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.
Amen.

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.

Amen.

7th Sunday of Easter

7th Sunday of Easter

May 28, 2017

1 Peter 5:6-11

“X-Ray Five”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today will be the 2nd half of today’s 2nd lesson from 1 Peter 5.

My dear friends,

The boxes of gloves are mounted on the wall in X-Ray 5. But, then again, that’s not all that rare; I saw that in several rooms…including my own. Oh, and you may want to bring an extra blanket (or a parka as far as that goes) because it’s pretty cold in X-Ray 5. They have to keep it cold because of the machines. Lots and lots of machines. They generate so much heat that they have to keep it very cool in X-Ray 5. And imagine, me without my parka. X-Ray 5, by the way, is just one of many rooms in the Imaging department at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“Mr. Anderson, we’re going to have you drink this contrast material,” the X-Ray technician said, “and then we’ll take images of your abdomen and digestive tract initially, at 20 minutes, at 40 minutes, at 60 minutes, and then at 120 minutes. You’re going to be here for more than 2 hours. Did anyone tell you that?” “No,” I muttered looking at my slowly freezing feet and wondering why I at least hadn’t worn something warm. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have anything warm. “The contrast material doesn’t taste very good. Sorry about that. It’s not going to be very pleasant,” the tech warned me.

And thus began my stay in X-Ray 5. And the technician was right. The contrast material was NOT pleasant going in or going out for that matter. But then again, not much had been pleasant over the previous 36 hours. My journey to X-Ray 5 began in my living room last Saturday night. I had watched Nashville beat Anaheim 3-1; my beloved Lightning didn’t make the playoffs but I’m still watching the playoffs. As I got ready for bed I was doubled over in abdominal pain and my first thoughts was “Oh no! Not again!” I just had an obstruction cleared in late February. My second thought was “I can ride this out.” 45 minutes later, I had no choice. It was back to the ER for me. Again.

The ER at SMH was busy late Saturday night. Is it ever NOT busy? I remember I kept wanting to know the time. The pain wasn’t going anywhere, but I sure wanted to be. Church was going to start at 9:15. If I could just get out of there by 6:30, then everything would be fine. After my CAT Scan, I was admitted and hauled up to the 8th floor. No church. My abdomen/stomach hurt terribly from something; my head and heart hurt from having to cancel church last-minute.

And that’s how I ended up in X-Ray 5. On Monday morning my doctor wanted a bunch of images and so I ended up there guzzling contrast and trying to kill time while I fought off boredom and frostbite. THANKFULLY the images were good. No more surgery and 5 short hours later and I was home where there was lots of Dt. Dr. Pepper waiting for me and my dog and my favorite chair. Thank you to the Elders who handled things on this end and for those who came to church on Sunday morning to let any stragglers know of my latest medical crisis that was keeping me out of the pulpit…again.

Crisis. That’s what caused me to end up in X-Ray 5. But we all have our own X-Ray 5s, don’t we? We all have areas, events, situations, people, and the like that cause us crisis. By definition, the word “crisis” means “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger,” and that happens to ALL OF US, and the crisis of life, like X-Ray contrast, are not very pleasant.

We all have our own X-Ray 5s: times of difficulty and trouble and danger and stress and uncertainty and doubt. The times of crisis when our kids let us down or we let them down. The times when the addiction get the best of us. The times we lose a loved one or lose a cherished routine. The times when the daily grind of life is just too much. The times when the ends just won’t meet. We all have an X-Ray 5 waiting for us when we get home, right? And what are we supposed to do?

Enter the words of Peter into our crises. From today’s lesson: “(cast) your anxieties on (God), because he cares for you…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:7-10). When you struggle in life, and EVEYONE struggles because of sin, you may not feel like the devil is lurking in wait. Are you so sure? Think about it. What does the devil want from you? Answer…the destruction of your faith. And what’s the fastest way to do that? Erode your confidence in God. And how does that happen? When we suffer! Ergo, if Satan can escalate your suffering, his evil needs are met. Peter tells us that as we resist firm in our faith, Christ himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

How does that happen? It happens knowing that God in Christ forgives you of all your sin. It happens because we know that Jesus is risen and ascended to Heaven where He prepares a place for us…much better (warmer?) than X-Ray 5. It happens when we find strength for today and hope for tomorrow when we endure the sufferings of life. It happens when we realize that Jesus is our help in ages past and our hope for years to come, including eternity.

