All posts by shepsrq

“Easter” 2020

“Easter” Day 2020

July 5, 2020

Matthew 28:1-10

“Free at Last”

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 as we celebrate Easter 2020 will be the Gospel Lesson from Matthew 28.

My dear friends,

The date…mid 18th century. America’s “Declaration of Independence” was the culmination of years of dissatisfaction in the 13 emerging American colonies. People had been grumbling for a while, but the real anger started most clearly around 1763, at the end of the Seven Years’ War or the “French and Indian War.” Colonists after the war believed all that land won in the war would be available for them to settle, and their contribution would be recognized and result in lower taxes on them levied by Britain. However, with the debt of the war, the British government needed to make the colonies as profitable as possible, so literally the exact opposite happened. The Colonists were taxed even more, and you can imagine how happy the people of the colonies were about that.

American colonists weren’t allowed any representatives in British Parliament, yet they were paying loads of taxes to the British government. Instead of changing policies, the British started adding on more taxes of the colonies. The most famous is the “Stamp Act,” which required colonists to use special stamped paper for nearly everything. In reality, the tax wasn’t a huge financial burden on the colonists, but it was the principle of the thing…taxation without representation. Not cool. In late 1773, Colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor…the “Boston Tea Party.” This protest resulted in the closing of the port of Boston and the declaration of martial law. Things were falling apart…rapidly.

In 1775, Britain’s King George III declared the American colonies in open rebellion against England…and they basically were, which triggered the start of the Revolutionary War in April 1775. A year later, on June 7, 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution which said that the colonies should be independent of Britain. The Declaration of Independence was presented on July 2, 1776, edits were made, and the final version was approved on July 4th, 1776 – our Independence Day. America was free from British taxation and oppression when the war ended in 1783. America was free at last.

The date…early 1st century. It was dawn of the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Some women are coming to a newly-used garden tomb. They are there to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial since there was no time on Friday before the Sabbath began. Tradition was very specific about how a body was to be prepped for burial, and Jesus’ body had been done hastily before sundown on Friday. It was time to prepare the body right.

Before they even got into the tomb, there was a great earthquake. How common are earthquakes in Jerusalem, you wonder? Well, the region can have earthquakes because the Jordan Rift Valley is part of an earthquake fault zone. But, how many GREAT earthquakes has Jerusalem had? Oh, about half a dozen major earthquakes have hit the city…over the last 1000 years. 6…in 1000 years.

If that wasn’t uncommon enough, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone of the tomb and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow; white is a color of purity and power and perfection. The Roman guards, left in charge of guarding the tomb so Jesus’ disciples didn’t come and steal the body, trembled and became like dead men. Playing dead? Not a good tactic for a Roman soldier. With the guards out of the way, the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

Turning, the women then saw Jesus risen from the dead and He spoke to them words of encouragement and instruction: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Sin had been paid for with blood on Friday. Physical death is now conquered on Sunday morning. Jesus is risen from the dead; that’s what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown. The world – your world and my world – is free at last from the tyrannical power of sin, death, and the devil.

The date…Year of our Lord 2020 in modern America. 2.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19; 128,000 reported deaths. 146,000 Coronavirus cases in Florida alone. Across America, our city streets are full of protests, violence, and senseless destruction and the police are nowhere to be seen and who can blame them when there are socialists who pander to these violent crowds and advocate “defund the police?” Closer to home, our congregation was rocked with the news of the tragic and sudden loss of Bruce Ficken, an otherwise normal and healthy 60-year-old man who died suddenly last Sunday.

There is much anger, uncertainty, and fear in America today. We hardly feel free at all…held prisoner by virus and violence. But faith is the only thing I know that is greater than fear. Faith doesn’t take our problems away…it leads us through them. Faith doesn’t take the pain away…it gives you the chance to endure it. Faith won’t calm the storms in life…but it does calm you in the storms of life. How? Because we are free in and through Christ.

Paul wrote in Romans 8, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 18, 21). My friends, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). We are free…free at last! The Son of God, the risen Christ, sets you free from sin, death, and the devil. That will never change. We are set free to be the people of God in this glorious and free country of ours that we call America. As the people of God, we are free at last, free at last. America is a far from perfect country, but the best place to live is not where everything is free and easy; that place doesn’t exist. Instead, the best place to live is where it’s easy to be free. That was us – once – and we can be that again when we return to One Nation Under God.

Thank God Almighty, even amid the trouble, toil, and turbulence of our modern viral-and-sin sick America, we are free…at last. Let’s make sure we do what we can to never lose that. Happy Independence Day and Happy Easter to you all, my friends!

Amen.

 

4th Sunday after Pentecost

4th Sunday after Pentecost

June 28, 2020

Jeremiah 28:5-9

“Peace…in God’s Way”

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 the First Lesson from the prophet Jeremiah.

