Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sermon May 26-27, 2012

Title: God’s Spirit points to Christ!
Text: John 15:26-27 (ESV)

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Dear friends,

On this Memorial Day weekend when we think about those who have protected us and given their lives, so that we might all live and worship freely, we celebrate and remember another very memorial day; the day of Pentecost. It was only a short while ago that Christ ascended back to His Father in Heaven, and we celebrated this event at last weekend’s services where Jesus spoke to His Apostles this promise in the last Chapter of the Luke:

46 … “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

On this day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit descends in power upon the Apostles and we are told:
…there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

What an utterly amazing thing!

God, by the power of the Holy Spirit fills each of His Apostles with the ability to proclaim the truth about Jesus’ sinless life, His vicarious death - which means he died in your place – and His resurrection from the dead, assuring us that we who hope and trust in Christ will too rise from death and live with Him forever. But there is an amazing thing going on here:

6 … and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

God’s Spirit points to Christ!

Having just completed another year of teaching Sunday school and preparing to start my next class at the Seminary called, “Teaching the Faith” I am reminded of what Martin Luther has to say about the Holy Spirit in his Small Catechism:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

In bondage to sin we have no ability to come to Christ and believe in Him. And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, we are told in the Ephesians 2, confirming our inability to do anything about our sinful condition of being dead to Christ. But by the hearing of the Gospel message that Jesus Christ has come and made satisfaction for our sins, we are told by the Apostle Paul that the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience and that God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:1-5)

God’s Spirit points you to Christ!

A few weeks ago I finished my class on Baptism and I’m reminded of the Baptisms that we have all seen here at Peace when the font is placed in front of the Chancel steps for all to see as parents and godparents gather together with family and friends bringing their infant child to the waters of Holy Baptism.

Following the baptism of the child in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Pastor Merrell continues:

“The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life + everlasting.”

God’s Spirit points to Christ!

On the day of Pentecost God in His mercy sent His Spirit, in a powerful way, to speak the Good news of redemption in Christ by tongues of fire, proclaimed and heard in different languages through the Apostles, bringing by the power of His Spirit and giving faith to those whom our Lord and God would call to believe.

But, this blessing is no less powerful for you and me. We can, by the simple act of proclaiming the truth about Jesus, free those in bondage to sin, death and the devil, and by the power of this same Holy Spirit, work forgiveness and bring to faith all who would believe.

Freedom is not free … and we all understand its cost, especially on this Memorial Day weekend. Many here have loved ones who served and fought and made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom … so that we might be able to live and worship in a free society and freely speak the truth about Jesus … who He is … and what He came to do for those that will hear this message.

Our freedom from sin also required a price to be paid and that price was that the very Son of God laid down his life, in your place, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you might be brought to faith and believe.

Rejoice, because God’s Spirit points to Christ and Christ dwells in sinners!

There is a story told that illustrates the meaning of redemption. Many years ago there was pastor of a church in Boston, who met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. The pastor inquired, "Son, where did you get those birds?" The boy replied, "I trapped them out in the field." "What are you going to do with them?" "I'm going to play with them, and then I guess I'll just feed them to an old cat we have at home."

The pastor offered to buy them but the lad exclaimed, "Mister, you don't want them, they're just little old wild birds and they can't sing very well." Well, the pastor replied, "I'll give you $10 for the cage and the birds." "Okay, it's a deal, but you're making a bad bargain."

The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling and happy with the deal that he made. The pastor walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures free to soar into the blue, redeemed from their bondage and the certain death of being fed to an old cat that was waiting at home.

Christ's coming to seek and to save the lost from the bondage of sin, death and the Devil and paying for them with His holy precious blood is the gift that the Holy Spirit points you to. You and I, though held captive to sin, because of Christ are free.

God’s Spirit points to Christ!

Richard Kirtland was a sergeant in the Second Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. The day after the great battle of Fredericksburg, Kershaw's brigade occupied the road at the foot of Marye's Hill.