In today’s Gospel lesson you heard a portion of John 17. This is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” It is a portion of what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane right before His passion began. And WHO was He praying for? You. He prayed for you and all your X-Ray 5s. Jesus prayed “They have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them…for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Notice that Jesus did NOT pray that we would never suffer. He never asked that we never have to face our X-Ray 5s. He DID pray, though, that we be kept and we be one. That, my friends, is precisely what we are. One. One body joined by one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. We gather in a fellowship of worship and service to know and worship the one True God who is One.

U.S. Army General George Patton once said “It is better to fight for something than to live for nothing.” I think “Old Blood and Guts” had a good point. We fight to resist the devil, to survive our X-Ray 5s, and to find confident strength even in suffering knowing that Jesus lives and because He lives a day will come when we will live forever too. In the meantime, we will be restored, strengthened, and established as the confident, forgiven and redeemed people of God and that, friends, is VERY pleasant indeed.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2017

John 14:1-14

“How Can We Know the Way?”

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 assigned and familiar Gospel lesson from John 14.

My dear friends,

John 14:1-6, a portion of today’s Gospel lesson, is so well-known by people because it is traditionally the Gospel lesson for a Christian funeral. These words of Jesus are such words of comfort, words of hope, words of eternal promise: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself” (John 14:1-3 ESV). This statement is followed with “And you know the way to where I am going.” The disciple Thomas then said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:4-5 ESV). Indeed, Thomas, indeed. How can we know the way?

I am comfortably sure Thomas and the boys didn’t know where Jesus was headed (his arrest, trials, cross, and death), so naturally they didn’t know the way or at least didn’t understand Him. And has that problem ever gone away? Do people in our age see Jesus as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14:6)? At best – AT BEST – Jesus is considered today as a way among lots of other ways. Now, everyone seems to have bought into the same lie. Every “way” is valid, every way is “acceptable,” no one’s way is more “right” than another. Friends, I know it plays well on TV, but this age of inclusivity and lack of moral absolutes is killing us spiritually. It is killing our children and grandchildren spiritually. And the worst part of it is…we did it to ourselves. We allowed evolution into classrooms, we allowed the removal of crosses and Bibles from public places, we allowed moral filth into our homes and movie theaters, and then we wonder how come kids no longer know the way. We wonder why they stopped carry Bibles and started carrying cell phones, pills, drugs, and guns. We stopped telling our kids to love their neighbor, so they started making hit lists and death threats. And then we wonder why the “young people” are not in church? We stopped showing people the Way, and then wonder why so many have either lost sight of or completely lost the way.

It’s 2017. Times have changed. Countries, governments, policies, and social norms have been drawn, erased, re-drawn, and re-erased like images on a dry erase boards. History has marched on like a steamroller since 33 AD. But one constant has not and will not EVER change: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Jesus is the only way, the only cure, for this sin-sick world we live in. That doesn’t mean we don’t like sinners or those different from us. On the contrary! We are called to reach out to them in love so that they too would know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus’ claim is exclusive – you bet – for He is the ONLY way to God the Father. But that doesn’t mean we exclude others from knowing Him. Instead we are called to not only know Christ but to make Him known so that all would come to a saving knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

Jesus is the way. The ONLY way. EVERY DAY is a chance to live knowing that Jesus is the Way, He is the Truth, and He is the life even when your life is filled with chaos and pain and uncertainty. As a Church and as a nation we can find our way – our moral compass – again, but the only way that can be done is by following Christ Jesus and His life-changing, sin-forgiving, Word.

This means you may have to take some risks! Nurture your children and your grandchildren in their baptismal faith. Be there for your teens who can be troubled and conflicted and addicted. Spend less time with your noses in social media and get back into the greatest media resource this planet has ever or will ever know…the divinely-breathed, inspired, eternal and holy Word of God. If we as the Church are going to be missional at all, we need less Facebook and more time in the “Good Book.”

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), the former agnostic turned Christian, once wrote: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

So…what say you? Is Jesus the Son of God or something worse than a madman? You know the answer to that. And because He IS the Son of God, we can and will re-find the Way for He is the Way and the truth and the life. I know life is hard and faith can be a hard thing to live out. But live confidently in your Baptismal grace. Live confidently in your confirmation vows. And live confidently in knowing Jesus, your Lord and Savior, as the only Way, Truth, and Life everlasting.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Amen.

 

4th Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2017

John 10:1-10

“Doors Saturday/Sunday”

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 John 10.

