Category Archives: Sermons

1st Sunday in Lent

1st Sunday in Lent

February 28, 2021

Mark 1:9-15

“Doubt No More”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark chapter 1 as previously read.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Well, that was quite the Gospel Lesson, wasn’t it? Mark 1:9-15, just 7 verses, tell us of Jesus’ Baptism, His temptation in the wilderness, AND the beginning sermon of His ministry…all in one lesson. Yikes. The temptation narrative in Mark’s Gospel is only 2 verses long! But that’s Mark’s Gospel for you: action-driven, concise, and very economical in terms of details. Today I would like to focus primarily on verses 12 and 13 which are the two verses that “mention” Jesus’ temptation by Satan. It’s so short in Mark’s Gospel we’re going to have to borrow the details from Matthew and Luke, but I think you remember them anyway.

Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting. As the time concludes, Satan tempts Jesus with three specific temptations. It is a common tactic used by the devil. He wanted Jesus to doubt God the Father. He wanted Jesus to doubt God’s provision such that He would provide for Himself a meal of bread from stones. He wanted Jesus to doubt – or at least test – God’s divine protection and put Himself in harm’s way. He wanted Jesus to doubt God’s power over humanity and rely on Satan giving Jesus all the power and riches of the world; as if it didn’t belong to Jesus’ in the first place! Satan wanted Jesus to doubt God and His grace, but Christ is preparing to walk the way of the cross to defeat Satan and to silence all doubts.

Doubt always has been and always will be Satan’s greatest weapon. In the Greek he is known literally as “the Adversary.” He is the constant enemy of both God and man, a supernatural evil being permitted to be God’s agent to present moral choice to man. And he did just that in the Garden of Eden: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). The devil loves to sow those seeds of doubt; worked well the first time out, right?

The old, evil foe in the wilderness again wanted Jesus to doubt God, but each time Jesus responded with a quote from Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God;’” ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test;’” “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10 ESV).

How many times has Satan tried that same nonsense on you? My guess would be every single day of your life. As I said before, doubt is the devil’s favorite weapon. How many times has he convinced you that God is not going to provide for you? How many times have you felt like there will be no relief from the pain, or no let up from the financial pressure or no break from strain of the daily grind? How many times have you doubted God’s resolution for your situation? But…how many times have you had to go without? How many times HAS God provided resolution in His way and in His time? God has provided for you every single time in some fashion, hasn’t He?

Satan wants you to doubt God’s providence or His divine protection. “Yeah,” you ask, “where is that at? My life is falling apart!” God never promises us divine intervention. His protection in your life is always there whether you recognize it or not. There are times – lots of them – when you WILL fall and get hurt literally and figuratively. Welcome to life in a sin-filled world. But God will NEVER abandon you…ever (Hebrews 13:5). Your ultimate protection is in the forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes through Christ Jesus who overcame this temptation to show us how to do it – respond with the Word and assistance of God.

Nothing happens without God’s reason and purpose (Romans 8:28). Satan wants you to doubt that; to doubt God’s authority when your life is spinning out of control and you cannot find any balance or support and you want to know “why?” God doesn’t answer the question of “why” because He already is the answer. All of your fears, temptations, anxieties, and doubts are ultimately answered in and through your Savior who loves and forgives your sins and saves you by grace even when you doubt. There is no reason to doubt. Ever since Adam and Eve, humanity has fallen time and again for Satan’s temptations, and you have too, but Jesus’ resurrection victory is your victory by faith. You have no reason to doubt. You will overcome; you will prevail because you have a Savior who already did it for you at His baptism, in the wilderness, at the cross, and the empty grave of Easter.

Professional golfer Lee Trevino grew up poor. He joined the army and dis­covered that he could play golf well. He was so good that he supplemented his army pay by wagering with wealthy officers on the golf course. Trevino took huge risks. Sometimes he would bet sums of money so large he never could have covered them if he lost. When he turned professional, Trevino again found himself playing for large sums of money. During his PGA career, Trevino won either in a playoff or by one stroke 17 times! At one tournament, a single putt was worth $200,000. He made it. A reporter asked Trevino what the pressure was like when every shot means so much. Trevino replied, “There is no pressure in putting for someone else’s money. Pressure is trying to make a putt for a $10 bet with only $5 in your pocket.”

When it comes to pressure and worry and doubt in life, it may appear as though we believe we have only $5 in our pocket and no confidence that we can make the putt. You don’t need to; God already made it for you. You cannot re-write the past chapters of your life, but you can always affect the writing of its next chapters and eventual ending because your ending lies with Christ and there is no better place than His grace and mercy and life. Go forth today from this place and throughout Lent and doubt no more.

Amen.

Transfiguration of our Lord

The Transfiguration of our Lord

February 13, 2021

Mark 9:2-9

“Do You See What I See?”

