November 22, 2020 – Seeking the Lord

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November 22, 2020 – Seeking the Lord

In reading through the Bible, I have found that this Bible reading from the Gospel of Matthew to be one of the most compelling and powerful texts in the entire Bible.

Reading this text from Matthew is like jumping into icy waters on a cold winter day.

This Bible reading wakes us up and challenges us to understand what God requires of us.

In this reading we are given a glimpse into a future scene of salvation and of judgment.

Picture with me now this future day in God’s kingdom.

Jesus is with his angels and he is sitting on his throne.

His glory fills him and surrounds him.

All the nations of the world are gathered there before Jesus’ throne.

And then Jesus begins to separate people just as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats.

Just like in the book of Ezekiel Jesus uses the metaphor of sheep and goats being separated.

In Ezekiel chapter thirty-four verse seventeen we hear:  “As for you my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.”

Here in Matthew the sheep go to his right hand and the goats go to his left.

Then Jesus will say to those on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Now at this point we need to pause here and ask the question, “Why are those people blessed by God?”

As we ask this question to ourselves Jesus continues by naming that the sheep are the ones that seek him.

How do they seek him?

They seek him by reaching out to those who are in need.

Then Jesus says to those who are on his left, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Why we ask are the people on his left cursed?

In the text it is because they did not seek the Lord by reaching out to the least of these or we might say here those people who are in some kind of great need – the least of these.

In this Bible reading judgment lies in how we treat others.

At this point we may confuse this Bible reading with works righteousness meaning that we are saved by our good deeds.

But I do not believe that is what is happening here.

The righteous ones reach out to those who are in need not because they believe that is the way to be saved but rather because that is what they do.

Notice how the righteous do not even understand that they are actually meeting Jesus when they reach out to those who are in need.

They question Jesus at verse thirty-seven, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”

Continuing here at verse thirty-eight and thirty-nine we hear, “And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing.

And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?

OK, let’s stop here.

Do you see what is happening?

The righteous do not know that their good deeds are being done for Jesus.

They do not know that their good deeds are a sign that they are the ones who are saved.

When Jesus truly comes into a person’s heart that person is a changed person.

A person who follows Jesus lives differently in the world.

Let me say that again here, a person who follows Jesus lives differently in the world.

They live differently because they have been given grace and grace changes a person.

Reaching out to others becomes a natural response.

It becomes a way to know God and a way to seek his presence.

In the Bible to seek God’s presence means to seek God’s face.

How do we seek God’s face?

In this Bible reading it is by seeking the face of those who are in need.

And by doing so we are actually seeking Jesus’ face.

As I was thinking about this Bible reading this past week, I thought about those who might be in some kind of need right now at this uncertain time of the pandemic.

And what came to my mind are those people who are struggling with their mental health and those who are in need of love and care.

The pandemic has certainly made it worse for those who already are struggling in life.

I think at this time maybe more so than ever before the need to lift up and to encourage those who are struggling is what Jesus is calling us to do.

At this critical time this is who we are to seek the Lord’s presence.

This past week at our church council meeting one of our council members gave an excellent devotion on the importance of being an encourager.

I gave his devotion a lot of thought after the meeting.

How might we be encouragers to those who are in some kind of need?

I don’t know if I can stress enough the need for us to be encouragers at this time.

For a person who is deeply struggling right now and whose mental health is in danger our outreach might do more good to raise their spirits than what we could ever imagine.

In the end this Bible reading is all about reaching out and serving others and not ignoring people who are in need.

You may have heard the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”

While there is some truth to this saying in that we need to take some personal responsibility, the fact remains that we are all in need of God’s grace and we all need a little encouragement from time to time.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”

God is here.

God is here in our neighbors and in the one who needs you.

Do you want to seek the Lord and see his face?

Seek out the face of just one of the least of these and you will be seeking the Lord.

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November 8, 2020 – The Urgency of the Gospel Message

When you read through the four Gospels you discover that there is a great sense of urgency to Jesus’ message.

Remember the four Gospels in the Bible are the first four books of the New Testament:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The word Gospel that is used in the Bible refers to the good news of Jesus Christ.

So when you read through the four Gospels, which hold the words of Jesus, you hear over and over again this repeated message:

We must not only respond to Jesus’ message but we must also understand the great urgency of the message.

For Jesus it is absolutely essential that we hear his message and then live that message with our lives right now.

There is no time to delay!

Today’s Gospel message speaks to this great sense of urgency.

In the parable of the bridesmaids we see how important it is to be awake to Jesus.

We must not be asleep.

As it states in the Hymn of the Day:

“We are to keep our lamps trimmed and burning.”

We are to be awake to the saving, life-giving work of God in our lives.

A Bible verse that comes to mind when thinking about this parable comes from Hebrews chapter two verse three:

“How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

The point of the parable is that God offers us saving grace but we are to be eager in our acceptance of that grace.

The word salvation refers to being saved from that which does not give life.

We are saved from sin, evil, and all the forces that oppose God.

In Christ’s gift of salvation we are saved for an abundant life with God.

Now what does this mean for our day to day lives?

To begin with what do you need saving from in your life?

