For the last three Sundays I have been giving teachings on the book of Revelation.

I have also been making the point that the Israelites in the Old Testament and then the first Christians in the New Testament have been on the receiving end of a tremendous amount of suffering and pain.

Through it all the people in the Bible came to the conclusion that God hears the cries of God’s people, that God’s justice will prevail, and that God will never abandon or leave behind God’s people.

Hope emerges through their suffering.

Hope is a central theme in the Bible and hope is certainly a major theme in the book of Revelation.

Now keeping that all in mind, today I would like to transition and preach from the Gospel of John.

This gospel was the last gospel to be written.

So, Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written before John.

John was written around the same time as the book of Revelation.

It was probably written just after Revelation.

John’s Gospel, like the book of Revelation, was written to encourage Jesus’ followers to continue to believing in and hoping in Jesus.

Knowing some of the context and the history of the Bible you can now see more clearly the extent of the great spiritual trauma of God’s people over history.

God’s people are trying to make sense of so much suffering and pain.

They are waiting for God to do something about their suffering.

And then in the midst of it all here comes Jesus.

Think about how great of a miracle this would have been to the people.

Jesus comes as the Son of God, as the Messiah, and as the Bread of Life.

He comes to make God known.

He comes as God’s anointed one to save God’s people.

He comes to let the people know that God is with them.

He will even become the sacrifice which gives life to the world – he will bring about the new creation that is spoken of in the book of Revelation.

His life in fact, is all about God doing something new.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”

Jesus is making a very profound statement here.

He is making the announcement that he is the Messiah who will save God’s people.

Last Sunday I spoke about how Jesus entered into a religion that was based in the sacrificial system.

At that time, you gave a lamb, or a bird, or a goat to atone for your sins.

The Jewish religion focused on sacrifice – to the one true God – at the temple in Jerusalem – Jerusalem remember is the center place of their religion – which the Romans will eventually destroy in 70 C.E.

But before that Jesus comes and enters into this Jewish world.

Remember Jesus was a Jewish rabbi.

He was seen as a teacher in the ways of Judaism.

But he comes with a completely new teaching.

For he will be the new sacrifice.

He will be the bread that gives life from God.

And of course, this foreshadows Holy Communion.

At the table we eat of Jesus’ body and of his blood.

Let’s pause right here.

One takeaway here that I would like for us to pull from my sermon is a thought on Jesus as the bread of life.

In the Bible bread is a metaphor for many things.

One way it is used is for food in general.

Food is something we need on a daily basis.

Every day we eat.

We will probably even eat more than once today.

Probably we will eat several times today.

Maybe even now you are thinking about what you will eat after this worship service.

Unless we are fasting or we have some reason for not eating, we eat every day.

I know for myself I often eat breakfast, lunch, and even supper – like many of you.

This points, I think, to a deeper truth here in that just as we need to eat every day, we too need to walk with Jesus daily.

WWJD – as I was telling the kids.

We become weak and tired very quickly if we go without eating.

In the same way we need to nourish our faith each and every day – each and every Sunday like we are doing now.

We become weak and tired in our faith if we neglect our relationship with Jesus.

Walking With Jesus Daily for Christians is the best possible way to live.

Following in his footsteps is the most compelling way to live.

Jesus is the one who leads us in the ways of grace and peace.

He is the one who teaches us how to live our lives.

There is this story of two little brothers.

The two brothers get into a fight over a toy.

The mother said to the older brother, Bob, “What would Jesus do right now.”

Bob sighed and said, “OK, mom.”

Then Bob looked down at the toy and then at his little brother and said, “Alright, Jimmy this time you be Jesus.”

Imagine with me now of being in a situation where you knew exactly what would be the wrong thing to say or to do?

You knew exactly what would hurt the other person the most and you said or did that thing anyway.

Can you imagine that??

Can anyone here imagine that??

Yes, me too.  I’ve been there.

We’ve been there, for sure.

Following in the ways of Jesus is not always easy.

And we will certainly get in wrong from time to time.

As I was taught in seminary it is much easier to preach then to live what you are preaching.

And then along with that I was taught you will get it wrong from time to time.

We will certainly not always get it right.

We will even be like the older brother who wanted his little brother to be like Jesus so that he could benefit from that.

Sometimes we will just get it wrong.

But we continue each and every day to come back to Jesus to receive his mercy, to receive his forgiveness and grace.

He offers his body to us because he is the bread of life.

Now think about how radical this would have been at that time.

Instead of offering a sacrifice to God for your sins in order to please God or to heal from your pain and suffering – God in Jesus becomes not only the sacrifice but the bread that gives new life.

Remember God is all about the new creation.

He atones for our sins and then even becomes the bread which gives us life.

In this way God reveals that God’s nature is sacrificial love.

God’s character, who God is, is centered around giving and forgiving.

God sacrifices for us – not the other way around.

We don’t need to offer sacrifices to God in order to make things right.

