21st Sunday after Pentecost

21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2018
Mark 10:17-22
“Who Do You Love?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read earlier from Mark 10.

My Dear Friends in Christ,

“Who Do You Love?” is a song first written and recorded in 1956 by Bo Diddley. The lyrics of the song speak of wearing a cobra for a necktie and having a house built of rattlesnake hides with a chimney made of human skulls…how charming. The song has been recorded by many other performers since Bo Diddley including The Grateful Dead, George Thorogood, Golden Earring, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and The Doors just to name a few.
Who do you love? It’s not just a popular song, but it also seems like a pretty good question, right? It is a question that we not only ask other people, but we ask ourselves – or at least we should ask ourselves from time to time. Who do you love, that is, what is it or whom is it that you love? That was most definitely a question to be asked and answered in today’s text from Mark 10. It is a question that Jesus didn’t ask in so many words, but He answered when it came to the rich man.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus and His disciples are in Judea where He is engaged by a number of different people and groups. As today’s Gospel lesson began, Jesus is approached by a man often identified as a rich young man who has an abundance of property or possessions, depending on how that word in verse 22 is translated, which is often translated “wealth” or “possessions” or “property.” This man wants something more from Jesus. He wants to know what HE must do to get or obtain eternal life. Jesus knows this is the wrong approach. He knows that this wealthy man wants to add everlasting life to his long list of possessions and what the price tag will be.
After their exchange, which I will address later, the rich man goes away empty handed because Jesus knows what this guy’s real priority was. The question “who do you love” was answered, and the rich man gave the wrong answer. And lest we make the same mistake, we also need to ask ourselves and then also answer the question – who do YOU love?
Who do you love? Do you love your spouse? Children? family and friends? I think we can answer that “yes”, we love our family and friends. And yet, look what has happened to our relationships. God’s intention of marriage is amazing, yet husbands abuse wives. Wives abuse husbands. Spouses abandon one another physically or emotionally. The one-flesh union that God creates is broken by sinful lusts and desires figuratively or sometimes literally! Children disobey and disrespect parents. There is never an age when children stop breaking their parent’s hearts: little kids, little heartache, big kids, big heartaches. Friends betray friends. They lie, spread rumors, speak ill of one another. Can we always depend on our families and friends? Sadly, the answer is no. I stand here today as living proof that your family can and will betray you. We love them just the same, but sinful people will always be sinful people and they will always let us down in some way. Maybe the answer to receiving eternal life is not found in loving family and friends first and foremost.
Who do you love? Maybe it’s the flashy things that are available in life. The list is as long as it is corrupting: money, home, car, “Alexa” enabled technology, cell phone, Facebook page, Iphone, laptop, 80” 4K Smart TV, your favorite sports franchise, et all. As sinful people we get so caught up in the pursuit and craving for each flashy object, obtaining it, and then moving on to the next one. These cravings and seekings drain our time and our resources and pull our attention away from the One True God. Maybe they’re not the answer either.
Case in point. In today’s lesson, the rich young man had “great possessions,” an abundance of wealth, he “had it all” as we might say. But the answer to the question “who do you love” isn’t to be found in “all.” It is found in One. The answer to the question “who do you love” isn’t found in “all.” It is found in One. One is the final test; a test that the rich man failed and went away truly empty-handed; how ironic! Because I can tell you this. While the rich man disappears from the pages of Scripture, I know for sure that at some point he died, and neither the quality of his family and friends nor the abundance of his possessions made one iota of difference when it came to the eternal salvation of his soul!
As I stated earlier, in response to the rich man’s question, Jesus showed him his sinfulness. Jesus summarized the Second Table (Commandments 4-10), to which the man replied “all these I have kept from my youth” (v. 20). Yeah…right. There is NO WAY he kept these commands. We know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is no one that is truly good…no, not one (Romans 3:12). And yet, notice Jesus’ response! “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (v. 21a).
Jesus told the rich man “go, sell all that you have…and come, follow me” because Jesus knew his love for wealth was getting in the way. The answer is in love for the One…love for the one True Triune God, not love for stuff. Eternal life is not in an abundance of stuff but in a right relationship with God.
To ensure that those who believe can inherit eternal life, Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sinful desires and greed and selfish wants. He shed His blood to provide the forgiveness of sins that we so badly need every day. He gave His body that we might have the means to restore the fractured relationships that sin creates in our families and in our homes and with friends. The peace and love and grace and mercy of God are given to those who believe that we would believe and be saved…that’s the ONE thing the rich man lacked.
Who do you love? Do you love cobra neckties, rattlesnake hide homes with skull chimneys (yuck!), or do you love the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who loved you before time began? Enjoy the blessings that God gives you: faithful spouse and family, friends, material things, but don’t covet them above all else. Love God and your neighbor, lose your life for the Gospel, give yourself to the One who gave all for you. Who do you love? Truly…who do you love? Love the One who loved you first and did what was necessary to obtain for you eternal life through faith in Christ, who loved you before time began.
Amen.

LWML Sunday

LWML Sunday 2018
October 7, 2018
Psalm 62:1-8
“The Rest We Share”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is taken from Psalm 62.