What sin?

What temptation?

What evil?

And then what do you need to be saved for?

What peace?

What joy?

What love?

God’s salvation is too great for us to neglect or to not be ready for.

With that in mind how then are we to live like the five wise bridesmaids.

When the time came these five had plenty of oil to light their lamps.

They were ready.

How too can we be ready and how can we apply the message of this parable to our lives?

First, responding to the urgency of the Gospel requires of us to have repentant hearts.

We first turn from our will and our understanding to leaning on God’s will and God’s understanding.

We confess our sins to God and receive God’s saving grace and mercy poured out to us in Christ.

This is where we humble ourselves before the awesomeness of God.

We acknowledge that we are not God and that there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves.

We are saved because God chooses out of great love to save us.

Secondly, with confession, repentance, and a change of heart comes an awakening.

After repentance the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and we are empowered to live as disciples.

As disciples of Jesus we take the message of Jesus to heart.

We know how urgent the Gospel message is to our lives.

Daily we seek to read Scripture and to be in prayer to God.

We let God’s Word fill our minds and our souls.

I can recall that the evangelist Billy Graham once said,

“Don’t let anything come in the way of daily, regular Scripture reading.”

There are many things that compete with our time and our energy.

Don’t let those other things in your life take over in such a way that you fall asleep to reading Scripture.

In fact, take your Bible and put it in a prominent place in our home.

Put it in a place where you will see it every day.

Put it in the living room and then from time to time grab your Bible instead of your remote to your television.

I am not saying don’t ever watch TV.

I like watching TV and good movies just as much as anyone else.

But for at least some of our time can we reach for our Bibles instead of for our remotes or for our phones.

Also, keep a Bible near your bed and before the day is over take your Bible and read a Psalm or two before you fall asleep.

I know for myself I always seem to sleep better when I end my day in the Word of God.

You could also try this –

Purchase the Bible on CD or from Audible Books and then listen each day to a few chapters of Scripture on your daily commute.

Find a way to take Jesus’ message to heart.

He has an urgent message for us to hear and to respond to.

Let’s not miss it!

Can we hear it?

Are we awake to it?

And lastly, we are to be prepared.

Some things in life take preparation.

Our faith is one such thing.

There is the story of a man who was dying.

A hospital chaplain came to meet with him to talk to him about salvation.

After he shared the Gospel message with the man the man replied with,

“Sir, I have not left my faith to this hour.”

This man of faith knew the wisdom of not being late.

While there is always grace for us in Christ at any hour of our lives true spiritual preparation though is a lifelong process.

Spiritual preparation takes time.

Give yourself that time.

Give yourself time to live a Gospel life.

When you give yourself time to prepare you will then be ready for the day of our Lord which will come at a time that we do not expect.

God will save God’s people but we must take the warning seriously that we hear from today’s parable.

Again as it says in Hebrews 2:3:

“How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

The five foolish bridesmaids had neglected the work that they were to do so that when the time came they were not ready.

Let us not neglect the work of Christ in our lives.

Let us not neglect God’s saving grace in our lives.

Let us not neglect the gift of God’s promise of eternal life given for us through Jesus.

God has given us a great salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We will keep our lamps trimmed and burning and see together what God has done, is doing, and will do for us.

Amen.

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November 1, 2020 – All Saints Sunday

Jim Ehrler

Charles Davis

Ben Larson

Sister De Sales Flanagan

Gwen Sayler

These people, who have died, along with many others that I have known in my life, make up the great company of saints that we remember on this All Saints Sunday.

These five who I have just named are not well-known saints such as Saint Dominic, Saint Francis, Saint Julian, Saint Romero, or Saint Clare.

But even still they too are saints through Christ.

These five – Jim Ehrler, Charles Davis, Ben Larson, Sister De Sa Flanagan, and Gwen Sayler have all impacted me greatly in the faith.

Their lives and their witness to the Gospel continues to inspire me and to give me hope.

Who are the saints in your life?

Maybe you might name one or two of the well-known saints, yes but if you are like me you will be able to name many more saints that you have known personally.

Maybe your list of saints includes a Sunday School teacher, an uncle, a neighbor, a teacher, a close friend – people in your life, who have died, but saints who have directly shared the Gospel with you and who have helped you to become the believer that you are today.

These people who have since died and who are now with Christ we remember on this holy day.

How grateful we are for their faith and for their witness to the Lord.

In the Book of Concord, the book contains our Lutheran confessions and beliefs, we hear how we are to remember the saints.

The Book of Concord is that big book that I spoke about in my children’s sermon last Sunday.

In that very book we read that it is important to remember the saints in three specific ways.

  • First, we are to give God thanks for the lives of the saints. God works in and through the lives of the saints.  Through the testimony of common, ordinary people we learn about God and about God’s desire to show us mercy and love.
  • Secondly, by remembering the saints we grow in faith. We see how faith carried and sustained the saints and how faith can help us in our day to day lives.  Each and every day we are to live out our faith and we have the saints who provide inspiration for how we are to live lives of faith.
  • Lastly, the saints are examples to us of how we might live faithfully as children of God. How is God calling you to use your gifts?  How might you be a light shinning for Christ?  Look at the saints as examples for how you might use your gifts to give glory to God.

