November 7, 2021 – All saints Sunday

In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing – for precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

-The Apostolic Constitutions 380 AD

One of the reasons why I love our church is because of this particular day.

All Saints Sunday.

We believe by faith that we are always a part of a larger community of God’s people.

Even death cannot and will not -ever take that away from us.

This day names that truth.

In Romans chapter eight we hear that nothing will be ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ.

And in Hebrews chapter twelve we hear that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

We are not alone.

All of us know what it is like to be alone.

The solitude that comes and that is not welcomed.

The loneliness that pulls us deeper into despair.

None of us are immune to such feelings.

But on this All-Saints Sunday we have the people that surround us today in worship.

We also have the people that have died and who now rest from their labors who are with us even now.

We all are a part of this great community – of God’s people.

Growing up in the church I was a part of many different Lutheran congregations in the Midwest as my father followed his call as a pastor in churches in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

And one of the great discoveries that I made, in being a member of all of these different churches, is that no matter what church I was at, I was with God’s people.

Every church I was at with no exceptions I was with God’s people.

Then later in my first congregation out in Iowa – I discovered that I was with God’s people.

Then in my next church – I discovered that I was with God’s people.

Today in this church – in this very congregation I am with God’s people.

We are God’s beloved people.

And today we remember God’s people – God’s saints who have died.

Today we also remember those who were recently baptized and who have joined the family of God and we remember those who will be baptized.

On this day I think about Avery Gibson and Skylar Gibson who were baptized this past year in our church.

I think about Cameron, Connor, and Kaitlyn who will be baptized later this morning.

These children are joining with God’s people through baptism.

If you would, consider for a moment all the saints that you know, those people in your life who are surrounded by God’s grace and love -those who have died who we remember today and those who are still living.

Think about the great web of connections that you have made in your life.

Surely, thinking about all these people will bring you great joy.

On All Saints Sunday we are reminded that we are all saints, that in Christ we are all made one, that in Christ we are all redeemed and are promised life beyond the grave.

Tomorrow there will be a funeral here in this church.

At every funeral service I use this prayer from the liturgy:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant.  Acknowledge we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.  Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

We are sinners who are redeemed by God and made saints.

In life sometimes I think we get so caught up in our day-to-day activities that we forget that we have this wonderful hope as God’s people.

In Christ there is a life beyond this life.

At death there is a way for us to continue with life and that is possible because of Christ.

We are a redeemed people and one day we will be brought into God’s eternal kingdom.

To get there we will need to cross that great divide which is death.

This thought can be scary but remember- we do not cross that divide by ourselves.

We do it with Christ.

We do it with God’s people.

As Christians we believe that Jesus stands in that doorway between ordinary time, the time in which we live, and eternity and there in that sacred space Jesus says to us:  “I am with you.”

Death does not have the final word.

In fact, death will never have the last word.

The most amazing miracle that Jesus did in his life was to conquer death.

The glory of God was perfectly revealed to us in the resurrection.

And we are invited to receive the new life that only he offers.

The Bible story of Lazarus is about resurrection, new life, new hope, and the story is ultimately about God’s power over death.

It says in the Scriptures that Lazarus was in the tomb for four days.

In Jewish tradition there was three days of grieving and then on the fourth day the tomb was permanently sealed and the person was understood to be dead.

Jesus arrives at the grave of Lazarus after Lazarus has been there in the tomb for four days.

He is dead.

But Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Death cannot and will not stop him.

Jesus conquers death.

He did it for himself and he will conquer death for us.

We do have hope in the life to come.

Even in our darkest days when we feel alone, we look to the promise that is freely ours in Jesus.

May this All-Saints Sunday be a great reminder for us of the resurrection.

May our presence here give witness to the great cloud of witnesses – the saints that are always around us.

And may we live our lives as if the eternal is now because God is with us.

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November 14, 2021 – Trusting in God

Jesus comes out of the temple.

One of his disciples says to him, “Look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

Then Jesus says to him,

“Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another for all will be thrown down.”

In this Bible reading Jesus warns his disciples not to put their trust in the temple.

The temple is only made of stone.

Even though the temple served as the primary place for animal sacrifices and for worship

– Jesus comes with a new teaching.

He will be the new temple.

He will be the sacrifice, he will save all of God’s people.

He will be the one we turn to in prayer and in worship.

And when trials and tribulations come, he will be the One who we will go to and we will trust in him.

As beautiful as this space is that we worship in each and every week – this place means nothing were it not for Jesus.