Instead, Jesus sacrifices for us in order to make things right.

Because in the end, only Jesus can make things right.

And just as we need to eat everyday so too do, we need to Walk With Jesus Daily and then and only then will we be able to ask the question, “What would Jesus Do?”

He would sacrifice for us out of love so that we might sacrifice out of love for others.

Jesus embodies in his flesh – God and who God is.

Faith is encountering a real person, Jesus – and we encounter others in the flesh.

We walk with Jesus, we walk with each other, and we trust that God is with us.

God invites us to the table of love and grace.

Let’s Eat!  Amen.

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1 Peter 2: 21

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

And from today’s second reading:

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live-in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Ephesians 5: 1

Recently, I came across a sign at a kid’s baseball field that read:

“Please remember the athletes are kids.  This is a game.  Coaches are volunteers, umpires are human and most importantly… remember that your children are watching you.”

I really appreciated the sign.

Especially, the last sentence:  “Remember that your children are watching you.”

In a similar way we are being watched.

Not only by our children but by others as well.

When they watch us who do they see?

Who are we imitating?

The word imitate means to copy or to follow someone.

When I was a child, it was seeing the faithful witness of both my parents and also the members of the church that I attended, which grew my faith.

Even today I continually think about the church that I grew up in as a child.

It was seeing in action other people following Jesus that compelled me to also follow him.

So many faithful people that I knew growing up who were imitating Jesus.

People who followed in Jesus’ footsteps.

Now growing up in Rural Iowa these were not loud and zealous Christians but they had a persistent and quiet faith that shinned through.

Last Sunday I gave out WWJD bracelets to the children.

WWJD stands for What Would Jesus Do and we are able to follow in his footsteps by Walking with Jesus Daily.

The saying WWJD comes out of the book, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon.

The book is a fictional account of a church community that works to live out this very question.

I first read the book while in high school and I was very moved by the idea of following this closely in Jesus’ footsteps.

And while the book, In His Steps was written in 1896, over a hundred years ago even today people are still asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”

In fact, just this past week I met with some of my colleagues at Boxed and Burlap and I noticed someone in the coffee shop was wearing a WWJD bracelet.

I approached the person about the bracelet and she told me that she had been wearing the WWJD bracelet for five years.

I think the book along with the question makes a connection with so many people because it puts our faith into action.

Jesus never meant for us to put our faith in a box and then to put our box on a shelf never to open the box.

When the Apostle Paul said that we are to be imitators of God he meant what he said.

We are to show the same kind of mercy, grace, and love to others that Christ shows to us.

Grace being something freely given and mercy is showing compassion and kindness.

This naturally applies to everyday life.

For example, you are upset with someone and you are eager to start an argument with that person.

Then you ask the question, WWJD?

And then you consider how you might handle the situation differently.

You are jealous with someone in your life.

Then you ask the question, WWJD?

And then you consider how God has blessed your life.

Or maybe you feel distant from God.

Then you ask the question, WWJD?

And then you consider how Jesus was constantly going to God in prayer in order to strengthen his relationship with God and so then you too go to God in prayer and discover that God has been with you the whole time.

Asking this question impacts how we handle our time, our energy, even our money.

And remember the only way we can imitate Jesus is if we walk with Jesus daily.

When we read the Gospels, we hear how Jesus had a deeply loving approach to other people and that he was constantly teaching people how to live more fully in the ways of God.

This is way of Jesus is very evident in a new television series called The Chosen.

Maybe some of you have been watching The Chosen.

The Chosen is a television drama based on the life of Jesus.

Kalen and I have been watching the two seasons and we have really enjoyed the shows.

Each episode follows a story based on Jesus’ life.

And each episode does an excellent job in demonstrating how Jesus cared so much for others and how he was always teaching others to live by faith.

It shows how his disciples, though struggling along, still try to imitate their Lord.

I highly recommend The Chosen.

It is good to see Bible stories coming to life in such a visible way.

If you do end up watching the show, please let me know.

I would love to hear what you think of it.

Hopefully, it will also move you to read the Gospel Readings in the Bible for yourself.

When we pay attention to Jesus’ teachings and how he lived his life and then try to follow in footsteps his peace comes into our lives.

It only takes a moment to realize how much better peace and love and joy is then anger and bitterness and wrath.

We hear in verse thirty-one of our Ephesians reading for today:

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger… and then later in the text… we hear:  “be imitators of God as beloved children.”

Following in Jesus’ footsteps is a journey.

We will have difficult days and even seasons on this journey.

Somedays we will feel like we are following Jesus and somedays we will not.

But remember everyday Jesus feeds us with the bread of life.

He sustains our faith and picks us up when we fall down.

He calls us and chooses us for a reason – to follow him by living our faith and sharing our faith.

One of my favorite Bible passages comes from John chapter fifteen verse sixteen:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go forth and bear fruit.

We are God’s chosen people, blessed to bless others, and to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

We are to imitate God by following in Jesus’ footsteps?