One hundred and fifty yards in front of the road, on the other side of a stone wall, lay Sykes's division of the United States Army. Between these troops and Kershaw's command a skirmish fight was continued through the entire day. The ground between the lines was literally covered with dead and dying Federal soldiers.
All day long the wounded were calling, "Water! water! water!"

In the afternoon, Sergeant Kirtland, a Confederate soldier, went to the headquarters of General Kershaw, and said with deep emotion: "General, all through last night and to-day - I have been hearing those poor wounded Federal soldiers out there cry for water. Let me go and give them some."

"Don't you know," replied the general, "that you would get a bullet through you the moment you stepped over the wall?"

"Yes, sir," said the sergeant - "but if you will let me go I am willing to try it."

The general reflected a minute, and then answered: "Kirtland, I ought not to allow you to take this risk, but the spirit that moves you is so noble I cannot refuse. Go, and may God protect you!"

In the face of almost certain death the sergeant climbed the wall, watched with anxiety by the soldiers of his army. Under the curious gaze of his foes, and exposed to their fire, he dropped to the ground and hastened on his errand of mercy. Unharmed, untouched, he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, and poured the cooling life-giving water down the parched throat. This done he then turned to another sufferer.
By this time his conduct was understood by friend and foe alike and the firing ceased on both sides.

For an hour and a half did he pursue his noble mission, until he had relieved the wounded on all parts of the battlefield. Then he returned to his post uninjured.

God has given you the Spirit that points to Christ. In Him you have freedom from sin, death and the Devil and too are motivated to acts of mercy and kindness in His name, fearing no foe because God’s Holy Spirit point you to Christ and His mercy for you and all believers as He took your place under the wrath of God’s judgment at the cross.

By the power of the Holy Spirit in us He will point you and me to Christ’s finished work and will see us all to eternity now and forever.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Sermon May 19-20, 2012

Title: Witness, Mercy and Life together!
Text: John 17:14-17 (ESV)

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Dear friends,

I had the pleasure of attending the Michigan District's South and East Pastors' conference in Frankenmuth this past Tuesday. The main speaker for the conference was Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison the 13th President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. While our church here at Peace is relatively small, we are one of many partner congregations that make up the 2.3 million- members of our church body.

The focus and emphasis for the LCMS since President Harrison began his term as President is defined as Witness, Mercy and Life Together:

These phrases illustrate how the church lives and works together to proclaim the Gospel and to provide for our brothers and sisters in Christ in our congregations, communities and throughout the world. And in all we do, Christ is at the center, leading us, sustaining us, keeping us focused on our mission. This will never change.

Today, I’d like to focus on the three parts Witness, Mercy and Life Together in the message for today beginning with the first …Witness.

The definition of witness says that it is: testimony of a fact or event, or it could be a person who testifies in a case or before a judicial court. Sometimes it might be someone who is asked to be present at a transaction, so as to be able to testify to its having taken place. Or it might be one who has personal knowledge of something. And finally it could be a public affirmation by word or example of usually religious faith or conviction such as the heroic witness to divine life.

From our first reading today in the book of Acts we read of the Apostles gathering together just after Christ’s ascension:

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts1:21-22)

To be the man chosen to replace Judas and take his place among the brothers had a list of qualification. He must have been one who had accompanied the other apostles during all the time Jesus went out among them in his ministry to the people. He had to have been with them from the time of Jesus’ baptism from John until he was taken up from them and ascended back into heaven and he must also be a witness to the resurrection so as to be able to testify to its having taken place.

This would be a person that God would use to proclaim the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done. This person would be a witness …an eye witness. He had to have been there and had to have seen Christ’s baptism, His ministry, His trial and betrayal and ultimately His crucifixion, death burial and resurrection. He didn’t just hear about it … he was there and saw it first hand with his own eyes as did the other disciples.

But what about you and all who weren’t there? How can you be a witness to the truths about Jesus if you didn’t, like Matthias and the other apostles, witness the resurrection first hand?

