Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon Dec. 22-23, 2012

Title: Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

Text: Luke 1:41-42

41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

While crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner, F.B. Meyer was asked to address the first class passengers. At the captain's request he spoke on "Answered Prayer." An unbeliever who was present at the service was asked by his friends, "What did you think of Dr. Meyer's sermon?" He answered, "I didn't believe a word of it." That afternoon Meyer went to speak to the passengers with the lower class accommodations. Many of the listeners who had heard the morning sermon went along, including the unbeliever, who claimed he just wanted to hear "what the babbler had to say."

Before starting for the service, the unbeliever put two oranges in his pocket. On his way he passed an elderly woman sitting in her deck chair fast asleep. Her hands were open. In what he thought would be a bit of fun, the unbeliever put the two oranges in her outstretched palms. After the meeting, he saw the old lady happily eating one of the pieces of fruit. "You seem to be enjoying that orange," he remarked with a smile. She replied, "Oh, my Father is very good to me." "Your father … surely your father can't be still alive?" "Praise God," she replied, "He is very much alive." "What do you mean?" he asked. "Well Sir, I have been seasick for days. I was asking God somehow to send me an orange. I suppose I fell asleep while I was praying. When I awoke, I found He had not only sent me one orange but two!"

Our Daily Bread

Oh yes, our Father is very good because:

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

In our study of the Book of Ruth during our adult mid-week Bible class this year, we learned that Bethlehem Ephrathah means “the house of bread.” It will play a special role in God’s plan as the prophet Micah records in our Old Testament reading for today:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

This “house of bread”, Bethlehem, would become the place where the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior would come down to save His people from the power sin, death and the Devil’s working in their lives. From this tiny town the salvation of the world would emerge.

Mary, who just a little bit earlier in Luke’s gospel reading, would have a visitation from the Angel Gabriel, announcing that she would have a very special role as well to play in God’s plan for restoring the gulf that was fixed by sin between God and man and we also these past two weeks heard how John the Baptist would be used by God to prepare the way.

Today our Gospel reading moves back a bit in the story, some 30 plus years, to Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, another women used by God for a very important role. She would bear the prophet, John, who would be the greatest of all prophets as Jesus said in our Gospel reading from last week, 28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.

But this visit from Mary to Elizabeth was a bit different.

Mary with joyful energy and as the text says, “Arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,” and came to the house of Zachariah, where she greeted Elisabeth, just as you or I might great a relative or dear friend. But then God performed a miracle. By the working of the Holy Spirit this unborn son of Elisabeth, at hearing Mary’s voice, was filled with the Holy Spirit. And so too Elisabeth, by this same Spirit acting in a miraculous way, also filled her as she spoke:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord (by special gifting of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth was given the knowledge and trusting faith to know who this child Mary was carrying truly was) should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42b-44)

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

So what does the knowledge given you by the Spirit about Jesus bring you? Is it an unstoppable kind of joy that might even cause you to leap?  If you’re like me, I joy in Christ and that he has given me freedom from sin … but the Christmas season can be a drag. Having worked in sales for most of my adult life I have found it hard to get joyful working extra and being consumed with all that needs to be done.

Then add to all of that the fact that this child, this babe from Bethlehem, would become and is an offence to many. He is an offense in our world for sure so much so that Merry Christmas has become Happy Holidays for most of we who spend time in retail that the true meaning of Christmas has been neutered into just another sale. Sound familiar?

The message of who He is, who this child that we wait for this Advent season is, who caused the child in the womb of Elizabeth to jump for joy, this child Jesus Christ, came to conquer the power of evil and brokenness in the world, for you.

“Merry Christmas!” Try that greeting and see at times how you are received. “Jesus loves you,” another phrase that seems to bring anger in the hearts of those outside the faith.

There is a story I read this month from Hemant Mehta, who runs a blog called the Happy Atheist. In it he describes a situation of a Nativity scene placed outside of the Cottondale Elementary School in Florida.

(What’s that? Oh right, “Tradition.”) but not anymore. In order to avoid any lawsuits that they would lose in a heartbeat, the school has put the Baby Jesus in a closet:

The principal of the school told the television station that after a visit from the Department of Education:
“In an attempt to be fair to everyone, the principal said, “We decided that we would just not put the Nativity scene out on campus.”

“There are people in the community that are threatening to sue the school board (over separation of church and state issues), and it costs a tremendous amount of money to defend something you know you will lose,” she said.

It is after all the law. But, is it really just a church and state issue? In a funny turn to the story, a business across the street put the schools Nativity on their property so those of the community could still enjoy it. Needless to say our happy Atheist was none to happy … “They’re acting like they’re beating the system by doing it … but they’re not. They’re perfectly within their rights to do this and no one will tell them to remove it.”

via Atheist Lutheran

Is this really just about church and state? No if you look into any of these situations, it’s always about those who are unbelievers … who are offended, not wanting this unbelievably offensive, Christ child, in their face. And while they seem to be fine with the nativity across the street from the school, they’re not, because they believe that the school thinks that they’re beating the system and if they could make it illegal to have a nativity everywhere … they would.

Why, because it’s not about a character, who leaves presents under trees or where they believe that the date of Christmas is said to be taken from a pagan holiday and then Christianized. I posted an article on the churches Facebook page entitled:

How December 25 Became Christmas
By Andrew McGowan where he writes:

“Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.9March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d”

You can read the rest of the article on our Facebook link if you want to. It is quite fascinating.
So the truth may be a bit simpler than just picking a pagan holiday and it may also be quite a bit older than the world wants to admit. We celebrate on March 25: The Annunciation of the Lord when the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the Christ child and then we simply have 9 months between the date of the Annunciation and the date of Christmas and celebrate Dec. 25th in the liturgical year for the birth of Jesus.