On this Sunday, this All Saints Sunday which happens only once a year, we pause, we take time to remember the saints.

Who are the saints?

Saints are all those people who have died in Christ.

Sainthood is given as a gift, a gift of grace.

We are heirs of this gift.

It is a gift – meaning that it is not earned and we certainly do not deserve it.

It is a great inheritance that we receive simply because God loves us.

In baptism into Christ our sins are washed away and we are gifted with the title, “saints.”

With that gift comes a calling – you might even call it a responsibility to fulfill.

It is a calling which comes by the way of the Holy Spirit to live a life of faith.

An important point to stress on this day is that we do not have to wait until we die before we can receive that gift of sainthood.

Even now God forgives us and makes us new in Christ.

The Scriptures say that we are a new creation in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 5: 17-18 we hear that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.  And all this is from God.

Martin Luther was fond of preaching this statement of faith.

In Christ we are at the same time saints and sinners.

I think that simple faith statement is one of the best theological teachings we have.

We are sinners.

We have all fallen short.

As we say in the confession, we are all captive to sin but through grace -God’s grace -we are saints.

Again, sainthood relies upon God’s work and God’s action in our lives.

Let me say that again because this is the key takeaway from me sermon today:  sainthood relies upon God’s work and God’s action in our lives.  It is what God does for us.

In Christ we are joined to the whole company of saints – of God’s people.

We are God’s people – forgiven, loved, and claimed as God’s own.

On this day we name only a few of that large company of saints.

But by doing so we remember that we are always a part of a much larger community of people that surrounds us.

This community surrounds us here on earth and in heaven.

Let me share with you a short story to illustrate this point.

There was once a priest who served a very small church.

One day he was questioned by someone who wanted to test him.

“Priest, how many people were in worship last Sunday?”

The man who was questioning the priest knew that only a handful of people were in worship and he was trying to make the priest look foolish.

At this point a crowd had gathered around the priest and the man who was questioning the priest.

The priest looked at the man and then at the crowd.

With a humble and sincere expression on his face the priest began to speak.

“Last Sunday we had three people in worship, along with the organist, several thousand archangels, a large number of seraphim, and several billion members of the saints of God in heaven.”

The man who questioned the priest had nothing further to say.

As it says in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

I love this little story because it speaks to the fact that we are always apart of the communion of saints both living and dead.

In fact, our theology of the table states this truth.

At the table of our Lord when we receive the bread and the wine, we do so knowing that we eat and drink with all of God’s people.

Several years ago, I got to hear the reflections of a pastor who had just retired from fifty years of ministry.

I would like to share with you this morning one thing that he said that I will never forget.

He said that in his many years as a parish pastor he served many congregations in many different communities.

But he went on to say, that one thing always stayed the same no matter where he went.

Every church he served in every single community he was a part of he knew that he was with God’s people.

Each and every church he was with God’s people.

God’s people are spread out as people of the Lord in many different times and places but we all have one thing in common.

In Christ we are saints, forgiven and loved people, called with a purpose to live the Gospel and to live lives of faith.

Here again from our second reading from 1 John:  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

Amen.

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October 25, 2020 – Two Greatest Commandments

Last Sunday in the Gospel reading from Matthew chapter twenty-two Jesus was asked a question about paying taxes.

The politics around the question made it a tricky question to answer.

The question, of course, was meant to trap Jesus.

But Jesus sees through their trap and he answers in a way that avoids offending the religious leaders and his answer avoids offending the emperor.

In the end we are all left pondering a question ourselves… what belongs to God and what belongs to the government?

Then later, on the same day, the Sadducees try to trap Jesus and they ask him a question about the resurrection.

Jesus again silences his accusers by stating that God is God of the living and not of the dead.

Finally, we come up to today’s Gospel reading and see Jesus being questioned one last time.

So, again in chapter twenty-two of Matthew Jesus is being questioned again and again and again.

If you have time later today read through the whole chapter of twenty-two in Matthew.

It is so interesting how Jesus’ accusers keep coming at him but Jesus has a perfect response every time.

And not only that but with his response comes an important teaching.

Notice too how the chapter begins with a person being questioned.

Chapter twenty-two begins with the wedding parable.

In the parable a man comes to the wedding without having on the appropriate wedding garment.

He is questioned for why he is not wearing the wedding garment.

The man has no answer.

Jesus unlike this man, who has no answer to the question that was asked of him, has an answer every single time he is questioned in this chapter.

The contrast here is stunning.

Jesus is the one who wears the robe of righteousness and truth.

He has the answers and the teachings that we need so that we too can put on the wedding garment which is to put on Christ.

Now we have the context for today’s Bible reading and let’s take a closer look at that last question the people ask Jesus.

This time it is the Pharisees, these Jewish religious teachers, who try one more time to trap Jesus.

A lawyer, who is an expert in Jewish law and Torah, asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest.

Jesus quotes from the Torah, the Torah being the first five books of the Bible.

He first quotes from Deuteronomy chapter six verse five:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”

Now in Matthew the word strength is changed to mind.

