February 17, 2021 – Growing in Faith During Lent

This new season that we are beginning is a spiritually rich time.

It is a time to grow in faith.

Faith is belief in God and trust in God.

Faith is having confidence in God’s promises.

God promises to be with us and to walk with us in life.

God’s promises to save us from death and to save us for eternal life.

God promises to give us love and grace even now.

During the next forty days we will be examining our lives, we will be confessing our sins, and we will be growing in faith.

To grow in faith is to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit.

It is the Spirit moving in us that causes us to grow in faith.

The Spirit creates that new growth in us.

As we do the work this Lent to open our minds, hearts, and souls to God we have faith that the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

This Lent we will respond to God’s gift of faith and the Spirit will grow our faith.

In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther instructs us with these words:

“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith.”

The Holy Spirit keeps us in the true faith.

What does this mean?

It means that God is the one that keeps us grounded in our faith and God is the one who ignites our growth in the faith.

Our job is to respond to the Spirit’s call in the Gospel, the Spirits gifts in us, and the work of the Spirit in our hearts.

But it is God who does this life-giving work in and through us.

In Matthew chapter six Jesus teaches us what it means to be pure of heart when it comes to practicing our faith.

When we do the work of living out our faith, we do it with humble hearts knowing all the while that it is God who grows faith.

If this is true, which we believe it is, then there is no reason to be showy or prideful when it comes to our faith lives.

When we give an offering to the church we do so out of love and gratitude to the Lord.

We do not give an offering in order to be praised by others.

That is why Jesus tells us to keep our giving a secret so that others don’t even know what we are giving.

We give generously because our hearts are so moved by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit inside of us.

Giving is connected to our spiritual lives.  We give because God is in our hearts.

When we pray, we do so out of our desire to know the Lord and to ask for his blessings for us and for God’s blessings for others.

We do not pray in order to get or to take something but to receive what God has to offer.

With humble hearts we graciously receive what God gives.

We trust that God hears the prayers of God’s people.

When we fast, we do so in order to identify more closely with the sufferings of the poor and the hungry and also to deepen our spiritual lives.

Fasting is a powerful spiritual practice that can help us to align ourselves with God’s will.

Fasting helps us to put God first and our needs second.

By doing so we come to understand on a deeper level that God is the source of all good things including food and also all the things that we have.

All the good things that we have… a home to live in, a car to drive, clothes… all of these things come as a gift from God.

We do not fast in order to gain the approval of others.

We fast in order to grow in our faith lives.

When we put our faith into action with right motives and right intentions than we store up for ourselves treasures not on earth but treasures in heaven.

Will we always have right motives and intentions when it comes to practicing our faith in our day to day lives.

No, of course not.

We will sin.

We will have pride in the way that we practice our faith before others.

We will think that we are the ones that are causing the growth in our faith -that it is us and not God.

We will think… wow! I am growing in faith.  I am a really spiritual person.  I am more spiritual than my neighbor.

We will become judgmental of others who are not as spiritual or faithful.

We will forget that it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we have faith and can grow in faith at all.

When we use our faith to gain power, or influence, or wealth, or control we sin.

But in smaller ways too we can use our faith in ways that are not true to the Gospel.

This is why we have this service today.

On Ash Wednesday we turn back to God in repentance and in true faith.

On this day we name all of our sins and we pray that we can still grow in faith in a way that is pleasing to God.

Now there is nothing sinful about feeling good about one’s faith or in speaking well about one’s faith or in being excited in telling others about one’s growth in faith.

This is good and healthy.

The problem comes when we think that we can become like God.

The problem comes when we think that our actions and our good works and our beliefs will save us.

The problem comes when practicing our faith before others is more important than practicing our faith so that we might know God more fully and so that we might love God more fully.

When we forget about God we then make God into our own image.

This is idolatry and it is the first sin mentioned in the Bible.

When we try to become like God and work to fashion God into our own image we then turn away from God and from God’s ways.

God has made us in God’s image.

We are people with holiness and love within us.

Holiness and divity is in our DNA because we are made in God’s image.

God is our creator.

But it is never the other way around.

We did not create God.

We do not grow in faith.

God causes us to grow in faith.

This is the point of Jesus’ teachings in the reading for today.

We practice our faith because the Holy Spirit is moving in our hearts.

We practice our faith because we love God.

We practice our faith because faith is that which gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

We practice our faith because we are baptized people of God.

When we turn from these truths we are to repent and to turn back to God and to God’s grace.

This Lent we trust in God’s free gift of grace and faith.

Grace is a gift.  So too is faith.

God will give us the grace to grow in faith this Lent.

God will give us trusting and believing hearts to put our faith into action.

But we do so not for show never for that reason as Jesus warns us here but we do so because we love the Lord.

We give alms, we pray, and we fast as an expression of a soul that has already been touched by the Holy Spirit.

Giving of alms, praying, and fasting are traditional ways that Christians practice their faith.

Jesus is teaching us here that when you do these things do them only if your heart is first right with God.

And then and only then can you put your faith into action in a way that delights God.

When you have God on your mind, when you have no desire to please others, and when you know that it is the Holy Spirit that creates faith than you are ready to grow in your faith.

How do we get to this place?

This is a life long process in our faith journeys.

It is a process that begins at the time of your baptism and ends on the day of your death.

Each and every day we are to continue in the work of examining our hearts and if our desire is to please God or if it is to please others.

There is nothing wrong with wanting others to approve of what we do but we must remember that first we are to seek God’s approval.

Lastly, don’t ever forget there is always grace for you and for me.

In grace we repent and we turn back to God’s true ways again and again and again and in this amazing grace we find that we are forgiven.

This is the meaning and purpose of Lent.

Repentance, turning back to God, growing in faith, seeking the Lord with humble hearts, and in receiving God’s grace.

For the next five Wednesdays of Lent I invite you on a spiritual journey.

It is journey of exploring what the practice of faith is all about.

I will be learning with you as I spend extra time meditating on and pondering the gift of faith.

The first Wednesday of Lent beginning next week we will be hearing a sermon of caring for the bodies that God has given us so that we can have the energy to do what God is calling us to do.

The next Wednesday we will explore what God is calling us to do.  How do we hear and discern the will of God in our lives?  Together we will ask the question, what is God’s will?

The third Wednesday we will hear a sermon on service and on what it means to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.  God’s will is to extend God’s kingdom.  How do we go about doing kingdom work in the world and in our community?

The fourth Wednesday we will be reflecting upon what it means to give our worries and our concerns to God.  As we do the Lord’s work in the world, we encounter many challenges and obstacles.  We have much to worry about and to be concerned about.  How do we give to God our cares and our worries?

And lastly, as we grow in faith and as we live our faith in the world how do we make the most of the time that God has given us?  Time goes fast.  Are we using our time in a way that honors the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

This Lent one of my spiritual disciplines will be in praying for each one of you.  I will be praying that we will grow in faith and that we might continue to grow as a church.

I have faith that we can recover from COVID and from what COVID has done to our congregation.

I have faith that we can continue being a blessed church in our community.

May God bless us as we look to the work of the Holy Spirit moving within us causing us to grow in faith and in the knowledge of the Lord.

May God richly bless us these next forty days so that we can feel and know in a deeper way the wonder, the beauty and even the mystery of what it means to have faith in God.

Amen.

Read More →

February 21, 2021 – First Sunday of Lent

For the first Sunday of Lent we go back to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark.

There we recall Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.

Then we hear how the Spirit immediately drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days.

In the wilderness Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Satan is the great tempter who wants to throw Jesus off of his mission and to turn Jesus away from God.

We do not hear in Mark how he was tempted.

But we know how he was tempted because Matthew and Luke record the details of the temptation.

If you would like to study this further you can read from Matthew chapter four or from Luke chapter four.

In Luke and Matthew Jesus is tempted with food, with power, and finally with glory.

Here Satan is tempting Jesus with glory that is not from God rather it is a false glory from Satan.

Each time Jesus fights through the temptation that Satan throws at him.

And Jesus passes all three tests.

In the end the angels minister to him.

In the Bible angels are spiritual beings who work for God.

Here angels assist Jesus.

Jesus has fasted for forty days.

He has been severely tested by Satan.

Jesus is God but Jesus is also a man.

As a human being Jesus needs to recover just like any other person who experiences such trials.

The angels provide the encouragement and support that he needs to get back on his feet in order to continue with his mission.

And look what happens after the angel’s minister to Jesus.

In verse fourteen of Mark it says, “After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee.”

And why does he come to Galilee?

What does he do there?

He begins his ministry.  He begins his ministry in a place where he grew up and where the people are in need of good news.

Verse fourteen continues by saying that he was proclaiming the good news of God.

And in verse fifteen saying, “The time is fulfills, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Just two verses here in Mark but there is so much here to unpack.

Jesus has just picked up where John left off.

He is John’s successor.

He will continue in the good work that John started.

John proclaimed that there would be one who would come after him who would be the true messiah.

Here at verse fourteen and fifteen the prophetic words of John have come true.

Jesus is the One who will usher fourth God’s new kingdom.

He will be the messiah who will save God’s people.

The kingdom of God has come near and the time is fulfilled because Jesus is here.

This is good news indeed.

Why is this good news?

It is good for these three specific reasons.

The first reason is that it is the good news of hope for God’s people.

At that time, two thousand years ago, the world was a very dangerous place.

The ancient world was a very pessimistic world.

Life expectancy was short.  There was hunger and sickness everywhere.

The Romans ruled in cruel and ruthless ways.

And suddenly in the midst of this pain and suffering here comes Jesus.

He is giving hope to the people.

He is feeding people, teaching people about God’s grace, healing people, and in telling the people the good news that in him they are on the path of life rather than death.

Truly this is the good news of hope for the people.

The second reason is that it is the good news of promise.

God’s promises as they are proclaimed by Jesus in Scripture are key to our faith lives.

In his ministry Jesus will teach the people that God is more ready to give than we are to receive.

Jesus will preach about God’s grace and compassion.

At that time people thought of God as a God of rewards and punishments.