My dear friends,

Say…in my almost 6 years here at GSLCS, have I ever mentioned I like the Nebraska Cornhuskers? I have? Oh good. Growing up a Cornhusker you learn about all of the great Nebraska football history, and right up there in the annuls of football history is “The Game of the Century,” the 1971 meeting between the #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers and the #2 Oklahoma Sooners, which ended with a 35-31 Nebraska victory. In that game was the famous Lyle Bremser radio call after an amazing 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by Heisman trophy winner Johnny Rogers, “Man, Woman And Child, Did That Put ’Em In The Aisles! Johnny The Jet Rodgers Just Tore ’Em Loose From Their Shoes!” I’m not sure I know what all that means, but I love that song! What a call…what a game. A classic showdown of #1 vs. #2 in The Game of the Century.

Well, in our text today we encounter a showdown that is no less dramatic as the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah confront each other. At stake is not a football championship, but rather the validity of whether Jeremiah or Hananiah is truly the Lord’s prophet who speaks his word to the people. And that means what’s really at stake is which word, each supposedly from God, we can really believe. In the battle between the prophets the question was peace or calamity.

Jeremiah and Hananiah confront each other about which word is to be believed as God’s plan for Judah – peace or disaster. First, a brief history lesson…no groaning allowed. Suck it up, buttercups!

After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, Babylon emerges as the dominant Near Eastern “superpower.” Judah would eventually come under the control of Babylon and her king, Nebuchadnezzar. In 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar took Judah’s King Jehoiachin and leading Judahites into exile. Nebuchadnezzar also took the vessels from the Temple – a major “no-no.” Nebuchadnezzar then places Zedekiah as king in Judah. But then, civil unrest in Babylon (sound familiar?) caused Zedekiah and Judah and the surrounding nations to consider rebellion (Jer. 27:3) since Babylon was falling apart from within. But, Jeremiah warned that Judah’s disobedience will lead to exile and that the nation must submit to Nebuchadnezzar – that was God’s plan for eventual peace one day.

Jeremiah proclaimed that Judah will go into exile for 70 years (25:1-14) and that the Temple will be destroyed (26:4-6) if they rebel against Babylon. God commanded Jeremiah to make a yoke and wear it on his neck as a sign and symbol that Judah was supposed to submit to the Babylonians…or else (27:1-2), or they will face destruction – sword, famine, pestilence, and exile (27:1-8). That was NOT going to be a popular message with anyone. It was the TRUTH…but not a popular message.

So, Hananiah (spoiler alert…he’s the false prophet) comes along and confronts Jeremiah and prophesies good news and peace…oh, just what people want to believe! Hananiah proclaimed that within 2 years God will break the yoke of Babylon and that Jehoiachin, the exiles, and the Temple vessels will all return (28:1-4). Uhm…that’s not what Jeremiah had been told by God. So, Jeremiah responds by saying that the prophet who prophesies peace is shown to be a true prophet IF that peace comes to pass. Remember that yoke that God had Jeremiah wear? Hananiah broke Jeremiah’s yoke (28:10) as a sign that he was right and Jeremiah was wrong.

We have a conflict between 2 different prophets and 2 different messages. As with Jeremiah and Hananiah, God’s Word clashes with the world when the world offers and wants peace. Like Hananiah, the world offers peace that we’d like to believe in…we’d LOVE to believe in right now. We’d love to believe that COVID-19 will just go away tomorrow and that will finally be that. We’d love to believe that all this social unrest in America will end and we can just get things back to “normal.” We’d love to believe that peace among people will come through “tolerance” and political correctness and advocacy and “fix” all the injustices of the past. We think we’d love to believe “We don’t need any law enforcement because we all agree to behave ourselves.” Right; love to see that, right? As if. We’d love to believe that this world offers peace of mind through possessions and wealth and a secure financial future; “As long as I don’t outlive my money, everything will be okay.” Is it? Is it really? What is GOD’S plan?

Jeremiah’s message was not so popular. He confronted Judah’s sin and proclaimed the consequences it would have. God sent word through Jeremiah that the nations will wear Nebuchadnezzar’s iron yoke and that Hananiah will die in that year because his formula for peace was actually rebellion against the Lord (28:12-16). Sure enough, Hananiah dies two months later (28:17).

But with Jeremiah, God’s Word tells us the truth, and therefore gives peace of a different kind—a peace we can actually believe in. Jeremiah said that after 70 years, God would bring the exiles and Temple vessels back. God promised a restoration that would go beyond physical return from exile. He promised that the Messiah from the line of David would reign as king (30:9; 23:5-8). He promised to make a new covenant (31:31-34) with His people.

