14th Sunday after Pentecost

14th Sunday after Pentecost

September 15, 2019

Luke 15:1-10

“Suppose One of You”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is our Gospel lesson from Luke 15.

My dear friends,

Have you ever heard of “Geocaching’? Geocaching is a little hard to describe. It part treasure hunt, part hiking, and absolutely an outdoor “game” for GPS users or cell phones with GPS technology. The basic idea of Geocaching is to have “players” cleverly hide caches all over the world and share the latitude/longitude locations of these caches on the Internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to go out and find the caches. There is nothing of real value in the caches. It’s usually trinkets and little tradable items. It’s not just me doing this, either. To date, there are more than 2.9 million caches worldwide and there are more than 1100 caches right here in Sarasota!

You ever been lost without a GPS? Once, I was out in a large State Forest in central MN and, looking for a geocache and getting off the marked trail, ended up getting turned around out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t panic easily, but I was starting to panic a bit. Feeling like you’re lost or actually being lost is no fun whether you’re out in the woods or driving in an unfamiliar town or wherever. But the joy of getting back on the right trail or finding the right street sure feels good, doesn’t it? It’s quite a rush to know that everything’s going to be all right; no more being lost…only the joy of knowing that you’re found and you’re safe.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has something to say about things getting lost. He is still addressing the “great crowd” from Luke 14 and we know that there were a variety of people – including members of the religious leadership – around Jesus at this point including Tax Collectors and Sinners – the “worst of the worst” – of 1st century society; these people were “lost” in life. The religious leaders felt they were outside of God’s grace; they were “lost” for all eternity. Upon seeing Jesus with these people, the Pharisees and the scribes muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus’ point by telling, like last week, two parables that teach the same truth: If that which was lost is being found, the Pharisees and Scribes should rejoice, not complain.

Jesus began the parables “Suppose one of you” (NIV; ESV (Greek) has “what man of you,” but this pertains to women too you know) lost something of value. A lost sheep has value for its companionship, its wool, and its re-sale at market. So does a coin obviously. The silver coin that was lost in the parable would have been a drachma. A Greek drachma was equal to one Roman denarius (show) or about 1 day’s wages. What is one day’s wages today? The median daily wage in the US is a little more than $150. So, suppose one of you lost a $100 bill? Are you going to look hard to find it? Of course…that’s a lot of money!

All of us have lost something from time to time and know the panic that sets in: wallets, purses, cell phones, remote controls, keys, family members, hope, joy. Maybe some you know have even lost faith.

When something gets lost, of course you’ll look for it because (A) it has value, and (B) it’s not going to find itself. The 99 sheep were left behind to find the 1 lost sheep because it had value. The 9 coins were left in order to find the 1 lost coin because it has value. What’s the result when the lamb or coin is found? Both verses 6 and 9 of the parables state that the result is rejoicing, because what was lost is now found again.. .and that’s a GOOD feeling – to find the path, the road, the destination, or the misplaced item.

In the parables we are told, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (verse 10). People were “lost” to God after the Garden of Eden. Sadly and tragically there are so many today who would rather stay lost. There are many who are hostile towards God, towards Jesus, towards the Bible, towards clergy and/or organized religion, and so on. Sinful sheep are happy to stay lost because they don’t know any different; they don’t yet know the joy in being found. Those who know what God has done for them repent, and the repentant know the true joy that faith can and does bring in this life; the joy that comes with being found.

And God found that which was lost. It is not as if God lost His people in the sense that He didn’t know where to find them, I mean, He’s GOD…He doesn’t absent-mindedly misplace stuff like you and I do.

In the ultimate act of reclaiming that which was lost, Jesus Christ came into the world to seek those who were lost – YOU – and like the Good Shepherd that He is, Jesus did what was necessary to find us and call us back to Him; to see and save that which was lost. You want to talk about fear and dread? No cross of Christ means no chance at redemption for you and no chance at redemption means only death and damnation for eternity. But because of what Jesus has done, He has saved a lost world from itself; He found us who were lost. In God’s eyes, we are His blood-bought, Baptized, redeemed children; that gives us value.

How many wandering sheep or lost coins does Good Shepherd have? How many year-round members have not walked through those doors in the last month…the last year? How many people in our community are content to stay lost? How many people live within 500 yards of this campus, but have never heard the Gospel? How many in and around your midst – your family and friends – also need to hear the call to repentance and be led by the Holy Spirit to green pastures? What are you actively doing to help them be found?

Suppose one of you helps a lost soul to be found by inviting them to church and helping to lead them to a life of faith so that they enjoy the ultimate victory celebration on the Last Day. Suppose that soul who was lost is seated next to you at the heavenly banquet…how will that feel? Suppose one of you puts forth the effort such that one lost sinner may joyfully sing, “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind…but now I see.” There are so many lost people who don’t need a GPS to geocache; life has enough “games” already. They need a relationship with our saving and redeeming God. They need our care, our love, our outreach, and our help through God’s grace and love. Amazing things can happen when you share the Gospel and a lost sinner is found.

And just imagine the rejoicing in heaven when THAT happens!

Amen.

13th Sunday after Pentecost

13th Sunday after Pentecost

September 8, 2019

Luke 14:25-33

“What Does it Cost?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson for today from Luke 14.