If you were good you were rewarded by God.

If you were bad you were punished by God.

Jesus teaches the people that God desires to forgive God’s people when they turn from God and that God desires to show us grace and not punishment.

How do we know that this is true?

Look to Jesus’ parables and teachings.

For example, consider the parable that Jesus teaches us in the story of the prodigal Son.

In that parable we hear of a father desperate to show love and grace for his son who has turned away from him in sinful living.

So too is God ready and eager to welcome us in his open arms of forgiveness and grace.

This is the good news of promise.

God promises to show us such love.

The third reason is that it is the good news of salvation.

In the Bible the words salvation and healing are closely connected.

Jesus not only saves us for eternal life but Jesus heals our broken hearts so that we might live victorious lives free from the fears of death, sin, and temptation.

In Christ we receive the Good News that we will be saved from all that which steals life from us.

To give us good news is the purpose and mission of Jesus’ life.

In fact, that is how Mark opens his Gospel.

If you have your Bibles nearby turn to the very beginning of Mark.

Mark chapter one verse one reads:

“This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

To believe in the good news that Jesus preached is to believe that God loves the world so much that he will make any sacrifice necessary to bring us back to God’s self even the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross.

This new season of Lent let’s ponder the message of the Gospel which is the good news that we receive in Jesus.

May our Lenten journey take us once again to the cross where we give witness to God’s unfailing and enduring love given and shed for us in his Son, Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.

On this first Sunday of Lent this is good news for all people.

Amen.

Read More →

February 24, 2021 – Stewardship of Self-Care

For the next five weeks I invite us to explore more deeply what it means to practice our faith in our day to day lives.

Each week I will dig into a new faith topic.

Today I will begin with stewardship of self-care or another way of saying it might be to say the task of caring for our bodies.

The Bible teaches us that we belong to God.

In the book of Genesis, we learn that we are made in the very image of God and the Apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Knowing that we are made in God’s image and that we are temples of the Holy Spirit we are to be wise stewards and faithful managers of our bodies -knowing all the while that we are God’s.

Self-care then can be seen as spiritual stewardship or it can be seen as a faith practice.

The healthy choices that we make connects with our spiritual lives when we put the two together.

Also, the way that we value life and how we seek to protect life connects with our faith and our relationship with God.

Martin Luther writes in his Small Catechism that we are to fear and to love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

From loving and protecting all of life from the unborn, to children, to adults, to the elderly we value and cherish all of life – as followers of Christ we believe that  all of life is God-given.

“It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works,” says the Psalmist.

All of life comes from God.  God is the source of all life.  So, all life is to be protected and cared for.

Because of sin it is too easy to forget that we are all made in God’s image.

We do forget.

Saint Jerome, the great theologian of the fourth century, said he whom we look down upon, whom we cannot bear to see, the very sight of whom causes us to be sick, is the same as we are, formed with us from the same clay of the earth, compacted of the same elements.

This quote reminds us of the words we hear on Ash Wednesday.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

We may think that we have very little in common with some people but actually we have very much in common.

We are all made of the same elements and we will all return to the same earth.

For example, my neighbor who I feel is very different from me is not all that different after all.

Our bodies are made of the same materials and we will both one day return completely to the earth.

The only difference then that remains is faith.

Faith says that our bodies are more than bones and flesh and blood.

Our faith says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Our faith says that one day God through the power of Jesus will resurrect our bodies from the grave.

Again in 1 Corinthians Paul states in verse fourteen that in great power God raised Jesus from the dead and Paul continues… that God will raise us also.

One day God will create a new body for us in the resurrection.

But for now, until that day comes, we are to love and to honor the bodies that God has given us.

We are to care for our bodies and to practice self-care as a way of living our faith.

We do it as a way of saying thank you God for you have made me a temple of the Holy Spirit.

I will honor and respect this temple by caring for this body that you made.

How do we practice self-care?

How do we care for our health?

This is a topic that I have given a lot of thought to over the years hopefully you have as well.

For me thinking about stewardship of self-care begins with a monk and a cup of green tea.

I will explain.

When I was a teenager, we lived close to a monastery.

We lived in the corner of Northwest Illinois near Dubuque.

Just on the other side of Dubuque was a Trappist Monastery called New Mellerary Abbey.

My father made regular visits to this monastery often joining the monks in prayer.

On one particular visit my Dad came home very excited to tell me about a conversation that he had with one of the monks.

The conversation was about green tea.

The monk had shared that he daily drank green tea for its health benefits.

The monk explained how it was one simple way that he could care for his health each day and by doing so practice self-care.

As a young person at the time, I was probably a junior in high school, I really looked up to such spiritual people.

I thought to myself that if this monk was drinking green tea for his health as a way to care for the body that God gave him than I must too.

So, I started drinking green tea even though at the time I did not like it very much.

It is a funny little story that I remember but I can tell you that to this day I continue to drink green tea almost every day.

In fact, over time it has become my favorite beverage.

When I have this healthy drink, I think about that monk so long ago and I think about how he did that one simple thing each day to care for his health.

I think part of stewardship of self-care is in finding those little things that you can do each day to tend to your health and to your body.

Since then, I have worked to incorporate more health practices into my life but green tea was the first practice that I brought into my life that made me consider how I connect my health with my faith.

Today I thank the monk for this connection – a simple practice that reminds me of caring for the body that God has given me.

By caring for the bodies God has given us we will have energy and strength to do the Lord’s work.

Will we always do the right and healthy things for our bodies?

Of course, not I certainly am not a master at this.

But there is always God’s grace to lean on and a second chance to get back on track in caring for our bodies.

And so, for this first week of Lent I encourage us to consider ways that we might care for ourselves this temple which houses the Holy Spirit.

When you do pick up some healthy disciple connect it with your faith.

I shared how whenever I drink a healthy cup of green tea, I think about the gift of life that God has given me and how I might use this life this one life that I have to bring God glory and to further God’s work in the world.

More and more begin to take on a spirit of reverence for the life that God has given you and for the body that God has given you.

In doing so you will place yourself it an open place to discern God’s will which will be the topic for next week.

May God bless you as you practice self-care as a way of honoring and loving the life that God has given you.

Amen.

Read More →

February 28, 2021 – Abraham, Man of Faith

Abram is ninety-nine years old.

Thirteen years had passed since Abram’s son Ishmael was born.

Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian servant, gave birth to Ishmael when Abram was eighty-six years old according to Genesis chapter sixteen.

Now where we pick up in today’s Bible reading in chapter seventeen Abram is ninety-nine years old.

A significant age for Abram but in the book of Genesis the Bible tells of people living much longer than they do today.

In fact, later in Genesis chapter twenty-five we hear that Abraham lives to be one hundred and seventy-five.

In verses seven and eight of chapter twenty-five of Genesis we hear:

“Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years.  Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.”

With this in mind knowing that Abram will live another seventy-six years we might say that in today’s Genesis reading Abram is a man who today might be in his fifties or sixties.

So, picture a man here who is maybe 58 or 62.

At this age Abram has a powerful encounter with God.

It is an encounter with the living God that will forever change his life.

In this encounter the Lord speaks to him and says to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.  And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”

In response to this message from God.

Abram has a very human response.

What does he do?

He falls on his face.

We can picture him on the ground his face in the dirt.

This is a response of great humility and awe before God.

There with Abram on the ground God continues speaking to Abram.

“As for me, this is my covenant with you:  You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you through their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

And then seven verses later God continues by promising to bless Abraham’s wife Sarai.

Her name will be changed as well.

The name change is a sign of personal transformation and a sign of the promise of a new life for her.

Her name will now be Sarah, she will bear a son, who will be Isaac, and Sarah will give rise to nations and to kings.

Her new name also stresses the new role that she will have with Abraham.

For she too will serve the Lord’s purpose for God’s people just as Abraham will.

One of the most important themes that runs through the Old Testament is the reestablishment of the relationship between God and God’s people.

Or we might say the renewal of the covenant.

This is the bond between God and God’s people similar to a marriage covenant.

In this case of Abraham and Sarah God is the one who establishes the covenant between God and God’s people.

God establishes the covenant with God’s divine love and God’s promise of faithfulness to His people.

Abraham’s descendants will inherit the gift and promise of the covenant and God will continue to restore the covenant whenever it is broken.

Through faith we too are heirs of the promise.

In God’s covenant with God’s people, we receive the forgiveness of our sins, we are included in God’s family, and we receive God’s gift of shalom which is the peace and joy that we have in belonging to God.

Now Abraham is a man of great faith and God establishes his covenant with him and Sarah but Abraham is not a perfect man.

He need’s God’s grace just as much as we do.

When you read Abraham’s story in the book of Genesis you will quickly discover this.

Abraham’s behavior is sometimes erratic and questionable for a person who is the father of the nations.

But through it all Abraham’s faith in God remained.

His trust in and confidence in God remained solid throughout his life.

In fact, we can see in the Bible that his faith matured and grew as he leaned on the Lord more and more.

At times he made poor choices and decisions just like we do sometimes.

But his faith stands out as we read through Genesis and his faith made him right with God.

There is no greater example of Abraham’s strong faith in Genesis then when God tested Abraham in chapter twenty-two.

This is a Bible story that shakes us and rattles us.

It is the story of the sacrifice.

In this Bible story God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, who you love – Isaac- and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.”

One thing to note here is that Abraham also has another son, Ishmael but here Isaac is the one who is seen as the son of the promise.

And Isaac is the one who is to be sacrificed.

In this test we witness the maturity of Abraham’s faith.

In his life Abraham continued to grow in faith and in his relationship with God.

At this climatic moment of testing Abraham passes the test.

For he is willing to even sacrifice his son in order to obey God.

Of course, we soon see in the Bible that it is not God’s will for Abraham to sacrifice his son and that God provides a ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac.

This Bible story foreshadows the cross of Christ.

As the ram died in Isaac’s place so too will Christ die in our place on the cross.

Jesus will give his life for us on the cross.

Jesus will give his life as a ransom for us.

Now concerning Abraham after this final test Abraham’s faith is made complete.