Jesus is this Messiah who has established the new covenant and given us true peace. Born as a descendant of the Davidic line, Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead have defeated sin, death, and the devil and brought true peace. We are, in fact, at peace with God because the sin that made us his enemies has been removed. We are at peace with other people – we love God and neighbor as ourselves – because they, too, are forgiven sinners, exactly as we are. ALL lives matter, regardless of color, creed, or career. We are ALL forgiven and redeemed sinners…and that brings peace in God’s way. We don’t need the other kinds of false peace when God is for us and with us, giving us everything we really need! One day, Jesus will bring the final peace on the Last Day when he raises the dead and restores creation.

#1 Jeremiah and #2 Hananiah have a showdown in our text today. Hananiah proclaims peace, but it is a false peace. Jeremiah speaks the truth and promises peace in the future. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jeremiah’s words have found their ultimate fulfillment. We already now enjoy the true peace God gives in His way, and we will rejoice in the consummation of that peace on the Last Day. As a result, we are NOT dependant on peace in the world around us to find true peace in our hearts.

Stay safe, be strong, and Go Big Red!

Amen.

 

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

June 21, 2020

Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

“Who You Gonna Call?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 10.

My dear friends,

It was the summer of 1984 – 36 years ago – when the movie “Ghost Busters” was released. It was the 80’s and each summer brought summer blockbusters…I miss those days. Back before satellite TV and Netflix, we had the summer blockbusters, and “GhostBusters” was hugely successful. “Ghost Busters” would eventually make more than $240 million dollars making it the most successful comedy of the 1980s. It launched a mountain of merchandising with GhostBuster images all over it. Its hit theme song launched not one, but TWO catchphrases in America: “who you gonna call? Ghost Busters!” along with “I ‘aint afraid of no ghost.” Well, I also “‘aint afraid of no ghost,” But there are several things I AM afraid of (needles/snakes/popsicle sticks), and I imagine there are things that you fear too…and you’re probably thinking about them right now.

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1933), that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, there would have been no reason for the 32nd President to say there was “nothing to fear” unless there actually was something to fear. And there was. At that time America was in the throes of its worst economic crisis ever – the Great Depression AND the Dust Bowl era at the same time – sparking fears among the populace nationwide. Who were they gonna call? In 1933, certainly not the Ghost Busters. Here we are today…2020…and the question remains. Who you gonna call?

Let’s go further back than the 80s and 30’s. Let’s go back to the 1st Century. In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples to “have no fear” as he sends them out to proclaim the coming of his kingdom, yet Jesus knows that he is sending them out not just to sheep but “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). Like FDR, Jesus’ very words of encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that he knows that there is MUCH to fear, at least from a human point of view. And today, as we face and name our fears, we aren’t going to call Ghost Busters, but we will rejoice in confessing and proclaiming that Jesus is greater than our fears.

As Jesus speaks today’s text, he knows that those who follow him have almost everything to fear. He knew they would face rejection (vs 21-22). No one likes to be rejected, and most of us probably have had experiences that give us a deep fear of rejection. The first disciples had to face that fear regularly and repeatedly (v 14). Still today, many reject the message of the Gospel. Public opinion of and affiliation with the Church is at an all-time low. Since the late 1990s, the percentage of Americans who claim they “frequently” attended in church has been steadily declining. If the current rate of decline continues, by 2050 the number will be around a mere 20%. Let that sink in. Who you gonna call?

Additionally, we need to address the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Do we have plenty to fear outside of church? Of course. The Coronavirus is still a “thing;” there are still more reported cases and more deaths even though states like our own are opening up more and more. People are angry enough to demonstrate which leads to rioting which leads to looting which leads to more wide-spread rioting and looting. And now we have “CHOP” or “CHAZ” or whatever occupying a chunk of downtown Seattle. What is going on? Who you gonna call?

And, as if that were not bad enough, Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the disciples that they needed to be prepared to be “put to death” (gulp!) as the result of sinful opposition to the Gospel (v 21)—and most of them eventually were. Martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel has been a reality throughout the history of the Church, and it continues to be a reality still today in many parts of the world.

“The Greatest Story Never Told: Modern Christian Martyrdom” is the title of a sobering and thought-provoking article by Susan Brinkman, writer for the Catholic Standard and Times. She writes, “The average church-going Christian is not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. That’s 1,246 Christians every day for 100 years. Christians are, in fact, the most persecuted religious group in the world today. The most atrocious human rights abuses are committed against Christians solely because of their religious beliefs – atrocities such as torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings, and even crucifixion.” How long before that comes to America? Afraid yet? Who you gonna call?

According to today’s text, you can expect some things to be afraid of including rejection, intimidation, persecution, and execution. But Jesus has “been there, done that” (vv 24–25). Jesus does not ask us to follow where he has not first gone. Because Jesus has faced every enemy that causes us fear, we can be sure that he understands our fears, can sympathize with all of our temptations to be afraid, and will provide mercy and love and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:15–16).