An interesting thing to note here.  Pay attention to this change.

And then Jesus quotes from the book of Leviticus chapter nineteen verse eighteen which reads:

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus passes the test.

Like a good Jewish rabbi Jesus uses the Torah to answer this last question.

Jesus knows the Torah, the writings of the Prophets, and the whole of Jewish law.

Jesus knows the Old Testament and often uses the Old Testament in his teachings.

That is why it is so important for us to continue to study the Old Testament because by doing so it helps us to better understand Jesus’ parables and teachings.

In this case Jesus quotes from the Torah.

By doing so he makes the point that these two commandments are the greatest.

The first commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all of your mind.”

In the Bible the heart is the place where our emotions, our thoughts, and our free will, the ability to choose the life we desire, is placed.

The soul is that which gives our bodies life.

Think here about God breathing into the first human being in the book of Genesis.

The soul also is connected with our feelings and our consciousness.

Lastly, the mind has to do with thinking or on understanding.

What is interesting here is that in Deuteronomy the word strength is used instead of mind.

Strength is connected with power but mind is connected with thinking.

We might put the two together here with the understanding that all of our power and all of our thinking is to be used to glorify God and to love God.

Secondly, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

What is hateful to you do not do that to a neighbor.

In the context of Leviticus which Jesus is quoting from here neighbor refers to not only those near you but to those who are poor and those who are in need of love.

This commandment is also a call for us to forgive and to seek forgiveness.

In this commandment we seek to not only to be understood but to understand.

“As you seek to be understood seek to understand your neighbor.”

Really try to listen and to understand where your neighbor is coming from.

One of the greatest skills you can develop over a lifetime is the skill of listening.

Active, engaged listening that seeks to understand a neighbor.

I might even go as far as saying this that this one thing of true listening and hearing will do more for you in loving your neighbors then many other things that we can do.

In the book, The Lost Art of Listening.

The author, Michael Nichols writes:

“The gift of our understanding makes others feel loved.  Our ability to listen and to listen well, creates goodwill that then comes back to us.”

…goodwill that comes back to us.

Love the Lord, love your neighbor -the Torah and its commandments rest on these two.

After this last question Jesus then turns the tables with a question of his own on who the Messiah is.

And so, people of God, we too are left with a very final and lasting question.

“Who is Jesus to me?”

For us we believe Jesus is the Messiah.

He is the chosen one.

He is the son promised to Abraham, through whom the nations will be blessed.

To be blessed is to receive God’s divine favor which includes all the good things that God gives to us -love, grace, peace, joy, forgiveness.

Through Jesus we are blessed.

We are blessed in order to bless God and our neighbors.

Those who have come to question and to test Jesus are left speechless.

The testing has come to an end and everyone is left with a final thought.

This man, whose name is Jesus, he is the Messiah and we are to listen to him and we are to love him.

Amen.

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October 18, 2020 – Obedience to God

Last Sunday we heard in worship the parable of the wedding banquet.

In this parable Jesus tells of a king that throws a wedding for his son.

In the parable we discover that those who were first invited refused to come.

So, the king decides to invite everyone that he can find to his son’s wedding.

After doing this the wedding hall is filled with guests.

But there is one man at the wedding who is not wearing the appropriate wedding robe.

He is questioned for why he does not have on the proper wedding garment.

But he does not have an answer.

Having no answer to the question he is thrown out of the wedding.

As with all of the parables of Jesus there are many ways to interpret this parable.

One way we might understand this particular parable is to see that when God calls us to his party meaning the kingdom of heaven we are to respond with glad and joyful hearts.

We are not to find other things to do or to name excuses in order to avoid God and God’s kingdom.

In the parable this is what the first group of people do -they name reasons for why they cannot come to the wedding.

Let’s think about this here.

What is the needed response to the wedding?

We are to jump at the opportunity to be a part of God’s kingdom and to join God in what God is doing in the world.

The parable ends with a man who is thrown out of the party.

This man does not have on the wedding garment.

We might interpret this part of the parable in this way.

He is like the one who is not willing to embrace gospel living.

This person accepts the invitation to God’s party but refuses to live in the ways of Christ.

For us this means that we are to be found by our Lord clothed in Christ not in our own sinful living.

We are to put on the robe of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience – this is the way of Christ.

Today we continue in chapter twenty-two of Matthew right where we left off from last week.

From the parable of the wedding banquet we immediately go into the story of Jesus being questioned about paying taxes.

Unlike the man in the parable who when questioned had no answer for why he did not have on a wedding robe Jesus has a perfect answer to the question that the religious leaders ask him.

To begin here -first, know that this is a trap.

How do we know this?

The Bible tells us.

In verse fifteen we hear:  “The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him.”

The Pharisees have no intention to know the right theological answer here.

They want Jesus to get caught in their trap that they are setting for him!

You see Jesus is in a very difficult situation here.

Does Jesus confess loyalty to emperor or to God?

If Jesus says to the emperor then the Pharisees would say he is opposed to God.

If Jesus says to God then the supporters of Herod would say Jesus should be tried for rebellion against those in power.

Jesus completely avoids the trap.

