meanings. One understanding here is not about treasure chests and pearls; it is the fact that God’s kingdom has such great value and importance that it is worth sacrificing all to possess it.

If you found a great treasure like that how would you feel? How would you feel if you unearthed a mint-condition Honus Wagner baseball card in your family’s stuff? If you do, DON’T THROW IT AWAY because that card is worth millions (literally). Or what if you found out that there were huge deposits of crude oil in your backyard? What lengths would you go to to obtain that oil and the financial rights to it? Why? It provides things you can see and touch.

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which cannot be seen as such or touched, is a treasure so valuable, and yet there are many who would go to no lengths to obtain it. There are so many who take the Gospel for granted and live life as if there were no Gospel and its impact on this world. There are so many that are emotionally unresponsive to the Gospel. There are so, so many that are unwilling to sacrifice anything or are unmoved by the love and sacrifice of God through Christ to possess what He offers. Instead, they cling to what this world offers and can be seen/touched: money, homes, cars, electronic gadgets, and so on.

True…the kingdom of God is so valuable that it is worth sacrificing anything to gain it. But the second meaning of both parables is that God values you so much that He sent His only Son to secure the precious gift of the Kingdom; to redeem you, that is, to buy you back from the power of sin and death and hell. The cost that Jesus Christ paid for that redemption was His own precious invaluable body and blood; a perfect sacrifice to pay the only acceptable price for the penalty of sin. God values you so much and loves you so much that He forgives you of your sin, your rebellion, your lack of appreciation, your unresponsiveness to Him and His Word, your unwillingness to sacrifice for Him the same way that He sacrificed for you. Jesus values you so much and loves you so much that He went through the torment and pain and agony of the cross and the grave for that forgiveness. When it came to determining true value, Jesus knew what was really of true value and it’s not your house or jewels or even rare baseball cards. It is ETERNAL things like the Kingdom and your soul. Only 1 of those out there.

So what is the value of value? What really and truly has worth? Is it our clothes? No. Is it our homes? Not really. Is it our bank accounts? I would be bold enough to say not at all. In and through our faith, God through the Holy Spirit calls us to focus on our commitment to Him, to His kingdom, and the growth of the everlasting Kingdom. That may hurt a little…it will involve sacrifice. But what is the value of the eternal Kingdom of God worth to you? Is it worth your money? Is it worth your family? Is the Kingdom of God worth your life in loving and obedient sacrifice and service to God who gave you all those possessions in the first place? I would think so, knowing how valuable God should be to you and how valuable you are to God.

My dad recovered from the stroke in the summer of 2005, but 16 months later he would be gone. Not knowing that, I never truly valued the remaining time I had with him. Don’t make the same mistake. Find what has value – REAL value – and live your lives with no regrets about the choices you make for tomorrow may truly be too late.

Amen.

7th Sunday after Pentecost

7th Sunday after Pentecost

July 23, 2017

Romans 8:18-27

“Living Legend”

Grace to you and peace in the name of God our Father and our Living Savior Jesus. Today’s sermon is based on the Second or Epistle Lesson from the wonderful text read earlier that is Romans chapter 8.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

So…of course the BURNING question on everyone’s mind today is clearly “what did Pastor do on his vacation?” Okay, I’ll tell you. First, I flew from Tampa to Atlanta and then Lincoln, NE. Then I did a BUNCH of stuff before eventually driving to northern Minnesota.

“Like what,” you ask? For starters I got a haircut and some new shoes. I went to our family’s cabin where I played croquet and celebrated the 4th of July. I rode past the old house and neighborhood where I grew up as a kid at 2420 Park Ave in Lincoln; sounds more fancy than it is. I went to both a movie and a concert. And, oh yeah, I met a living legend, shook his hand twice, and had him autograph a football for me. Yeah…maybe that last one needs some explaining.

On my vacation I met Tom Osborne. “Who is that,” you ask? Well, Tom Osborne served as the head football coach at the University of Nebraska for 25 years, from 1973 to 1997. Osborne was one of the most successful coaches in college football history, with a career record of 255–49, 13 conference championships, and three national championships. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Osborne was later elected a U.S. Representative from Nebraska where he served three terms, from 2001 to 2007. In 2007, he returned to the University of Nebraska as athletic director before retiring in January 2013.

It also just so happens that he goes to Stauffer’s – the same little restaurant – every Friday morning and, gee whiz, I guess I JUST HAPPENED to be there at the same time. What a coincidence! To be honest, I kind of ambushed him with signing a football on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant, but he was very gracious in hand-signing the ball just like I wanted him to…for my brother Mike. That’s right. I had Tom Osborne, living-legend coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, right in front of me with his undivided attention, and I had him sign the ball for someone else. Did I want the ball myself? YES! Was I only going to get one shot at this? YES! Did I act for my own benefit to suit my own desires? No…no, I did not. I did something for someone else even at personal cost. And I don’t regret it; to me it was the right thing to do.

In the first 7 chapters of Romans, Paul explains that God counts us as righteous not because of the good stuff we do for ourselves or even the good stuff we do for others even at personal cost, but because of what Christ has already done for us. Even though we continue to sin, those sins are counted against the old self that was crucified with Christ. We have an obligation to fight sin, not to be saved, but because we are already children of God.

If I added a personalized autographed ball to my collection, that would have been awesome. But only I would have benefited. Now, 2 people benefit: Mike has a personalized autograph and I feel good in having done that. I have learned that selflessness is always more powerful than selfishness. In the same way, Paul wrote that there is a cosmic significance to God’s selfless plan being worked out in us: “…Creation waits in eager expectation…For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into freedom and glory” (verses 19-21).

The creation is now in decay – a reality that you wake up every day to, whether it’s a pain in the news or in the neck. A day is coming, at the resurrection of all flesh, when we are perfectly given God’s eternal glory, the whole universe will be freed from its bondage, too. Could Jesus have been selfish at Gethsemane and Calvary? Of course…but He wasn’t. Instead, the entire universe has been redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). Imagine! All creation in our day “groans” (different for all) from the struggle of sin, but a time is coming when God in Christ will end all this because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross for you and promises to provide in and through faith secured at the empty tomb of Easter.

Even though we have been given the Holy Spirit through Baptismal faith, we still struggle, for our salvation is not yet complete. We struggle with sin, we struggle with physical limitations, pain and grief and depression and sorrow, we struggle in relationships and financial concerns – even while we rejoice in what Christ has done for us! It is the great struggle – a weird dichotomy – that is being “sinner and saint” at the same time.

And so, in the meantime, we take a lot away from a phrase like “Living Legend,” and not just in regards to Tom Osborne. Know why I admire Tom Osborne so much? Not his win/loss record; it’s his outspoken Christian faith. Christ Jesus is our real living legend; a living Lord and Savior who has redeemed you and now keeps you in eternal love, mercy and grace. Inspired by that love, we love one another because love comes from God who is love (1 John 4:7-8).

How can we show that love? I’m glad you asked. We show that love by not acting for our own benefit and desires, but instead doing for others as we want done unto us. By doing the right thing especially when no one is watching. By resolving conflicts in your life instead of fueling them. By having a living hope even when life seems hopeless and then sharing that hope. By being willing to forgive your neighbor because who know that God has already forgiven you. And, of course, if you want to get your Pastor a hand-signed football autographed by Tom Osborne, well, that would be good too. It’s good to be home, my friends, good indeed.

Amen.