 

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

I have a little dog at home named Farley. It’s just Farley and me in that big 3+ bedroom, 2 bath home that I rent. He’s fairly old now…16 years. His bladder control just isn’t what it used to be and sometimes I am away from home a bit longer than I should. So, I cannot really blame him if there is an occasional “accident.” Well, the “accidents” have mostly happened on this area rug I had in my “man room” and it now smells so bad I have to replace it. Like everyone else, I went on-line to see about a new area rug. I found this one on-line I liked. It’s a 10′ X 14′ Handmade Persian Wool area rug. On sale this week…for $4,912. There’s free, same-day shipping…so there’s that. But that’s a BIT out of my price range; that rug costs too much. Maybe I’ll just stop by Home Depot or something. The point is…you have to consider the cost before you just do something, right?

Today’s Gospel lesson is all about counting the cost before just doing something, and it is an important lesson for all of us to hear, no matter how harsh it sounds. In Luke 14 Jesus is being followed by a large crowd, many of whom probably desired to be His disciples, but first they wanted to “check things out;” to “see and be seen” and what this Jesus guy is all about. Obviously able to determine their unenthusiastic approach to following Him, Jesus suddenly turns and verbally levels anyone who was lukewarm about following Him. What Jesus told them had to have sounded pretty harsh, because its power and its sting can still be felt even today. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” (14:26).

Whoa. Those are pretty strong words! What Jesus is telling the crowd is that discipleship is an all-or-nothing deal. You want to follow? You have to evaluate the cost first. And then Jesus tells two quick parables about the man desiring to build a tower and the warring kings. Both have to first evaluate the cost before they start anything. By telling these parables Jesus is teaching people that first you have to evaluate the cost before you just jump in and do it whether you’re talking area rugs, cell phone plans, or major life decisions.

Jesus indicates that there is a pretty heavy price to pay for discipleship. First he says we have to hate our own father, mother, wife, brothers, sisters, and children. That’s a pretty steep price! But Jesus is not advocating hatred of our family. But He does mean that if it’s a choice for us between Him and our family, we’re to choose Jesus. Obviously this isn’t easy. By God’s grace most people are spared this kind of decision, but there are some who are forced to choose, and if that arises, we are to follow Christ.

We are also to hate our own life. Man, the price to follow keeps getting heavier and heavier! What does this mean? We’re supposed to commit suicide. No. Does it mean that we can continue to live and exist in an individualistic culture that wants us to think only of ourselves all the time?” No. Does it mean that we can continue to live in and exist in a materialistic culture that wants us to spend our money on ourselves, to spend our time indulging ourselves and hoarding our resources? No. If we want to follow in discipleship, we have to hate that life in order to follow. Ours is to be a sacrificial life of stewardship and loving service to God and neighbor.

That is a heavy price to pay to follow Jesus. In fact, it is an impossible price. Ever since humanity fell into sin our every inclination has been to live for US, not to live for someone else. Think about Adam and Eve. They could have made a better decision, but they were selfish – self-centered – and their mistake costs all of us our lives. Our sinfulness keeps us so naturally far away from God. We counted the cost to follow and it’s too much for us to do!

But my dear friends, note what happened with the kings at war. “While the other is still a long way off (he) will ask for terms of peace” (v. 32b). In our sins we were the ones a “long way off” – a long way off from salvation and reconciliation with God…and it looked pretty bleak. “Lord, I can’t build that tower. I can’t fight that fight. It’s too much!” It is during those moments of helplessness that we as sinners are called to realize that God has taken the initiative to close the gap for us – the ones who were a long way off – and to bring us peace.

God closed that gap by sending the Prince of Peace – Jesus – to live, die, and rise again so that we can be forgiven, so that we can be free from the power of sin, so that we can be His disciples. God wants us – you – to let Him take over through Jesus Christ. That is discipleship! That is what it means to forsake all that we have – to give up ourselves to God. We are only able to do so because the price to follow has been paid. It was bought and paid for not with gold or silver, but with the precious body and blood of Jesus.

You too have to now consider what discipleship costs before you follow Him. Maybe it means you have to give up immoral behaviors or desires. Maybe it means you have to let go of selfish and greedy tendencies. Maybe it means you have to give up your control of things in your life and turn things over to God. God, through Christ, came near and closed that gap by giving Himself to bring us near to Himself through Jesus. That’s the incredible thing about God. He gave up His Son so that we sinful wretches might nevertheless follow Him and one day be with Him in heaven, where I’m comfortably sure we won’t need area rugs.

Speaking of which…anyone have a nice, used a 10′ X 14′ Handmade Persian Wool area rug they wanna sell me? No? Never hurts to ask. Now…how would you answer Jesus’ question from verse 33? Are you ready to “renounce all that you have to be His disciple? Consider the cost before you just jump right in.

Amen.

12th Sunday after Pentecost

12th Sunday after Pentecost

September 1, 2019

Matthew 16:21–28

“Stuff I’m Still Still Learning”

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 16 as previously read.