And remember the children are always watching us.

Grace and peace be with you all.

Amen.

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August 15,2021 – The Gift of Wisdom

As of today… it has now been five years that I have served as pastor of this church.

And I want to begin my message for today by thanking you all for this time together.

The grace and kindness that has been shown to me these past years by the congregation has not gone by unnoticed by me.

God has been with us during this time.

Even through great challenges like navigating through COVID the Lord has continued to be faithful and to see us through.

We have not wavered in our faith and we have continued looking to God.

We have remained faithful to God with trusting hearts.

God has given us all that we need and God has given us the gift of wisdom.

One of the things that my father used to like to say to me when I was a child is that you live your life by the light that God has given you.

The light that God has given us or another way of saying that is the wisdom that God has given us is the means by which we live and make our decisions.

It is the means by which we move forward in this church in positive and in life-giving ways.

In the Bible wisdom is seen as something that belongs to God.

And God is the one who gives wisdom.

I like to think of wisdom as that which gives light on a dark path.

Imagine walking on a path and not being able to see where you are going.

In life it can often feel like we are walking in the dark.

But as followers of Jesus we believe that God gives us the wisdom and the light that we need so that we can see where we are going.

If we make a wrong turn and turn away from the light we repent and we turn around and come back to the light and back to the wisdom of God.

In my sermon for today I am going to be connecting wisdom with light.

Light being a symbol of all that is good in this world.

Light revealing God’s ways of wisdom and knowledge.

It says in the Scriptures:

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.

Psalm 119: 105

In the beginning of the Gospel of John Jesus is proclaimed as the divine Word.

Jesus’ words, his teachings, even his very life speaks to the wisdom of God and the light of God.

In following Jesus, we are directed and guided and given light for our journeys.

Because in this world there is darkness.

It may even feel from time to time that there is no light for our paths.

We may feel that we are without direction.

But God always provides and God always gives light to those who follow him.

And the light in which God gives is the light that we live by.

As you know I have now served as a pastor for eleven years with five of those years being here at this church.

One of the things that I have learned over the years is that Sunday comes every week.

Whether I am ready for Sunday or not.

Sunday always comes.

And I must say that some weeks I wonder… will I have anything to say?

Will I have any words of wisdom to give to the people?

And every Sunday God provides.

I cannot promise you that my Sunday sermon will always be a homerun but what I can say is that I have noticed over the years that God always provides.

God always gives some light, some words to me that I in turn give to you.

God is the source of all wisdom.

God is the One who gives us light for our paths.

God gives us light so that we can show light to others.

God gives us wisdom so that we can give wisdom to others.

We give as God gives.

A central theme in the Bible is that God is a giver.

God gives and gives and gives.

God is a generous God.

Even when God’s people in the Bible felt that God had abandoned them – God did not and God again and again proved that God was with them and that God was giving to God’s people.

And then the greatest gift of all.

Around 4 B.C. Jesus is born.

In real flesh and bone God comes to us in Jesus.

Jesus said that he is the living bread that came down from heaven.

In a very clear and direct way Jesus claims here to be one with God.

In Jewish thought, one metaphor for bread was that of wisdom or the Torah.

Bread pointed to wisdom because God’s Words, found in the Torah, was so important that you needed to not only read the Torah but consume God’s words.

This is what we believe as well.

We not only hear and read God’s Word’s – we consume God’s Words because in God’s Words we find life.

And when Jesus says that he came down from heaven he means that he came from God.

God in Jesus comes to us and God in Jesus provides what we need – namely that bread of life.

Sometimes in the Bible bread is just bread.

But here bread is more than just food.

Bread is everything that we need even life itself.

The Word becomes flesh -the wisdom becomes flesh -and we are to eat of his flesh.

We are to live our lives in him and by doing so find true life.

As I said in my sermon last week we are to walk in his footsteps and to follow in his ways and to even ask what he would do -if he where to step where we step.

It is a great mystery to behold.

The one who has come to live with us is also the one who will give his life for us.

They said of Jesus that he lived his life with such zeal.

His life was always for that greater purpose which was to give and to give and to give.

Giving even of his flesh, of his blood, and of his body as it says in our Gospel reading for today.

Will we eat of this bread?

Will we trust that he will give us light for our paths?

Will we humble ourselves in such a way that we become open to the wisdom that only Jesus can give?

The Apostle Paul said in today’s Ephesians reading that we are to be careful in how we live, not as unwise people but as wise.

Or maybe another way of saying this would be to say that we to live with the light that we have been given by God.

I remember one of my professors in seminary once saying to me that when God gives us some light to live by we need to honor that light and respond to the light -for it is a gift and knowing that is wisdom.

May we live from the wisdom that the Lord gives and may we receive light for our paths.

God provides -let’s trust and have faith in God’s provisions.

And may the light and wisdom of God be with you all.

Amen.