One thing that we have all thought a lot about during this challenging time of COVID is what it means to put our trust in God in the face of great uncertainty.

Jesus said in today’s gospel reading that when trials come our way to not be alarmed for this is only the beginning.

What does it mean to put our trust in God when we are going through great challenges?

And this question will be the focus of my sermon for today.

What does it mean to put our trust in God when we are going through great challenges?

To answer that question, I would like to talk further about three things today:  anxiety, peace, and laughter.

Anxiety – Now trusting in God does not mean that we will never have anxiety.

Trusting in God means that we have a way to handle our anxiety.

Trusting in God means that we can go from being very anxious to being less-anxious.

There is never a point in life where we can be completely free of anxiety.

But I do believe that there may be a point in life where we can be less anxious and to have a less-anxious presence.

When we put our trust and faith in God, the Holy Spirit helps to be less filled with worry.

To trust in God brings about a calm to our lives.

It only takes a moment to realize how much better the calmness feels versus the anxiety.

God brings about the calm.

Again, this does not mean that we will not face trials and tribulations what it means is that when they come, we will have a way to handle the trials and the tribulations.

In Christ we will be led to that place where there will be quiet waters and refreshment for the soul.

That is the promise that we hear in Psalm 23.

Which then leads me to talk about peace.

In another Psalm, Psalm 16 we hear the Psalmist saying – protect me, O God, for I take my refuge in you.

In the trials and storms of life God is our protector – in God we find refuge.

To have refuge means to have shelter from the storm.

In God’s refuge we find the peace that only he can bring.

Which leads me to my last point – when we are experiencing the challenges of life then we need to lean into our faith and trust in Jesus even more.

During this time of COVID, when our world was turned upside down, I worked hard here to encourage all of us to keep the faith, to not give up on our trust in Jesus, and to even keep a light-hearted spirit to our worship – that is one reason why I did not stop using my puppet Marty during COVID.

Laughter –

We still needed to laugh and to not take ourselves too seriously even when things got very difficult for our congregation because by faith, we always knew that God was and is still with us.

It is at such a time as this when we need our faith the most when we need to laugh the most.

Laughter brings us back to the realization that the work of God is not dependent upon us but rather it is dependent upon Jesus.

All of the stones can be thrown down and yet Jesus still stands with and for us.

Finally, this just may be the most important time in our lives for us to share and to preach the Gospel.

When else has there been such a time in your lives?

More and more I am seeing how important it is to speak about our hope in Jesus.

It is precisely when we are going through difficult times to remember that the stones that hold up all of our foundations can be thrown down but our faith in Jesus remains.

And to take this point a little further now… we all have very important work to do.

We need to carry on with the hope that is inside us.

Let us be together as the Body of Christ in this particular congregation.

You all have said, “Yes,” to the work of God in this place!

We are still an active and vibrant congregation – we are still a people living by faith and trust.

Let us continue to carry the light of Christ.

The best sermons right now are not preached from this pulpit.

The best sermons right now are lived out in our day to day lives in word and in deed.

Recall the message that I recently told in a sermon that sometimes we preach the best when we live the Gospel message with our lives – even if we do not speak one word.

Living in life-giving ways, living honestly, living faithfully.

When we trust in God – we cultivate a less-anxious presence, we receive the peace of Jesus, and we find hope and strength for the days to come.

Today if you are finding yourself in need of healing and in need of God’s peace then come to the table.

Come, to the altar.

Here you will receive the bread and the wine as spiritual nourishment.

And may the peace of God which transcends all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

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November 21, 2021 – Christ the King Sunday

Today is Christ the King Sunday.

Today is the last Sunday of the church year.

Next Sunday begins a brand new church year.

The new church year begins with Advent.

Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent.

You might call Advent the great season of spiritual hygiene.

It is the season that instructs us to wake up, to pay attention, to clean up and to heal and resolve the wounds and pain in our lives.

Advent brings us back to our need for a savior.

Jesus will heal us and forgive us.

He will come to us at Christmas.

But that will be focus of the coming weeks – the four weeks of Advent.

For today we remember that it is Christ the King Sunday.

Another year has come to an end in the church calendar.

And even though the church calendar does not change from year to year, the way in which we experience the church calendar from year-to-year changes dramatically.

I am sure we all experienced the church year differently this past year than in years past.

In my ministry I have never felt this so severely as I have this past year.

The church calendar remained the same but just about everything else was different.

The church calendar, I think, may be compared to a human relationship.

For example, a husband may say to his wife, “I love you.”