My dear friends,

It was 5 years ago this weekend – the first weekend of September and the 12th Sunday after Pentecost – that I preached for the very first time at GSLCS. 5 years ago. It was a memorable weekend, that’s for sure! It was back in the days when, if we got too much rain, the standing water under the school portables would set off the fire alarms at the school and, sure enough, after my first-ever Saturday night service, the alarms went off and the fire department came with lights and sirens and they needed to access rooms and areas that I had NO IDEA where they were. Once the fire department left, I went to make my first-ever hospital visit in Sarasota. I met, for the first time, Dorothy Berg…a dear soul. We met on September 1st; she died 3 weeks later and would also be my first funeral at GSLCS. That night I went to see Dorothy I had an encounter with a man at the SMH ER. I was wearing my clerical collar so he wanted to talk to me and he explained he was struggling to either go inside and get help with his drug addiction or get picked up by his girlfriend (not wife) knowing they were going to go get high. I encouraged…begged…to go inside and get help. He eventually rode away with his girlfriend and I never saw him again. Yeah…it was an eventful first weekend.

5 years ago, I shared with you some of the things I was learning about life in Florida and I thought maybe we’d go back and look at what I was learning and maybe some things that I am still still learning. 5 years ago I was learning that it’s not always a good idea to feed the birds around here. There is a house at the end of my block where they feed the birds. 5 years ago, I thought the birds were pelicans. Not quite. They are herons and cranes and egrets and ibis. The birds still sit on their driveway, their yard, and the roof. Even 5 years later, it’s still kind of creepy to drive by and see these big ol’ birds just hanging around someplace they don’t belong.

Something that hasn’t changed? The way sin works in our lives. Like those birds that have overrun my neighbor’s home, if you give sin an opening, if you feed it just a little bit, that sin doesn’t take an inch. It takes a mile. A mile of your time as you try and cover your secret sin from family and friends. A mile of effort to keep a straight face amidst the pain or anxiety or desperation. A mile of strength to say “no,” but that sin just keeps hanging around or even on top of your life until you finally relent and let it have its way…again and again and again.

That’s what happened to Peter. He gave sin an inch; it took a mile. Peter let that little voice into his head: “How could you let Jesus talk like that? All this talk of betrayal and suffering and death? That’s not what you signed up for, Peter.” So also many Christians look around at life and wonder if this is what we really “signed up” for. When do we get to the good stuff? How come my health is so poor? Why won’t my kids call or respect me? Why doesn’t Jesus fix my problems?

What did Jesus say? “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Verse 23). Setting our minds and hearts on Jesus, we know things are not going to go perfect or easy in earthly terms. The Christian life is not a faultless and flawless life, but it is a forgiven life, and that forgiven life makes a real difference 5, 15, 50, and 500 years down the road.

5 years ago I was learning that it’s a good idea to avoid Ashton Avenue in the mornings and afternoons when school kids are getting dropped off or picked up. What a tangled, snarled mess! And now, with all the construction at Honore and Ashton, the hopes are that one day the flow of traffic will improve and maybe that area won’t be SO bad during the school year.

I’m still still learning we’re all a bit guilty of that. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (verses 24-25). Yet, knowing that, the sinful nature in us wants us to take the easy way – to avoid the snarls and the tangles…to avoid our crosses – whenever possible. Why reconcile with that person with whom we have a problem? That sounds hard. Why should I make the constant effort to go to church or stick around for Bible study? That doesn’t sound fun. Why should I have to be honest in all my business and financial dealings? Everyone else cuts corners…why can’t I?

Friends, something that hasn’t changed is the reality that the forgiven life of faith is a changed life; I’ve been saying since the day I walked in the door here. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Peter. Following Christ is not living trouble-free. It’s living and trying and falling and getting back up. It’s about sin, sure, but in Christ it’s sin forgiven. It’s about living and dying…dying to sin and living a new life in and through faith in our Savior Jesus. Taking up your cross to follow Him means you may not know why your kids won’t call or if the tumor will come back or if the money will always be there. Cross-bearing…the redeemed life in Christ that the faithful live each day…means being okay with the hardships and trials that come with life. And, speaking of which…

5 years ago I was learning that South Florida gets lots of little storms – “quick-hitters.” They come quick, they come violent, and then they’re gone followed by rainbows and brilliant blue skies and broken humidity. Well, here’s something I’m still still learning.

Life is full of storms and ups and downs and scary moments and uncertainty and doubt and fear. But we don’t place our hope in the things – the events – of this world. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is always with us every step of life’s way. He carries you throughout all of life’s storms reminding you of His life and his forgiveness and his salvation that are yours by faith.

Storms of life? Let’s see. In the 5 years that I have been here, I’ve had 2 surgeries ( 1 planned, 1 emergency), faced 1 hurricane (Irma), had one daughter imprisoned for a year, almost lost a daughter to relapse, and had to choose between my marriage and this call. I chose you; I chose to fight the storm of divorce for you. And I did so knowing that we have a God who says “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And that’s what I have done. I almost lost it all, so I could find life and hope. And for the first time maybe ever…I have found life. I have found joy. I hope.

After 5 years there is a lot I am still still learning, and I look forward to all the years to come because, between you and me and the fencepost, as long as you’ll have me, I’m not going anywhere. I wouldn’t trade this for the world…and maybe that’s the most powerful thing I’ve learned in 5 years…just how good life can be here. With you.