He answers the question in a way that teaches us that we are to honor and to respect those in authority while at the same time giving our true obedience and even our very lives to God.

Our very lives are found in God.

This is the profound teaching that Jesus makes here.

For in the end we do not belong to the emperor but to God.

We do not belong to our possessions or our wealth but to God.

In our current context here in our country we might say that we do not belong to the political claims that we make during an election year we belong rather to God.

We do not belong to the demands of our jobs but we belong to God.

We do not belong to the ways of this world but to God.

We do live in this world, yes and we do vote and pay taxes and obey and respect authority but our greatest loyalty belongs to God.

OK, now three takeaways from today’s Gospel reading and one takeaway from last Sunday’s Gospel reading.

First, do not give to emperor what belongs to God.

This means that we always belong to God first, before any human authority we belong to God.

Second, as citizens of this world we seek to live in ways that promote justice and fair and good government.

Thirdly, as followers of Jesus we are careful about mixing religion with politics.

The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in that mix but Jesus separated the two and by doing so he taught us that what belongs to God is vastly greater than what belongs to the emperors of this world.

For what belongs to God:  the answer of course is everything.

Even the emperor owes everything that he has to God.

He is accountable to God.

And just because emperor is in power does not mean that he is doing God’s will.

He too will need to answer to God.

Lastly, as we pull all of chapter twenty-two of Matthew together now and consider the opening parable of the wedding right before the question about paying taxes, we might receive one more takeaway.

How can we give to God what belongs to God?

It is by putting on Christ and by living fully as a child of God.

This brings glory to God and light and hope to the world.

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October 11, 2020 – Stewardship Skit

Stewardship Skit

Pastor Tom:  Good Morning, everyone!  Today I would like to talk about stewardship.  Now stewardship is about the way we manage all of our resources, all of our time, and all of our gifts.  Stewardship is how we live and manage our whole lives.  ( I continue talking… )

Stu:  ( Interrupts Pastor Tom )  Pastor, why do you always talk about stewardship?  Talk about something else.  Besides these days no one wants to hear a message about stewardship.

Pastor Tom:  Stu, it is important for me to talk about stewardship.  God calls each one of us to use wisely all the gifts that God gives to us.

Stu:  Ok, can you say more, Pastor.  What do you mean by saying that God calls each one of us to use wisely all the gifts that God gives to us?

Pastor Tom:  Sure, one teaching that I always come back to is that God is the source of all life.  This is what the Bible teaches us.  Everything in this created world is from God.  You are from God.  I am from God.  We all are from God.  Our congregation is from God.

Stu:  Wow, Pastor that is deep.

Pastor Tom:  True!  God is indeed the source of all life and God gives us all things to enjoy and to use.  But God trusts that we will use God’s gifts in life-giving ways.  This means that we use our resources to further God’s work in the world, we use our time to help one another, we use our talents to serve others.  God does not need our money, our time, or our talents but God’s work here on earth needs it.  For example, in this congregation if we do not give generously, serve humbly, or help one another than our church would cease to exist and this good work that we are doing in Jesus’ name would not happen.

Stu:  I think I am starting to understand now why stewardship is such an important part of our life together.

Pastor Tom:  Yes, and stewardship is something that we need to remind each other about on a regular basis.  Stu, I sometimes forget about stewardship and in some ways, stewardship is always a work in progress.  What I mean by that is that I am constantly growing in my understanding of stewardship and in how I can more faithfully manage all the gifts that God has given to me.

Stu:  Makes sense to me, Pastor.  One more question here.

Pastor Tom:  Yes, go ahead with your question.

Stu:  In the church is stewardship the same as the Gospel?

Pastor Tom:  Well, in the church stewardship again is how we manage the gifts that God has given us and the Gospel refers to the good news of Jesus Christ.  In today’s Bible reading from the book of Matthew chapter twenty-two Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet.  In this parable we learn that Jesus invites all people to God’s kingdom or in this case to the wedding banquet but in order to be in God’s kingdom we must put on the wedding clothes of justice, truth, mercy, and holiness.  The required wedding garment is to live according to Jesus’ teachings.  If we think about stewardship and the Gospel here the Gospel would be God’s invitation for all people to be included in God’s kingdom.  The stewardship part here would be that Jesus asks us to live our lives in a way that ushers forth God’s world even now.

Stu:  I see.  So again, Pastor stewardship is about how we live our lives and the Gospel is about God’s free gift of grace and love extended to all people.

Pastor Tom:  Exactly!  I once heard it said that stewardship is everything that happens after a person says I believe.  We believe in the Gospel the good news of Jesus Christ and his love and forgiveness given for all.  Now Stu, I have a question for you.

Stu:  What’s your question?

Pastor Tom:  Do you like country music?

Stu:  I love country music especially Garth Brooks and that singer, Allan Jackson!

Pastor Tom:  I thought so.  Stu, you are in for a treat now.  How about listening to that great hymn that speaks about God’s call for us to share the old, old story of Jesus and his love for us.

Stu:  Is it going to be sung by Allan Jackson?

Pastor Tom:  Yes!

Stu:  Maybe next week we can hear a song from Garth Brooks.