And, maybe, in return the wife may say back, “Why do you always say the same thing – it’s always the same three words… can’t you think of something new to say?”

However, we know how important those three words are to a marriage, and if husband and wife have been going through serious problems in their marriage and there has been hurt feelings and hurtful words spoken, then “I love you” communicates a very powerful message.

It reflects then an attempt for both reconciliation and for forgiveness.

Those three words reflect more meaning and more weight than any other three words that could be spoken.

In this way something old and not new becomes the most powerful thing that could be said.

“I love you,” is heard and experienced in a new way.

As we go through the church calendar and hear the readings appointed for each Sunday, we experience what new thing God is doing just below the surface.

Just as I never tire of hearing those words, “I love you” from my spouse.

I never tire of hearing these sacred texts from Scripture or in entering into the spirit of the church seasons.

There is a meaning and even a power in the movement of the seasons in the church calendar.

This is why the church calendar begins with Advent.

Advent is a call to be awake and to see how God is moving in the world.

One way that I believe God is moving in the world is through his peace.

Last Sunday I spoke about the peace of God which eases our pain and our anxiety.

God’s peace grants us a way to handle all of the anxiety in our lives.

This is not always the case but sometimes when I give a sermon, I find the message really impacting me.

This past week I got up one morning and I said to myself I need more of God’s peace in my life.

I need more of God’s peace in my life.

In reflecting on this past church year and in anticipating the new church year I pray for and hope for God’s peace to be upon us.

In our Revelation reading for today we hear in verse four:

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.”

The writer John is sending the Lord’s peace to Jesus’ followers.

They will need it.

Life for the first Christians was very difficult.

They needed God’s peace and they also needed God’s grace.

We too need God’s grace and peace.

This is why I like to begin my sermons by saying:

“Grace and peace be with you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

In Jesus’ kingdom his grace and his peace reign.

Pilate being a very violent man could not grasp this.

But for those who would come to believe and to love Jesus they would hold tightly to Jesus’ kingdom of grace and peace.

This coming new church year I pray that we would listen to the voice of our savior, that we would work together, to the best of our ability, to further the mission and the ministry of this congregation, and that we would embrace all that the Holy Spirit is guiding and leading us to do.

God is giving us the gift of another year, may we use it wisely for our work is certainly needed, and the time to live out our faith is now.

And may God’s grace and peace go with us.

Amen.

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December 5, 2021 – The Second Sunday in Advent

The theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, a favorite theologian of mine, once said that true Christian hope is not only hope for a future kingdom but it is hope for God’s power to make us alive even now.

The good news of Advent is not simply that Christ will come again on some future day but that Christ is with us and for us right now.

Despite all the pain and suffering in the world -Christ is here.

He is here for you and for me.

And the season of Advent invites us into the quiet and into the silence in order to reflect upon this great mystery.

In fact, the Holy Communion meal that we celebrate during worship brings us closer to the Jesus who is ever present for us with grace and mercy.

Jesus came in a past event some two thousand years ago, he will come again in glory, and he promises to be with us in this space and in this time.

Every Sunday as we gather together to hear the good news of the Gospel it is a great miracle.

We come together for worship as Jesus comes to us.

And then we are sent from this sacred place to share with others the hope that we carry inside of us.

But before we are sent and before we receive the Lord’s Supper we first hear from the Scriptures.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we hear from John the Baptist.

On this day John urges us to fully prepare for the coming of Christ.

We are to be ready!

We prepare and we keep our hope – we share in a hope that God will indeed save God’s people.

Now this is such an interesting time in the church calendar.

We recently started a new church year.

And as we begin the church year we are invited into contemplation, reflection, and prayer during this season of Advent.

Then as soon as the invitation is given, we find ourselves in this very rushed time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

If your schedule is like mine than you find yourself, at this time, with more activities, more things going on, more commitments, and then here with Advent we are encouraged to slow down and to pay greater attention to the presence of Jesus in our lives.

In this way Advent is similar to Lent – that contemplative season in the church year.

To be honest I love this season of Advent because Advent teaches me each and every year to pay attention to what really matters as we rush towards Christmas.

Sometimes I think that we forget that there is no reward for rushing through life.

Life is not a race to the end.

It never has been.

God does not give us an award at the end of our lives because we rushed through our lives.

Instead, God calls us to pay attention to what he is doing each and every day.

I can recall a hospital visit I made as a seminary student.

I was making a pastoral call on a man who was at the end of his life.

Immediately upon entering the hospital room he began to share quit freely.

He told me that he did not have much time left.