That is the blessing that you and I share. We have the witness of these eye witnesses to all that Jesus said and did when He was on the earth among them written for our benefit, edification and faith. Christ who ascended on high sent His Spirit to dwell among us and by this Spirit confirm that these accounts written for us are true and reliable. It is truly amazing that as time goes by more and more manuscripts become available, some in fragment form but the more they find the clarity of the witness for us becomes sharper in focus.

Becoming a witness with those who saw Jesus, walked with Him, saw His life, death and resurrection and wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit is something we can do because God has provided these first person accounts and by faith through his same Spirit we too can tell with confidence this story of a God who came to live, suffer, die and rise again just for you and me and for all who are far off who the Lord our God will call.

Witness, Mercy and Life together!

The second of our words from our mission focus is … Mercy.

It can be defined as compassion shown especially to an offender or compassionate treatment for example imprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder. It also might be a blessing that is an act of divine favor or even a fortunate circumstance …it was a mercy they found her before she froze. Ultimately it is shown as compassionate treatment to those in distress as we see in works of mercy among the poor.

9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater …
11 And this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John: 9a, 11-12)

The Mercy of God has come down. We who are deserving of death have this Good News of life in His Son through Christ’s resurrection. The apostle John connects this testimony of man written on scrolls by men with the testimony of God written on our hearts and the hearts of all who will receive God’s mercy in His name by this testimony. Whoever has the Son has life.

It becomes so very important that in bearing witness we bring this Good News that our God is a God of mercy. The even though we deserve death because the wages of sin brings death, God’s mercy in His Son covers all sin.

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3-4)

This newness of life is seen in the life of the believer bearing and bringing forth much fruit through acts of mercy. As we discussed a few weeks ago God is the vine and through His Son we are grafted into this vine of life to bring the newness of life we received in our baptisms to those who are in need. At times it is the witness to the reality of Christ and His work in the life of the believer. Other times it is the true mercy of service to God’s people here at peace, in our community and to the ends of the earth that need the compassion of Christians who bring Christ’s compassion to all they do in this life, not through works but through Mercy!

The third and last of the mission focus for our synod is Life Together!

11b keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one.

Life together, that they may be one even as we are one. This life together that we as a church share needs to be this message that we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, hold to one faith, one hope and one Lord while we wait for the blessed hope of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! (Titus 2:13)

Life together not with error but with truth; not with practice in worship styles … as the law of God … but with the same peace that Jesus brought to the upper room and the doubts that Thomas confessed that blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe. This life together becomes that Witness to the truth and the mercy that we share so that we have life together in Him … in the precious name of Jesus!

Witness, Mercy and Life together!

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John17:14-19)

God in His mercy has sent His only begotten Son to die for you. He has given you faith by the Holy Spirit to Christ’s resurrection. He has sanctified you in the truth so that you live in Him and bring the mercy of Christ to others and He has given us life together in this place and in His name:

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)

Witness, Mercy and Life together!

As I left the pastor’s conference on Tuesday I was taken by the diverse men that God has called to proclaim the truth about himself to His people. Fat and tall, thin and small, young and seasoned in ministry or like me just starting a second career. God uses whom He chooses for His reasons but it is ultimately His truth, by the power of the holy Spirit, that convicts us through God’s law and brings us to repentance and also it is God’s truth, through that same Spirit, that comforts us in the blessed Good News that on account of Christ’s sacrifice we are forgiven! We thank God that by his Holy Spirit in us, He will see us to eternity, now and forever.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Sermon May 5-6, 2012

Title: Christ the true vine brings forth good fruit in you!

Text: John 15:4-5 (ESV)

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Dear friends,

To please his father a young man who was just entering college went out for the schools track team. He had no athletic ability, though the father had been a pretty good runner in his day. His first race was a two-man race in which he ran against the school’s best runner. He was badly beaten. Not wanting to disappoint his father, the boy wrote home as follows:

"Dad, you will be happy to know that I ran against Bill Williams, the best runner in school. He came in next to last, while I came in second."

