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! 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sermon Sept 1-2, 2012

Title: Guilty and Bound in Sin but Christ has set you free! 

Text: Mark 7: 14-16 

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 

A man entered a bar, bought a glass of beer and then immediately threw it into the bartender's face. Quickly grabbing a napkin, he helped the bartender dry his face while he apologized with great remorse. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I have this compulsion to do this. I fight it, but I don't know what to do about it." "You had better do something about your problem," the bartender replied. "You can be sure I'll remember you and will never serve you another drink until you get help." It was months before the man faced the bartender again. When he asked for a beer, the bartender refused. Then the man explained that he had been seeing a psychiatrist and that his problem was solved. Convinced it was now okay to serve him, the bartender poured him a drink. The man took the glass and splashed the beer into the barkeeper's astonished face. "I thought you were cured," the shocked bartender screamed. "I am," said the man. "I still do it, but I don't feel guilty about it anymore." 
Charles Sell, Unfinished Business, Multnomah, 1989, p. 223.    

Dear friends,   

Now while this story is funny it is not to be our model for how we deal with our guilt as Christians. We are not to willingly continue in our active sinful behavior but just not feel guilty about it. But in our Gospel lesson today Jesus is dealing with guilt that is being placed upon people, from the outside. 

Jesus says, 

14 “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mark 7:14-15)   

In the Old Testament, Levitical impurity or ceremonial washings were of great importance but they no longer hold any value in the New Testament. Of far greater significance is the importance of the spiritual purity of a person and the impurity, that we in our human nature are bound to, wrestle with and know all too well.   

The Christian value or standing of a person isn’t dependent upon the outward appearance. Whether one wears suites and formal attire or jeans and flannel shirts washes before meals or not, eats certain foods or not. All these Law based things are immaterial and have no effect where worship of the Lord is concerned. They may have proper hygiene and sanitary value, just as we have good and reasonable customs regarding how we dress or present ourselves in God’s house, our work or special occasions we attend. They do not concern the spiritual value of a person or their relationship to our Heavenly Father but, as Christ says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” That which comes forth from a man, is what is apt to make him unclean and these things may disturb and cause the relationship between God and man to be severed. Jesus is making a very important point and one that He wants those hearing in our text today to know and understand.   

Guilty and Bound in Sin but Christ has set you free!  

So how about you and me? Does it matter whether we eat before coming to church of after? Or whether our breakfast is cold pizza and soda or Bran Flakes and milk? No. The point that Christ is making is that we are corrupt from our very core. We are broken and only fixed by the word of God and the work of Christ. 
King David knew this too, being confronted by the prophet Nathan after he sinned with Bathsheba and sent her husband Uriah off to the front and to certain death. The story of the pet lamb brought David’s sin into the light of God’s condemnation and it is something that each one of us can claim too for we are corrupt in our sinfulness.

Psalm 51   

1 Have mercy on me, O God,  according to your steadfast love;  according to your abundant mercy  blot out my transgressions.  

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,  and cleanse me from my sin!  

3 For I know my transgressions,  and my sin is ever before me.  

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned  and done what is evil in your sight,  so that you may be justified in your words  and blameless in your judgment.  

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,  and in sin did my mother conceive me.  

6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,  and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;  wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;  let the bones that you have broken rejoice.  

9 Hide your face from my sins,  and blot out all my iniquities.   

(Psalm 51 vs.1-9)   

What comes out of a man is what is bound into the human condition … sin.   

Jesus says:   21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”   

Listen again:   

… Out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts … sexual immorality … theft (have you stolen anything?) murder (remember, Jesus said if you’ve even hated your brother you have broken this the fifth commandment: Matt 5:21) adultery, (cheating on a spouse, sex outside of marriage, living together – ask yourself this question: Is God for it or against it?) 22 coveting ( desiring that which another has) wickedness, deceit, ( wishing evil on another and seeing to it that it happens) sensuality ( Presented in advertising as a good thing. But from the dictionary we can read an example of how they use the word in a sentence: Those people appear to view sensuality as a necessary evil, and do not appear to abhor it as a crime in the unmarried state.) envy,( Being jealous of another’s possessions or place in life) slander,( saying something about another that will negatively affect them) pride,(being confident of yourself in your sin and continuing along the same path) foolishness. (all of the above) 23 All these evil things come from within and they defile a person.”   As I go through this list with you - guilt and condemnation fall on both you and me alike.   

Luther had this to say about our complete corruption:   

“Your home, once the holiest of all, has become the most licentious den of thieves, the most shameless of all brothels, the kingdom of sin, death, and hell. It is so bad that even Antichrist himself, if he should come, could think of nothing to add to its wickedness.”   

From The Freedom of a Christian, pg. 336 of Luther's Works, Vol. 31   

Because of that we are:   Guilty and Bound in Sin … but there is Good News that in Christ you have been washed clean and He has set you free! 

Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  


A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma's back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead. The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.  

After lunch that day, Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes." But Sally said, "Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn't you, Johnny?" And she whispered to him, "Remember the duck!" So Johnny did the dishes.  

Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, "I'm sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper." Sally smiled and said, "That's all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it." Again she whispered, "Remember the duck." Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. 

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's, finally he couldn't stand it. He went and confessed to Grandma that he'd killed the duck. "I know, Johnny," she said, giving him a hug. "I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you." 

Steven Cole.  

Christ has paid the price for the sins of the world. He has propitiated our sins (which is the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing of delivering from sin or saving from evil- Christ’s work at the cross) but He has also expiated our sins (which is not only the act of paying the price of sin but it is a removal of the guilt associated with sin.)  Christ has paid the price for your sin with His holy and precious blood. He has washed you clean of the sin that you were conceived in and born with. He removes the guilt of sin from your heart so that you can stand in the newness of life and proclaim the Good News that because of Jesus Christ you are free!  

Christ has set you free … not to return to your sinful habits - but just not feeling guilty about it as the opening illustration suggested - but to truly start anew every day by remembering your baptism and the washing of forgiveness you received in water and the word and that you can remember your past – guiltless. When the Father sees you He sees Jesus.  

Guiltless and Free! Bound in Sin and death no more!   

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