And in the course of our conversation, he said something to me that I will never forget.

He said, “Look at me now.  I am eighty-six years old and I am dying.  I never knew how fast life would go and now my time is almost up.”

Those words… my time is almost up left me with a haunting feeling inside.

And it was right then and there shortly after that visit that I made a small commitment to myself that I would not live my life as a race, that I would pay attention to what God is doing right now both in my life and in the life of the world around me.

I decided that I would make it a life practice of paying attention to signs of God’s presence all around me.

I would slow down in order to listen well to the Holy Spirit.

And over time I came to see what a difference that way of living makes upon one’s life.

Advent reminds me of that commitment that I made -now fifteen years ago when I had that hospital visit.

One of the reasons why I appreciate Jurgen Moltmann, the German Reformed theologian, whom I spoke of earlier, so much is because of his teachings on the importance of having hope in the power and the presence of God right now in this life and in paying attention to what God is doing right now.

This too was John’s message.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

John was preaching a message that was meant for a people who were struggling to find hope in the midst of despair, struggle, and suffering.

John’s message was meant to give hope immediately to the people.

God’s salvation, God’s gift of new life, is coming now into God’s world through God’s Son, Jesus.

In fact, one of John’s favorite messages was this:  “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”  – meaning God’s kingdom is right here for us right now for the taking and we are to turn to meet God’s kingdom face to face.

Today’s Scripture readings catch our attention and the readings wake us up to the hope that we share in Christ.

Yes, there is much in the world today to argue about, to find despair in, or to lose hope.

Divisions in politics, the sufferings because of the pandemic, the recent school shooting in Michigan, and the tragedy at the Waukesha Christmas parade.

At times it may seem almost impossible to keep the faith and to keep our hope alive.

But we have the Holy Spirit which enlivens our faith in the power of God and we have community to remind us of God’s presence.

And so, this coming week may we all receive from God a new understanding into the workings of God’s kingdom here on earth.

May we slow down enough so that we can hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us during this season of Advent.

May we live with a hope that reaches above and beyond the struggles of life.

And may you enjoy a renewed sense of peace within your heart this wonderful season of Advent.

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December 12, 2021 – 12 Ideas for Preparing for Advent

Last Sunday I spoke about the importance of slowing down during Advent.

We slow down in order to pay attention to signs of God’s presence around us and we slow down in order to prepare for Jesus and for his coming.

How we prepare for Jesus right now during Advent is how we will meet him at Christmas.

With this in mind, I would like to do something different today for my message and I would like to offer twelve ideas for preparing for Jesus during Advent.

From these twelve ideas consider putting one or two or maybe even three of these ideas into practice for the remainder of Advent.

These twelve ideas come from the “12 Gifts for Christmas” devotion from Moody Bible Institute that I recently received in the mail.

These ideas help us to prepare for Jesus.

I really liked these twelve ideas.

I thought it might be helpful to offer a summary of these ideas and to share them with you all this morning in order to get us thinking about preparing for the coming of Jesus.

Twelve ideas for preparing for Jesus.