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 Mark 9.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

A prisoner was once sentenced to solitary confinement in a pitch-black prison cell. To relieve his boredom he took his only possession – a marble – and threw it against the walls. Day in, day out, clack, clack, clack, the marble would bounce off the wall onto the floor and then roll around the room until the man could locate it. One day the man decided to do something different – he would throw the marble up and try to catch it as it came down. Of course, in the pitch black he missed and waited to hear where the marble would drop. But there was no sound. The marble never came down! The man became more and more disturbed. What had happened to his precious marble? How could it disappear into thin air like that? The question drove him to madness, and he died.

When the guards later entered the cell to remove his body, a glint of light caught one of the guard’s eyes. He looked up toward the ceiling to see the most astonishing sight – a marble caught in the web of a spider. “Do you see what I see? Of all the crazy things,” he said, “How on earth did the spider manage to get a marble up there?”

The point is this. Sometimes our senses can play tricks on us. We hear a bump in the night, but cannot identify its source. One of those smooth cooktop stoves may look innocent enough, but its surface could still be dangerously hot to touch. A sunny day when viewed from indoors may look inviting, but the reality of cold temperatures reveals itself once the door is opened. Sometimes we see something, but misunderstand or out and out fail to comprehend what is really going on.

Case in point. What happened in our Gospel lesson must have been quite a sight, and yet three supposedly reliable witnesses sort of missed the whole point. Jesus’ ministry was about to take a turn, as he would set his face towards Jerusalem where he would fulfill and accomplish the purposes of God. The child of Bethlehem, the boy of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, was revealed as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” This is important stuff! And the three witnesses almost missed it.

Peter, John, and James had seen their Lord as a teacher and as someone who performed miracles, but they had never seen Jesus like this in all his glory. Mark 9 tells us that Jesus’ clothes became a dazzling white – more white than they have any business being. They were now seeing Jesus in all his glory, glory that he had possessed ever since his timeless existence with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus stood with the two other men who were Israel’s source of hope and trust prior to Jesus – Moses and Elijah. In this group stood the hope of Israel past and the hope of Israel future – The Word spoken of by the prophets and the Word made flesh – together in one spot on the Mount of Transfiguration. But what did the disciples see? They saw just enough to terrify them into tent-making!

What do we see when it comes to Jesus? This can be sort of a problem for those who depend on their sight to verify everything. What did Jesus even look like? We have several paintings of Jesus here at Good Shepherd, but is that what Jesus really looked like? There are several famous images of Christ handed down through time. Last week I showed you “Christus Consolator” in the sermon. There is DaVinci’s “Last Supper” and Warner Sallman’s famous 1941 portrait of Jesus entitled “Head of Christ.” Additionally, there are the well-known images of Jesus knocking at the door and praying in the Garden. The reality is that we don’t have any real pictures or photographs of Jesus, but we have something better. Maybe we can’t see Jesus, but we have the record of the Scriptures; we have the account of his miracles, his ministry, his mercy, his compassion, his sacrifice, his love. Thus, with our eyes of faith, we too see the glory of Christ. We do not see them visually like the disciples did, but we “see” them with eyes and ears of faith.

But not everyone can see this. Not everyone believes in God. Sad…but true. With all that has happened and the troubles yet to come, it is increasingly hard to “see” Jesus amid all the troubles of life…especially so now. It was not until God stepped down into his own creation as a man and suffered and died on the cross of Calvary and then rose again, that we see God in all of his compassion and love – compassion and love that satisfies our desperate need in the face of sin. Not until our Lord removes the veil of darkness of daily living on the Last Day, much like the way he momentarily did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, (Luke 24) were they or are we able to say definitively, “I see clearly now!”

There is one final aspect to our Transfiguration text, and that is what the voice of God told the disciples to do. He did not tell them to build a megachurch. He did not tell them to set up a praise band to walk behind Jesus. He told them in a very pressing way, “listen to him” (verse 7). That is what God wants. He wants us to “see” by faith and listen to Jesus. He wants us to listen to what he has to say to us and about us sinners. He wants us to listen to what he said and not try to second-guess him. “This is my body.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you.” “I tell you the truth, your sins are forgiven.” “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “Follow me.”

There is an old adage that says, “seeing is believing.” But Jesus himself shot down that notion when he told the disciples after he had risen, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). If we wait to see our glorified and transfigured Lord for confirmation of our faith, that will be too late. We will not see our Lord physically with our own two eyes until the Last Day – Judgment Day. Instead, we as believers in Jesus “see” him with our eyes of faith and we live our lives believing without having to see. We live by faith, not by sight as we live in God’s grace, his love, his mercy, and his forgiveness as we faithfully await the return of our Lord in his glorious splendor; just as the prisoner waited for his precious marble to drop in the dark. And when we are able to live like that, when we can find hope in our darkness and the strength-filled confidence to move forward in life, then we can faithfully echo the words of St. Peter as he too stood in awe of his Transfigured Lord and uttered “how good Lord it is to be here.”

