All posts by shepsrq

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


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.




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.


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.


3rd Sunday after Pentecost

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2017
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
“Who You Gonna Call?”

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 10.

My dear friends,

It was the summer of 1984 – 33 years ago – when the movie “Ghost Busters” was released. It was the 80’s and each summer brought summer blockbusters. “Ghost Busters” would eventually make more than $240 million dollars making it the most successful comedy of the 1980s. In its hit theme song, Ray Parker Jr. asked the musical question “who you gonna call? Ghost Busters!” along with the tagline “I ‘aint afraid of no ghost.” Well, I also “‘aint afraid of no ghost,” But there are several things I AM afraid of (needles/snakes), and I imagine there are things that you fear too…and you’re probably thinking about them right now.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1933), that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, the fact is there would have been no reason for the 32nd President to say there was “nothing to fear” unless there actually was something to fear. And there was. At that time America was in the throes of a staggering economic crisis – the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era – sparking fears among the populace nationwide. Who were they gonna call? In 1933, certainly not the Ghost Busters. Who you gonna call?
Let’s go further back than the 80s and 30’s. Let’s go back to the 1st Century. In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples to “have no fear” as he sends them out to proclaim the coming of his kingdom, yet Jesus knows that he is sending them out not just to sheep but “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). Like FDR, Jesus’ very words of encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that he knows that there is MUCH to fear, at least from a human point of view. And, as we consider today’s text, if we have the courage we are challenged to face and to name our fears, we aren’t going to call Ghost Busters, but we will rejoice in confessing and proclaiming that Jesus is greater than our fears.
As Jesus speaks today’s text, he knows that those who follow him have almost everything to fear. He knew they would face rejection (vs 21-22). No one likes to be rejected, and most of us probably have had experiences that give us a deep fear of rejection. The first disciples had to face that fear regularly and repeatedly (v 14). Still today, many reject not only the message of the Gospel but also those who proclaim this message—which is undoubtedly one reason we shrink from bearing witness to Christ more boldly and consistently. We’re afraid of rejection. Public opinion of the Church is at an all-time low, and what can we say? Much of the fear we ourselves have produced. Clergy have betrayed their flocks. Congregations fear adding more financial and time commitments. It is easier to “keep on keeping on” than to challenge themselves, risk rejection, and step out in faith. And people see that. Since the late 1990s, the percentage of Americans who claim they “frequently” attended in church has been steadily declining. By 2050 the number will be around a mere 11%. Who you gonna call?
Additionally, Jesus minces no words in this text as he describes the persecution that may—in his words, will—be encountered by those who bear witness faithfully to the Gospel of Christ (vv 21–22a). Although Christians in America have largely been spared violent persecution up until now, we should not naively expect that this will always be the case—and evidence of more subtle forms of persecution is increasingly apparent. Who you gonna call when you experience real persecution because of your faith? I’m not talking about poor seating at Millie’s because you get there late after church. I’m talking about the day we may face the business end of an AK-47. Who you gonna call?
And, as if that were not bad enough, Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the twelve disciples that they needed to be prepared to be “put to death” (gulp!) as the result of sinful opposition to the Gospel (v 21)—and most of them eventually were. Martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel has been a reality throughout the history of the Church, and it continues to be a reality still today in many parts of the world.
“The Greatest Story Never Told: Modern Christian Martyrdom” is the title of a sobering and thought-provoking article by Susan Brinkman, writer for the Catholic Standard and Times. She writes, “The average church-going Christian is not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. That’s 1,246 Christians every day for 100 years. Christians are, in fact, the most persecuted religious group in the world today. The most atrocious human rights abuses are committed against Christians solely because of their religious beliefs – atrocities such as torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings, and even crucifixion.”
Afraid yet? Who you gonna call? According to today’s text, you can expect some things to be afraid of including rejection, intimidation, persecution, and execution. But Jesus has “been there, done that” (vv 24–25). Jesus does not ask us to follow where he has not first gone. Because Jesus has faced every enemy that causes us fear, we can be sure that he understands our fears, can sympathize with all of our temptations to be afraid, and will provide mercy and love and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:15–16).
Fear is the great enemy of faith (apathy is a close 2nd), but Jesus has overcome every enemy that threatens to paralyze us with fear. Are you afraid of suffering? God is able to use it for our ultimate good and for his glory (Rom 5:3–5; 8:28). Sometimes suffering in life is God’s love and mercy in disguise. Are you afraid of Satan and all his works and ways (1 John 3:8)? How about hell or death? Those too our risen Savior has conquered! Jesus is with us, intimately caring for us, even in every fear-filled situation.
Jesus has faced the source of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where sin, doubt, death and fear will be banished forever and ever. When you’re afraid, who you gonna call? It’s not Ghost Busters…His name is Jesus who is called Christ. Never, ever be afraid to call upon Him, for that is what he truly desires from you.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 18, 2017
Exodus 19:2-8
“Powerful Words”