Amen.

 

11th Sunday after Pentecost

11th Sunday after Pentecost

August 25, 2019

Hebrews 12:2-24

“Who’s Your Daddy?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon this morning is today’s Second Lesson from Hebrews chapter 12.

My dear friends,

 

I think the first time I ever heard the phrase “Who’s Your Daddy” would be listening to music as a kid with my parents. They liked music from the 50’s and 60’s. I remember the 1968 song “Time of the Season” by The Zombies. It has that famous lyric “What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?” Ugh…hippies. That was probably the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last. When I was in college, we had a TON of catch phrases that we used. Before every game, we’d say “Pitter Patter, let’s get at ‘er.” After every game, we’d say “win or lose, hit the booze.” And during a game? We were likely to say all kinds of things, most of which cannot be repeated in church. If someone threw a big hit or scored a nice goal or if our goalie made a nice save, we’d inevitably yell “who’s your daddy!” Strange, I know, but it was the 1980s and we were college kids. What would you expect, Shakespeare quotes? Not happening.

Who’s your daddy? Oddly enough, that phrase still means a number of things to a number of different people. Today I want to take this popular phrase and use it in an appropriate way to explain kind of a difficult subject…God’s discipline. Today we’ll see three things about God’s discipline: first, we know who our heavenly Father is because he disciplines us; second, his discipline of us doesn’t come close to what he put his own Son through at the cross; third, because of the cross, we are a part of God’s family.

First of all, we know who our heavenly Father is because he disciplines us. The thing is, God’s discipline is often misinterpreted. Many have the idea of God the Father as an angry father in the sky always ready to judge and condemn and punish. Now, the truth is that our sins deserve that! At times, God disciplines us, even though we deserve wrath and punishment. We are disciplined…corrected…but punishment for sin is a different matter and we’ll come back to that later.

Another reason we misinterpret God’s discipline is because of the experience we have had with our earthly fathers. Hey, I got in trouble when I was a kid and I’m sure you did too. I knew I could push more buttons with mom than dad. Even still, my dad’s discipline was often imperfect at best. There were times when I was punished unfairly (mowing job at Howard’s). But there were also times when I got away with some things without being punished. An earthly father’s discipline is imperfect; it is inconsistent and inaccurate. Our Heavenly Father – God the Father’s discipline is more than perfect. It is necessary.

Why does God discipline us? I’ll answer your question with a question. Why did you discipline your own children? Today’s lesson from Hebrews 12 answers that in verses 10: “He disciplines us for our good.” Wait…what? I thought God was all about love and grace and forgiveness. Discipline is for our good? Well…yeah. When it comes to God…yeah.

This truth is confirmed in v 11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” So…when we are “disciplined” by God in this life, it happens for our good so that later on we can yield the fruits of righteousness? Isn’t that why you disciplined your children? Not because it was fun or you enjoyed it. You did so so that they would make better decisions later in life. In other words, the harsh things that I endure now shape me into who God needs me to be enabling me to accept my albeit painful past, treasure my present, and now entrust my future to God through Christ? Well, when we put it that way, discipline sounds pretty good actually!

Secondly, remember that the discipline our heavenly Father applies to us is nothing compared to the punishment he put his Son through at the cross. Our sins deserve not mere discipline, but punishment. There is a BIG difference. I was disciplined frequently by my father growing up but actual punishment was extremely rare. I can only remember one time of being spanked as a form of punishment. Once; didn’t happen again. Sin, in any amount, any way (thought, word, or deed), deserves not discipline, but eternal wrath and punishment. A spanking or a time out are not going to cut it; “the wages of sin is death.”

That’s why Jesus came! He “endured from sinners such hostility” (Heb 12:3). His blood shed on the cross does away with the old covenant and creates a new covenant, and a blood covenant is a BIG deal! Through the blood shed on the cross, our sins are forgiven—all of them, once and for all. Jesus endures God’s most severe punishment so that one day we can stand before God the Father not as disobedient children but as holy and righteous and redeemed because we are the recipients of the new covenant promise with God through the shed blood of Christ Jesus.

In a truly biblical irony, the cross of Christ shows us our heavenly Father’s love for us. Through the cross, we are assured that by faith we are a part of God’s family and he is our Father. And that is what we have here at Good Shepherd…a family. This is our family home. We become a part of the family of God through Holy Baptism. We come here to rest, to share our lives with those around us, and to be nourished. Every time we come, we receive divine gifts – the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation by Word and Sacrament. In Holy Communion, our heavenly Father provides for us with Christ’s true body and blood in the bread and wine, giving us in it forgiveness and endurance—strength to live the new life in Christ as a part of the family…this family…your family.

Who’s your daddy? If this were a rink and I yelled that, any number of things could have happened. But here…in this place…it means something different. The cross, which has the prominent spot in our church home, gives us the answer, unlike our world today. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer in a little bit, I would prefer you keep the usual wording and not say “Our daddy.” But today, maybe for the first time, when you say, “Our Father,” you will have a renewed confidence in his loving care for you even when he disciplines because you know that it’s preparing all people for a better, more eternal future, including the hippies and their wacky music.