My dear friends,

If you read the sermon title for today, you saw the sermon is called “Door Sunday.” “Really? It’s Doors Sunday? You mean that group from the 1960s that sang ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘Break on Through’ and ‘LA Women?’ Wow…when did church get so cool?” Well, church has ALWAYS been cool. But it’s not Jim-Morrison Doors Sunday. But look again at today’s Gospel lesson. Door. Door. Door. Door. In Greek and Hebrew for that matter, one way to really emphasize something was through repetition. Four times in only ten verses…that’s emphasis! Jesus uses the same word “Door” over and over. Four times! Door. Door. Door! Door!

The point to be emphasized is that Jesus is the Door. Through the door of his holy life and blood sacrifice, we go into eternal life. Through him and him alone, we have heaven and I don’t need a 4-year-old whose dad wrote a book to tell me that Heaven is for real. We have the Door. He’s a door dripping not with stain and varnish, but with water and blood through whom we find good pasture.

Outside of him is the way the thieves and robbers operate; they don’t use the door. That’s how the devil and the other false teachers of this world tempt us to believe that our salvation and life and eternity are all really based on something YOU do. Inside of you there’s a great person who just needs to ne hosed off a little bit, right?

Sounds ludicrous, right? But many mainstream Protestant churches are teaching this kind of stuff! If you’re going to be “worthy” to walk through that door, then you have to do this, do that, change this, change that, pray hard, work harder, sing louder, praise more joyfully, give even harder still, and then maybe God will count you worthy to be saved. And in all this “you doing” stuff, you make yourself the door. You are actually the one who, by what you do and don’t do, determines if you are in the sheep pen or not. Sadly, it’s a popular teaching that many of your family members and friends are being exposed to – the idea that YOU are the door through which you get into heaven. Hey…you’re NOT the door; you’re the sheep! The Lord uses that word six times today. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Maybe it should be “Sheep Sunday”!

But you aren’t just anyone’s sheep. He is the Good Shepherd and you are his sheep. You have heard his voice. Each of you BY FAITH is a sheep. You are each uniquely loved, particularly cared for, and led out to pasture by him. He called you by name.

I’m no expert on sheep; I didn’t grow up on a farm per se, but it was still rural. Sheep really couldn’t survive that far north so most farmers had cows instead. To me, all sheep look the same. In my mind they’re all white(ish), fuzzy, and go “baaaaaah.” But to the Lord, each sheep is unique. To Him, you are more than a faceless, nameless herd. You have value and worth and God shows you that worth at the cross of Christ. He gave you your name. He names his sheep at the baptismal font. In the water, the Word, and his name, we were marked as sheep of the flock of the Good Shepherd.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is the Door for the sheep. He’s the way into the sheep pen. He’s the way out to green pasture and still waters. And, contrary to popular belief, He’s not just any door or anyone’s door; He is as unique a door as you are a unique sheep. Jesus is your Door. He’s your way into not just life, but life eternal. You are the sheep. He is the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for you. In the 1st century that was unheard of! That’s why the Pharisees struggle so much to understand.

Hireling shepherds were anything but good or noble. When the wolves or thieves would show up, the shepherds had a choice between their lives and the sheep. “Hmm. Do I want to live and see my family and save my money to finally go on a cruise, or do I want to fight with my bare hands and this stick to protect these stupid sheep I don’t even own? I’m gonna go with the cruise!” The hired hand shepherd bolted, and the sheep were slaughtered.

For the thief comes not to pet or play nice with the sheep, but to steal, kill, and destroy. The ultimate thief would draw you away. He would try to steal you – to destroy and kill your faith; spiritual murder. The devil will show you a door that looks so promising and inviting and pleasurable…it’s a lie! The only thing that you’ll find behind that door is the blackness of sin and death.

But your Shepherd/Door—he gave up his life for you. He goes before you, protects, guides you. He meets your enemies (sin, death, devil) head-on and defeats them for you. You follow him, for you know his voice.

Doors Sunday? Sheep Sunday? Nah, better than all of that is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today is the Sunday when we celebrate that Jesus is our Shepherd – YOUR Shepherd – and the Door through whom we have life everlasting and have it abundantly forgiven.

Happy Anniversary GSLC! Amen.

 

3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2017

Luke 24:13-35

“You’re Going the Wrong Way”

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 traditionally assigned Gospel lesson – the narrative known as The Disciples on The Road to Emmaus.

My dear friends,

Not that long ago in a sermon I mentioned how much I love the comedian, actor, writer, and musician Steve Martin. Well, one of my favorite movies of all time is the classic on-the-road holiday favorite “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” I have seen it scores of times and I still laugh every time.