Pastor Tom:  Maybe but I don’t want to over do it.  I know that you really like country music but I don’t think that I like country music as much as you.  (I don’t know if you really do like country music.)

Stu:  Ok, ok… one Allan Jackson song goes a long way.

Pastor Tom:  Yes, so true.  Carol and Ron let’s hear that great hymn:  “I Love to Tell the Story!”

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October 4 – Jesus the Cornerstone

Jesus preaches another parable.

In this parable we might interpret it in this way.

God is the landowner.

The land of Israel is the vineyard.

The Jewish religious leaders are the tenant farmers.

The prophets of the Old Testament are those who come to collect the produce.

Jesus is the Son who is the last one to come to the vineyard and he is killed.

And finally, the church is the group that is invited to work in the vineyard at the very end of the parable.

Now with this interpretation in mind lets take a closer look at the parable.

A landowner plants a vineyard.

Or we could say God creates his people.

Then God lets his people produce fruit hoping that the fruit will be good.

The harvest comes.

The prophets come to collect the produce.

But the prophets are killed by those in authority.

Again, God sends more of his prophets but those in power continue to kill the prophets.

Finally, God sends his very Son into the world and out of greed and pure hatred those in power kill God’s Son.

After all that happens God decides to return to God’s world.

God comes back.

God sees what has happened.

God is greatly saddened and God grieves the loss of his prophets and his Son.

God removes those who do evil and those who do not produce the fruits of the kingdom.

And God gives his kingdom to those who do right and those who produce the fruits of the kingdom to the glory of God.

In this parable we learn that to reject the prophets and God’s Son is to reject God’s kingdom.

In this parable we also learn that failure to produce the fruits of the Spirit is to miss what the kingdom of God is all about.

What is the kingdom of God?

The kingdom of God is many things.

To many things to explain in a simple sermon

But I would like to add these two Bible verses that speak to the kingdom.

The first one comes from the book of Micah in the Old Testament.

This Bible verse is one of my favorite verses in Scripture.

Micah 6:8 says “The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what God requires of you; to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

In God’s kingdom people strive to live in this way.

To do what is right… this means we ought to live in a way that is fair both in how we deal with others and how we use our money.

Love mercy… this means that we show grace to others.  We look to building others up and not tearing them down.  We treat one another equally with care and respect.  We show love and kindness to others.

Walk humbly with God… this means that we live our lives in a God honoring way.  Our faith is a faith that is constantly growing.  We live in humble ways knowing that we do not have all the answers but God does and we know that we need God’s help in life.

The second Bible verse that I would like to speak to this morning comes from the New Testament – Galatians 5: 22-23:

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

According to Scripture the only way we grow in this fruit is by the way of the Holy Spirit working in us.

It is the Lord working in us that produces this kind of fruit in God’s vineyard.

In our world today… the church stands as a great light and a life-giving symbol of hope.

With the violence in the world, with the corruption in the world, with all the anger and hate in the world -today’s parable speaks to what we are facing right now.

Jesus teaches us that in the world there will be trouble.

But we must remain faithful to the kingdom – to God’s work in the world.

As the Apostle Paul says we must press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

I wonder what things would look like in our world today if we took this very parable to heart.

For today’s parable as all of Jesus’ parables hold both a warning and a promise.

A warning for those who interfere with God’s work and who reject Jesus and a promise for those who produce the fruits of the Spirit to in order further God’s mission.

I pray that we would be about the work of showing peace, kindness, and compassion to others.

It has been said that the world we desire comes not by chance but by change.

In being changed and transformed by Christ we spread the presence of God’s kingdom here and now.

Go out and be a kingdom worker in God’s vineyard.

Amen.

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September 27, 2020 – Peace & Calm

Right now, I am reading through the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.

The book of Ezekiel is really a fascinating book in the Old Testament.

The name Ezekiel means “God is strong.”

His name can also mean “God strengthens.”

So even before you begin reading the first chapter of the book you know already that something about the main message of this particular book is about the power of God and how God gives us strength to endure the challenges and difficulties that we face in life.

“God is strong and God strengthens” that is the meaning of the name Ezekiel.

Now Ezekiel preaches to the people at a time when they are in great stress and trouble.

The Babylonians had attacked the Jewish people in 597 BC and because of that battle ten thousand Jews are in exile.

Ezekiel is also in exile.

In exile Ezekiel takes up his call from God to be a prophetic prophet of the Lord.

There he gives the people hope.

He knows that the exile will not be short.

In fact, the exile goes on for seventy years.

Life as they knew it was over.

But during the exile Ezekiel helped the people to understand once again that God is in control and that the people must rely upon God during trials and great testing.

God will remember God’s covenant with God’s people but the people must remain faithful to God.

In Ezekiel chapter eighteen we hear that each one of us most turn from sin and from our own ways and turn towards God.

Ezekiel 18: 31 says: “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!”

Now getting a new heart and a new spirit is a repeated theme in book of Ezekiel.

In time God will not only restore the Israelites back to the land that was promised to them but God will also restore the people’s spiritual lives.

God will create a new heart and a new spirit in the people.

This is what God will do!