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

For John in the womb and Elizabeth, the joy that is the Christ child came in a miraculous and unexpected way through Mary’s visit. We too receive the joy that is Jesus Christ our Lord when He calls us to gather together in His name; where we receive his word and his sacraments giving us both faith and joy in this Christ child who came to free sinners, like you and me, from the enemy of our sin, from the death that it has brought to all who are conceived in sin and brought fourth in iniquity, (Psalm 51.5) and finally to join us to Him who is God in the flesh for all eternity!

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

Finally, the true joy of Christmas and the Christ child can come for some in the lights of a police car in the rear view mirror of a man who was pulled over for an expired registration.

Hayden Carlo who was pulled over by a Plano, Texas, cop for driving his car with an expired registration, said he told the officer the truth:

"I said there's no explanation for why I haven't done it, except I don't have the money. It was either feed my kids or get this registration done," the 25-year-old told CBS news.

The cop handed Carlo a blank ticket, along with something extra, "I opened it up and there's a $100 bill," said Carlo. "I broke down in my car, what else could I do?"

The mystery police officer chose not to be identified.

Still, the department plans to honor him anyway. A Police Department spokesman told CBS, "As he told me, this man needed it more than him, and it was the right thing to do."

Carlo said. "He helped me out when I needed it. I appreciate that, I'll never forget that man," "It definitely restored my faith in God."

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need and then He gives the joy of sharing that same love with others!

Joy in the Christ child that we await. He came for you and by the power of the Holy Spirit gives you faith to leap for joy from the womb of death that you are born into, and by that same Spirit He lifts you into his loving arms never to let sin, death or the Devil pull you from the eternal life he gives.

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon Dec. 15-16, 2012

Title: Christ is the one to come, rejoice in this Good News!

Text: Luke 7:20 & 22

20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”  22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

As a little boy, I use to get presents from relatives in Pennsylvania. As the presents came in they would get arranged according to whom they were for and then … a certain little boy … I’m not saying who, would start counting the presents! If one of his brothers or sister had more presents, it could take the joy of the Christmas season and make it joyless.

Today many of us are wrestling with the tragedy that occurred in Connecticut this past Friday. For many their Christmas has become joyless or nonexistent. But as we look at the Advent banner for today we can Rejoice in the one to come, who will take all our pain away and has given us joy in His Gospel message that:

Christ – the promised one - is the one to come and we can rejoice in this Good News!

The work of John the Baptist was talked about this past weekend. He was the one who would prepare the way, for another, but who?

The disciples of John had been reporting all these things to him. Of Jesus’ healing the Centurion’s servant … you remember the story … from earlier in Luke chapter 7:

“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof … But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; … 9 When Jesus heard these things, … and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:7-9)

Or, the funeral procession of the widow’s son from the town of Nain that Jesus came upon. And he said a little further in Luke 7:

“Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched, the man and he said, “Young man … I say to you, arise.” And he gave him back to his mother.(Luke 7:14-15)

This is the question that John wanted his disciples to answer …

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John knew that his own calling was to prepare the way … to be the one crying out in the wilderness … to point his followers to the messiah, the Christ, the one who was to come. The question that they asked of Jesus, “Is it you? Are you the one? What should we tell John?”

Jesus, answering them said:

22 … “Go … tell John what you have seen and what you've heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Christ is the one to come, rejoice in this Good News!

I had a nice sermon prepared but when I came here to run through it on Friday, the events of the day in Connecticut overwhelmed my preparation.

How do you deal with tragedy of this magnitude? How do you deal with loss of life, especially when it involves children between 6-7 years of age?

On Friday I was driving to an elementary school in Pontiac in the afternoon to play my banjo with a co-worker for a program for mentally challenged students. Many of these students are between the ages of 18-26 and are being prepared for living outside the home. As I drove to the John F. Kennedy Elementary school on Baldwin Rd. in Pontiac, I felt a connection to the school and the teachers in Connecticut, confronted and dealing with an event of unspeakable magnitude. When I drive I like to listen to Sports Talk Radio and as I was driving the radio host comes on and says, “I want someone of faith to call and explain this to me!”

What he was really saying, was … where was God? Why would a loving God allow this type of tragedy and suffering?

Well, I turned into the parking lot and entered the school and met the teachers and students, carrying my big banjo case and having no problem getting in or finding my friend, the teacher that invited us, and where we were to go. Many of these students have debilitating physical illness, some appear normal but have mental problems and others that are dealing with all of the above. We all had a joy filled time and both my friend Paul and I were blessed to play for them and to see these dedicated teachers and workers who love and care deeply for these special children of God.

Pastor Merrell and I attended our circuit meeting this past Tuesday and Pastor Tom Fisher did a sermon on God interrupting lives through the preaching of John the Baptist. Well, there was a terrible interruption this past Friday and Tom’s message said, "We must always be prepared for being interrupted by God". This interrupting opens us all up to God’s will and is one of the core objectives of Advent's message; … prepare ye the way of the Lord!"

My life, like yours, was interrupted Friday both by tragedy but for me, also joy. As I wrestled with the sad loss of life in Connecticut one minute, I was blessed by the faces of God’s special need children being cared for and loved by these teachers and workers, many like Paul's friend Deb who are Christian and who bring through their vocation, God’s caring hands to His special children in need.

… rejoice in this Good News!

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus asks and wants to know a very important thing from these disciples who were following Him.

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.

Is there no one greater than John? This prophet who would prepare the way for the Lord? When you think of some of the prophets; Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and on and on and John … is the greatest of all of these …

Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Christ is the one to come, for you, who are least in the Kingdom of God. Rejoice in this Good News!

You, who are the least in the Kingdom, are greater than John! Think about that! Christ has lifted you up. He has redeemed you. He has made you His own. He has called you to be his child. He has washed you clean in the blood of the Lamb. He will feed you on His very body and blood given and shed for you.