Amen.

5th Sunday after Epiphany

5th Sunday after Epiphany

February 7, 2021

Mark 1:29-39

“Christus Consolator”

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 Mark 1.

My dear friends,

You know me well enough by now to know I’m not a fancy-pants artsy-fartsy kind of guy. Give me the Super Bowl over a museum of art any day. I wouldn’t know a Monet from a Manet from mayonnaise. Yet I do from time to time come across some pretty cool images to use in sermons. This is an image I have used before, but never explained. This painting is by Danish artist Carl Bloch who painted this image called “Christus Consolator,” a painting that shows forlorn people in various states of anguish huddled around the risen Christ. A consolator is “one who consoles,” and according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word is obsolete. Still, I think that’s an apt title for Jesus.

I know it’s hard to remember a TV commercial from 1976, but I can. A father and son were leaving the hockey rink. The announcer introduced us to Pete, still in his gear. He was the goalie who let the puck get by him and consequently lost the game. The dad, who felt his son’s anguish but who also knew that life is much more than hockey, offered his son a wintergreen Life Savers candy. The son grudgingly took what his dad offered. The dad told his son that when Dad fumbled and lost his high school’s big game, it took a whole roll of similar Life Savers candies to make him feel better. The son turned to his dad and smiled and asked him if he had a whole roll. The dad consoled his son by reminding him there would be other games. Then the scene ended, and the announcer told the viewers that Life Savers candies are a part of life.

A roll of wintergreen Life Savers candies may be useful for some occasions, but the people in the Christus Consolator painting don’t strike me as those who only need a mint. A prisoner in chains is looking for relief from his sins. A cripple has seemingly lost the will to live. A man hopeless and broken he clings to Jesus as his only source of hope. A widow and an orphan looks to Jesus, forlorn. A skeptical religious leader wrestles with his questions and doubts. None of the figures in the painting is a biblical character. Instead, they are representatives of the countless people through the ages who have encountered Christ the Consolator. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). We find refuge in him, the Consolator.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus strides into a sickroom. Peter’s mother-in-law is suffering with a “great (Luke) fever.” In those days, before antibiotics, such fevers were a genuine and immediate threat to life. This woman is left nameless. Of course, Mark knows Peter’s mother-in-law’s name; yet he does not use it. Why? Mark is telling us that the Lord Christ attends the anonymous, the forgotten, the nameless, faceless individual who is in need of divine consolation. Jesus is the one who takes initiative with us, to serve us, to extend life to us. He comes to us in our “back rooms,” suffering with our own perilous fevers and comes to give us rest and consulation. Christus Consolator.

Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her. Immediately. No magic wand, no “presto-chango” mumbo jumbo. An exchange takes place: her sickness and his health. He takes what is ours and gives to us what is his and did so in the remainder of today’s Gospel lesson. Sickness, demon-possession, disease, sin, and death—he came to take it all. More than one biblical writer tells us about this blessed exchange. Isaiah writes, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4). Matthew writes, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Mt 8:17). Paul tells us that Christ became poor with our poverty, he became sin with all of our transgressions, he became dead with the death of the whole human race. He restores us with his blessing, his victory, his truth, his divine love. THAT is consolation.

I don’t need to tell you that this life is very often not pretty, not comfortable, not fun. People look for consolation. People hunt high and low for every conceivable way to cope with trouble in life, and find something that they think will turn things around. An adulterous relationship, a bottle, gambling, clothing, pills, food, shopping sprees, endless entertainment—you name it. Solomon would call it “Vanity!” Looking for consolation in these things not only doesn’t help but very often makes the problem worse. It may deaden the pain temporarily, but it does not console. Our Lord brings us something more, for he is Christus Consolator.

Jesus took the woman by the hand and lifted her up. That exact same phrase is used one other time in the Gospel narratives: for Jairus’ dead daughter. She, too, had no name. She lay in the back of the house, a twelve-year-old, lifeless. The situation was not one that a wintergreen Life Savers candy could resolve for Jairus and his wife. Christus Consolator moved directly to the child’s side, took her by the hand, and raised her up: “Child, arise” (Lk 8:54). Life after death is consolation; resurrection is consolation.

The Lord’s empty tomb is divine consolation for sinners who know that death is real…so very, very real.

To bless you and console you, Jesus died; the Son of God Almighty died. To console you in whatever grief this world brings, the Lord of heaven and earth died.