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 First Lesson read earlier from Exodus 19, but I will also reference the other lessons as well.

My dear friends,

WARNING! This sermon contains a spoiler alert for the new “Wonder Woman” movie. Well, sort of. It’s not like you have to get up and leave or anything, as if you didn’t know that Wonder Woman is going to emerge victorious in the end. If she got beaten up or killed, they wouldn’t call it “Wonder Woman.” They would call it, in this case, “Ares” – the Greek God of War that Wonder Woman battles to the death.
Anywho, acting on a tip from my daughter that this movie was, quote, “Seriously the best movie I’ve seen in a long time,” I decided to go see the film. The Super Hero genre is not really my thing…and it still isn’t. and just why are there so MANY movies about superheroes? Is it because our young people today lack real heroes? Anyway, I didn’t want to waste my $10, so I sat through the whole thing and I’ll admit I was glad when it was finally over since I had run out of Diet Coke.
In the climatic final fight between Wonder Woman and Ares, she has to make a decision: to help Ares restore the world to its perfection before humanity came along, or battle Ares to the death and defend the weak-willed, pitiful, humans. As I mentioned before, Wonder Woman stands up for mankind, hurtling steel tanks like they were balloons. I bring it up because there is a word, a single powerful word, that makes all the difference for Wonder Woman and for us. And I want to talk about that word and the three powerful words found in our lessons: “Covenant” in the First Lesson, “Reconciled” from the Second Lesson, and “Compassion” from the Gospel lesson.
In today’s First Lesson, Moses has led the Israelites safely out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and now they are in the Sinai Peninsula. In the next chapter – Exodus 20 – God will give Moses the 10 Commandments. And so, prior to that, Moses is up on Mount Sinai and God spoke to Moses clarifying the relationship. God said, “If you will…obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples” (19:5, ESV). The word covenant is a BIG DEAL!
If you look it up in the dictionary, it reads that a “covenant” is a contract or guarantee. Maybe in the dictionary…but not the Bible! In the Scriptures, a Covenant was a mutually-binding agreement between two parties that was sealed in blood…ALWAYS…sealed in blood. God says He makes a covenant with His people. Okay…what’s the agreement? It is an extension of the previous covenant made with Abraham 600 years before. The Covenant pledge is that the Triune God will be the God of Israel on the condition of Israel’s total consecration to the Lord as His people who live by His rule and serve His purposes in history. Those rules would come next…the 10 Commandments. The blood ratification of the covenant happens in Exodus 24. The people in Exodus 24 answered then as they did in today’s lesson: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (19:8). Why? Because they were in a blood-ratified agreement with God to obey His commandments and do His will. Did they follow through? No…they did not, and neither do we. Then why doesn’t God ditch the covenant and destroy mankind? Because of the one more powerful word yet to come.
In today’s Second Lesson, there is another powerful word – Reconciled. Again, a sanitary definition means “to restore friendly relations between.” But wait a second! Aren’t we in a covenant relationship with God? Why would we need reconciliation? Paul captured what the problem is. We are enemies of God because of sin. We have broken the covenant relationship with God because we have spoken powerful words that are contrary to God’s Word. We have behaved in powerfully rebellious ways. We have thought in mighty ways contrary to the ways of our mighty God. And for that sinful rebellion we deserve death – as Paul pointed out in today’s lesson. So why doesn’t God destroy us? Because of the one more powerful word yet to come.
And then there is a wonderfully powerful word in today’s Gospel lesson. Matthew tells us that as Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, He felt something special toward the people. The word in Greek is from σπλαγχνa, and that’s a cool word in addition to being fun to say! That is a word commonly translated as “compassion,” but it means so much more than that. It specifically refers to the lower abdominal area…your “guts,” in other words. The idea is that when Jesus saw the needs of the people, He felt something way down deep in His guts that He needed to do something. And boy did He ever. Jesus lived, He kept the covenant (huge!), He was crucified, and rose again because of compassion and the one other powerful word that we need to talk about, and that’s the word LOVE.
In “Wonder Woman,” she decides to fight for humanity because they have something that the Greek gods didn’t understand…love. But, the Triune God, not some phony bologna Greek god, knows all about love. It’s what motivated God’s covenant relationship with us. Love motivated Jesus to give His body and blood for the new covenant. Love is what perpetually reconciles and forgives us in the eyes of God and the expectation is that we will share that love with our neighbor.
Ultimately, the point is that words are powerful things, my friends. Covenant, Reconciled, and Compassion are all important, sure, but never forget how powerful your every-day words are. The words that you speak and don’t speak mean something. Jesus told the disciples to tell people that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” You are a modern day disciple; you are much closer to the disciples than you are to Wonder Woman. Your words show forth how close the Kingdom is to you. Speak words of reconciliation and compassion and love. Speak words of forgiveness and grace. Let your powerful words show the power of God’s reconciling, compassionate, covenant love in your life.
Happy Father’s Day everyone.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday
June 11, 2017
Matthew 28:16-20
“Mobilized to Make Disciples”