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August 22, 2021 – What is the Gift of Eternal Life?

One of my favorite preachers, Tony Campolo tells a moving personal story of his father’s passing.

His father is at the end of his life here on earth.

In fact, he is at the hour of his death.

Suddenly the father sits up in his bed, raises his hands, and yells out:

“Where, O death, is your victory?”

“Where, O death, is your sting?”

And then he yells it out a second time.

“Where, O death, is your victory?”

“Where, O death, is your sting?”

And again, a third time.

“Where, O death, is your victory?”

“Where, O death is your sting?”

Tony’s father then lays back in his bed and dies.

“Where, O death, is your victory?

“Where, O death, is your sting?”

1 Corinthians 15: 55

Tony Campolo continues by sharing that his father’s faith sustained him in his life and his faith carried him home.

Jesus carried him home.

Our hope and faith in the resurrection of the dead is real.

Our faith in Jesus’ power over death is real.

When Jesus talks about living forever in today’s Gospel reading, he is speaking about a great truth here – about what God wants to do for us.

This is not a metaphor.

This is not simply a figure of speech.

Or a nice thought to give people some comfort.

Jesus is actually talking about life after death.

If the resurrection and the gift of eternal life was only a metaphor -then this core belief of our faith- would not have sustained Christians for two thousand years.

The early church martyrs would not have died for a metaphor or for a comforting parable about the afterlife.

No, in fact it was said that Jesus’ followers in the first century would go willingly and even joyfully to the cross and to their death in defense of their faith in Jesus.

They knew Jesus as the one who gives the gift of eternal life and they knew that even death would not separate them from God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

When Stephen was stoned as a Christian martyr in the book of Acts it says that he was full of the Holy Spirit and that he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God right before he died.

That is in Acts chapter seven.

Stephen did not die for a metaphor about eternal life.

He believed that in Christ he would have life even in death.

The tremendous faith of the early church martyrs gives us strength today to belief and to hope in the promises that come from our Lord.

People may ask, “Do you actually believe this?”

Do you actually believe in the resurrection of the dead?

Do you actually believe in eternal life?

People may ask me, “Do you actually believe this – to which I say, “I do.”

“I do believe this.”

In a world broken by sin and evil this is the one thing that makes sense.

In a world that is currently turned upside down by COVID this is the one thing that still makes sense that still gives us hope.

We believe in Jesus and in his gift of life for sinners.

I stand up here and preach the Gospel not because I am such a great person but because of Christ and what he has done for me.

Life is given for us in this life and life will be given to us in the life to come because of Jesus.

If we abide in him and he in us we will live forever.

This is the promise and the heart of the Gospel.

Jesus comes and gives of himself for us on the cross for unrighteous sinners.

We have life in him not because we are worthy of this gift but because God is a loving and gracious God.

In Christ we will have life in this age and eternal life in the age to come.

In Jesus we will always have life.

This is what is meant by eternal life.

In Jesus we will always have life.

If someone where to ask you today, “What is the Gospel?”  “What is the Good News that you believe in – you could summarize the whole Gospel in one sentence.

In Jesus we will always have life.

Simon Peter – this disciple gets this.

This is why Simon Peter tells Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go?

“You have the words of eternal life.”

Simon Peter knows that there is no life for him apart from Christ.

Simon Peter names a great truth here.

To know Jesus is to never be separated from him.

This is what the disciples understood.

This is what the first Christians understood.

That is why the Apostle Paul proclaimed.

“O death, where is thy victory?”

“O death, where is thy sting?”

That is what Tony’s father could see as well.

Not even death can separate us from the love of God.

The Apostle Paul said in Romans:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans chapter 8

And even before that in the Old Testament we hear this truth.

Take for example in the Psalms the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:

“Where can I go from your Spirit?”

“Where can I flee from your presence”

“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

“If I rise on the winds of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

“If I say, “Surely, the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; and the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Or from the prophet Hosea:

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.”

“Where, O death are your plagues.”

Where, O grace is your destruction?”

Separation is such an awful thing.

To be separated from someone you love is to tear apart a tight bond and to break the relationship.

Jesus came so that we would not be separated from God’s love.

He willingly took upon himself our sins and our debts so that we can remain in God’s love.

That is what is meant when we say Jesus died for our sins.

In Jesus not even death can sever and break our relationship with God.

That is why we all can say these words even at the hour of our death:

“O death, where is thy victory?”

“O death, where is thy sting?”

Hold these two promises close to your heart this coming week:

First, nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Secondly, the gift of eternal life is given for us because of Christ.

The very foundation of Christ’s church rests on these truths.

On Sunday mornings I don’t comfort you with only nice thoughts and metaphors.

Yes, there is some of that in my preaching but I am giving you something much more valuable than that.

This is the difference between the church and the world.

In the church we announce the Good News of the Gospel that in Jesus even death itself cannot destroy us and break our relationship with God.