Later in the book of Ezekiel chapter thirty-six beginning at verse twenty-four we hear these words of promise:

“I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statues and be careful to observe my ordinances.  Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

Wow!

Power Scripture here!

I love this!

This is also God’s Word for us today!

God will gather us together again from the separation that we face and God will give us a fresh start by creating a new heart and a new spirit within them.

This is all God’s doing.

This is what God is about at the time of Ezekiel and even now – gathering God’s people together once again, restoring God’s people during times of unrest and trials, and then renewing our spiritual lives.

Ezekiel’s message is for us just as it was for the people many years ago.

We need the hand of God in our lives right now in order to create this kind of healing.

When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth just as it is in heaven, we are praying for God to be acting in this very way while we are still on earth.

Restoring God’s people back to health, giving us peace during difficult trials, and renewing our shared relationship with Christ.

God does all of this in order to glorify His holy name.

Jesus said the hour is coming when we will all be scattered to our own homes and we will face persecution and testing.

People of God the time we are living in right now is only the beginning.

I am not saying here that the end of the world is coming.

But what I am saying is to keep your faith close to your heart when times are difficult.

Do not abandon your faith.

Keep the faith.  Stay close to the Lord.

Stay hopeful.

Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Take courage for I have conquered the world.”

In a very real way, we have all been scattered.

Who would have ever guessed in March that in a matter of a couple of days the entire world economy would be shut down just like that?

And we had to do something I didn’t think we would ever have to do.

We had to shut down our church and yet even then we found a way to be the people of God and to remain faithful to the Lord.

We have experienced great testing right now in our faith lives and in the life of our faith community.

Our nation is greatly in need of prayer and healing.

We have experienced division and conflict in our nation that will take years to heal from.

Right now, we need the hope that Ezekiel gave to the exiles.

Today we need the hope from the Gospel of John that Jesus gives to his people.

I see so much anger and anxiety in the world today.

No doubt this is made so much worse by COVID but even before COVID this same anger and anxiety was at work in the world.

In the presence of evil is at work in the world.

Jesus teaches us that even with all the noise and conflict and suffering in the world today we can find a peace and a calm through him.

We can say with confidence that it is well with our souls because God is still in control and God is still sovereign.

God is at work in us enabling us to be about the Lord’s plan for the world.

These difficult days let’s listen very closely to God.

When I drop off Evie at school and I see the little children with face masks on their faces – the really little children the five and the six-year old’s -it brings tears to my eyes.  Now not as much with the high school students sometimes I see them wearing their face masks on top of their head.  But it most certainly be hard for them as well.

These are certainly difficult days.

Look around now at our congregation.  We can’t even sing out of fear of the virus.

And still we have not given up our faith.

We have not given up our faith.

We continue to find new ways to gather together and to be stronger as the Body of Christ.

God will strengthen our faith at this time.

We continue to have hope even to say at such a time as this that – it is still well with my soul because God is in control.

Amen.

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September 20, 2020 – Parable of the Vineyard

This is the time of the year for yard sales.

All around Williams Bay I see signs for yard sales.

I have often wondered what would it be like if someone had a gigantic yard sale with televisions sets, and computers, and books, and clothes, and toys, and furniture and then… that person marks everything free.

No price.

Everything goes for free.

Signs around town would read, “Epic Yard Sale everything Free.”

What would the response be?

Well, probably those who are trying to have yard sales to make a little extra money would not be so happy with that person.

Everyone would be coming to this person’s yard sale and maybe skipping the other yard sales in the neighborhood.

Why… well, it would be because of this person’s generiousity.

Suddenly this person turned everything upside down.

Suddenly this person surprises everyone with their generiosity.

But not everyone is happy.

A similar thing takes place in today’s Gospel reading.

A landowner goes out to hire laborers for his vineyard.

You wonder here if Jesus is drawing from his knowledge of the Old Testament for this parable.

For example, in the book of Isaiah chapter five we hear of God being compared to a landowner of a vineyeard.

In Isaiah the vineyard is the people of Israel.

Here Isaiah warns the people that if they are not faithful and if they do not turn to God all will be lost.

Like Isaiah Jesus will also use the same metaphors of landowner and vineyard to teach the people about God and about God’s ways.

Let’s not miss Jesus’ teaching this morning.

Jesus has a message for us.

Let’s look a little deeper here into the parable.

So, this landowner needs workers.

There most be workers to do the work.

The landowner goes out and searches for workers.

It is the landowner that seeks out the workers.

The workers don’t go to him but he goes to the workers.

An important point here.

How does he do it?

Here is how:

Very early in the morning the landowner searches for workers.

Then he goes out again at 9:00

Then again at noon.

Then again at 3:00.

Still not satisified he goes out one more time this time at the very end of the day at 5:00.

Then evening falls.

Now comes the surprise.

Everyone is paid the same.

The parable ends with the landowner saying, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous.”

Wow!

What a way to end the parable.

More and more when I think about this parable another parable from Jesus comes to my mind.

Maybe this parable came to your mind this morning as well.

It is the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The son who leaves his father.

Wastes his inheritance then he comes back to his father.