Now and ever living, Christus Consolator serves you here through the Word, the preached Word that you hear, at this altar where he gives you his body and blood. The great fever of your sin is not on you. You are forgiven. Your shame has been removed, your guilt atoned for. You are embraced by the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. You have been made new in Christ’s blood. Again, that is consolation.

He consoles you with his resurrection and sends you out to serve your fellow man. All this is consolation of the highest order. We shall run in this life, the race marked out for us; we shall run and not be weary. We walk toward heaven. We will not faint. We will not give up. Christus Consolator is with us. Always…to the very end.

This worked 2 weeks ago. Let’s see if it works tonight. Go Bucs!

Amen.

 

4th Sunday after Epiphany

4th Sunday after Epiphany

January 31, 2021

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

“Can, But Won’t”

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the sermon is based on the Epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians 8.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Sometimes, even though we can do something, we don’t do it so that someone else doesn’t get hurt. I’d sum it up this way: “Yes, I can, but, no, I won’t.”

I remember when I was attending the Seminary and finances were an every-day concern for every student. However, God richly blessed and provided for me and I had more than enough. One day I received a letter from a Men’s Group in Illinois that wanted to send me $100 month in support. A classmate of mine had 4 children and was getting less monthly financial help than I was. I wrote back to the Men’s Group, thanked them for their offer, and then suggested they instead send the money every month to my classmate and friend. I never told him about it, reminding myself of Matthew 6:3 – “when you give…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I could have told him, but I chose not to. Can, but won’t.

The apostle Paul is setting forth that same principle in this Bible passage today: “Now concerning food offered to idols . . .” (v 1). I know these verses sound strange. Food sacrificed to idols. Not eating meat. What’s this all about? Back in Corinth, you would find all sorts of temples and shrines to various idols and false gods. Animals would be sacrificed and the meat of those animals would be split three ways. First, some would be left at the altar for the false god. Second, some would be eaten by people who worshiped there, often in special meals or celebrations. Third, the rest would be taken to the marketplace and sold.

Now, some of the members of that Corinthian congregation said, “We know those are false gods. We know the idols are just wood or gold or stone. We know there’s just one true God. We know this food isn’t going to get us any closer to Jesus or push us further away. It’s just plain food because those idols don’t really exist anyway. We can go ahead and eat this meat. Why not?” In the church, however, were some people who had been very involved in those kinds of sacrifices. They couldn’t separate the eating they were doing now from the eating they were doing when they were worshiping the false gods and idols before. So their conscience was hurt. Their conscience was weak because to eat this meat would lead them back to the idols and away from Jesus.

Paul steps into the situation. He isn’t talking about things that are definitely wrong here like the actual worship of idols. Of course that’s wrong. And he isn’t dealing with adultery, stealing, getting drunk, or other things that are forbidden. No, he’s talking about this gray area of whether we can eat this meat or not…an adiaphoron.

Paul says, “Yes, you can eat this meat, at least in the privacy of your home, since you know the idol is a fake, and you don’t at all mean to worship it.” But what about when you’re with other people at your home or eating at church as a congregation? Can you eat the meat that had been sacrificed to idols then? Well, here the principle we started with comes into play, “Yes, I can, but, no, I won’t because it might hurt someone I’m with.” See, they might think eating the meat that was sacrificed to idols means it’s okay to worship the idol too. Out of love for the brother or sister who could stumble, even though you could, you don’t. Can, but won’t.

Now, how could you apply this since we don’t have the same problem of meat sacrificed to idols today? Well, is it okay to have a glass of wine? Yes, of course it is. Now, we’re not talking about getting drunk. The Bible says that’s wrong. But we can have something to drink. But let’s take it to where the apostle Paul comes into play. Did you know that in the United States, 5% of adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder (2019)? That’s more than 14 million people. I once attended a family workshop for addicts at Glenmore Recovery Center. The facilitator asked family members to think of “triggers” for addicts, that is, things they see and experience that tempts the addict to use. We came up with a list of about 15-20 things. Then they brought the addicted family members in. They easily came up with 40 more triggers…things we would have never thought would trigger them to use, but there it was. We quickly found out that there are things we can have around, but probably shouldn’t. Can, but won’t.

How does this play out for those of us in church? Can you take a drink? Yes. But, if you know somebody is there who has troubles with alcohol, it’s the time to say: “No, I’m not going to drink. I’ll have water or juice or soda or whatever instead.” You say no because you don’t want to hurt someone by somehow encouraging that person to take a drink, which would lead to a fall back into problem drinking. I know I can, but for the sake of someone else, the love I have for my neighbor, my brother or sister in Christ, this time I won’t do it. Can, but won’t.