The Good News of the Gospel is not that we can somehow obtain life here and now and eternal life in the future but that God can.

Jesus can and will lead us home and he will be with us in this life.

Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

Amen.

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August 29, 2021 – The Heart

It is good for us to be here today.

It is good that we are still together after all that we have been through this past year and a half.

Have you felt the presence of God upon this church during this time?

I have.

God has been with and for us even at a time like this.

The Holy Spirit has strengthened our faith.

I have heard such wonderful stories during this time of COVID of people living by faith.

I can recall one to share this morning.

This past winter my wife, Kalen would once a week put on all her warm clothes and then sit in the garage, next to the church that she serves, in order for people to come up with their cars for Holy Communion.

Then she would serve them a simple wafer and a cup of grape juice with the words of Holy Communion.

As she did that she thought about the faith of the people.

The people waiting in their cars.

Believing in the presence of Jesus.

Having faith.

I think about the ways in which we came together during this time.

Our faith in God bonded us together and kept us together.

No one here has ever experienced such a crisis in this church.

But our commitment to this particular church has held.

COVID did not break our congregation.

We continue to believe that God is still working here.

It is good for us to be here today.

Because God is still speaking to us and God is still at work increasing our faith.

Faith is the practice of having trust and confidence in the presence of God among us.

Faith is believing and staying committed to Jesus even during trials and challenges.

Jesus warned us in the Scriptures that it would get difficult but to not give up on our faith and to not give up on our trust in God.

We still have faith.

And faith leads to good works, to action, and to hearts that are changed and transformed.

In the book of James, we hear that we are to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers of the Word.

Faith compels us to respond to God’s Word.

Now the writer of the book of James was probably a student of the disciples James.

Besides being a disciples Jame was also the brother of Jesus.

James believed that one ought to follow Jesus with their heart and with action.

For James it did no good if you believed and then did not live with a changed heart.

A person who believed in Jesus also lived with passion for Jesus and for Jesus’ message.

This why in the book of James there are many scripture passages on the importance of putting one’s faith into action.

This is what we did this past year and a half.

We did not give up on our faith.

Instead, we went deeper into our faith.

And we put our faith into action.

COVID forced us to reexamine our lives and we did so through the lens of faith.

Suddenly instead of just going through the motions and doing what we always have done we were forced to step back and to reconsider everything.

We had to go inside, inside our hearts, and to think about what matters the most in our lives.

If you are like me then during this time, you thought more deeply about your faith, you thought more deeply about the people that you care the most for in your life, you thought more deeply about the work that you do, you thought more deeply about the ways in which you use your time, your energy, and even your money.

You thought more deeply about the state of your heart.

In his life Jesus was always concerned with the heart.

Our hearts being the place were our feelings and our emotions come from.

It is from our hearts too where evil intentions come from and also where good intentions come from.

From our hearts we find the passion and the drive to live as faithful people who live by faith in Jesus.

The Pharisees were concerned about ritual purity while Jesus was concerned about the heart.

Jesus was always concerned about the work of God in our hearts versus our ability to follow perfectly religious rituals.

As the brother of Jesus, James believed this as well.

For James living a life of faith was not dependent on the way we practice our religious rituals but, on the way, we actively live out our beliefs in care for others.

Now it is not as if religious rituals have no place in our lives because they do.

Religious rituals are very important.

The holy ritual of Communion is very important.

But Jesus is concerned about is our where our hearts are at when we take this sacrament or observe any other religious ritual.

Jesus and James are concerned about the state of our hearts.

It is first and foremost about the state of our hearts and then secondly how we practice our religious rituals.

We always need to ask, “What is the state of my heart when I observe God’s laws and when I put my faith into action?”

Take for example, what I shared with you at the beginning of my sermon.

When Kalen gave out Holy Communion to her parishioners it was from the place of a garage.

When people drove up to receive Holy Communion the cup wasn’t even filled with wine but with grape juice just like the cups that we use.

But consider the faith of the people that came.

They came not because the ritual was perfectly given but because they had the faith that Jesus was with them in the bread and the juice.

Their hearts were in the right place.

And think about us this morning.

After all that we have been through we continue to believe and to have faith.

We continue to trust in and to have faith in God.

We continue gathering together each and every Sunday morning.

We have hope that God will speak to us and that God will work in our hearts.

It is the saddest thing to see a person living their whole life in observing the commandments and observing religious ritual and then to not be changed here.

The whole point of religious rituals is to be changed in the heart.

This is the work of God.

God works in the heart.

We simply open ourselves to God’s work in here through ritual and through putting our faith into action.

In my life I have never seen such faith.

Our lives have been turned upside down by COVID and yet we continue to believe and to have faith.

God continues to work in our hearts and we continue to respond to God with faith and with action.

This new coming week think about these things.

In the words of James how might you be a doer of the Word and not only a hearer of the Word?

I believe that God gives up opportunities every single day to be doers of the Word.

How might you be quick to listen and slow to speak?