My dear friends,

I empathize with you if you feel like you’ve been lapped on the information “super highway;” technology that we didn’t grow up with races past us like a high performance sports car on I-75 with nothing in the windshield but open road and we get left in the dust. Social media have brought more information to the palm of our hands than ever before, and that information comes from everywhere! The days of everyone gathering around the old TV to get their news from a man like Walter Cronkite are long, long gone. Instead, we have instant news with live interviews of people experiencing real-time situations in their lives. Some of this has been a blessing. Rescuers bringing assistance to people in times of a crisis can receive calls, texts, emails, and messages from people who need help. First responders can use GPS and social media to pinpoint where people are and where the nearest rescue team is to bring help and assistance rather than wasting valuable time hunting for victims. That’s a great use of modern technology.
A side effect, though, of constant information has raised the level of fear, unhappiness, and uncertainty about their safety and their future. We can see the footage from church and school shootings, terrorist acts, and other negative events with no context that have robbed many of any sense of security or peace day after day. Instead of the world moving closer and closer to peace and love, the world is seemingly being dragged closer and closer to destruction by all the negativity we are exposed to; hatred and division, name calling, finger pointing, social unrest, and accusations of past and present misconduct, are on the rise while love, unity, and peace seem to be losing ground. Is America a country where love for God and neighbor predominate? I don’t know.
Where does a person go for peace and security in an uncertain world like ours? Throw our cell phones down a well? Find a cave and hide? Hiding will not help, but David was on to something. King David, the author of Psalm 62, was familiar with the insecurity of his world. Scholars believe David wrote Psalm 62 in response to a specific situation, his own crisis of confidence. David was under a serious attack from those who wanted to overthrow him as king, and he desperately needed shelter…he needed peace and rest.
David’s foe Absalom would rise up early in the morning and stand by the city gate – the earliest form of Facebook and how people got their news in the ancient Near East. Absalom convinced people how their lives would be better if he were king. When this news came to King David, he had to flee Jerusalem quickly, and in Psalm 62, David shares his response to threat and uncertainty. This Psalm, in the verses you heard, proclaims where we find rest and peace when we are confronted with the threats and uncertainties in our world as it is “falling apart” around us, and the answer then is just as valid today. My friends, rest and peace are found in God alone. He is the rock, fortress, and salvation we need especially in times of trial and tribulation.
You may remember Melissa Falkowski, a fellow Floridian and English teacher at the high school in Parkland, Florida (30 miles from Fort Lauderdale), who hid 19 students in her classroom closet when she learned there was an active shooter at the school earlier this year; a gunman who took 17 innocent lives. This heroic woman is a reflection of God who hides you in the shadow of His wings as evil rages (Psalm 57:1). Has evil been raging? Has it ever! In the last 10 years, America has endured more than 60 fatal school shootings. Schools never have been and never will be places of absolute peace and rest. If it’s not bullets, it’s bullies; if it’s not gunfire, it’s gossip. Who is going to rescue the students under attack from isolation, loneliness, and rejection? Who is going to rush in and help those poor souls?
Thankfully hurricane season is almost over! Most of you know what that’s like and difficult those storms can be. But there was a much greater storm than any category 5 hurricane that blew unto our shores and a greater threat than any active shooter. The storm of sin and death engulfed humanity since Eden and none can escape its hail of bullets. All of us were stranded helplessly by the floodwaters of our fallenness and gunned down where we stand in sinfulness. And that is why the greatest rescue in the history of the world took place. Jesus as our rock and our salvation came and bore our sins and punishment on himself. He is the one who died and rose from the dead not to protect us from “bad things,” but to give us great confidence and assurance no matter who attacks us or what is happening around us, because we are ALWAYS under attack by something and it’s not always bullies, bullets, winds, or waves. The only place you can find lasting rest in this turbulent world is in the One who conquered death and gives you life. Through the living Word, you receive rest. Through the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, you share in Jesus’ grace, strength and forgiveness. This world will rage; it cannot be stopped anymore than we can step the advancement of technology. It may even injure you physically, relationally, or emotionally. But even if you’re caught in the cross-fire, Jesus, who is Lord over all, “is your rock and salvation, your fortress; we shall not be greatly shaken.”
Many congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod are celebrating and thanking God this weekend for the ministry of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League – the LWML. For 76 years the LWML has been supporting mission work nationally and internationally. Locally, our LWML is heavily involved with the Health Care Kits and Hope Seeds; in 2019 they hope to take on new mission challenges and opportunities. It’s been my experience through the years that the women truly are Lutheran Women in Mission, and they are also women of encouragement. The LWML hasn’t just been collecting pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters in their mite boxes; they have also been encouraging women and men in their faith walk to find true rest in God alone. Lives have been touched through their work and people have received rest that comes from our Lord and Savior, Jesus. An area overlooked is that the LWML have funded countless students to prepare for pastoral ministry, present company included.
King David lived in uncertainty and so do we. David received from God physical and emotional rest – a rest that nothing in this world of insecurity could take away from him. And so do we. We have this same assurance as we live in this uncertain age, the promise that God is our rock and salvation – the one who loves us and sent His Son to redeem us thereby restoring the right relationship with God. Let us say daily, “My soul finds silence in God alone” and in that blessed, divine silence may you find the peace and rest you so badly seek in this uncertain world.
Amen.