You who deserve death have been given new life in Him. Rejoice in Him!

Martin Luther who was not only a great theologian and defender of the faith but quite a good hymn writer as well wrote this little hymn that it a great comfort for all who live this Christian life of faith:

“Feelings come and feelings go, And feelings are deceiving;

My warrant is the Word of God--Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned, For want of some sweet token,

There is One greater than my heart, Whose Word cannot be broken.

I'll trust in God's unchanging Word, Till soul and body sever,

For, though all things shall pass away ... HIS WORD SHALL STAND FOREVER!”

― Martin Luther

Christ is the one to come, rejoice in this Good News!

This Advent as we watch and wait, know that there is one who knows you and has known you from the foundation of the world and has called you to be His own and has forgiven you your sin so that the righteousness that you had before sin came into the world could be restored to you in Christ, by faith.

You who are least in the kingdom of God:

Christ is the one who came for you. Rejoice in this Good News!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Sermon Dec.1-2, 2012

Title: In Christ the promise of righteousness is fulfilled for you!

Text: Jer. 33:14-16

14 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

In the Antarctic summer of 1908-9, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three companions attempted to travel to the South Pole from their winter quarters. They set off with four ponies to help carry the load. Weeks later, their ponies dead, rations all but exhausted, they turned back toward their base, their goal not accomplished.

Altogether, they trekked 127 days. On the return journey, as Shackleton records in The Heart of the Antarctic, the time was spent talking about food -- elaborate feasts, gourmet delights and sumptuous menus. As they staggered along, suffering from dysentery, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating.

Jesus, who also knew the ravages of food deprivation, said in Matt. 5:6,

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS!"

We can understand Shackleton's obsession with food, on his long return and food deprived journey. We too long for the day when the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, returns in glory for His bride, the church; and as we wait, we also prepare during this Advent season to welcome the babe in the manger who came to fulfill all righteousness and is … our righteousness, because:

Source Unknown.

In Christ the promise of righteousness is fulfilled for you!

Jeremiah had a tough job. As the court prophet for King Zedekiah he brought God’s word to the King. At times God’s word through Jeremiah could proclaim blessing and joy and at other times it could proclaim judgment and sorrow.

Judah was in bad shape. They had been falling away from God and His word and trusting in their own righteousness. Even Zedekiah’s name in Hebrew means “Just” and “Righteous.” I thought, just for fun, I’d look up my own name, Russell, only to find out it simply means “Ruddy” or “Red Haired” you can see my parents got that one wrong. But I’ll take just a little joy in my name and its meaning when we consider King David’s description in (1 Samuel 16:12):

12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”

For this is right, that David was anointed to be King called by God as one after God’s own heart. But King Zedekiah was hearing judgment from God through Jeremiah’s proclaiming and it was only a matter of time before God’s judgment would come, in the form of King Nebuchadnezzar and the entire Babylonian Army, carrying the entire nation away into exile.

So what do you do if you’re the King and you don’t like what God’s word says? You continue to trust in your own righteousness and your own reason and understanding and lock God’s prophet up in prison of the palace so you don’t have to hear it.

It’s what Zedekiah did and at times it’s what we do. But the joy that our lesson today proclaims … and the blessing we wait in anticipation for this Advent season is that:

In Christ the promise of righteousness is fulfilled for you!

Don’t you too at times shut up God’s word in your own prison of indifference or rejection? When God’s word condemns your sin, it is often easier to reject the truth God’s word points out than to turn in repentance, asking for forgiveness and receiving the forgiveness and absolution God so desires to give you and for you to hear.

For Zedekiah the judgment of God would come through the Babylonian Army. Where might your judgment come from? For you and for me and through the ages, the Army that many times caries us away is found in our own wisdom, understanding and reason. What God’s word says and that which we can’t understand or wrap our arms around we often reject as foolish or only intended for a certain place and at a certain time. We set ourselves up as God’s judge and determine what is and what is not relevant to me. Our society, or Kingdom if you will, is being judged by God’s word. The truth is we are falling short as a nation. We are all going our own way, as Israel did in the  Book of Judges, having everyman doing what was right in his own eyes so that only a generation or two later … they neither knew the Lord or what He had done for them. How or when we get carried away into our own exile as a nation remains to be seen. But, understanding and reason is a constant battleground.

As Martin Luther stated in one of his Table Talks:

He said:
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
—Martin Luther, Table Talks in 1569.

But even though we fall short there is still reason to rejoice because:

In Christ the promise of righteousness is fulfilled for you!

In those days, as also today, God’s word brought judgment and blessing and for those who needed to hear, just as we need to hear, listen:

14 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The promise of a savior, Christ the Lord, would spring forth from the righteous branch of that ruddy rascal King David. He, Jesus, would execute justice, fulfilling at the cross God’s work of redeeming mankind from sin and the works of the Law which cause many to stumble and fall short, trusting in their own works and own righteousness but you … are FREE because by the power of the Holy Spirit you have been brought to faith and trust in a foreign righteousness, one outside yourself and by that same Spirit you cling to Christ and the eternal hope for which He came.

In Christ the promise of righteousness is fulfilled for you!

16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

The Lord is our righteousness indeed! He has come for you and as we wait in joyful anticipation this Advent season for the coming of the babe in the manger … which is Christ the Lord, we know that He came for you.

But how, you might say, can I know and be sure that he came for me?  By faith through baptism and the preaching of the gospel, God has called you to believe and be His child.

As the Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Cor.5:17-21:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (in Christ) we might become the righteousness of God.

That is the blessed Good News; that is the blessed exchange that you cling to that:

In Christ the promise of righteousness is fulfilled for you!

The Lord is our righteousness … that we might become the righteousness of God!