Amen.

10th Sunday after Pentecost

10th Sunday after Pentecost

August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 11:18-20

“Blindsided!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Jeremiah 11 previously read.

My dear friends,

I don’t know about you, but I’m EXCITED! Football season is almost here! Next Saturday is Nebraska’s first game this season against…uhm…South Alabama. Growing up in Nebraska, where football is “king,” being a football fan is not optional. I have seen so many football games at every level I couldn’t even begin to list them all. And I’ve seen just about every football play imaginable. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the QB drop back, mere seconds to find the open receiver while defensive linemen and linebackers are closing fast. A quarterback can see the rush in front of him, but he can’t see behind. They call this area the “blind side” of the quarterback. This is why, to go with a right-handed quarterback, the left tackle is one of the most valuable players on an NFL team—to protect the quarterback’s blind side.

One famous NFL player who played left tackle is Michael Oher, a kid who had a troubled past in Tennessee. After being rescued by the Tuohy family, he entered a Christian school where he refined his ability to play football and ultimately received a scholarship to play for the University of Mississippi. His NFL career included playing for the Ravens, the Titans, and the Panthers. You may remember the 2009 movie The Blind Side about Oher and the Christian family that changed his life. Oher would do just about anything humanly possible to protect his quarterback’s blind side, including sacrificing himself. As a result of doing so, Oher can no longer play in the NFL due to reoccurring concussion issues. If only the prophet Jeremiah had had a giant left tackle to protect his blind side!

Today we learn that Jeremiah loves his native state, his hometown of Judah, but the people of Judah don’t necessarily love him back. Jeremiah experienced perhaps one of the biggest blindsides in all of the Old Testament. In these three verses (an aside from the prophecy), we learn about a plot against Jeremiah and how he once was almost killed. We also learn that God was watching out for his high-value prophet.

Why were they plotting against Jeremiah? It was the 7th century BC, a time of spiritual wickedness and corruption and no one likes to be told they’re “bad” no matter what century it is. Jeremiah was proclaiming God’s Word, but his listeners didn’t like it. They were working behind the scenes to silence him. This is not just any Tonya-Harding-amateur hour knee-cap attack, for Jeremiah describes his attackers as wanting to “destroy the tree with its fruit…cut him off from the land of the living that his name be remembered no more” (v 19b). This isn’t just death; they wanted to wipe out his very existence. It’s total annihilation! The odd thing is that somehow Jeremiah, by his own admission, didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t until God revealed the plot that Jeremiah was even aware. He was like “a gentle lamb” without a clue as to the slaughter that was about to happen. Jeremiah was almost blindsided.

So, if God stopped Jeremiah from being blindsided, why not us? Aren’t we on the same team too? So why does it happen to US so much then? Why are we blindsided by life?

It’s likely because we rely on our abilities, instincts, and our plan rather than trusting God’s plan, protection, and provision. We get blindsides. We assume there will always be a tomorrow closely resembling today. We hang on to every cent as if it’s our last. We are racked by anxiety assuming the absolute worst until the test result comes back. We endure painful loss and begin to believe we will never heal and tomorrow will never be bright again.

We should know from experience and from Scripture that the human condition is full of sin and can’t be trusted. Our thoughts, plans, and deeds so often fail us. It’s like calling an offensive football play to work when you KNOW it won’t. C. S. Lewis once said that no one knows how truly bad they are until they try to be very good. How true. The sinful self cannot see beyond itself or rarely beyond today, and we tend to get lit up from behind. We get blindsided

God is NEVER blindsided. When he looks at us, he sees the parts of us that none of us can see. He sees the dangers long before we ever do. We may think that we know everything about ourselves, but the theological word for that is bologna. God knows everything. And when God looked at our lives, he saw our complete and utter failure to see our own weaknesses…our blind sides.

Rather than stop every single one, God instead sent us a Savior. He sent Jesus into the world to redeem us from all the times that by trusting in our own sinful ways and so by doing we’ve walked like a lamb to its slaughter into a blindside.

There are some interesting parallels between Jeremiah and Jesus. Like Jeremiah, Jesus was a hometown boy; he had great compassion for those around him, and he spoke God’s truth to them. Like Jeremiah, Jesus’ listeners plotted to kill him, too. However, God spared Jeremiah; He did not spare His only Son. The plan to kill Jesus succeeded because Jesus allowed it, nailing Him to a cross. But ultimately this plot was foiled as well, as Jesus broke through the chains of death and the seal of the tomb, rising from the grave – Jesus blindsided the grave! – to set us free and if the Son sets us free, we will be free indeed! (John 8:36).

Wouldn’t it be great to have our own Michael Oher? Sure…but we don’t. By ourselves, we don’t have our own personal giant left tackle to protect our blind side, but we have Someone infinitely better. We will be constantly plagued by the fact that we cannot see our unknown unknowns. But these will not hurt or harm us because we have One who walks near to us…beside us…behind us every step of the way to protect you and even pick you back up when you get hit HARD. Jesus has your blind side. His righteousness has been given to us and that makes you holy, righteous, and redeemed in the sight of God. Even when life’s most vicious hits blind side you and drop you for a huge loss from which you think you’ll never recover, get back up. Trust God’s plan and grace and love for your life. Getting blindsided hurts, absolutely, but I encourage to always get back in there. It might hurt for awhile, but don’t forget, there’s still plenty of game yet to be played.