19th Sunday after Pentecost

19th Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 3018
Mark 9:38-50
“Have Salt in Yourselves and Be at Peace”

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 Mark 9.

My dear friends,

A few months back I came across a vendor at the weekly Sarasota farmer’s market. “Florida Sea Salt,” the awning said. Inside were bags and bags of salt harvested from the Gulf of Mexico by Tim Norwood, a very faithful Christian man who runs this business full time. I sampled his product and was amazed! Sea salt, from the Gulf, but seasoned with roasted garlic or lemon zest or Portobello mushroom. You can buy his product around town and I now stock 4-5 of his salts among my numerous spices. It is an incredible product resulting from an incredible idea run by an incredible Christian man. But…the red tide has really hurt Tim Norwood’s business. With the red tide in, he cannot harvest any useable salt. So freely abundant, yet so unusable. Jesus said, “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (v 50). This will be our focus today.
Jesus was not talking about the red tide, but still has something important to tell us here. In order to understand what he means, we need to rethink the way we look at salt. If you go to Publix to buy salt, you’ll find it with the spices. That aisle has some of the most expensive things in the whole store. Some will set you back more than $100 per pound. Then on the bottom shelf is the salt. Fifty cents a can; almost giving it away. In ancient times, though, it wasn’t like that. Salt was valuable.
Salt is good. It’s good for cash—so much so that soldiers in the Roman army were paid part of their wages in salt. The Latin word for salt is sal and that’s why we call our wages today a salary. Salt isn’t just good for making food taste better; it’s good for preserving it. In pre-refrigeration days, it was critical for keeping food. Without salt to preserve food for the future, day-to-day survival was much more difficult. Salt is good.
Then Jesus said, “If the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?” (v 50). This is difficult for us to understand because of what we have for salt today. Salt is sodium chloride—a very stable molecule; it doesn’t really degrade over time. If you buy a can of salt and leave it in your cupboard for fifty years, when you finally take it out, it will still be salt. It may be one solid chunk, but it will not have become anything else. That’s because we have pure salt. In biblical times, they didn’t.
In those days, like “Florida Sea Salt” does, salt was harvested from the surface of salt marshes or pits where salt water had flowed from the Mediterranean or the Dead Sea and it was filled with impurities: from the rocks it was scraped off, algae, sand, and other crud in the seawater. Dead Sea salt is even worse; high levels of toxic bromide made it almost unusable in antiquity. How, then, can salt lose its saltiness? Humidity, sun, heat, and constant contact with the earth leach away the easily dissolved sodium chloride, leaving behind the impurities. Bits of rock and sand, mineral crystals, dirt and debris remain to make it look like it might be salt, but it’s tasteless. On the surface it looks like salt, but inside? Not so much. It has lost the fire of the salt within. Hhm.
Is this not exactly what St. Paul warns us of in 2 Timothy 3? “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents…heartless…without self-control…not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1–5). Sound familiar?
What Paul describes is what happens when the fire of the Holy Spirit is driven out of people. We become empty crystals, having the form of the godly salt of the earth, but doubting Jesus’ presence or questioning the authority of God’s Word in our modern world. The salt can be leached out by the humidity of a life not fed by the Word of God and the Sacraments. We can become flavorless, going through the motions, without faithful stewardship and sacrifice. We can be hypocrites: actors who look like believers by outward action, but having no faith. We lose our saltiness if we refuse to stand against evil. A church that says “all roads lead to God” or “it’s all good so long as you love” is a church that has lost its savor. Salt must purify; it must preserve what is good and worth preserving. Salt substitute is not salt.
“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (v 50). You have been salted with salt…Jesus was your salted sacrifice. He was the one who purified and preserved you. The salt of his sweat in Gethsemane, the salty blood he shed for us at Calvary, these are what has won our forgiveness and given us strength to endure hardship, to flavor and preserve, so that you can love and forgive one another. Now by God’s Word and Sacraments, that forgiveness, that purity, is given to us. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We have salt in ourselves. Now…what are you going to do about it?
In our Epistle, James tells Christians how they can have peace with one another. He says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working…My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:16, 19–20).
Salt has no power in itself…just like us. Our holiness, our forgiveness, our righteousness, our power, our love, our “saltiness,” come from Christ. The salt in us only has power because it is from Christ. The world leaches the salt from us, but Christ salts us with his word and spirit to have peace with God and with one another. May Christ so live in you in peace today and always.
Amen.

18th Sunday after Pentecost

18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 2018
Jeremiah 11:18-20
“Blindsided!”

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 from Jeremiah 11 previously read.