  • Time – How do we spend our time during Advent? Do we really need to do all that we do during this season?  Could we let some things go?  In fact, I am giving you permission to let some things go.  Maybe you don’t have to bake ten dozen Christmas cookies… maybe five dozen would be enough.  Then with that extra time could you use that time to visit someone who lives alone or could you call someone who needs a listening ear?  Time – how do we use our time during Advent?
  • Words – Who can we bless during Advent with our words. Is there someone in our lives who could use a little encouragement?  Maybe we could write a letter or send a card to that person.  Over the years I have been blessed by so many cards and letters of encouragement.  One in particular I actually keep framed in my office.  One simple letter can mean so much to someone.
  • Kindness – How can we bless others in unexpected ways? Maybe a daily prayer this Advent is simply this:  “Lord, help me this day to be a blessing of grace to someone else.”
  • Care – All around us are people who are in need. Might we help one person this Advent season.  Might we reach out to at least one person who needs a little extra help at this time.
  • A Compliment – A sincere compliment can impact someone’s entire day. This coming week notice something positive in a person that you meet and then tell them what you see.  Be a positive, life-giving person in someone’s else life this Advent.
  • Patience – Sometimes we save our patience for those we work with and maybe even for strangers while letting those we live with deal with our irritability. This Advent give your patience to your spouse, your child, your parent, your sibling or maybe even a relative that you have been distant from.  Offer patience, grace, and love.
  • Prayer – One thing that I have been trying to be more intentional about since COVID is in praying for the needs of our congregation members. Who is on your heart today?  Could you take some time today to pray for that person?  How is the Holy Spirit leading you in prayer at this time?
  • God’s Word – Have you been reading your Bible during Advent? If so, has a Bible story or a Bible verse spoken to you at this time?  Now could you find a way to share that verse?  Might you even post that verse on your social media page or write it on a note for someone to see or text it or email it to someone.  Then explain why that verse means so much to you.  Be an evangelist and share the Good News of the Gospel!  The Good News of God’s grace and peace is still good news.  Share that good news.
  • Read A Well-Loved Book – During the season of Advent I like to do some devotional reading at home. This Advent I am rereading one of my favorite novels, the novel Evensong by Gail Godwin.  Evensong follows the life of a family during the season of Advent.  The book draws my attention to the ways of God during this season.  In the evening before you go to bed might you turn off the television a little early and then spend thirty minutes reading a book that focuses your attention on Jesus.
  • Friendliness – When I was a senior in high school my family moved from Illinois to Wisconsin. Not something I recommend doing to your high school senior.  I can still remember quite well that first day of school in a completely new town and completely new place.  During the course of an entire day, I only remember one student coming over to me, introducing himself to me, and then welcoming me to that new school.  I will never forget his words of welcome that day.  This Advent season be that one person of welcome and friendliness.
  • Hospitality – Can we offer some hospitality to the neighbors who live next to us. My family and I live in an apartment so we have many neighbors near us.  I am always so moved by the way in which my wife welcomes our many neighbors.  She inspires me to be more welcoming of hospitable.  During this season of Advent could you find a way to offer hospitality to one or two of your neighbors?  Could you bake them a loaf of bread, shovel their sidewalk, or even invite them for a meal?  Find a way to let them know that you care.
  • Humility – We tend to get frustrated at others before taking the time to understand their viewpoint. This Advent season might we seek to understand first before seeking to be understood.  Listen carefully before making a judgement and assume an attitude of humility.  Jesus sacrificed for us even to the point of death on a cross.  Might we also take up our cross, sacrifice, and show humility when needed.  A reading from the book of Hebrews chapter thirteen verse sixteen:  “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

I hope one or two of these ideas might prove to be helpful as you practice your faith during the season of Advent.

May God bless your faith and your preparation for Jesus.

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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December 24, 2021 – Meeting Jesus at Christmas

Here we are.

Christmas Eve 2021.

The presents have been purchased or maybe not purchased.

The parties have been planned or not planned.

The gifts have been given or are let to still be given.

But in the midst of it all – here we are.

We have left the warmth of our homes.  

We have stopped the frantic rush of shopping.

We have finished our work.

If we are at home worshipping tonight, we have taken a pause from our activities to worship the Lord and to join us here through Zoom.

We come together with many, many thoughts and concerns on our minds.

Worries, regrets, grief, joy, sadness, pain, expectation, hope…

Whatever we are feeling tonight we still come to meet Jesus.

At this time of the year, we find ourselves looking for something that money cannot buy.

We find ourselves searching for something real, something healing.

Tonight, we are longing for some sense of peace, of calm, of comfort, something spiritual, and maybe we find ourselves looking for something we cannot even name.

An angel comes to the shepherds who are watching their flock by night.

The shepherds are terrified.

They are filled with fear.

Certainly, they are filled with fear for seeing the angel but their fears run deeper.

The shepherds are living at a time of unrest and uncertainty.

The shepherds are the working poor.

They are also on the receiving end of Rome’s power and rule.

The Roman Empire with its oppressive use of force struck great fear into its people.

There was much to be afraid of at that time.

There was much for the shepherds to be afraid of.

But in that very context the angel brings good news.

The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

We like the shepherds have our own fears.

We have much to be afraid of.

But it’s OK to be afraid – why?  – because Jesus meets us even there!

He meets us right where we are at and he comes to us.

For tonight we too hear these life-giving words from the angel as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

It is good news for us as well.

“Do not be afraid for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

And so, we come together this evening with all of our fears, worries, and concerns and on this holy night we find some peace.

On this sacred night there is peace for each one of us.

God comes to us in Jesus.

God meets us in the baby.

In Jesus we discover something that the world cannot and will not give – it is a peace that transcends all understanding, it is a calm and a healing balm in the face of the storm, it is a love that casts out all of our fears.

Jesus casts out all of our fears.

Sure, we will still have our problems and our pain and everything else that brings us grief – even after we leave this service of peace tonight but we do not leave to face all of our problems alone.