Oh yeah, before I forget. Go big red! Sorry…old habits die hard.

Amen.

9th Sunday after Pentecost

9th Sunday after Pentecost

August 11, 2019

Genesis 15:1-6

“Faith That’s God Strong”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon this morning is today’s First Lesson from Genesis 15.

My dear friends,

Many have commented on my weight loss this year and yes, it is something I am actively working on. But I found that, to really keep going, I had to take my exercise to the next level, so I joined a gym. For the first time in my life, I belong to a Fitness Club – Crunch Fitness. In addition to the treadmills and elliptical machines, I also use the weights. I lift weights to make and keep my upper body strong. I’m not exactly there yet, but I do want to be stronger. But I’m going to have to work at that to make it happen. Me; only I can do that.

Naturally, when we think about a strong faith, we assume a person with a strong faith has a spiritual strength within themselves. We think that must have been the case for Abraham. Our OT lesson and Epistle lesson texts identify the “strong” faith of Abraham, as do lots of other passages in the Bible. So, we hold Abraham up as an example of strong faith because there was some special spiritual strength he had…I get that, but it doesn’t work that way. Strong faith doesn’t really mean there’s anything about the person that’s strong physically or spiritually. Strong faith is ONLY about God. Abraham’s God-given faith is strong because it displays the belief that nothing is impossible with God.

You remember the story. Abraham lacked a son whom he and Sarah dearly wanted. The Lord had promised just that. In fact, he promised a great nation from Abraham’s descendants, but that had been years ago. By now Abraham had begun to accept that what he was looking for would no longer happen. Then comes those great words of promise from our text: “your very own son shall be your heir.” Abraham had a need; to have a son with Sarah. God promised to meet that need. Nothing is impossible with God.

What needs did you bring to church today? Are you looking for a change, some progress, some hope. Maybe you want answers. Life is full of questions, you know. Abraham in Genesis 15 is a LONG ways from El Paso, Texas. It’s long ways from Dayton, Ohio. In all matters of need we call upon and cling to God, knowing He will provide even if the situation may seem futile. As Luther points out in the explanation of the 1st Commandment, to believe in God (faith) means to entrust yourself in Him completely, even if that means your need is met in another way. Completely. Easier said than done.

Sadly, that is not the case for the majority of people. They have not set their hearts completely on God but they have given up…on our nation, on their hopes and dreams, on themselves. A situation seems hopeless, people feel helpless, and faith becomes the first causality of despair.

Last week the rich man in the parable of Luke 12 was called a “fool” because he forgot that everything in life we receive comes from God’s hands. In our times of distress and misfortune and hopelessness, we are encouraged to turn to the Lord for help and call on him. But rather than do that – turn to One who is strong – we fall into the same trap. We foolishly rely on our sinfully weak selves and we lose hope for a better tomorrow, especially when the bullets start to fly and innocent people start to die.

Abraham is a hero of faith because he accepted an improbable proposition of having a son—something human reason would call impossible. People in their 90s having children. A child? Yeah…right! That seemed too impossible for Abraham to imagine ever happening. But it happened…didn’t it? Friends, your Christian faith, too, should be open to improbable suggestions.

There is no statute of limitations on miracles. Even in extreme cases where medical reports describe futility and little hope, when your life situation feels like it’s on life support, when the relationship is on its last leg, or you feel your health or financial situation offers what you think can only be a bleak future, even if you’re flooded with hopelessness and despair, there may still be confidence in divine intervention. God can make things possible. There is hope and there is trust. And that trust is strong because it is God who provides.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the text is at the end. Abraham received righteousness and with that salvation. In other words, God not only moved things in Abraham’s life with the promise of a biological son and a nation from that, he also brought to Abraham redemption; Abraham got more than the life of a son, he was given eternal life. It is exactly the case with us. It is only through faith that we receive God’s righteousness. Real faith – God strong faith – worships Christ on the cross and risen again alone; it’s not something you do or earn or accomplish. Strong faith is not like a gym membership; it’s not just coming to church and giving a check now and then, it’s knowing and trusting that God will provide more than you can even begin to fathom. Like Abraham, you may have to wait for it, but God does provide.

Strong faith is utter dependence on God for all things including eternal salvation and life and then responding with a lifestyle in this world so that other people will know you have a strong faith not to show off by flexing your “faith muscles,” but to show the lost that there’s a better way. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Strong faith is not something strong about the person themselves; it’s the sure and certain hope of what you cannot see right now.

Let me ask you something: What is the strength of your faith today? Are you feeling weak? Maybe it’s because you’re trying to do too much of the lifting. At the gym, you do the physical lifting, but let God do the heavy spiritual lifting. If there’s strong when it comes to faith, it’s always God Strong. Pray for a God strong faith especially when the bullets start to fly and never EVER lose hope – not for yourself, your family, or your country – for nothing…NOTHING…is impossible with God.

Amen.

8th Sunday after Pentecost

8th Sunday after Pentecost

August 4, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

“Rich Harvest”

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 Luke 12.