So, just as Sir Ernest Shackleton and his three companions in their hardship and suffering on Antarctica hungered and longed for the feast that would satisfy their earthly need. So to, Christ has come … calling you to faith and to His banquet feast, turning you back to Him, and making you His beloved child who feasts on the righteous truths of His word and believes and holds fast the blessed hope as we wait and long for during this Advent season.

The days are coming … when I will fulfill the promise … And those days have come in Jesus Christ our Lord and savior, who having redeemed you from sin, death and the power of the Devil now clothes you with His righteousness now and forever more.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sermon Nov. 24-25, 2012

Title: God gathers His elect and you are gathered!

Text: Mark 13:26-27

26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, tells a parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each show is more fantastic than the last, and is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager comes forward. He apologizes for the interruption, but the theater is on fire, and he begs his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion. The audience thinks this is the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire raced through the whole building taking the fun-loving audience with it. "And so," concluded Kierkegaard, "will our age … I sometimes think … go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators."

Resource, July/August, 1990

God gathers His elect and you are gathered!

The truth of that philosophical parable is a sobering reality to every person inhabiting the earth. The promise in scripture is that Christ will return but we don’t know … when the time will come. The text of our gospel in Mark tells us some important things:

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark13:24-27)

There are end-time scholars that take differing views on when Christ will return. Some say Jesus Christ will come and rapture his church and that we His people will be gathered up in to heaven and that the world and all unbelievers will experience  the 7 years of the tribulation, popularized by the Left Behind series and other end-time predictors. They see this difficult to follow end-time timeline laid out in scripture where the church, God’s elect, are spared the suffering of the tribulation and where those who don’t believe are given a somehow second chance to repent and believe after the church has been raptured to heaven.

But the words of Christ here seem very clear in our reading: … after that tribulation … they will see the Son of Man … he will send out the angels and gather his elect … (not before the tribulation but after) … from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

When Christ returns it will be for the purpose of gathering His elect, those who believe and who are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree:

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (Mark 13:28-29)

Our text today points to these things taking place but what things? It’s not what we’ve just read in the Gospel lesson but Jesus, earlier in chapter 13, from last Sunday’s reading tells us:

5 … “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines …

And we might add: hurricanes and nor-Easters as was just experienced on the East Coast.
…These are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Mark 13:5-8)

So when Jesus said, when you see these things taking place … that is what He, Jesus, was referring to. Don’t be lead astray by someone claiming to be the Christ; when you see wars and rumors of wars, nation rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom and then add all the earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes … He our Lord and savior Jesus is near.

God gathers His elect and you are gathered!

He is near. He is very near. But are you ready? We’re told:

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (And then we are told.) 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.

Are you ready? The signs are very clear. The indicators are present yet 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:26-27)

It might be today, maybe tomorrow, next week, a month, year or two … are you prepared, will you as the elect of God be gathered unto Christ when He returns?

Because: 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt.7:21)

In our country we’ve entered what many call a post-Christian world; a world-view that calls truth false and attempts to form God to our own likeness, casting Him in our image or at least in an image of our own choosing. As we make this country and our world into a place void of God’s precepts and principles; we open our world, our home, our family, even ourselves to the schemes of Satan and his minions (his demons) to take up residence in our lives … destroying the very fabric of the family, the definition of marriage, the life of the unborn and claiming a Christian worldview where none exists.

On that day:

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:23)

But God gathers His elect and you are gathered!

35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:35-37)

This directive to His disciples was a warning to the lulling ability of the world the flesh and the Devil to draw them away from Christ and His word. It’s a word of warning to you too. It’s a warning to me as well. When the word of God becomes only part of my work, in service here and in the exercise of preparing a sermon … I lose the true value, the transforming devotional value of God’s word. You do too.

The motor home has allowed us to put all the conveniences of home on wheels. A camper no longer needs to contend with sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking over a fire, or hauling water from a stream. Now he can park a fully equipped home on a cement slab in the midst of a few pine trees and hook up to a water line, a sewer line and electricity. One motor home I saw recently had a satellite dish attached on top or you can just Hot Spot your internet and smart phone. No more bother with dirt, no more smoke from the fire, no more drudgery of walking to the stream. Now it is possible to go camping and never have to go outside. We buy a motor home with the hope of seeing new places, of getting out into the world. Yet we deck it out with the same furnishings as in our living room. Thus nothing really changes. We may drive to a new place, set ourselves in new surrounding, but the newness goes unnoticed, for we've only carried along our old setting.
The adventure of new life in Christ begins when the comfortable patterns of the old life are left behind.

David Roher.
God gathers His elect and you are gathered!

God has called you by name. He has written your name in the Lamb’s book of life. You have been adopted into His family at your baptism and the promise of God is that Jesus will never let you be taken from the palm of His hand. He is among us now. Right here with you and me.

In our mid-week Bible class we’ve been talking about the Omnipresence of God, of God’s presence being everywhere at all times verses His Sacramental presence that is here for you now. Here as we gather together called by Christ in worship, we hear His word, we confess our sins and we receive the comfort that we are forgiven and have the favor with God on account of Christ.

In God’s Omnipresence, He is everywhere but for the person in the world outside of the Christian faith they receive many blessings from God in this life because the rain falls on the Just and the unjust alike but there is no comfort from God for the sinner in His Omnipresence, because he only receives Gods condemnation on account of sin … sin that has been paid for by Christ but which many refuse to acknowledge by rejecting the call of the Holy Spirit to repentance … continuing to live in sin and by sin mold their lives.

But you … who believe … you are the elect! You are the forgiven! You are the ones God in Christ will gather to Himself to be with Him forever; to live in the blessed peace of a heaven void of sin and forever illumined by Christ’s glory!

God gathers His elect and you are gathered!

"And so," as Kierkegaard concluded, "will our age and this world … I sometimes think … rather go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators … than to receive Christ and his call by the power of the holy Spirit?"