My dear friends,

Ah, yes…football season is here. And I just LOVE watching Nebraska lose each week. Growing up in Nebraska, where football is “king,” being a football fan is not optional. I have seen so many football games at every level I couldn’t even begin to list them all. And I’ve seen just about every football play imaginable. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the QB drop back, mere seconds to find the open receiver while defensive linemen and linebackers are closing fast. A quarterback can see the rush in front of him, but he can’t see behind. They call this area the “blind side” of the quarterback. This is why, to go with a right-handed quarterback, the left tackle is one of the highest-paid players on an NFL team—to protect the quarterback’s blind side.
One famous NFL player who played left tackle is Michael Oher, who grew up homeless in Tennessee. After being rescued by the Tuohy family, he entered a Christian school where he learned to play football and ultimately received a scholarship to play for the University of Mississippi. His NFL career included playing for the Ravens, the Titans, and the Panthers. You may remember the 2009 movie The Blind Side about Oher and the Christian family that changed his life. Oher would do just about anything humanly possible to protect his quarterback’s blind side, including sacrificing himself. As a result of doing so, Oher can no longer play in the NFL due to reoccurring concussion issues. If only the prophet Jeremiah had had a giant left tackle to protect his blind side!
Today we learn that while Jeremiah loves his native state, his hometown of Judah, the people of Judah don’t necessarily love him back. Jeremiah experienced perhaps one of the biggest blindsides in all of the Old Testament. In these three verses (an aside from the prophecy), we learn about a plot against Jeremiah and how he once was almost killed. We also learn that God was watching out for his high-value prophet.
Why were they plotting against Jeremiah? Jeremiah was proclaiming God’s Word, but his listeners didn’t like it. They were working behind the scenes to silence him. This is not just any Tonya-Harding-amateur hour knee-cap attack, for Jeremiah describes his attackers as wanting to “destroy the tree with its fruit…cut him off from the land of the living that his name be remembered no more” (v 19b). This isn’t just death; they wanted to wipe out his very existence. It’s total annihilation! The odd thing is that somehow Jeremiah, by his own admission, didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t until God revealed the plot that Jeremiah was even aware. He was like “a gentle lamb” without a clue as to the slaughter that was about to happen. He was blindsided.
Where were the blockers? Oh yeah…this is 7th century BC in Israel. Football won’t be invented for another 2600 years. Still, why did Jeremiah get caught with a blind side? Maybe it was because he was from the same hometown as his listeners and probably felt a sense of camaraderie with them. Maybe he was blindsided because he believed they would understand he was only the messenger and you’re not supposed to shoot the messenger! In any event, he didn’t see it coming. This is the horrible danger of a blind side. If we could go into the future and look back in time, what we call, “hindsight,” it would be easy to see where we missed the signals. But that’s the problem with a blind side. We don’t see the signs or signals. We simply don’t see it coming. Not much has changed in 2700 years.
Why are we constantly unaware of our own blind side? It’s likely because we rely on our abilities, instincts, and our judgment rather than trusting God’s plan, protection, and provision. We hang on to every cent as if it’s our last. We are racked by anxiety assuming the absolute worst until the test result comes back. We refuse to love and forgive and then wonder why we are not shown love and forgiveness by others. We hear there is a hurricane coming and everyone goes into full-blown panic mode instead of starting with full-blown prayer mode.
We should know from experience and from Scripture that the human condition is full of sin and can’t be trusted (deny yourself = ignore that voice!). Even though we are trusting in our own minds and hearts, we are trusting in minds and hearts that are in a fallen condition. It’s like counting on a play to work when you KNOW it won’t. C. S. Lewis once said that no one knows how truly bad they are until they try to be very good. How true. The sinful self cannot see beyond itself, and we tend to get blind sided as a result.
You see, God is NEVER blindsided. When he looks at us, he sees the parts of us that none of us can see. He sees the dangers long before we ever do. He sees and knows the temporal and eternal punishment we deserve. We may think that we know everything about ourselves, but the theological word for that is bologna. God knows everything. And when God looked at our lives, he saw our complete and utter failure to see our own weaknesses…our blind sides.
It is for that reason that he sent us a Savior. He sent Jesus into the world to redeem us from all the times that by trusting in our own sinful nature we’ve walked into the consequences of our blind side.
There are some interesting parallels between Jeremiah and Jesus. Like Jeremiah, Jesus was a hometown boy; he had great compassion for those around him, and he spoke God’s truth to them. Like Jeremiah, Jesus’ listeners plotted to kill him, too. God spared Jeremiah; He did not spare His only Son. The plan to kill Jesus succeeded because Jesus allowed it, nailing Him to a cross. But ultimately this plot was foiled as well, as Jesus broke through the chains of death and the seal of the tomb, rising from the grave, to set us free and if the Son sets us free, we will be free indeed! (John 8:36).
Wouldn’t it be great to have our own Michael Oher? Sure…but we don’t. By ourselves, we don’t have our own personal giant left tackle to protect our blind side, but we have Someone infinitely better. We will be constantly plagued by the fact that we cannot see our unknown unknowns. But these will not hurt or harm us because we have One who walks near to us…beside us…behind us every step of the way. Jesus has your blind side. His righteousness has been given to us and that makes you holy, righteous, and redeemed in the sight of God. And God’s righteousness in Christ protects us despite our sinful blind sides.
Oh yeah, before I forget. Go big red! Sorry…old habits die hard.
Amen.

17th Sunday after Pentecost

17th Sunday after Pentecost (B)
September 16, 2018
Isaiah 50:9a
“Who are you?”

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 ½ of 1 verse taken from our First Lesson for this day, specifically from Isaiah 50:9a – “Behold, The Lord God helps me.”