My dear friends,

If you like corn, I have good news for you! I recently returned from the heart of the Midwest and I can report that, after a rough spring of flooding, the corn crop in Nebraska should provide a rich harvest. From what I saw, the corn is green and strong and thick and tassels are coming in. But, take that for what’s it’s worth. You know I’m not much of a farmer, but I do know if a crop looks good or bad. I also know this: while the field offers a rich harvest, let’s not forget God and His involvement. And that’s a truism that extends beyond the farms and fields.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said something kinda shocking to our modern American ears: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Wait…what? Sounds “Un-American,” right? If life isn’t about getting and holding on to stuff, then for what then do people live? An existential question, to be sure, but a legitimate question nonetheless. If life is not about getting stuff, then what is life all about? What level of significance…of importance….are we to give our possessions – the rich harvest that God provides us with?

To help illustrate, Jesus told the parable of the Rich Fool, which was going along just fine until God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ”

Interesting choice of words…“fool.” It’s a common word in the Bible (118 times), but Luke is the only Gospel writer to use this specific word, a word directly tied to the OT version of the word “folly, meaningless, or worthless” that is very common in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The rich man’s world view was meaningless, worthless; it’s not a compliment.

So…how do we avoid being “fools?” What are we to do when our field—whatever our field may be—yields a rich harvest? This parable does not say that we may not have an abundance of possessions. This parable also has no intentions to give us a guilty conscience over a good yield of crop or a successful increase in money/possessions. The parable doesn’t teach it’s a bad thing to improve your possessions or investments.

On the surface, you almost – almost – have to admire the rich man; he’s being a good manager of a company who looks ahead and plans accordingly. Okay…so if a rich harvest and money and possessions and success in general aren’t bad, then why is the rich man called a “fool”? He is called a fool because he lives in false security; he is so consumed by greed he neither acknowledges nor thanks God to his eternal peril.

The rich man told his eternal SOUL to “relax; eat, drink, be merry” (v 19). Again, on the surface, that sounds good, right? To have the resources so you can just breeze through life? There is nothing wrong with that so long as you remember that behind that rich harvest, all those possessions, is a loving God who calls you to be a thankful, gracious, faithful, generous steward in and with all things.

The rich man is a fool because he does not see life as a gift from God. All the rich foolish man wanted was to take life easy, eating, drinking, and being merry are all creature comforts of this world…a world that quickly ends without warning, and then what? Then what indeed. And what happens to all the stuff? All those “treasures” you enjoy? When you’re gone, there’s a good chance that many will be sold for pocket change or end up at Goodwill. You know that, right? Think beyond this world and all its stuff.

It ended so tragically for the rich man who only thought of this world and not the next. Jesus said that what mattered – what really mattered – was to be “rich toward God” (v 21). Friends, The true purpose of life is to be “rich toward God.” What does that mean? Well, it has nothing to do with how much money you have, and that’s good. Wealth can come between God and people. As Martin Luther put it, “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god,” and how many Americans put their heart and their trust in their stuff? Want proof? Just look around you!

Samuel Escobar, a missiologist from South America, speaks about the stark difference between the Northern and Southern worlds. While the South—South America, Africa, much of Asia—is spiritually alive, it is materially poor. In distinction, while the North—Europe and North America—is wealthy in material terms, its spirituality is at an all-time low.

2 Cor. 8:9 describes Jesus and one who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” Jesus became poor, was stripped naked, He literally had nothing, and hung on a cross; all He had left to give was His body and blood, so He gave that too. He did so that we would be rich in God’s grace. By Jesus’ death you have the eternal riches of heaven. I don’t know how much money you have or don’t have…but you are already rich in the things that truly matter…heavenly things through faith in Jesus Christ. By faith, you are rich in Christ.

To be rich toward God means that we are aware of our dependency on God in all facets of life. Being rich toward God means we recognize God as the provider of all our possessions and being constantly thankful. Being rich towards God means displaying a willingness to share out of our rich, abundant harvest. Rich toward God means to turn to him in times of plenty and need. To be rich toward God is to know that in him we find mercy and grace and peace and forgiveness and life and love through the death and resurrection of his Son.

Have you heard of “The Giving Pledge?” This is an effort by more than 200 of the world’s wealthiest people to help society by committing more than half of their wealth to charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will. People like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and MacKenzie Bezos of Amazon have signed up. Together they’re ready to give an estimated 500 billion dollars away. Hey, that’s great and all, but let’s not forget that “riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). Be a good steward. Be generous. Be thankful. Be rich towards God. Be ready for when your soul is required of you.

500 billion? That can buy A LOT of corn.

Amen.

7th Sunday after Pentecost

7th Sunday after Pentecost

July 28, 2019

“See Jonah Personally”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today I’d like to finish my sermon series, “Jonah in July,” and today’s sermon is entitled “See Jonah Personally.”

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? According to USA Today in April of this year, they ranked the worst jobs in America based on job satisfaction, the amount of stress, the future of that kind of employment, and the income. According to USA Today, the 5 worst jobs in America today are taxi drivers, loggers, newspaper reporters, retail salesperson, and enlisted military personnel. That’s interesting. I don’t know about all the jobs in the military, but I know which job I sure wouldn’t want. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who returns your loved one’s possessions after they’ve been killed. That cannot be a great job, but he came knocking on our family’s door.