But not you, most favored child of God. You are forgiven and found in Christ and by His Spirit you believe. This is the Good News for today and for always.

26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Because: God gathers His elect and you are gathered!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sermon Nov. 17-18, 2012

Title: Christ gives us life eternal in Him!

Text: Heb. 10:23-25

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Thinking of the fullness and duration of this wonderful life, W. B. Hinson, a great preacher of a past generation, spoke from his own experience just before he died. He said, "I remember a year ago when a doctor told me, 'You have an illness from which you won't recover.' I walked out to where I live 5 miles from Portland, Oregon, and I looked across at that mountain that I love. I looked at the river in which I rejoice, and I looked at the stately trees that are always God's own poetry to my soul. Then in the evening I looked up into the great sky where God was lighting His lamps, and I said, ' I may not see you many more times, but Mountain, I shall be alive when you are gone; and River, I shall be alive when you cease running toward the sea; and Stars, I shall be alive when you have fallen from your sockets in the great down pulling of the material universe!' "

W. B. Hinson.

Christ gives us life eternal in Him!

Eternal life is the antithesis of human reason. Antithesis is a word that means to put in opposition to … the exact opposite. Eternal life means that death is not the end but human reason sees death in only physical terms. Reason says: “When the body dies, life is no more.” But as Christians we have been bought with a price as our text in the book of Hebrews reveals:

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb 10:11-14)

In the words of the hymn that I wrote for my Baptism class the work of Christ is revealed.

Jesus Christ, true God and True man, heard repentance call. The sin of our first parents Adam and Eve brought about spiritual death. No longer were they to live in this paradise that God had given them. No longer would this Garden of Eden, where they were to live forever, living in fellowship with God himself and being cared for by this loving God as a father cares for a beloved child, be their home.

With sin came death; both their spiritual death which came first, separating them from God but also later the physical death of Adam and Eve that also is part of who we are and what we inherit. In God’s loving act of casting out our first parents from paradise and keeping them from eating of the Tree of Life and living forever in their fallen state, He place Himself as the once and for all sacrifice for sin and the bridge to life eternal in Him … for you and me.

Christ gives us life eternal in Him!

We continue in our Epistle for today:

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

The water and the word of life; unites us in the death of Christ.

In our Baptisms we have been reborn. In our first birth or the natural way we come into being we have been conceived through natural means and in this way are born in sin. This sin that has been handed down in the natural course of life is called original sin and through it our death and spiritual separation from God is secured. Again we are at first spiritually dead at birth and through the course of life will also physically die. If you think about it in this way:

We are born dead to God … and apart from God’s own intervening in our life … we will remain dead to Him until God calls us all to judgment on the last day. For those apart from the Spirit of God - this is their lot. But we who have been given newness of life through baptism have God’s promise that in Christ our sins have been washed away, He drowns our sin and we will forever live with Him.

Christ gives us life eternal in Him!

But, what do we do and how do we live? Do we take the light that we are given and place it under a basket?

21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mark 4:21-25)

As you prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday this week and as a Christian look at what you have been given from Jesus Christ your Lord and savior. The Eternal life that you receive comes from the blessed blood given and shed for you at the cross by your Lord and savior Jesus Christ! He buries your sin and your guilt, he takes it upon Himself so that the spiritual death that you are born into is drowned in your baptism and is forever removed from the Fathers eyes. The grave holds no victory over you as in Baptism you are restored to that pristine relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God before sin, death and the Devil corrupted your world.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Christ gives us life eternal in Him!

In remembering our Baptisms, we look to daily die and rise with Christ!

We can truly be thankful as the Holy Spirit comforts us with this blessed good news that our sins have been paid for in Christ! It should bring Joy and peace to us but at times the cares of this life define us and our thankful joy can once again fall to worry and despair. So, how does God stay active in our lives and continue to defend and uplift His children? - Through the word and by the work of the Holy Spirit.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We stay in the faith eternal through God’s word and through the sacraments as we partake together as the body of Christ, raised through the water and the word.

Martin Luther had this to say in his Large Catechism:

24] Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare, that he be saved. 25] But to be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever." -- Martin Luther (Quoted from the Large Catechism)

This hope eternal we receive. By God’s Holy Spirit in our baptism we receive this blessed faith to believe. And this faith that we receive is faith in the finished work of our Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit who creates, redeems and brings to faith by the power of His Holy Spirit.

It is truly right to be thankful this Thanksgiving and everyday for all the blessings you have been given in this life and it is also right to thank the Lord for the saving Gospel message that in Christ you are marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Christ gives you life eternal in Him!

Even as the mountains will fall and rivers will run dry and the stars will no longer shine Psalm 119 reminds us:

89 Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens and
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
93 I will never forget your precepts, or by them that you have given me life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sermon Oct. 20-21, 2012

Title: Life requires money but death requires Christ!

Text: Mark 10:31

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

John G. Wendel and his sisters were some of the most miserly people of all time. Although they had received a huge inheritance from their parents, they spent very little of it and did all they could to keep their wealth for themselves. John was able to influence five of his six sisters never to marry, and they lived in the same house in New York City for 50 years. When the last sister died in 1931, her estate was valued at more than $100 million. Her only dress was one that she had made herself, and she had worn it for 25 years.

The Wendels had such a compulsion to hold on to their possessions that they lived like paupers. Even worse, they were like the kind of person Jesus referred to "who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21).

But, how we handle money reveals much about the depth of our commitment to Christ. That's why Jesus often talked about money. One-sixth of the gospels, including one out of every three parables touch on money and Jesus dealt with money matters … because: 

Daily Walk, June 2, 1993.

Life requires money but death requires Christ!