In our lesson today Jesus is speaking to the disciples about truth. Many times truth can get manipulated. In the little story I just told to you, the young boy was truthful. He did come in second while the best runner in school came in next to last. Some may say, “No harm, no foul!” We though understand truth and also understand that it can have consequences when compromised.

Many years ago when I was first serving as president of the congregation one of our neighbors on the west end of the parking lot had their back yard fenced. The fence company came out and put the fence where the homeowner told them. They had the fence go down each side and then it went around the play structure at the back of the yard and this also included a very nice mature maple tree. The problem with the fence was that the tree and the play structure were on the church’s property.

Well, after speaking with the home owner, having a surveyor lay out the side lot line of the churches property and writing a number of letters we were finally able to get the home owner to move the fence. She thought we were being a bit petty because the fence was only a foot on the churches property. I had to explain to her that this error established a new truth where our property ends and hers begins, and if we let it go as it is every other house that backs up to the our church could use her fence to mark their “New” property line.

The truth of who Jesus is and what being grafted to the true vine in Him really means was very important for the disciples to understand. It is very important for you too. It means life or death!

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)
The branch that is not producing fruit is cut off and that which does produce fruit is pruned, so that it produces more fruit. We as branches grafted into Christ must feed on Him and His word so that we are fed by the word of God. This feeding on Christ and His word brings forth more fruit.

Christ the true vine brings forth good fruit in you!

In our Old Testament lesson today we heard the story of the Ethiopian eunuch and how Philip opened him up to the scriptures concerning Jesus. He was sitting in his chariot reading the scriptures and Philip approached him and asked him. “Do you understand what you are reading?” To which he replied, “How can I unless someone guides me?” The part of scripture he was reading was from the prophet Isaiah, which read:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.

33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

Philip told him about Jesus … The Christ …the Son of the living God. What about you? Do you know Him and His word? Are you connected to the vine and bearing fruit? Are you being fed and seeing Christ throughout the scriptures? Are you in the word and testing what is true? If not the branch begins to die and if it continues to be deprived of this divine nourishment from the word of God it will eventually die and be of no use to the vine in producing fruit. Branches die, get cut off and thrown into the flames. But is anyone’s commentary on the truth concerning the word of God good or should you have a guide like the eunuch found with Philip?

Our Epistle lesson today in 1 John asks us to “test the spirits” to see whether they are from God.

When you go to get food from the refrigerator or something to eat you need to see if it is spoiled or past the expiration date. Spoiled food brings you no nourishment and in fact can make you very sick. The word of God if corrupted can also draw you away from its desired effect.

A question arose a few weeks ago from a member concerning Joel Osteen, the very popular and charismatic television preacher as he was featured on the cover of Guideposts magazine and whether or not it was something to read or to even watch when he is on TV? I explained that I recognize Joel Olseen as one of the many false prophets in our day that manipulate God’s word and the itching ears that want to hear what he is offering and we all need to “test the spirits” to see if what is being taught is from God.

Is everything that we hear … being taught and professing to be Christ’s word … professing the same truth?

2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:2-3)

If you have watched Joel Osteen and his show, there is very little Christian about it. It proclaims not Christ and him crucified for you. But in the center of the stage is a giant golden globe. Can you say worldly? It preaches a prosperity gospel that says that God wants you to be wealthy and healthy in this life. Believe me, it is my hope for you that you have all the blessings this life has to offer and that God would abundantly meet all your needs but we also see many of our Christian brothers and sisters suffer health and wealth problems in this life.

If you remember the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof of the house by his friends to get to Jesus and seeing their faith Jesus said “Son your sins are forgiven!” But, the Pharisees grumbled and Jesus knowing their hearts said, which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven or rise, take up you bed and walk?” 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mark 2:10-11)

4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1John 4:4)

Test the spirits to see whether they are from God and Christ the true vine will bring forth good fruit in you!

Christ the true vine brings forth good fruit in you!

Christ Jesus is the true vine 28 for “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a)

And finally from our epistle lesson remember dear friends:

9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Christ the true vine brings forth good fruit in you!

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