Fear is the great enemy of faith (apathy is a close 2nd), but Jesus has overcome every enemy that threatens to paralyze us with fear. Are you afraid of suffering? God is able to use it for our ultimate good and for his glory (Rom 5:3–5; 8:28). Sometimes suffering in life is God’s love and mercy in disguise as we faithfully trust and obey. Are you afraid of Satan and all his works and ways (1 John 3:8)? How about hell or death? Those too our risen Savior has conquered! Jesus is with us, intimately caring for us, even in every fear-filled situation.

Jesus has faced the source of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where sin, doubt, death and fear will be banished forever and ever. When you’re afraid, who you gonna call? It’s not Ghost Busters…His name is Jesus who is called Christ. Never, ever be afraid to call upon Him, for that is what he truly desires from you.

Happy Father’s Day everyone.

Amen.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

June 14, 2020

Matthew 9:36-38

“Workers for the Harvest”

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 the Gospel lesson from Matthew 9.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Next week marks a milestone in my life and I suppose it also marks a milestone in our life together. Next week on Monday (June 22nd) I will celebrate my 17th year in ministry in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It has been 17 years of ups-and-downs, victories and losses, joy and heartache. But here I am, now in my 3rd congregation…with no plans to leave anytime soon.

My first-ever sermon that I preached as a pastor was about sheep and shepherds based on Psalm 28. Since that Sunday in June 2003, I have preached another 1,116 sermons. At roughly 18 minutes apiece, that’s about 334 hours of preaching or almost 14 days of non-stop preaching; perhaps that’s why some of you feel like my sermons are 2 weeks long! Anyway, how appropriate it is that as we near my 17th ministry anniversary we are talking about shepherds and sheep one again.

Anniversaries and other accomplishments in life like graduation, weddings and so on are often charged with emotion. Showing emotion is a very natural thing for us to do, and people have been overrun with emotion the last 3 months: fear over COVID-19 and now anger over George Floyd. Emotions are natural things.

Our Lord Jesus also experienced emotion on many occasions during His earthly ministry. He experienced anger at those who were buying and selling in the temple. He expressed sorrow and grief at the tomb of Lazarus, and, in the short­est verse in the Bible, John records how “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He expressed anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane as He engaged in prayer with the Father, so that, as Luke records, His sweat fell to the ground as drops of blood. Jesus showed emotion repeatedly during His earthly ministry.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus expresses an emotion as He looks out over the crowds of people. Matthew says that “Jesus had compassion on them.” This word compassion is much more than a simple feeling of regret or sorrow. Instead, it denotes a deep anguish, a gut-wrenching type of anxi­ety and sorrow over the condition of people; a feeling of sorrow way down in the pit of your stomach.

What was the problem that was so troubling for Jesus? Matthew records that “(the people) were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This was a description of the spiritual lives of those who were living outside of the salvation offered by our God. But what does this description mean?

Think for a moment about actual sheep who are without a shepherd. A shepherd would lead sheep and make certain that they were where they could find a supply of food and water. But sheep without a shepherd have no direction. They can even starve to death or die of dehydration without a shepherd to lead them. A shepherd protects the sheep from predators and any­thing else that would be harmful to them. Sheep without a shepherd tend to wander off on their own and, being helpless and defenseless, become easy targets for predators. Sheep without a shepherd are in great danger.

From a spiritual standpoint, would the expression “like sheep without a shepherd” be an apt description of many people in America today? Absolutely! Over the last 20 years, American church membership and attendance has declined by 20% or more. And today we see the highest-ever amount of fear and anger and being “lost” than we have ever seen before in America’s history.

Directionless, helpless, vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, many people today are in the very same condition as the people observed by Jesus in our text from Matthew 9. “Like sheep without a shepherd” is an accurate description of the spiritual lives of many 21st centu­ry Americans, especially young Americans. They are more than just a little vulnerable. They are running on fear and anger and selfishness. They are directionless…like sheep without a shepherd.

Fortunately for all of us, Jesus did a lot more than just feel compassion for those in our text and for all people. Jesus went far beyond what any earthly shepherd would be expected to do for the sheep: Jesus laid down His life for us as His sheep. As the Good Shepherd, He sacrificed His own life in order to defeat the predators of sin, death and the devil. Thanks to this perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world and thanks to God’s working in our lives, we have a Good Shepherd who provides direction; leads us to green pastures, still waters, and will lead us down the path of life for eternity.

But, as He told His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” In short, there are so many people, so many souls at stake, and the labor­ers, those to proclaim the Word of God, are so relatively few.

Today, indeed, the harvest is plentiful. In 2020, around 2.3 billion people are Christian. That’s good. But, that’s only 29% of the world’s population. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that means 71% of the world is NOT Christian. That’s an abundant harvest field! And this abundant harvest field is not just across the ocean. It is also across the yard or across the street. The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few when compared with the enormity of the task at hand.