He is indeed a man of great faith who is the father of many nations.

In the New Testament Abraham is the model of faith and trust in God.

In our Romans reading for today we hear that Abraham grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what God has promised.  His faith was then reckoned to him as righteousness.

Again, notice what Paul says here.

Paul said that Abraham grew strong in his faith.

Over time his faith in the Lord increased as he witnesses the power and presence of God in his life and in the lives of God’s people.

In the end Abraham was made right with God through faith – his belief in the power of God to save and to redeem.

One key takeaway from the life of Abraham is that God knows our hearts and God will not give up on us.

God will continue to increase our faith throughout our lives.

In Genesis we see that it took many years for Abraham to have the faith that trusted in God above all else.

As time goes go by, we too witness more and more of the goodness and the faithfulness of God.

Our faith grows and increases in strength as we experience God’s provisions and God’s protection and care.

How true this became for us this past year.

This past year faith kept us coming back to God again and again in trust.

We believed that God was still guiding us and leading us – we believed that God’s grace was still being given to us.

God is a God of second chances and God is a God of redemption.

Our faith in God will grow and mature just like Abraham’s did and we will remain faithful to God as God is faithful to us.

We will all get there.  We will all receive the faith that trusts in Christ above all else.

It is not a matter of asking will we get that kind of faith, the faith that Abraham had, because it will happen the Holy Spirit will indeed increase our faith.

It will happen for all of us for we are all children of the promise.

Last Sunday in my sermon I spoke about the promise of good news that Jesus came to bring to us.

Again, in today’s Bible reading from Genesis we hear good news.

The covenant was established through Abraham and Sarah and we are heirs of this good news.

The promise of being welcomed into God’s family and the promise that we receive in God’s Son Jesus is for us.

Through faith we believe that our salvation comes not by anything that we have done but rather through our relationship with Christ and his grace given for us.

Here again these words from Romans chapter four:

“For this reason, it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations.”)

We too share the faith of Abraham and we too will inherit the kingdom of God given in and through Christ.  Thanks be to God!  Amen

Read More →

Discernment is the process of noticing and recognizing the will of God and the ways of God in your life and in the life of God’s church.

Again…

Discernment is a process that takes faith.

Faith is the overall theme of our Wednesday gatherings.

Last week the topic was on the stewardship of self-care and I spoke about how we are caretakers of the bodies that God has given us.

This means that we are to love and to protect our lives.

We are to care for God’s gift of life by caring for our health as a spiritual practice.

We know that this is God’s will because we are temples of the Holy Spirit as the Apostle Paul states in Corinthians.

Paul also says this time in Romans that we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and pleasing to God.

And then he says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Why are we to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?

Paul gives the answer in the text.

He says that by doing so we will discern the will of God.

To be changed and to renew our minds takes faith.

Faith that God will create this transformation in our lives so that we might discern God’s will.

Remember faith is relying on God and in having total confidence in God.

Faith is having the trust that God will in fact change, transform, and renew our minds so that we might know the ways of God.

And what are the ways of God?

This is where the process of discernment comes in.

Discernment is all about discovering and finding out what God is doing both in our lives and in the life of God’s church.

When thinking about discernment this quote might be helpful.

This quote comes from Albert Einstein who once visited our little town of Williams Bay.

Einstein once said:  “I am not interested in this phenomenon or that phenomenon, rather I want to know God’s thoughts for the rest is just details.”

I want to know God’s thoughts or we might say I want to know God’s will or I want to know the ways of God or even I want to know the mind of God – how is God thinking?

As we make decisions throughout our lives in both the big decisions and the small decisions, we seek to discern God’s thoughts on our decisions.

To ponder the mind of God takes discernment and discernment happens as we come to the Lord in prayer, as we take time for reflection, as we engage in conversation with others, as we open our Bibles and read it, as we listen to the proclamation of God’s Word, and as we join together in regular worship the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and our minds to the will of God.

Another way of seeking discernment, that I have found to be very helpful over the years, is the process of asking myself faith questions and then journaling the thoughts that come to me in a journal.

For example, when I consider a particular decision, I might ask myself these three questions to which I will journal on:

First, is the decision I am about to make consistent with the Word of God as I have perceived it and as the Lord has given me understanding concerning his Word.  In making decisions we look to go off of the light that God has given us.  Where do I see the light of God shinning?  The Psalmist says your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.  That is from Psalm 119: 105.

Secondly, will this decision that I am about to make help others both now and in the future.  Is this a decision that will be good for others?  Will it serve others or hurt others?

And lastly, does this decision match my goals and my sense of God’s leading?

We all have goals for our lives.  We hope for something life-giving and positive to happen in our lives. Will the decision I am about to make take me closer to that which is life-giving or further away from that which is life-giving?

God is a God of life.  God is life-giving.  God’s will will lead us in the ways of life.  Discerning God’s will always lead us to life and where there is death God promises resurrection.

And then upon asking these questions we might journal and write down whatever comes to our minds.

This past week in preparation for giving a talk on this topic I read through some past journal entries to see my process of discernment.

I keep a regular journal as a way to discern the will of God in my life and in the life of God’s church.

Every now and then I do reflect back upon past journal entries to discern how God has been leading me.

By looking back on your thinking and on your prayers as they are recorded in a journal you will be able to find new insights into your decisions and you will learn how to make better decisions in the future.

Discernment of God’s will is always a process.  It is a learning process as we discover new and more faithful ways of discovering God’s will.

It is a continual process of growth as we look to practice God’s call for our lives.

And so, as I looked back on previous journal entries, I was surprised to read some of my past reflections.

In one reflection in particular I thought to myself… well, I certainly would have perceived God’s will differently today than I did at that time.

Keeping a spiritual journal keeps one honest about decisions and the ways one works to understand God’s will.

Keeping a spiritual journal keeps one humble as that person looks back on past entries and wonders why he or she made certain decisions.

Then journaling becomes a very good teacher.

It corrects you when you have gone your own way.

When you read those entries, you read them with the great benefit of hindsight.

Now if a similar decision was presented to you today you might make a different decision.

As the old saying goes hindsight is always 2020.

But this is where faith comes in once again.

Faith says that even when we cannot or do not discern accurately the will of God God will not give up on us and God will continue to guide us.

Think about Psalm 23 here.

The Lord is my shepherd.

A shepherd guides, protects, and leads his sheep.

God will never give up on God’s people.

God will always guide, protect, and lead us even when we fall away from the other sheep.

Jesus will always be out looking for that one lost sheep and will bring that one back to the rest of the sheep.

We may make wrong turns, detours and meet unexpected dead ends but the remarkable thing here is that God can even take our mistakes or our poor decisions or the times where we are clearly not discerning God’s will and God can still lead us back to God’s plan and God’s purpose for our lives.

In Romans chapter eight verse twenty-eight we hear:  “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose.”

God is able to instruct us, teach us, and lead us to his purpose in all the ways we live our lives.

With this truth in mind does this then mean we should ignore the work and process of discernment?

By no means!

Rather, this means that we are to have confidence and faith that we will all get to that place of God’s will because Jesus is our good shepherd.

He is the one who will lead us in the ways of life, truth, and understanding but we are to still listen to our good shepherd’s voice and with faith work in responding to our Saviors calling.

Journaling can be one teaching tool we use to discern God’s will.

But there are other tools that we can use to discern God’s will.

We learn, we grow, we do better.

It is like a chess game.  We go from focusing on just seeing the one piece we are going to move to seeing the whole board with all of the possible combinations of moves we might make.

The process of discernment is something that we all need to take.

We constantly get a little better as time goes on while doing practice we grow and mature in our faith.

But in the end the way to God’s will is through service and working to further God’s kingdom here on earth and that is the topic we will explore next Wednesday.

May the Lord guide and direct you in contemplating the mind of God and in understanding how the Holy Spirit is moving in us and in the life of our congregation.

Amen.

Read More →

March 7, 2021 – The Ten Commandments

In the Bible the Ten Commandments made up the heart of the covenant between Israel and God.

The Ten Commandments deal with establishing a right relationship between God and God’s people and also between persons living within community.

Even today for us who are followers of Jesus we still continue looking to the Ten Commandments for instruction in how we are to relate to God and to each other.

No longer are the commandments the key to how we are made right with God for now we are made right with God through the life, death, and resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ.

But Jesus made it very clear in his teachings that we are still to follow and to uphold the law.

At one point Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; for I have not to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear form the Law until everything is accomplished.  Therefore anyone who sets aside one the least of these commandments and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practice and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  That is from Matthew 5: 17-19.

With this in mind let’s take a closer look at each of these commandments from the book of Exodus.

The First Commandment calls upon us to place God first and central in our lives.

Nothing comes between us and God.

Martin Luther said of this commandment that we are to fear, love, and to trust God above all things.

What does this leave out… that we are to love God above all things?

Of course, it leaves nothing out.  By faith God is first in our lives.

The Second Commandment condemns the making of idols.

We are not to create a false image of God meaning that we are not to create images of God that are not faithful to Scripture or to who we know God to be in and through Jesus Christ.

We are also not to manipulate God for our own benefit or to use God for our own wishes or desires that are contrary to God’s will.

We are not to use prayer for our own gain or in ways that are not in line with God’s will.

Instead we look to God’s will and we try to faithfully discern God’s will, as the Holy Spirit guides and directs our lives.

When we turn away from God and from God’s will in our lives we are to repent and to turn back to God.

The Third Commandment says that we are not to misuse the name of God.

We are not to use God’s name to serve our own interests.

We are not to use God’s name out of anger or revenge.

Instead we are to keep God’s name holy and honor God above everything else.

The Fourth Commandment recognizes Sunday as a day that is separate from the rest of the days during the week.

On the Sabbath, which is our Sunday, we stop our work.

On Sunday we make an intentional pause in our busy lives to remember God and to be with family and to rest.

In encountering God on the Sabbath we hope to recover our relationship with God, a relationship that is often lost during the week.

During our week it is often already by Monday or Tuesday when we begin to forget about God and the cares and the worries of our week can often overwhelm us.