We have Jesus who will be with us as we go forward in our lives.

Tonight, with the shepherds and with Mary and Joseph we too meet the baby Jesus.

We meet the one who brings light to the world and we meet the one who is life-giving and full of grace and truth.

After almost two years now of living with COVID and in seeing the world turned upside down – this Christmas proclamation is more important than ever.

Our gathering this evening and our coming together to hear this good news is more essential now than it ever has been.

To have faith in the One who brings peace at such a time as this is what we need the most.

We are very similar to the shepherds this night.

We too need to hear the good news from the angel.

We too need to hear the words of peace that will calm our fears.

We too need to meet Jesus and to know him as our Lord and Savior.

Every Christmas Eve we are invited to receive the Christmas miracle once again.

We are to hear it and to take it to heart.

In life we do not walk alone – Jesus walks with us and our faith in him sustains us through the good times and through the difficult times that will come our way.

And one day Jesus will lead us from death to eternal life for he is indeed our savior.

This is the good news that we hear tonight.

This is the reason for our gathering this evening to hear what the shepherds heard so long ago.

Do not be afraid for the Messiah is with us and he will meet us and give us his peace.

Let us pray.

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January 2, 2022 – The Gift of a New Year

At this time, as we begin a new year, I am always led, I believe by the Holy Spirit, to do some reflection.

On New Year’s Day I take time to journal and to write down my thoughts concerning the passing of another year and to consider a great question.

It is a question I always ask at the beginning of a new year – How am I using my time?

That is a challenging question to answer.

Every year there seems to be less time to go around.

The speed at which we eat, and drive, and do our work – you would think that the end of the world is coming tomorrow.

But this was not always so.

When we are children, time goes very slowly.

A spring morning could lengthen into endless hours of play.

The time between the first day of school and the last day of school felt like a lifetime of learning and study.

Christmas did not come around very fast.

And an eternity needed to pass before we were old enough to get our driver’s license.

But we all know now as adults that we process time so differently than when we were children.

Maybe it is because each passing year is a smaller and smaller fraction of one’s lifetime… maybe.

And certainly, there are more things to attend to per unit of time than ever before – that is certainly true.

Just take the computer out of your pocket – your phone – and suddenly you have a whole world of information in the palm of your hand.

Time is a mysterious thing.

As we think about this and how we might use our time in the New Year our attention is brought back this morning to the beginning of the Gospel of John.

We will use our time now to reflect upon something timeless – John’s understanding of Jesus.

Jesus who always was and will always be.

Now this is not the first time we heard this text.

On what occasion did we just hear this Bible reading?

Than on Christmas Eve!

This Bible reading plays such an important role in our understanding of who Jesus is that it is included not once but twice in the lectionary… in the span of just two weeks!

In this text we hear about the identity of Jesus as one who reveals who God is and we also hear of an invitation.

For we are invited to be Jesus’ followers and to experience God’s kingdom on earth.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, goes with us in life on paths of peace and joy and through wilderness and even exile.

We know what it is like to go through times of wilderness.

But just as God traveled with the Israelites when they were in the wilderness – Jesus the Word travels with us.

In Jesus we have the hope of knowing God and in experiencing his peace even in the midst of chaos and crisis.

And there are plenty of things to worry about today… environmental concerns, political dysfunction, COVID which just doesn’t go away… and yet in Jesus we still have a future of promise to hope for.

In Jesus we keep our hope.

And hope is the trust and the belief that the light does in fact overcome the darkness.

This the sure promise of our faith.

On the cross Jesus meets us in the darkest place and then three days later speaks resurrection and new life.

This new life is for us as well.

And while for a time the chaos of the darkness may seem to have the last word we know and believe that the light still shines in the darkness and the darkness did not and will not overcome it.

God’s gift of new life breaks through.

And now some questions for all of us to reflect upon.

Our faith sustains us even now and gives us great joy as we look ahead to the coming year – how will we steward this gift of life?

Christ with and for us giving us the gift of another year.

What will you do with this gift – how will use your time?

My prayer this day is that we will use the coming year wisely.

That we will find moments, each day, to pause and to reflect on the propose and the meaning of our lives.

We will listen to the Word – Jesus the Christ – and then respond to his call.

And may God, the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit bless our life together in 2022.

Amen.

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January 9, 2022 – The Baptism of Jesus

 

Surprisingly,

very surprisingly… Jesus comes to John to be baptized.

And John baptizes Jesus.

After being baptized  -and while being in prayer – the heavens open and the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus like a dove.