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Money is important and it was important in Jesus’ day. In speaking to His disciples in this way Jesus wasn’t making light of money or the concerns that people have regarding it. He was focusing on wealth and specifically the wealth of a certain young man.
If you were here last Sunday and remember the Gospel reading … Jesus had been approached by a man who asked Him:

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And, after going through the commandments with Him and showing him what God requires in the law, the man said:

20 … “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Here Jesus gets to the heart of the problem. Who is your God? The disciples aren’t quite sure where Jesus is going with this after this man of wealth just left the presence of Jesus disheartened … and they are amazed at His words. So, sensing their lack of understanding Jesus makes this statement:

…“Children; Oh how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 

How difficult indeed.

One just left who had great wealth we are told. Many others probably would do the same. Wealth enabled people then as it does today. Wealth prohibited people too. Jesus answers His statement with this follow up:

25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Life requires money but death requires Christ! 

The last four years have been hard for many. The trials of this economy, business climate or job market as it is called have been really hard for some people and murder for others. Too many of our friends and many of our members here at Peace have been devastated. Young and old alike have seen either the prospect of a job fade to nothing or have seen the job they’ve had for year’s disappear. Many have moved out of state and some have even lost their homes. 

Those of us who are still working have seen the value of what we earn and take home not go as far as we’d like and we’ve all had to tighten our belts to coin a phrase. The value of wealth and the need for money is understood by you and me, as well as our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is not in our text diminishing the need for work, money, food, home and the like. But He is pointing out what can blind you from the kingdom of God.

Idol worship is not very far removed for any of us. Just as the man in last week’s lesson …left Jesus and went away … we too fall away. Many members who have fallen on hard times are worried and embarrassed at their situation. Some have resorted to drinking, drugs or other vices. Some lie and steal as a means to hide or mask the problem. And, too many of our loved ones have to live with and fight against illness in a world corrupted by sin, that it’s easy to understand their frustration when they turn away and  blame God for their condition in this sinful world.  We all look for blessings … and when they don’t appear we blame the one who loves us the most.

And it’s not just the young who fall away.


I was speaking to a man I know through work who is in his early 80’s and lives near the church. He had called to talk to me about some music and a musician that he found that had excited him and wanted to share it with me.

After we spoke for a while, I told him to stop by the store as I’d love to hear the music and I’d introduce him to the new management in the store. He said, “What, you’re not managing the store anymore?” I took the opportunity to tell him about this wonderful change in my life … that I was leaving the music business that I loved and that has blessed me for over 30 years and going into ministry and getting to serve my Lord and Savior and His flock here at Peace. I said, you should stop by we’re having Oktoberfest and you’ll meet some nice people.

“No!” He said, “I have been too hurt over my life.” He told me of being hungry as a child of losing his wife of many years to illness and death and now his lady friend has broken up with him. He is angry with God. I think we can all understand his loss.

So, as I was saying good bye he said, “I’ll stop by and see you. Even though I live alone, I’m still in the same house in Waterford that I’ve lived in for 50 years. I have three cars that I drive and have 5 IPads so when I leave the house I have all my music with me wherever I go” 

… 5 IPads?

Life requires money but death, salvation and newness of life requires Christ!

26 The disciples were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 

And then He closed with this:

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

It can cause us all to think. Paul Brand writes this little note to the Lord in his book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made:

Dear Lord,

I have been re-reading the record of the Rich Young Ruler and his obviously wrong choice. But it has set me thinking. No matter how much wealth he had, he could not-- ride in a car, have any surgery, turn on a light, buy penicillin, hear a pipe organ, watch TV, wash dishes in running water, type a letter, mow a lawn, fly in an airplane, sleep on an innerspring mattress, talk on the phone, or own 5 IPADs

If he was rich, then what am I?

P. Brand, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, p. 61.

Life requires money but death requires Christ! 

Rejoice! Christ has called you to be in Him! Rejoice! Your name is written in the book of life! You who have to endure trials for a little while will receive countless blessing for eternity!

God, who was rich in every way, humbled himself and took on the form of a servant for you. If you have needs in this life the greatest need you have has been fulfilled and given to you. Your sins have been taken away and laid on Christ. He paid the price of sin for the whole world with His Holy precious blood as a sacrifice for you. He covers you with the pure white robes of His righteousness because He loves you more than His own life. He made Himself poor so that you might be rich for eternity!

Yes, life requires money but God in Christ has given you and me so much more.

Remember the question from the rich young ruler?

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

When you inherit something it is something that you are given; it is something that you receive, not because of your desire or effort but because of God’s mercy. (Rom 9:16 NIV)

Believe in Him whom God has sent and you receive eternal life given to you. The riches of this life pale compared to the glorious riches in Christ.

9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Cor. 2:9-10)

Life requires money but death requires Christ!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sermon Sept 29-30, 2012

Title: God opens the mouth so that we can sing His praise!

Text: Mark 9:38-41

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”

Dear friends,

During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour. The swollen river had washed the bridge away. Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents. The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch. After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river. The president agreed without hesitation. The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side. As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, "Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?" The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him. "All I know," he said, "Is that on some of your faces was written the answer 'No,' and on some of them was the answer 'yes.' His was a 'Yes' face."

C. Swindol, The Grace Awakening, Word, 1990, p. 6.

God opens the mouth so that we can sing His praise!

In our Gospel reading today we have an interesting story. John, one of the disciples of Jesus and - an impetuous son of thunder – which simple means he usually acted first and thought later - was bringing to Jesus a story:

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Mark 9:3

The thought of serving the life of the world from a Christian worldview is often the work of the church. Churches often bring food, and aid during times of disaster and we saw this faith put into action during the Tsunami that devastated Japan, the earthquake that paralyzed Haiti as well as the many tornadoes that destroyed cities and towns, like Joplin Missouri and others in and around the mid-west. Our own church members have been involved in bringing aid to those affected by the destruction following Hurricane Katrina and to the victims in Biloxi, Mississippi.