So on Sunday we are reminded once again of our need for God, our great need to receive Christ’s mercy in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and of our need to rest.

The Fifth Commandment speaks of honoring ones father and mother.  It is the only one of the Ten Commandments that comes with a promise:

“So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

This commandment lies in the middle of the Ten Commandments and in a way it becomes central to how we follow the other nine commandments.

Because isn’t it often our parents who pass down the faith to us and who teach us and instruct us in the faith when we are young.

Not always but it is often through our parents where we learn to fear, love, and to trust in God and to follow God’s commandments.

It is through my parents that as a young boy I was instructed in the faith, brought to the waters of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and was raised in the church.

When I was nine or ten I made the decision myself to accept the faith that my parents taught me but that decision would not have happened if it were not for the faithful example of my parents.

The Sixth Commandment is: “You shall not murder.”

It is the clearest of the Ten Commandments.

Jesus took this commandment and like the other commandments he takes this commandment one step further.

In Matthew chapter five he quoted this commandment and then said:

“I tell you that anyone who is even angry with a brother or a sister will be subject to judgment.”

This commandment stresses the importance of how we treat one another.

If you have any kind of anger for a brother or for a sister Jesus teaches us in the Bible that we are to work through that anger, to give it to God, and to find peace and reconciliation with the one that you are angry with.

The Seventh Commandment says that we are not to commit adultery.

In this commandment we are to love, honor, and to be faithful to our spouse.

We are also to show respect and love for each other.

Some years ago there was a movie that came out where the story applies to this commandment.

Maybe some of you have seen this movie it is called Fireproof.

In the movie the main character Caleb learns how to truly love and to honor his wife, Catherine.

He is able to grow in this way towards his wife by committing to a plan for forty days.

It is a plan in order to win back his wife’s heart and to recommit to being faithful to her.

It is not a perfect movie but overall the movie does a good job at portraying how one should honor one’s spouse and thus live out this commandment.

The Eighth Commandment says that we are not to steal.

This commandment not only protects ones property and belongings but it makes us think about how we deal with each other.

Jesus’ words do unto others as you would have them do to you comes to mind with this commandment.

No one would want their belongings stolen so we should not take from others.

The Ninth Commandment deals with our testimony.

We are not to give false testimony against our neighbors.

I find Luther’s explanation of this commandment to be very helpful in interpreting how we are to follow this commandment.

Luther says that we are not to tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or to destroy their reputations.  Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

I have always appreciated that last part of Luther’s explanation of this commandment.

We are to interpret the actions of our neighbor’s in the best possible light or we might say in the kindest way possible.

In other words we speak about our neighbors with grace and compassion.

The Tenth Commandment deals with coveting.

We are not to desire and then try to take by force what is not ours.

Instead we are to be content with and grateful for what God has given us.

In thinking about this commandment the old saying the grass is always greener on the other side comes to mind.

In life we often think that a different set of circumstances would make us happier but in reality this is often not the case.

Can we be content and grateful for what God has provided?

Can we live our lives with a spirit of thankfulness for the life and gifts that God has given to us?

As God gives these commandments God also gives to us a great promise.

God says that God will show love to a thousand generations of those who love and keep God’s commandments.

As we think about the Ten Commandments we always think about them through the lens of our Christian faith.

The Ten Commandments are brought to their fullness in the life of Jesus and the faithful witness of the church.

As the Ten Commandments were given to the people of Israel to shape their love for God and for one another we too look to the Ten Commandments as a way to shape and to grow our faith.

It is not a choice to live by the commandments or to live by grace.

Rather the commandments, God’s law is included in living a life of grace.

To live a life of faith means that we live under the law but also under grace.

Let me give you a powerful example here to conclude my sermon.

At a different church that I once served some time ago now I was once called to make a hospital visit to an elderly man who had just suffered a very severe accident.

He was a man of great faith who took his faith very seriously over his entire life.

When I arrived at his room in the hospital I found he was able to speak.

He shared with me what happened and how he ended up in the hospital.

And then he said something that I will never forget.

He said to me, “Pastor, as I lay there on the ground I thought I was going to die so I began to pray and the first thing I did in my prayer to God was to ask God for forgiveness.

To ask God for forgiveness.

The first thing he prayed for.

This great man of faith, in the moment where he felt his life was ending he prayed for forgiveness for all the ways in his life where he felt that he had fallen short of God’s Law.

And then he told me I waited to die.

But he did not die that day and he lived to tell his story and to give witness to God.

I will always remember his faith and his humble spirit.

He was a man who knew that he needed God’s grace.

The theologian Karl Barth once wrote that we can recognize those who have the Holy Spirit.

They are the ones who know themselves to be poor before God.

There is a poverty of Spirit in them – they know they are spiritually weak without God.

They are those whose sinful unclean hands the Gospel and the Law have been laid, not in vain but for their salvation because through the body of Christ crucified for us and his blood shed for us, they are fed and satisfied and sustained into eternal life.”

The Law and Grace – God gives us both.

Amen.

Read More →

March 14, 2021 – God Loves the World

God loves the world.

This is a key belief that we hold to as followers of Christ.

The world in this context refers to all of God’s creation from the stars to the animals to us to you and to me.

One of my seminary professors used to say that this includes even the dandelions that come up in your yard –God loves all of God’s creation.

The world in this Bible reading refers to the cosmos – meaning everything in God’s creation.

In this Bible reading John does not say God loves humans although this is certainly true.

Rather, it says God loves the world – everything that God has created God loves.

All of our hope is wrapped up in this one short statement of faith –that God loves the world.

God loves the world so much that God sent God’s son into the world not to condemn it but to save it.

This is our Christian hope.

This is a hope that will stay with us now, it will stay with us on the day that we die, and this hope will carry us even into death and beyond

We believe this.

We know this by faith.

God’s love is a gift that God wants to give us in the future and in the present time.

Right now.

God’s love is always available for us.

The new life that God wants to give to us is for us now.

Right now in this moment God’s love is here for us.

Just as Moses’ snake gave life to those who looked upon it so too will Jesus give life to those who look to him and who believe in him.

This new life is certainly the promise of eternal life in the life which will come to us in death but it is also real life here and now.

How do we understand and live out this new life that God gives to us right now?

It starts with the Spirit reaching down to us to ignite our faith.

To be faithful to be filled with faith is our God-given blessing and the way in which God shows favor and love to God’s people.

Faith has been the topic for our Wednesday Lenten services.

Each Wednesday of Lent I have been exploring a different way we might grow in faith by putting a spiritual practice into action with our day to day lives.

To be a follower of Jesus requires of us to be in a mutual relationship with both grace and faith.

What do I mean by saying that?

I mean that we need both grace and faith.

We need God’s saving grace in our lives and we need faith to believe in God’s saving grace.

God loves the world but we are not to take for granted God’s favor and grace.

God’s love, God’s grace requires of us a faithful response.

It is a both/and kind of thing.

Grace and faith –both are needed.

The Apostle Paul confirms this truth in Ephesians by saying, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.”

Through faith we believe that God loves the world and that God will save the world by grace.

This statement of belief became very real to me in my work at Gunderson Hospital.

In my preaching and in my teaching I often talk about my experience as a hospital chaplain in La Crosse.

I only did that work for three month it was only a summer internship but the impact of the work was so great that I continue to reflect on it all of these years later.

I was assigned to the hospice floor.

Gunderson is a fairly large hospital so there was never a day that passed where I did not encounter very serious situations and of course, death.

I can recall again and again coming into rooms where the patient was dying or close to death and witnessing faith and grace in action.

How moving it is to see faith and grace at work at such a time.

And it was not faith in anything it was a very specific kind of faith.

It was faith in a loving and gracious God, a God who loves the world and who loves people.

Whenever I entered a room where the person was close to death and family members were present often the faith of the people gathered at such an hour was so palpable that it would deeply move my soul.

And with the family present as I prayed that pray that I knew would be the last prayer spoken before the person died it was as if I could feel the healing power of the prayer leaving myself and going to God and to the people present.

At such a time I remember that after the visit I would have to recollect myself before meeting with another person because the spiritual power of the visit would leave a strong lingering feeling with me that I could feel deep within my soul.

It is not a feeling that I can easily describe and I am careful even now in sharing it with you because it is very personal but I speak about it now because faith and grace when they come together it is an amazing thing and it is the way that we encounter the living Lord.

That work as an intern chaplain became for me that summer at that point in my life the most powerful experience of faith and grace working together in perfect harmony.

But you do not have to work as a hospital chaplain to get this.

Now at the end of our lives to see such faith and grace at work is truly a miracle.

But in our day to day experiences God speaks grace and faith into our lives.

In fact, it is through the everyday experiences of ordinary life where we encounter grace and grow in faith.

As life continues we see the process of faith taking shape and growing with us.

We witness the many ways that God shows us grace and love in action through the course of our lives.

Our lives then became a testament to the Spirit of God working grace and faith in us.

Jesus came to restore our relationship with God.

That is why God sent Jesus.

Jesus came not to condemn us but to save us.

To be saved is to be brought back into God’s loving arms.

For God loves the world.

May God bless you this coming week as you cherish the gift of faith that God has given to you.

Don’t take your faith for granted.

It is a gift for you.  Instead grow in your faith and put your faith into action each and every day of our lives.

Look for moments of grace.  When you are looking you will find.  In life you will receive what you are looking for.

Seek and you shall find our Lord tells us.

Are you asking God for ways to grow in faith?

Are you seeking to receive grace?

Are you knocking on the door of God’s love?

If so Jesus leaves us with these words of promise:

Ask and it shall be given to you.

Seek and you shall find.

Knock and the door shall be opened to you.

May this be so for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More →

March 10, 2021 – The Faith of Practicing Service

Jesus enters the house of Simon and Andrew.

It is the Sabbath day.

Simon’s mother-in-law is sick.

She is in bed with a fever.

Even though it is the Sabbath Jesus immediately comes to her.

On the Sabbath it was forbidden to heal or to be healed since healing was considered a work and no work was to be done on the Sabbath.

Surprisingly, Jesus ignores this law.

Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and then instantly the fever is gone.

Then in the text notice what she does.

Right after she is healed, she serves Jesus and those who are present in the house.

Service follows healing.

She is well and with her health restored the first thing she decides to do is to serve others.

Now service is the faith topic for tonight’s Lent worship.

And with the example of Simon’s mother-in-law let’s consider how service is a faith practice.

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus comes to Simon’s mother-in-law and heals her.

Then she responds to Jesus and to the healing with service.

In the same way Christ comes to us, heals us and then empowers us to serve others.

When we encounter the living Lord we are healed and then we are sent to be of service to others.

It is our response to Jesus and his presence in our lives – to live lives of service.

The word service is used many times in the Bible.

This word service is also used in many different ways but the meaning of service is always the same.

Service is done as an expression of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us.

What has God given us?

God has given us life, healing and forgiveness, and God has granted us salvation.

In response to these great gifts, we respond with service.

Service is done to build up God’s church, which is the body of Christ, and to further God’s mission in the world.

Service is done as a way to communicate the good news of the Gospel.

In this particular Bible reading Simon’s mother-in-law is probably acting in service by serving food to her guests.

But in Scripture there are many ways to serve others.

The Apostle Paul speaks about different works of service and he writes about many different kinds of gifts that can be used for service.

Paul’s concern is not in what gift that you have but rather that you recognize the gift and then respond in faith to that gift by giving it away in service to others.

In life it is easy to focus on what we can get.

Take this example:

We might think in this way… what can I get from my job, what can I get from my friends, what can I get from my family, even what can I get from my church?

Now what if we turned those questions around and starting asking these questions instead:  how can I serve others in my job, how can I serve my friends, how can I serve my family, how can I serve my church, how can I serve the Lord with my life?

Do you see the shift that happens in our lives when we turn from looking at what we can get or in what we can take to looking at our lives as a great opportunity to serve others?

What if we changed our thinking to think in this way?

What if instead of thinking what can God give to me and only take from God to thinking how can I participate with God in furthering God’s kingdom here on earth.

Remember Simon’s mother-in-law served Jesus after she was healed.

After the healing she did not say to Jesus now what more can you give me or what else can I receive from you.

No, instead she chose the path of service.

This is where sacrifice, love, and grace come in.

A life of service brings meaning, purpose, and joy to one’s life.

A life of service enables one to meet Christ.

Consider Matthew chapter twenty-five.

Here Jesus teaches us the supreme ways that we might be of service to others.

In the text he names six specific ways we might serve others:  by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, helping the sick, and by visiting those in prison.

By doing these acts of service Jesus said that we are serving and encountering him.

In life there are a wonderful variety of ways that we can serve others and minister to others so that we further the work of God in this world.

I often think about all the ways in which we serve each other in this church.

Some of the ways that we have served each other we have not engaged in since the pandemic like when we served each other at coffee hour after worship, or when we served our community by reaching out to the children with our Vacation Bible School program, or even when we served each other with our Lenten dinners on Wednesday evenings.

But there are many ways that we have been of serving each other this past year and there will be many more ways that we can serve one another in the years to come.

One exciting thing about serving as your pastor at this time in this churches history is that I have the opportunity to serve this congregation in recovery from this pandemic.

In the year to come as we slowly rise out of this pandemic, I get to help this congregation resurrect and rise to a new, healthy place in mission, in ministry, and in service.

In fact, we get to do this good work together.

We will work and serve together side by side as we come out of the pandemic in the coming year.

What will our acts of service look like in the next year or two?

That will be the process of careful discernment, heartfelt prayer, and much faith and trust.

We have faith that Lord will be our good shepherd and that he will guide us in the year to come.

Our job is to be ready and to respond like Simon’s mother-in-law when Jesus reaches out to us, heals us, and then calls us to respond with acts of service.

By faith I believe that our church is poised for new acts of service.

We will participate in God’s mission as we slowly come out of the pandemic.

Let’s be like Simon’s mother-in-law.

When the healing happens, when we receive the vaccine, and when the COVID numbers go down we will be ready to rise and to serve.

At this time may we also find new ways to serve outside of these four church walls.

There are so many ways that we can be of service to others when we ask the simple question each and every day, how might I serve?

Whenever we ask that question and when we prayerfully turn to God with that very question on our minds and hearts God will answer that prayer and will show us how to be of service.

When I was serving in my first congregation out in Tama, Iowa there was a retired man in the community who made service his calling.

He was raised on a farm and in his entire life, he never stopped serving others.

When I knew him, he was already in his nineties.

I can recall that I could not keep up with him and in all the ways he reached out to others.

He truly served others in the community that he loved.

La Vern Seth was his name and he was also deeply religious man.

His faith compelled him to reach out to others in service.

Even in his nineties he was always reaching out to people and in finding new ways that he could serve in that small community that we lived in.

He was always inviting me to be a part of some volunteer work that he was doing out in the community.

Me being in my thirties I would often have to tell him that I did not have all the energy that he had and that I could not do all that he did.

But once in a while I would join him in some service project in the community.

One memory I have of La Vern was a home visit I made one morning.

When I arrived at his house I was surprised to see a weight bench and a whole set of weights on his front porch.

I remember thinking OK this is why he has so much energy.

He is lifting weight all these weights every day.

But later in our visit he goes on to tell me that he is mentoring a teenager down the street.

He shared that he keeps the weights not for himself but for the kid to use when he comes over.

La Vern found that the kid opened up more and engaged more in conversation after he used the weights.

La Vern passed away last year at the healthy age of one hundred.

I will always remember him and how his life was centered around service and in furthering the work of God in this world.

Whenever I think of him, even now in this moment, I am inspired and I remember to myself how important a life of service is.

One of the best things to have happened to me in my first call in Iowa was to know this very remarkable man who made service his life calling.

I am sure that there are people in your life who inspire you as well.

And we have the faithful example of Simon’s mother-in-law who was quick to respond in service when the Lord was at her house.

This third week of Lent may you look for ways to serve and then when you find those ways of service may you quickly respond in faith and in service.

Read More →

March 17, 2021 – Giving Our Worries to God

If you are like me you spent a good amount of time this past year with our old friend, worry.

In fact study after study has shown a significant rise in anxiety and worry this past year and also a high rise in mental health issues during this pandemic.

COVID-19 has placed a great burden not only on our physical health but also on our mental health.

I can recall that it was around my birthday last year when everything in the world changed.

I guess you turn 40 then everything goes crazy.

At least that was how it felt for me one year ago as everything closed and shut down.

Even now I can recall the initial anxiety that I felt.

There were so many things to worry about.

I had great concerns in how we should hold Sunday worship.

Kalen and I worried about how we should handle Evie’s virtual at home schooling.

And there was even the worry, a worry that I never had before in my life until the pandemic, if there was going to be enough toilet paper!

Worry, worry, worry…

Now a full year later, when I turned forty-one, I made myself a cup of delicious green tea and I just sat by the window in our apartment and I reflected deeply upon everything that has transpired this past year.

Truly Jesus’ words ring true more now than ever before.

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Todays trouble is enough for today.”

How wise Jesus is here.

How practical his teaching is?

If I would have known a year ago what would happen in the coming year I would have been so overwhelmed.

This past year I am very grateful that I only had one day to live at a time.

I am grateful that each and every day we can go to God in prayer with any worry that we might have.

Even though I like to worry, probably just as much as anyone else, I have discovered different practices through the years that have greatly helped me when it comes to worry.

Whether it be breathing exercises or exercising or talk therapy the greatest help for me by far has been my faith in the Lord.

My faith brings me comfort, hope, and calm even in the face of great worries.

My faith does not take my worries away, my problems are still there, but my faith helps me through the worries and my faith helps me to get to a place of peace.

I know that this is true not just for me but for all of us who put our trust and our faith in the Lord.

Some time ago now I was given a great book on handling worry that I have spoken about before.

This book is chock full of real-life stories of people overcoming worry.

The book is called:  How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.

One of the things that first struck me when I first read the book back in high school was that so many of the stores included men and women who found help through their worries by turning to their faith in God.

Carnegie himself describes in the book how much his faith has helped him over the years to face his own fears and worries.

I would like to share with you now just one true story from Carnegie’s book.

This story is about a person living during the Great Depression who was able to find new life in the midst of her worries through rediscovering her faith.

She was then able to turn from worry and anxiety to feelings of courage and hope.

Here is Mary’s story as described by her in Carnegie’s book.

“During the depression my husband’s average salary was eighteen dollars a week.  Many times, we did not even have that because he didn’t get paid when he was ill and that was often.  He had a series of minor accidents; he also had mumps, scarlet fever, and repeated attacks of the flu.  We lost the little house that we had built with our own hands.  We owed fifty dollars at the grocery store and had five children to feed.  I took in washing, ironing for the neighbors, and bought secondhand clothes from the Salvation Army store.  I made myself sick with worry.  One day the grocer to whom we owed fifty dollars accused my eleven-year-old boy of stealing.  My son was in tears when he came home to tell me the story.  I knew he was honest and sensitive and I knew how much my son had been humiliated in front of other people.  For me that was the last straw.  I thought of all the misery that we had endured and I could not see any hope for the future.  I was completely overcome with worry and heartache.

I went into the bedroom, shut the door, and cried and cried.  I was completely overcome with grief and pain.  I was suffering the worst kind of pain which is to lose all hope.

But just as this overwhelming feeling came over me, I thought I heard music.  I listened.  Then I realized that I had forgotten to turn off the radio in the kitchen.  It didn’t matter now but still the music continued.

I was just barely about to catch what was now playing on the radio.

Then I knew.

Playing on the radio was an old hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.  Oh, what peace we often forfeit.  Oh, what needless pain we bear.  All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!

As I listened to that beautiful hymn, I realized something very great.

I was trying to fight my battles all by myself.  I was trying to conquer my worry all by myself.  I was trying to find the answers to my problems all by myself.

I was not taking everything to God in prayer…

I began to pray for the first time in a long time.  I even found myself praying prayers of thanksgiving for all that God had given to me up to that point.  And I made a promise right then and there that from that day onward I would no longer struggle anymore through life without faith.