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 text from Matthew 28, a passage commonly called “The Great Commission.”

My dear friends,

Sometimes I feel like a crotchety old fart when I talk like this, but when I was growing up, there was ONE TV in the house. Not two or three. One. No DVR, no TIVO, no dish, no cable, no pay-per-view. No retreating to your room to play video games or “surf” on your PC. One television. And kids watched what the parents wanted. Period. End of discussion. And so, I grew up watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (who else?), The Price is Right with Bob Barker (again, who else?), and 60 Minutes. But another show I watched, because my parents watched it, was “M*A*S*H.” M*A*S*H, a show about the doctors and nurses of a mobile hospital during the Korean war, aired from 1972 until 1983 and, when it went off the air in 1983, it became the most watched television episode in U.S. television history at the time, with a record-breaking 125 million viewers. A distant 2nd was the series finale of “Cheers” in 1993.
Established in 1945, “M.A.S.H.” stands for “Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.” These units were decommissioned by the army in 2006. MASH units originated because too many wounded were being lost between the front lines and the hospital. So the army took the hospital as close to the front lines as possible. Victims were treated, stabilized, and sent to hospitals down the line for follow-up.
The key word in M.A.S.H. was mobile. The MASH units moved because the lines of battle were not static and would move as sides won and lost battles. The MASH units went where the fighting was.
So also in today’s Gospel, Jesus commands not doctors, but disciples – His church – to mobilize towards the “front lines”: “go and make disciples.” In the Greek text, “go” is a passive participle; it could better be translated “while you are in the process of going.” Hear the difference? Wherever the places that life takes you day in and day out, it is there that you will encounter people who have not been baptized and who have not been taught about Christ. Not all mission work is across the ocean and done in a jungle; much is down across the street! Christ has commissioned his church and mobilizes us to go and make disciples of all nations (imperative form; command), starting with our own little corner of the world. Do you know that Europe and the United States are some of the largest mission fields in the world?
In the M.A.S.H. unit, the hospital was taken to the wounded. The injured needed treatment sooner than later, and so these mobile units were created so that if the wounded wouldn’t make it to the hospital, the hospital was brought closer to them in a sense. In much the same way, the Church has been called “a hospital for sinners.” We who enter here, injured and wounded by life, rejoice when our sins are forgiven in the name of our compassionate Lord. We rejoice when other fellow sinners are baptized into Christ in the Triune name for the forgiveness of their sins. We rejoice when we are taught the good news that Jesus Christ died and rose for us all. We rejoice when we partake of our Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus Christ is the great cure for the spiritual warfare and sinful disease of our world today.
Even though we face regular attacks from an ever-growing enemy, the hospital for sinners is open and ready for action! Anyone and everyone is welcome. But how can they come in if they have not heard the invitation? Who was the last person you invited to church? While pastors are trained and called to baptize and teach, all Christians can and should reach out in love to the lost. You’re not here to help me do the work of the Church; I’m here to help YOU do the work of the Church: “Therefore…let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25).