And then this remarkable thing happens.

This is the part in the reading that truly impacts us.

The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends.

And then God speaks.

God says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

God delights in God’s own Son.

Just as a human parent takes delight and joy in their own child, God finds great joy and happiness in his own Son… his only Son.

Imagine with me now of a father who only has one child.

Only one child for that father to love.

God has one Son – Yes, we are all children of God, this is most certainly true but God has only one Son who is Jesus.

God deeply loves Jesus.

Jesus is the beloved.

And for us who are in Christ we too are the beloved.

We experience the same powerful, spiritual experience of receiving God’s love when we come to the waters of baptism.

In baptism we are called out by God, named by God, and spoken words of grace  upon us.

In baptism we too become God’s child.

In this way just like Jesus we too are the beloved.

Sure, we may forget this truth from time to time but that does not take away the fact that we are God’s beloved people.

In baptism we believe that God calls us the beloved.

How important it is to remember this truth each and every day.

Because there are many voices in this world that drowns out God’s voice.

The voices of this world can be so negative and destructive and even toxic that it can be too easy to forget that we are indeed God’s people.

But once in a while we find the grace to remind each other that we are people loved by God.

This past week I heard a story that caught my attention.

The story reminded me of the ways that we can act and speak in positive and in life-giving ways.

Here is the story:

Two people were riding near each other on a bus.

An older man on the bus was holding a bunch of fresh flowers.

Across the aisle from him sat a young girl with her father.

The girl’s eyes came back again and again to the pretty flowers the man was holding.

The time came for the man to get off the bus.

The bus stopped and the man got up to leave.

But as he was leaving, he suddenly stopped, turned around, and asked her father if he could give the flowers to his little girl.

“Why yes, thank you, my daughter loves flowers,” said the dad.

The older man gently handed the flowers to the child.

“Here you can have them.  These were for my wife but I think she would have liked for you to have them.”

The girl reached out to the receive the flowers with the biggest smile on her face.

“Oh, thank you so much,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” the man said with a smile.  “I’ll tell my wife that I gave them to you.”

The man then got off the bus.

Happily, the girl clung to the flowers and then she happened to look out the window of the bus.

And as she did so she saw the man slowly walking through the gate of a small cemetery.

The man was going to visit his wife at the grave and to tell his wife that he gave her flowers to the child.

Every day God gives us opportunities to communicate the message of God’s love.

As followers of Jesus, we know that being the beloved and then in sharing that message is what God calls us to do.

This is the very proclamation of our faith that we are people of God and that God loves us.

In this world we receive love from many places.

We receive love from our parents, relatives, friends, teachers, neighbors, and as I shared from the story, we even can receive love from strangers.

But the love that we receive from God is something entirely different – something beyond us.

We are loved by God in a deeper and more real way than any person on this earth can ever love us.

I know that this is hard for us to understand.

This is difficult to even explain in a simple sermon.

God’s love is not something we can earn it is something that we continually live more deeply into.

Our lives are a journey towards God and his love.

As God’s people we look to receive love first from God before we look for it in any person or from anything in this world.

That is why we believe so firmly in infant baptism.

We want to give our children this gift of being baptized as soon as we can.

We don’t want to wait.

In fact, what’s there to wait for?

We want to give our children God’s love as soon as possible.

We want them to receive the promise of God calling the child Beloved.

In life every time we are still and present to God, we discover within ourselves a great desire to hear God’s voice more deeply.

And that is the spiritual journey into being the beloved which begins at our baptism.

For Jesus after he was baptized, he took time to fast, to pray, and to think about his baptism and what that would mean for his life.

After that period of fasting and prayer he began his ministry which eventually led him to giving his life for us on the cross.

His love for us took him even there to the cross.

And so, the takeaway from my sermon this morning is to encourage us to hear and to receive God’s word from our Gospel reading.

Especially take to heart the word beloved.

Take that word with you this coming week.

If you feel discouraged or feel sad or maybe even if despair settles in then say that word.

God loves you and accepts you just as you are.

There is no shamming or condemnation here for in Christ Jesus we are the beloved.

Repeat that word to yourself.

Pray to God while using that word as a prayer.

Remember how in the Bible reading from Luke that it was when Jesus was praying that God spoke to Jesus and called him the beloved.

Recall that word and remember that you too are God’s beloved child.

The mystery of our faith is that God reaches out to us and calls us by name.

The one who created us is waiting for our response.

God not only says, “You are my Beloved.”