Some people have trouble with spending money. They can’t keep their credit cards in line, and they are in debt. If you have an opportunity to go out with that person and know the difficulty they have with finances, then the invitation is not to go shopping but to do something else. Could you go shopping? Yes. But for the sake of someone who could stumble into some sin, you don’t. The same holds true for gambling and sexuality and certain kinds of unhealthy foods. I can…but I won’t. For the sake of someone else.

There are other areas in life in which this same principle applies…can, but won’t. Despite how difficult things have been or may yet become, we can but we won’t give up. We can but we won’t stop praying. We can, but we won’t ever lose hope, for our hope in all of life’s challenges are found in Christ.

Jesus died for our brother or sister in the Church. He has died for you and me as well. Now Jesus could have opted out. He could have said, “I’ll just stay in heaven and not worry about the people in need of forgiveness.” He could have done that. But he didn’t. He did what we needed so we would become his brothers and sisters in his Church. We have only one Savior, one Lord, and his name is Jesus. By his sacrifice, he forgives us. As Jesus has sacrificed himself for us, he wants us to sacrifice our rights for others. In love, we do what we can to keep our brother or sister in Christ from stumbling into some sin by using a simple principle…Can, but won’t.

Amen.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

January 24, 2021

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

“God of the Second Chance”

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the sermon is based on the lesson from the Old Testament prophet Jonah.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

So many people, myself included, have stopped using a “land-line” telephone and just use their cell phone. One of the great features of a cell phone is that it tells you right away who is calling. If it’s someone you know, you see their name and maybe a photo. If it’s someone you don’t know, you’re given the location of the caller’s area code. That’s the beauty of something like Caller ID. You can pick and choose which calls to answer and ignore since telemarketers call ENDLESSLY! But what if the Caller ID window said that GOD was calling? What then? Well, welcome to the world of Jonah!

Jonah was a prophet of God – all be it a very reluctant prophet – in the 8th century BC whose book contains the least amount of actual prophecy. In fact, the only real prophecy that takes places in Jonah is found in today’s lesson in verse 4: “…forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The rest of the book is Jonah’s story and how he was sent to Nineveh to provide this prophecy which the Ninevites heard, heeded, and God relented in His destruction of Nineveh much to Jonah’s disappointment. The book of Jonah is good stuff; it’s not about the “whale” and it’s not about Jonah; it’s about God’s compassionate dealing with a reluctant person and a reluctant people, and to both God shows mercy; He gives them a second chance.

In Jonah chapter 1, God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh, to which Jonah says “Yeah…I don’t think so.” He ran from God’s call, which is why we then get the narrative that involves the storm at sea and the “whale.” At the conclusion of chapter two, the great fish vomits Jonah onto dry land, and God calls Jonah a second time, and gives Jonah – even reluctant Jonah – a second chance.

God calls to us in His Word – daily – to live as His forgiven people ought to live, but it is so easy for us instead to ignore His divine Caller ID. It is easier to try to keep those sinful habits of ours in the dark. It is easier to have those sinful thoughts and rationalize them away believing that only we know what’s going on in our minds. It is easier to ignore God’s Word and will for our lives and instead do what our sinful flesh desires. God sees and knows our daily sinful rebellion, our nasty thoughts, our wicked and harsh words, and He knows that when His call comes, we are so prone in our sinfulness to either allow the call to ring or simply out-and-out ignore the call of God. Yet, God keeps calling! He never gives up on Jonah…He never gives up on you! Our God is a God of second chances.

When the time was right, Jesus Christ came into our world to provide the answer to God’s call regarding who would save His people. It was a call as old as time itself. After humanity’s fall into sin, God promised that one day One would come who would crush the head of the serpent – Satan – and that first-Gospel promise (Genesis 3:15) was fulfilled in and through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For every time that you have sinned, Christ paid the price for your rebellion with His body and blood. For every time that you have ignored God’s Word for your life, Christ obeyed it and satisfied it perfectly through His perfect obedience; an obedience that took Him all the way to Calvary’s cross. Why?

Why would God give us so many second chances? Why would He keep loving us and forgiving us? That’s what every loving parent does. God created you. He loves you. Christ died for you, that you might be His own. Your every day is a day of second chances; what you do with them is up to you.

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played the University of California in the Rose Bowl. During the first half of the game, All-American center Roy Riegels (“regals”) recovered a fumble for California on his own 35 yard line. In evading some of the Georgia Tech tacklers, Riegels became confused. He started running – 65 yards – in the wrong direction. One of his teammates outran him and tackled him on the one yard line just before Riegels was about to score for Georgia Tech. The mistake resulted in a safety which proved to be the deciding points of the game. It was a colossal blunder in one of college football’s biggest annual bowl games.