At these times as well, churches offer the good news and share the love of Christ with those that are hurting and through the word of Law and Gospel, found in the Holy Scriptures, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit brings to faith those who will believe and trust in Jesus.

John here was confusing who was truly at work in the casting out of the demons. His nature was fixed on the tiny band of disciples that Jesus gathered together and their calling to do the work appointed by Christ. So I’m sure that there was a smile on his face for the good that he the others had tried to do - in stopping one not of their group from casting out demons in Jesus’ name - that smile soon fell to a frown as Christ began to speak.

“Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:39-40

Christ in a very concise way draws the distinction of who is really the active agent in casting out of demons or in the bringing of others to faith. It is God by His word and through the Holy Spirit who points us to Christ so that we trust and believe. God certainly uses the failed and flawed sinners that we all are to work through but it still remains His work and in His time how and when He draws those who will believe to faith. It is through that same faith that:

God opens the mouth so that we can sing His praise!

In our day we too must be prepared to speak the truth in love. I’m just finishing a biography called Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. The story revolves around pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor in Germany during World War II and the trials that he would endure for the Gospel during the war that ultimately led to his murder at the hands of the Nazis. His life changed immeasurably, because of the reign of terror inflected upon the Jews and the people of Germany, from 1933 until just before the war ended in 1945. Bonhoeffer worked to put His faith into action as a member of the Confessing Church against Hitler and the State Church during the unforeseen tragedy that became the Jewish problem – as the Reich referred to it - as he actively worked in the resistance culminating in the plot to remove Hitler by any means possible – and in Hitler’s case -even by assassination.
Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit should move us all to action in love when confronted with this sin infested world; especially for our neighbors who are persecuted and mistreated.

5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

And we are moved to action, not by a sense of duty or by thinking that our actions merit thanks and a pat on the back – that was what John was expecting - but motivated by joy and the love of Christ that was shown to us at the cross:

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8
So we also in love share that good news with others.

Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor and a fellow member of the Confessing Church with Bonhoeffer, at first was sucked into the joyous nationalism that was Adolf Hitler and his minions. But, many years later and after being imprisoned for eight years he wrote these still haunting words:

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Let us all pray that:

God opens our mouth so that we can sing His praise!

The disciples missed the Lord’s will and desire in His saving work … To reach the lost and to strengthen the saved. Yes, God works through His ordained servants of the word, who proclaim the truth of His word through the Law of condemnation and through the blessed Gospel of forgiveness while also rightly administering the sacraments for our good and for the good of all His church; but also God uses us all- you and me - in the places of His choosing to bring the comfort of forgiveness in Christ to those who need to hear.

Just prior to World War II -- Jesse Owens seemed sure to win the long jump at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games. The year before he had jumped 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches -- a record that would stand for 25 years. As he walked to the long-jump pit, however, Owens saw a tall, blue eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range. Owens felt nervous. He was acutely aware of the Nazis' desire to prove Aryan – white superiority, especially over people of color. At this point, the tall German introduced himself as Luz Long. "You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!" he said to Owens, referring to his two jumps. For the next few moments the black son of a sharecropper and the white model of Nazi manhood chatted. Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, Owens qualified easily. In the finals Owens set an Olympic record and earned the second of four gold medals. The first person to congratulate him after his win and in full view of Adolf Hitler was Luz Long. Owens never again saw Long, who was killed in World War II. "You could melt down all the medals and cups I have," Owens later wrote, "and they wouldn't make the platting on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long."

David Wallechinsky in The Complete Book of the Olympics.

Christ has redeemed you. He has covered you and as Luther says in the explanation to the second article of the creed:
… not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
He has washed you clean through the water of your Baptism and given you the Spirit to go and to sing His praises!
James reminds us in our epistle today:

19 … if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20

We are mandated to seek the lost (though it’s God’s work alone); we are called to spread the Good News (though it’s the work of the Holy Spirit who brings one to faith); and even more we are blessed by God and through this same Spirit to have success (though the true success was won at the cross over sin, death and the power of the Devil by Jesus Christ our Lord).By this same victory and this same Spirit we too can sing His praise as:

God opens our mouths so that we can bring this Good News to others!

May we all, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in keeping with the message of forgiveness in Christ, shine forth the praises of God’s love as others see our actions and hear our words echoed in the proclamation of Titus Chapter 2 verse 13.

13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (NIV)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit! Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sermon Sept 15-16, 2012

Title: God uses for good what we use for evil to build His kingdom!

Text: James 3:5-8

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

On a warm summer day in April of 1988 a young man of 40, standing in the office of his studio in the Hollywood Hills, noticed from the window of that office, two teenage boys running after a German shepherd dog. Not wanting the dog to enter the office through the door that had been left partially opened to allow a breeze to come in, Larry moved to close the door. As he reached the door, he looked up coming face to face with a young man of about 15 years old who rather than speak pulled from behind his back a 357 magnum handgun and proceeded in one motion to point it at Larry shooting him in the neck from about 12 feet away.

The young man fled on foot leaving to bleed on the floor Larry Carlton, famous jazz guitarist and musician with at the time 10 solo albums as well as numerous other recordings to his credit. Miraculously he didn't die or even lose consciousness and even though he temporarily lost all use of his left hand and couldn't play guitar at all, through the Lord’s great blessing, his faith in God, wonderful doctors, tremendous physical therapy and the care of a loving wife, he recovered well enough to perform again only 10 months after, as he called it, the incident.

I was there in 1989 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre to see his much anticipated return to the concert stage. After walking out to thunderous applause an eerie hush fell over the crowd. You could almost hear a pin drop. Larry walked to the mike and with a voice still raspy and recovering from the gunshot wound – and working with his only one remaining vocal cord – he asked a simple question.  “Are there any guitarists in the audience?” A sea of hands went up … to which Larry, looking at and scanning the audience replied … “Ah, it’s nice to be judged.”