One of my favorite scenes is when John Candy and Steve Martin have finally secured a car and are driving towards Chicago. John Candy, behind the wheel, inadvertently takes the on-ramp for the freeway in the opposite direction just like what happens all the time up in Tampa. In other words, he is driving north-bound into south-bound traffic. Another motorist screams at them from across the road “You’re going the wrong way!” “What?” “You’re going the wrong way!” Steve Martin turns to John Candy and relays the message. “He says we’re going the wrong way.” “Oh, he’s drunk,” John Candy replies, “how does he know where we’re going?” “Yeah…how would he know where we’re going.” Of course, they ARE going the wrong way down a one way, and those who have seen the film knows what happens next.

And so we come to today’s Gospel lesson. A follower of Jesus named Cleopas – who is only mentioned here in the Bible – and another anonymous follower are walking away from Jerusalem. They are headed towards Emmaus, a town 7 miles NW of Jerusalem. It is the evening of what you and I call Easter Sunday and these 2 followers are headed to Emmaus with sadness upon their hearts as they shuffled their feet along the dusty trail. They were headed to Emmaus because there was no reason to stay in Jerusalem anymore. They were going the wrong way. They had been in Jerusalem for Passover and saw Jesus delivered up to be condemned to death and they saw Him crucified (24:20). They had hoped Jesus was their Messiah – their Savior from Roman oppression – the one who would redeem Israel (v. 21). It had all gone down Friday, and this was Sunday. Sabbath is over; it’s okay to travel again. No reason to stick around. They headed out the wrong way.

But haven’t we done the same thing even since we’ve seen Easter’s resurrection miracle? Easter was only 14 days ago, and I bet in the short last 2 weeks there have been many times – MANY times – that you also have found yourself going the wrong way. You knew the right thing to do was to forgive your spouse or child or sibling, but you found yourself going the wrong way instead. You knew the right way to go was to make that phone call or pay that bill or make those difficult arrangements or finally commit to recovery, but you found yourself going the wrong way instead. You knew that the right way was to love your neighbor, to pray for those who persecute you, to turn the other cheek, but you found yourself going the wrong way instead. That’s called sin, my friends. It is every thought, word, and deed contrary to God’s Word and will. God wanted you to go one way, but you found the other way so much more fun and easy and so you found yourself going the wrong way instead. Again.

In Joanne’s car we have a Garmin GPS and that GPS, probably like yours, speaks to us when we are going the wrong way. If I take a route other than what has been plotted, the GPS “says” in a digital woman’s voice “Recalculating” because I’m going the wrong way. Now imagine those 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, going the wrong way in the sense that they are walking away from where Jesus is. And then He slides up next to them…and He provides the ultimate “recalculating.” Jesus said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV). Now that’s the ultimate Bible study!

Whoa. Friends, when we are headed the wrong way in life is when Jesus steps in to remind us of His resurrected presence, and that resurrected presence changes everything! A crooked, sinful generation is “OK” with going the wrong way. It is perfectly content to let everyone go the wrong way…if that’s what they choose (Postmodernism/no absolute truth). However, the baptized in Christ fervently cling to forgiveness and grace in Jesus, believe His Word and wondrous divine mysteries, and confess Christ crucified, risen, and living in all that we do and say. By faith we understand that Jesus’ death was necessary so that we would know imperishable life. Without His death, the breaking of the bread which we are blessed to do again today would be empty ritual. But in the holy feast instituted and offered by and through Jesus, we receive the broken bread and the body of Christ that sustains us in a life and world filled with people going the wrong way.

And surrounded by people – a generation or more – going the wrong way, you and I in our Baptisms and in our table fellowship that is the Lord’s Supper, we reach out to them to share an extraordinary, life-changing faith. It is our God-given faith that enables us to confess timeless divine truths amid a lack of absolute truth: hope, faith, forgiveness, and love from God in Christ that enables us to go the right way in our homes and in our neighborhoods and classrooms and in our workplaces even though we are tempted to follow the world headed in the wrong direction. The first step in doing so is to re-discover the courage to tell people that they ARE going the wrong way apart from Christ.

Today you are here at church; you’re NOT going the wrong way. Instead, you are here “recalculating.” Today you are here to be reminded of God’s love and forgiveness. Today you are here to be pointed in the right direction in life through Word and Sacrament. Today, as a forgiven sinner, you are here because you want to go the right way…the way that leads to eternal life through faith in Jesus and that’s better than even the best Steve Martin movie.

Amen.

2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017

John 20:19-31

“Doing Without”

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 assigned Gospel text from John 20.