A football coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half-time. That afternoon Coach Nibbs Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, “Men, the same team that started the first half will start the second.” The players got up and started out. All but Roy Riegels; he didn’t budge. The coach looked back and called to him again. Riegels didn’t move. Coach Price walked over to Riegels and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that started the first half will start the second.” Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with tears. Then Coach Price put his hand on Riegels shoulder and said, “Roy, get up and go on back. The game is only half over.” Roy Riegels did go back, and even though his mistake earned him the name “Wrong Way” and the notoriety of committing one of the worst blunders in college football history, Riegels blocked a punt in the 2nd half, but it wasn’t enough. Tech won the game 8-7, but the Georgia Tech players testified that they had seldom seen a man play as Roy Riegels did in that second half. Riegels made the most of his second chance. In 1991, he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Even “Wrong Way” Riegels was given a second second chance.

You’re still in the game, my friends, and although at times you may feel you’re running the wrong way, your loving and forgiving God is there to encourage you, to strengthen you, to forgive you, and empower you to live each day as His own. Our God is a God of second chances. Now, what are you going to do with the chance that you’ve been given today and every day? Today is your chance – every day is your chance – to “get back in the game” and make a difference for the Kingdom of God.

Oh…one more thing. Go Bucs!

Amen.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

January 17, 2021

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

“An Epiphany…Wedding?”

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the sermon is based on the Epistle lesson that was read from 1 Corinthians chapter 6.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Well, here we are. It’s Epiphany…that season after Christmas when we focus on the revelation that the Christ – the light of the world – has come for both Jew and Gentile. Sadly, the brilliant glow of Christmas has faded away. The lights at UTC are off now. The candles and lights of Christmas have been taken down and put away. Almost forgotten already are the wonderful times we’ve had as a family and friends; being with children or grandchildren even if it was on Zoom, the house filled with music and light hearts and memories and traditions and foods that only come out once a year. Good times indeed, but now almost forgotten.

Now, especially it seems around here these days, without the light of Christmas, the darkness of the world begins to shroud our lives as we begin the grind of January and a new year. The grief and pressures of a new year are already piling up; 2021 is NOT off to a great start! We find ourselves, as St. Paul would say, in a world full of sin and darkness…a dark, illicit, un-epiphany-like world. The problems of our lives individually as people and collectively as a nation wear us down and possibly depress us and our families. Maybe what we need to lift our spirits is a wedding!

Now, you may find this hard to believe, but in the 17 years I have been a pastor I have presided at 60 funerals, but I have also done a whopping 40 weddings! That’s a lot of planning, counseling, rehearsals, and panicky brides! Why do we need a wedding around here? Well, the story of the brilliant Christ Child still enlightens our hearts this Epiphany season. If we close our eyes, we can still see the candlelight of Christmas Eve. We can still see the sanctuary decked out, the huge tree, the glow of the lights and the flickering flames. What better setting even now – especially now – for a wedding? An Epiphany wedding. Today, we are gathered here in the sight of God and of His Church for an Epiphany wedding – that we may be joined to the Lord. What a joyous occasion! Except…because in this world we are sinful humans, we’re already married in a sense. We have instead joined ourselves to things.

It’s not just for little children that this time of year is dark and moody; “You broke my favorite toy! Did not!” The bills of Christmas are coming due. “How did we spend so much money? It’s all because you won’t limit the gifts to your family,” some husband or wife might say. And the fight is on. Our relationships are damaged yet again. Why? Because we’d rather be joined to our possessions than to the people the Lord has given us.

And all those New Year’s resolutions we’re soooo committed to…they’re broken also. The new exercise program has already fallen into disuse. The new diet worked for a few days, but food is too good, and the addiction to our super-sized portions is too compelling (v 12). Paul would say, “Food is meant for the stomach” (v 13a), but don’t let food control you. If you do, you’ve joined yourself to another thing, as is common in our dark, sinful world. We join ourselves with so many other things beyond food: money, TV, gambling, alcohol, greed, power, the Internet, that we allow this union to take over the union that we are to have in and with Christ.

Above all, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul reminds us that even the marital relationship is sadly not exempt from the fractured, quarrelsome darkness of the world. The perils of our sexuality, of being faithful in the illicit world, are EVERYWHERE and can shake our faith. Look at our sinful world. Sexuality is on our minds, on our televisions, in our music. All one has to do is try to watch one evening of prime time television…if you’re able.

Our culture is full of “prostituting” its members with things. If someone asked you to out-and-out be joined to a prostitute, you’d probably say “Never!” Except, well, in a manner of speaking, we are—we all are—all the time by joining ourselves to the addictions and cravings of our sinful flesh. As a result, we’re doomed to hell, and that’s not good. It’s a reality that has a potential to make us even sadder than we already are these days!