This is our text. Dear fellow redeemed brothers and sisters in Christ,

So by now you know I wasn’t here last weekend. I went to Nebraska to attend the Nebraska vs. Colorado football game on Saturday afternoon. While in Lincoln I stayed with my mom and I noticed an interesting dynamic on Saturday morning. I was playing 3 different roles: son to my mother, brother to my brother Mike, and friend to my best friend Ross who had flown in for the game. Then, at the stadium, I played the role of “fan.” That’s 4 roles all before 3 PM. Crazy, right?
Every day we all have a role or roles to play each day: father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, husband, wife, child, student, friend, employer, employee, cook, mechanic, maid, volunteer, and so on. With all the different things that we are asked and required to do on a regular basis, does it sometimes get confusing? Can you sometimes lose focus on your role and its expectations? Who are you? I mean, who are you really? I don’t mean what name is on your Florida driver’s license or in an existential “gaze-in-your-bellybutton” way. Take away the titles. Take away the different roles. Strip away everything and at your barest essence, who are you? That being said, the point I want you to know is this…YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE IN THE LORD GOD WHO HELPS YOU!
Well, that’s all fine and good but who is the Lord God? I mean, if this Lord is our helper, who is he? Who exactly is it that we hope in and helps us? That answer may seem like a no brainer. We’re in church, you’re the pastor. You should know this. Sure, it’s the answer to every Sunday School question…Jesus! But in THIS day and age…well, let’s not assume anything. There is such a radical misunderstanding of who Jesus is – who the Lord God our helper is. So the question in this age is a tragically valid one…who is Jesus and how does He help me?
Who is Jesus? How much time do we have? If you want to know Jesus, I mean REALLY know Jesus, then Mark 8:31 is a key verse: “(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” That’s Jesus. Son of God and Son of Man. He is the one who came to suffer, be rejected, be killed, and after three days rise again for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation. That’s who the Lord God who is your helper. There is a simple yet powerful word in Greek that Jesus used a lot when talking about His purpose: , which is usually translated “must” but it really means “it is divinely necessary.” It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again to free us from the punishment for being our sinful selves. His suffering, death, and resurrection define Him, and it also defines us as his disciples.
Because he is your helper, because you are his follower, because you are his disciple, Jesus goes on in Mark 8 to explain who YOU are; who you ought to be and what you are called to do: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). You are who you are in Christ, the Lord God, and those in Christ deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow the Lord God.
If you know anything about Martin Luther, you know his Catechism question “what does that mean.” So…what DOES this mean to deny ourselves, take up a cross, and follow him? To deny ourselves means that you no longer make the rules, and that doesn’t sit well with our sinful nature. Sinful yourself tells you to skip church and Bible Study because there are better things to do. Sinful yourself tells you to leave the ministry and mission of our church and school to someone else. The sinful self tells you to let someone else take care of all our property, let someone fix all those buildings, let someone else worry about paying those bills.
Jesus says that if He is your helper and you follow Him, then you DENY yourself and listen to him instead. When we deny ourselves, that means Jesus makes the rules from now on.
Our Lord God also says that we are to take up our cross and follow him. The great ministry constant I’ve learned over 15 years is that “everyone has something.” You all have a cross to bear. Some of them are “heavier” than others. Some have their fair share of splinters. Some seem too bulky to manage on your own. Whether that cross is a cross of financial woes or health care issues or pain or addiction or depression or grief or loneliness or family situations, we too pick up that cross and follow him knowing that the Lord God helps us. When that cross is too heavy for you, Jesus picks up the heavy end and helps you along the road of life.
To be faithful, following Christians is not about being a “big” church. It’s not about being a “fun” church. It’s not about being an overly influential church. It’s all about Jesus. It’s about following our helper: denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following him. It’s being able to cry out with confidence, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!”
The Christian existence is about a life of necessity. The necessity of faith, the necessity of forgiveness. The necessity of love. As a result, ; it is absolutely necessary for us to love others, because we have been loved first. ; it is absolutely necessary for us to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus. ; it is absolutely necessary for us to teach others – to teach our children…of who they are as the baptized and redeemed people of God and what that means for them in this life. ; it is absolutely necessary for us to stand up for the truth of the scriptures in a world that no longer wants to acknowledge the inconvenient truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Who are you? You are who you are in Christ. Who is Christ? He is Jesus, the Lord God who has come to seek and save the lost like you and I. Friends, let’s live like we know it and allow others see how much it helps us. Lord, our helper, we believe. Help our unbelief. May the Lord God truly help us to do so each and every day, and it’s good to be home.
Amen.

15th Sunday after Pentecost

15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 2, 2018
Mark 7:14-23
“God Makes Gross Good”

God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our great Triune God. The basis for the sermon today is our assigned Gospel lesson from Mark 7 as previously read.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