Things did not change overnight but even still I remained grateful and I continued taking all of my pain and worries to God.  And slowly my life situation improved.  I kept that promise that I made to myself that I would always give my worries to God and turn to the Lord in prayer no matter what life threw at me.”

I have read that story many times in Carnegies book and each time I read it it always strikes me how the woman’s life changed the moment she turned to God in faith.

Now her life did not dramatically change meaning all of her problems did not suddenly disappear but she changed and she was able to face her life with new strength when she came to God in prayer and in faith.

Again, as I look back on the past year, I am so grateful for my faith that sustained me through a rather challenging year.

Faith sustains us and gives us hope during difficult times.

This is most certainly true.

When we feel spiritually weak, when we feel that we are at our wits ‘end, and even if we feel that we have no hope this is the time to turn all of our worries and all of our fears over to the Lord in prayer.

When we are at such a moment of despair our faith calls us to remember that beautiful hymn, What a Friend we have in Jesus.

It is precisely at such a time of great need when Jesus comes to us and when Jesus reaches out to us.

I feel so strongly about this.  This is a core teaching of our faith.

This is the good news of the Gospel that Christ meets us in our pain and in our suffering.

When we are overwhelmed with life that is when Jesus comes close to us.

When we feel consumed with worry that is when Jesus meets us right where we are at.

As Lutherans we call this the “Theology of the Cross.”

This is one of the most important Lutheran teachings that we proclaim.

The Theology of the Cross means that Christ is present wherever there is suffering.

Christ meet us in our pain, our suffering, and in our worries.

On the cross Jesus identified with us in everyway even in our suffering.

Now when we suffer or when we experience any kind of fear or anxiety, he is present with us.

He is carrying the weight of the load so that we do not have to carry it alone.

By faith we are able to have confidence in what the future unfolds knowing that Jesus goes with us.

By giving our worries to God we can find a peace that only Jesus can give.

Here these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter four verses six and seven:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This is a very comforting verse from Scripture.

I will often repeat this Bible verse during my morning prayer and meditation time.

In turning to God in faith may you be blessed by the peace of God that transcends all understanding and may you find rest from your worries.

After a year like this we all deserve a little break from our worries.

After a year like this we all deserve a little grace.

Thanks be to God for God’s amazing and abundant supply of grace, encouragement, and peace.  Amen.

Read More →

March 21, 2021 – The New Covenant

We are close to the end of Lent.

We have been practicing the disciplines of Lent.

And today one week before Palm Sunday we hear this inspiring message of hope from the prophet Jeremiah.

This past Wednesday evening during the Lent worship service I spoke about the importance of having hope.

Without hope we live in utter despair.

Life has no meaning or purpose without hope.

Hope is having confidence and trust in the goodness God, in the faithfulness of God and in the love of God.

Hope is believing that life will become better much better.

As we come to the end of Lent we are left with this great promise of hope.

In the Bible Jeremiah is speaking here to a people who have seen the destruction of their temple in Jerusalem and who have been exiled to Babylonia.

In this context Jeremiah speaks words of promise, words of hope to God’s people who are suffering.

Today Jeremiah’s words still speak powerfully to us.

Jeremiah’s words give comfort to those of us who are simply trying to survive in the face of hopeless situations.

Jeremiah’s words give comfort to those of us trying to live our lives in the face of uncertainty and doubt.

The Lord speaks here in Jeremiah and the Lord says, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

The covenant is the bond between God and God’s people.

It is the promise that God will be with God’s people and will provide for and protect his people.

As God is faithful to his people the people in return are to be faithful to him.

The only thing though is that in the Bible God’s people have not been faithful.

In verse thirty-two of our text we hear that the people broke the covenant.

The covenant has been severed.

God’s people have not been faithful, God’s people have broken the commandments, and God’s people have turned to things other than God.

But even still God continues to be with God’s people and God continues to comfort his own and to give hope to those he loves.

What will God do now that the covenant is broken?

In the Bible reading we hear that God will make a new covenant with God’s people.

God will write his covenant on the hearts of God’s people.

God will forgive them.

God will no longer remember their sins.

And God will restore God’s relationship with God’s people.

The people will now have a new and restored relationship with God.

The people will know God in a way that they never knew before.

This is what God will do for us as well.

God will make this new covenant for all of God’s people.

Today as we come to the end of Lent and as we come to the one year point of the pandemic what a great message of hope that we have from Jeremiah.

Just as these words brought comfort and hope to the Israelites, who were struggling with an uncertain future, so too do these words bring comfort and hope to us.

For faithful people both then and now live by hope.

Faithful people both then and now live by God’s gift of hope!

This is our hope that through the cross of Christ we know and belief by faith that the future will always be better than the present time.

This does not mean that suffering or pain will come to an end immediately for we are still living in the present age.

In life there is still injustice, pain, trials, and suffering but what this does mean for us is that God is in control and ultimately all things will be gathered together in the New Jerusalem where mourning, crying or pain will be no more and where God will dwell with us and where God will be our God.

The theologian Jürgen Moltmann once said that in the promises of God the hidden future already announces itself and exerts its influence on the present through the hope it awakens.

This means that we are not yet living in the new heaven and the new earth that is proclaimed in Scripture but that knowledge of this coming age and the truth of its future existence, which the Holy Spirit is making known to us even now, is giving us real hope in the present time.

The Holy Spirit is writing this message of hope on our hearts and sealing it with the Lord’s new covenant.

In Christ the already and not yet promise that Jeremiah proclaims is filling our hearts with hope on this fifth Sunday of Lent.

Amen.

Read More →

March 24, 2021 – Using Our Time Wisely

We have been together now for the past six Wednesdays and tonight will be our last Wednesday together until next Lent.

At this point in Lent I am always excited about Easter with is just around the corner.

I find Holy week to be very meaningful but I must admit that there is always a bit of sadness for me when we come to this point in Lent knowing that Lent will soon be over.

I always find Lent to be such a rich and meaningful time in the church calendar.

I hope that this is your experience of Lent as well.

This Lent, because of COVID, feels a little different but it is still Lent.

During Lent we look to receive from the Holy Spirit new growth in our faith lives and we also take time to reflect on our lives and how we are using our time.

I thought that the subject of time would be a good thing to give a Lenten message on this year.

The theme of time and how we use our time comes up again and again in the Bible.

Jesus taught that we are to use our time in a way that furthers God’s kingdom and in the Old Testament we learn that we are to use our time wisely.

Time has felt so strange this past year.

Time is defined as a measured or measurable period in which all things happen.

We live with time.

Each day is marked by time.

We have the capacity to contemplate eternity but we live in time.

That is very interesting when you think about it.

And in the Bible we have both –teachings about time and teachings about eternity.

In the Bible life is described in time with days and seasons but the Bible also speaks about eternity.

Eternity is life that never ends.

In eternity there is no more time.

When I was a child, I really liked the Far Side comics by Gary Larson.

There is a Far Side comic where people are entering eternity and as they are entering eternity there is a sign that reads, “This is the first day of the rest of your life.”

As humans we live in time but we contemplate eternity.

One year ago, now for the last Wednesday Lent message I gave before COVID closed our church building I included a reference to the movie Groundhog Day to make a point about the virues of compassion and kindness.

In that movie the main character, Phil Connors relives the same day over and over.

In the movie he lives with time and eternity side by side.

An interesting concept.

It is also interesting that I referenced that movie right before COVID changed everything.

In the movie it is not until he changes his life and how he uses his time that the next day finally happens.

In the movie Phil radically changes and he discovers the true joy of focusing on others and on serving others.

You might say that he finds a way to use his time wisely -in service to others and in showing kindness and compassion to others.

In the Bible reading from Luke the rich farmer fails to find a way to use his time for that work that endures.

In the parable his only thought is of himself.

Luke clearly points this out in the reading…

He thought to himself.

What should I do?

I have no place to store my crops.

Then he said, “This is what I’ll do.

I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones.

I will store my surplus grain.

I’ll say to myself… take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.

Notice all the references in the text that point back to the man.

It is actually a little overwhelming when you take this close of a look at the text.

The man has no thought of others.

He has given no thought for how he might use the time that he has and the life that he has been given to bring God glory and to serve others.

In the story the rich man has become poor for he has used his time to accumulate worldly goods that only hold temporay value and no value in the face of death.

You cannot take one once of gold or silver with you in death but only that which is eternal.

This parable that Jesus tells in Luke has a similar parallel with the fictional character, Phil Connors in Groundhog Day.

Both men are consumed by their own needs and how they can use their time to satisfy their own needs.

A key takeaway from the parable that Jesus tells us is that we are to live our lives and do our work in a way that serves others and brings God glory.

We turn from serving ourselves to serving others.

This does not mean we take no thought to our own needs or to self-care but it does mean a shift in how we perceive things and how we use our time from being foolish to being wise.

To be wise in this context means having the knowledge and the discernment to live in and with Christ.

We are not to use our time only to benefit ourselves or to further our own interests.

I am thinking of a Bible passage here that really speaks to this truth.

It comes from Colossians chapter three beginning at verse twenty-three:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

That is from Colossians 3: 23-24

As followers of Christ, we live our lives for the Lord and use our time wisely for the Lord while expecting and hoping for an eternal inheritance.

We do not work and use our time for an earthly inheritance as the man in the parable did but rather, we work and use our time for an eternal inheritance.

With this in mind we do not need to renounce the world for the world is created by God but it does mean that we are not to become attached to wealth and possessions in the way the rich farmer did in the parable.

His time, his energy, and his life were consumed with things of this world.

His work was for himself.

In contrast the Apostle Paul teaches us in Colossians that are lives are to be wrapped up in the work of God.

Whatever God calls us to do we are to do it in such a way that it is as if we are doing that very work for the Lord.

However, we end up using our time we do it with Jesus.

Whatever work we end up doing with our lives we do it for Jesus.

I know that this past year has been difficult but I hope that this past year has also given to you some blessings.