So what can be done? Exactly what Christ asks in today’s text. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would continue to raise up workers for His harvest field. Second, thank the Lord of the harvest for the way He answers the prayers of His people to raise up workers for His harvest field. God is responding in a wonderful way to these prayers. This spring, 188 calls and assignments were filled from both seminaries. God is answering the prayers of His people to provide men for the Holy Ministry, and we can give thanks to the Lord of the harvest for His gifts to us . Finally, encourage those who might be considering such service, whether it is as a pastor, a teacher, a director of Christian education or any other church-related vocation.

Pray for workers to go out and work in our Lord’s harvest field. Give thanks as God answers the prayers of His people and raises up workers. Encourage those who are express­ing a desire to do so. Had these things not occurred, I would not be your shepherd, a pastor for the last 17 years and your pastor for the last almost 6 years. I guess God does answer prayers both for the sheep…and for the shepherd. Be strong and stay safe, my friends.

Amen.

 

Trinity Sunday 2020

Trinity Sunday 2020

June 7, 2020

Matthew 28:16-20

“It’s a SmALL World”

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 the Gospel lesson from Matthew 28, a text known as the “Great Commission.”

My Dear Friends,

Garrison Keillor once wrote regarding love that, “we should not think that we have figured this idea of love out, because it is not a problem. It’s a mystery and it always will be.”

Doesn’t that strike you as odd? “Love is a mystery and it always will be.” Doesn’t it seem weird there are things in this life that we have not – and probably will not ever – figure out? We will never figure out an explanation for the events of the last 3 ½ months. It surprising there are still some mysteries in life because we have “figured out” so much already. I have a cell phone far more powerful than most computers I’ve ever worked with in my working career. We can replace a human liver or remove a leg and replace it with a mechanized prosthetic. We can send people into space and welcome them back home again but we can’t figure out love? We don’t like the idea that there are things that always have been and always will be mysteries to us.

The temptation to explain mysteries also exists with God as the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the great three in one. We would like one simple easily-understandable statement to explain the Trinity, which will answer all questions and then allow us to move on to the next mystery. I hate to disappoint you so early in my sermon, but I cannot provide you with that kind of statement today…or ever. I cannot fully explain the nature of a Triune God any more than I could fully explain love.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday in the church year devoted to a teaching of the church; what we know about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Gospel text appointed for today is from the last four verses of Matthew’s Gospel; a text commonly referred to as the “Great Commission” as Jesus gives us instructions regarding what we are to do as his disciples. It is not a long passage, but it is critical to our understanding of how the Triune God reveals himself to us.

Being as close to Disney as we are, even though it’s not currently open, we all know the song “It’s a Small World,” right? Well, did you see how many times the word “all showed up in the lesson today? All authority, all nations, all I have commanded you, and I am with you all the days. Let’s examine those four phrases, and see how they help us better understand our Triune God.

“All authority.” This authority that Jesus has been given had to come from somewhere. If any of us have authority, it must come from somewhere else: our boss at work, our government, our parents, etc. God the Father, creator and ruler over both heaven and earth, has given his authority to Jesus.

 

Well, who is God? THAT’S a loaded question! Normally we think of the work of creation as the work of God the Father. That’s why we had that LONG 1st lesson. God created all things, hence, he has authority over his creation. God is a spirit; he is a personal being without a body. As created humans we were made in God’s image, an image we lost after Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. It is God the Father who takes care of us by giving us all that we need for each day; our “daily bread.” God defends us from all danger and evil. God the Father provides and protects, just as a loving father cares for his loved children. God the Father is all authority and has all authority as the creator and sustainer of all things.

“All nations.” Jesus sends his followers out to make disciples of the eqnh or the “nations” meaning all people. How do we make disciples? We teach. The content of their teaching? Jesus Christ, of course! The disciples were to go and proclaim Jesus Christ to all people everywhere.

Well, who is this Jesus they were to proclaim? Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary.” We know Jesus is true God for he does divine works that only God can do. But he is also true man. Scripture clearly calls him a man, he has a human body and feelings. Jesus had to be true God so that his life, suffering, and death on the cross might be a sufficient sacrifice for all people everywhere at all times. He also had to man so that he might take our place as our substitute under God’s law and suffer and die for us. We sin, Jesus didn’t. We deserve punishment and death for our sin, but Christ took that punishment for us. This is the Jesus (2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed) that the disciples (and us) are to proclaim to all the nations.

“All I have commanded you.” In order to do all that Christ commanded, we need his help and that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. Jesus left this earth. After being on the earth 40 days after his resurrection, he returned to heaven to be with God the Father. But he didn’t leave us empty handed. Just as he promised, he sent the third person of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit – our Advocate, Helper, Comforter, and Counselor. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we are brought to faith in Jesus and the Spirit keeps us in that same true faith.

The Holy Spirit does more than bring us to faith. The Spirit also renews our whole lives! With his aid, we are changed so that we strive to overcome sin, to do good works, and proclaim all that Jesus has done for us; “No one can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3) . We think, speak, and act in faith according to what God commanded us in his Word for the glory of God and for the benefit of our neighbor.