But, my friends, by faith we have been joined to the Lord (v 17). Jesus Christ came into the world of our failures, our brokenness, our fights, our improper unions and our squabbles. He brought His peace, a peace which surpasses our human understanding. He came to give a peace different from what the world can offer us. He appeared at Bethlehem, and those who are wise still come to see Him and kneel at His side. Christ came into the world to wash us in His precious blood, to forgive us of all our sins, to claim us as His own, to dress us in His white garments, and to marry us as His beloved Bride.

Sin brought corruption of our marriages with the world, and we have to deal with those issues daily whether we are single, married, or whatever our situation may be. He came to be faithful to us in every way despite our unfaithfulness. Christ came into the world to do the things we could not do. He came to overcome our sinful nature and to win for us the right to be His; we are not our own; we belong to Him.

   Especially today, with the last year we’ve had so far, you may be feeling like you are anything but joined to the Lord in the bond of marriage. However, even in the fading glow of Christmas and the shroud of death that hovers over us all, the light of Epiphany illumines our lives. The great King of kings says to you, “You are mine!” While you were sinners, broken, in darkness, prostituting yourselves in so many ways, He married you. You are His beloved, loved now and loved forever that you might honor, love, and serve Him with your whole body and being. That’s the kind of promise that gets us through these dark days.

Now…who wants cake?

Amen.

 

Epiphany

The Epiphany of our Lord

January 10, 2021

Matthew 2:1-12

“Open to the Public”

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the sermon is based on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 2.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

For those who live in Sarasota, I have a question. Where do you go for vacation when you live in a vacation destination? Good question, right? Recently I found a work-around by vacationing on the East Coast near Vero Beach. It was awesome…all except for the trip home. Sure, coming home after vacation is never fun, but I had a new dilemma. I was driving on New Year’s Day. Not every business I needed or wanted was open. Some were closed for the New Year’s holiday. Thankfully the PGA Superstore in Orlando was open; nothing says “new years” like new golf stuff! On the road, I found myself peering for a lit-up “OPEN” sign before stopping for anything.

Well, I bring that up because some 2000 years ago, God hung a very similar kind of sign in the sky. The bright star that led the magi to the baby Jesus shone bright enough to call these wise men from the east all the way to Jerusalem. It’s as if God had put a huge sign over Bethlehem that read “Open” and these gentile wise men came in response to this significant sign (2:2).

This Gospel text is familiar to us because we naturally consider it part of the Christmas celebration; every nativity scene always includes the 3 wise men. It seems so familiar and so straight forward, but the thing is problems abound with the scholarly interpretation of Matthew 2:1-12.

First of all, scholars debate about the star itself. It could have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occurred in 7 BC, which actually just occurred again a few weeks ago. It was neat, sure, but enough to coax the wise men to make a lengthy, dangerous journey? Doubtful. Others have suggested it was a comet, perhaps Halley’s Comet, which did appear in 12 B.C. And just who are these “wise men?” By the end of the 6th century, they were given names even though Matthew did not name or even number them: Melchoir, Balthasar, and Gasper. But who are these guys? They were not kings (I know we sing “We Three Kings of orient are…) but they were the best of the intellectual community in their cultural world. The stars were a part of what they studied. Then there is the question of when did they actually arrive? The night of Jesus’ birth or more like 2 years later? So many questions! The fact remains that a divine star led them first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. This star was a supernatural event; it was God’s handy work and not a cosmic coincidence. The “Open to the Public” sign had been hung in the heavens for all to see.

Let’s consider the reaction of those already in Jerusalem. King Herod’s reaction is typical; he is jealous and paranoid. Judea had been attacked many times from east (Assyria, Babylon), and he feared a future attack from Persia. Herod loved power, inflicted incredibly high taxes on his people, and resented the fact that many Jews disliked him. In fits of jealousy and rage he killed close associates including his own wife and two sons. Herod was jealous and afraid of what this child might become.

The chief priests and scribes, or experts in the law, were surprisingly indifferent. These religious leaders, who no doubt had heard why the wise men had come, show NO interest in joining the wise men in their worship pilgrimage! The Magi, Gentiles, are the ones who worship the new born king. God has hung his bright light, his “OPEN” sign, in the sky for all to see but not everyone realizes the implications of what’s going on.

In the Christian Church, our sign still says “Open for business.” But not everyone wants it, do they? Many are not interested in a faith that demands that you forsake yourself and care for others. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, many are completely indifferent to the message of the Gospel. There is such a prevailing attitude of “I’ve been to church – my grandma goes all the time – and I’m a good person so that means I’m going to heaven.” People want connection to church without commitment to cross-bearing, they want religion without relationship, they want deliverance without attendance. In their mind, Salvation is a fringe benefit of twice-a-year church attendance on Christmas and Easter or maybe God will give everyone a “pass” because of COVID. But that’s not how it works!