After last week’s dessert auction, the last thing I need is more calories. That being said, have you ever heard of Jelly Belly jelly beans? Originally heralded as a “gourmet” jelly beans, you can now buy them just about anywhere and they are SO GOOD! What makes them so appealing is the unique and amazing flavors: buttered popcorn, cotton candy, bubble gum, chocolate pudding, and toasted marshmallow just a name a few. There is even a Dr. Pepper flavored jelly bean…right on!
However, make sure you check that packaging before you buy them! Jelly Belly also markets a product called “Bertie Bott’s Beans;” apparently is a candy-making wizard in the Harry Potter franchise and he must not be very good I suppose. I say be careful because the Bertie Bott’s Beans look the same as Jelly Belly jelly beans, but the flavors are…uhm…much different. Grass. Earwax. Dog food. Dead fish. Dirt. Dirt? Really. Yes, dirt flavored jelly beans. Gross. Those are just a few of the nasty Bertie Bott’s jelly beans; some flavors are too gross to mention in church.
In our Gospel lesson, the Pharisees and Jesus are at odds about gross and not gross, but not regarding jelly beans. The issue is dietary purity. Today’s Gospel lesson continues last week’s Gospel lesson in which the Pharisees – the preeminent Jewish religious sect that tried to impose their vision of morality and obedience to the Law on Israel’s people – had just finished rebuking Jesus because His disciples ate with “dirty” hands (7:2). By dirty I mean they were ceremonially unclean and not ritually pure according to the Pharisees’ legalistic guidelines. The Israelites had LOADS of rules like this to follow mandated upon from the Old Testament and then rigorously enforced by the Pharisees like no meat with blood in it (Gen. 9:4), no young goat meat boiled in its mother’s milk (Deut. 14:21), and they had to ritually wash their hands, cups, bowls, and vessels (Mark 7:3-4) or they would be “gross” in the eyes of God.
Now, don’t kid yourself. The Pharisees were not that concerned about the purity issue itself. To them the bigger issue was Jesus; to the Pharisees, Jesus was religiously incorrect – His doctrine in their eyes was gross and dirty. This was a clear attempt to publically shame Jesus and Jesus knew this…of course. So He addresses the real issue; He literally gets to the heart of the matter which is the matter of the heart: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him?…What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” The, to the disciples, Jesus explained, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:18-23 ESV). Jesus is right. What comes OUT of a person – out of our gross, sinful human hearts – is what pollutes us; what makes us gross and dirty in God’s eyes.
Consider Jesus’ list again. Evil thoughts – you’ve never had an evil thought about an obnoxious co-worker or noisy neighbor or rebellious child? Sexual immorality – you’ve never looked at a member of the opposite sex with lust in your eye or desire in your heart? Theft – you’ve never taken something that didn’t belong to you be it an item or credit for an idea? Coveting – you’ve never wanted something that belonged to another? Slander – you’ve never spoken a harsh regarding a neighbor, your significant other, a fellow believer, maybe even your pastor? Foolishness – you’ve always had a sound, clean mind never given over to drunken thoughtlessness? Bologna. You’ve done it…and I’ve done it too. And if we have stumbled in sinful guiltiness once – just once – we are guilty of breaking the entire Law of God (James 2:10) for which we deserve death (Romans 6:23). What an absolutely gross cesspool the sinful human heart can be. How ironic that the heart gives and provides human life, but also betrays us in sinful thoughts, words, and deeds fir which we deserve death! How ironic is that?
But how much more glorious and wonderful is God’s grace toward us! God makes your gross good, that is, even with our sinfulness and guilt and shame, He forgives us because of Christ Jesus. We have a Savior willing to disgustingly hang bleeding and dying on a cross – abused in every way – so that we might be cleansed of the grossness of our sin. You have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb given and shed for you. Cleansed through the life-giving, soul-sustaining waters of Baptism. Cleansed by God’s precious Word of absolution: sinner, as gross as you are, you’re forgiven.
God’s grace is NOT a license to more gross behavior. The Christian life isn’t a set of do and don’t rules, but it’s different lifestyle. It is having a faith not about clean hands and pots, but a changed heart. It is living and loving God with all your heart and soul and strength. It is loving and caring for your neighbor as yourself. The changed heart isn’t so concerned with food choices as it is extending mercy to another hurting soul. The changed heart doesn’t worry as much about whether your cup or pot is ceremonially clean as it does witnessing to eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus alone. The changed heart is less concerned about defiled hands and more concerned with busy hands that shape a shared life together in and through Christ. The Pharisees didn’t get that and that kept them from seeing who He really was and is.
Friends, I get it. I know there are times when you feel like the world is handing you nothing but gross, dirt-flavored jelly beans: constant unrest and shootings like we had in Jacksonville, family issues, money concerns, the pain and loneliness and anxiety, your health, your co-workers, and those around you who make life tough. But God has taken the dirt and impurity – the sin – and cleansed us making us forgiven…redeemed…your gross is good…through the blood of Christ and uses your life events for good. We have been blessed in order that we can be a blessing to and for others.
If you open a box of Bertie Bott’s Beans and you get “booger” flavor, I can’t help you; there’s a lot of gross in there. Instead, when life gets tough and uncertain, don’t open a box of candy. Open your Bibles and hearts and eyes and ears to God’s holy Word and know that God makes all your gross so very good, just like a Dr. Pepper flavored jelly bean.
Amen.