Jesus tells us in one last “all” phrase that, when translated literally, says “I am with you all the days.” In Matthew 18:20, Jesus tells us that “For where 2 or 3 come together in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus didn’t leave us alone…he left us together as his people, as his church. And whenever the church carries out its Greatr Commission of baptism, teaching, and making disciples, he is “with us all the days” through his words, through the waters of Baptism, through his body and blood of Holy Communion.

 

I don’t know how you feel about the song “It’s a Small World.” But it is our world. This is what God created. We are the ones Christ died to save. We are the ones motivated by the Holy Spirit to go and make disciples of ALL nations. Granted, we may not be able to explain the Holy Trinity – it will always be a mystery – but we can give ALL thanks and praise for God the Father who provides for us, for God the Son who died for us, and for God the Holy Spirit who keeps us in the one true faith with a love we could never explain, but will eternally celebrate.

Be strong and stay safe, my friends.

Amen.

7th Sunday of Easter

7th Sunday of Easter

May 24, 2020

1 Peter 5:6-11

“He Cares For You”

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you all in the name of God our Father and our living Good Shepherd Jesus. The sermon today is based on the Epistle Lesson read from 1 Peter, especially the 2nd half from chapter 5.

My dear friends,

Here we are. Memorial Day weekend. Picnics. Parades. Cemetery ceremonies. We can’t do any of that stuff this year because of the Coronavirus, but it’s what we normally do. Memorial Day weekend is typically the official beginning of the summer. Of course, here in Sarasota, it’s almost always summer. So that’s why I want to tell you a story about winter. In case you’ve forgotten, “winter” is the cold season between autumn and spring in northern latitudes during which many places get snow. “Snow” is…you probably get the picture. Anyway, here’s the story I want to tell.

A little boy was eagerly looking forward to the birthday party of a friend who lived only a few blocks away. When the day finally arrived, a blizzard made the sidewalks and roads nearly impassable. The boy’s father, sensing the danger, hesitated to let his son go. As you can imagine, the disappointed son reacted tearfully. “But Dad,” he pleaded, “all the other kids will be there. Their parents are letting them go.” The father thought for a moment, then replied softly, “All right, you may go.” Surprised but overjoyed, the boy bundled up and plunged into the raging snow storm. The driving snow made visibility almost impossible, and it took him more than half an hour to trudge the short distance to the party. As he rang the doorbell, he turned briefly to look out into the storm. His eye caught the shadow of a slowly retreating but familiar figure. It was his father. He had followed his son’s every step to make sure he arrived safely. Because that’s what father’s do. They do that because they care for us.

But that can be hard to remember in a time of national crisis, and make no mistakes, that is what we are starting to pull out of…a global and national 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 are not very pleasant. I can only assume you have no cared for sheltering in place. I bet you have not appreciated the financial difficulties this pandemic brought. I can’t imagine you enjoyed watching the death toll climb every day.

Crisis – times of difficulty and trouble and danger and stress and uncertainty and doubt – are not always related to a viral pandemic. This too shall pass…only to be replaced by another crisis. 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. And what are we supposed to do? Life is just one crisis after another, right? Where is God in all of this? Where? He’s right there behind you…next to you. Because He cares for you.

Enter the words of Peter into our crises. When you struggle in life, and EVERYONE struggles because of sin, you may not feel like the devil is prowling around. We are “modern” people; we don’t think about old-fashioned ideas like the devil, right? 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 and the anxiety it brings! If Satan can escalate your suffering and the anxiety it produces, 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, because He cares for you.

How do we know that? Because God in Christ forgives you of all your sin. Because we know that Jesus is risen and ascended to Heaven where He prepares a place for us. Because we find strength for today and hope for tomorrow when we endure the sufferings of life including a global pandemic. 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 anxieties. Notice that Jesus did NOT pray that we would never suffer. He did not that we never have to deal with a crisis and the resulting anxiety. 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…for you…because He cares for you. Always. To ensure you make it safely into everlasting.

Are you familiar with the program “Flags For Vets?” Normally, on Memorial Day, American flags are flying on the graves at the National Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts thanks to a man named Paul Monti. Paul’s son, Sgt. First Class Jared Monti, was killed in Afghanistan in 2006, while trying to save a buddy who had been seriously wounded. Sgt. Monti was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and he was buried in the National Cemetery in Bourne.

But when his father visited the cemetery on Veterans Day that year, he was shocked to see there were no American flags on the graves. Cemetery rules prohibited the flags, because the grave markers are flush with the ground so anything placed above them makes maintenance difficult, especially when the grass needs to be cut. That did not sit well with that father. Paul Monti thought that was ridiculous, so he convinced officials to change the rules. Once they did, Monti started “Flags for Vets,” a program to place flags at the graves of veterans. He introduced the program and put out a plea for volunteers.