I believe that every single day God gives us opportunities to show grace to others.

How might you be open to new ways for God to work within your heart?

I believe that every single day God gives us opportunities that renew and change our hearts for Jesus.

Jesus knows our hearts and he wants to transform our doubts into faith.

He wants us to have a faith that is alive with the Spirit.

He wants us to have a faith that works in our hearts.

He wants us to have a faith that is growing even in adversity.

May the Lord take and seal our hearts for him and him alone.

It is good for us to be here today – May God bless our time together.

Amen.

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September 5 – What is Evangelism?

The Bible lesson that we have today from the Gospel of Mark has always fascinated me.

There is so much here to unpack.

Thirteen years ago, this particular Bible story happened to be the first Bible story that I gave a sermon on when I was an intern pastor in Dodgeville and still in seminary.

I can remember how on that week before Sunday I spent hours and hours in preparation for that sermon on the Syrophoenician woman.

It would be the first of many sermons that I would give in that Lutheran church in Dodgeville.

What does God need to tell us in this Bible reading?

This miracle and healing story is only told in one other place in the Bible and that is from the Gospel of Matthew.

Luke and John leave this Bible story out of their Gospels.

In Matthew interestingly, she is called a not a Syrophoenician but a Canaanite woman.

But the point being here, which both Gospel writers clearly make, is that she is not Jewish.

The woman is not from the tribe of Israel.

Jesus is Jewish.

Jesus is a Jewish miracle worker, healer, and teacher.

Up to this point in Mark his mission is mainly for the people of Israel.

The woman, who is not Jewish and who is not even given a name here in the text, comes to Jesus and begs him to heal her daughter.

But Jesus refuses.

Does it surprise you that Jesus refuses to help?

When I was working on this sermon back when I was an intern I can remember thinking, “Why does Jesus initially refuse to help this woman?”

In the text we read that he doesn’t budge.

The though woman persists.

She will not give up.

Because she is fighting for her daughter.

And we all know how much a mother will fight for her child.

Even though she is not Jewish.

Even though it would not have been the custom of the time for a woman to speak so boldly to a rabbi.

She puts all of that to the side.

She believes, without a doubt, that Jesus can heal her daughter.

The woman has what we all need to have.

It is what you and me and everyone needs to have.

What does she possess so strongly?

She has faith in Jesus.

She has real faith in Jesus.

And Jesus sees this and he changes his mind and decides to help the woman’s daughter.

Or it could have been a test and if that is the case the woman passes the test.

By faith she passes Jesus’ test.

In Matthew, at this point, Jesus even praises her faith.

In Mark it simply says:  “For saying this you may go on your way; for the demon has left your daughter.”

But in Matthew, he takes it one step further.

It says in his Gospel:  “Woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”

In both instances then the woman’s daughter is immediately healed and restored.

Now what happens next in the reading?

This is really an important point here.

Don’t miss this!

Look at verse thirty-one.

It says:  “Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis.”

So, what’s Mark saying here.

He does some traveling now.

He is in Tyre and then he goes north to Sidon and then travels in a wide arc to get to the Sea of Galilee and then to the region of the Decapolis.

This is a very significant point here.

The region of the Decapolis is mostly populated with non-Jewish people.

Jesus is moving his ministry immediately to those people who are not Jewish.

Jesus’ ministry expands beyond the Jews here.

He greatly enlarges and goes even beyond the borders that he lived by.

Jesus’ work of evangelism and doing God’s work is now going to be shared with all people.

The word evangelism means bringing good news or announcing good news.

Now if you only had good news for certain people, it would no longer be good news.

Sure, it would be good news for some but if the good news is not for everyone than it really isn’t that good.

It would be sort of good news.

It would be like this… imagine me saying this morning – the people over here Jesus will feed and heal and do miracles – you are God’s chosen people.

But you people – I don’t know about you… you are not God’s chosen people.

That would not be so good.

That would not be good news.

But the good news of Jesus is really good news.

It is better than what we could ever image or comprehend.

This is because the good news of Jesus is for all people.

Jesus and his message and his teachings and his miracles and his healings and his forgiveness are meant to be shared with all people.

And so, evangelism is the work of spreading and sharing the good news – that Jesus is with and for all peoples.

And our work of evangelism begins by recognizing this truth and then acting on this truth.

In conclusion, let’s take these ideas home with us today.

First, knowing that Jesus is for and with all peoples – let’s consider how knowing that changes the way we present the Gospel message and the way that we believe in the Gospel message of Jesus.

Our faith says that the good news of the Gospel is not located in a particular group.

Rather our faith say that the good news of the Gospel is located and found in the faithfulness of God and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Jesus compels us to reach out to all peoples with a message of salvation that is found in him.

This is what is meant by evangelism.

If we come to God with persistent faith like the woman than relax, don’t worry, be at peace for God will be there.

If we think we want to know God, God wants to know us even more.

God is with and for all people.