I know what you might be thinking. “Well, this Great Commission stuff is for someone else and not for me. I’ll just ignore this and wait for the next hymn.” That, my friends, is a bad idea. MASH units were a good idea; “10 Cent Beer Night”, now THAT was a bad idea. On June 4, 1974 the Cleveland Indians hosted the Texas Rangers at which fans could pay 50₵ for a ticket and 10₵ for a 12 oz. Stroh’s on tap. $5 would get you a ticket and enough for 45 beers! Sounds like a good idea, right? It wasn’t. Over 25,000 fans showed up – double the normal attendance. Fans shed their clothes and raced around the field naked, many jumped onto the field, and eventually a Rangers player had his hat taken by a drunken fan. Legendary manager Billy Martin, then manager of the Rangers shouted to his players to grab bats and “get them, boys!” The ensuing riot resulted in 9 arrests, countless injuries, all 3 bases were literally stolen, and the Indians had to forfeit the game. But did they learn? Nah. Cleveland brought back “10 cent beer night” a month later which attracted more than 41,000 fans. Ignoring the clearly obvious is a bad idea; ignoring the Great Commission not a wise thing to do…for the eternal sake and safety of others.
Learning to love begins at the cross, where we see Christ our Lord, who gave himself completely for us. We daily ask the Lord to show us needy neighbors around us who need both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. These may be people who are going through a major life changes such as a recent marriage or divorce, the birth of a child, a job change or loss, serious illness and/or addiction, or loss of a loved one. These people are in need of spiritual support, care, love and healing. As a church we have been mobilized to make disciples! A MASH unit didn’t ignore the wounded. Why would we? Strengthened by our Lord’s promise that the Almighty God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is with us, since we have been baptized and taught in his name, we bring healing, show our love, and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in the name of the Triune God in all that we do and Amen.

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost

June 4, 2017

John 7:37-39

“Living Water/Water for Living”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for our celebration of Pentecost is the Gospel lesson read earlier from John chapter 7.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

In the church year, it’s a new season – Pentecost. We’re about into what we call the “rainy season” here in Sarasota. Once the “snowbird season” is over the “rainy season” begins. And this year…that’s good! We had such a dry, warm April and May. My yard was so brown and spotty and crusty, but then add a little water and Presto! Instant green, lush grass once again. All it takes to bring life and restoration is one of God’s most basic and vital gifts – the gift of water.

Water. It’s a unique element to manage, isn’t it? If there is too much water, there is a wash-out or a flood and much damage is done. Too little water, and then you have what we call a drought, and much damage is done. I’m no horticulturist (Selby Gardens is not beating down my door begging me to work part-time there), but so far, in my limited gardening experience, seems to me you need just the right amount of water or things go bad. Too much water or not enough water, and that’s bad. But when you have the right amount, that seed and soil and water combine to create and sustain life, giving way to mature plants which yield beautiful flowers or succulent fruits and vegetables.