They came by the busload, kids with their parents and their grandparents, sons and daughters whose fathers and mothers are buried at the cemetery, Boy Scouts and Vietnam veterans on Harleys. In its 8th year, “Flags for Vets” volunteers placed more than 77,000 flags on the graves for veterans on Memorial Day in 2019.

That’s what Fathers do. Because they care about us…and your heavenly Father loves you more than you’ll ever know. Look no further than a cross, and you’ll get a sense of just how much God the Father loves you and cares about you and cannot wait to see you arrive safely in eternity.

Happy Memorial Day everyone. Amen.

 

6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter

May 21, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-22

“Prepare to Defend Yourself”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Second Lesson read earlier from 1 Peter chapter 3.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

So…what do I have here? It’s probably similar to what you keep in your car or purse these days. I call it my “Coronavirus Kit.” I keep it on the passenger seat of my car. Inside this bag are the items that (I hope) will protect me from infecting myself or others when I have to go to a bigger public place like Publix or Walmart.I have a disposable mask that I got at my doctor’s office that I have “re-purposed” more than once. I also have a real cloth mask that I use more often than not. I also have a small bottle of hand sanitizer; you can NEVER have enough hand sanitizer. And I also grabbed a few food service disposable gloves that I grabbed from the church kitchen. Those are handy if I have to touch something particularly groody like a gas pump handle. Hey…in this “new normal” brought about by COVID-19, you do whatever you have to do to defend yourself against the Coronavirus. And we’re ALL doing some version of this, right? It’s not just me defending myself. Everyone has to if this whole battle against the Coronavirus can ever be won…if that’s even possible.

And that got me to thinking about the idea of being prepared to defend ourselves. Peter tells us in today’s Epistle lesson that as Christians, even when we suffer, we are daily being prepared to defend not against an unseen virus, but to defend our faith and the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, and that’s bigger than any virus could ever be.

Let’s face it…there will be times when your hope, your faith, will be challenged. Sufferings will come, and that time is NOW. In today’s lesson, Peter speaks of the sufferings that Christians face particularly for being Christian. And let’s face it, on most occasions, Christians in America today will not be persecuted for doing what is good; in fact, we are quite often praised for that. Yet Peter encourages the Christians of every era in any place – places where living your faith WILL get you persecuted, that for those who suffer even when they are doing good are “blessed,” in the same sense (same word) as Jesus spoke in the Beatitudes.

It is on this basis that Christians may be fearless in a right-now very fearful world like we find ourselves in today. If it is God’s will that a Christian suffers, it is far better to suffer for doing the right thing than for doing the wrong thing. That only makes sense. If you steal a car and go to jail, you get what you deserve. But when you suffer for doing the right thing? Peter says you’re blessed! And a great many of you ARE doing the right thing. You’re wearing your masks, wearing gloves, using hand sanitizer, practicing social distancing, and following the guidelines. In doing so, even if you “suffer,” you are Blessed!

This is a universal truth I have learned. It is easier to DO the right thing than it is to SAY the right thing. It’s not just that we don’t want to “offend” anyone. Several surveys have suggested that one of Americans’ greatest fears is public speaking. People are afraid of being unprepared or of embarrassing themselves when they speak in front of others. Many overcome this fear, but when the content of their speaking is a defense of the Christian faith, that’s when people don’t want to sound stupid or say the wrong thing, and so far too many clam up like captured spies. But the fact remains, it’s not enough for us to just go around doing the right thing; being “nice” isn’t a marker of salvation. We are to publically give the reason for the hope that we have whenever necessary; we are to have courage to confess Christ. That doesn’t mean getting up on the proverbial “soapbox,” but you should always be ready to proclaim your faith in any situation.

In our preparation to defend our faith, we boldly proclaim that Christ was raised to life! It is in His resurrection that Baptism saves (v 21). Peter makes use of the image of the flood in Noah’s day and the ark in which 8 people were saved to make the point to Christians of the value of their Baptism with water. “Baptism … now saves you” (v 21). We are baptized into the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus’ resurrection, there would be no Baptism (Romans 6), there would be no salvation, there would be no forgiveness of sins, and there would be no righteousness of Christ in us, and ultimately no eternal life. There’s no hope in that!

Through Baptism and through the Word, Christians keep the focus on Christ as the only source of strength in times of need. On this basis, Peter sets out the goal for the follower of Christ: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (v 15). The answer – the reason for our hope – always has been and always will be Jesus, telling of your hope through your words and showing them your hope through your deeds.

Saturday (May 16th) was “Armed Forces Day.” It was a day to pay tribute to men and women who serve the United States’ armed forces. We are so very thankful for those who served and gave their lives in service to our country. And if those who fought and died could see their country today like my grandfather, father, and uncle, how would they feel? Would they be happy about our silence in our world, our hoarding of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, or the continual political bickering during a time of national crisis? Or would our fallen heroes and our God have us stand up and publically defend our faith and take a stand for what we know to be right and do the right thing? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Challenges will indeed come in your life, and we are living that truth. As a baptized child of God, those made to be His disciples through Baptism and the teaching of God’s Word, you are continually being made ready to make a confident defense of the eternal hope that is in you through the life, death, resurrection of your Lord Jesus Christ. Do you feel ready and prepared? Ready or not, the time to make that defense is NOW and every day into eternity! And if you need some extra masks or hand sanitizer, I have plenty to spare. Be strong and stay safe, my friends.