His father surprisingly welcomes him back.

But the older son, who is a witness of all that has taken place, sees how unfair this all is.

Like today’s parable they both point to the extravagant nature of God.

God is gracious and God is also just.

God seeks out his people and God loves his own.

How many times have we thought… this person does not deserve God’s love?

This person does not deserve God’s grace.

Wait… what God is gracious to that person.

No way!

That is impossible.

It is a core teaching of Christianity that God is gracious.

The word grace and the concept of grace in the Bible is such a wonderful thing.

Philip Yancey writes in his book, What’s so Amazing about Grace?” that grace is one of the most important words in the Bible and that grace is  the heart of the Gospel.

Yancey goes on to define grace in his book not only as a noun but as a verb.

As a verb grace Yancey writes that at its root meaning grace means:  I rejoice, I am glad.

I love his definition of grace.

I rejoice, I am glad.

To receive God’s grace is to receive God’s joy and God’s gladness.

The happineness of God is ours through his grace.

And grace to further define this word is to receive something that we did not earn or even deserve.

At the end of the day the workers who only worked an hour did not deserve to be paid the whole day’s wage.

That is crazy – to be paid for a whole day’s wage when you only worked a very short time.

But that is exactly what happened.

We who are sinners, we who often fall so short, we who are often not gracious or loving people -we have not right to receive such grace from God – but we do.

This morning we will receive the very body and blood of Christ.

Do we deserve such love?

No, we don’t but God says to us, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?

God chooses to love and to forgive us.

That is grace.

And in this amazing grace we rejoice and we are glad this morning.

We are filled with the love of Christ.

God chooses to be gracious towards you and me.

Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, savior of the people.

Amen.

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September 13, 2020 – Stewardship Sermon

In my personal devotional time, I have been reading through the book of Nehemiah in Old Testament.

Nehemiah was a great leader.

He helped the Jewish people to rebuild the walls and gates around Jerusalem.

Nehemiah also helped the Jewish people to return back to the Lord and to remember the Lord’s ways.

One thing that Nehemiah reminds the people of Israel to continue practicing is the spiritual practice of tithing.

In chapter ten beginning with verse thirty-five of Nehemiah we hear these words:

“We promise to bring the first part of every harvest to the Lord’s temple year after year -whether it be a crop from the soil or from our fruit trees.  We agree to give to God our oldest sons and the firstborn of all our herds and flocks, as prescribed by the Law.  We will present them to the priest who minister in the Temple of our God.  We will store the produce in the storerooms of the Temple of our God.  We will bring the best of our flour and other grain offerings, the best of our fruit, and the best of our new wine and olive oil.  And we promise to bring to the Levites a tenth of everything our land produces, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our rural town.  A priest – a descendant of Aaron -w ill be with the Levites as they receive these tithes.  And a tenth of all that is collected as tithes will be delivered by the Levites to the Temple of our God and placed in the storerooms.  The people and the Levites must bring these offerings of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the storerooms and place them in the sacred containers near the ministering priest, the gatekeepers, and the singers.  We promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.”

Here Nehemiah is reinstating the spiritual practice of tithing to God’s people.

The practice of tithing was first instituted at the time of the exodus when the people escaped from slavery.

Now Nehemiah is simply reminding the people to not forget this spiritual practice for the Lord.

The practice of tithing was seen as a visible way of living out your faith in the Old Testament.

Tithing helped the people to understand that you offer to God your best.

You gave to God your best grain, your best crops, your best wine.

You gave to God your first and your best of what you have not what is left over.

We give to God the first portion of our time, our money, and our talents.

This ancient spiritual practice still holds value today.

God gives to us everything that we have.

Our wealth, our food, our clothes, our homes, even our very lives comes from God.

We believe this to be true.

In a world where there is so much poverty and suffering God’s teaches us that we are not meant to accumulate large storage barns of wealth.

Even the church can be tempted to fall into the temptation.

That is why it is important even for the church to tithe.

Every month our congregation gives ten percent of its offering gifts to the wider church for mission and for mission.

On top of that tithe our congregation supports our ministries such as Lutherdale Bible Camp, Lutheran Social Services, CROP Walk, ELCA World Hunger, Lutheran Campus Ministries, and our local food pantry.

Just recently our church gave a gift to the Williams Bay school to help those children who need a little extra help with school supplies.

All of this giving keeps our congregation humble and connected to God knowing that we are able to continue moving forward as a church because we are caught up in the mission of God.

Tithing helps us from getting caught in the trap of materialism and it helps us to reevaluate what is most important in our lives – is it found in the things of this world or is it found in God?

In my own life I have found tithing to be a very difficult practice to follow along with it being a blessing.

At times when I wanted to give up tithing my wife Kalen has been quick to help me to see the importance of tithing and to persist in this practice.

Blessed indeed is the one whose spouse encourages such a practice when you when to quite practicing such a difficult spiritual discipline.

True joy, true peace, true happiness cannot be found in the things of this world.

God gives us things in this world for our own benefit but all we can take with us from this world is our soul.

And our souls are not for sell.

Jesus has paid for our souls on the cross.

His grace and forgiveness are real and lasting.

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