God asks us a question:

“Do you love me?” and then he offers to us countless chances by the way in which we live our lives to say: “yes” to his love.

May we respond this coming week to our Lord with a clear and bold:  “Yes.”

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January 16, 2022 – A Celebration

Do you remember the first time you took a sip of coffee?

I can.

I was nine years old.

I was in the basement of St Paul Lutheran Church in rural Iowa.

It was fellowship time after worship.

My father was drinking a cup of coffee while visiting with his members.

Black – no milk – no sugar

He caught me eyeing his cup of coffee.

“Tom, want to try a sip,” he said.

“Ok,” I said with some hesitation.

I took a sip.

And it tasted like burnt dirt.

Up to that point in my life I had never tasted anything so awful.

And my dad’s trick worked I stayed away from coffee from that point on until I got to college.

At Wartburg College, where I began my college path, there was a cappuccino machine in the cafeteria.

It was one of those machines that you see everywhere now that produced a cup of coffee with ¾ sugar and ¼ coffee and milk.

This time, from the cappuccino machine, I took a sip.

And suddenly my eyes were opened.

I had never tasted anything so good in my entire life.

It was a celebration within my cup.

And ever since that celebratory day in the cafeteria of Wartburg College I have loved coffee.

Americano, latte, espresso, café mocha, flat white, iced coffee, cold brew coffee, long black coffee, Turkish coffee, French press coffee, bulletproof coffee, coffee with cream, coffee with butter, fair trade coffee, third wave coffee, pour over coffee, coffee black.

The choices are endless and so is the joy.

Now for our Bible reading from the Gospel of John.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

And at this wedding there was wine.

The wine was used as part of the celebration.

Like a good cup of coffee wine was seen at that time as a great gift.

The wine increased the joy and the happiness of those at the wedding.

But at this particular wedding the wine runs out.

And Jesus’ mother comes to him and she has a job for Jesus.

She wants Jesus to solve the wine problem.

And interestingly, at first, Jesus refuses.

Then Jesus changes his mind and decides to do something about the wine situation.

Why does he change his mind?

Well, you would too if your mother was telling you to do something important!

So, Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone jars with water.

Now stone jars were considered to be the best kind of jars.

Stone jars were seen as being superior to clay jars because clay jars could never be washed as thoroughly as stone jars.

So, they were seen as being purer.

A significant point here.

The servants obey Jesus, they do in fact, listen to him, and they fill these stone jars to the top.

They don’t just fill them half full with water.

They fill them up to the brim.

Next the chief steward takes a sip.

He tastes the wine.

And what happens?

The steward’s eyes are opened.

It is a celebration in his cup!

The wine is very, very good.

We can only imagine how good that wine must have tasted.

Wine that was perfected by Jesus himself!

When I hear of the steward taking that sip of wine, I think about that first sip of coffee that I took in the Wartburg Cafeteria.

Simply wonderful!

Now for a question here from this very interesting Gospel reading.

Why does Jesus take part in this celebration?

Why does Jesus go to this particular wedding?

It is here at this wedding that Jesus performs his first sign.

His first miracle could have been something very dramatic like raising someone from the dead or in feeding five thousand people or at the very least his first miracle in Cana of Galilee could have been a healing of some kind but no here from the Gospel of John his first sign is turning water into wine.

Or another way of putting it is Jesus’ first sign is a sign of celebration.

Jesus’ first sign is to increase the joy of those people at a party!

Sometimes I take notice of how much joy we have together during our morning coffee hour after worship.

Now it’s coffee and not wine because we are good Lutherans.

I knew back in college that the Lutheran church was the right match for me because I fell in love with coffee!

There is a bit of celebration in our time together each Sunday when we gather after worship around coffee.

Now you may have noticed that I don’t drink coffee on Sunday mornings and that is because I am already too wired instead, I should be drinking chamomile tea.

But for those of you who do and who take the time to stay after worship there is a bit of celebration happening there.

Sometimes Holy Communion is referred to as the Eucharist.

The word “Eucharist” is taken from the Greek meaning thanksgiving or the word can even refer to celebration.

At the table of Holy Communion when we take the bread and the wine, we join in the on the celebration of Christ’s sacrifice for us and we join the party.

We are all invited to the celebration.

Jesus’ first sign at Cana of Galilee was a sign that he wants to share in our joy.

So may you know the joy and happiness of being called to be a part of the celebration.

May you feel God’s joy within your very being.

And may you know that you are always welcomed to be included in God’s party.

It is a celebration for all of us – this is what it means to be in God’s family.

Amen.

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