This past year has forced us to consider how we spend our time, our days, our months, our lives.

With the slower pace of this past year one blessing that I received is the extra time to really get deeper into God’s Word.

Even though studying and reading Scripture is part of my job in fact, it is a main part of my work I must admit that often with the pace of life and the speed of life sometimes I don’t always get into the Bible during the week in a way that I would like to.

Sadly, too often deeper more in depth Bible study gets pushed to the end of my to do list during the work week.

But this past year with the slower pace of life, with some many things being cancelled, and with things slowing down a bit because of COVID I decided to commit extra time to digging deeper into God’s Word.

This was truly a blessing and I ended up spending more time in the Bible especially with many of the Old Testament books that I usually don’t take the time to study.

I know that if it were not for COVID this past year I would not have done this.

Part of using time wisely is in finding ways to slow down.

When we slow down, we are able to reflect upon that which is most important.

Then when we know what is most important, we are then to use our time for what really matters.

This is a different kind of a time that we are living in right now.

But my prayer is that we use this time in way that brings God glory and that we are using this time in a way that serves others.

When we consider our lives, we discover again and again that it is in using our time wisely where we find true joy and true peace and real meaning for our lives.

This is why the man in the parable ended up finding no life at all.

He did not know the secret to life which is actually not a secret at all.

The secret to life is found in thinking about others.

This is the opposite experience of the man and because of this God makes a dramatic announcement.

God says to the man in the parable, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.”

The word life here can refer to both life or soul.

It has a very deep meaning in this context.

The life of a person or the soul of a person is the essence of a person.

It refers to one’s true self.

This man lost his soul, his true self by only thinking of himself and in getting lost in the things of this world.

And because of this his time is all used up.

But for those who seek to serve others and who do their work as if they are doing it for the Lord -then they have discovered true life and they are living from their deepest and truest self-according to Jesus.

In using our time wisely as the Lord leads us we will find our lives refreshed and renewed.

True life is found when we use our time wisely in a way that pleases the Lord.

May God bless us this last week of Lent before Holy Week as we seek to discern how to use the gift of time that God has given.

Amen.

Read More →

 

Each year I find this Sunday to be one of the most moving and powerful Sundays in the entire church year.

There is a dramatic spiritual movement that happens during the service.

From the celebratory entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to his passion and death on the cross we experience both the joys and the suffering of this holy Sunday.

Today on this Palm and Passion of our Lord Sunday I invite us to reflect more deeply on the meaning of the cross.

Through the forty days of Lent we journey with Jesus to the cross.

All of the Sunday Scripture readings during Lent point to that journey.

And here we are on this last Sunday right before Easter Sunday where we hear of Jesus’ death and crucifixion.

Today a little earlier in Mark we recalled a very different scene.

Here the people are so excited about seeing Jesus.

Some put their cloaks on the road while others cut branches from trees.

They place these cloaks and branches right on the road as Jesus comes by as a way of honoring him.

But then just four chapters later in Mark we witness Jesus dying on the cross.

For Christians the cross changes everything.

On the cross we receive a new revelation.

This new insight reveals to us the very nature and character of God.

On the cross we come to see that God is present in suffering and that God is present even in death.

And although today is not Easter we always see and understand the cross in light of the resurrection and especially in light of the resurrection promise.

What are these promises?

Simply… that in suffering there is redemption.

That in suffering there in new life.

That in suffering Christ is present.

Jesus’ suffering and passion on the cross leads us to a deeper understanding of suffering.

The cross does not give us an answer to the question of why there is suffering in the world but the cross does lead us to a changed and renewed and transformed life.

Whenever we pick up our cross and follow after Jesus we do so knowing that the cross is ultimately the doorway to new life.

In the end the cross of Jesus is not about suffering and death although it is that for sure.

The cross must always be understood in the light of the resurrection.

The cross is ultimately about a love that holds no matter what.

It is about a relationship that holds no matter what.

It is about a bond that never breaks.

On the cross we come to see that love is stronger than death, that Jesus’s suffering and passion is more powerful than sin and evil, and that the evil one cannot cause Jesus to be broken or to cause Jesus to break his hold on us –for he will never let us go.

The evil one will not have the last word instead Jesus’ love will.

The resurrection promise that Jesus will overcome our suffering, deliver us from evil, invite us into the gift of new life, and stay with us forever is our hope on this passion of our Lord Sunday.

This is certainly the good news of the gospel on this day.

Jesus is indeed the true divine warrior king who did not come down from the cross but rather he stayed on the cross.

This is the true miracle.

For on the cross he gives his life for his own.

In his despair, anguish, and pain Jesus chose to stay on the cross.

He did this because he is faithful to you and to me.

He will even give his life for us in this awful way of the cross in order to stay in relationship with us.

The relationship holds.

All the forces of darkness and sin cannot severe our relationship with him.

Our bond to Christ remains.

Our lives are now caught up in his life and in death –when that day comes for each one of us we will enter into glory.

For because of the cross in death we will be with God and now in life, the life that we know and experience know, we will be with God.

It was a great suffering that Jesus endured but it is an even great redemption that he offers to us.

Today we place our faith in this truth.

Tomorrow begins the most sacred week of the entire year.

This coming Holy Week I invite you to ponder and to meditate on the meaning of this week.

Sometimes it can help to create a picture in your head of Jesus’ last days on earth leading up to the resurrection.

And so in additional to reading Scripture this week I encourage all of us to watch a film on the life of Jesus and the telling of his passion and death on the cross.

There are many good films out that on the life of Jesus.

I really like the movie Son of God that was made in 2014 with Christopher Spencer as the director of the film.

A member of the church that I was serving at the time gave me a copy of the movie and I watched it and found it to be a very good telling of the life of Jesus.

But there are many good movies about Jesus to watch this Holy Week.

I also invite you to come to our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services at the church.

This coming week has the potential to make a powerful impact on our faith lives when we intentionally chose to follow Jesus even to the foot of the cross.

Let us not be like the disciples who abandoned Jesus during his crucifixion only later to return to Jesus.

Let us stay with him and this week may we ponder the meaning of his passion and his suffering on the cross.

For his suffering leads to our redemption and to a new divine revelation on the meaning of suffering and death.

His despair in Gethsemane and his cry on the cross now opens the way to life and salvation – love wins on the cross.

Amen.

Read More →

On Sunday we waved Palm branches in worship.

In Jesus’ time Palm branches were seen by the Jewish people and by the Romans as symbols of victory.

Palm branches symbolized victory and freedom.

Here comes Jesus entering into Jerusalem.

Surely, he will be the new victorious and powerful king who brings freedom to the oppressed people.

But will he?

Well, yes and no.

He will be that king but in a way many did not expect.

For tonight, just four days after Palm Sunday we have a very different mood in worship.

In the Gospel of John chapter thirteen we see that Jesus is not the divine warrior king that some people hoped he would be.

At that time many were hoping for a powerful warrior king who would lead the people in battle and who would help them to defeat the Romans.

The Roman Empire was an oppressive and violent empire.

The people wanted to be saved from such an empire.

But Jesus is not the king that some had hoped for.

He will free the people and he will save the people but not by the way of war or power or violence.

He will save his people by a different way.

For Jesus is a servant.

He is a giver, a humble man who is willing to love us no matter what.

He is willing to forgive us and to show us grace no matter our sin or our guilt.

And then Jesus calls us to do the same.

The word “Maundy” comes from Latin meaning commandment.

On this day we hear Jesus’ commandment to love one another.

This is no easy task that Jesus commands us to do this night.

How are we sinners able to love – to truly love?

In tonight’s Scripture we find the answer.

Jesus shows us how by giving us his love.

He models with his love with his very life.

For he serves us.

He gives us his body and his blood.

And tomorrow he will even give his life for us.

Now forgiveness will not come by the way of temple sacrifice as it did at that time.

The Jewish people will no longer need to go to the temple in Jerusalem to receive forgiveness.

Instead they will go directly to him.

Forgiveness will come through Jesus.

What astonishing love!

As the hymn says, “What Wondrous Love is this, O My Soul.”

For those who wanted a victorious warrior king how shocked they most have been to see Jesus laying down his life on the cross.

Or to witness him serving others in such a humble way.

Or to see Jesus love in such a profound way –for he even loved the sinners.

Who would we call the sinners or the outcast today?

Whoever we name in our hearts right now know this –that Jesus loves them too.

Jesus said, “If you love others and obey this one commandment than you are a disciple of mine.”

What does this mean to love others as Jesus commands us to do?

It means that we are willing to serve others.

We are not looking just to ourselves and to our own needs and wants.

Rather we are looking for how we might bring healing, hope, comfort, and peace to others just as Christ offers these blessings to us.

It also means that we are willing to share the cup of Christ with others.

Just as Christ includes others at his table we too must be willing to include others and to welcome others in the name of Christ.

Remember that Jesus even let Judas take the cup.

On the night that he was betrayed Jesus quoted from Psalms.

He quoted Psalm forty-one verse nine as shared the cup with Judas.

Psalm 41: 9 says, “Even my close friend someone I trusted, one who shared my bread has turned against me.”

Jesus shares his body and his blood even with the one who turned against him.

Jesus’ love extends even to Judas.

This is love –Christ love.

And lastly, and this may be the hardest way to love others it means that we are willing to forgive others.

To forgive another person does not mean that we forget what has happened but that we are willing to choose love.

We choose love instead of revenge, fear, or anger.

To forgive means we chose grace and reconciliation.

To forgive is to be caught in the grace of God.

To forgive is to know God’s forgiveness.

This is not an easy road to take and the road towards forgiveness will not always be taken but it is the road that our Lord calls us to take.

But remember our Lord leads the way.

He leads the way to redemption and to salvation.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ loves us and he chooses to serve us.

He is not about the work of serving himself.

He is interested in serving us and in washing us.

To be washed is a metaphor in the Bible.

It points to Jesus giving his life for us.

It is a foreshadowing of the cross.

Just as the bread and the cup are a foreshadowing of the cross.

We speak about the bread and the cup as being his body and his blood.