God desires to know us even more than we want to know God.

God calls us to announce the good news and to do it now.

And quite possibly that is a great place to start when it comes to the work of evangelism.

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September 12, 2021 – Evangelism Part 2

There is the story of a man who wanted to share the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

He went to a very devout, religious monk, named Francis.

“Francis, I too have the desire to share the Gospel as you do.”

Francis was only too eager to help the man to share the Gospel.

“Come with me,” said Francis.  “We will share the Gospel together!”

And off they went to share the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

There mission to be evangelists.

First, they met a poor man on the road.

He was a beggar.

Francis stopped.

He approached the beggar and began a conversation.

Francis spoke to and took time to listen to the beggar and also to share what little food he had with the beggar.

But never once did the Gospel message come up during the encounter.

Next, they came to a small village.

Immediately they met a woman selling cloth.

Francis stopped to talk to the woman and to listen to her.

“I am sorry we have no money to buy your cloth but I have ears to listen to you,” said Francis.

The woman spoke for a long time to Francis.

All the while the man with Francis noticed that not once did Francis speak the Gospel to the woman.

Then they travelled north from the village into the country.

On the way they met one traveler after another.

Each time Francis stopped to talk to and to listen to the person.

But each time the man with Francis noticed that not once did Francis speak the Gospel.

By the end of the day the man was angry at Francis.

“Why did you take me all over to show me how to share the Gospel when not once did you share the Gospel?!”

Francis looked at the man and sighed.

Then he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”

There is a way in which our very lives and the way we use our lives, the way we interact with one another that gives great witness to the Gospel.

None of us here are perfect but we all can see that living in the ways of Jesus and acting as he would act is a better way to live and more than that -by doing this is can even be a way of speaking the faith with our very lives.

Forgiveness is better than revenge.

Generosity is better than greed.

Love is better than hate.

Embodying Jesus’ message with our lives and with our actions is a way of sharing the Gospel.

Words are important.

All week I use words to communicate the Gospel.

Someone comes to me to talk to me in my church office and I use words to communicate the Gospel.

I have a funeral service and at the service I use words to speak the Gospel -Christ crucified, Christ risen.

On Sunday mornings I use words.

Right now, I use words to tell the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Most of my work is in using words to share the Gospel but it is not the only way.

I need your help to do the work of evangelism.

-The spreading of the Gospel to others.

That is why in the church we talk about the priesthood of all believers.

Together we all communicate the Gospel.

While I will use mostly words to share the Gospel you all will share the Gospel in many other kinds of ways.

You all communicate with and are with people during the week that I will never interact with.

These are the people that God calls you to share the Gospel with.

You may use words but you may not.

You may find other ways to speak the faith in real life situations.

Now –

We live in a world right now that is a bit divided.

Can we talk to and keep lines of communication open even with people we disagree with?

If we are tired of arguing with our family members or friends on Facebook, can we then maybe have a real conversation with them in person and really take the time to listen to them – even if we disagree.

Can we share the love and compassion and grace of Jesus with those who we do struggle with?

In these cases, we may use words to share the Gospel message but we might not.

One of the things that we learn from the book of James in the Bible, which we recently heard readings from in worship, is that as followers of Jesus we do not only announce the message of the Gospel by using words but we also live the message of the Gospel by living the ethics of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Remember what we recently heard in worship from James, the brother of Jesus.

“Faith without works is dead.”

Now we most certainly should use words to share the Gospel but if we are living our lives in Christ than our faith will shine through us.

God will work in and through us so that others may come to know of his saving power in our lives.

If we confess that Jesus is Lord but do not hear the cries of the poor or listen to those who are in need or ignore those in distress than our faith is not shining through and we are not sharing the Gospel.

Jesus said, that if we gain the whole world but lose our souls in the process than we gain nothing.

For example, if we move up the ladder of success and obtain all kinds of riches and glory but leave a trail of pollution behind us meaning we step on people on our way up the ladder and we hurt people and we take advantage of people than in the end we gain nothing and the Gospel message has not gone anywhere.

Then we have not picked up our cross.

At the time that Mark wrote these words in his Gospel people were actually being killed and martyred on a cross for their faith in Jesus.

Today we are grateful to live in a place where we do not have to worry about dying for our faith in Jesus but we do still have the temptation to choose between a theology of glory or a theology of the cross.

A theology of glory seeks to profit from and to gain all that we can.

A theology of the cross seeks to pick up the cross of faith even when it is challenging and hard.

This coming week consider how you might live the message of the Gospel with your words, yes but also by your actions.

See if you can do both even when it becomes hard.

And keep in mind that we do not convert people to Christ that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Conversion is God’s job – only God can change a person’s heart.

Only God can move someone to seek a relationship with Jesus.

Our work is to live the Gospel with our lives and if needed to speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our words.

It is always God’s work but God does use our hands.

It is God’s mission but we join God in mission.  Today is God’s Work. Our Hands Sunday.