14th Sunday after Pentecost

14th Sunday after Pentecost
August 26, 2018
“Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked”; Questions about doctrine/theology

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we finish this sermon series called “Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked.” Today I will try and answer your submitted questions about Christian doctrine and theology.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
And so, here we are. 23 questions answered. 7 more to go, but I only have time for 5. No better time than the present to get started.
“I love and trust in God too much to ‘fear’ him? Why do we ‘fear’ God who loves us so much?” The 1st Commandment is “You shall have no other Gods” and Luther’s explanation says we should “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” How can I love what I fear? It depends on what you mean by the word “fear.” There is a healthy way to fear God. To take God seriously as our Creator and Judge and someone who will punish those who disobey and/or disbelieve, then that’s true “fear” of God because God CAN be a threat as such. But that’s not what most references in the Bible mean. In most cases, “fear” of God means “to stand in awe of,” “to honor,” and “to revere.” Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” To “fear” God is to truly stand in holy reverence and awe and thankfulness for all He has done to create, sustain, and save us from sin, death, and the devil and that amazement before God is the beginning of wisdom.
Okay, next question. “When I was a kid we had communion once or twice a month. In my friend’s church they have communion only on Easter. Can you explain this or the reason?” Sure…be happy to. In Acts 2:42 we learn that “(the believers) were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” At the time of the Reformation, Lutherans continued the universal practice of the Church since Biblical times of celebrating the Sacrament at least every Sunday and holy day. Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession says, “because (worship) is for the purpose of giving the Sacrament, we have Communion every holy day.” Many congregations and church bodies today, though, celebrate the Lord’s Supper only a couple of times per month, or maybe just a few times per year. So what happened to cause infrequent Communion celebrations? Rationalism happened…Piety happened.
In the 18th century, Rationalism changed the whole landscape and life of the Church. Churches were made into lecture halls and the altar dwindled into insignificance and, in many cases, was removed. From the hymns all distinctively Christian thought was removed, and simple, repetitive rhymes were added in their place. Sermons became long-winded moral expositions about loving neighbor and not so much about loving God. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were robbed of their meaning and private Confession was totally abolished. Most Reformed, non-Lutheran churches still reflect those radical changes. The frequency with which a congregation celebrates the Lord’s Supper indicates how important it is in their lives. Theologian Herman Sasse wrote, “Worship without the Lord’s Supper is hearing about redemption without participating in it.” At Good Shepherd we offer Lord’s Supper every Holy Day. Congregations that celebrate 1-2 a year clearly indicate a complete misunderstanding of the Sacrament, its historical practice, and its benefit in the life of believers.
“(I have seen) incense used at weddings and funerals in the Catholic Church. Do we?” Incense has been employed in worship by Christians since antiquity, particularly in the Eastern churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and some Anglican churches. It has been and can still be found in the occasional Lutheran Church. It started as a helpful practice. Burning animals on the altar smelled bad and burning incense helped mask the odor. The smoke of burning incense is a symbol of the prayer of the faithful rising to heaven: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you” (Ps 141:2). A thurible is used to contain incense as it’s burned. Whenever the thurible is swung to incense people or objects, it is always done in groups of three swings. The burning of incense may be used in worship at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, at certain celebrations, at funerals, and especially at the consecration of a church or altar. In many old and orthodox churches, incense is used frequently. In Lutheran circles its usage has diminished so much that to use it in worship today would alarm and confuse most worshippers.
Now, the final 2 questions: “What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?” and “What (does) the church think about gay marriage and what if (the pastor were) asked to (preside at one)?” Oh…look at the time. Maybe we’ll stop there for today. Just kidding.
Okay. What does the Bible say? Well, to list a few:
• “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. … Do not defile yourselves by any of these things” (Lev. 18:22,24).
• “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…” (Lev. 20:13).
• “Women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Rom. 1:26-27).
• “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners…immoral persons, sodomites…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:9-10).
Through His Word, God teaches us very clearly that homosexuality is a sin. A person who persists in homosexual behavior stands under the condemnation of God’s Word, but this is true for anyone who persists in sin without repentance. While this may be an unpopular message, it is the truth taught to us by God in His Word. As with the case of any sinner, we want to assure all repentant sinners of the forgiveness of Christ. The Church rejects NO ONE, for we are ALL sinners. It is never wrong to care about another child of God, and judgment is not our job. Never withhold your love. Be cautious with your words. As a Christian you don’t have to compromise your Biblical beliefs to “fit in;” forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation with the unrepentant. Start with the image you see in the mirror, then love, forgive, show compassion to all people, and in all things do the right thing. Would I preside at a same-sex marriage? No. Same-sex marriage is not really marriage as God instituted it, so why would I preside?
And there we was…done. Lord, have mercy!
Amen.

13th Sunday after Pentecost

13th Sunday after Pentecost
August 19, 2018
“Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked”; Questions about Jesus