We speak about it in such a way because Jesus’ body was broken on the cross and his blood flowed from the cross.

The meal points to Jesus’ violent death on the cross.

It also points to his life given for us.

When I offer the Words of Institution before we receive Holy Communion it is not me or you in the bread or in the cup but rather it is Jesus.

The meal is about him.

The meal is about Jesus.

He is the sacrifice.

The sacrifice at the table is Christ himself.

And in his sacrifice Jesus chooses to forgive and to save.

Through his passion and death on the cross he so much more wants to forgive than to condemn us.

For example, in our prayers we might pray over and over to our Lord about some sin.

But the truth is that the Lord heard our confession the first time.

At the moment we confess the sin is forgiven.

Jesus is so much more ready to forgive then we are to receive.

But when we do come to understand, when we have eyes to see, and we will all get there to that new understanding of forgiveness and grace, then we come to a new posture in our faith.

Now we are discipleships.

True discipleship is marked with love and grace.

We are on the road.

We are on the way.

No one can tell you how to live the kind of love that Jesus is calling us to live.

It is a love that is caught not taught.

I cannot teach you how to love.

Just like you cannot say to someone love me?

You cannot command someone to love.

But this is what Jesus does – he commands us to love.

How can he do this?

The love that Jesus commands us to show to each other comes about as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.

The love that Jesus is asking us to have, happens through walking with him, suffering with him, trusting in him, and above all having faith in him.

Faith says that we will all get there to the place of true discipleship where we are living out the love of Christ with our very lives.

We are doing so not because we are commanded to do this but because we have faith that love is who we are.

I had a religion teacher who was once asked by one of his students.

“Teacher, do we ever get to that place of true and perfect discipleship where we love one another as Christ commanded us.”

My teacher said, “Yes, this is possible but once you arrive at that place you will die.”

I have thought long and hard over the years what my teacher was trying to say.

Did his answer make any sense?

This evening in response to my teacher’s answer let’s consider the life of Jesus.

In his life Jesus loved and he gave his love away.

His love was perfect.

What happened to him?

He died on a cross.

His love finished.

Now in his death will be our life, our salvation.

Take the bread tonight.

For it is blessed and broken for you.

Take the cup this night.

For it is given and shed for you.

We are his disciples.

Amen.

Read More →

April 2, 2021 – Good Friday Sermon

A man and a woman were talking about faith.

The man said, “I have faith but sometimes I don’t.”

The woman responds, “That’s odd because I don’t have faith but sometimes, I do.”

Today is Good Friday, the day on which we remember Jesus’ crucifixion.

This day is also known as Holy Friday or Sorrowful Friday or God’s Friday.

This day is the most solemn day of the entire church year.

On this day we must ask a question.

How do we understand our faith in light of crucifixion?

On this day our faith is greatly stretched and challenged maybe even to the breaking point.

Even for those who mock faith or for those who feel that they have no faith at all -all of us, no matter who we are, all of us most still come to some kind of decision in how we understand faith.

A close friend of mine who claims to have no faith at all has, in his life, has wrestled with faith.

He has struggled with faith questions.

He has given thought and even reflection to his faith.

It is inevitable.

As humans we naturally ask those difficult questions to life’s larger mysteries.

True some may ponder those questions more than others.

Some many even try to ignore those faith questions but they are always there.

The questions do not go away -simply because we do not pay attention to them.

For those few people who followed Jesus to the foot of the cross some two thousand years ago they were shocked to see their Lord crucified.

Jesus was to be God’s anointed one who would heal and save God’s people.

Suddenly, at the cross Jesus’s followers needed to make sense of something that made no sense.

And in the years and decades after his death Christians struggled to find meaning in Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and finally death on a cross.

Surely, this could not have been God’s will?

And probably many thought that it could not possibly be God’s will.

But then a revelation came to the people and this revelation has stayed with Christ’s followers for two thousand years.

No matter how we interpret the cross or Jesus’ death we know one thing for sure.

And this one thing has untied Jesus’ followers throughout the ages.

The cross and the sufferings of Jesus revealed to us the depth of God’s love for us.

The cross revealed to us that God will try by any means necessary to reach us and to draw us to himself.

How much does God love us?

God reached out his arms on the cross in and through Jesus and said, “I love you this much.”

In additional to this great truth the cross also revealed to us that Jesus is faithful to us no matter what -Jesus’ faith in us never dies.

As humans our faith is often weak.

Doubt settles in to easily and it is too easy to give up on faith.

But Jesus is faithful to us even to death on a cross -his faith in us will never end.

He believes in us -the cross has proven that this is true.

And lastly, the cross revealed to us that Jesus is with us in our suffering, in our pain, and in our grief.

All of us suffer in unique ways – no one can escape life without pain, loss, or grief.

To live is to know suffering.

The Lord knows the ways in which I have suffered in my life and the Lord knows the ways that you have suffered in your life.

Jesus knows what it feels like to experience complete despair and even abandenment from God.

On the cross he yells:  Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani…

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

Jesus understands our doubts because he has been there.

At the cross he was there.

Now we can go to him and share with him all of our concerns, our worries, our grief, even our doubts because he understands us.

In Jesus we have a savior who is faithful to us always.

And we have a savior who will do anything necessary to reveal his love for us.

We can put our faith in him and we even can give him our doubts.

For Jesus is with us even there in our darkness and in our doubts.

For the cross has shown us that even doubt need not be the end of faith.

Rather it can be the starting place, maybe even an open door to a new life with Jesus.

This is the meaning of Easter.  A new life with him is possible.

In prayer we come to Jesus and we bring all of our baggage, all of our wounds, all of our struggles knowing that Christ meets us there.

Remember, always remember that behind the cross is the empty tomb.

Do not stop at the cross.

Do not let your faith journey end at the cross.

Look at what’s behind the cross, look at what happened three days later, and also look behind your doubt and you will see that it is faith.  Amen.

Read More →

April 4, 2021 – Faith, Hope, and Love

Last Easter I had a bicycle accident.

And I broke my right arm.

I can remember how much pain I was in while giving my Easter sermon.

Today I am grateful to be pain free in this arm.

It still doesn’t feel quite the way it used to feel before I broke it.

But at the same time, I am amazed at how good this arm feels one year later.

The body’s ability to heal is a remarkable thing.

The same with our mind and our soul.

We heal.

Whether it be from an accident, an illness, or if it is from some kind of loss such as the loss of a loved one -the body, the mind, and the soul have a remarkable way of finding healing.

In fact, often we find that we become stronger as we heal.

The bone that is broken becomes stronger at the place where it was broken.

Our immune systems actually get stronger after an illness.

We become stronger and wiser through the pain of struggle and loss.

As a child I can recall my father teaching me that whenever we experience some kind of personal loss or some kind of suffering in life the experience of the pain helps us to feel more compassion towards those who may suffer in a similar way.

We become stronger in our ability to have compassion.

To have compassion means to suffer with another person.

That is the definition of compassion.

In life we will find that there is always movement.

We are either growing in the ways of Jesus and being transformed by his love or we are not.

We are either becoming stronger in our faith, in our hope in him, and in our love for Jesus or we are not.

There is either a dying and a rising that is happening within us or there is not.

This dying and rising journey that we are taking in life is what Lent, Holy Week, and Easter point to.

Lent and Holy Week point to the personal transformation that is possible when the Lord is working in our hearts.

Easter points to the rebirth and new life that is possible when the Lord is working in our hearts.

The new world to come and this world that we live in now are both intended to be lived in through the cross and through the resurrection.

This present world, with its fallenness and sin and sorrow will give way to God’s new thing that God is doing.

In the resurrection of Jesus, we see that God is a God of life and that God is always about the work of doing something new and in helping us to grow stronger in faith, in hope, and in love.

The resurrection of Jesus was a defining life-giving act that God did to show us that God is about life and not death.

God is life.  God is always life.  God is the source of all life.

This is what Jesus meant when he said in the Gospel of John chapter eleven,

“I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

In Christ we will not die.

Yes, our earthly bodies die but at the same time they don’t.

For in the resurrection, we are given a permanent home -even a seat with Christ in heaven.

There is a great mystery here that we accept with faith.

Something of what we are now – our body, our mind, our soul which will be resurrected in the life to come.

Death is real but Christ has defeated it by his death and resurrection.

What will our new body and our new life be like in the world to come -that is still a great mystery to us.

We do not have that knowledge.

But what we do know is that God will be with us in the life to come and that God’s love, God’s greatest gift to us will be fully given to us.

Do we have the faith to believe this?

Or is our fear to great to believe this good news?

The women at the tomb were too afraid to tells others what they had seen and heard at the tomb.

The women represent all of us -you, me, everyone.

All of us struggle through life to believe and to have hope and to not get caught in trap of despair and doubt.

We can identify with the women this morning.

This is why the Gospel reading from Mark resonates with us so well.

We know what it is like to be afraid.

In life we know what it feels like to have fear.

In the Bible fear is a common human response to God and to God’s spiritual manifestations.

But the women at the tomb would not always feel fear.

Fear would give way to joy and hope and new life.

For Jesus’ followers they would come to understand and to see that Jesus really did rise from the grave.

They would come to see that Jesus brings both future resurrection and eternal life into the present age.

What does this mean?

This means that new life, new hope, and a chance at a new beginning in life is possible even now.

There can be a great spiritual awakening that takes place within us even now.

We can become stronger in our faith, in our hope, and in our love.

Dying and rising doesn’t just happen at the hour of our death.

We do believe this is true -that in death we will rise again.

But dying and rising is also the spiritual movement that happens throughout our lives.

Now this is not something that we can understand through logic alone.

Rather this is lived faith.

Faith lives with the questions, the doubts, and the struggles of life.

But faith does so always with the hope that resurrection is for us even now.

Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Jesus opened the door to new life on that Easter morning.

He shattered death’s door.

Now in him we grow stronger in faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love.

In him pain, suffering, and doubt are transformed through the resurrection.

And we are healed.

Amen.

Read More →

Join Us for Sunday Worship

  • 9:30 a.m. In-Person & Virtual Worship with Holy Communion