Today’s Gospel lesson is all about water. In John 7, Jesus has gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This was an ancient temple feast going way back to the days of Solomon (1 Kings 8:2). So imagine, there you are, in the crowd alongside our Lord at this feast celebration. On each of the previous six mornings, a priest filled a golden pitcher with water as the choir repeated words from Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Water was then poured on the base of the altar. On the seventh day the priest poured water seven times into a silver funnel surrounding the altar. “So far, so good,” you think to yourself, “just like we did it last year.” But now, Jesus stood up on this last day of the feast (v. 37), and He also spoke of water…a different kind of water…a different kind of life: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (v. 37-38). “Wait a minute! Was that in the script? This isn’t what we did last year!” I bet that was the same reaction as the people in today’s Second Lesson when the day of Pentecost rolled around (Acts 2). What is this guy talking about? Living water? Spirit? Confusing, right?

Maybe you’re not so sure about ancient Temple worship practices, but you know plenty about droughts and floods, and you might not even be a farmer. You know all-too-well the flood of memories or relationships or past actions or words spoken that cause you anguish and heartache and the destruction it caused. You are awash in a flood of pain or guilt or grief or worry. Conversely, you also know the droughts of life: the drought blowing through your account balances, drying up your joy on the job or at home, scorching the hours otherwise spent in physical and emotional peace. Sin has a way of doing that: either sweeping us away through its powerful torrent or else blistering us under its blazing, unrelenting dryness and cruelty.

The same horror we feel because of sin is expressed in the infamous words of Jesus from the cross in John 19:28, “I thirst.” How ironic! The great source of living water, the font of every blessing, the raging river of life, is reduced to just a drop until it completely dries up. Look. It’s no longer the Feast of Booths, but it’s Passover. And they just crucified Jesus. Blood, tears, and sweat are caked to his cheeks. His lips are cracked and swollen. Then witness the Roman spear thrust and a sudden flow of blood and water. Here now is the true River of Life, crushed and cursed by the sin of your life and mine.

Now it all comes together! Now it all makes sense! Later, in John’s first letter, he writes “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7-8, ESV). At Pentecost, at the font on your Baptismal day, the Holy Spirit (7:39) was given; the one given to us by faith, the One who empowers us to say that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3), the One who makes us aware that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins and by the power of His resurrection, he gives us the promise of life everlasting. The Holy Spirit, the water, the blood: they are all connected to us for our life: for our faithful, forgiven living.

In the church year there are 3 great festivals: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Christmas and Easter fill the pews, but Pentecost? Not so much. Why not!! Pentecost is a big deal! It is the day that we receive what Jesus promised. He had said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” It is in this way that the Living Water also gives us the Water for Living.

God graciously gives us just the right amount of Living Water: He never drowns us out and never dries us up (1 Corinthians 10:13). Instead, He nurtures you, loves you, He forgives us, sustains us, and gives you exactly what you need to live. He gives us the Living Water that we might have water for living, but not to grow grass, pineapples or oranges. Okay. What is it that God wants to grow from you? That’s easy.

(Jesus said) “Love one another” (John 15:17). And, building upon that encouragement from Christ, John also says “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers…let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:16, 18, 23-24, NIV). Additionally, Paul adds that because we have the Holy Spirit, and because we have been nurtured and watered by the Living Water, we now produce the fruits of the Spirit: not bananas or mangos, but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV). That is what the Christian faith looks like lived out especially in our at-times flooded and drought-filled world.

It took great courage on the part of Jesus to make that bold statement in front of everyone that day, and it takes great courage on our part as well to come to Him and receive the gift of Living Water and then confess Him in this world by our words and deeds. But He makes that possible by giving us His Spirit that we might now have living water for our living and for others. I pray that you are willing to share; to share Christ with those whom you know so that they too would have hearts flowing with rivers of living water.