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

James makes this statement in our epistle today reminding us that:

God uses for good what we use for evil to build His kingdom!

This pastoral letter was written to calm the habit of some of the mostly Jewish congregations who were permitting almost any man to speak during worship, pointing to the greater judgment that will fall upon those who are called to preach and rightly divide God’s word to his people. A humbling task to say the least!

Within these congregations there had been some who were obviously very self-righteous, that James calls - a perfect man - having complete self control in all he says and does even comparing this control to the bridle in the mouth of a horse or the steering of a large ship with a tiny rudder.

For the pastor, preaching and teaching correct doctrine is essential and to not do so would be to tamper with God’s divine Word itself, making a mockery of it and rendering it of little or no value!

James calls the tongue a fire and if you’re like me you’ve been burned by it and probably caused others harm with it. At least if you’re honest or you’ve been in an Elder’s or Voter’s Meeting you know what I mean.

James continues:
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

James is pretty clear: In our sinful nature we will follow the ways of the world, the flesh and the Devil. Boasting of ourselves and even belittling those who we perceive and judge to be less pure in doctrine, confession and practice and at times judging motives we can’t really know by actions we think we understand.

And it’s not just pastors who will be judged and are controlled by the fire of the tongue. But, all members of the body of Christ who worship the true God use the tongue to bless our Lord and Father, and with it we also curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing (and James tells us) my brothers, these things ought not to be so.

1988, was not a good year for me or so I thought. Just 5 days prior to the shooting of Larry Carlton, my mother died of cancer. The wellspring of emotions could have caused a great fire of curses to flow from my tongue, drawn from the pit of hell to curse my mother’s passing. But that which the Devil intended to cause despair in me God intended for good. So in the quiet of my basement, I prayed the only prayer I knew, the Lord’s Prayer and I asked the Lord to comfort me at this time of grief and to draw me closer to Him and His word.

Maybe you have a transformation stories too? Where God took you in your brokenness and through suffering and set you up giving you the strength to endure, in Him. He brought me through this convoluted path that led from the Roman Catholic Church, through a small non denominational church to St. John in Rochester with Pastor Ronald Moritz and finally here to Peace. I even made a seminary visit 10 years ago hoping to see the Lord’s confirmation on my hope to serve him in pastoral ministry but because of my lack of a college degree, I was not eligible for acceptance at that time and resigned myself with joy to continue  to serve the Lord however He would choose to use me.  I remember the words of my wife said to me for the purpose of comfort after our seminary visit:

“Russ, If the Lord wants you to be a pastor, He’ll figure a way for you to do it … and maybe even keep us in our church!”

… Fat chance of that happening, I thought … “That’s not how it works Honey.” I said.

But, the Lord has his own plans and while in my sinfulness and stubbornness, I still think I would have rather done it my way going to the seminary 10 years ago. God had his own plan. You see He took a person Hell bent on worshiping the wood of an idol shaped in the form of a guitar and He pointed me to the wood of the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Pastor Merrell and I sat at dinner one Wednesday evening here at church three years ago, he asked me, “Russ, could you see me after class?” He had been teaching confirmation and I was leading an adult bible study through 1st Corinthians.

Just after class ended the chairman of the Board of Elders said to me, “Did Pastor tell you he wants to see you after class?” I’m starting feel a bit uneasy and just then Officer P.J. Osika, one of the members of our church, walks in and says, “Pastor around, he wanted to see me?” Now I’m thinking, “He’s got the Elders and the Cops after me! Have I been teaching false doctrine?”

No … just circumstance. Pastor brought the notion of the SMP program to me and asked if I would prayerfully consider entering it and serving here at Peace. As I thought about it I keep thinking … that’s not how it works …

27 But Jesus said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
(Luke 18:27) So, I prayed and accepted the opportunity.

Now three years since that meeting and in anticipation of my Theological Interview in a few weeks when Pastor and I return to Fort Wayne, I’m reminded of who God calls to proclaim His truth. Certainly all of His children need to tell the Good News where and when they can but specifically His called and ordained servants of the word, His pastors, do so publicly and are a diverse and unique lot called from many backgrounds and skill sets.

I called my friend Paul shortly after meeting with Pastor Merrell to get his wisdom and council. “We’ve been friends since 1st grade. I said Paul, can you see me as a Pastor in God’s church?” To which he replied … “Well, if God can use uneducated fisherman, a man who persecuted the church, and boastful arrogant “Sons of Thunder” I guess He can use you!” Comfort from a friend.

God in His wisdom has called each one of us to the truth of His gospel. By faith He causes us to believe and confess this truth by our mouth drawing from the sweetness of the well of forgiveness instead of from the pit of the well of despair.

Martin Luther made this clear in his writings and theology, that we remain both a Saint by faith and a sinner by nature. This truth is reflected in the tongue that we and other Christians use in both Christ like and carnal ways.

But our Lord and savior Jesus came to calm the hearts of his children. Taking the weight of sin upon Himself bringing forth faith in His finished work by the power of the Holy Spirit and through that same Spirit conforming the tongue of fire and spite from our mouth into a tongue of Hope and blessing for His kingdom.

God uses for good what we use for evil to build His kingdom!

Just like me your past has shaped you into who you are … but God has shaped you and called you into who you are in Christ. Despite the failings and brokenness of life whether by the fire of the tongue or as in Larry Carlton’s case by the fire of a bullet from a gun, God has given you the blessed Good News that in Christ you have the forgiveness of sins – the favor of God on account of Christ - and in Him God is well pleased and in you the favored one of God dwells bringing forth the tongue of blessing and comfort for the children of light.

May the blessed robes of His righteousness, the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with each one you now and forever!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!