Amen.

 

5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2020

Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60

“What a Way to Die”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today on the 5th Sunday of Easter is the First Lesson read from Acts chapters 6 and 7.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Death is a pretty “hot” topic these days, right? As of Saturday, there have been more than 78,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US. 1,700 of those deaths were in Florida, and nearly 60 people have died in Sarasota County. It seems like viral death is all anyone is thinking about and talking about ever since mid March. And speaking of death…

They killed him. Stephen is dead. What a way to die. Not from a virus. From rocks. The mob was loud and vicious. They gnashed their teeth – a classic expression of pure anger. They yelled. They grabbed him, dragging him out of town. He was probably half dead even before anyone even picked up a rock. But then the stones started to fly. It didn’t take long. One unprotected man against an angry mob with rocks? Forget it. Give me a virus any day! Blood, broken bones, crushed organs and torn tissues. No, it didn’t take long. Stephen was dead. What a way to die. What a way to die.

And the thing is…he didn’t deserve it. Stephen was a good man. He was a leader in the early church. He was full of God’s grace, power, and wisdom. He was faithful. He did great things for people in need. No, he didn’t deserve it, but they killed him anyway. Why? What had he done? What made them so angry?

Just this. He told others about Jesus. He spread the good news that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, who bore the sins of all people on the cross. He declared that this crucified man (what a way to die!) was the one true Messiah, the promised Savior of the world. He spoke boldly and plainly that Jesus had risen from the dead and was at God’s right hand. He confessed that Jesus was the way only to heaven, and that all other ways would lead away from God.

That was his “crime.” That’s why Stephen had to die. You see, there’s something about standing up for Jesus that brings attack: anger, hate, and sometimes even violence. Sound strange? It’s not. It’s still happening.

Facing danger daily, a nurse goes to work and wears a cross praying that she can help the sick and not infect her own family with COVID-19. Hospital administration tells her she must remove it lest it offend a patient. One worker files a complaint about another worker for harassment—the crime: having a small wooden cross on an office desk; WAY too offensive for the modern workplace. Can’t he just keep it in a drawer or something? You want to see a virtual fight erupt? Post something on Facebook along the lines of what Stephen said – that Jesus is the Son of God and only way to eternal life. Then sit back and watch the war of words begin.

Today, hostility is common for those who know Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You are attacked if you confess a belief that doesn’t agree with our social media culture. People slam you for being intolerant, insensitive, and imposing your beliefs on others when you make the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only Way to heaven. People will take offense at that. You can already guess the reaction if you tell someone they are a sinner and has done wrong in God’s eyes and they need Jesus’ forgiveness. No one wants to hear THAT. Yes, standing up for Jesus still brings attack.

So when the attacks come, look to Jesus. When your anxiety grows about the pandemic, look to Jesus. When you’re feeling helpless and hopeless and that viral death is waiting for you around every corner and on every surface, look to Jesus. Look to Jesus. Look to the One who bore your sins, who brought you forgiveness, who rose for you. Faith in the midst of distress looks to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd watching over our souls, leading and guiding us especially in these challenging, death-filled times.

Yet…looking to Jesus is not all that Stephen does here. He also has courage to confess what he saw. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” The rocks hadn’t started yet. The whole thing could have been stopped if Stephen had just quietly said what the crowd wanted to hear. If he would just go along to get along, all would be okay; just take off the necklace and drop the cross in a drawer. But he doesn’t. He says what he knows is true. He declares what he sees and believes. That took courage to confess, a courage given only by the Holy Spirit.

The same is true today. Crosses are still worn by workers. Employees find ways to witness in a work environment. We have had to totally re-think how we can “do” church if no one can come to church, and yet…here we are! The same is true for you, too. The risen Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to His people. Courage to confess comes from Christ. Especially in the face of death, the time is NOW for boldly, clearly telling others about Jesus and what He has done and is still doing for us. So, we speak out, standing up for Jesus, even when it brings attack. Maybe not with rocks, but it can bring attack. Stephen was stoned to death by an angry mob…ugh, what a way to die. I prefer to think like this: Stephen saved by the Savior…now THAT’S the way to die.

Will there be more COVID-19 deaths? Of course. But we look to Jesus and find courage, we find hope, we find life. What a way to die…surrounded by life – abundant, eternal life – for which we cannot help but exclaim “Thanks be to God!” Might want to watch out for flying rocks at that point. Be strong and stay safe everyone. Happy Mother’s Day!

Amen.