My dear friends,

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

I was born in 1967 which means I remember the 1970s when I was a boy growing up in Nebraska. I remember the bicentennial of 1976 and what was called the “energy crisis.” I can remember long lines at the gas stations to fill up our car. I remember as a kid the big deal about turning down the thermostat…whatever that thing did. Yet despite the so-called “energy crisis,” I cannot ever remember us going without, well, anything. We always had heat and air conditioning and TV and food and cars. I don’t remember ever doing without…thanks be to God! But in America that has not always been the case.

I once read a book called “The Dirty Thirties,” and it might not be what you think; it’s not THAT kind of book! “The Dirty Thirties” is about the terrible winters and equally bad summers of the Dust Bowl years – the period of the early and mid 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of American families to abandon their farms. The book is a collection of memories of those who lived through those years and the hardships they endured. The book is full of common tales: little to no money, no plows to move snow, no warm clothing to keep out the cold and no air conditioning to keep away the stiffing and oppressive heat. Little to no crops. One writer from Columbus, NE finished her contribution with the statement “the good old days, you can have them. Nothing but hard work and doing without.” Those of you who also lived in that era just might echo her sentiment – “nothing but hard work and doing without.”

Now, in your mind go back not to the 1930s but to the 30s…30 AD. Jesus has risen from the dead – the first Easter. On Sunday evening our risen Lord came to the panicked and afraid disciples and brought not anger or accusations or blame, but peace. “Peace be with you” (John 19:21). But, for some reason, the disciple Thomas wasn’t with the others. Why not? I have no idea. I do know that it’s because of this narrative that we attach the label “doubting” to Thomas.

It’s only been 1 or 2 days without Jesus, and Thomas is already learning to do without Jesus. Instead of accepting the witness and testimony of his fellow disciples, Thomas remained skeptical and wanted proof (20:25). Thomas must “see and touch.” He must have verifiable, empirical evidence. It is not enough that he has the eyewitness of others – 10 other guys (3 was enough in court) – so until he has more, he will do without Jesus in his life. Doing without Jesus – doubt – robs people of the joy of the resurrection. Doubt keeps us locked in our fears.

Thomas was steadfast in his doubt and disbelief. Emphatically, a double negative in the original language, he said, “I will not, no way, believe” (20:25). But cannot we be the same way? When anger and anxiety and pain and strife and fear and stress rise up in life outside these walls, do we not act like Thomas and sinfully doubt God’s goodness and plan and presence and peace? Thomas robbed himself of the joy and peace that a risen Jesus offers! And haven’t you done the same this week? Haven’t you lived the same way this week? Haven’t you denied yourself Easter peace because you’re tangled in the events of daily living?

Then, 8 days later, everything changed. For Thomas, no more doing without. Jesus appeared to Thomas just as He does to all of us personally. He calls Thomas by name. He has come to remove doubt from the heart of Thomas; there is no need for Thomas to do without Jesus any longer. To a man filled with doubt and fear and who was wrestling with an existence apart from Christ, Jesus says instead, “Go ahead…see and touch. Look at my nail marks. Feel them. With these wounds I hung on the cross. With these wounds I suffered for your sins. With these wounds I secured your forgiveness. These nail marks are a sign of my victory over sin and death. Thomas, you don’t have to do without Me any longer, for I have done it all for you.”

When Thomas saw Jesus’ nail marks, his knees buckled from under him and he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” His doubt had given way to saving faith in Jesus. No doubt about it, Jesus IS risen from the grave. Jesus IS the Messiah. Jesus IS the Son of God. Jesus has “destroyed death.” Jesus lived 33 years – half the life expectancy of the Dust Bowl Era – before He was crucified and died, but He rose and lives forevermore. His people do not have to learn to do without Him, for Jesus is alive then, now, and forever more and will be with us always (Matt. 28:20)!

And then the Gospel lesson today ends with some of the most powerful words that John provides for us anywhere in the Scriptures: but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). And what does that mean…to you? Are you trying to live each day doing without the resurrected, living presence of God in your daily actions and decisions? Sure, maybe your current situation is less than ideal. Maybe your bank account isn’t the biggest and your health isn’t where you want/need it to be and your house isn’t the grandest and your electronic gadgets aren’t the newest, but is that what really matters? 50 years of life has taught me that stuff is just stuff; if you do without in some areas God will more than provide in others.

Friends, be thankful today for what you DO have – including the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, and eternal salvation – and don’t obsess on what you have to do without. The summers and winters of the 1930s were bad…so I’ve heard and read. Summers and winters come and go. But tomorrow is a new day, a day to live and believe and celebrate that Jesus is the Christ for you and by believing in His life, His love, His forgiveness, and His salvation you will have life and have life in abundance (John 10:10). And no one can truly ever do without that. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.