So, how does it work? The wise men knew. They knew that salvation was found in Jesus the Messiah. Driven by that truth they walked across the Middle East so they could bow down and worship him. They were right. Salvation is not a bonus for good behavior. As a part of God’s plan, Jesus came to be the ultimate sacrifice; to pay the blood price we could not pay. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. The birth of this child makes God’s glory “Open to the Public” for both Jew and Gentile alike through faith. What a marvelous bright star that has come into our dreary and dark world!

Now…let me ask you another question. How does God’s “OPEN” sign change you? How does his “OPEN” sign affect those suffering from the “Coronavirus blues?” How does his “OPEN” sign help someone who is sick, lonely, or impacted by disease and death? How does the coming of the Messiah change those facing a difficult time financially? This sign to us and for us, the gift of our Savior, is a gift that gives hope – and hope is in short supply these days. Our response is like that of the wise men. We worship our king born to save us not just during Christmas or just one hour every week but every day of our lives!

This gift of our Savior Jesus Christ is given to ALL. His free gift of salvation opens the kingdom of God to us by our faith in Christ. “Open to the Public” was the message of the star that night above Bethlehem and “Open to the Public” was also the message as Jesus died on Calvary’s cruel cross. 3 days later the message would be repeated because Easter’s tomb was open and is still open. The Savior has come to save his people. The wise men knew it. We know it. That’s what Epiphany is all about. Come, let us follow that sign to worship; let us behold Him in Word and sacrament, and bow down before our king.

Amen.

 

1st Sunday after Christmas

1st Sunday after Christmas

December 27, 2020

Galatians 4:4-7

“The Fullness of Time”

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the sermon is based on the Epistle Lesson read earlier from Galatians 4.

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Time. There is a lot of emphasis on time these days. People want time to run out on 2020, which it will do later this week. What kind of time will it take to get the COVID vaccine out and the population vaccinated? When will we get a stimulus check, and how much? $600 per American with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to other countries? I’m no politician, but even I know that’s no way to run a railroad. Why send all that aid to Oman and Burma when people in Omaha and Birmingham are still reeling from COVID-19?

I know that the tendency by now is to think that the time for Christmas is over. In so many people’s eyes and hearts, homes and lives, Christmas time is over. But here’s the thing. Christmas is not just a day. It is also a season – a time – in the Church. Christmas as a church season lasts for 12 days (we don’t even get THAT song anymore). The time of the Christmas season extends from December 25th until January 5th. On January 6th a new season begins; the season of Epiphany. Many people in the church, and most definitely outside the church, are of the opinion that the time of Christmas is over. That’s not true, and today I would have us consider “time.” What is the “fullness of time,” and what does that mean to you this Christmas season?

St. Paul is a man who knew the beautiful and, at the same time, cruel march of time. Paul wrote Galatians somewhere between 51-53 AD. It is a letter written to demonstrate that faith in Christ changes a person here and now but also eternally…for all time. Paul had been among the Galatian Christians, but since his departure they had fallen away from the true Gospel. Paul’s duties would not allow him the time to return physically, so he wrote his letter to them.

In today’s lesson, Paul writes “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). At a specific and appropriate time in human history, God acted to fulfill His eternal purpose. All of God’s eternal, cosmic, divine tumblers all had to come together in the “fullness” of time to fulfill the salvation narrative/plan.

In this world there is a time for everything: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV). But why then? Why not today when our Lord’s birth could have been fully documented and photographed by journalists and played endlessly on YouTube? Why entrust the proclamation of the birth of this world’s Savior to shepherds and not CNN or endless postings on social media? Could it be that had it occurred another way, that is, that involved technological advancements, that faith itself would no longer matter? “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). In the fullness of time – God’s time – He acted to bring forth His salvation so that you might hear the Word (the testimony HE provides) and believe, which now changes your life at this time and for all time…eternally.

When I was growing up, my parents listened to KFAB radio out of Omaha. KFAB used to broadcast segments done by radio legend Paul Harvey, who signed off each program the same – “Paul Harvey…good day.” He once told a story that helps explain why and when God does the things He does. It goes like this.

There once was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation of Jesus stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man, so he chose not to worship or live as a Christian.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church on Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the candle light service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. The man wasn’t worried; the church was close by so his family wouldn’t be in danger. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his new Lee Child book. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large picture window in the front of the house.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children kept their horse. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, boots, gloves, and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bird food, sprinkled it on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the barn. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the food, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and walk with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid; that it’s okay to trust me and follow me. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand and trust me and follow me.”

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – “O Come, All Ye Faithful” – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And that’s when the true meaning and magnitude of Christmas sank into his heart and he sank to his knees in the snow.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That is what time is all about; how God in time – the fullness of time – works to save you. He did it 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. He will come again to bring about final completion of time. And He will work mightily and wonderfully in the fullness of your lifetime as well.

Happy New Year everyone. Good day! Amen.