PFC Bruce Carlyle Anderson graduated from Indus High School in 1966 and in May 1968 he joined the Marines knowing full well he’d go to Vietnam. He arrived in country in November 1968 to serve as an antitank assaultman. During his tour he was wounded twice and also had malaria. In July 1969, he was on patrol when a land mine exploded. Bruce lost his life from multiple fragmentation wounds caused by the land mine outside of Quang Ngai. He was 22 years old and the only member of his platoon to be killed in action. Sometime later, a man delivered Bruce’s belongings to his parents – my grandparents. Everyone left the house to let Bruce’s parents have some time with the items alone. No more than 15 minutes passed when my grandmother stepped outside and asked if anyone wanted coffee. Huh? How could she be so calm? How could she be so composed in a dreadful time like this? I found out how, and I’ll do my best to explain and do so by what we know about Jonah.

My uncle Bruce was called by his country to go and fight in Vietnam, so he went knowing it might cost him his life. In the 8th century BC, the prophet Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh, that great city, but Jonah chose to run away instead. Jonah HATED his job as a prophet and he just wanted OUT! But you know the feeling, right? Running away from problems? Dodging what we don’t want to deal with?

All of us are a bit like Jonah in that sense. We have faith…we believe…but when the going get rough – when life gets dark and the storms of life pop-up as they do this time of year here in South Florida – we want to yell “pass” to God’s way/will (Don’t want to do this, don’t want to deal with this, don’t want to think about his) and run towards other ways to find relief or escape. We should be running TO the One who can calm the storms of life by the power of His Word and His grace.

Dealing with a job you hate is one thing. Losing a child or loved one in any way is difficult. Living each day in pain or fear or without hope are challenging. Everyone’s got something they deal with, a lesson I learned powerfully this week. Look left to right and around you. See those people? EVERYONE you see…they are dealing with something.

But here’s the thing…as you deal with the life and death “somethings” of your life, you’re not alone. In your times of crisis…the dark and stinky times of your life…you don’t face these challenges alone. Jonah was not alone in the belly of the great big fish. The LORD was with him through His grace-filled word. Friends, when you are in the dark and stinky belly of the great big fish of life, you are not alone. God’s Word made flesh, Jesus and His love and grace are always with you.

Jonah did a job he didn’t want to do, but look at the outcome! A whole city repented! It’s a miracle! How can that happen? 120,000 people repenting from an 8 word sermon? That’s amazing…and so is grace; amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. God empowers this kind of change of heart, and a change in behavior when we turn/repent. Sin makes us do crazy things, say awful things, and causes inaction when we should take action and God can still work in us despite our rebellion. It is almost impossible even to imagine that Nineveh would repent at the short sound of this reluctant prophet’s voice. In the same way, when we repent of our sin, it is a miracle in our hearts that we have heard the Gospel and responded positively. Repentance, true repentance, changes our course from its current path to a different one – a better one with a better outcome! Every day is a chance to change, so why put off action until tomorrow? What if there IS NO tomorrow? Can you live the rest of your in regret? Repentance worked a miracle in the lives of the Ninevites. Are you ready for that miracle in your life?

The prophet Jonah, though, hoped the Lord would destroy Nineveh; talk about a lack of job satisfaction! Jonah hated Nineveh; they were his enemy, but in reality Jonah was his own worst enemy. The main problem in the book of Jonah is Jonah! And Jonah was angry that God would show grace to the enemy of Israel.

Have you ever been angry like that with God? Have you ever pouted and resented God because life hasn’t gone the way you expected? Are you angry because life has taken turns you didn’t see coming? Things not going your way? Are you afraid and concerned about where life goes from here?

If so, let it go and let God and grace have their way in your life. God is working all things for good in your life because of Grace…you just need to give it time to work/play out. GRACE. That’s the heart of God! Let’s talk more about grace.

When the family gathered back in the house, everyone now saw Bruce’s possessions. Clothing. His medals. Personal items. And a Bible. A little now-blood-stained Gideon’s New Testament shaped to the contour of his butt from having it in his back pocket so much. In the book of Jonah there are 3 statements of faith. In the book of Jonah there are 3 statements of faith. Inside the cover of that Bible the family read a statement of Bruce’s faith and as a family we knew that it was well with Bruce’s soul. God’s grace had reached out and saved a marine who provided the ultimate sacrifice for our country. That’s why Grandma could make coffee. An enemy land mine took her son’s life, but the Lord saved his soul and set him free and that grace-filled truth comforted the family instead of anger and resentment and trying to run away.

There really isn’t an ending to Jonah; we don’t know the ending, and that’s okay because that’s also is true in life. We know for sure what eventually happens. A time comes for us to die, and what do we rely on? In life, in death, we find our hope in God’s grace just like PFC Bruce Anderson and just like Jonah.

Your next chapter of life is waiting to be written. Will you ever Pass? Pray? Preach? Pout? Probably…it’s called life. But in all things, rely on God’s grace for “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” A gift of God indeed…just like the book of Jonah. Just like life itself.

And, as always, it’s good to be home.

Amen.