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we continue my monthly sermon series called “Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked.” Today I will try and answer your submitted questions about Jesus.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Last week’s sermon on Heaven was kind of long and involved. That’s what happens when you have 11 questions to answer about Heaven. I don’t expect that today’s sermon will be much shorter and certainly not any easier. There were 7 questions asked about Jesus, so I will try and answer them all and I will address them in “chronological order,” that is, in terms of Jesus’ earthly life.
Here is the first question: “If Jesus was (born) a Jew, why aren’t Christians Jewish?” Yes, Jesus was born Jewish. By the time that he was executed by the Romans, however, many Jewish people would have considered Jesus guilty of blasphemy because of His actions and teachings about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Gospels record several incidents where Jesus is accused of blasphemy for directly or indirectly claiming to be the Messiah/Divine. For example, when Jesus cured the paralytic man lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), he saw the faith of those involved and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (v. 5). “Some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, ‘Who but God alone can forgive sins?’ Jesus said, ‘Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, your sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise, pick up your mat and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home’” (Mark 2:8-11). Jesus’ claim to be God – to forgive sins – flew directly in the face of Judaism.
During the Passion, Caiaphas, the high priest, commanded Jesus, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said, “You have said so.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed!…You [members of the Sanhedrin] have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?’ They said in reply, ‘He deserves to die!’” Jesus is also identified as King of the Jews and Son of God. To say that Jesus lived and died “Jewish” and that all Christians are therefore Jews may be too simple. Jesus was not Jewish as such; He re-defined Judaism to include the understanding and worship of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As a result, many Jews converted because they believed in Jesus as Messiah. Technically, the question should be why aren’t all Jews Christians, not the other way around.
Okay. Next question: “Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene?” Answer? NO! Jesus was not married to anyone. So where did this idea come from? A lot of this nonsense started back in the late 1960s – early 1970s and a rebellion against any establishment. This led eventually to 1982 with the book “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.” In this ridiculous book, the authors put forward a hypothesis that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had one or more children, and that those children or their descendants emigrated to what is now southern France. The “Holy Grail” is not an actual chalice they claim. It’s the womb of Mary Magdalene and the children she bore with Jesus. More recently, author Dan Brown built on this myth with the novel/movie “The Da Vinci Code” starring Tom Hanks. Watching Tom Hanks in “Da Vinci Code” and thinking its real is like watching “Forrest Gump” and thinking it’s historically accurate.
The main passage that Brown and others use as support for this crazy theory is a little known paragraph from the Gnostic writing the “Gospel of Philip” (63:32-64:10). The text describes Mary Magdalene as a “companion” of Jesus. History tells us that this text from the Gospel of Philip was composed in the 2nd half of the 3rd century. This is a full 200 years after the life of Jesus. All 4 Gospels are written well before that and are universally accepted as accurate. Not one Gospel even hints at Jesus being married to anyone. There’s a reason why Gnostic writings and others are not in the Bible…because they’re not the inspired Word of God; they did not pass the test for inclusion in the Bible (canonicity). These works were the “fiction” genre of the first 5 centuries; they are the “Forrest Gump” of their time.
Next. “Why is Jesus not on the cross (behind) the altar and only on some crucifixes?” Good question. I will explain. The simple difference between a cross and the crucifix is that on a cross there is no body of Jesus. A crucifix has the crucified body of Jesus on it. We remember Christ crucified when we look upon a crucifix, and we remember Christ risen when we look upon a plain cross. Our cross behind the altar is a cross to remember Christ risen! After the Protestant Reformation, a lot of Roman Catholic symbolism was rejected, and Roman Catholicism uses a crucifix to remember Christ crucified. Luther himself doesn’t seem to have minded, so in the Lutheran Church we can and do use both. Our main cross is empty to remind us that both the cross and tomb are empty because Jesus is risen.
Three questions were asked about the descent into hell: “Why did Jesus descend into Hell after being crucified and what did he do there?” “What does 1 Peter 3:19 mean “went and proclaimed to spirits in prison”? Act 2:31 says “Christ was not abandoned in Hades” Does that mean he went to Hell after his death?” In Colossians 2:15, Paul wrote “(Christ) disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them by the cross.” All orthodox Christian churches must confess the 3 ecumenical creeds in which we confess that Jesus “descended into Hell.” Jesus, after He was made alive again in the grave descended into hell, not to suffer punishment, but to proclaim His victory over the enemies in hell. If you know anything about NASCAR, you know that the winning driver takes a “victory lap” after the race. Jesus’ descent into hell is His “victory lap.” The souls in hell were not offered a second chance at salvation; instead Jesus announced His victory over death and the Devil. This is one of those article of faith items. We hold off on curious investigation or wonder “why?” A day will come when it will all make sense even if our current understanding is less-than-complete.
One last question: “What happened to Jesus’ mother Mary, Joseph, and all of the Disciples?” Most scholars agree that Joseph died before Jesus’ ministry began. He is present at Jesus’ birth, the first 2 years in Egypt, and the Temple trip when Jesus was 12, but not at His first miracle, his trial(s), his crucifixion, or the resurrection. If/how Joseph died is unknown. Mary was (of course) present at Jesus’ birth, His first miracle, His death, Easter morning, and she’s in Jerusalem after the Ascension for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14-15). After that, Mary disappears. Some scholars speculate she moved into the home of John before his exile. Regardless, Mary is now in heaven with all the believers who have died in Christ, not because she gave birth to Jesus but because she trusted in His shed blood as payment for her sin. All of the 11 disciples except for John were martyred for the faith. According to tradition: Peter was crucified in Rome, James the son of Alphaeus was thrown from the temple and James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in Jerusalem, Andrew made it to modern-day Russia, Philip died in modern-day Turkey (Phrygia), Bartholomew and Thomas were killed in India, and finally Matthew, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddaeus were executed in Persia (Syria).
Next week…questions about Doctrine/Theology and until next week our prayer continues to be “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” No questions asked.
Amen.