On this day we give witness to the work of God in our lives through our actions in the community.

Today consider joining in as we participate in this good community work.

Or if you cannot make this event, consider doing something this week as an expression of your faith in Jesus.

And above all let us not be ashamed of Jesus and of his words but instead may his words work in us and transform us.

May the Word and Message of Jesus Christ dwell in us richly this day and always.  Amen.

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September 19, 2021 – Evangelism Part 3

For the last two Sundays I have been speaking about evangelism.

Evangelism simply is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism is spreading the good news that God is with and for us in Christ.

Evangelism is showing others that God is for shalom and peace in the world.

Two weeks ago, I began by speaking how this message of Jesus is meant to be shared with all people.

We learned that from Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman whose daughter was in need of healing.

In the encounter with the woman and later in his traveling to minister to the non-Jewish people we learned that God is for everyone.

Last week I spoke about embodying the Gospel with our actions.

There is a way in which we speak the Gospel without even saying one word in the ways that we live.

Something about the reality of Jesus shines through us as we live our lives.

The Bible verse of letting our light shine before others comes to mind here.

It’s the Bible verse that I say after a baptism.

“Let your light so shine before others!”

Now I really focused on the importance of living our faith by our actions in my sermon last week.

That is also one of the major themes we hear about in the book of James.

Again, James said that faith without works is dead.

When the Spirit is moving in us then the Spirit compels us to live out our faith within our families, in our jobs, in our connections with the people that we encounter.

Today I am going to move in a little bit of a different direction while still speaking about evangelism.

But to begin I am going to share a personal story.

When I was around 18 or 19, I became very zealous in the work of evangelism.

I can remember passing out these little evangelism tracts.

Evangelism tracts are short pamphlets that summarize the New Testament.

The point of tracts is to convert people to Christ.

I don’t even remember how I got them but I must have ordered them from somewhere or maybe someone gave them to me.

Anyway, I had them and I was passing them out.

I remember feeling really good about my work of passing them out until one day I found a small pile of them burned up behind the church where my father was serving at the time.

To say that I was devasted is not going far enough.

I felt like crawling into a little hole in the ground and never coming out.

In time though I began to reflect and to think about the situation.

And I came to an epiphany that there most be a better way to share the Gospel.

I actually learned two things at that time.

First, only God can move and change a person’s heart.

Only God can create that new birth within a person that Jesus speaks about with Nicodemus.

Secondly, I learned that sometimes we are called to simply accompany people on the way.

And that is what I want to talk about this morning – evangelism as accompaniment meaning we develop connections, relationships with other people as we share our faith.

To accompany someone is to walk with that person through the ups and the downs of life.

We all know that if we stand on a street corner and start shouting at people with the Gospel that God can use that method of evangelism but probably what is much more effective is to share the gospel with people we already know and people that we are working on getting to know.

For example, if you have a trusted relationship with someone then you are much more likely to be effective on sharing the Gospel with than if you approach a stranger.

I am not saying we should never approach strangers with the Gospel because that would be limiting the Spirit’s power but what I am saying is that in many cases to share the Gospel we need to do it in a way where we can accompany, to walk with, that person over time.

That is what Jesus did.

Yes, he did attract and speak to large crowds but he only had twelve close companions that he accompanied in his three-year ministry.

These twelve he walked with, ate with, lived with, these twelve he accompanied and they accompanied him until his death on the cross.

He taught them in today’s Gospel reading about his betrayal and death.

He taught them about service and about the importance of welcoming children.

Last week Jesus spoke to his disciples about picking up their cross and following him always no matter what.

And all the while, through it all, he accompanied his disciples.

He developed a closeness with the twelve that became an unbreakable bond.

When I learned about evangelism as accompaniment it changed the way I understood evangelism.

We too are called to walk with others and to show them where we find life and hope and love.

We speak about what we have seen and heard.

We say nothing and simply live our faith in our actions by caring for others, by listening to others, by praying for others.

Another way to name this method of evangelism is to call it relational evangelism meaning we develop a friendship with, a caring connection with, the person that we share the Gospel with.

Lastly, I want to tie in a point I made earlier in my sermon.

You may develop a connection with someone and share the Gospel with that person and the person never comes to faith.

When that happens do not be discouraged, do not force Jesus upon that person, or try to find a more compelling tract to share – instead give it to God.

Give it to God and remember that only God can change a person’s heart to faith and belief.

Continue living your faith, when necessary, use words to communicate the Gospel, don’t give up, and above all trust in God’s power to change and to move hearts.

In my life I have not led one person to Christ.

I have shared the Gospel but it is God that changes and leads people to his Son we are only servants.

A servant only follows their master.

The master is the one who gets the praise, the glory, and the honor.

May we all be humble servants who follow in our Lord’s footsteps of grace and peace.

May the Lord work in people’s hearts and may the Lord receive all the credit.

For he alone deserves all praise and glory.

Amen.

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